Old-School Games Get New Life



Think the rise of consoles and mobile devices means it’s game over for old-school tabletop gaming? Think again.

The digital revolution hasn’t killed board games, role-playing games and other offline diversions. Instead, new technologies are rewriting the rules of hobby-game publishing and production—and raking in some serious cash.

We’re not talking Monopoly money here, either. ICv2, a site dedicated to hobby gaming (defined as titles sold primarily via the hobby channel of game and card specialty stores), reports that shoppers in the U.S. and Canada spent $700 million on hobby games in 2013, up 20 percent year-over-year and almost double the totals of 2008. The collectible-games category (properties like Magic: The Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh!) leads the charge, with 2013 retail sales of $450 million; miniatures (including Warhammer 40,000 and Hordes) are nextat $125 million, followed by board games at $75 million, card and dice games at $35 million and role-playing games at $15 million.

“I wouldn’t call anything ‘recession-proof,’ but the hobby-gaming market tends to hold its own during difficult financial times,” says Adrian Swartout, CEO of Gen Con, North America’s largest annual tabletop gaming convention. “When you don’t have a lot of money, taking the family out to a movie is not possible. It’s way too expensive. But playing a board game around the family table is a low-cost way to interact.”

Swartout has a front-row seat for the hobby-gaming renaissance. Gen Con 2014, held in August at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, encompassed more than 14,000 individually ticketed events, including around-the-clock gaming tournaments at nearby hotels. Weekend attendance fell just shy of 185,000, outpacing Gen Con 2013 by 14 percent and signaling the event’s fourth consecutive year of more than 10 percent growth.

Swartout credits hobby gaming’s evolution to the increasing diversification of its core audience. “It’s changed a lot over the last four or five years,” she says. “It’s still heavily male, but it used to be about 90 percent male—now it’s less than 70 percent. We’re seeing more young females, and we’re also seeing older people getting married, having kids and bringing their families to the show.”

Tabletop gaming offers a welcome respite from the demands of the digital world, says Robert T. Carty Jr., vice president of sales and marketing at Mayfair Games, a Skokie, Ill.-based publisher with more than 100 titles in print, including the long-running Settlers of Catan multiplayer board game series.

“Technology is around us all the time. We’re always dealing with e-mail or cell phones or computers,” Carty says. “With board games, it’s an hour or two hours when you’re not plugged in, and you don’t have to answer e-mail. There’s a lot of allure there.”

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