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