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Thread: Barriers to Entry - Further discussion

  1. #1
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    Default Barriers to Entry - Further discussion

    This is in reply to Colby's post on the front page

    http://www.plaidhatgames.com/news/311

    which, unfortunately, doesn't allow more than short replies.

    Some of the barriers Colby mentioned (cost, stagefright, attention span) are merely symptoms of the true barrier, the ongoing social stigma toward boardgaming. Once the medium becomes more widely accepted people would quickly set aside concerns over price, difficulty or time required with their realization of just how much fun gaming offers them.

    This was the same problem faced by both comics and video games in previous years. Despite the fact that there was a huge amount of pleasure to be gained from the medium by wider audiences, those audiences deprived themselves of the joy at hand simply due to their inability to overcome preconceptions that comics and games were either childish or geeky.

    With comics the medium was helped a huge amount by the popularity of major comicbook movies such as Batman and Spiderman. Videogames began to gain mainstream appeal when the social aspects of email and the internet led everyone to develop a closer relationship with technology.

    Boardgames are simply awaiting a paradigm shift of their own and, once it happens, the unquestionable fun to be found in the medium will quickly see people discard their prior assumptions.

    It will likely take a new wave of innovative and highly accessible games to do so though. In video games, Doom helped the medium cross to the internet, Angry Birds helped it gain mass appeal on mobile devices. The flagbearers for boardgames will have to have the perfect balance of excitement, socialization, complexity, etc. to capture similar success but eventually it will happen, and we'll know it when we begin to see comics and tv shows based off boardgames rather than vice versa.

    Of course, having the perfect game won't help if it isn't marketed properly. Doing so requires expanding the exposure of the medium and this would be best served by leaders in the industry working in concert to boost the medium as a whole. Industries frequently have trade associations to push their interests and in boardgaming's case it is GAMA (in the US), who run the Origins convention and conduct a number of other programs. Yet, many of these seemed primarily aimed at boosting sales of existing product rather than breaking down barriers to help the medium itself grow.

    One method would be to cross-network with other mediums. So far this is generally a one-way street with boardgames licensing popular properties but there must be countless movie, tv or music stars who enjoy boardgames. The (nonexistant) boardgame lobby group should be identifying such people, and doing their best to lure them to conventions or other events, as special guests, panel members or prize-givers (and subsequently advertise their attendance). Obviously the industry doesn't have huge amounts of cash lying around for this purpose but people who really love games probably wouldn't require it. Cash could be invested in other areas though such as an annual prize for innovative independent game design, or grants to support people who are helping promote the medium (such as the Dice Tower and SU&SD websites). It seems strange as well that world championship chess matches or videogame matches can both involve millions of dollars in prizes/sponsorship but the idea of boardgames doing the same seems ludicrous. Why should it be? Trading cardgames already offer prizes of up to $100,00 (Warcraft TCG) for individual winners. Perhaps competitive boardgaming could gather wider appeal if a field was narrowed down to a specific group of skill-dependent and entertaining to watch games. Set up an annual tournament of the 5-10 most suitable games, establish cash prizes and televise it. Competitive video-gaming followed a similar pattern.

    Such connections need not be aimed solely at well-known faces or mass appeal. Wargames have long been accepted by the military (the most po-faced and serious audience you can imagine) as vital tools for learning the complexities of strategy, logistics and other abstract skills. There is no reason that other areas could not also benefit from the teaching power of good boardgames. Airlines and hospitals use simulators (i.e hardcore videogames) to replicate working conditions but other fields with a higher level of social interaction (e.g. business, teaching, policing) could easily benefit from the use of boardgames to develop negotiation, management, teamwork and other skills, though you might have to package them to them as something other than 'boardgames'. In the case of Dead of Winter alone, I doubt there is a tv writers room that would not benefit from playing several games together as that type of narrative interactive, gaming seems perfect for developing and road-testing characters and plot points. Of course, to be effective it would have to become more of a toolset than a pure game but perhaps might we begin seeing designers develop such toolsets to market as something other than pure games.

    In short, I think that in time the medium of boardgames will eventually find the wider appeal that comics and videogames have begun to achieve. This could, however, take many years. Shortening the wait will either take good fotune and the rise of a new wave of innovative games or proactive action on the part of the industry to reach out and show people exactly what they're missing.

    Apologies for the length but I find it a very interesting topic.

  2. #2
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    Well thought out and articulated argument, Brannagyn. The interesting thing when looking at the mass appeal of video games over board games is that video games have been around for a much shorter period of time, and yet has far surpassed board games in popularity and market share. That's due to a number of factors, but I think mass appeal (particularly smart phone games, I think the Wii also brought in atypical gamers) and tie ins to existing cultural powerhouses (sports and movie franchises, for instance) have greatly accelerated the pace of adoption of video games.

