Board Gaming in 2029: Kickstarter & Cardboard 10 Years from Now

Posted on Posted in Behind the Scenes

The year is 2029. Everybody has jetpacks and Amazon is the only company in existence. What does board gaming look like in this brave new world 10 years into the future? And for that matter, what happened to Kickstarter?

Board gaming in 2029.

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I’m going to do something I don’t do on this blog. I’m going to try my hand at futuring, that fabled profession of the mystics. While unscientific, unfalsifiable, and usually wrong, I nevertheless think this is an important exercise sometimes. When you’re trying to come up with a business strategy that works, you need to think five or ten years down the road. By extrapolating from current trends, you can try to envision the world you will soon inhabit. As Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

These are just my thoughts. They’re not hard facts and this isn’t a how-to guide. I want to start a conversation about the future of board gaming, even if you think some of this stuff is totally off-base.

Kickstarter will become a store.

In my recent article, Could Kickstarter Become a Board Game Store by 2020, I talked about why I believe Kickstarter could become a store in the near future. The year 2020 is a nice, clickable title that just happens to be feasible. In reality, I could Kickstarter becoming a store anywhere between 2020 and 2023.

The short version of my argument is that Kickstarter has already started taking pre-orders. This marks a dramatic change in the way they have historically done things. Not to mention, around 10% of campaigns don’t fulfill rewards at all, and those that ship are basically always late. In some countries, Kickstarter is not allowed because of consumer protection laws.

If all that weren’t enough, Kickstarter has financial incentives to become a store, because they take funding based on success. Furthermore, they have the brand recognition and loyal community they need to pull it off. They could very easily pivot into “a store for small businesses / creative professionals.”

The traditional publishing business process will be much more viable than self-publishing.

You’d still be able to get your board gaming fix, don’t you worry. There are all kinds of small companies that publish board games and for ones that have already had a measure of success, you’re not frontloading the entire cost of board gaming, just the manufacturing cost that Kickstarter would cover. This is likely to happen even if Kickstarter doesn’t become a store because there is some evidence that suggests your first time on Kickstarter is harder than ever.

Though you’ll still be able to buy great board games, that extra expense would knock a lot of self-publishers out of the game entirely. Board gaming as an industry isn’t declining, but rather maturing. The explosive growth is slowing down, which makes it a little harder for first-timers in business, too.

Some board gamers will become intensely interested in RPGs.

While board games still grew from 2016 to 2017 by 13%, RPGs did 22% at the same time. The year before that, the growth rates were 22% and 29% respectively. This is in stark contrast to the 2014 to 2015 growth rate where board games grew by 56% and RPGs by 40%.

Now, look, any economist worth your time will say “past returns do not guarantee future performance.” This is true. However, what made me look into all this data was the overwhelming amount of people on my Facebook group, social media channels, and chat room saying one of two things:

  1. Board gaming is getting stale and all the games look the same.
  2. I really want a story.

Number one is really telling. A lot of the people I see complaining are the exact same who were head-over-heels in love with board games in late 2015 and early 2016. They are early adopters. Many of them are superbackers on Kickstarter. With the love fading, some keep buying games and hoping they’ll find something great. Others leave board games entirely.

The second point is different. Board gaming does allow us to tell stories, but RPGs are a far better medium for that. In fact, the core component of any given RPG is essentially the sourcebook. The sourcebook contains lore as well as the rules the RPG universe abides by. RPGs rely on players to tell stories with the prompting and structure provided by a carefully crafted system. RPGs won’t scratch the board gamer itch for puzzles or crunchy heavy board games. They will definitely satiate desire for storytelling far better than board games typically would.

It will still be worth it to make board games if you love board gaming.

This post might make you feel awfully uncomfortable about making board games. Allow me to try to ease your unease. Creating hobby board games alone without integrating them into a larger business model such as transmedia storytelling doesn’t typically yield phenomenal amounts of money. The biggest board game campaign I remember was Exploding Kittens, which was in the neighborhood of $8 million. Matthew Inman might have walked away with $3 million in net profit from that. That’s a heck of a windfall, but he lives in Seattle, and frankly, you can’t retire wealthy on that sum. Oh, and by the way, he sells, in the words of Wikipedia “wall posters, greeting cards, calendars, clothing, coffee cups, signed prints, stickers, magnets, and badges.”

What board gaming has always done, however, is get people around the table to have a good social time without staring at a screen. In our increasingly digitized, alienating world, board games give us a chance to communicate with one another, escape our problems, and challenge our minds. While the amount of mechanics that can be applied to board games is finite, the number of possible expressions when combined with themes in nearly infinite. A well-made board game is an elegant system. It’s an art form.

If you love making board games, you should still make them! If you want to make a little money doing so, you can still pitch to a publisher or make a small business. The rules of engagement will change between now and 2029, but this shouldn’t dash your dreams. It will simply change the methods needed to achieve them.

Final Thoughts

I know this is a lot to take in. Ten years into the future of board gaming is tough to imagine. Yet by practicing this exercise, we stretch our imaginations, reset our expectations, and become better planners.

What do you think board gaming will look like in 10 years? Let me know in the comments below!

5 thoughts on “Board Gaming in 2029: Kickstarter & Cardboard 10 Years from Now

  1. Nice article! Thoughts:

    I think KS is already a store to most backers. To small creators, it’s a fundraising platform. To large businesses, it’s a risk mitigation platform. I don’t think formal status as a store suits KS. Competing with Amazon, CSI, etc feels like a bad move given its current status. Could be wrong.

    I see BGs trying to add stories and RPG elements to respond to demand. I’d love to see more interest in RPGs, but it’s a tough sell. As complicated as a BG can be … RPGs seem harder to pick up, at least initially. They also require dedicated, long term groups for best value, and usually require asymmetric play from a GM.

    What’s your take on the differences and similarities between the RPG and BG crowds?

    1. Hi Adam, glad you liked the article!

      As for KS being a store, I think your observations are keenly made. It’s pretty close to being that already. But maybe it really is better off to stay in the gray area it occupies now, like you said.

      My theory about RPGs is just that for now – a theory. From my point of view, I’ve seen a lot of board gamers online clamoring for stories. Board games can tell stories, but they’re not necessarily the ideal medium. For that reason, I think some of them will defect to RPGs. Regarding the learning curve with RPGs, to be honest, the right company could come along and smooth that out to where it’s no harder than learning, say, Twilight Imperium. Similarly, legacy games require long term group commitment for the best value. Not sure how the GM problem will be addressed, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a genius came along and eliminated the need for an objective arbiter of rules with an innovative system…

  2. I think you’re right along the lines of RPGs. As more people enter the gaming space through lighter strategy games like Exploding Kittens, they will gradually move to either heavier strategy games and/or explore other options out there, like RPGs. I’ve never been into RPGs myself, but I agree there must be a way to create an entry-level-style games that help break down those barriers. It’ll be interesting to see what happens!

    1. I suspect the barriers to playing an RPG for the first time can be solved not necessarily with innovative game design, but smart marketing and user experience design. By that, I mean slick documents, a clean and easy to understand website, rules written in layperson language…that will go a long way.

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