Do board games need the toys-to-life treatment?

Heayes Design’s Richard Heayes looks at why the world of board games could benefit from taking inspiration from the likes of Skylanders, Disney Infinity and LEGO Dimensions.
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Someone said to me the other day: “what we need is toys-to-life for games”.

Now I get the analogy because toys-to-life has defined a new genre: half video game, half action figure.

For parents they make a tangible purchase that they can endorse, even if they are not quite sure what they do.
Buying a disc for £40 was understandable, but now their money goes onto PSN or Steam and they really have no idea what their kids are downloading or playing, so I can see the win-win here.

So do board games need the toys to life treatment? Are there any learnings from toys-to-life that could be extrapolated over to board games?

Firstly let’s look at overall design and branding. The visual design of the characters across Skylanders and Disney Infinity are highly detailed with excellent decoration.

This is reflected in the price points, but after years of deco reduction due to labour cost increases in China, the figures bring back the look of action figures from the 80s and 90s. The characters become prized and displayed.

The trend has been to push down the quality of board games. Maybe a flip is needed. Maybe we need higher quality components to bring the game fantasy back to life. Games to treasure once again.

Next, there is branding. Board games suffer from, well, the term ‘board games’ or ‘traditional games’. There are many games that are neither played on a board nor are traditional.

Getting new players engaged, especially kids, means embracing a new terminology or way of looking at the category that is forward thinking with relevant language.

What about technology? There have been many attempts to bring tech into board games. From simple electronic devices to fully interactive game surfaces. Some work, many don’t.

The reason is that technology often gets in the way of the thing that separates most video games from real games: the social experience.

Coming out of Essen Games Fair, there are many games on and off the board. For those who have never been, it is one of the biggest public games events in the world.

Comparing it to, say, EGX - the biggest UK video games event - the atmosphere is different as it is a mass social gathering.

EGX has hundreds of screens with people plugged in absorbed in the experience. At Essen, it’s all about the social interaction and that is really what it’s all about. It’s what gets people interacting, hanging out together and having fun.

In fact, people are already realising that in a world of virtual shares, sharing some real time together over a game which gets them laughing, with a little bit of competition, is a great way to spend time and connect.

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