Question of the Month – How do we grow gaming?

Ok, this is a big one.  How do we, as gamers, grow gaming? How do we infuse our passion for games into those around us? Can we bring gaming into the public spotlight somehow? What can we do to get others to love games? These questions have been out there for forever. So I thought I would take a stab at getting some answers for this eternal question. Let’s see what some of gamers, designers, and industry moguls think we should do.

Daniel Solis, designer of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple and Belle of The Ball

Daniel Solis's upcoming Belle of the Ball
Daniel Solis’s upcoming Belle of the Ball

The central question remains. How do games live? Play. How do games die?When they are not played. How do we let games survive? Play.
Jodi Black of Beautiful Brains Books and Games
I think growing the game industry depends on a few things, but it all comes down to improving our people skills. First of all, we have to get more children involved and be more welcoming to families with children (most cons are doing a great job of this). Secondly, we need to be more welcoming of new players. Thirdly, we need to simply talk about gaming outside of our “gamer” friends, so that perhaps our non-gamer friends become gamer friends. And then there’s creating games people want to play. That’s the real hard part.

FamerLenny of I Slay The Dragon
I think the best way to grow gaming is to enjoy the hobby ourselves. If we’re always sour in talking about how Monopoly is a terrible game, that’s not very winsome (nor, if we focus on what we’re against, does it sound like we enjoy what we’re doing very much).
Beyond that, I think the best advice I have is to know your audience. Introducing Twilight Imperium into the family context (or perhaps just MY family context) will guarantee the fastest flight away from board games. My friends who love fantasy and sci-fi are probably less interested in a game about trading in the Mediterranean. A bad game choice–especially when someone else is not used to the idea of hobby board games–can severely hamstring any future efforts at trying to introduce new games. I think knowing the audience and choosing games well-suited to the audience are crucial.

Ken Coble, Commander of The Lead Cotillion
Hmm, that’s a good one. I had a couple of things I was going to mention here, but I realized that most of them actually fell more under the aegis of gamers reaching out to other gamers, like trying to get cardgamers to try boardgames, or boardgamers to try minis gaming, etc – basically, the classic game-store passer-by. The issue, of course, is that when you reach out to the person walking by you in the game store, or offer to teach a spectator a new game, you’re already preaching to the converted – after all, they’re already in the game venue watching you, right? Still, I think the basic concepts apply in a broader sense. Mainly: be approachable, or outgoing, but in a relaxed manner. Being too pushy or overzealous can be as bad as not engaging the prospective new player at all.

Chris James of Stratus Games
I believe it comes down to catering to casual gamers more effectively. Almost everyone enjoys games, but the general perception of board games is that they are either for kids or for hardcore gamer geeks. People who grew up playing video games are sticgi_issue1_smallll playing video games, yet most people who grew up playing board games gave them up long ago. I believe the video game industry has successfully changed the perception of who plays games, providing a comfortable atmosphere for adults to feel like gaming is for them. The board game industry would do well to take notice. We have a detailed analysis of this topic coming up in the next issue of Casual Game Insider.

In the hobby industry, people who do or would enjoy gaming on a casual level find it difficult to gain belonging in a community that caters primarily to hardcore gamers. We have to change the perception of gaming as something that anyone can enjoy – no experience or previous geekdom required.

Jamey Stegmaier, designer of Viticulture
We (i.e. gamers) can grow gaming by consistently inviting and including non-gamers to play games with us that aren’t mechanically or thematically intimidating. There’s nothing wrong with a gateway game—I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone play Catan for the first time after having no experience with Euro games, and they simply light up. The world has just gotten a little bigger for them. At this point I very rarely want to play Catan, but if a few games with a newbie might lead to other games, it’s totally worth it. And honestly, I’m hoping that Viticulture will be a gateway game—thematically I know it is, but mechanically it may have turned out a little too complex. We’ll see. (Jamey Stegmaier, Stonemaier Games)

Dan Yarrington of GameSalute
Create as many positive incentives for all members of the gaming community to spread the word.

