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Thursday, September 29, 2022

The future of board games is digital

20220925 170020
20220925 170020

The year is 2032, and the landscape of the table is made up of much more ones and zeros than cardboard and plastic. With advances in VR technology and virtual table services, digital versions of games have officially overtaken physical games as the predominant method of play. AR and VR commercial displays have become cheap enough to be a common site in many homes. It is expected to release digital versions of all physical games, with the occasional release including a digital redemption code in a physical box. More and more games are being released thanks to the reduced costs of creating digital games, allowing small studios to succeed. All of this is due in large part to the practices and events of more than a decade.

What is it about these digital alternatives that attract gamers so much? If you’ve sat around a table with a few friends for game night, you understand the allure and energy that playing in person can bring, but even the most staunch in-person advocates would recognize that playing in person also has its drawbacks. , inconveniences that end up being played digitally! First of all, the hassle of having to repack everything at the end of the day is over, and on the other hand, setup can be a lot easier and faster too. Starting a program or loading a mod is better than dealing with shuffling, board setup, and organization, and it removes a lot of the hassle that can be a deal breaker when you want to play in person.

The biggest benefit is the flexibility that comes with digital options. Distance no longer becomes a barrier, and in some cases time also ceases to be an issue, as you can take your turn whenever you can and play for a longer period of time. These options also make it easy to scratch the table itch whenever you feel like it, if you just want to play and don’t care who you’re with. Play games with random strangers, try your latest Magic deck against randos before surprising your friends with your latest fiendish creation, or dive into a game of hitler secret at 2 am because you can’t sleep.

The idea of ​​using a program to recreate the feeling of playing board games with your friends from afar is nothing new, even today in 2022. One of the earliest examples of a virtual table was 2002’s MegaMek, an open source game made by fans option for tactical wargame players battletech which is still getting updates today. Since then, many other platforms have emerged, including Steam. tabletop simulator Y table playground and browser-based Untap.in, Board Game Arena, and D&D Beyond. Much of the work that has elevated these services has come from small studios and fan communities.

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These services also got a boost when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, forcing in-person gaming groups to do without their dopamine hits or go virtual. Many people opted for the latter, with tabletop simulator seeing nearly 150% spikes in its player base in April 2020 from the previous month, according to Steam Charts, resulting in over 7,000 new players at the digital table.

As we move into late 2022, game store tournaments, in-person events, and local pools have started up again, but many players are still happy playing on their computers. Looking at the player counts on tabletop simulator today, as gamers’ lives began to return to some normalcy, the surge in users the service saw during the start of the pandemic has subsided and leveled off, but the numbers are still nearly double the average and the peak number of users in December 2019, before the pandemic closures. The fact that there has been retention shows that people have found value in this method of gambling. With such a jump in popularity, it’s not hard to see that the big players in the world of the tables would take notice.

Many fan communities were in a good place to jump into the digital space when the shutdowns began, with day one and tools and services in place. However, some of the largest publishers and companies were unprepared for the sudden need for a digital option for their games. While Wizards of the Coast had an answer for Magic players during this time, it didn’t have an internal option for Dungeons & Dragons players. The explosion of popularity of Dungeons & Dragons, and the rise of new users using D&D Beyond’s services, made the prospect of bringing it under Wizards’ wing too enticing to pass up, and $146.3 million later, Wizards acquired the companion website.

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The roadmap for August’s Wizards Presents event showed that this D&D Beyond acquisition will be a key piece in the digital, interconnected future Wizards has planned for Dungeons & Dragons and One D&D. Wizards has officially recognized that the future of the game is not just set in the physical realm.

Recognition of the power and reach of the digital space doesn’t stop with Wizards. In 2021, Asmodee, one of the largest board game publishers (Catan, ticket to ride, carcassonne) purchased browser-based Board Game Arena. This brought some of the most popular board games of the recent era to an ever-expanding community of players.

Along with all this, the development of these games is increasingly based on the digital format. “Gone are the days of printing prototypes over and over again to test iterations,” says Nate Chatellier, co-designer of the battle dice board game. dice throne. “Here at Dice Throne, we now have a great QA team on Discord and do 99% of our testing on Discord. tabletop simulator. It’s faster, cheaper and more convenient.”

Some in the board game industry believe that the shift to digital will also expand and evolve the board game side that focuses on recreating games from big companies for release on digital platforms. “You will see even more digital adaptations and apps released alongside popular games, along with larger original IPs with broader product lines on a more regular release schedule,” says Breeze Grigas, Strategy Board Game Designer and Art Director. wick. AEGIS. “These products will be manufactured in-house more often by larger teams that are paid full-time. I think we’ll see more hybrid desktop/digital companies like Dire Wolf by 2030.” Zephyr Workshop, the developer of AEGIShas even created a free digital version of the first version of the game, which anyone who owns tabletop simulator you can download In some cases, the future is already here.

Six gamers sit around a digital table in a living room, playing a game

infinite game table
Photo: Arcade1Up

It may seem at first glance that the only paths being considered are a digital future or a physical one, but there are some companies that are experimenting with a hybrid approach. One such option is Arcade1Up’s Infinity Game Table. Most commonly known for its stripped down retail arcade cabinets, Arcade1Up has merged the traditional family coffee table and tablet into one, allowing the family to get together and play their classic favorites on the touch screen. Another option is the Kickstarter success of Teburu, the self-proclaimed first “smart” board game. This folding piece of tech touts itself as the one that does the heavy lifting by taking care of things like game rules, enemy behavior, and story events. It comes with high expectations, but with its RFID-enhanced minifigs, smart dice, and more, it can deliver on them (along with its development kit for game designers and enthusiasts) when it hits backers in April 2023. Remains to be seen. these hybrid approaches will gain traction with players, but having more options is always a good thing.

Looking 10 or 20 years from now, it remains to be seen what place physical tabletop products will have, but perhaps looking at other forms of media that have digital offerings can provide some clues. Physical books have survived through the inventions of radio, television, the Internet and, more recently, the electronic reader, and are still in print. The music and film industries continue to print and sell physical CDs and Blu-rays of new releases, despite the dramatic shift over the past two decades toward Internet downloads and streaming services. If all of these physical media can stand the test of time, who’s to argue that the table won’t adapt and survive just as well?

In the next decade, if things continue on their current course, board games will have a much more entrenched and deeper connection to the digital space. As our lives get busier, days get busier, or the distance between groups of friends grows, knowing that there is a digital option to continue our long-running campaigns and slingshot spells in our games of favorite cards. incredibly comforting. Seeing how the desktop industry has continued to grow alongside AR and VR, these next 10 years present an exciting prospect. Yet despite all that, Chatellier says, “Human beings will always need time to interact face-to-face. That is the magic that the table brings to digital gaming, and I don’t think it will ever go away.”

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