PAX East 2017 kicks off today in Boston. It’s a three-day convention that is at the top of any gamer’s to-do list. PAX (Penny Arcade Expo) was started by the creators of the Penny Arcade web comic back in 2004. The first event was held in Bellevue, Washington, and since then, annual events have started in Boston (PAX East), Texas (PAX South), and Australia (PAX Australia). PAX has evolved quite a bit over the years. Originally, it focused mainly on video games. But in recent years, a much stronger board game program has developed.
CMON will be at PAX East in the Tabletop Room, demoing some of the hit games from our lineup, and we decided this was a perfect time to look at the relationship between video games and board games. In the past, we examined the digital influence on analog games, but we wanted to talk to an expert on the cultural crossover between the two pastimes. For this week’s CMON Feature Friday, we sat down with Matt Morgan, the Head of the Tabletop Department for PAX East, and discussed the relationship between the two hobbies.
Morgan was quick to dispel the notion that tabletop gaming takes a back seat at PAX.
He explains, “I want to establish that there's much more tabletop gaming going on at PAX than many people expect. At our last show, PAX South, nearly a quarter of our exhibitor space was filled by the tabletop industry, and over ten percent of PAX's panels and events were tabletop-related. What always impresses me most, though, is the overall vibe and culture of the PAX shows. I've never encountered a friendlier or more welcoming group, and that certainly extends to the tabletop gaming crowd here.”
Today’s modern gamer isn’t relegated to one platform or another. Morgan notes that there’s a lot of crossover between analog and digital gamers. “At PAX East, you see an incredible amount of spillover from the video game community to the board game community. Our video game expo hall is only open until 6PM, while our tabletop gaming vendors and play areas remain open until midnight. Those late hours are particularly busy. People tend to travel to conventions in groups, and rest assured, within every group of video game-playing friends, there's the one board game nut.”
Events like PAX give fans of the hobby an opportunity to sample from different types of gaming and discover aspects that appeal to them. “At PAX, when the video game booths shut down, everyone goes to find that friend over in Tabletop. Once they arrive, they more often than not wind up staying, playing, and buying a few games of their own (remember, these video gamers have probably never set foot in a local board game shop).”
Although a board gamer at heart, Morgan does dabble in video games himself when he gets the opportunity. “I squeeze in video gaming where I can,” he explains. “In a year, I play roughly 45-50 different video games, half of which are short mobile games or longer video games that I try one or two times before dropping. The other half will be full games where I get invested in the experience, but I'll very rarely get into double-digit hours for a single game. Last year I put almost 50 hours into Overwatch, and the year prior, I put 100 hours into Splatoon. Both of these were extreme outliers.”
So what can you do to try and convince a video game playing friend to give tabletop games a try? Well, if you don’t have the amazing PAX game library at your disposal, you are going to have to use other methods to seduce them to the dark side.
“I'd make an appeal back to my own reasons for getting heavily involved in board games,” instructs Morgan. “Back around 2006, the video game landscape was undergoing major shifts with the advent of online consoles and downloadable content (DLC). Four players on a couch became a thing of the past, while board games presented a way to reclaim that experience. At the same time, DLC made it hard for players to gauge where the ideal experience ended and the bonus content (or worse, cash grab filler) began. Here, board games could be viewed as a complete experience in one box, and that experience should be just as enjoyable ten years from now as it is today.”
The crossovers between board and video games don’t end with the fans. Morgan believes that modern tabletop designers can learn from the video game world.
“You don't need to cater to every audience in order to be successful. Once the barrier was lowered for indie video game developers, the floodgates opened,” he explains. “Suddenly there was a game for every niche audience. This has been studied in everything from The Long Tail economic theory to the 1,000 True Fans concept, and it shows up in the video game industry where developers can be financially successful while putting out such obscure gems as a dating simulator set in a pigeon high school. Board game designers have been chasing crowd-pleasing hybrids of thematic and strategic play, (See: Eclipse, Scythe) but as board gamers move past the honeymoon phase, collections tend to become well-cultivated selections of titles that each suit an ideal type of group at a specific player count. Don't be afraid to limit the range of appeal your game can have. Instead, try to create the best game ever for that narrow band of appeal.”
Although you could point out a lot of differences between the worlds of digital and analog gaming, they have more in common than not. This is probably not new to a lot of people reading this article, but some of you probably have friends that are just not that into a certain type of gaming. The truth is, they probably just haven’t been introduced to the right game yet. Listen to what they enjoy about games in general, and use that to find a game that will hit all the sweet spots for them. Despite the differences, the gulf between video and board gamers is not as vast as people assume.
What do you think about the relationship between board games and video games? Which video games capture the feeling of playing a tabletop game, or vice versa? Reach out to us on Twitter and Facebook and use the hashtag #CMONFeatureFriday to give us your thoughts.