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Casual Crossover
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Queen Games’ Kingdom Builder has won the 2012 Spiel des Jahres award – learn how to play and find out how the publisher came to be. Plus: an in depth look at tabletop funding on Kickstarter by game weight, a new hierarchy of gamers, helpful tips from a successful game retailer, and what the board game industry can learn from the casual video game movement. More »

New and varied revenue models in game sales

Apple and Facebook have created totally new models for generating revenue from video games. This isn’t the first time we have seen a change — people originally paid for games with quarters, essentially renting the game for as long as the player could make it last.  When Atari, Nintendo, and other home consoles were introduced, customers purchased the entire game for a set fee, and today that model still exists. However, rather than sell games for 50 to 60 dollars apiece (Wii $50, Xbox/PS3/PC $60), casual games from Apple and other companies are selling games designed for phones and portable devices for as little as 99 cents. The goal of these incredibly low-priced games is to sell a higher volume of them and to spend a lot less time and money developing them. Many casual games offer free downloadable trials, with the option to purchase the full game.

The Facebook model is completely different. These games are free to play, but companies make revenue from a small subset of customers who purchase additional or exclusive virtual objects within the game. By offering games for free or for very low prices, the casual video game industry has instantly broadened the audience willing to try their games.

The board game industry should also continue to consider new and innovative revenue models that echo those that have given the casual video game industry so much success. One possibility is to place compelling casual games, such as a playable starter deck, into users’ hands for free or for very low prices and earn the return on investment through game upgrades.

Demythologizing the market

If you asked an adult in 1985 the question “Who plays video games?” they would likely have answered “kids.” If you asked the same question in 1995, they might have said “kids and teenagers or young adults.” If you asked that question today, 68% of adults3 would say “I play video games.” Our perception of who plays games is a critical factor in how many games are sold and played.

When Nintendo was developing the Wii, which was fittingly titled the Revolution originally, one of the key questions they asked was how to move away from the stigma that video games are for children, and redefine the industry with games that are for everyone. Advertisements for the Wii showed families playing tennis together in their living rooms. After launch, Nintendo branched out into fitness games, and to date, Wii Fit is still the 3rd best selling console video game in history4. Advertisements showed adults, not children, working out by playing a video game; images like these resonate in the marketplace, and have done wonders to undo the antiquated and stereotypical perception that video games are toys played by children.

Nintendo also pushed advertisements that showed women playing the Wii both for fun and for exercise, and this kind of marketing was key in helping to overcome the myth that video games are a male-dominated market. Today, 47% of the game-playing population is female and, in fact, adult women represent a greater portion (30%) than boys age 17 or younger (18%).3

Changing the perceived stereotypes associated with gaming through marketing campaigns, cross-pollination with other industries, and a real focus on delivering simple games to all ages and genders helped the casual video game industry broaden its demographic.

In my observation, a large majority of children that were playing video games in the 1980s are still playing them as adults today. Many of those same children were also playing board games in the 1980s, yet they are not playing them as adults today. Why? The board game industry should not only focus on games that are for everyone, but it should market these and rebrand itself as an industry that is as valid and acceptable for all ages and genders as the current video game industry is today. Too many board game commercials focus on children playing games together; the industry should model what Nintendo did with the Wii, and begin advertising both families and groups of adults playing casual games together.

Any opportunity to cross over into other successful genres like sports and fitness may also prove to be helpful in broadening audiences. Every Wii Fit balance board that sits in a household that never had a video game in it previously helps to validate video games as an acceptable adult medium. The board game industry needs to jump into new genres just like Nintendo did with the Wii Fit; finding a way to put tabletop games into non-traditional board game households will go a long way toward legitimizing casual board games.

In Conclusion

If the casual board game industry can design compelling and fun games that have little setup time and intuitive and simple game mechanics, market these games for broad audiences, and modernize the way revenue is earned from their games, then this industry has a very good chance of riding the wave of casual video games into great success.

References:
1 http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/shigeru-miyamoto-interview
2 http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/Smartphone-Update-2012/Findings.aspx
3 http://www.theesa.com/facts/pdfs/ESA_EF_2012.pdf
4 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wii_Fit