How Can Tabletop Gaming Harness the Power of Influencers?
Published on Mar 5
As video games and mobile apps become more detailed, expansive and technologically advanced, many consumers are turning their attention to a much more traditional form of entertainment — board games. Tabletop gaming has seen an explosion in popularity over the last couple of decades, despite competing with endless streams of new technology in the gaming space. Board games are now a billion dollar industry, which is surprising to some given their former reputation as a somewhat passé pastime.
Alongside a slew of diverse IPs hitting the market each year, passionate creators and board game enthusiasts have been cultivating small but growing communities of highly engaged players and hobbyists providing great potential for brands to experiment using the power of creators in the space.
Why are board games so popular right now?
The recent popularity in board games is symbolic of two things; first, that despite competition from consoles and the rapid advancement of gaming technology, there is still a desire to sit down and connect on a very human level. There are now spaces (including cafes — 5,000 opened in 2016 in the US alone) dedicated to tabletop, alongside annual conventions which draw thousands of players from around the world. Classic and brand new IPs are finding new audiences all the time, helped along by the trend in nostalgic content and culture similar to that occurring with vinyl and books. Many millennials are opting to move away from the latest technologies in favor of the “real thing.”
Tabletop gaming is offering a different entertainment experience, proving that sitting down with friends and family for a game of Catan is something that still serves a purpose — especially as tabletop gaming is able to target and include almost every consumer group.
Alongside the traditional ways of getting games published, the popularity of crowdfunding has made it easier than ever to get a great idea out into the world independently. This allows for unique games to enter the market in a variety of different styles and genres. It can be seen in the Oatmeal’s absurdist card game Exploding Kittens which earned $8 million through Kickstarter, as well as Kingdom Death: Monster 1.5, which raised over $12 million, and the first Scythe — over $1.5 million. That’s not to say that popular IPs are becoming competely outdated; iconic games such as Monopoly regularly get rebranded, and Clue, Catan and Carcassonne still sell new editions due to their timeless appeal.
While tabletop can attribute much of its recent success to a pushback against technology-driven entertainment, it could be argued that technology might have a direct influence on the future of modern tabletop gaming. AR and digital reimaginings of iconic IP’s have revived an interest and appreciation for their original counterparts. Many classic card and strategy games have now moved online, boosting their awareness and appeal among new audiences and demographics.
Modern tabletop has also become more dynamic, integrating multimedia and designs which make for more in-depth gameplay and allow for the possibility to straddle both worlds. Indie creators and innovators in the tabletop world see the potential of card and board games, looking to augmented reality and other technologies to bring tabletop alive in an entirely modern way.
Why should tabletop gaming leverage influencers?
As the popularity of tabletop continues to grow, so does its community. This is seen at conventions and trade shows, and through competitive tabletop gaming with Magic and Pokemon, which has started to open the door for influencers and tastemakers in the space who help to draw new audiences towards the diverse and broad appeal of card and board games. Attendance at tabletop gaming conventions is growing too; for example Essen SPIEL had 190,000 attendees in 2018 compared to 149,000 when the event began 2012. With the industry now worth over a billion dollars, there’s great potential for experimentation when marketing new tabletop games.
Given the steady and consistent growth of tabletop gaming, there is great potential for the industry to reach new consumers through influencer marketing. YouTube already hosts a staggering amount of gaming content watched by millions, providing great crossover potential with digital gaming and nerd culture in general.
Geek & Sundry’s TableTop stands out as an example of how board game content could be leveraged through influencers. The channel as a whole is targeted towards nerd culture with a variety of content covering anything from storytelling to RPGs. TableTop’s Let’s Play and tutorial-style content was perfect for showcasing tabletop games. Wil Wheaton’s hosting style and the guests he invited to play made sure the videos weren’t dry or repetitive, with the series averaging around 600k views per upload. It’s also highly-produced and entertaining, and a great example of what is possible in the space.
