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Independent Board Games Transition from Niche to Mass Market

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April 7th, 2015

Historically, the global game and puzzle market has been dominated by major brands that have been on the market for decades. Games like Monopoly, Scrabble, or chess were invented decades or even centuries ago, and have been the board game mainstays for families for generations. However a substantial shift is occurring in the market, and new board games made from smaller independent companies are swiftly gaining influence within games and puzzles.

Craft board games

In recent years numerous niche board games from relatively small sized manufacturers have started to enter the market with great success, with some of them becoming mass market brands. The success comes in large part to the diversity of products that can cater to a wide variety of consumers. Some of these independent board games are designed for the children and parents, such as Asmodee’s Dobble, a visual matching game that was released in 2009 and has gone on to become the second largest game and puzzle brand in France in 2013 with sales of US$15 million. Others cater toward all age groups, like Mayfair Games The Settlers of Catan, which was launched in 1995. Settlers of Catan is currently the fourth largest board game brand in the US with retail value sales of over US$80 million in 2013, even though it was largely an unknown niche brand nearly ten years prior. Finally, some of these niche board games are targeted squarely at adults, like Plaid Hat Games’ Dead of Winter, a zombie themed survival board game.

BoardGames

Source: Euromonitor International

One of the key driving forces behind the multitude of new entrants into games and puzzles is the technological developments that allow board game manufacturers to create and distribute their products. Board games are by their very nature cheap to produce, which has allowed small companies to develop and manufacture products for very little investment. Additionally, some have turned to crowdfunding website Kickstarter in order to raise money for the initial investment needed to create their games. Games such as Coup or Robot Turtles have been able to fund the development of their product through Kickstarter campaigns. And with the continued rise of ecommerce websites, these niche board games are now able to sell directly to consumers in a cost effective manner.

With the rise of new board games from independent developers, major companies are looking for new strategies to maintain growth and reverse declines for their games and puzzle brands. While many core brands still have a dominant share of the games and puzzle market, manufacturers are being proactive in order to maintain their brand’s importance with consumers. Hasbro has been using multiple strategies to deal with this issue, including taking their popular board game brands into other areas of toys and games. In August 2014 Hasbro announced the launch of the Hasbro Game Channel, a new global platform for static video game consoles that was developed in partnership with Ubisoft. Hasbro Game Channel allows users to download major video game versions of major Hasbro brands, like Monopoly and Risk, on both older and next generation consoles from Microsoft and Sony. In addition to this expansion into video games, Hasbro is also making heavy use of licensing with a variety of brands in order to drive growth, such as Angry Birds Star Wars Jenga or Monopoly: Marvel Avengers edition.

Independent’s future

Despite the current success of new, independent board and card games in the games and puzzle market, the long term trajectory of the market is still uncertain.  While independent games are readily finding funding at the moment, the market for these games may become too saturated to make this profitable in the future. Furthermore, the current high fragmentation of the market may begin to see consolidation, as Asmodee Group has already acquired both Days of Wonder and Fantasy Flight Games in 2014, two companies which largely specialized in niche board games. Even with these unknowns, however, it is very likely that some of the most popular independent board games will be able to maintain their popularity. Therefore the future of board games will look very different from its past, with new brands like Ticket to Ride or King of Tokyo sharing shelf space with long-standing brands like Monopoly and Risk.

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Matt Hudak

Matthew Hudak is a Toys and Games analyst for Euromonitor International. He’s been working in market research since 2011 after earning a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Chicago. Matt’s been quoted numerous times in several major publications including NPR, The New York Times, and Wall Street Journal.

  • Sourya Mukherjee

    Hi, I wanted to research on the international board games industry. Can anyone tell me which country has the largest market for board games in the world? And what is it’s size? What category of the population forms their major market?

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