    I think part of what is occurring is that video games are evolving faster and more visibly than board games are, due to increased processing and graphics power of the systems, a much larger development budget, and intense competition between Microsoft and Sony (Nintendo seems to mostly do its own thing). The interesting thing is that a huge amount of video game releases are just rehashes or new generations of old, popular titles, so I think there is actually more creativity and new IP being generated in the board game space, but to much less fanfare.
    Not all who wander are lost.

  3. #3
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    Two areas within boardgames that I think have the most room to develop are narrative and psychological systems. Both are so far under-represented; in the first group (focused on creating a unique story) you have Tales of the Arabian Nights, Once upon a Time, Baron Munchausen, while in the second (focused on the interaction between players) you have Battlestar Galactica, Werewolf, The Resistance. There are others of course but compared to other systems both of these are quite poorly populated.

    For me this is surprising as they contain the key elements of what made pen and paper RPGs so much fun. Countless games have taken the mechanics of the dungeon crawl and action elements of such games (from Ravenloft and Descent to Tannhauser and Arkham Horror) to emulate the frenetic rush of dice-rolling that frequently underscored key moments, yet, the elements of storytelling and social interaction that brought the games fully to life and added the elusive quality of immersion have not been properly matched in boardgame form.

    I suppose P&P RPGS had 4 elements in all that gave them their appeal.

    Action: As mentioned, the dice-driven 'roll'-playing aspect has been captured well by both boardgames and videogames.

    Story: The power to shape narratives similar to your favourite books and movies. Something available only in the most limited form in even the best videogame RPGs.

    Social Interaction: Not simply laughing with friends, but also working together as a team, panicking in unison, disagreeing over absurd plot points and moral quandaries or betraying one another in character.

    Campaign progression: A final element was the chance to see your character grow from game to game. The appeal of this element became very clear with the rise of MMORPGs and the addictive appeal of the level grind. Few boardgames attempt this, though it has proven one of the most popular elements of the recent Pathfinder card game.

    Of course all of these elements can continue to be found in P&P RPGs themselves and a recent wave of independent games (such as Fiasco) are attracting a whole new generation of players. For me, however, these games sit at the opposite end of the spectrum to videogames. The latter are immediately accessible, generally user friendly and give a quick fix. The former are far more daunting to the uninitiated and, regardless of actual complexity, generally demand a great deal more preparation and time commitment to deliver their full returns. Those rewards can be of far greater richness though, than the limited interactions provided by videogames.

    Boardgames occupy the (happy) middle-ground. More accessible and quicker to jump into than most P&P RPGS, yet offering much deeper social and narrative returns than videogames. As noblekinght mentioned above, many videogames are now simply retreading well-developed formats while boardgaming is, despite the wide variety of systems already available, still undergoing constant evolution and refinement. Personally, I find it quite refreshing to know that there will be a large number of (as yet unknown) games released over the coming decade that will be recognized as classics of innovative mechanics, story-building or social interaction. I have to hope that they will also contain that certain je ne sais quoi that carriers them to a wider audience.
    Last edited by Brannagyn; 11-23-2013 at 08:28 AM.

  4. #4
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    I think you have touched on something very important here, which might be underestimated or overlooked as a barrier to entry by long time gamers or developers, which is investment. As in, how much time, money, effort, resources, etc. does it take for a new player to reach that point where work transforms into play? As a new board gamer I played some games that were so abstract that they reminded me of Algebra, which I hated in school. If A = apples, fine. Now I know whether I care about A. I didn't want to solve an equation I had no vested interest in. For me, the investment curve was too steep. Eventually I found more immersive game worlds and themes, and with time I was able to return to these same dry, abstract games and enjoy them. I now knew the game systems, so the investment to learn was lower. That moment where the unknown and strange becomes familiar and fun is tremendously important, and for a new gamer the investment to reach this point in much greater.

    There are three investments which were very important to me as a new hobby gamer.

