Buried in Board Games (and Loving It!), Part One

How today’s modern glut of games is like the future of manufacturing everything at home, via 3D Printing & Etc.

By the Ogre of the Ozarks, Christopher N. Carroll

This is an old-fashioned, two-part Op-Ed piece, in which I try to figure out what is going on in the world of board games!

A little background first:

I began to do a little research into crowd-sourced tabletop (non-electronic) game-creating biz in the late Pre-Christmas days of 2014. At that time, I didn’t know a thing about how what are sometimes called Designer Games were made. I had done some research into the traditional toy- and game-making industry once, about 20 years ago (before the electronic games biz went the way of The Internet and smartphones), and then again around 2004-05, but that world is distinctly different from the tabletop hobby-game industry that is doing so well these days, and that we here are all so interested in.

Now, the way I see it, the audience we are talking to here at Giant From The North and also at the Game Creators’ Social Forum are already fairly well-versed in the modern games industries, so I won’t preach to the choir about the what’s and the whyfore’s of today’s market. Most of you are dealing with that on a daily basis, and facing that challenge is a large part of what makes it so rewarding to design and produce your own games.

But the differences between the types of consumers who might see your marketing or buy your games seem, to me, to be a bit odd. I’ve tried to make sense of how they group themselves, and am only somewhat certain of how well I’ve done classifying them. So I’m putting what I have found to be the case out there for all to see and comment on. Please tell me what you think, and please comment below with your own opinions!


Who’s Who Among Game Audiences

There seem to be very distinct groupings of people who are ‘into’ games, in general. But, oddly, sometimes they are not the same groups of people, and the ways that they overlap and interact is, to me, a little confusing.

Why are average consumers, like young families with small children, not also buying the kinds of games that are more often seen in dedicated hobby shops? Why are those who collect vintage board games not also the same people who collect modern designer games? Certainly there is some crossover between the types of collectors, but not as much as you might think, I’ve found.

So let’s just lay out a few simple examples of the different types of people who I am talking about here. In this first part of a two-parter article, I will present the two groups who are the largest mass-market customers you could ever sell to. Unless for some reason, you didn’t want to?


Average Mass-Market Consumers

Most folks have played kids’ games such as Candyland when we were little, and might feel nostalgic for those childhood days when we see a surviving game for sale in a yard sale, flea market, or in retail. Such people may buy, say, The Game of Life for their kids, but whether or not the kids would put down their smartphones and Gameboys long enough to play such a game is another issue entirely.

These are your average mass-market consumers who might never think to enter a FLGS, or even know what that acronym means. There are a whole lot more of them than any other category of game purchasers.

For some reason, this is not the market that most people who call themselves game designers target when they put together a new game with a Kickstarter campaign. There are even very passionate articles written in very serious blogs that despair when average consumers are ‘admitted to the club,’ accusing game creators/producers who want to sell to the mass market of ‘sellling out.’

I really do not understand that thinking. Rather than lose a popular product or brand when a small company goes out of business, it is saved by the selling of the product, brand, or parent company to a larger, more successful rival. Isn’t that, in terms of running your own business, usually considered success? Why attack it, and with such vitriol and passion?

There is an important gulf between what seems to be the Passionate Artist, struggling to make ends meet, creating and supporting a great product, independent, wild and free, and the mindless corporate mass-market. Bridging that gulf is the only way game creators will ever make enough money to grow their businesses in a meaningful sense. So why is it so opposed? Is it really better to be a Struggling Independent Artist, rather than a viable company such as Steve Jackson Games or Game Designers’ Workshop? I just don’t get it. What do you think?


Electronic Game Buyers

The avid videogame players and the players of games on smartphones and on The Internet have more in common with the Mass-Market group, economically, than any other, simply because there are a lot of them and they spend a lot of money in the overall economy. The reason that they are important is because they represent the future of all gaming, so they will always be ideal to approach as consumers of goods.

They are also important as consumers of information content, which all makers and sellers of all kinds of products and services need to keep in mind. All of our marketing and sales efforts are, in effect, information or content marketing. The Disney Company knows this, and is one of best cross-content marketers out there. Any business that is in the content-providing business would do well to copy their methods. Unless, of course, you really don’t want to make money at all.


Coming up in Part Two

Please join us in part two of this article, where I’ll address consumers who collect board games, and where I try to make a comparsion between the way tabletop games are made  and sold, and the future we will all face in the world of 3D printing and manufacturing at home.


Tell us what you really think.