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Barrier to Entry - Why Don't Board Games Sell Like Video Games?

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08 Apr 2019 10:09 #295131 by Scott Rogers
After some observation and thought (and experience as I have...

I often wonder “why don’t board games sell like video games?” I know that there have been a few tabletop games that have sold a million or more copies (many of which took decades to do so) but none of them sell with the speed that video games do. Why not?

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08 Apr 2019 10:35 #295132 by hotseatgames
Another reason they will never sell like that is their physical nature. Publishers are unwilling (rightly) to invest the money / warehouse expense to produce enough copies of a game to compete. Most publishers are unwilling to even purchase advertising for a game.
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08 Apr 2019 11:17 #295134 by Jexik
That Daviau quote is an interesting one, because I really enjoy reading rules, and I first read the rulebook to MtG (when that was still a thing) as an 8 or 9 year old all in one sitting. Much like reading a book, the imagination starts filling up the details about what the game might be like. I've not played Root yet, but I keep looking at the rulebook. I'm sure there are plenty of RPG book owners who've waxed about what they might create but never or rarely get to actually run a campaign. So I do think that attaching it to book reading is insightful... but I also think there are plenty of book readers who don't want to play games, so it's almost like we stand at the intersection of book readers and leisurely game players to be an even smaller group.

Teaching games is also an entirely different skill and barrier to entry for those who acquire games to get them actually played. I enjoy this more than learning new games from others. I don't know if that's just my enjoyment from teaching, having poorer listening skills, or other people enjoying the act of teaching less.

This reminds me of the MtG Arena discussion thread. It and hearthstone have effectively become video games, which allows you to mask or add complexity without the player needing to know all of the details initially. Something like DotA or Starcraft are more complex or deep than just about any board game, really. But making them electronic allows anyone to bumble through it initially.

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08 Apr 2019 11:30 #295136 by Ska_baron
I think the comparison of board games to video games/books/movies because they are similar in that they are all consumable entertainment products. They all compete with your limited leisure time, sure. And other hobbies, like golf or fishing, compete for your time but I think there is enough of a difference between the equipment needed for those hobbies where you can invest your money in clubs, etc. and rods, etc. to enjoy. Sure you may incrementally "upgrade" and I'm sure you can spend all types of money on tricked out golf balls, special shoes and fishing lures (hell, even a boat!). But those aren't, in my eyes, as fundamental a shift as "spend more money and here's substantially different experience. "

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08 Apr 2019 12:30 #295140 by Jackwraith
Scott, please check your PMs.

I don't agree that the other media you listed are exclusively solitary endeavors. Movies and books, while directly experienced alone, can be and often are enjoyed in groups, which is why people go to see movies together and there are such things as book clubs. In fact, many directors create scenes to be forms of mass entertainment inside the theater. One of my favorite examples is how the final moment in the starship battle in Star Trek VI is staged and presented. It's presented to engender a cheer from a theater audience and did so the first time I saw it. Furthermore, video games, especially modern ones like Fortnite, are engineered to be enjoyed in groups; both allied and against opponents. Part of the reason I don't play many video games any longer is expressly because I get tired of playing alone.

I think you could have dug a little deeper on your primary thesis: the barrier TO entry of board games. 2/3 of this is suggesting that the barrier to entry of other media is low and then you wrap up your central argument in less than half that time/word count without really describing why you arrive at that conclusion. Personally, I find Daviau's quote to be preposterous. While it does take some time to read rules, I'm one of those people who likes to find out how this potentially wonderful machine actually works. Most competitive video games have some level of this same issue, since you can't really begin engaging the game until you know how it works, which can take some time. No one dives right into Hearthstone or Overwatch without figuring out how to do things and (often) failing, which can lead to the same kind of frustration as delving into a 20-page rulebook. Additionally, i enjoy teaching games because I like seeing the light go on in new players' eyes when they both realize how the game functions and strategies begin to form in their heads. I don't look at those things as barriers. I find them to be part of the engagement with other people. But, as you say, if you look on other people as part of the problem, then it's clear why they might be perceived as a barrier.
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08 Apr 2019 15:47 #295154 by mads b.
A lot of people hate to read rules. I think part of that is the way different people like to learn, but I also think part of it is the fear of doing something wrong. In a computer game you might still have to learn the rules, but you can't misplay the game. You can play poorly, but that is learning the ropes, so it's different. On the other hand you can easily do something wrong in board games and I think a lot of people are afraid of doing just that.

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08 Apr 2019 16:34 - 08 Apr 2019 16:39 #295156 by Frohike
You can do things wrong in video games too, obviously, but they're often structured to give you instant feedback. This varies by genre, where something like a grand strategy game that doesn't hold your hand will definitely let you "do it wrong" until you've discovered better ways to play.