Sen-Foong Lim, co-designer of Belfort
The best way is to just play games with people and, especially, by teaching people how to play games well.  Starting game groups, clubs at college, offering to teach at conventions, etc.  as games get more wide and varied, it will require better instruction to ease belfort1people’s into gaming.  Picking games for people based on their likes vs. what’s hot… There’s a lot we alpha gamers can do…we just have to want to do it more thn we want to play the games that we personally like.

Jason Morningstar, designer of Durance and Fiasco
We grow gaming by making new gamers. We make new gamers by playing with non-gamers

Michael Harrison, famous GeekDad
It seems to me that there are two main ways to grow gaming: getting existing hobbyists to game more and bringing games to people who don’t game in the first place. I feel like the latter segment probably has more growth potential, and the best way to approach them is via casual games. I’m reminded of Nintendo’s strategy with the Wii. They lowered the barrier of entry and people flocked to their systems. I think it remains to be seen whether that was a good long-term strategy (how many Wiis started gathering dust a few months after purchase?), but it certainly grew Nintendo’s market share in the meantime. So, to answer the question: Introducing fun, easy-to-learn board games to non-gamers and then following up consistently with new options seems the best bet for growing games.

Britt Davis, gaming teacher
By simply being friendly and enthusiastic. Holding a demo or playing a game on a scheduled night at a local game store won’t inspire the passerby to want to spend time and money to engage in a new hobby.  Engage passers-by with an enthusiastic verbal invitation to learn more and to actually play the game….and SMILE. DON’T use the newbie as a punching bag in the game; DON’T play the game for the newbie; DON’T use jerk game behaviors, such as counting cards or oafish and belligerent behavior. I have recently begun to travel to Durham to game at Atomic Empire.  The store and its gamers have been very inviting.  Likewise, I have started playing a new game, Infinity, because of the enthusiasm and friendliness of the Infinity gamers at AE.  They have helped Kenny and me to learn the rules, run demos for us, show us the new Infinity products on the store shelves and have generally been very friendly.  Bottom line, I like gaming with these guys, and they have made an Infinity gamer and AE customer out of me.

Patrick Nickell of Crash Gamessigimg1
I think the best way to grow gaming is to do so in a natural, organic way. As we forge new relationships people will see that gaming is an important aspect of our lives. When people ask me about my marriage or they comment on how much my wife and I are in love I always let them know that gaming is a big and important part of my marriage. I have many more thoughts on this topic but this should at least scratch the surface.

Grant Rodiek of Farmaggedon fame
To start we must focus on accessibility. This means simpler mechanics, shorter playtimes, and broader themes that appeal to all genders, ages, and gradients of nerd. And publishers must take pains to bring down prices and be available in as many distribution channels as possible. $75, 4 hour games only in an FLGS only caters to current players.

Bellwether Games
Board gaming in particular builds community. Some of our best and most long lasting friends have been a result of board games. As a community of gamers, we need to continually emphasize this unique benefit of games when we play, in the way we play, and in the types of games we design.

Corey Young, gaming enthusiast
Get TableTop on cable television. Conduct structured regional, national, and international competitions for established board games. Isolated contests yield no press. How do we do this? Get the publishers and FLGSs involved. Publishers will sponsor and FLGSs will host. Reward FLGSs with promotion at upstream events. (tom)What games do you mean? Good question. Need a critical mass. Start w/games currently warranting tourneys played at Essen and GenCon

Michael Mindes of Tasty Minstrel Gameslogo
Person upon person with better and better games.

Flash Forward Games
More exposure through common places ex. libraries, community clubs, coffee shops where people can openly play w/ others.

