Sunday, July 15, 2007

Origins Report (Part 3)

As the board game and video game industries are inextricably linked, it's sometimes useful to compare the trends in both. Here are the recurring themes I saw this year in eurogaming:
  • Pirate and superhero themes. No doubt this is to capitalize on the popularity of these themes in the movies. We often talk of the link between Hollywood and video games, but the link is very much there for board games as well.
  • Animals. I found a disproportionate number of board games that featured animals, including three games with camels, three games with sheep (not including the line of Catan games), two games with cheetahs, and then the occasional monkey, giraffe, elephant, kangaroo or penguin. I have no earthly idea why the fascination with animals, or why it's so much more pronounced in non-digital games.
  • Gladiator combat. If conflict is an inherent element of games, then it's no surprise that games should be particularly good at modeling a straight-up fight. Still, there haven't been many gladiator games in past years, so I'm guessing this year's rash of them is just a statistical fluke.
  • Educational games. There was a game that could be described as the Periodic Table of Pokemon. Another game that taught K-6 math skills, with a superhero theme. And another that featured many historical figures, with the History Channel brand. The thing I found shocking is that these games are actually touting their educational value as their main selling point. While this may get some extra sales with teachers and parents, it probably loses just as many (if not more) sales from gamers who would play these games except that we all know how much educational games suck. I have to wonder what would happen if a company released the same game under two different names -- one with an obvious educational slant ("Numbers League: Adventures in Addiplication") and another where the education is intentionally hidden ("Stupor Heroes"). Same game, different name and box copy, in an attempt to capture both the educational and gamer markets. No one is doing this, but I think it's an opportunity just waiting to be grabbed by any or all of them.
  • Shorter play times. Due I suppose to today's ADHD society, games are getting shorter. I noticed a large number of very solid, deep strategy games that were playable in 45 minutes (a couple of years ago, these kinds of games mostly took two or three times that long). I think this is great; I can play more games to a satisfying conclusion in less time. There are even some tabletop wargames that are playable in under an hour nowadays; thirty years ago, these were the kinds of games that would take an entire weekend to play.
  • Longer play times. Perhaps as a backlash of the shortening trend, I also saw a number of games that take 3 to 6 hours. You can always tell these games because they come in these gigantic boxes with tons of boards and tokens and figurines, and they cost $80 or so. Interestingly, the video game industry followed this same trend with budgets, starting about five years ago: you have to either be a "value" (very low-budget) or "AAA" (very big-budget) game, with it becoming increasingly difficult to find funding in the middle. That trend continues in video games to this day, although it may start reversing itself with third-party Wii games.
  • Reiner Knizia. Seriously, the man seemed to have at least one new game with every major publisher. I don't know if he's just morally opposed to an exclusive contract, or what.

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