    The first investment for a new gamer is learning the language. I think this applies to anything people geek on. Like learning any language, it takes awhile to understand the terminology, common concepts and slang. Until you do you feel like an outsider and frankly are treated like one sometimes. Terms and Rules are this language in games and are essential for knowing what happens when. Just as knowing that the subject must come first to form a proper sentence in Mandarin, in boardgaming I need to understand and remember the terminology and rules I am playing by to communicate basic ideas and needs to other people at the table. In video games, new concepts can be introduced slowly and integrated as the story progresses. The game simply doesn't use them, or they are not vital to success until they are explained. The learning curve is sharper for board gaming. In addition to this, wording in a well made game manual is concise and precise, requiring reading comprehension and memory not necessary for most recreational reading. Colby's comparison to a technical manual is apt. Crack open a book on National Electrical Code, read a bit, then look in the mirror. Unless you have some experience, likely the look on your face resembles a new gamer's as they peruse a new rulebook in terror. Once you are familiar with the terms, rules and mechanics it's hard to remember what it's like for a new player. Your frame of reference is too different. Further, with so many small publishers in the industry there is little standardization and frankly a lack of quality control sometimes. Personally, long rulebooks didn't turn me off, but bad ones nearly did. More than once I bought a game which had a cool theme or new mechanic I wanted to try only to find that the rules were incomprehensible, contradictory, or incomplete. Well written rules can be the difference between a good night and a bad one, even in a cooperative game at a friendly table. So, for myself I would say that the biggest opportunity in the industry is to communicate clearly to the players how the game is played, and I agree with Colby that a video which demonstrates the game is a natural progression and a good one. The folks at Watch It Played do an excellent job of showing how to play games, which gives context to new terms which might otherwise take more effort to learn. Also, I think Isaac deserves some props here for creating depth in CoR by mixing existing mechanics in a thematic and interesting way rather than spamming new ones. This also reduces investment for the new player.

    Another important investment in tabletop Gaming is Timesink. When you want to play a videogame, if you have $60, a working knowledge of controllers, keyboards and/or mice and the system required, you're pretty much all set. A standalone boots in a minute or so and shutdown is about as quick with a responsibly designed save system. Your computer was probably already on. If you wish to play with other people you can do so on a whim. Now consider Mage Knight, which I am very fond of. I set up in about 20-25 minutes to play solitaire and then will play for two or three hours before boxing up which takes about 15 minutes or so. Now factor in playing with someone else and the formula becomes: Communicate and arrange meeting place with all players + travel + choosing characters and scenario + play time (larger with more players) + reboxing + travel home. Add teaching a new player and now I'm staring down the barrel of a very large time commitment, making Mage Knight a treasured game which almost always resides on my shelf, rather than the table. You mentioned the grindy aspect of mmorpgs, and that's an excellent argument that even in our microwave society there is a place for play which requires higher time investment. I had a Monster Hunter addiction, personally. I played thousands of hours. In that genre, where you spend a lot of time grinding, it becomes crucially important to you how well you can navigate the menus, and generally how much time you spend doing things you don't care about. Things that aren't fun should be streamlined. In boardgaming, setup and reboxing is an obvious opportunity. The Pathfinder Board Game is an excellent example of this concern taken seriously. The game is all cards which are stored in random decks which just require a quick shuffle before playing (which I can delegate even to new players) or are alphabetized for easy retrieval. After a couple of plays I had the locations in the box all memorized and setup / rebox are now both about ten minutes. In addition, the character decks can be stored for the next game which dovetails neatly with the style of play, as it's designed to be played multiple times to finish campaigns. The design is simple and ergonomic and allows the gamer to spend their time playing the game rather than getting ready to. In the same way, referencing the rulebook /= fun. It is necessary, not enjoyable. Care should be taken that core game mechanics and references are duly communicated by game components when possible, to reduce the number of occasions a player drags out the rule book. CoR does a great job here with the player mats, as does Pathfinder with Character cards.

    The last important investment for me has been a social one. This is a stiff hurdle because of new societal norms for communication and the semi-virtual nature of our relationships. Who hasn't found themselves sitting near other people all on their cellphones rather than conversing with you, right there? It's now cliche to mention it; we are more connected than ever but the quality of our communication is much, much less. We've traded meaningful relationships for convenience. Sit down at a table to play a game? Why don't you just hop online? More folks live in the city than they used to, which seems like a boon on the surface. You would think that in a major metropolis my gaming pool would be larger, but that hasn't been my experience. There are plenty of options cityside for what to do with your evening, and travel time may be even greater as the city and sprawling suburbs can place you quite far away from other gamers. Last group I played with was an hour away. Boardgaming is indeed social, and shines brightest with good group of experienced players. I can't say that I'm any expert on this investment as I haven't conquered it yet, but I think the way forward is to urge others to see the investment from a different angle. Who would you rather build a relationship with? Some guy babbling incessantly and incoherently on CoD: Ghosts, or your friends, family, and neighbors? Most of us play videogames also, and there is room for this type of anonymous camaraderie, but board games should be proud that they offer something different. That's partly why I am so excited about Dead of Winter. If the game works the way I understand it to, it encourages players to interject their own personality into the game and forces philosophical decisions which alter the course of the game greatly. This sort of experience has not been seen in any video game I can think of. The chance to sit across from a friend and wonder just how well you really know them. Unraveling that thread through a compelling storyline creates memories, and plays to the the strength of social investment. I hope that DoW will capture the unsung zeitgeist of our connected age, a backlash in the social ethos which yearns for more complete and fulfilling relationships with other people, a role neatly and elegantly filled by play. I hope DoW and other games on the horizon will foster an atmosphere of communal fun and playful trickery, and nudge us to be the type of gamers we want to play with- Interesting, imaginative, and engaging. There is still a social stigma that Tabletop gamers are socially backward individuals who need an alter ego in a fantasy world to redeem their uninspiring and unsatisfying lives. Ghandi said, be the change you want to see. If we want to be seen as charismatic, fun people we could do with games that inspire us to be just that.

