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Tabletop Renaissance

30/08/2017 14:35 | Updated 30 August 2017

You may not be aware, but table top gaming is having a renaissance. Within the community of players, retailers and creators, it's regarded that we're currently living in the Golden Age of gaming.

A constant stream of high quality games are coming out, the industry has legitimacy in the wider entertainment world, and board games account for a quarter of all money made on Kickstarter in 2017.

For those of us who love to play, collect, paint and meet up this is fantastic. As consumers we have a wealth of choices to fill our shelves and rainy evenings.

That being said, having worked in comics for years, I worry that the trend may soon be headed for a bust.

Now competition in a marketplace is a good thing. It's great for consumers as it gives them choice, and keeps prices fair, it's even good for producers as it keeps them on their toes. Every month new games are released on a spectrum of price points. From collectible card games, to miniature heavy RPGs; the market is filled. To make your product stand out you have to not only have the cream of the crop, you have to market yourself correctly to be a success.

Within such a competitive market there are also subsets of gamers, the painters, the strategists, the quick gamers, the miniature collectors, the card gamers, to name just a few. You have to try and appeal to the right group. You may have a great game, but if three other similar games have come out, you could have consumer fatigue.

Though traditional models of distribution and sales are still important, with the world peppered with Games Stores of every kind (and many geek retailers having a selection of games); Tabletop's expansion seems tied to the rise of Kickstarter.

On top of that there are companies who are the kings of Crowdfunding, who know how to run a drive for a game, tease with stretch goals (where the initial amount asked for has been achieved and further backing unlocks extra features), and drive demand.

The expectations of consumers are now higher than ever.

A publisher on Kickstarter has to give bang for their buck. It's expected that for a particular price point you deliver not only a quality game, but worthwhile extras. If I'm paying £90 for a game I don't want to push it to get more backers if all I'm getting is a t-shirt.

And then there's the international factor. You have to price your shipping competitively, or you can cut a chunk of your market away in a heartbeat.

In the future these challenges will only intensify. With Brexit and the uncertainty of free economic movement, shipping across Europe could skyrocket. With the current political climate in the United States uncertain, taxes, duties and trade agreements could change in a heartbeat. These political situations could also massively affect manufacturing costs.

There's also the possibility of a change in legislation on consumer rights around crowdfunding. The law is often slow to implement such things, but there's always the possibility of companies being slow or unable to deliver, thereby opening themselves up to litigation down the line.

This doesn't even take into account the threat of technology.

Games companies are only now catching onto the benefit of apps of their games (as passive marketing, and as a way to practise independent from your game group) or complementary addition (think a robot dungeon master or paperless score tracking.)

Take Fantasy Flight games, one of the biggest in the business. They've got the Star Wars license; have a plethora of Lovecraft games and even Game of Thrones (amongst other very popular games.) But even they have been slow to make complementary apps (though it seems they've woken up somewhat.)

In other businesses you can't get to market without a complementary app. My kids got shoes from Clarks the other day with one. SHOES!

But what other part of tech has the tabletop industry got to watch out for? Well put on your Philip K Dick hat for this one.

Many years ago I was at a talk with comics writer Grant Morrison who, when asked if digital comics would kill off floppies replied with "people will always want to hold artefacts."

This is so true, and is evidenced by the tabletop resurgence. But soon we'll see a wave of innovation that might muddy the water.

The leaps in Augmented Reality could mean that sales of physical games could drop, as the cost of using technology make it much easier to use an iPad.

I recently saw this video of an AR narrative by Peter Jackson's company and saw the potential for tabletop gaming.

Why spend that £90 on a game when the app will cost you a tenth but still give you a similar physical experience. We're not far from glasses or contacts that will give you comfortable immersive gaming as if physically on your table. I realise VR glasses etc., are here, but I'm talking about a system so streamlined I just have to sit at my table and say a command.

The separation between virtual and actual reality will become less so, meaning people's attachment to artefacts may start to erode.

It sounds like scaremongering, but I'm sure cinema chains didn't think home televisions would catch on.

The secret to combating this or mitigating the damage in the future is community. Not in closing doors and making it us versus them, but cultivating the already fantastic gaming community and displaying its holistic benefits. This thriving and community focussed industry needs to be poised ready to jump on leaps in tech, but also to capitalise on what they've got.

The community has even been creating complementary tech to enhance gaming experiences. There's a few fan apps, with Kickstarter hosting things like the fantastic Omnitray consumers are creating their own system of support that helps Tabletop thrive.

They not only have the knowledge base, but the skills to take something new and seamlessly place it in their world.

While there's undoubtedly going to be a dip in the tabletop market, the way for companies old and new to survive is within grasp. The secret is looking around and using the people that have made it thrive.

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