Wednesday, August 1, 2012

As Seen on Geek and Sundry!

You've probably seen a few episodes of Wil Wheaton's Tabletop, the boardgame playing webseries on the brand new internetwork, Geek & Sundry.  If you haven't seen or heard of this before, you should definitely go check it out over at  Tabletop is a fun little show, and even though it could definitely use some improvement, it accomplishes what it sets out to do - it shows that boardgames (and cardgames, and RPGs) are fun and easy to learn.  But this post is not a review of Tabletop - maybe I'll do that later.

You may or may not have also heard that Geek & Sundry recently partnered with Target to bring the games featured on Tabletop into Target stores.  You can read the blog post/press release here:

Unsurprisingly, the response from the gamer community has run the complete spectrum - from those decrying this action as completely subverting the FLGS, while others herald this as the arrival of boardgaming into the mainstream.  I'd like to take a step away from the emotional outcries and take a look at what this might actually mean for the industry.

Does this spell the end of FLGS?
 No.  First of all, Target is not the first national chain to start carrying boardgames.  Barnes & Noble has been increasing their stock of these hobby games over the past few years, and so far hasn't shown any sign of advantage over the FLGS.  A good local gaming store will provide events and services that B&N and Target just won't be interested in doing, or wouldn't be able to do.  Of course, if an FLGS doesn't provide anything to draw people in, they could lose customers - but that's up to the FLGS.  They don't deserve to continue to exist just because they already do.

 In addition, B&N and Target will never carry the complete variety of boardgames that an FLGS will, and it seems highly unlikely that either of these major chains will start carrying the vast array of RPGP supplies, miniatures, dice, and other accessories.

 I saw a comment somewhere - I can't remember who said it, if it was you, let me know - that pointed out that if FLGS's survived the internet, they will survive Target.

Does this mean boardgaming has gone mainstream?
 Unfortunately, no.  Just getting the games in the store doesn't mean they will automatically sell.  Especially when it comes to boardgaming, people are hesitant to pick up something they don't recognize.  It's one thing to see a new trivia game based on their favorite show, but seeing Gloom or Castle Panic on the shelves doesn't mean they'll jump to pick it up.

 It is, however, an important step.  The fact is, more people go through Target every day than people go to FLGS's in a week, probably (that's a made-up statistic, by the way).  If our variety of boardgames starts showing up on Target shelves, that means people who would never ordinarily hear of these games will start seeing them.  Their interest may be piqued. 

 In addition, the "As-Seen-On-Geek&Sundry" stickers tagged on to these games may be almost as important as the games being on the shelves.  This gives people a place to go to see what these games are all about.  And unlike which is the exact opposite of user-friendly and welcoming, Tabletop will showcase the exact games they saw in the store, in an easy-to-browse interface.  And you can argue all you want about poor editing choices or rule errors, but the truth is Tabletop shows people playing these games and having a blast.  It shows new players learning a game and winning in their first game, against more experienced players.  And it gives a good overview of what the games are all about. 

So why do we care?
The important thing to remember here is that having these games show up on Target shelves isn't just getting a new location to buy our boardgames.  More importantly, as mentioned above, it increases exposure, and hopefully sales, of these boardgames.

You may not care about non-hobbyists buying board games, but in order for the hobby to truly explode, it's going to have to break out of it's core fanbase.  It's going to require that people who are not hobbyists purchase many of the games that we hobbyists know and love, or even know and play to death.

Increase of sales is necessary for growth.  It leads to a lot of things; larger print runs, for example, which decrease the cost of production per game and in the long run could lead to cheaper games and higher margins for publishing companies.  Higher margins for the publishing company means hiring more people.  It means increased quality control, it means expansion.  It means more money for marketing, which means more exposure, which means further increase in sales.  And what you may not know is that many publishing companies use the income from their best-selling products to create and support the more niche products.  So it's not like you're going to need every game to sell excellently - get a few games main-stream-ized and that will support some of your more hardcore games. 

Hopefully, this increased exposure will also lead to more people discovering the hobby.  It only took one game for me to start wondering about what other great games might be out there, and I started looking.  This could happen with any number of people, who see these games at Target, try them out, and start hungering for more.  This could actually benefit the FLGS that carries the "more" that people are looking for.

So what do WE do?
Pretty much the same thing we've been doing.  Encourage our family and friends to play new game.  Bring our favorites to family vacations and holidays.  Play lunchgames at work.  Show people episodes of Tabletop.  And just keep talking about games.  Geek&Sundry at Target is a good step; it's a positive thing for the growth of the industry, but it's just a step.  Everyone of us contributes to the growth of the hobby, and I think we're doing a great job so far.  Keep up the good work!

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