The way boardgames are published and sold has changed massively over the last few years. The development of Asmodee is one of the main stories of the last decade: it has grown from a small company (primarily known for clever little kids games like Dobble), into an industrial conglomerate swallowing up the likes of Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight Games, Z-man Games, Mayfair, Lookout Spiele and most recently, Repos Production. There have been other significant shifts too however. Changes in the way “hobby gamers” learn about and acquire games has been hugely influenced by the internet and with it, the rise of crowdfunding, in particular, KickStarter.
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To give an idea of the impact KickStarter has had: last Easter, they announced that more than one billion US dollars had been pledged by over three million backers, funding nearly seventeen thousand games projects since the platform started a decade earlier. This growth occurred in tandem with a huge expansion in the hobby which has seen modern boardgaming move from the shadows of a dingy corner of geekdom towards the sunny uplands of the mainstream. For the last five years, there have been more games released than any year previously. Despite this growth, the dominance of Asmodee and KickStarter, have increased the squeeze on the smaller players in a relatively niche market.
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These smaller players also flourished as the market grew, but maybe a corner is now being turned. Last year, Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG), producers of games including Smash Up, Love Letter, Cat Lady, Dice City, Thunderstone, and more recently, Ecos: First Continent, announced that after twenty-seven years in the industry, they will be making fewer games. From their press release:
“There is a reason why there are so many games coming. It is a great time to be making games, maybe the best ever. That does not mean it is easy. In fact, it is also the most challenging time to be making games that I can remember. The bar to get noticed and have any kind of staying power is higher than it has ever been.”
AEG are not the only company affected. US Publishers, Winsome Games (producers of train games like TransAmerica, Chicago Express, Age of Steam, Railways of the World and the 18xx family of games) have announced they will no longer be presenting new games at Essen. Part of this is due to owner and developer John Bohrer “aging (dis)gracefully”, but changes in the market have also no doubt taken their toll.
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Other companies also seem to be feeling the pinch; last year, Steve Jackson Games (perhaps best known for games like Munchkin, Ogre and Cthulhu Dice) reported that gross income for 2018 was slightly down, the fourth year in a row. In their 2017 report, they stated that “the current market is more a periodicals business than one that encourages growing and nurturing single games”. In the 2018 report they observe that “things only got worse … as fewer and fewer copies of new titles were sold into distribution” and as a result, they “were forced to let some talented and hardworking staff go”. As a company, they have expanded their use of KickStarter, observing that “over the last few years, our core hobby market has changed dramatically”.
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Even the massive behemoth that is Asmodee is not unaffected. About eighteen months ago, Asmodee was bought from Eurazeo by PAI Partners, a European private equity company, and it seems they are now consolidating and streamlining their assets. Earlier this month, Timothy Gerritsen, Head of Studio announced the closure of Fantasy Flight Interactive (FFI). FFI was an independent subsidiary within Asmodee Digital with the remit of adapting tabletop games and creating new digital experiences based on Fantasy Flight Games’s best loved brands. One of the highest profile of these was the Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game, but unfortunately it was not as successful as the Lord of the Rings Living Card Game it was based on.
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The cuts at Asmodee were wider reaching though, with the initial closure of the Fantasy Flight Customer Service department followed by reports of redundancies elsewhere in the company. This has been more recently followed by a withdrawal of Customer Services for products all products from Asmodee, Fantasy Flight Games, Days of Wonder, Catan, Plaid Hat Games and Z-Man. This change in policy is apparently due to “the number of quality titles in Asmodee USA’s growing library” which is making “maintaining an independent stock of elements of each game … more difficult”. This may, or may not be true, but it is clear that as the market is growing, things are changing for everyone: gamers and publishers, both big and small.