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Subject: Degeekification: Are board games the new rock ’n’ roll? rss

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Chris Marling
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I write a blog and thought some might be interested in my latest post, titled above. You can check it out here:

http://goplaylisten.wordpress.com/2012/01/08/degeekification...

It's my thoughts on how technology and computer gaming have been made so much more acceptable in recent years, and how this may (and really should) have a knock-on effect on board and card games.
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Boaty McBoatface
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hairyarsenal wrote:
I write a blog and thought some might be interested in my latest post, titled above. You can check it out here:

http://goplaylisten.wordpress.com/2012/01/08/degeekification...

It's my thoughts on how technology and computer gaming have been made so much more acceptable in recent years, and how this may (and really should) have a knock-on effect on board and card games.


When its gets the degree of media coverage E-games do maybe.
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TS S. Fulk
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Uh, no. And thank God for that.
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Are board games the next "rock and roll?" Sure, there's a chance. Are board games as we know and enjoy the next rock and roll? Not on your life.

Why did smart phones, tablets, etc., become popular?
Fairly simple, Apple and friends were able to say, "look, we have something that looks sleek and can do 90% of what you do for fun on a computer with only 10% of the knowledge/know-how needed!" And what are the most popular things on those smart phones/tablets? Apps (mostly games) where there is basically 1-2 buttons/motions and that's it. They take very little time to get into and very little time to successfully play. In other words, everything about them is a computer, only extremely dumbed down.

(I'm not saying that in a bad way, there's an amazing elegance to the way companies, especially Apple, have managed to simplify things so much with losing so relatively little)

Why did the Wii become popular?
Fairly simple, it took the video game, something which had spent 30 years getting more complex, adding more and more buttons to controllers, getting more hardcore, keeping a relatively steep price point as a barrier to entry, and appealing further and further to a male-dominated audience and said, "look, we have something here that's cheap to get into and the big game to launch the system is actually FIVE games in 1 and you can play them with at most, 1 button!" (forget play WELL, at least play). And play-time is generally very short (maybe 30 mins for a longer game) compared to "hardcore" games (where a session of gaming can easily be a couple of hours). In other words, it said you can do 60% of video gaming on our system with 10% of the knowledge/ability and a much lower price point.

Now why did the Wii fail?
Well, after that push, there wasn't a whole lot of games out there that fit the way they sold the system and further, many people didn't care to get more games. They had bought their Wii Sports machine and that was that. To this day, when many people talk about "playing Wii," they mean turning on the system with Wii Sports in it, playing it, then turning it off. The best-selling games for the system, after Wii Sports? Mario Kart (which was included with the system after a little while, probably skewing those numbers high), Wii Sports Resort (basically the Wii Motion Plus version of Wii Sports), Wii Play (more or less a sequel to Wii Sports, included for $10 with a controller, something everyone needed to buy since the system came with one controller), Wii Fit (not so much a game as a guided exercise machine), New Super Mario Wii (again, included in a system bundle after a while, so probably skewed the numbers high), and the sequel to Wii Fit. After that, things fall off a cliff (with generally less than 10% of owners of the system actually buying the game, and that's with flagship Mario games next on the list).

Now obviously the Wii didn't "fail." It's one of the most popular systems ever. But I mean it failed on taking that initial selling point and continuing to run with it. Maybe it should have taken a page out of Apple's playbook, had the simplified Wii to push for the simple stuff and their version of the Macbook Pro to push to the hardcore crowd. Regardless, seeing what the top-selling software was for the Wii really drives home the market that it was being successfully sold to.

The obvious trend to take from this the masses are lazy, dumb, and a little bit cheap. They worked hard enough all day, they don't want to "work" on anything after all that. They want their leisure-time activities to be simple, easy to learn, and tickle the pleasure-sensors in their brain. They also don't want to invest too much money to get to that point, but if they're told something is REEEEAAAAAALLY cool, they're willing to fork over some dough.

Now how does this all relate to board games?
Well, simple:

How to you classify our hobby? It takes a decent amount of learning to get into, in the first place. Even if we were to envision a world where there's a board-gaming store similar to an Apple store where there's brightly-lit, cool places to go with tons of knowledgeable staff to get you set up with what to buy, the games we play require either reading a rulebook or having someone who knows the game teach it to you. There's not much of a chance of, "lets just start and we'll figure it out along the way," even with gateway games such as Carc or Settlers. So that's one strike against people wanting something that's very simple.

I don't think I need to write much about needing intelligence for this hobby, as after you get past entry-level games, they get complex, FAST. There's a lot of strategies to learn. There's tons of rules to remember. And there's not an Angry Birds or Wii Sports that is THE BIG GAME that is the only game that everyone plays, so it generally means needing to learn a few different games to really interact well. So that's a strike against people wanting something that isn't over their heads.

