Game awards are welcome advertising for the games themselves and also help point consumers in the direction of the games that are trending at that moment. But what makes a good game? This question, looking at board games and other tabletop games, throws up very different answers depending on the point of view and interests.
The criteria for a good tabletop game range from expert assessments and consumer and expert surveys through to empirical facts of market researchers. In between can be found a wealth of recommendations. Major retailers such as Toys “R” Us create a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy by recommending to consumers the products they believe will be that season’s best sellers.
Industry associations draw up similar lists, which also regularly recommend tabletop games. In Germany, these are the German Association of Toy and Game Retailers (Bundesverband der Spielwareneinzelhändler - BVS) with its “Top 10 Toys” (compiled by a jury of experts from the trade) and the German Association of the Toy Industry (Deutscher Verband der Spielwarenindustrie - DVSI) with its “golden rocking horse” (decided upon together with readers of a parenting magazine). Other trade associations also provide similar recommendations, such as the “Genius of Play” initiative in the US.
The ToyAward awarded each year by a team of experts at the Spielwarenmesse® has also become a great success. This year’s nominees included another two tabletop games: Icecool from AMIGO Spiel + Freizeit and Sjoel de Boules from International Stationery.
The market researchers referred to above use consumer and retail panels to gauge quite precisely how consumers feel about a game and whether or not they would buy it. As in the world of literature, where no critic would solely assess the quality of a book based on the number of units sold, you would be hard pressed to find a game critic who would use the mass-market appeal of a game as his sole criteria.
Game critics have very often been right in their assessments, even in terms of how well an award-winning game will perform on the market in the long term.
The games community has its say
Of course, the online community has also contributed a lot in this area. People exchange views in forums, comments are left on blogs and in blogger networks and awards are meted out. One example is the Beeple blogger network, which considers itself the go-to place for people interested in board games. It wants to help strengthen the appeal of board games among the public.
The bloggers share this sense of mission with the world’s most successful PR initiative for games: the “Spiel des Jahres” (German for “Game of the Year”).
Back in 1978, a small band of game enthusiasts had the idea of enhancing the value of games, which they felt were under-appreciated by the public, by awarding the “Spiel des Jahres” title.
Jochen Corts, Harald Fritz, Walter Luc Haas, Dieter Hasselblatt, Jürgen Herz, Bernward Thole and Tom Werneck formed the Spiel des Jahres e.V. association in a beer hall in Erlangen, Germany. Thus began a tremendous success story, which has taken even the founding members by surprise.
The annual awards ceremonies in Berlin and Hamburg are now a huge event, with award winners usually making it into prime-time news bulletins. This gives publicity to award-winning games, which almost always go on to become runaway sales hits as well. Accordingly, all involved not only appreciate the honour but also the commercial success.
The shortlists and lists of nominees also help raise awareness of games that do not make it to first place but are still especially noteworthy in the eyes of the jury.
Successful games adapted to local preferences
These examples show that the games community in Germany is particularly active and diverse. There are similar initiatives in many other countries. Ultimately, games, more than other toys, have strong cultural and linguistic elements. The names of the games often vary in different languages. Sometimes, the stories behind the games, overlaying a particular game mechanism, are retold in different countries as well. Furthermore, many games are only published in a particular country. A multinational affair, in other words.
There are actually very few truly global games. Monopoly, Cluedo, The Game of Life and The Settlers are the most prominent examples, not to mention the classics such as chess, Ludo (Pachisi) and backgammon.
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