Nov 25, 2014

Why Boardgames in Asia are Old and Tired

When I was developing the Wongamania card game, I did a short google search on "board game" "card game" "Asia". The first few hits that I have gotten were on the traditional Asian board games such as "WeiQi" and "XiangQi". Other top hits include Asian inspired board games designed by western board games designers. There seems to be a lack of table games designers and Asian designed board games. Everybody in Asia seems to be obsessed with video and mobile games these days, when the trend is reversing in US and Europe, where board games are on the rise.

Sales of board games are on a rise in United States at a rate of 15%-20% in the past few years. More money is raised from tabletop games via crowdfunding programs than digital games in 2013. Top digital mobile games like Angry Bird and Candycrush are creating their own board games. One of the top reason for this reversal of trend, is the new wave of young people, whom decided to unplug from their mobile devices and social media, and engage in more sociable activities, like board games. This is an interesting article from New York Times on the rise of board games.

I did a simple Google image search and these pictures will tell you all about the state of table games industry in the different parts of the world. 

Board Game Industry in Asia. Stuck in Ancient Times
Board Games in US. Bright and Fun looking. They still love Monopoly!
Board Games in Europe. Strategic thinking needed.

 What's the reason for such a low interest in tabletop games in Asia? 

An opinion piece by Francisco Yu from GamesInAsia may offer some understanding:

"Many of the older folks who grew up with games in the US or Europe remember discovering games not as electronic experiences but as board, card or pen-and-pencil adventures. Before we had computers, we played the old dungeon and dragons role-playing games or massive and complex board games from Avalon Hill or SPI.

In Asia, many gamers here also grew up with more traditional board and card games like Weiqi (Go) and Mahjong. However, their real entry into the culture of gaming came in through playing games like StartCraft, Counter-strike or various MMORPGs like World of Warcraft or even Lineage. They skipped through the developmental period of hobbyist board games and pen-and-paper role playing games that many game designers in the West felt were essential for creating open ended worlds and crafting great experiences for gamers.

Asian games have in the past been criticized as being uncreative and derivative copies of other games. In China, many MMORPGs are based on either Journey to the West, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, or the Swordsman series of stories. Having more a more robust offline games scene could help to inspire video game designers to get creative and introduce new game and story elements, which would be a big plus for the Asian gaming industry. A new generation can now play and learn to develop games for the next generation…both online and offline."

To add to the woes of the board game industry in Asia, the recent property boom and rental prices in Asia has led to a decline in Boardgames cafes. Board game cafes are often the "first contact" between the average consumers and board games in this part of the world and due to the increasing rental, many Singaporean board game cafes are forced to scale down their operations.

The lack of widespread support for boardgames in Asia can also be attributed to the attitude to the man on the streets. When I started to share with people about Wongamania, the first reaction from most people is, "Have you tried marketing this product to the schools yet?" There is this perception that board games are kiddy hobbies and some adults which I interacted with flatly refused to play Wongamania, declaring it to be "too simple for them".

Visiting the Singapore Toy and Games Convention 2014 also gave me a new revelation. There are tons of booths with toys and games from US and Europe with the conventional DC/Marvel/Starwars/JapAnime dominating the scene. Other than a dedicated space for local artists, there is literally no other other booth showcasing locally produced games in the convention.

The usual Marvel and DC stuff in the Singapore Toy and Games Convention. Still Cool though!

My favorite booth. A locally published superhero comic

Leveraging on LKY fame. Great idea though, but not sure if LKY will personally like it.

On the bright side, online and specialty board game retailers have been reporting a quiet rise in demand for board games. As Asians become more affluent, they have chose to purchase the board games and play in the comfort of their homes and clubs, rather in a crowded noisy cafe in the City Centers. Cafes are also unfriendly to people playing board games within their premises as they want to focus more on customer turnover than creating a friendly social environment for their customers. I have been "invited out" of some cafes around Singapore as I was performing my game testing for Wongamania with a group of friends. I do not blame the cafe owners as the high rentals pressurize them to ensure that customers keep on ordering food and drinks and board games players are normally too engross in playing their games and often forget to order more beverages. Still, I have high hopes for the board game market in Asia, as people started to unplug from their gadgets and return to activities that focus on socializing and interaction.   


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