Results: 31 total answers

Most mentioned – Play more, bring in new people = 6 each

Next – increase the number of casual games being made = 5

Use/have decent people skills (don’t be a jerk) = 4

Get gaming more exposure, talk about games outside of our ‘closed’ community = 3 each

Start gaming groups = 2

Increase incentives to game, decrease the price of games, know audience, get kids involved = 1 each

So what do I think? The thing that stuck out to me the most was said best by Grant – ‘To start we must focus on accessibility. This means simpler mechanics, shorter playtimes, and broader themes that appeal to all genders, ages, and gradients of nerd.’ and reenforced by Chris ‘it comes down to catering to casual gamers more effectively’. Accessibility is key. The typical Euro game is going to turn a new or casual game off in most cases. Too many rules, rules too difficult to understand, too long, trading in the Mediterranean. All these things will  likely turn a casual gamer off. This also touches on the fact that we should know our audience. Several guests mentioned this point. We can’t expect a new or casual gamer to completely fall in love with Twilight Struggle or Through The Ages the first time we introduce it. We need more games like Survive, Eruption, No Thanks!, Cloud 9, and Guildhall.

I also think that we need to open our community up to new people. We can do this by inviting our friends and acquaintances to game with us. And when we do we need to be polite, welcoming, and explain the games well. And while we are playing, don’t be a jerk. Offer advice if applicable and welcomed. The question of whether to play as hard as normal or whether to throw the game comes up at this point. I’ll save that for another Question of The Month. One way of opening the community is exposure. Corey mentioned TableTop. It would be cool to see TableTop get some TV time. I understand that one of the major networks is developing a similar program. We are seeing more mention of games in the popular press. So exposure is increasing.

I’ll just mention price briefly. I’ll just say that price is a barrier, even for us gamers. GamerChris addresses this in a recent post here.

Lastly I’ll mention gaming with kids. This falls under the ‘make new gamers’ category but I’m going to talk about it. I have three kids between 18 and 10. The younger two are my gamers. They both share my love of games. And through them I have been able to introduce games to cousins and friends. Kids are very open to playing games. Outside of school play is kind of their job.  So they are open to playing games. Catch them early and you will have a gamer for life. Isn’t that how many of us started.

So there you have it. Some thoughts on how we can grow gaming.

What do you think? What are you doing to increase our numbers? Please leave a comment below and let us know.

9 thoughts on “Question of the Month – How do we grow gaming?”

  1. Be flexible. This is part of knowing your audience I suppose.

    This last year we’ve brought a small box of games to various family parties (basically gatherings with our parents, some of our siblings/and/or their kids, our kid, and such. My parents are 76, my husband’s are a decade younger. He’s the oldest in his family, I’m the next to youngest of 6 in my family.

    My dad’s never been big on board games; he really got sick of Monopoly, playing it with his brother growing up (my dad was born in the depression, I forget if that’s older than Monopoly or not lol).

    I was surprised recently when he came to the table to play a game or two with us. A year before that he’d reluctantly come to the table to play Forbidden Island with us (including my high-functioning autistic daughter). He’d never heard of a co-op before and was intrigued.

    I think I um sort of over bossed a little (I was so new to co-ops, I didn’t even know that was something to watch out for, but I’ve fixed it!) Still, that didn’t put him off I guess since he joined us recently for a couple games.

    The first one, my mom joined too, and I was like, did hell freeze over? lol. In my head, I didn’t say that . . .

    The game was Escape . . the temple curse. Nice co-op, though I thought the heart-pounding pace of it might be a bit much for them. We explained, slower and more repetitions than I liked, but I did my best to be patient. My parents are smart, however, like some elderly their brains aren’t as spry as they used to be, and new-fangled things like this took patience to explain. We attempted to go using the soundtrack, pausing it quite frequently to explain as they had questions, but within a minute or two we just dumped that and played without it.

    Now, without it a gamer would know, um, doesn’t it just become an exercise in learning the game’s mechanisms, and you aren’t really triumphing over anything if you “win”, ie, get out of the temple all alive? I suppose, but it was quite fun cooperating with everyone, and my parents and sister still had a variety of questions throughout; I eventually relaxed and treated it like the social experience that games, at least as I feel, can be at their best; a shared experience with (not competition in this case, but common goal(s)), within the framework of a game, but not so rigid we couldn’t adapt to these new gamers’ needs.

