Have Board Games Reached Their Peak? Part Two: Suggested Solutions

In Part One, I drew parallels between the current Board Game Industry and the Comic Book Industry that had a similar boom in the 90s before going bust.  How can the board game industry avoid this roller coaster?  Here are my thoughts…

I’m sure there are as many solutions out there as there are concerned retailers, publishers, and creators. My suggested solution comes down to quality. From designer, to publisher, to player, if we all focus on quality game play, more players will join the hobby, the glut will recede and the market will return to more sustainable levels.

Designer’s Role in Quality:  Good isn’t good enough anymore. I just heard an interview with Stephen Buonocore from Stronghold Games on the excellent podcast The Board Game Design Lab.  To paraphrase, he said that games have to be better than just playable to not only to have longevity in the market, but to just get published in the first place.  So take your time designing it, then play test, then fix it, and then play test some more.  And when you’re done play testing, play test some more.  If you’re lucky enough to earn space on the retailer’s already crowded shelves, reward both the retailer and the gamer with the best game experience possible. Taking the time and doing it right is truly in your best interest – consumers in this competitive market won’t let you burn them twice.

Retailer’s Role in Quality: We’re living in the Amazon.com era, so why do people still go to brick and mortar game stores and mostly likely pay a little more?  Because of the expert behind the counter.  Let me give you a real-life example. The last time I shopped at Games Unlimited in Pittsburgh, the owner, Kylie Prymus, recommended Mysterium to me. At the time, I had only vaguely heard of the game. The box looked cool, but so do a lot of other games and I’ve been fooled by artwork too often before. But I trust Kylie so I gave it a shot. As anyone who has played Mysterium can tell you, it’s truly something special.  The game play is fun, the production value is off the chart, and it’s easy to learn and never plays the same way twice. That’s a grand slam in my book!  And if Kylie didn’t stock quality and then take the time to be able to speak about it intelligently, I would have never picked it up.

Retailers can also steer you away from bad choices, even though the games themselves may be of high quality. I had my eye on Arkham Horror, which by all accounts is a deep and satisfying game experience.  But when I told Kylie that my primary gaming habit is a block of  4 hours every Tuesday night, he moved me to another product.  I could get Arkham Horror, but my group would likely never be able to complete a game in the time we have to play. This level of retail expertise takes time and effort.  If he didn’t know his product or was only focused on making a sale – any sale – I would not have the same high opinion of him. His honesty and concern to fit the right game to my specific situation, completely won my customer loyalty.

Publisher’s Role in Quality: I have a love-hate relationship with crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter. On the one hand, they are giving more folks like me the opportunity to realize their game publishing dreams while brining fresh voices and perspectives to market. But like authors who use vanity book publishers, not all of the product funded is good (and some of it is downright terrible).  This isn’t to say that you can’t crowd source fun games – Pixel Glory and the Tiny Epic series are proof of that. But consumers have to be more careful.

Publishers may be limited in what they publish, and they may play it safe with some of their choices, but we need to view them for what they are: our first line of defense against bad games.  They’re the ones who deal with mountains of submissions. They’re the ones who have to break it to designers that their work isn’t up to publishing standards.  And they’re the ones who take on all of the risk and expense.  Due to these cautious factors, the large publishing houses – Mayfair, Z-Man, and Fantasy Flight to name a few – generate consistently high quality games. We just need to get the rest of the industry up to their level.

Consumer’s Role in Quality: Yes, we have a role in this. We complain that the television networks broadcast garbage, but it wouldn’t be there if nobody watched it. The game industry is not immune to this dynamic. They wouldn’t make those countless re-themed editions of Monopoly if no one bought them.  I love the movie Jaws, but I don’t need Jaws-themed Yahtzee.  Do your research on Board Game Geek. Talk to your retailer and your fellow gamers. Attend game demos and conventions.  Do your part to be an informed consumer. Do whatever you can to stop buying bad games!

Next Up: Part Three: The Future Is Bright