It’s natural to assume that, with the advent of digital games, board games will soon be going the way of the tape cassette. Mobile games are convenient for anyone with a smartphone or tablet, taking up those spare minutes on the bus or at the doctor’s office, but board games are time-consuming and clunky. The average price of an iPhone app is just 19 cents; for Android that number is a measly 6 cents. Yet a board game can run you 50 bucks.
So why are board games still doing so well?
When Wizards of the Coast launched Magic: The Gathering—Duels of the Planeswalkers in 2009, modeled after their popular card game Magic: The Gathering, they found that sales for the original game increased threefold. The primary reason? Board games and video games create inherently different experiences. When most people play app games, they’re isolated and tend to play against computers or strangers. There’s nothing wrong with isolated gameplay—gaming alone can be a wonderful way to unwind, or to meet people from around the world who share your passions. But it’s different from playing a traditional board game. The latter takes advantage of your preexisting social groups and creates deeper connections between you and your family and friends.
Creators are finding that playing apps compliments, rather than competes with, in-person gaming. When game companies are able to bring their popular board game titles to tablets and phones, they are building up a fanbase which is interested in buying the original board game despite owning the app. The more they play the app, the more they want to share the experience with their friends and family by buying the physical version.
The play experience isn’t the only thing separating board games and video games. The business behind industry is different, too. “If you get outside the top 10 [trending apps], nobody’s making a significant amount of money,” explained Mark Kaufmann, vice president of sales and marketing for Days of Wonder, during an interview with the gaming news website Polygon. Tabletop games, however, are a sturdier market with a devoted fanbase and a product with a very long shelf life. “You throw apps off of your devices probably all the time,” Kaufmann went on, “Nobody throws board games away, even if they haven’t played it in five years.”
Thinking of picking up a couple of board games this holiday season? Check out our recommendations here.