Hello, Chaz Marler from Pair of Dice Paradise, with the next installment in this series on whether the board game industry is experiencing a bubble, and what it could mean if it bursts.
So far, we’ve talked about potential signs of an unhealthy board game industry bubble: an increase of product and retail outlets at a rate greater than consumers can keep up with, an increased presence in popular culture (South Park image), and publisher gimmicks designed to artificially stimulate sales; all potentially leading to a saturated market that becomes unsustainable until it finally bursts, like a bubble.
Add to this the collectibility mentality, fueled in part by collectible card games, living card games and, for better or worse, expansions. Each of these could push the industry passed a tipping point; and could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. For example, I’m reminded of episode 42 of the Cardboard Jungle Podcast, where, host Anthony Racano, shared his feelings on the upcoming expansion for the Stefan Feld game, Bruge. He mentioned, “I love Bruge, and I’m going to buy the expansion when it comes out, but it really does not need it.”
Well, what can all of these factors lead up to? Here’s one possible scenario, based on nothing more scientific than just my own perspective and experience.
Let’s say that sales continue to increase, due, in part, to the reasons previously mentioned. At some point, the number of titles available through retail and Kickstarter reach the limit of the purchasing power of the customer base. But the products and pervasiveness in pop culture persist. Consumers become financially and emotionally exhausted trying to keep up. But they can’t. Kickstarters stop funding as often. Casual customers move on to a different market. All of a sudden, retail outlets find that they can’t sell their stock. Most of the stores that sprang up during the bubble disappear, leaving distributors with stock that they can’t offload. This causes distributors to reduce the number of orders they make from publishers, thereby reducing the number of titles publishers can afford to produce. Forced to reduce staff and produce fewer titles, publishers focus on just their best selling properties. The remaining board game enthusiasts are left with the products having the greatest mass-market appeal to chose from; going from half a dozen friendly, local game shops to browsing the aisles at WalMart for their next board game.
The comics crash in the 90’s nearly killed off Marvel Comics; they downsized a third of their employees, sold off the rights to characters such as Blade, Punisher, Thor and Captain America, and filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Fortunately, Marvel soon after secured $365 million in investments, which was used in part to bankroll Marvel film and television Studios… and the rest, as they say, is present-day history. (Which is leading to another inevitable bubble for the comics industry, but that’s an entirely different discussion for another place and time.)
Let’s hope that it’s not too late for the board game industry to avoid such a fate, because I’m not sure an industry this size could survive such a crash. And I can’t -- I won’t -- go back to a world where what you see on the shelves at WalMart is what you get.