Is there a boardgaming “bubble”?
Mark Morrise
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In an interview with Heavy Cardboard, Scott Alden, founder of BoardGameGeek, talked about the astonishing rate at which new BGG user accounts are being created. When the BGG membership grew to 1 million, 20% of the BGG members — 200,000 — were added in just the previous 12 months. Now, the total BGG membership is about 1.6 million.

The number of new games published each year continues to increase. Here is a graph created by Matt Leacock from the BGG database that shows the number of games added per year up through 2015:



These two facts got me to thinking: is there a boardgaming bubble? This Geeklist summarizes the opinions of a few people who have talked about this. This Geeklist is by no meams intended to be an exhaustive treatment of this topic. It is merely a tiny sampling of some opinions I was interested in hearing.

BRIEF SUMMARY

Here is a brief summary of the information below:

Not speculation: everyone agrees that, unlike the comic-book bubble in the 1990’s, most board games are not being purchased with an intent to resell them at a higher price.

Not just a passing fad: the heightened interest in board games appears to be more than just a fashionable, passing fad.

Risk of oversupply: the biggest risk, according to Bruno Faidutti, is the risk of an oversupply of board games. The entry point to self-publish board games is low: just a few thousand dollars raised on Kickstarter. If this leads to a glut of lower quality games, it could have a negative impact on the larger publishers and on the board game industry generally.

EDIT: In the comments below, several people expect not a bubble bursting but instead a slow down or a plateau when the market becomes saturated.

RELATED THREAD: Golden Age of Gaming Bubble
 

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1. Board Game: Heavy Cardboard (fan expansion to Age of Steam) [Average Rating:6.12 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.12 Unranked]
Mark Morrise
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In the interview with Heavy Cardboard in July 2017 (a link to the interview is the last item on this Geeklist), Scott Alden was asked about the possibility of a boardgaming bubble. Here is what he had to say (my transcription; the time stamp is 1:04:47):

“A note about bubbles. Bubbles are when people are spending money and investing in something with the expectation of return. I guess potentially that could be. But a lot of the [board gaming] money is coming from crowds where they don’t have an expectation of [financial] return. Their only expectation is that they get a game. . . .

Millions of dollars are flowing in that way. . . . And so I don’t think that’s a bubble situation. . . . Because you are not throwing in a bunch of money with an expectation of making money. That’s how a bubble grows. The value of something gets higher and higher, and eventually it becomes worthless because nobody is buyng anything anymore.

Some of the bigger companies are in danger of that. No question. But I think the state of the [board] gaming industry right now is a lot of smaller companies with less risk, at least I think. . . .

[Companies like Asmodee] are spending a lot of money to acquire companies to make a lot of money. Bubbling may not be a factor yet. They’re making a lot of games but they also know what they’re selling. They’re not just making games with nobody buying them. If they are, that’s dangerous, but I don’t expect that because . . . every time a new game comes out that I get interested in and want to own it quickly, usually it is sold out by the time I get to the store. . . . So, my anecdotal evidence is that there is not a problem.”

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2. Board Game: The University Game [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
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Three weeks ago I was at my favorite local game store, Game Night Games, where I became acquainted with a university professor who teaches classes on boardgaming. He gave me his card: José P. Zagal, Associate Professor, Entertainment Arts & Engineering, University of Utah.

I asked him about the possibility of a boardgaming bubble, and he gave a very practical answer. He said that for the hobby to flourish, people who are interested in board games must have money with which to buy them and time in which to play them. If the world’s economy has a downturn in which people have less money to spend on board games or less time to play them (because they are having to work longer hours just to pay for necessities), then the boardgaming hobby will likely be diminished as a result.

[As pointed out in the comments below, having enough space to store games is also a factor.]

He pointed out that it is impossible to predict when some new Internet-based technology could come along that might compete directly with board games and reduce demand for them.

Professor Zagal said some other things which, because I did not take notes of our conversation, I have forgotten the details. The part that I do remember does not address all the factors on the possibility of a bubble. Additional factors are covered in the next two segments.
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3. Board Game: Debate [Average Rating:8.00 Unranked]
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There was a blogpost on the University of Puget Sound’s website, Sound Economics, that is interesting both because of the author’s points and because of the discussion that followed.

The blogpost, titled ”Why Recent Growth in the Board Game Market isn’t a Bubble,” was posted by Connor Lennon on April 16, 2015. The first person to comment on his article was the famous game designer, Bruno Faidutti. The second person to comment was Mike Elliott, designer of the DC Comics Dice Masters: War of Light game, among others.