    In conclusion, I want to say that I agree with you Brannagyn that time and good games are what's needed to bring board gaming to the masses, and I think Plaid Hat is doing their part. I am eternally grateful for the time I have spent with Summoner Wars, (my favorite game) and I tout Plaid Hat as the standard by which other game rules should be judged. Plaid Hat has a bead on fun and their playtesting works. Even if DoW isn't the blockbuster I believe it will be, keep fighting the good fight, guys, you're on the right track. I apologize for the long post, I also find this subject very interesting.

  5. #5
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    I was thinking the last podcast throughout the day today and something Quinns said resonated with me, not anything particular, mind you, but he often came back to inclusiveness. Inviting anyone and everyone to play board games, creating the atmosphere where they feel welcome to learn and make friends. Though Quinn is both intelligent and genuinely funny he spent more time talking about how others shine when given a chance, he seems to care deeply about showing others games because he cares about them. What a profoundly simple, essential thing.

    I started to think about the rest of the package. I have often wondered since Truth's Barriers to Entry post about what I can do. Me, random guy who plays board games. No way to influence the industry except though the few greenbacks I can invest in games now and then. My whole post focused on what the industry needs to do. What can I do? I wasn't satisfied with pointing the finger at designers and asking them to carry the show, and I guess I've figured out why. We are the component of the game that Plaid Hat doesn't design. They can't send along a patient, helpful friend to guide you through those first few rulebooks, to play the game you want to learn even if they had a different one in mind. So that's my mission. I like having an objective.

    I am going to try to take Quinns' example to heart, to try to bolster the confidence of new gamers, to welcome their questions and generally try to be more selfless. Correct actions come from correct attitudes. I want others to love games, the way I do. But why? I like games, and part of the reason I like games is that I like people. Sometimes I forget, though. Sorry for all this verbal masturbation, btw. I'm trying to grow. Sometimes I get to the table and forget that those people are as much the reason I am there as the game. People know that I care about them by how I treat them, and I forget to tell them they are important to me by being attentive. I get up in my head about what I am doing, whether I'm getting it right, and forget about them. That's just vanity. I'm going to try to be better. But I could use some help in this area. Some of you have much more experience teaching others to play games than I do. Colby has mentioned there's an art to it, and Quinns said the same. To me the first step is caring about the people you're playing with. I can work on some good habits there. But does anyone have suggestions on how to make a person's first game a great one? I'm visiting family over the holidays, and I promise to put your methods to work if I get a chance. My little brother is itching for a game of Summoner Wars, this time I'm going to play to win the evening, not the game necessarily. I am hoping to get them to play a game of Resistance, too. Simple rules and lots of interaction.

    Also, I think there's a lead in something Colby said about gaming Cafes. The local Tabletop games store here in town is called Tabletop, and they have a games night. Basically, it's an invitation to use their space to play games. The other people are there to play games too, so that's half the battle. I'm gonna try to expand my social circle a little. I've shied away because I thought to myself I might not be interested in the games others want to play. I'm feel strongly about promoting Plaid Hat and want to play their games with others. But first I'm going to work on being a good player. Not in the sense of skills or mastery. I'm going to practice that ever popular grade card addendum, playing well with others. Getting along with people. Foundation stuff.

  6. #6
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    Wow, lots of thoughts on this topic.
    My 2 cents is that some of us just haven't been introduced to Board Gaming.
    I didn't own a board game until recently and I only discovered board games in College.
    Growing up my parents didn't buy us any. We played video games and sports.
    On holidays at my grandparents house they would bring out the classics: Chess, Checkers, Dominoes and one of my cousins had Uno.

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