    And actually, we didn’t “win” the first time, we spread out alot and too many of us went for the lower number of gems in the multi-gem chambers, and after having explored the whole temple we didn’t have anywhere to bring out more gems, and there weren’t enough gone from the main pool for us to escape.

    Were my parents and sister upset or put off by this? Nope, they just started stacking up the tiles again and said, let’s try that again! Of course this time we wandered around in two groups, one of three and one of two, and we were more efficient with hitting higher gem counts in the multi-gem chambers.

    I was quite satisfied and even tickled the my parents had joined in. My sister, too, because she can be quite picky. Sometimes I have a hard time transitioning from the way I think things are normally supposed to go, to adapting to something that contradicts that. I think I did a good job of recognizing that tendency of mine and settling into something different, here.

    My mom went elsewhere but my dad and sis stuck around for a game of Archeaology, which I had soured on a bit as too too simple but upon seeing it through their eyes, changed my mind. It all depends on the crowd, and with the right audience, things can work out quite nicely. (Still, we buy games for the two of us primarily in mind, as getting others to play is not a common experience for us).

    I have an older brother who was quite delighted with Tsuro and requests that I bring that now; he’s your classic 80’s wargamer, I remember all the square unit markers he had for some of those Avalon Hill games, so I was a bit startled that he glommed on to this. The beauty in both its components and in the gameplay itself really drew him in. I’ve seen this listed on a “Bait Games” Geeklist, and I think those are great candidates for drawing people on.

    I’ve had requests to bring Escape .. . . and Archeaology again, as well as on my husband’s side we’ve gotten an autistic nephew so hooked on Forbidden Island they just got it for Christmas (what’s awesome is he loves to make up his own games with it, and he’ll let me into his “world” as he does so; he’s quite shy and picky about who he’ll let “in”, so I’m pleased I could intro something to him that would facilitate that. He liked the amazeing labyrinth that I intro’d him to as well, his spatial thinking beats mine hands down!)

    King of Tokyo has gone down really well with another nephew of ours; he was only 8 yo when he played it his first time and he beat us! Martian Dice is also an easy one.

    Anyway, flexibility is good. So’s variety, although we’re just starting so we don’t have a ton, yet (Farmageddon is awesome, I must say! We’ve brought that one but haven’t “pushed” it too hard yet, I don’t want to push anything too hard and turn someone off. I am determined to get it to the table at one of these things, though, if it suits them.

    1. Hi Sara,
      That is a great story. Thanks for sharing it. My kids and I played Archaeology a lot when we first got it. But as you said, it is easy to get burned out on. We haven’t played Escape yet but it sounds like we would like it. We enjoy Incan Gold which has a similar theme. King of Tokyo is pretty awesome. We like Martain Dice too. I like Farmageddon and need to get a copy for myself. I think my kids would like it. My family likes Forbidden Island a lot and have introduced it to cousins to great success. I will suggest Sleeping Queens, Ticket To Ride, Shake N Take, Saboteur, Coloretto/Zooloretto, and one of my favorites, No Thanks!.
      BTW, Gamewright is releasing a sequel to Forbidden Island called Forbidden Desert. It looks really good.
      Thanks again for sharing.

      1. I saw that, and insta-subscribed to its BGG entry. I intro’d its predecessor to an autistic nephew, about age 7-8 a while back, and he loves it! He starts to make his own game and rules with it once we’ve played a full game of it; he is so shy and doesn’t interact with his aunts and uncles much, but I was flattered that he wanted and chose to have me be a part of the game he was making afterwards. He glommed on to the relics, but you should have seen his eyes light up the first time he saw and heard us saw the island was flooding and we flipped a tile to the greyed out side; he got it instantly and his face was priceless, the gears started turning! Flipping them over plays a large part in some of the games he comes up with for Forbidden Island.

