Should You Build for the Gateway Gamer or the Hardcore Gamer?

Posted on Posted in Philosophy

Much like theme vs. mechanics, separating people into gateway gamers and hardcore gamers is another persistent dichotomy in the board game community. Unlike theme and mechanics, though, I think this distinction is much more useful. The board game industry is growing at a rate of 29% according to ICv2, which is a clear indicator that the community is experiencing an influx of people who are just realizing how badass this recent board game renaissance has been. Welcome to the party!

Really quickly, let me clarify what I mean by “gateway gamer.” A gateway gamer, by my definition, is a recent board gamer who has a relatively small collection or who has just started playing the new classics like Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Patchwork, and so on. A hardcore gamer, on the other hand, has a larger collection or a taste for more heavyweight fare (hello, Twilight Struggle).

d20s
Ah, d20s: the calling card of the hardcore gamer.

Let’s imagine, for a moment, that you can’t serve both gateway gamers and hardcore gamers what they want at the same time. You would then have a trade-off. For gateway gamers, you’d prioritize a simple game based on straightforward concepts, understandable strategy, non-gamey language, approachable graphics, a short play time, and general ease-of-use. For hardcore gamers, you’d prioritize a complex game with nuanced strategy, baroque or extravagant art, uniqueness, a long play time, and replay-ability.

There is, to some degree, a middle road. You can make complex games based on simple mechanics like Patchwork. You can make a game’s art pretty and detailed while keeping the art approachable. You can make a game replay-able as well as easy-to-learn. You can make a game in the Goldilocks area of time – not too long and not too short. It’s just really tricky to walk this line. You need to say to yourself, “if I had to pick one side, which would I pick?” Commit to that choice and make it a priority, while catering to the other side as appropriate. As with so many things on my blog, the cadence remains the same: the choice is yours, just make an informed one.

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