Where do we go from here?

Transcript of the podcast published on March 7th, 2011.

Let’s just take a break and reflect on the past developments in the gaming world. Where do we go from here? It is clear that board gaming as a whole is a very healthy hobby at the moment. It might not have the breakthrough fad or trend of past decades, like a new concept to sell huge amounts of cards like in Magic the Gathering, but all in all there are lots of very good companies who each have found a niche in which they have a relatively healthy life. Fantasy Flight Games has basically grabbed the Fantasy, Horror and SF niche market, GMT is catering to the Euro-influenced and opinionated war gamer, Days of Wonder successfully delivers great accessible family games and so on. Also in Germany the game market has been relatively stable – the old great companies can still exist and deliver good product and there has even been a possibility for young and upcoming companies like Argentum games to grow and prosper somewhat. The same is to be said about the European market as a whole – Eastern Europe has expanded as a market with many of the best games of the last years coming from the Czech Republic for example, but now also from Poland and other places. Italy, France, Holland and England are also strong as countries in which game design is practiced an art and the population is increasingly interested in it, not to forget Belgium, Switzerland and Austria. Essen attendance is still growing every year, and the number of published games as well.

If there is any kind of problem it is the problem of over-saturation. At the Westpark Gamers we have already found that we return to older games that we like instead of playing the new Essen games, which is unusual, because the last Essen is not that long gone. Usually we were busy until at least the middle of the year before a certain expectation for new games kicked in. But we are already returning to established games for entertainment.

It’s not that last Essen’s games were a worse than usual – quite the opposite! In fact 2010 was quite a good year most remarkable for a high level of general quality and relatively few disappointments. That it was not the year of a standout game like Dominion should not be something to be expected every year – that would just be silly. Still – we have super fantastic games like 7 Wonders or Dominant Species, and that’s really something.

In fact if you took any, and I really mean ANY of the top games of 2010 and put them in a time machine to travel back to 1980 or even 1990 they would all be huge hits that the whole gaming world would talk about. But today they just go under in a huge torrent of quality. It is very difficult to get noticed with a game when already even small companies or DTP publishers manage to bring out product that is equal to the best games of the past years in both production values and content.

In a way we now repeat the situation that computer games found themselves in a couple of years back. When the computer game market emerged, many new and spectacular ideas for games were born: the RPG’s, the RTS games, the Adventure games, the Ego-Shooter games, etc.. All these genres were defined like the different board gaming genres, even taking cues from them in many ways. But looking at computer games now one seems to notice that there are very few new ground breaking ideas anymore, it is just the technology like the graphics of games that is still developed. Another area is bringing games to where there have been no games before. I was once told that the fastest growing market in electronic games is the so-called social games market, where people play games via facebook or through their browser. These games are quick and accessible and don’t need any preparation to jump in.

This does not surprise me as I see the time-factor as the biggest enemy for physical board games in the future. Once the electronic game table market really kicks off in the near future – and I firmly believe that this will happen – board games with physical components will increasingly have a difficult time except perhaps with spectacular miniatures. But already many Fantasy Flight Games like Arkham Horror for example are clustered with so many card decks, counters and paraphernalia that I for my part would welcome if a computer all set it up for me in a millisecond and I could start right in. Even FFG themselves have realized this and start publishing ipad and iphone apps that actually reduce the time needed for playing their games.

The games of the future will also use sound effects and videos to enhance the game experience, I am sure.

But fact is: We are at a crossroads right now. Not a moment to despair, but a moment to take note of what we like about gaming and to pave the roads for what gaming will become in the future. One thing is sure: the social aspect of gaming, the table banter, the camaraderie, the real people with which you interact will always be the biggest asset of face to face gaming. Let’s try to preserve that!