Other dedicated channels and creators have quietly been cultivating engaged communities on the platform. Tabletop Minions, Watch It Played, The Dice Tower and Shut Up & Sit Down are fostering small (by YouTube gaming standards) but dedicated audiences of tabletop players who watch tutorials, Let’s Plays, reviews and BTS content all around their favorite board games. There is also a growing community on Instagram, but most tabletop content creators on the platform would be considered nano-influencers by industry standards.
While these influencers may not command the massive reach of the platform’s biggest gaming channels, they’re specialized and highly targeted. They speak to an engaged community of tabletop fans and self-identified nerds who know and love the industry, plus creators will inherently attract new audiences in the engaging content they produce around titles, helping grow the community further.
Brands to Watch
With the tabletop industry steadily growing, brands are doing some incredible things in the space; whether it’s rebranding classic IPs or raising millions on Kickstarter.
Asmodee Editions / Fantasy Flight Games
The second biggest publisher in the market, second only to Hasbro. The merger of Asmodee and Fantasy Flight publish games from major pop culture IPs like Star Wars, Game of Thrones and Harry Potter. They also own the rights for multiple smaller publishers such as Days of Wonder, Z-Man Games and Plaid Hat Games. They have recently started pushing in the digital games market by releasing digital versions of their more traditional board games.
Notorious games: Catan, Ticket to Ride, Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game, Terraforming Mars, Pandemic
Originally a publisher of MMO games, Ankama’s transmedia approach to business soon brought them to the tabletop market. While most of their games span their in-game universe Krosmoz, they often publish other family-oriented games with standalone settings.
Notorious games: Krosmaster, Monster Slaughter
Mattel / NetEase
In early 2018, Mattel entered into a joint venture with internet technology and games company NetEase to create Mattel163. The goal of the venture is to bring Mattel’s hugely popular IPs to iOS and Android devices. Many of Mattel’s famed brands such as Hot Wheels and Barbie— and tabletop games like UNO and Pictionary — will also soon be newly accessible to consumers through educational apps and mobile games.
Notorious games: UNO, Balderdash, Pictionary, Scene It
Cool Mini or Not
The king of Kickstarter. Cool Mini or Not rose to fame with their insanely successful crowdfunding campaign for the first season of Zombicide. Thousands of miniatures later, they are still going strong with multiple crowdfunding campaigns every year that surpass the million dollar mark almost every time.
Notorious games: Zombicide, Arcadia Quest, Rising Sun, Blood Rage
Games Workshop is the creator and publisher of infamous Warhammer 40.000 game, which released its 8th edition in 2017. Earlier this year they released the second edition of Age of Sigmar, their medieval fantasy wargame to a very positive response from its fans. GW games differentiate from most traditional tabletop IPs in that there’s a hobbyist aspect to their games in collecting and painting miniatures, and that they mostly publish wargames that out armies against each other out on a large battlefield.
Notorious Games: Warhammer 40,000, Age of Sigmar, Necromunda, Blood Bowl
Hasbro publish all the classic board games that we remember from childhood, and because of this they had to be mentioned. By the power of licensing they bring popular IPs such as Star Wars, Nintendo and Fortnite to classic games as Monopoly and Risk. Their more unique titles targeted to pre-teens have also found an unexpected cult following with adults, usually in the form of party games.
Notorious games: Monopoly, Jenga, Risk, Pie Face, Looping Louie
Tabletop gaming is a fascinating emerging industry. It’s been around for centuries, and is as diverse and dynamic as any other form of entertainment, yet was (and in many ways still is) considered outdated against the backdrop of world building AAA titles, VR, etc. With the board game industry projected to be worth $12 billion by 2023 — a growth rate of 9% since 2017 — it is likely to become increasingly prevalent in the gaming space as a whole, in-turn encouraging more players, hobbyists and would-be influencers to pick up the dice and build their own communities.