This holiday weekend I got to wondering how the hobby boardgame industry can sustain interest for a game in this era of “Cult of the New” and the many, many new games being published every day. A great deal of my thoughts here were triggered by Uwe Eickert of Academy Games in an interview he did with the No Enemies Here V-cast:
Uwe brings up many good points about how the hobby boardgame industry will likely be facing major changes in the near future. For me, I recently started questioning the future of my part of the hobby as I updated my Preorder & Kickstarter GeekList and looked at “The Hotness” on BGG. What I see is an industry that still is riding high on the “Cult of the New” and FOMO – “Fear of Missing Out.” As I look at my preorder and Kickstarter list and then The Hotness, I wonder if the hobby boardgame industry can sustain the hype they need to sell games.
As Uwe points out, there are many, many, many new games published every day. Indeed, the lifespan of a game has shrunk to almost nothing. Many games are here one day and gone tomorrow, replaced by another new game. The preorder and Kickstarter approach to buying games throws a wrinkle in this in that the games are not “here today” but “here at sometime in the future.”
What does that mean to me?
Let’s look at a a few of the games I have on preorder/Kickstarter. One of the older titles is Flashpoint: South China Sea on the GMT Games P500. I pledged for this game in February 2018 (nearly 2 years ago). The game status is, “Made the Cut; in final art & development” meaning, well, it just means it’s not at the printer yet and the delivery date is undeterminable. Now, I like designer Harold Buchanan and I ordered the game mostly because it is his design. I follow design diaries when they come out but, to be honest, my interest has cooled considerably in the past 2 years. Whatever hype I had is nearly all lost.
Another game on my list is Root: The Underworld Expansion from Leder Games. I pledged to Kickstarter in March of 2019 with a projected delivery date of December 2019. As it looks now, I won’t get my copy until February 2020 – if I’m lucky. I love Root and apparently many others do too as it is in The Hotness on BGG but…I find myself just playing the basic Root these days sans expansions. In the past year my hype has faded.
My hype deflation doesn’t stop there. The year 2019 was the 50th anniversary of the Apollo Moon Landing and I was caught up with the nostalgia; so caught up I pledged for One Small Step from Academy Games in July. Good thing Academy didn’t run the Apollo program because OSS is due March 2020 (compared to the Dec 2019 projection at funding). I love Academy Games but once again they hype I felt is fizzling as fast as a failed booster.
Not all is bad. Designer Lee Brimmicombe-Wood works hard to get expansions for his Wing Leader Series from GMT Games out to players. The next one, Wing Leader: Origins, which went on P500 in July 2019 is already at the printer (meaning 1-3 months more until delivery). That’s a good turnaround and I am able to keep my hype going, especially given the previous expansion, Wing Leader: Eagles, delivered to me in September 2019 – a gap of around 6 months between product delivery. Maybe there is a lesson here….
But then there is Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile from Leder Games. Presently on Kickstarter, Leder Games easily reached their funding goal (though I wonder how much better they might of done if they were not head-to-head with Return to Dark Tower). There is lots of good hype around this game. In particular, I appreciate the efforts of Dan Thurot at Space Biff. I am excited for this game, RIGHT NOW. But…the projected delivery date is January 2021. Throw in a healthy dose of Kickstarter doubt and I might see this game in…June 2021? That’s more than a year away. What is Leder Games going to do to sustain my hype? More importantly (for them), what if they don’t sustain my hype?
In the case of Kickstarter the publisher has an advantage in that they have my money up front and regardless of where my hype meter is they will deliver the game when they deliver it. The challenge for the publisher is to keep my hype going over a long period of time. If they don’t I am less likely to support their next Kickstarter. Publishers that use a preorder system are not as bad off (they have my pledge for a game but don’t get my money until closer to publication) but again, sustaining the hype during game development is a challenge/threat. Aside – I cancelled a preorder once after it charged. I kinda felt horrible telling the publisher that I wanted my money back even before the game was delivered. I understand some publishers are on razor-thin margins and even one cancellation can be difficult. So I try to stay ahead and if I cancel do it before charging occurs. But I digress….
As I look at myself, I feel my own ‘industry’ shake up coming. First, I honestly am trying to slow down my purchases. At this time last year I had taken in six new games; this year I have purchased one board game supplemental item (a box organizer). Of the 18 items on my GeekList, I think no more than 14 could deliver in 2020. That’s averaging more than one game a month – is that not enough?
I also found a few retailers that offer new games at prices similar to the preorder or basic Kickstarter rates. Usually these retailers have the games available at nearly the same time as the preorder is released or soon thereafter (for Kickstarter its early retail release). Here there is no price advantage for me going to the publisher. Instead, have a “disadvantage” in that I don’t get the game first (Cult of the New membership – REVOKED!) but maybe this is better as I get to see initial reactions once the game is “in the wild.” At the very least, I will be able to get a game when my hype (interest?) is highest, not long after it has cooled.
Some may point out that the preorder and Kickstarter methods serve the publisher as it is a barometer of interest. I sometimes wonder just how true that is. For instance, my oldest P500 at GMT Games is from October 2017 (!). Apparently, there are only 164 people who want a reprint of Panzer Expansion #1. Yes, there is a copy available on GeekMarket…for over $100! I want the game, but I don’t want it that badly. What good is it doing remaining in a vast limbo on the P500? Apparently the hype is long dead with this one. How many other games suffer the same fate? If I don’t preorder or back on kickstarter what is the real penalty for ME?
Then again, maybe I am being too impatient and paying to much attention to the hype-of-the-moment. Is it so bad to wait six to 18 months for a new game? Is that not a reasonable period to allow a game to be developed, playtested, manufactured, and shipped? There are plenty of (bad) examples of what happens when a game is rushed.
I’m torn. What are your thoughts? What is your boardgame hype like?
Feature image courtesy Leder Games