When you get a board game wrong though, there's a special quality to the failure, at least for me. It feels like learning the wrong verb in a foreign language & not noticing until some conversation goes horribly off the rails. The shared quality of enacting the game properly & maintaining state correctly also adds some collaborative pressure that's usually taken off by the framework of a video game. If you use the "shoot" verb incorrectly in Overwatch, that rectifies itself pretty quickly. In a board game, that correction can take a painful amount of time & joint frustration to work itself out.
Last edit: 08 Apr 2019 16:39 by Frohike. Reason: more rambling
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08 Apr 2019 16:36 #295157 by mads b.
I don't mean making a bad move, I mean playing wrong. Using a wrong setup which can ruin the game, rolling too many or too few dice, playing with the wrong characters and so on. That doesn't happen when you play video games because the system enforces the rules.
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08 Apr 2019 16:48 #295158 by Space Ghost
Is that your PAC-Man game? My son has been obsessed with that lately. I actually had to build him one with 3D walls, because he wasn’t satisfied with the 2D board game.

There is so much that can be learned from these older games....even this one informs things like Western Legends.

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08 Apr 2019 18:49 #295159 by DarthJoJo
I don’t have the numbers, but I’d be willing to bet Magic and Pokémon sell “like video games.” Maybe X-Wing and Keyforge, too, at least at some points in their history.

I think it’s worth noting, too, that we buy board games differently than video games. They have a much longer tail. You can keep buying and supporting the same board game for years through expansions. Ticket to Ride just recently announced its London maps, and Dominion last year released its twelth expansion (not including promos and second edition updates) ten years after its release. Video games may have DLC (quite possibly inspired by board game expansions), but those reliably stop in time for the sequel to be announced.

I think board game history is much more accessible, too, which may have an impact on their ability to sell “like video games.” Want a Cheapass classic? All you need to do is find it. Want to play a Dreamcast gem? Find the game, then find a working system, then possibly find an older TV to display it right. Or emulate it, but that’s not selling, is it? Because video game publishers are apparently allergic to backwards compatibility and sharing their decades of back catalogs, there is only the new for casual fans. Even a casual board game fan has access to a much broader library of games and don’t have to chase the hotness and hype, if they don’t want too.
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09 Apr 2019 07:58 #295211 by Colorcrayons
Lately I have been engaging in more Apples to Apples comparisons with the spawnling.

Space Hulk (analog) and Space Hulk Tactics (digital PS4).

We all are aware of the analog version which began in '89. Without going into too much detail, Space Hulk Tactics (released October 2018) is the most faithful digital version of the analog classic yet made, with only a bit of tweaking to the original mechanical game design.

He likes the board game. The tactile quality, the grand board spanning the table. The rolling of the dice. Its like participating in an event.

But the digital version takes care of all the necessary upkeep, and doesn't allow the same mistakes to be made as you would find in the analog. Such as dice rolling, keeping track of phases and action/command points, etc.

The digital version looks a hell of a lot better than the analog, offering animations, sounds effects, third person isometric and first person perspectives of the action.

The only drawback to the digital versus the analog is the interface and learning how to use it to manipulate your pieces during the game. Where as the analog you simply reach across the table and go from there.

Consequently, it takes a bit longer to resolve a mission on the digital game.

I've been playing analog Space Hulk since '91, and he has only started this winter. We both started playing the digital at the same time this christmas, and I think we both agree that despite enjoying the tactile toy nature of the analog, we seem to prefer the digital version equally.

Speaking only for myself, I never thought I'd make such a statement. Especially after considerable time and effort retheming Space Hulk to fit an Aliens theme a decade ago.

I'm certain the analog version has sold more copies over the past three decades, yet I can buy a brand new PS4 and a copy of Space Hulk Tactics for the prices currently being charged for the analog version.

If I were the spawnling just starting out on Space Hulk taking everything above into consideration, I'd likely forgo the analog in favor of the digital.
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09 Apr 2019 19:56 #295247 by Anjou Valentine
Someone convince me that playing Neuroshima Hex is better in person than it is on the app.

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09 Apr 2019 20:57 #295248 by hotseatgames
I prefer it in person, how else are you going to enjoy the look on your opponents' faces?
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09 Apr 2019 21:32 #295250 by Sevej

hotseatgames wrote: I prefer it in person, how else are you going to enjoy the look on your opponents' faces?


Imagination man. We, gamers, make the best of imagination.

I, for one, agree with the article.

One of the best things about board games is its reductionist nature. Board games are limited by components and that everything has to be done manually. That reduces a lot of unnecessary fat, and lead to "clever" stuff.

Computers, capable of handling a lot of stuff, tend to make designers at lots of stuff. Of course, you could make a reductionist game on computers, but that rarely happens.

Of course, I like both, depending on what I am looking for.
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09 Apr 2019 21:33 #295251 by Jackwraith
Also, more factions available in the F2F version.

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