How BGG Should Improve for the Board Game Industry

By Eugene Shenderov

WARNING: Rant incoming in 3… 2… 1…

After having used Board Game Geek for almost half a year, I have a few observations that may be useful to others trying to use the site.

1. Get something for the splitting headache you are about to get.

2. Put on some calming music.

3. Look at the BGG site.

4. Give up and go for a nice long walk, or play a game instead.

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5. If you are planning on putting up a game you created and published on the site, administer major sedatives to yourself instead of number 4.

BGG suffers from a couple of major issues: feature creep and a design that could be considered ‘Retro’ the day the site was created, as well as another issue I will touch on, which is the usability for game creators. I will touch on this last, as it still affects everyone who uses the site (closest numbers I could find were 100,000 active users in 2013, so I will guess wildly and say 150,000 users now) I will explain both of these in more detail.

‘Feature creep’ is when a site (or game, or any software) starts adding features until it becomes a horrid, bloated mess. I honestly believe that BGG (boardgamegeek.com) is used in some website development courses as what NOT to do. As an example, here is the main page on the site:

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This is what the site looks like. For comparison, here is the main image of our company site:

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I zoomed out for the second image. Yes, our site has one game while theirs has over a hundred thousand. Yes, we are not using all of our space effectively. But when you are on our sight you know what you are looking at, and what you are looking for. On the BGG site, you need a guide (which people have created, God bless ’em) just to understand the navigation system. This is the largest repository of board game information on the ‘net. With¬† over a million registered accounts in 2015. There is something very wrong here… they need someone who knows what the term ‘usability test’ means. I mean for goodness’ sakes, the people who have to craft intelligible rulebooks go on this site!

The issue is, BGG has dug itself into a hole. There is so much content on the site, and so many features (again, feature creep), with each one having only a few pixels to compete for attention, that it will now cost an astronomical sum to redo the site correctly. I hear they are working on this, but I have heard that this rumor has been circulating for years now. Perhaps it is wishful thinking.

The second issue is the design of the site. To be charitable, it is very ugly. It is the hard truth. It was made in the early 2000s, and it looks it. It has not had a cosmetic makeover in a very long time, partially due to the aforementioned feature creep. This is, again, something that would cost a lot of money to do.

I have already mentioned the large userbase. I will now go into why there is a problem for the 21,000 designers, and for the publishers, who use the site. BGG has banner ads, which cost $1,000 for campaigns or companies to rent out. There is a BGG store, through which BGG sells various games and accessories. There are Amazon links, through which BGG also gets a small stream of revenue. There are also a few BGG cons, which have rather respectable turn outs.

My point in mentioning those revenue streams is to point out that BGG has money. I am on the outside looking in, so I don’t know how they allocate funds; perhaps they are even losing money. The site design does not help them monetize their information, that is certain. And it was made for the gamers, which is respectable. But part of the reason the banner ads on BGG are so popular and visible is because they are by far the prettiest part of the site, and that makes me sad.

The last thing I wanted to mention was the difficulty for creators to update or even upload their games through the site. There is a multi-day process to get a game reviewed by the moderators. This makes sense, though is frankly annoying. If anything needs to be updated, however, or if images re to be added to the page, that goes through community moderation. BGG’s community gets to decide whether I am allowed to post pictures of my game. The idea behind this is that BGG is short staffed (true) and that this will keep images that don’t fit the guidelines of the site from appearing (patently false). I uploaded the same images- twice in a row- with no changes, and they were denied (after a day long wait) the first time, and let through with no problems the second time. I was told that since we uploaded them bit by bit the second time, this made it easier for them to get through. This is a ludicrous system, and it steals time from game creators who don’t have enough of the stuff to go around in the first place.

So to reiterate, the three main problems of the site I see are feature creep, a User Interface from the early 2000s, and unnecessary, slow, painful community moderation. If the site wants to reach its full potential as the Wikipedia of board games, these are issues that will need to be considered and fixed.

Thank you for your attention to my rant ūüôā

Hi! I am Eugene Shenderov, and I am a game designer. You can find my website at www.thisandthatgames.com. Send me a message if you have any questions!

Have a great day!

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