        So, this Christmas, two years after I intro him to it his parents broke down and got it for him (he got his fix by us bringing it to family events).

        Seeing that light in his eyes was pretty cool. I don’t know if he’ll ever play a ton of different games, perhaps he may, but I believe that I helped expand his options for fun, and intellectual stimulation in having a new canvas to apply his creativity to. It’s awful fun being an aunt, sometimes; sometimes kids just won’t sit down and play a game if their parents want them to, but if someone else suggests it (and it has nice bits to attract his eye) then the door cracks open farther, maybe.

        Farmageddon is awesome, my daughter was instantly drawn to the awesome art (how cute is that Helpful Tater??). My husband beats me most of the time but I like a challenge. I beat him most of the time at something else, so it works out lol. (we’re kind of a mis-matched pair, in some respects; I’m intellectual, he’s a more hands-on and mechanical thinking kind of guy (I am so not good at that)

        I’ve looked at Sleeping Queens a bit; I may have to try that one! TTR is awesome, we have Nordic, and just played our first India (I won by one point, on mandalas!) I havent’ heard of Shake n take, I’ll look it up. Saboteur has caught my eye, it’s 3+players though? Although the expansion makes it 2 player I think (which is the opposite of what expansions usually do lol). I LOVE games that build pathways, mazes etc., so the 3 player thing has been holding me off. I’ve been looking at Coloretto/Aquaretto (I’m a Dolphin nut).

        I’ve looked at No Thanks, isn’t it minimum 3player? That and Tikal (or is it Tichu), Incan Gold, and For Sale are the ones I most often run into recommended, that I think are minimum 3 players.

        1. Hi Sara,
          Thanks so much for this story. It shows the power of games and how they can improve or at least add to a person’s life. Forbidden Island is such an awesome game. Never had a bad experience with it or introducing it. Sleeping Queens is one of my kids’ favorites. They have worn out our deck. I’ve played Farmageddon and the designer is an online friend. I like it quite a bit. I’ll try to think of some more games that play well with 2. You should check out Games With Two podcast.
          Thanks for commenting.

  2. Great topic.

    I don’t want to get weird looks when I say lets play a board game.

    For me before i was introduced to hobby games I didn’t find board games all that interesting, and I was probably the one giving the weird looks.
    You know the “Lets play Monopoly and try to finish it this time” or “What board games do you have” didn’t really come up all that much.
    But then a good friend said “Hey you have to try this new game, it’s not like a normal board game”. That game for me was Settlers of Catan. It was the gateway game for me that opened up my eyes to this fantastic world of games I didn’t even know existed.

    I think the games are so good that if people are introduced to them they speak for themselves. The entertainment value is so high that even non-gamers enjoy them. Next time you have some people over to your house. Put down the Nintendo WI. Shut of the TV. Clear of the table. And play a game.

  3. Games are still popular with families and children. Yet most parents don’t think past the games they grew up with – Monopoly, Uno, Sorry, etc. There is a barrier in getting that typical family to take a chance on something new and innovative. There are many unknowing families who will purchase yet another version of something they already know like Monopoly before they will take a chance on something new like Ticket To Ride or Catan. somehow we need to get the word out that the new generation of family games are every bit as fun as the classics that today’s parents grew up with.

    I recently heard someone describe our first game Fill The Barn as “Monopoly with crops”. I totally cringed, because as a game designer I see no similarities between how the two games play. Yet the listeners turned around and bought our game based on that recommendation, because for non-gamers, that reference was what they neeed to give credibility to a completely unknown game.

    1. Hi Charlie,
      So your first point seems to boil down to advertising ‘our’ games. As you say getting the word out. That speaks to what Corey was mentioning of getting the games in front of more people somehow. And we need to give them some idea of what the games are like. Even if it means referencing Monopoly I guess.
      Thanks for the comment.

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