The coronavirus pandemic has weighed heavily on my mind ever since I first bought a basket full of Nyquil in tiny neighborhood Walmart on the first day of March. We’re going through a world-changing event right now. It’s scary and it’s going to be a long slog with no easy way out.
Both terrible and beautiful things have happened, are happening, and will continue to happen. Nothing will be unchanged, including board games. Yes, the coronavirus will change board games. That’s what I want to talk about today.
Look, I’m no psychic. I thought iPads were stupid in 2010. Obviously, I was wrong. I will be wrong many, many more times in my life. Predicting the future is a notoriously difficult trade. Nevertheless, trying to do so leads us to have interesting and necessary conversations.
Board games. Some of us play them for entertainment alone. Many of us design them for fun. Many others still design them for profit. Whether you love board games for the gameplay, the creative outlet, or the money-making potential, the coronavirus is going to change the way you play board games.
I want to talk about what I think’s going to happen. I want to hear your thoughts in the comments below, too. Let’s process this together.
1. Solo and 2-player games are going to be massive.
Board games are social in nature, so we tend to think of board games as being for at least 2 players and usually 3 or more. Yet this does not reflect underlying trends that have been simmering for a long time. For example, there are a ton of solo board games out there and the market for them has been pretty good for a while.
A lot of people are still stuck in their homes. Many others are going to voluntarily stay in their homes for a while. The number of people who are going to be spending time alone or with only their significant other or roommate is going to be much higher than in 2019. Board games, therefore, need to reflect this change in social dynamics. The ones that do will sell more copies.
2. Board games will become more popular because they feel like luxuries but are inexpensive.
Economic recessions have weird impacts. For example, lipstick sales famously went up during the 2008 recession. This makes no sense until you realize that lipstick is an inexpensive way of feeling attractive and put-together. That feeling might otherwise be pursued by getting a fancy haircut or new wardrobe.
People need to feel connected to others. They need human connection. Normally, a concert or big event would be a great way to fill that need. However, both of those are expensive, and board games do the job reasonably well for less money. (This is not even to mention the impacts of social distancing on large events.)
3. Board games will become more popular because people need human connection.
Speaking of filling a need for human connection, board games won’t just excel because they’re a cheap way of connecting people. They will excel because they’re an available way of connecting people.
Casually going to the movies, the theater, a concert, or a convention is not going to be nearly as common in the next few years as it used to be. Yet the same behaviors that drove people to do those things will still drive them to seek human connection – just in different ways. It won’t always be Zoom calls!
4. Tabletop Simulator and Tabletopia will spike in popularity.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced people to adopt technologies that they would otherwise be much slower to even notice. One of those technologies is video calling, or anything related to remote work. Yet how do board game developers work remotely?
Enter Tabletop Simulator (or Tabletopia). These tools make it possible for developers to play-test together and for gamers to play board games online. While playing board games on a computer might have seemed tedious even six months ago, it’s a relief in a time when it’s literally dangerous to touch physical board game pieces.
5. The coronavirus has ended traditional board game conventions for the foreseeable future.
One of the best ways to prevent spread of the coronavirus is incredibly simple: stay several feet away from other people. Physical distancing is such an easy-to-understand concept, but it precludes so many events that we take for granted. Among them, board game conventions.
We’re not going to see traditional board game conventions in 2020. We may not see them in 2021 either. If the opportunity to go to a convention arises, many people will be very reasonably skittish about going.
There has been a lot of talk of virtual board game conventions. Certainly, technology makes it easier to have virtual board game conventions. However, much of the magic of board game conventions comes from the sheer stimulation of a 1,000 geeky booths and 100,000 geeky people all around you.
It’s not the same on Twitch. It could be better and it could be worse. We’ll find out soon enough.
6. Many small publishers are going to close.
I hated typing that sentence. I don’t want to be Brandon the Game Doomer here. Nevertheless, I’ve written this blog with the earnest belief that it’s important to talk about the hard stuff, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.
This is not a good time to have a small business, generally speaking. Some businesses, particularly eCommerce or professional services that can be performed remotely, are doing great. Everyone else, well…
You can’t go to that restaurant (or shouldn’t). You can’t go to that store (or shouldn’t). Need I go on?
Now board games can be sold online, and many publishers will do that. Board games, in general, I believe are a great business to be in right now. However, many publishers rely on local gaming stores, or worse, conventions, to sell their games.
That business model, simply put, is just not going to work in 2020 and probably not in 2021. That’s a long time to go without revenue. A lot of our beloved publishers are going to have to adapt or close.
7. Super small board game publishers will have the best chance they’ll ever have to succeed.
Demand for board games is probably going to go up. High-quality publishers, on the other hand, are likely to fold. That means the massive demand for board games will still be there but will remain unmet for a while.
If you are a solo creator or a member of a small team of board game creators, you will soon have the levelest playing field you’ll probably ever see. People will crave well-made games and there may not be enough of them to go around. Start creating something worthwhile in advance so you can fill that need.
How do you think coronavirus will change board games?
I’m still trying to comprehend the scale of the changes that we are seeing right now. What do you think the board gaming world is going to look like a year or five from now? Let me know in the comments below!