The Return of Analogue: Board Games Make a Comeback


Earlier this month, the annual Internationale Spieltage was held in Essen Germany. This year over 160,000 people are expected to participate in the four-day festival of board games (over 850 board games represented). The U.S. version Gen Con, is even bigger. It had close to 200,000 attendees at its event in August.

Even as digitization has disrupted, and in many cases bankrupted, traditional businesses and their way of operating, it has directly and indirectly fostered renewed growth in areas that one might not have expected, at least not without the benefit of hindsight. For example, while the digitization of music has disrupted how musicians earn a living (if at all) from music royalties, it seems to have reinvigorated the live show. Partly this is born out of economic necessity: touring and merchandise sales are one of the few ways working musicians can earn a living, but also the ubiquity and ease of obtaining digital versions of music seems to have made attending a live performance a sought-after experience. Anyone can download an album but fewer can brag about having been to the show.

A preference for experiences rather than things seems a theme in consumer spending. For example experiencing events such as Nuit Blanche (an art fair), traveling to increasingly exotic locales, and, in the case of board game conventions, getting together with fellow enthusiasts to revel in a shared experience. In many cases there are smartphone apps that augment the board game version, such as the case with XCOM: The Boardgame (that also exists as a large online version).

The business opportunity may be, in many arenas, less about how to digitize the customer experience than it is in figuring out just when and how to create a blended approach. It requires asking when the customer might value a shared, in-the-flesh experience that goes beyond anything they might experience online and to see if a genuinely engaging experience emerges (often from the grassroots as opposed to one that is forced top-down).

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