TableTop – Hit TV Series A Game Changer, NPD Missing It

Marynewheader
Wil-wheaton-current-headshotThis
Saturday is TableTop Day. (I’ll never get people to associate me with
toys if I keep writing about games, but this one is a game changer.) Have you
heard of Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day and their hit TV Series, TableTop? Wil and
his friends sit around and play board games. Guest stars are celebrities and next
season includes Jeri Ryan, Seth Green, Bobak Ferdosi, Ashley Clements, Patrick
Rothfuss, and Wheaton’s son Ryan Wheaton.

Wil
Wheaton is single handedly doing more to get people to play board games than
anyone on the planet & I love the way he thinks: "I think any game can
be a gateway game, just because you put the right game in front of the right
person, and they’re going to go crazy. … You’ve just got to figure out what
kinds of games people like to play." 

He
is so popular that despite it being a new show, his playing a game can cause it
to sell 30,000 units of the game the following week. The show is so popular NBC
is creating their hour long series version with Glee co-star Jane Lynch as host
of NBC’s Hollywood Game Night, produced by Sean Hayes and Todd Milliner that
features A-list celebrities hanging out and playing games with non-celebrity
contestants in a cocktail party atmosphere. The series is based on Hayes’
real-life game nights.  

NPD
reports that board game sales are down, but I don’t believe they are tracking
the type of board games
Jane lynch that many people, like Wil, are playing today – the games
that were once labeled hobby (sometimes called eurostyle or designer games).
Look at the top 10 games on Amazon.  It is a mix of types that you didn’t once see in the mass.

Most
of you know about the hit Settlers of Catan, called the Monopoly buster or the
game of our time – a favorite of Mila Kunis, Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg
and Reid Hoffman among many other celebrities. Another hot game is Alan R. Moon's Ticket to
Ride
.  Forbes recently wrote about Days
of Wonder, the manufacturer of Ticket to Ride, “… Days of Wonder has sold more
than 2 million physical copies of the game at a hefty $50, and nearly that many
copies of the game for iPhone and iPad at $6.99
.” Incredible price points and
they only have 15 full time employees. Ticket to Ride is not their only game.

I
should mention that these eurostyle/hobby game inventors are treated as
celebrities in their market (now
Tabletop-1 making their way to the mass market). Their
names are on the box, people stand in line for autographs and the chance to
play with the inventor/designer, consumers buy their games like they do books
from favorite authors. There is a connection to increased sales and I talk
about this in many past articles, including most recently Lessons from the
Housewares Show

The
market has changed. The older more familiar style of family games are still
selling, look at Spin Master’s ‘overnight’ success in that area or Lego’s
games, but now there are options and people are enjoying the options. More
people are playing games of every type on every platform than at any time in
history.  I recently wrote an article on
the benefits of board games
and it is being shared almost virally. People are
interested in board games – all types of them! I suggest people think of
games like they do food. Sometimes you feel like a snack (an app), sometime
like fast food (quick fun game) and sometimes like that family/friends sit-down
meal (eurostyle). 

We need the face-to-face interaction with our diverse populations. I applaud Wil and his efforts. When
asked why he made up the show and why Int’l TableTop Day, Wil said, “…to just give an opportunity to people to go
somewhere and experience the boundless joy of getting together with other
people and just hanging out and playing a game together.” And, now there are options – lots of options to play! 

4 thoughts

  1. Thank you, Russ, Eric and Tanya for your comments.
    I can’t help but still be curious about how sales are tracked. Two of the hottest products today are not on Amazon’s Top Ten List nor in the big box.
    Kim Vandenbroucke’s recent post about Cards Against Humanity hit status http://www.globaltoynews.com/2013/04/why-we-should-be-looking-at-cards-against-humanity.html#comments and Hasbro’s recent press release about Magic the Gathering sales being up 30% http://www.icv2.com/articles/news/25561.html gives pause to question. Neither sales are in the big box retailer or at Amazon. And the President of Hasbro said that Magic is the LARGEST game brand in the U.S. http://www.icv2.com/articles/news/22100.html
    I’d like to understand how such significant sales are tracked if they are in the specialty and hobby. I’m not alone as this was also a topic last week in our California Get-Togethers.

  2. There’s a funny thing happening right now in our industry. I think we’d all agree that the digital age has arrived and more people are playing today than ever before. The problem for us table top companies is that we haven’t figured out how to monetize this for ourselves and with our haptic games. I would agree from what I’ve heard and experienced that numbers fell flat in 2012 for games in most countries, Germany being an exception. HOWEVER, I believe there’s something else going on. There’s an undercurrent that is happening and if you’re tracking, you’ll see it. Table Top Day was a huge success. Thousands of events happened all over the world! People are playing table top games! Enough to move the needle? What kinds of games? Euro-style games like Settlers, Dominion, Carcassonne are becoming more mainstream. I was surprised when my small local toy store (more toys than games) told me their number one selling game was Settlers. And not because Settlers isn’t a great game but because this toy store offers more American family-style games than Euro-style. At the same time, I also believe we can’t ignore the place amongst the masses that Monopoly and Clue appeal to. I bet many a Candyland and Jenga were played on March 30th. So what will move the needle? I think in order for game companies to stay relevant they have to diversify more. A variety of table top AND digital AND integrated games will be important! It’s just that no table top company has been innovative enough (yet) in the integrated category. It’s an exciting time to be in this industry. Clearly people want to play.

  3. We are living in a golden age of tabletop games, with more choices and great quality available for every age and style of gamer. The numbers may or may not yet reflect the groundswell of passion that is building, but any attendee of a PAX show can tell you that nothing short of a cultural movement is emerging. But it’s not just board games, a shared space where video games, tabletop games, fashion, television, film, and music is becoming increasingly mainstream. The legions of fans watching Tabletop, reading the Penny Arcade Web comic, and listening to Nerdcore rappers like Mc Frontalot don’t make a meaningful distinction between playing Halo or Magic the Gathering… but you won’t catch many of them playing Monopoly. PAX today, and the fans of euro games, are a lot like Comicon before Hollywood took it over – it’s what’s coming, what the kids are buzzing about , and where the smart bets are for growth in the industry in coming years.
    Spot on, Mary!

  4. Thank you Mary, for the NPD callout. In fact, NPD’s retail tracking service covers every one of the Top 10 games on the Amazon list, including the titles that you’ve mentioned.
    Glad we could clear that up for your readers.
    Russ Crupnick, SVP, The NPD Group

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