If you walk into a game store (or gods-help you, Barns and Noble), the prices of board games can be absolutely ridiculous. Easily, $50-60+ for most games which, funny enough, is the same price point for new video games in retail stores that tend to drive away more casual people from trying too many new things. So unless the "retail" prices for games were to come down to a level closer to what we see in OLGS, the price-barrier is a bit high to have the average person just walk into a store and on a whim, buy a new game. So there's a strike against the price point.

How long does it take for someone new to the hobby to play a game? I think the first 1-2 plays for anyone on even the simplest of games is going to be an hour or so. More complex ones obviously spikes up to 2, 3, or even 4+ hours. So obviously not the time-frame for the masses who want something "quick."

And really, there's nothing about most games in this hobby I look at and think, "OK, if people really saw this, they'd realize how cool it is." Too many of the good games have weird/abstract themes, are farming, economic, shipping, or some random historical period that we're placed in. Most of the "cooler" themes would be more Ameritrashy, and if the idea is that board games are going to become popular and that means a small handful of ameritrash games which aren't mainstream, now will be, I can't call that a win.

So where does that leave us?
Well, if a company puts itself in the right spot like Apple/Nintendo did as being the ones to put out the "cool" games, pushes a very different type of game than most of what we're seeing at a low price point, with a sleek design/theme/components/box (VERY important there), sure, we could see something similar to what happened in other industries. But just like those other industries, we're not going to see that "cool" movement really drive people to the "non-cool" versions of these things. Likely, the only difference we'll really see is when we tell people we play board games, instead of just saying, "Oh, like Monopoly?", we'll also hear, "Oh, like that Wii Sports/Angry Birds board game?" and maybe have another thing our families want to play/get us at Christmas.
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Chris Marling
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That's a really interesting response, cheers syberwookie. Wish you'd posted it as a comment over there too whistle

I certainly wouldn't argue with most of what you wrote here, but would certainly draw some different conclusions. We agree on what Apple and Nintendo did. However, I think the demystification of gaming as nerdy is more significant as I give the good old general public a bit more intelligence and patience than you seem to.

Ticket To Ride and Carcassonne have 4 and 6 sided rule books (with pictures). In comparison, Monopoly has 8 and Risk 16 (I'm checking the last two from online pdfs as I don't own them, so could be wrong) - I'd conclude from this that rules would not be a barrier to play.

I think that, sure, a certain amount of education is needed to convince people that a board game has financial value; but if people are happy to buy a Wii console and games, at similar prices, I don't think that's a great leap either.

And I don't think computer game pick-up tends to happen in a vacuum; people show others their games, or they see reviews, and they go buy them. In an evolving hobby (if board games began to get more media, for example), the exact same thing would naturally happen.
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Ah, sorry, I'll copy/pasta it over there, too.

I agree, Ticket to Ride and Carc really aren't more complicated to learn than Monopoly in a vacuum. But people have known Monopoly, Life, Sorry, etc. since they were kids. It's not a comparison of learning one new game vs another. It's a comparison of learning ANYTHING vs learning nothing.

And you're right, pick-up trends in any area don't happen in a vacuum. They're either pushed out via marketing or naturally spread via word of mouth. So either something has to be marketable enough (which I argue none of what we play really is for the general public) or we have to make it spread. I lost count long ago how many threads I've seen about trying to find a way to teach a non-gamer the hobby since their attempts have failed miserably, horror stories of trying to show family how to play a fairly basic game, and/or sig. others who just refuse to play games anymore after some failed attempts (or the good ole, "I'll play a game, buy ONLY Lost Cities" line). There's a success rate, sure, but it's low enough to point squarely at this being a niche audience for this hobby when it comes to people accepting it via word of mouth.

As for my opinion of the public, I think George Carlin put it best: "Just think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize that half are even stupider!"
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Damn right they are. I'm off to snort coke of chicks' t*ts while snuffing Catan down my pants.
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elgin_j wrote:
Damn right they are. I'm off to snort coke of chicks' t*ts while snuffing Catan down my pants.


I spent all my money on wine, women and boardgames. The rest I wasted.
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Boaty McBoatface
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Jenkachu wrote:
elgin_j wrote:
Damn right they are. I'm off to snort coke of chicks' t*ts while snuffing Catan down my pants.


I spent all my money on wine, women and boardgames. The rest I wasted.


That explains your Avatar.
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sybrwookie wrote:
Are board games the next "rock and roll?" Sure, there's a chance. Are board games as we know and enjoy the next rock and roll? Not on your life.

