With news that a version of “Monopoly” is ditching cash in favor of digital payments, is the end of traditional board games near? Not even close. On the contrary, the expansion of online technology has actually helped to solidify gamers’ commitment to the old-fashioned ways across the globe.
It seems as though no industry is immune to the changing trends in payments — not even board games.
Hasbro, makers of the eternally popular board game “Monopoly,” has released a new cashless version. While, as Gizmodo reports, this is not the first time the gamemakers have attempted such a feat, it is the first time the American-born classic will come fully equipped with an ATM-like device that can scan game pieces and keep perfect track of each player’s transactional history, down to the penny, without any manual input required.
Gone are the days of unwittingly handing your opponent an advantage through bad accounting and hiding piles of bright pink fivers under your seat, only to be revealed dramatically at a last stage of the game.
Beyond this news providing an amusing anecdote, does it really matter? Board games are obviously dying a slow death at the hands of video and online gaming, right?
According to an article from ICv2, a firm that reports on the “Business of Geek Culture,” the hobby board game industry climbed to $880 million dollars in 2014, which marked a 20 percent increase in year-over-year sales. While pre-release games from the Star Wars franchise certainly helped to boost some of these numbers, especially in what ICv2 categorizes as “collectible games” and “hobby games” — those specifically designed for consumers who consider themselves “gamers” — the numbers are impressive nonetheless.
Another sign of the growing interest in board games would be the annual Spieltage festival in Essen, Germany. Attracting more than 160,000 over a four-day period, the festival, according to The Economist, is part fan gathering and part industry trade show. There are live tournaments, including popular card games like “Magic: The Gathering,” and the largest contest ever of “The Settlers of Catan,” in which 1,000 people will compete to colonize a fictional wilderness.
Although board games remain rooted in a tactile experience shared among a group of people gathered around a table, the impact that technology has had on their growth in popularity is undeniable. While some may consider the Internet the domain of video gamers, it — and the devices that connect us to it — has helped to unite board gamers and offer them new ways to express and expand their love for the genre.
As Steve Buckmaster of Esdevium Games, a British distributor, posited to The Economist, video games have not diverted people but rather brought gaming to a larger audience. As the article goes on to note, app versions of popular games often boost sales of their physical counterparts, helping fans organize get-togethers and tournaments, while crowdfunding websites have made life easier for aspiring designers to bring their board games to the masses.
Crowdfunding is, in fact, one of the surprising ways the board game industry is growing and innovating. As an article by CNBC recently reported, board game projects are attracting tens of thousands of fans on online crowdfunding sites, some amassing millions of dollars in only a few weeks’ time. The strategy game “Scythe,” for example, began its Kickstarter campaign in mid-October with a pledge goal of $33,000 and ended with $1.8 million. In fact, some of the most well-funded Kickstarter campaigns of all time have been board and card games, including “Exploding Kittens,” which raised $8.8 million in Feb. 2015.
“This was my seventh board game-related project, and based on the chatter, I had a feeling it was going to do well,” Jamey Stegmaier, the head of Stonemaier Games and the designer of “Scythe,” told CNBC. “Crowdfunding sites and social media have enabled me to build a community around my games. This way my backers feel like they’re personally invested.”
This kind of financial support is a testament to the power of the tabletop gaming community’s immense power. They are fiercely dedicated, well-organized and loyal to designers and companies that deliver high-quality games.
“The most successful board gaming Kickstarters have reputable and dependable publishers,” Chad Krizan, advertising manager at BoardGameGeek, explained to CNBC. “Provocative themes, great miniature models and stunning art always help draw backers coming from immersive hobbies like video games.”
According to CNBC, BoardGameGeek.com, an online hub for board game hobbyists, was founded in Jan. 2000 with less than 5,000 users. By Nov. 2015, the site had grown to 1.15 million users, with roughly 55 million page views per month. The company’s astronomical growth and following makes a strong argument for toymakers and digital media companies alike paying close attention to how they manage their tabletop gaming business.
“Monopoly” is clearly taking a cue from the larger board gaming industry, integrating technology into its interface. But is it too little, too late? Will the classic, despite its continued efforts to stay relevant, be usurped by a new generation of board games, which bring players together, both in person and online, 24 hours a day, over networks, apps, integrations and tech add-ons?
It’s too soon to tell, but, in the meantime, “Monopoly” players everywhere might want to begin to rethink their strategies.