Board Game Sales

It’s Black Friday and pretty much every retailer is having some kind of sale. This includes game stores and game websites. When I first entered the hobby a few years ago I was a sucker for board games on sale. I would buy anything that seemed vaguely interesting and had a big discount. For the most part these ended up being OK games from big publishers. I’m sure most of you are familiar with the Queen Games’ sales on Amazon.

I never had time to play all of these games. So now I have more games than I can store and I’m not particularly interested in playing the OK ones when I’ve also been paying full price for some great games. Now I have a few piles of games I’ll be trading, selling, and giving away.

Besides cluttering my house with unplayed games, what is the result of board game sales? The MSRP of a game is usually as low as it can be to cover the production, transport, marketing, and sale of a game, and allow for some profit at each stage. So there isn’t a very large margin to lower for a sale. The discount is also usually at the retailers step.

The games that go on sale are therefore games that the retailer wants to get rid of at a lower profit or even at a loss to recoup some money and free up retail or storage space. So the majority of games on sale are not that good. This is why I bought so many OK games on sale. The good games didn’t need to be discounted to sell.

But there is another reason games go on sale besides not being good enough to sell. Sometimes more are produced than the market cares to buy. So you have very good games end up with steep discounts so stores can free up space.

A problem that arises from these two different reasons for a sale is that the perceived value of a game can be lowered. If a $60 MSRP game is regularly available for $30 it isn’t a $60 game anymore even if it’s a great game. In the ongoing struggle of online stores vs brick and mortar stores this is the biggest divide. Online stores have much lower overhead to pay for, so they can manage a larger discount and still make a profit. Brick and mortar stores usually can’t afford to match that discount even on games they want to get rid of. And no one wants to pay $50 for a now $30 game. This can also be applied to other, similar games. Game X and game Y are of similar weight and quality. Game X is on sale at 50% of MSRP. So game Y is also worth only 50% of MSRP. So an over production of game X can lower the perceived value of game Y. This can be quite frustrating to the producers of game Y.

These steep discounts can also lead to buyer’s remorse. For example, I preordered Seafall.

I’m still looking forward to playing it, but my copy is still in shrink and it’s now selling for half price. Some companies like Fantasy Flight Games have introduced minimum sale prices for their games to protect the games’ perceived value and help brick and mortar stores. Does this actually help? I’m not sure.

In short getting things you want cheaper is great. But be careful of buying things only because they are cheap and be aware of how discounts can warp the perceived value of designer’s and publisher’s hard work in creating a game.

Who are you?

I’ve been thinking a lot about player incentives in Plutocracy lately. At Metatopia I got similar feedback to what I have been getting from my local play tests. The core of the game, players not controlling a single empire, grabs people’s attention. This part of the description was the reason some people chose to try it out. The mechanisms work well, at this point they are pretty streamlined. But players continue not to care about any of their actions. It becomes a repetitive slog of “what is the most beneficial move on this turn?”

I’ve written about player incentives a few times before and specifically in Plutocracy where it has always been a problem. I believe this is the secret to getting Plutocracy to the next level.

Unique hook that goes against traditional game systems + Actually making it work when people play = Success. The question is, how can I get people to care?

A question I have heard asked about many games is “who are you?” Who are the players in the game? This is an integral part of building immersion and key to having players care about their actions. If they have an avatar in the game that could succeed or fail, they are more likely to care about the consequences of their actions than if they are just a decision making entity removed from the narrative.

In Plutocracy I’ve always known who the players are. They are powerful influencers working from the shadows to sway the fate of empires to their own benefit. It sounded great in my head, but when people sit down to play, they are just a decision making entity removed from the narrative. They have no representation of themselves in the game, and as a result don’t have an emotional connection to the events. The strongest attachment I saw was a player that liked blue, so they worked to improve the blue empire. This was not ideal.

So my next step is to put the players in the game. They will lose their current godlike powers of manipulating the galaxy. Instead, they will have much more restricted influence over a smaller area of the game based on the location of their character. They will need to make more personal decisions for their character in order to influence the galaxy.

Hopefully this can start to make the connection with players that the game is missing.

When it comes to player incentives, it seems that winning the game is too abstract of a concept to build engagement. The way you win the game needs to be thematically linked to who the players are and what they want as characters. So, define who your players are then define what those characters want. Only then will you know what incentives you need to use.

What if you don’t?

Game design is an iterative process. You have an idea, you build a prototype, you test it, and repeat. Usually many times. Through this process it’s easy to forget to remove pieces that no longer belong. A rule that was a fix for a mechanism that is no longer there or a clever idea of how to distribute resources when you no longer need resources. It becomes an artifact of the game design. You forget why the piece is there. It’s become part of the design and that’s just how it is. 
Several times with my designs I have gotten feedback from testers that starts with some variation of “What if you don’t…”. It’s usually in reference to one of these artifacts of game design. You had become so accustomed to it being there, but a new perspective can easily see that it doesn’t fit.

This has been some of the most revolutionary feedback I have received. It’s a moment of clarity when a player says “What if you don’t have credits? They just add a step to exchanges.” Credits made sense before. But the thing that made them matter had already been removed. The game had always had credits though, I couldn’t fathom a world in which it didn’t have credits. But as soon as someone mentioned it, it all made sense. 

Make sure you look critically at every aspect of your game, and have new players look at your game with fresh eyes. They may notice something you’ve missed. 


Just a short post this week because I’m at Metatopia. 

I’ll be presenting Plutocracy, Pod People, and Vanilla. The show has a lot of interesting talks lined up and I’m booked pretty much constantly every day. It’s going to be an exhausting weekend but so far it’s lots of fun. 

If you ever get the chance I definitely recommend attending. 

If you’re at Metatopia, be sure to say hi if you see me.