PUBLISHING AMID A PANDEMIC: How Board Games Survived and Thrived in 2020
Casual Game Insider|Spring 2021
COVID’s lasting impacts on our health and economy are still far from being understood. It will take many of us years, perhaps even a decade, to unravel what has changed in the last year. But some patterns are emerging, at least in the board gaming hobby, that indicate many publishers were well ahead of the curve even before the threat of a pandemic affected their supply chains worldwide. As the world began locking itself down to quell the threat of COVID-19, people continued to find solace in hobbies. Soon, the business journals and magazines of the world began tracking the increase of sales across a wide swath of interests as people did anything and everything to take their minds away from the weight of a pandemic circling the globe. Turns out, everything from toys, guitars, crafts, and board games were selling well despite a deflated economy. Report Linker’s “Board Games Market - Global Outlook and Forecast 2021-2026” estimates that sales in the hobby will grow by 13 percent in the next five years, even with continued lockdowns. But what about the hobby as a whole? This article examines how 2020 affected the board gaming industry through three facets — big box stores, local board gaming cafes and stores, and the digital space — and how the pandemic has shaped them in the interim as well as moving forward. Is this projected forecast of its growth still as rosy?
Justin Spicer

Big Box Stores Offer Big Box Comfort

The first sign of life in the hobby thriving amidst the pandemic was Hasbro’s staggering first-quarter numbers. The company’s CEO, Brian Goldner, explained that Hasbro experienced more than 20 percent growth before the 2020 holiday season alone. Ravensburger reported a spike well over 300% in sales across its line of games and puzzles. There was no denying that the giants of the board gaming industry were doing well. An article from Sarah Butler for The Guardian tracked early lockdown sales of games and toys in the United Kingdom, with stalwarts Hasbro, Mattel, and Asmodee having strong sales numbers for classic family titles such as Monopoly, Clue, and Uno. Reports in North America tracked similar sales of these well-known games.

It turns out many publishers not at the size and scale of Hasbro and Ravensburger were working toward sustainability even before the pandemic, and big box stores were not a major factor in their plans to move forward. John Zinser, owner of Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG), explains that “[big box stores] have not shaped our business model. We are always hoping our games will be placed in these stores, but we do not build our business model around it.”

Ted Alspach, owner of Bezier Games, expresses a similar stance of big box retailers. “They haven’t had much of an impact. Some have done better than before, others not so much. That category was pretty much flat.”

Yet, the behemoths of the board gaming industry turned to big box stores to keep capital flowing. When speaking to Ross Thompson from The Op earlier this year, he stressed how big box stores such as Target were integral to The Op’s sustainability during the pandemic. With a line that incorporates popular intellectual property (IP) such as Marvel, SpongeBob SquarePants, Harry Potter, and more (and often combines these IPs with timeless games and modern classics such as Monopoly, Clue, and Codenames), having an established big box presence allows The Op to thrive along with the industry’s best known publishers.

Cafes and Local Game Stores Struggle

The continued effect of COVID-19 forced many to stay home and in close proximity to families of varying ages and skill levels, meaning board games had the opportunity to demonstrate their ability of bringing and keeping families together and entertained despite the harrowing (and let’s be honest, grim) circumstances facing a weary world.

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