POINTS BY CONNOR LENNON

Connor Lennon starts by referring to the comic-book bubble in the mid-1990’s, in which the price of comic books inflated due to collectability and then crashed in 1996, which bankrupted Marvel.

He distinguishes boardgaming from comic books in two ways: First, unlike books or comic books, a truly successful game (like Monoploy) “guarantees some continued demand for that game for quite a long time, since old games aren’t necessarily rendered obsolete by new ones.” But there is no “guaranteed way” to predict which games will become popular in the long-term, which tends to discourage speculation.

Second, the existence of “math trades” undermines the risk of a bubble. Math trades allow gamers to get access to out-of-print games without having to pay an absurd premium to a speculator. Consequently, the idea of exclusivity that underlies bubble-market speculation isn’t nearly as strong.

BRUNO FAIDUTTI’S COMMENTS

Bruno Faidutti says that Europe also experienced a comic book crash, but not because of speculation. This crash, he says, was caused by lots of small companies, often run by hobbyists who knew little about business, all hurrying into the same growing market at the same time, which made for smaller print runs and lower margins. He sees the same thing happening in the boardgaming industry.

He compares the boardgaming industry, which has a low cost of entry (in the thousands), to the videogaming industry, which has a high cost of entry (in the millions). He believes the low cost of entry is another factor in a possible bubble.

MIKE ELLIOTT’S COMMENTS

He is concerned about two simultaneously occurring events: consolidation of large boardgaming companies at the upper end of the industry and the large number of Kickstarter game projects and smaller companies at the lower end. There is “such a surplus of games on the market that it is a very crowded field . . . [S]o many games come out [that] it is hard for anything to stick out.”

OTHER COMMENTS

Finally, there are comments by Wlm van Gruisen, who points out that unlike pre-internet economic bubbles, the boardgaming industry has the effect of the Internet. On the one hand, BoardGameGeek creates greater market transparency by giving lots of information about board games. On the other hand, crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter put stress on publishing companies by diverting gaming dollars away from the publishers.

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4. Board Game Designer: Bruno Faidutti
Mark Morrise
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In July 2015, Bruno Faidutti posted a very thoughtful article in both French and English about the possibility of a boardgaming bubble. It is titled, ”La bulle du jeu/ The boardgame bubble”.

DEMAND FOR BOARD GAMES

He begins by discussing the possibility of a decline in the demand for board games. He examines these factors:

- Board gaming might be a fad that will disappear when it ceases to be fashionable. He thinks that is unlikely because the public has accepted board games as being just as much for adults as they are for children. He does not foresee a decline in demand from the segment of the population that is currently driving board game demand: persons in their 40s and 50s who previously played RPG, CCG, poker, and online games.

- People might be purchasing board games in a speculative way. He thinks that is unlikely.

- A computer-based game might come along that is interactive in the same way board games are that will compete directly with board games. He thinks this could happen but probably not soon. He thinks paper books, which are still around despite eReaders, would disappear before board games, which are a wholly different experience than their digital counterparts.

SUPPLY OF BOARD GAMES

Monsieur Faidutti believes that the biggest risk of a bubble is on the supply side. He looks at these facts:

- Currently, board games sell well, and the cost of entry (in time and money) and the break-even point are extremely low. These circumstances make board game design and self-publishing attractive to amateur, part-time designers. He quotes a French proverbial expression: “j’ai vu de la lumiere, je suis rentre” — when I saw the light, I just came in. Americans call this “jumping on the bandwagon.”

- Because most people who self-publish a game have a day job, they don’t need to pay themselves a full wage and are happy just to see their game published and played.

- Kickstarter has accelerated the growth of these self-published games.

- The quality of these self-published games is often less than it could be if a publisher were involved.

The result of these facts, he says, is that pressure is put on the larger publishers to have lower prices, lower print runs, and lower margins.

Also, with the explosion of games, gamers could get bored or become more demanding.

He is reassured that a big investment fund took over Asmodee, indicating that some business-savvy non-gamers must have thought that the boardgaming industry was financially sound enough to risk their capital.

He concludes: “We are in the golden age of boardgaming, a golden age for sales, and also a golden age for innovation and for the quality of games. Of course, [these two, sales and quality, are tied] together. If we sell more games than we ever did, it’s in the end because these games are good. If we want this to last, we must keep up the good work. That’s what I’ll try to do just now.”

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5. Board Game: Heavy Cardboard (fan expansion to Age of Steam) [Average Rating:6.12 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.12 Unranked]
Mark Morrise
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Here is Scott’s interview with Heavy Cardboard. The part quoted in item 1 above is at time-stamp 1:04:47.

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