The board game industry has been growing at over 10% a year for almost a decade now. That’s good because it means that more and more board games are being sold.
But like Michael Myers standing quieting behind the door, could this also mean an axe is about to fall? The bad news is that the growth of new games being produced is outpacing even the strong growth of sales.
More and more board games are being produced each year. Retailer estimates are that there are as many as 80 new board games a week. There are too many new board games, in other words.
Listen, more is typically good, so let’s not run for the hills. But the glut of new titles presents some interesting challenges in the board game hobby. Let’s talk about a few.
There are Too Many Board Games
The game of the moment. Gary Ray said it well when he said that the influx of new board games is creating a ‘stickiness’ problem. Retailers are spinning to keep up with new titles, creating a ‘game of the moment’ scenario.
Quality titles that might only be on the shelves for a couple months don’t have a chance to ‘stick’ before they are replaced by the new shiny. Worse, those older titles might never see a shelf again, de-incentivizing publishers to even support a game after the initial hype of launch.
The struggle for a hit. When Nerds on Earth spoke with board game designer Chris O’Neal of Brotherwise games, he echoed the same thing as retailer Gary Ray.
Brotherwise had a huge hit with their first game, Boss Monster, a fun and highly regarded game. Brotherwise wanted to build a business on the back of quality games, taking their time to get their games right. They took this approach with Unearth, their followup, which is a thoughtfully designed, quality game.
But Unearth was released in the midst of a million other games, vying for shelf space and attention. This incentivizes publishers to rush games to market, as they know they won’t have a lot of time to get attention, so it’s best to simply rush another out. Then another. And another.
It becomes difficult to build a business off the slow, intentionally work of quality games when that game might be crowded off a shelf not due to quality but due to market forces. This could potentially hurt gamers as our quick rate of consumption unintentionally could lower game quality.
Kickstarter is a disruptor. Kickstarter has created a whole new financing, marketing, and distribution system for board gaming. The promise of stretch goals has gamers driving up board game kickstarts with millions of dollars in funding.
Gamers drop $100 on a board game and get a box of sweet miniatures delivered to their doorstep about 18 months later. I should know, I’ve backed several.
But this has created an entitlement among gamers. They now expect every game box to weigh 20 pounds after being stuffed with stretch goals. Simple, straight-forward games don’t have a chance in the model.
And game shops have no incentive to stock a kickstarted game after release. So many of those games aren’t even available via retail, so they don’t have legs. Better just to kickstart another one, huh?
But lest you think this is just shouting at clouds, let’s turn the tables because there is so much good in the current board gaming industry.
Kickstarter is bringing an experimentation in component quality. The huge influx of investment capital that Kickstarter brings is allowing publishers to increase the quality of their components. New manufacturing techniques are being implemented and this has spread across the industry. Board game quality has never been better.
The barrier to entry is low. The popularity of board gaming has encouraged more and more independent game designers to give things a go. Sure, they will need to compete like a beast for shelf space but it is an absolute positive to get these new designers in the game. At its best, the new low barrier for entry might spur continued innovation in the space.
The popularity is real. New gamers are coming into the fold. Even though new titles are outpacing the rate of growth, there are still more people discovering modern board games than ever before.
If we continue to be welcoming in our hobby, we can encourage more and more folks to give game shops a try. At that point it won’t matter that there are too many games on a shelf, because they’ll all be flying off the shelves.
Consumers can make choices. We don’t have to get caught I the hype. Us gamers can slow down and do our research. Read reviews you trust. Watch video play throughs. Wait for a game to settle in. Learn about about the industry.
If we do those things, we can make sure we are supporting the quality games in the industry and this will incentivize publishers to continue to make quality games and not just rush junk to market.
I dream of a day when board games production increases because they are flying off the shelves that fast. I want quality stuff, thoughtfully designed. I want new models to promote innovation and I want local shop owners to make an honest living.
It’s an exciting time in the board game industry and all the above wants are tantalizing close. There are just a few too many titles on the shelves right now. But that’s way better than the alternative which is no games are getting made because no one cares about games.