Essen (dpa) – The corona crisis has given the parlor game industry a powerful boost – and in two directions.
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Leisure time activities, which are comparatively suitable for a pandemic, from card and role to board and family games are booming again in 2020 than in previous years. At the same time, the comparatively analogue world of game fans has made a significant leap into the digital: online platforms for board games are more popular than ever and, due to the corona, the international consumer fair “Spiel”, which otherwise attracts up to 200,000 game enthusiasts to Essen, is becoming the world’s largest happening Kind of applies to dodge into the network.
The online version is especially vital for many small game publishers, says Dominique Metzler from the organizer Friedhelm Merz Verlag at the presentation of the program on Monday. The four-day “Spiel.digital” starts on Thursday – despite all efforts to incorporate interactive elements, it is an admittedly difficult replacement for the lively event, where otherwise game fans crowd around the gaming tables. Many smaller and micro publishers in particular generate their annual turnover in Essen.
And yet one is proud of what has remained after the face-to-face event has been canceled: a digital trade fair presence at which 450 exhibitors from 41 nations present 1,400 new products – including many from very far away, for example from Nigeria or Latin America. The elimination of travel costs and times makes it possible. In the four days with live streams in many different languages and virtual gaming tables, many hits from abroad are expected. “The game has always been international, but this time it’s only a few clicks for fans from Korea or the USA,” says Metzler.
The entire industry is actually clearly one of the beneficiaries of the crisis with its range of products: In the isolation and lack of entertainment alternatives, many families and game friends have refilled their cupboards. So far, with a 21 percent increase in sales, the industry has once again clearly outstripped the positive development of recent years, as reported by the industry association for games publishers. Even after the lockdown, the boom continues: “At a time when vacationing is not so popular, many people play games,” says the association’s chairman Hermann Hutter. But not everyone has reason to cheer: According to Hutter, the specialist trade in particular suffered losses of around 11 percent. The cancellation of many trade fairs, games meetings and clubs is also painful for frequent gamers and publishers.
And so, especially for frequent gamers, the long-growing digital community of “board gamers” should inevitably have come into focus: the influencers of the scene have long been providing information about their favorite games in countless YouTube clips, while others have been blogging for decades about insider tips or the latest addition to the classic. Platforms that simulate the game night online, such as “tabletopia” or “Board Game Arena”, report a real rush at the beginning of the pandemic.
“The crisis has catapulted us into a new dimension,” says Gregory Isabelli, the French founder of Board Game Arena, who claims to be the largest digital gaming table in the world with four and a half million members. The website makes it possible to play a huge range of classic games to new products with other users on the PC. When the world went into lockdown, the number of hits increased tenfold in just a few days and completely new target groups had been opened up, he says. “All of a sudden our grandmother was playing with her grandchildren,” says Isabelli. About half of the new users stayed.
The crisis is also a wake-up call for many game publishers to set themselves up more digitally – if the resources allow it, says trade fair organizer Metzler. The large German publisher Pegasus Spiele, for example, is considered to be a pioneer: “The industry is a little more conservative and many opportunities have been left untapped,” says its spokesman Peter Berneiser. After all, the strength of the game is the ability to experience emotions, and being able to touch things is also important. “But these analog strengths by no means exclude digital,” he emphasizes. The publisher has now significantly expanded its digital offerings: There were digital games, online training for specialist dealers and a virtual ideas competition for authors. With great success: they were able to achieve a greater range in all areas. “Most of the digital measures that have now been created will endure,” says Berneiser, “as a good addition, not as a permanent replacement.”
This is how the makers of the games want to keep it in the future: The digital should create additional access, the core remains real experience. “It’s just something different whether you sit across from each other or not. That will always be what makes playing so attractive,” says Metzler with conviction.