Why did smart phones, tablets, etc., become popular?
Fairly simple, Apple and friends were able to say, "look, we have something that looks sleek and can do 90% of what you do for fun on a computer with only 10% of the knowledge/know-how needed!" And what are the most popular things on those smart phones/tablets? Apps (mostly games) where there is basically 1-2 buttons/motions and that's it. They take very little time to get into and very little time to successfully play. In other words, everything about them is a computer, only extremely dumbed down.

(I'm not saying that in a bad way, there's an amazing elegance to the way companies, especially Apple, have managed to simplify things so much with losing so relatively little)

Why did the Wii become popular?
Fairly simple, it took the video game, something which had spent 30 years getting more complex, adding more and more buttons to controllers, getting more hardcore, keeping a relatively steep price point as a barrier to entry, and appealing further and further to a male-dominated audience and said, "look, we have something here that's cheap to get into and the big game to launch the system is actually FIVE games in 1 and you can play them with at most, 1 button!" (forget play WELL, at least play). And play-time is generally very short (maybe 30 mins for a longer game) compared to "hardcore" games (where a session of gaming can easily be a couple of hours). In other words, it said you can do 60% of video gaming on our system with 10% of the knowledge/ability and a much lower price point.

Now why did the Wii fail?
Well, after that push, there wasn't a whole lot of games out there that fit the way they sold the system and further, many people didn't care to get more games. They had bought their Wii Sports machine and that was that. To this day, when many people talk about "playing Wii," they mean turning on the system with Wii Sports in it, playing it, then turning it off. The best-selling games for the system, after Wii Sports? Mario Kart (which was included with the system after a little while, probably skewing those numbers high), Wii Sports Resort (basically the Wii Motion Plus version of Wii Sports), Wii Play (more or less a sequel to Wii Sports, included for $10 with a controller, something everyone needed to buy since the system came with one controller), Wii Fit (not so much a game as a guided exercise machine), New Super Mario Wii (again, included in a system bundle after a while, so probably skewed the numbers high), and the sequel to Wii Fit. After that, things fall off a cliff (with generally less than 10% of owners of the system actually buying the game, and that's with flagship Mario games next on the list).

Now obviously the Wii didn't "fail." It's one of the most popular systems ever. But I mean it failed on taking that initial selling point and continuing to run with it. Maybe it should have taken a page out of Apple's playbook, had the simplified Wii to push for the simple stuff and their version of the Macbook Pro to push to the hardcore crowd. Regardless, seeing what the top-selling software was for the Wii really drives home the market that it was being successfully sold to.

The obvious trend to take from this the masses are lazy, dumb, and a little bit cheap. They worked hard enough all day, they don't want to "work" on anything after all that. They want their leisure-time activities to be simple, easy to learn, and tickle the pleasure-sensors in their brain. They also don't want to invest too much money to get to that point, but if they're told something is REEEEAAAAAALLY cool, they're willing to fork over some dough.

Now how does this all relate to board games?
Well, simple:

How to you classify our hobby? It takes a decent amount of learning to get into, in the first place. Even if we were to envision a world where there's a board-gaming store similar to an Apple store where there's brightly-lit, cool places to go with tons of knowledgeable staff to get you set up with what to buy, the games we play require either reading a rulebook or having someone who knows the game teach it to you. There's not much of a chance of, "lets just start and we'll figure it out along the way," even with gateway games such as Carc or Settlers. So that's one strike against people wanting something that's very simple.

I don't think I need to write much about needing intelligence for this hobby, as after you get past entry-level games, they get complex, FAST. There's a lot of strategies to learn. There's tons of rules to remember. And there's not an Angry Birds or Wii Sports that is THE BIG GAME that is the only game that everyone plays, so it generally means needing to learn a few different games to really interact well. So that's a strike against people wanting something that isn't over their heads.

If you walk into a game store (or gods-help you, Barns and Noble), the prices of board games can be absolutely ridiculous. Easily, $50-60+ for most games which, funny enough, is the same price point for new video games in retail stores that tend to drive away more casual people from trying too many new things. So unless the "retail" prices for games were to come down to a level closer to what we see in OLGS, the price-barrier is a bit high to have the average person just walk into a store and on a whim, buy a new game. So there's a strike against the price point.

How long does it take for someone new to the hobby to play a game? I think the first 1-2 plays for anyone on even the simplest of games is going to be an hour or so. More complex ones obviously spikes up to 2, 3, or even 4+ hours. So obviously not the time-frame for the masses who want something "quick."

And really, there's nothing about most games in this hobby I look at and think, "OK, if people really saw this, they'd realize how cool it is." Too many of the good games have weird/abstract themes, are farming, economic, shipping, or some random historical period that we're placed in. Most of the "cooler" themes would be more Ameritrashy, and if the idea is that board games are going to become popular and that means a small handful of ameritrash games which aren't mainstream, now will be, I can't call that a win.

