Tabletop Gaming is Evolving

This morning I read a New York Times article about the changes that are occurring in the world of tabletop gaming. The author, Nick Wingfield, makes some observations that, for those in the game industry, are painfully obvious. For those outside the geek-bubble, though, his words and supporting data are almost revelatory:

New tools now power the creation of tabletop games — many in the strategy or fantasy genres — from idea to delivery. Crowdfunding sites provide the seed money and offer an early gauge of demand. Machines like 3-D printers can rapidly create figurines, dice and other prototype game pieces. And Amazon, the online retail giant, can handle shipping and distribution, cutting out the need for middlemen.

Sales have followed. While the video game business long ago eclipsed its low-tech cousin, sales of tabletop games have continued to grow. Sales at hobby stores in the United States rose 15 to 20 percent in each of the last three years, according to ICv2, a trade publication that tracks the business. Amazon says board game sales increased by a double-digit percentage from 2012 to 2013.

On Kickstarter, the crowdfunding service, in which users can pledge money to finance projects, the amount raised last year for tabletop games exceeded the amount for video games, $52.1 million to $45.3 million.

Whoa. Hold on a second. That's what happened between 2012-2013. What about before then? How long has this tidal wave been rising? Let's look at some stats from Kickstarter itself to find the answers:

It doesn't take a genius to see there was huge jump in crowdfunding in 2012. You can see the exact details of when and how that occurred in a month-by-month analysis:

There's a disclaimer here in that these numbers also include funding from video games but, as mentioned before, the amount of funding from video games is now less than the funding from board games. You can see the signs of change in the following graphics:

Here we see the breakdown of games (but especially video games) surging ahead in 2012. Double Fine Adventure (a video game company) is purportedly the impetus for the rise in video games sales.

Here we see the breakdown of games (but especially video games) surging ahead in 2012. Double Fine Adventure (a video game company) is purportedly the impetus for the rise in video games sales.

From that graphic, it would seem that video games are the real winners on Kickstarter, but looks can be deceiving unless you dig a little deeper...

Video games brought in more money than board games in 2011-2012, but board games had more backers. A lot more.

Video games brought in more money than board games in 2011-2012, but board games had more backers. A lot more.

Board games had more backers than video games in 2012. And because board games typically have lower funding goals, this means the bar for entry (for wanna-be publishers and fiscally conscious consumers) is also lower. So while video games brought in more money, board games brought in more backers . . . which also brought in more publishers . . . which in turn bring in more publishers, games, and backers . . .

Do you see where I am going with this? Because of Kickstarter, the board game hobby has found a way to grow itself in an exponential way. The folks at Kickstarter recognized this, though they weren't quite sure what the effect would be in succeeding years:

Gamers [are] Kickstarter's most frequent backers. People who first back a Games project have backed 2.43 projects on average, compared to 1.78 projects for all other backers. Game projects have brought game backers who have inspired more game projects that have brought even more backers, and so on.

Again, this is speaking about the games category in general, but because of the low barrier for entry into the tabletop space, that same progressive gamer has made it possible for the grass-roots indie tabletop publishers to overtake the indie video gamers, which brings us back to Wingfield's aforementioned quote:

On Kickstarter, [. . .] the amount raised last year for tabletop games exceeded the amount for video games, $52.1 million to $45.3 million.

[. . .] in recent years, the momentum has accelerated. Gen Con, a four-day tabletop game conference being held in Indianapolis this August, took 15 years to grow to 30,000 attendees from 20,000. In the last three years, it has grown to 49,000 from 30,000, according to Mr. Adkison, who owns the convention. Hasbro, which publishes Monopoly, Battleship and Trivial Pursuit, has seen sales in its games category grow in recent years, including 10 percent last year from the year before.

And, because gamers are recruiting more gamers (and the bar for entry into the hobby space remains low), things continue to evolve at an exponential pace. Wingfield alludes to what the reason for this could be when he explains how video gamers are also likely to support their analog gaming brethren (italics added):

Somewhat ironically, perhaps, video game players are often among the biggest devotees of tabletop games. Some in the business believe that is no accident, theorizing that the abundance of opportunities to connect electronically with people through games and social media has also created a hunger — sated by tabletop games — for face-to-face contact.

I could go on and quote more of Wingfield's article or post more graphics about sales on Kickstarter in 2013, but instead I'll explain why I wanted to discuss Wingfield's article in the first place: it provides concrete evidence to something that, for those with their finger on the pulse of the board game industry, can sometimes feel ephemeral.

We know the popularity of board games is rising, but we temper that with the knowledge that we (as gaming enthusiasts) have an inherent bias. In my last blog post, I explained why Broomstick Monkey Games is launching now, why I believe it will succeed, and why Kickstarter (and your support) will help get us there. I think I made a persuasive argument, but I was also too lazy to collect and present data that might support my perspective (till today). Wingfield is providing a snippet of that data, as is Kickstarter, but it's still just the tip of the iceberg.

We are literally living on the cusp of a revolution in board gaming, a time when every household will have at least one game that was funded on Kickstarter and every family will have at least one gamer who is actively involved in the gaming industry. We're not quite there yet, but for those willing to read the signs, its easy to see where we're going and how quickly we will arrive there. One might even argue that the revolution has already occurred (quietly, using crowdfunding tools like Kickstarter) and that we just haven't noticed the change because of how long it takes for games to make their way to market. Likewise, board game is traditionally a leisure activity (more so than video games), so it's uncommon for people to take notice of a change that is unlikely to affect their more visible work-life routine. In this way, the change in our lives feels gradual, almost imperceptible --  like a tide, gradually rising until it fills our lives with something new and different. In the often invisible game industry, though, the Kickstarter revolution is a tidal wave that's come crashing on the shores of an established industry.

The wave of change is coming -- if it's not here already -- and Broomstick Monkey Games is riding the crest of that wave. I invite you to be part of the revolution, to join us on our journey to bring a better tabletop gaming experience to the public, and to support our vision of what Broomstick Monkey Games can and will be.

I promise the ride will be worth it.