Hobby Game Trends 2000-2014: Introduction


The card and board game design and publishing industry has been growing rapidly in recent years. Some might call it a boom, some might worry that it is a bubble, and some optimists (like me) say it is only the beginning. Beyond the sheer quantity of cardboard distributed, the number of new releases is also rising and some argue that the general quality of design and production is improving; they suggest that we are in the “Golden Years” of game design.

Without casting aspersions, much of the discussion regarding the industry, though, is anecdotal and relies heavily on speculation. Exactly what is happening to the hobby as an industry is difficult to gauge due to the lack of public information about specific distribution and dollars figures. Many of the companies involved in what might be described as the most dynamic sector (hobby games) are small and privately held. Others are large, international organizations for which the tiny hobby game sector is a small segment of their operations.

Fortunately, there is some public information available and thankfully, there is a ton of information held in the Board Game Geek database that can be gleaned (and cleaned) for this purpose.

What started as an inquiry into a specific category of games for the purpose of testing the originality of a “new” concept quickly grew into a much broader survey of the industry. What started as, “What’s happening now?” quickly expanded to “What trends are impacting the now?” This series of posts will walk through various aspects of the industry from 2000 to 2014 and peek at what has been targeted for 2015.

An important note: I am publishing this information as it becomes available to me and as I can digest it. (This is not a completed work). The designation "Notebook" is intended to convey this fact. Further, think of this notebook as a wiki where not only will new articles be posted, but existing articles will be edited, refined, and improved upon over time. If this information is interesting to you, please let me know so I can alert you to changes. I will use the Design Blog with the Game Industry tag to summarize updates. I will only make a few observations of the data as it interests me, but provide it here for your own discovery.

The Rules

First, a huge shout-out is due to Board Game Geek for maintaining a wealth of data which is the primary source used in this analysis.

Second, some caveats:

  • At this point I am using the public interface to the BGG database to query the data, which is limited and requires a slow, inelegant process to collect and consolidate.
    • At times an analysis of the BGG database itself is critical to understanding any analysis of the market.
    • I will make note of the limitations, assumptions, and estimates required of the data within each section, but a general statement about data quality and access is in order.
      • The BGG database is a treasure trove of data, but it has changed over time and is not maintained to a degree of consistency and accuracy required for deep analysis.
      • Some of the data populations are very small, which can introduce error that cannot be tested out.
      • The data presented here was obtained through the Advanced Search interface. There is an API available for easier searching, but it is also limited in the query parameters allowed and the results returned.
    • Ultimately, the analysis is necessarily high-level.
  • Although I am very analytical by nature, I am not a market analyst by trade and I haven’t been required to know much about statistics since college (at which time I was also required to own and know how to use a slide rule).
  • Since I am posting this information quasi-live, there may be discoveries later that alter earlier analysis and conclusions.

If there is enough interest in this information, I may inquire with BGG for further access to delve deeper and tidy up the whole study into something more formal. This is your chance to ask questions that may drive the discovery.

Enough with the rules already… Let’s play!