Why We Still Play Board Games: An Opinion Graph Analysis

It’s hard reading studies about people my age when research scientists haven’t agreed upon a term for us yet. In one study I’m a member of “Gen Y” (lazy), in another I’m from the “iGeneration” (Orwellian), or worse still, a “Millennial” (…no). You beleaguered and cynical 30-somethings had things easy with the “Generation X” thing. Let the record reflect that no one from my generation is even remotely okay with any of these terms. Furthermore, we all collectively check out whenever we hear the term “aughties”.

I’m whining about the nomenclature only because there’s a clear need for distinction between my generation and those who have/will come before/after us. This isn’t just from a cultural standpoint (although calling us “Generation Spongebob” might be the most ubiquitous touchstone you could get), but from a technical one. If this Kaiser Family Foundation study is to be believed (via NYT), 8-18 year olds today are the first to spend the majority of their waking hours interacting with the internet.

Yet despite this monumental change, there are still many childhood staples that have not been forsaken by an increasingly digital generation. One of the most compelling examples of this anomaly lies in board games. In a day and age where Apple is selling two billion apps a month (Apple), companies peddling games for our increasingly elusive away-from-keyboard time are still holding their own. For example, Hasbro’s board-and-card game based revenue grew to $1.19b dollars over the course of the last fiscal year (a 2% gain from last year).

What drove this growth? Hasbro’s earnings reports primarily accredits this growth to three products: Magic: The Gathering, Twister, and Battleship. All of these products have been mainstays of their line-up for quite some time (prepare to feel old: if Magic: The Gathering was a child, it could buy booze this year), so what’s compelling people to keep buying? Fortunately, Ranker has some pretty in-depth data on all of these products, based on people who vote on it’s best board games list, which receives thousands of opinions each month, as well as voting on other Ranker lists.

Twister’s continuous sales were the easiest to explain: users who expressed interest in the game were most likely to be a fan of other board games (Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, Monopoly and so forth). Twister also correlated with many other programs/products with fairly universal appeal (Friends, Gremlins). This would seem to indicate that the chief reason for Twister’s continued high sales lies in its simplicity and ubiquity. The game is a cultural touchstone for that reason: more than any other game on the list, it’s the one hardest to picture a childhood without.

Battleship’s success lies in the same roots: our data shows great overlap between fans of the game and fans of Mouse Trap, Monopoly, etc. But Battleship has attracted fans of a different stripe, interest in films such as Doom, Independence Day, and Terminator were highly correlated with the game. In all likelihood, this is due to the recent silver-screen adaptation of the game. Although the movie only faired modestly within the United States, the film clearly did propel the game back into the public consciousness, which translated nicely into sales.

Finally, Magic: The Gathering’s success came from support of another nature. Interest in Magic correlated primarily with other role-play and strategy games (Settlers of Catan, Dominion, Heroscape). Simply put, most fans of Magic are likely to enjoy other traditionally “nerdy” games. The large correlation overlap between Magic and other role-playing games is a testament to how voraciously this group consumes these products.

The crowd-sourced information we have here neatly divides the consumers of each game into three pools. With this sort of individualized knowledge, targeting and marketing to each archetype of consumer is a far easier task.

– Eamon Levesque

by    in Data Science, Pop Culture

On Touchdowns and Tastes: This Sunday’s Conflict Of Fan-Interests

 

helmet images courtesy of http://nfl-franchises.findthedata.org

 

The greatest moment of fear in my childhood came on the eve of my first ever family trip to Manhattan. It wasn’t the flight or the crowds or the crime rate that had seven-year-old me scared. I was terrified because I had been brought up to believe that any and all Yankees fans were villainous scum, lowest of the low, the nadir of human development. Visiting the city and actually interacting with people from New York had an effect on me akin to realizing that there wasn’t a Santa Claus: I was faced with the reality that not all Yankees fans are evil. It just wasn’t mathematically feasible. You can’t run a city of 8 million people without having some people who don’t suck. This, of course, is a key part of the unspoken acknowledgement all (nonviolent & sane) sports fans have; that sports fandom is a mostly regional thing, and that there’s no point in thinking those who back another team are truly inferior, or even all that different from you.

However, if you told that to anyone from Baltimore or San Francisco right now, they’d likely try to argue for the ideological superiority of their respective squad. With the Super Bowl literally on the horizon, this is not a time where people deal in shades of gray. But are there any real, quantifiable differences between the fans of the Ravens and the 49ers? Anything else on the line in this contest?

Weirdly enough, yes. The Ranker correlation data for supporters of the Ravens and the 49ers is strikingly dissimilar. You’d think that there would be some commonalities between the likes and dislikes of the two teams, even just those that stem from the demographic features of “football fans”. But no, the pop culture tastes of the two teams have a strikingly miniscule amount of overlap.  Let us examine some of the correlations based on user behavior at Ranker.com.

For one, There is also absolutely zero consensus where music is concerned. 49er’s fans listen to an eclectic mixture of genres: up-and-coming rappers like Kendrick Lamar sit right next to INXS and 90s brit-poppers Pulp. Yet where the Ravens are concerned, classic rock is still king: Hendrix, CCR, and Neil Young are an undisputed top three. The 49ers also have the Ravens utterly beat in terms of culinary taste. Monterrey Jack and Cosmos are a fairly clear favorite among fans, while Baltimore’s stick to staples: Coffee, Bell peppers, and Ham are the only food items that correlated enough to even be tracked.

 A Snapshot from Ranker’s Data Mining Tool

TV tastes also varied between the two teams: Ravens fans stuck to almost exclusively comedic faire (Pinky and The Brain, Rugrats, Mythbusters and Louie correlated strongly), while the 49er’s stuck to more structured, dramatic shows, such as The Walking Dead and Dexter.

Some of these differences can be explained away geographically (In-and-Out Burger, a prominent correlated item for the 49ers, isn’t going to appeal to anyone on the east coast since they just don’t have it), but when the data is stacked up, there is a very noticeable dissimilarity in interests between the two teams. One could, of course, use this data to try to advocate for the superiority of one team over the other (I won’t even get into the far more extensive video game tastes of the 49er’s). However, the far more intriguing question at hand lies in what we all really watch the Super Bowl for: the ads.

If, as the data suggests, there is such a difference between the interests of the average 49er’s fan and the average Ravens fan, how will the ads attempt to bridge this gap? Since I could give a damn about the score (neither team is the Pats, who cares), I’ll be keeping track instead of whose team’s interests are catered to by the adverts. On Sunday, one team will win on the field, and another during the commercials.

– Eamon Levesque