[-empyre-] (no subject)

Brent Povis twolanternsgames at gmail.com
Wed Mar 11 03:26:55 AEDT 2020

Thanks Alenda and fine folks of Empyre! It was fun following last week’s
lines, which ran somewhat adjacent but were certainly relevant to board
gaming as well. As a tabletop designer/publisher, hopefully I can dip into
some industry perspective for this week’s Entmoot.

The first title from our publishing house, a tactical 2-player game called
Morels <https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/122298/morels> (2012), hit
kitchen tables 17 years after Settlers of Catan
<https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/13/catan> (1995) made the leap from
Germany to revolutionize American board gaming. We entered the market when
the creeping exponential upsweep of game releases over time
<https://dvatvani.github.io/BGG-Analysis-Part-1.html> was just beginning to
reach skyward. That acceleration has continued in earnest, such that more
tabletop games have been released in the 21st century than in all of
preceding human history.

Reasons for this are many and varied, from a crowdfunding-enabled
publishing coup and corresponding entry of new and dedicated talent to the
designer pool on the production side, to a growing interest in augmenting
face-to-face time among family and friends on the consumer side. An
additional catalyst, born at the intersection of these factors and the one
I’d like to examine in this post in hopes of making the analog jump on the
“Green Gaming” discussions of last week, is the “cult of the new” that has
increasingly defined the board game hobby over the last 5-10 years.

When I was a child in the mid 80’s, the shelves in a sunlit corner of my
bedroom glittered with about 60 board games, a trove that bred awe among
schoolmates and that ever-elusive “quality time” for our family, which I’m
thankful to say happened on a near-nightly basis. I’d say 40 of those
titles were seldom played, primarily due to a lack of substance, while the
other 20 saw action ad infinitum. Perhaps this is why, when designing, the
guiding principle at the core of my efforts is to build a system that will
be as good (or better) on the 50th play as it was on the 5th. It’s a
difficult bar to clear, but a useful metric that helps to create and
identify tabletop games with staying power.

Last year, I was discussing this approach with a friend and board game shop
owner. He expressed some surprise and basically asked why, when most board
games were now only being played 2-5 times before they were relegated in
the face of new acquisitions. This struck me. It’s not to say that games
aren’t being produced with replayability in mind, it’s more the notion that
for a successful publishing house in today’s climate, they don’t need to
be. For the consumer, the goal for many has shifted to collecting as much as
to playing, with plays per title decreasing while rate of acquisition
reshapes home libraries to Alexandrian proportions that make my childhood
collection of 60 look pedestrian.

What to make of this shift as seen through the environmental lens? Many
business models now have publishers selling 50-75% of a new release’s first
printing, often the only printing, on the initial crowdfunded splash. The
goal, then, is a 6- or 7-figure Kickstarter campaign rather than sustained
retail sales. Design, art, development, manufacturing, marketing, and
shipping are compactly wrapped in a cycle that is bending towards fewer and
fewer months, with profitability optimized by number of new releases (this
approach does not necessarily preclude quality, and many games from even
the most prolific houses are excellent, but they are the subject of furious
tides). On one hand, there is efficiency gained with direct
publisher-customer shipping and manufacturing targeting total sales in one
assertive swoop. On the other, the overwhelming volume of releases results
in 25%-50% of copies for games that fail to gain traction beyond the
initial splash stockpiling in warehouses (or basements) with darker fates
awaiting, while those that do find a home stockpile in players’/collectors’
living rooms (or basements). I wonder, then, how footprints compare from
the kitchen to the den, gears of labor and industry whirring at full tilt
on material production and distribution of tabletop games while digital
products streamline access to electronic platforms but with the support of
Forster’s “Machine” in the background?

Derek, love the game concept, and Aaron, digging the analog phylogeny. Poke
received, thoughts on that will serve as intro to my next post.

*Brent Povis*
Game Designer
Two Lanterns Games
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