2021 Outlook for the board games market
2021 then may be a hard year when measured by year-on-year growth. The sales were so unusually high out of season in 2020 that the year-on-year comparisons may not look so good. If we take 2019 as the base measurement, there is no reason why we should not expect a good 2021 by usual measures. One of the factors affecting the board games business is that when any kind of phenomenon comes along and rekindles interest in board games and drives the market up, then game playing in general drives sales higher. At one point in time this upward effect was due to the next hit TV gameshow, back in the days when TV viewing figures were higher and before the high levels of media fragmentation we have today. But there have also been other influences, in the same way as chess set sales soared due to the Netflix show ‘The Queen’s Gambit’. So did movies like the original Jumanji help to increase game sales overall, too, and not just on sales of Jumanji movie licensed products.
One of the impacts of the glowing health of the board games business is that the corporate toy companies who historically speaking have sometimes had ‘gap years’ in their focus on board games versus other major initiatives in other product categories have definitely got a lot going on with games right now. This tends to reduce board games product diversity in mass market retail, as these major corporate companies have deeper and stronger relationships with retailers via their extensive toy product lines. Nevertheless though, the marketing spend these major toy companies invest in marketing their games tends to have a knock-on effect on the games category and levels of game playing overall.
The games market has never been easier to access
One notable feature of the board games category versus many other toy categories is the lower barriers to entry. Anyone can design a board game and manufacture a minimum order quantity relatively cheaply. There is no need for technical drawings, plastic injection moulding development (and the high costs that go with that), nor is there any advanced chemical understanding required. As such, the board games business probably sees the most new market entrants each year. Some of whom go onto become industry stalwarts, but most of whom positively contribute to the product diversity on offer.
Combined with the lower bar to entering the market, technology-based platforms have made it super easy to sell directly to gamers. This applies to crowd funding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, and Spieleschmiede but also to the massive strength and accessibility of Amazon’s platforms in major toy markets. Amazon is particularly strong in the USA, UK and Germany, which are all major markets for board games.
In times gone by, the path to growth for board games companies inevitably lead to the doors of major retailers who would often demand serious marketing investment to list new board games from untried suppliers. Now though, nearly anyone can get their product to market via Amazon and other platforms. That does not mean it is easy to muscle your way up the pecking order and to drive high levels of sales, but market accessibility just keeps getting easier and easier.
Price inflation (at last)
Over the past few years, we have started to see some long-needed price inflation in the board games category. For so long board games price points have hardly moved, despite ongoing inflation in other areas of the economy. If you look at a classic board game in retail today, it will often not be that different in actual € cost than they were historically, even going back 20 or 30 years. Yet during that same period inflation on other discretionary spending areas has been rampant – perhaps 200 or 300 percent in that same period.
There are two primary drivers of at least a small degree of pricing uplift in the board games market overall. Firstly, we see growth in games genres which would once have been considered niche due to their complexity – gamers games and gateway gamers games (or whatever label we choose to give them!) are now more mainstream than they were a decade or two back in time. These games intrinsically have far more components than basic mass market games, and therefore have inevitably higher price points. These games have smashed open price point intransigence in some board games markets.
The second factor driving some price inflation is the general inflationary pressures on components, transportation and other fundamental elements of the board games business, and also the toy industry more broadly.
Board games are with us forever
This may seem like a bold claim, but the fundamental drivers of the board games category have not changed particularly over time, despite the massive technological upheavals we are living through.
People buy and play with board games for similar reasons now as in the past: to facilitate social interaction, to aid the education and development of their children, to have fun in an active (not screen focused) way and to test and/or to compete with friends and families. These are all timeless factors, and therefore, so as long as there are people, there will be board games.
Steve Reece and board games
As a child growing up in the 1980s, I was personally obsessed with board games and would pester my family and friends to play games so much and compete with them in playing those games so fiercely that they would often automatically opt out of playing with me. However, that did not stop me, I would keep on asking people to play, and that type of player get player model to recruiting players of board games is still a critical factor today. Back then, I was obsessed with Risk (which I later had the good fortune and privilege to brand manage during my time working for Hasbro) and Diplomacy. Today fresh generations are still becoming as obsessed as I was with these very same games, and so while we may lose some merely OK games along the way, we just keep adding more and more timeless classics over time leading to an ever-increasing array of iconic, classic games on offer to consumers. While the massive proliferation of games today can make it hard to achieve high volumes on individual games to the same extent as perhaps happened in the past, a broader portfolio is in many ways healthier than a reliance on just a few games. In short, while the board games business is not necessarily easy, it is certainly here to stay