The Endless Appeal Of Board Games
“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated!” - so wrote author Mark Twain following a false rumour circulating alleging that he had died.
For much of the nearly twenty years I have worked in the toy & board game industries, people/colleagues/customers of mine have speculated as to the future for board games. Firstly, there was the video game console explosion offering much more immersive, much more addictive gaming experiences. Then we had the tablet & smartphone revolution which gave us anything we wanted on a device always to hand. Why (I was repeatedly asked) does anyone still need board games? Well the answer is that we apparently do still need board games, despite all the technological advances of the last few years.
This ancient form of gaming dates back thousands of years, developed further through the twentieth century and today is still standing as one of the prime pillars of the toy aisle in retail. In fact, in recent times, just as the tablet/smartphone has become ubiquitous, so the board game seems to have undergone yet another renaissance. In fact, I would argue that the board games category has not been in such a good state since board games were a genuine prime leisure activity decades back before media content became such a big part of our lives.
There are several reasons/drivers behind the current/recent renaissance of board games:
Firstly, there is a fundamental benefit of board gaming that is genuinely timeless. People are social animals, we live in/interact with other people around us. Sometimes this social interaction needs an aid or a prop to keep things fresh, to avoid any bickering or other negativity and to have fun with family and friends. This is the fundamental purpose of board games – social facilitation. Technology has not taken this benefit of board games away or delivered it any better to date. The back end of the year is the real peak season for board games sales & playing (in the major Western markets), because cold weather, increased hours of darkness outside and ritual family get togethers (like Thanksgiving or Christmas) deliver the play occasion that best suits board games.
Secondly, society and people in general are now struggling to combat the reality of excess screen time – staring at small screens all day is not such a positive thing in terms of lifestyle, social cohesion and eyesight among other things. Therefore, the toy industry as a whole and board games specifically are benefiting from their deployment as an antidote to screen time – both for our children and for ourselves! Parents nowadays struggle to get their kids off devices, in fact many children would be looking at tablets all day if left to themselves. Board games and toys in general offer play patterns which are perceived by the majority of parents to be more worthy and more positive. The more we come to rely on/be hooked on these devices, the stronger this impulse/counter reaction becomes. In reality, that doesn’t mean parents succeed in using board games to get their children off screens, but it is a definite purchase driver, even if usage doesn’t always follow purchase!
Thirdly, we have a much healthier, much broader array of board games available to us today than we did say ten years ago. The old model of product selection was all about getting past gatekeepers – from the inventor/author to the game company, from the game company to the retailer and from the retailer to the consumer. Crowdfunding has today completely revolutionised & at least at the start of the process, circumvented this old way of doing things. Today games which would have been too quirky for anyone to launch ten years ago are able to go direct to the final arbiter – the consumer. If enough consumers like the game, it can be made via crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter. Thus we have had such hit games as Cards Against Humanity and Exploding Kittens – these much more politically incorrect/less old fashioned games and game concepts have opened up board games as a relevant medium to today’s young adults, bringing in a whole new ‘forgotten’ generation to board gaming as a cool & hip activity. The glorious fact about this massively powerful trend is that it is still in the infancy stage – look forward to many more games pushing the boundaries to come – that ‘staleness’ that permeated parts of the board games industry some time back is thankfully long gone.
It would appear that all that talk of the eventual demise of the board games category are fundamentally unfounded!
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