When a recent forum discussion turned to game prices Michael Barnes made an interesting comment about the customer base for expensive games… specifically those titles in the $80+ price range. Mr. Barnes presented a relatively accurate analysis of the marketplace and then mentioned the impact of the “… middle-aged man with a credit card that’s able to buy $100 board games with impunity.” Mr. Barnes correctly described this type of customer -- I should know because I am one of those middle-aged guys who has the ability to purchase board games with little regard to the cost.
Please don’t think unpleasant thoughts about us; every dork has his day and you’ll have yours. We had our lean years and our moment in the sun will quickly fade away. We’re perched on a demographic bubble.
The typical lifetime board game player enters the hobby during his high school or college years (for convenience I’ll use the masculine pronoun throughout this article but most of these statements will apply equally well to the female board game enthusiast) when free time is relatively plentiful and peers with similar interests are legion. Students usually don’t have a lot of cash available so, as the saying goes, these young hobbyists have more time than they have money.
As many of these players approach their mid-20s career advancement and family obligations reduce the amount of time which can be squandered on frivolous entertainment like board games. With children to raise and bills to pay the typical player between 25 and 40 must stick to a tight board game budget.
As these old-timers hit their 40s the true “second childhood” begins. The kids are finished with college and for most men these are the peak earning years. Combine a sizable discretionary income with nostalgia for those fun times in high school or college and the result is a rapidly expanding board game collection. Never mind that some of these titles will seldom be played because opponents are not readily available… the thrill of acquisition can be half the fun.
The party will often come crashing to halt as these folks push into their 60s. While the healthy and wealthy may be able to continue the buying spree, many of these geezer gamers will become preoccupied with doctor visits or worries about retirement. The good news: death is approaching quickly.
So what might this demographic pattern mean for a board game publisher?
Like many other companies in a luxury industry (and unfortunately board games area luxury) the board game publisher often relies heavily on the so-called early adopter. These enthusiasts buy stuff at full price when it hits the marketplace so they can be “the first kid on their block” to own the latest goodies. These pioneers may help to pay the freight for the more patient customers who wait for a discounted price.
The initial wave of purchases can be particularly important to a cash-flow challenged game company trying to create a “buzz” on the internet or among the members of the hobby grapevine. Another factor can also be decisive: getting those sales in before potential customers discover that the hot new title is actually an inadequately playtested piece of junk.
That old dude with the credit card may be keeping game prices artificially high… or he may be making it possible for the more discerning game buyer to see those new titles hitting the websites. While the quietly rational bargain shoppers are evaluating their options the wizened -- but still excitable -- old graybeard is probably impulse buying enough stuff to keep the hobby percolating.
Pete is a member of Fortress: Ameritrash