Games Go Digital? What Farmville Could Mean for the Game Industry

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Games go digital? What happened? Hasbro Games, a key profit driver for the company, was down well over 30% last year. Another major game company bemoans the pressure on retail prices, and laments the idea that games are going digital. It is the Mom who buys games for the family, and these days Mom is on Facebook playing Farmville, instead of combing the toy aisles for good old fashioned family game entertainment.          

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Hmmmm. I don’t like the sound of this one bit. So are games to go digital? Spending $1 for an addictive game app I can play anywhere seems like a great value compared to $24.95 for a real-world board or plastic action game. While you do pay $50/month to own the device for which you paid hundreds of dollars to obtain, the added value of the game is great and the additive cost is minimal.           

Family_game But if something is gained, then what is lost? Facebook and smartphone app games are no substitute for face to face, hand to hand, head to head game play, whether on the field, the floor, or the table. 

What do we need to do as game inventors, creators, makers, and marketers to make our games essential, desirable, can’t-get-enuffable, gotta-have-it products? We can never be cheap enough. We can’t sell a game for a dollar and make a profit, so price is not the answer here.

Classic-board-games Is this a passing fad? When I started in the toy industry a couple years back, a Marvin Glass partner pronounced, "the board game is dead!" That was 1980. This proved to be a bit premature, I think. Video games have undeniably affected the game business since that time. But still, the plastic and cardboard game soldiers on. Games made of wood and stone have become dinosaurs, however. Will plastic, cardstock, and cardboard go that way, as well? To be replaced by what? 

Are today's modern game products not compelling enough visually? Are they not interesting enough in subject matter, not compelling or addictive enough in play? Perhaps our Doggie Doo game, which is attracting so much attention lately, is an example of one kind of stand-out quality that a successful game will need to have. Bizarre games like this are outstanding in their field, so to speak – they stand out in the mind of the consumer from the myriad of other seductive choices on the shelf.

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So what is it that today’s game industry lacks in appeal? We have the answer of course, but you will have to license it from us if you want it. Gotcha, didn’t I? But seriously, I think we just might have one of the answers. Call now, operators are standing by.

3 thoughts

  1. Thank you both for insightful and informative commentary. Something is afoot in the game business. What it is will become more clear in time. I hope that you are both right.

  2. While Hasbro’s game sales are dropping by 30%, sales within the hobby games market are up by as much as 40%. ( http://www.comicsbeat.com/2011/03/26/diamond-data-diamond-retailer-summit-2011/ ) So what we’re seeing isn’t “the end of games” by any means but rather a tectonic shift in the value prospect of games and how games are being perceived by the customer.
    Exactly the same transition is occurring in the world of video games, and it’s telling that your article speaks of iPhone and Facebook games rather than Xbox and Playstation. What’s really occurring here? Well, video games have finally gone mainstream and, in doing so, mainstream audiences are becoming game connoisseurs and transforming the industry in the process. In both the boardgame and video game industry, for instance, established players are losing ground to new independents. Branded products are losing value as customers place an increasing value on the actual quality of play. The time you could just slap a license on a otherwise weak game experience and hope to succeed is rapidly fading. That’s a pretty fundamental shift for large companies on both sides of the physical/digital divide. Brands with high quality gameplay do exist and are holding their value but the weaker implementations that have glutted the market in the past are beginning to go extinct.
    Personally, I think now is a great time to be an emerging game inventor. The past 30 years have seen extensive consolidation and loss of innovation in the board game industry as designers had fewer and fewer companies to license to and those companies relied on an ever-shrinking pool of inventors. That’s changing now and we’re seeing new avenues open up. Just like a good game design, it’s healthy for the industry to present many paths to success.
    Don’t worry about the new wave of digital games – they’re simply lowering the barrier to entry and exposing new audiences to the notion of play. A blogger mom who gets hooked on Angry Birds may be in the early, obsessive stages of a newly converted gamer but, with time, her tastes will diversify, her concept of play will become more deeply ingrained, and she’ll be more likely to give serious consideration to a new toy or boardgame (for her children or for herself) the next time she’s exposed to a quality product in a retail aisle.

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