So where does that leave us?
Well, if a company puts itself in the right spot like Apple/Nintendo did as being the ones to put out the "cool" games, pushes a very different type of game than most of what we're seeing at a low price point, with a sleek design/theme/components/box (VERY important there), sure, we could see something similar to what happened in other industries. But just like those other industries, we're not going to see that "cool" movement really drive people to the "non-cool" versions of these things. Likely, the only difference we'll really see is when we tell people we play board games, instead of just saying, "Oh, like Monopoly?", we'll also hear, "Oh, like that Wii Sports/Angry Birds board game?" and maybe have another thing our families want to play/get us at Christmas.




Wow! If I could thumb this post more than once I would. Great post! thumbsupthumbsupthumbsupthumbsupthumbsup
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I posted somewhere around here a long while back that if our hobby ever reached the mainstream then people should be prepared for games like Settlers of Catan the Beverly Hills 90210 Edition because that's what we'd get, and I was only partly joking.

The mainstream taking a real interest in our smaller hobby would leave an awfully big dent. Many gaming companies' approach to such bigger business would probably become more like GW's or Hasbro's. And while Hasbro might be content now to let Wizards of the Coast handle a smaller market where they have more experience, that would probably change in a big way if the whole hobby ever hit the mainstream.

Heck, if people get upset now when a newer edition of their favorite game gets released with rules changes, imagine the epic wailing when we start seeing newer editions of War of the Ring or Puerto Rico streamlined and dumbed down for maximum sales to the masses or with their themes changed to more "popular" licensing properties, not to mention Dominion the Junior Deluxe Edition.
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UnluckyNumber wrote:

I posted somewhere around here a long while back that if our hobby ever reached the mainstream then people should be prepared for games like Settlers of Catan the Beverly Hills 90210 Edition because that's what we'd get, and I was only partly joking.


Well-put. They might have trouble with 90210, but maybe The Office (building cubicles/offices?) or sports team-themed ones (building paths for our players to run up the field in football?).

UnluckyNumber wrote:
not to mention Dominion the Junior Deluxe Edition.


Have you seen the crazy storage solutions we need for Dominion? I think a Jr. Deluxe edition might not be a bad idea if it's smaller somehow
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I think board games might be the next new hula hoop. They'll probably be a popular fad where everybody wants to play the "cool" games, and a few Big Name Designers will get their 15 minutes of fame, and lots of new companies offer lots of new games, a few of which won't suck.

And then people will move on to the next fad. Board games will be "so mid-July 2013" or whatever.

At best, I hope for two things:

1) our hobby's brief moment in the sun will increase the pool of long-term players.

2) the brief surge of money into the game industry will allow some existing game designers to publish their "dream games" -- currently too expensive to print because of the small market -- for the fad/bubble market before the bubble pops; and we'll attract some new, good game designers who will stick around after fad moves on.
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I think there is an economic dimension to how much attention the mass media is prepared to currently pay to our hobby. At present I can't imagine that overall board game sales for titles other than mass market ones like Monopoly, Cluedo and so on are particularly high as average production runs for each iteration of a specialist board game hover around the 500-700 unit mark and only rarely go over 1,000 units. Since these low level sales are currently at a batch level of production per board game I suggest our hobby just doesn't generate the awesome turnover and thus economic activity that the whole computer/console video game industry creates by comparison. So there's no need to pay our hobby much attention.

However I sense that things may be changing albeit slowly if I use the U.K. mass media as an example. I was most surprised and heartened in December 2011 to see a BBC regional station for the Midlands sending a camera crew and reporter to cover a Games Workshop business show open to the public and pitch the story as a success for U.K. economic activity rather than a "Look at these strange wierdoes." type of piece. Clearly someone in the BBC editorial food chain had worked out that:

a. Games Worskhop et al fantasy/SF miniatures and games are popular and very cool;
b. Lots of normal young and not so young people like buying them;
c. Games Workshop et al make a fair bit of money out of the arrangement.

Now if we in our hobby could reach that level of popularity leading to greater perceived "coolness" leading to greater economic activity the mass media would have no choice but to sit up and pay attention. In order to reach that happy state more people need to know about our branch of the whole gaming hobby in general and it's various wares in particular by finding out about it from the mass media or popular culture so they can get that first glimpse at the roadmap that will lead them to us. Which I think means that we all need to do our bit to spread the word and demystify our hobby to those we meet that we might be able to encourage or convert so that we can start the ball rolling and expand the numbers of the faithful.

Or more succinctly: if the mountain won't come to us we have to go to the mountain.
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