There are many ways to describe it: accessibility, barrier to entry, initial investment, startup cost, and so on.
Lets say you were frozen for 50 years, Captain America style, and are just waking up today in the year 2015 in the United States.
Most people would run to Best Buy and check out all the cool gizmos and gadgets that have been invented–but for demonstrations sake lets say you want to play a game. I don’t know why you want to play a game so bad, maybe the last one you played before getting frozen was Crocodile Pool Party.
For the sake of this thought experiment, lets pretend your options are: Minesweeper, Basketball(you know, with a hoop and a rubber ball), the latest triple AAA PC title(Witcher 3 or Farcry 4 for example), or the latest Call of Duty on Xbox(Call of Duty 73? I can’t keep up).
Lets explore a few things such the accessibility of each game in terms of costs to get setup, time to learn, time to be proficient, etc. Also, lets look at how much fun and engagement you gain versus the accessibility. We might even throw in a fancy graph somewhere.
I have a feeling that this is one of the reasons that board games have been around since they beginning of time and also are making a resurgence in popularity lately. Two seemingly opposite things such as popularity and longevity must have a common thread, lets dive it.
What does one have to do to start playing minesweeper? Well the cheapest option might be to go to a local Dollar Store and see if they have a portable handheld version of Minesweeper. I know they have those for Tetris and Solitaire(the card game) so they might for Minesweeper. But lets say you want a fancy new computer to play minesweeper. The cheapest and easiest way would be to walk into Best Buy and buy a $200-300 Chromebook. It won’t launch spaceships or compute very large numbers but it is good enough to play some minesweeper on.
The problem comes of course when after, oh, 3 or so games when you realize that Minesweeper is BORING. Insanely boring, that is. So you spent $200-300 bucks, some of your own time booting up the computer, purchasing it, plugging it in, etc. and your reward is a supremely boring game that only entertained you for 15 minutes.
Note that I am talking about physical, real life basketball(not a basketball video game). Yes, you might have to go outside. The sun doesn’t burn, I swear.
Basketball on the surface is fairly accessible with low start-up costs. Essentially you need a ball, a hoop, and maybe an opponent to give you a little competition. Shooting hoops and running around getting the ball when you miss can be fun, but I am not sure if that qualifies as basketball necessarily. Sure you can make a game out of it by adding in some fake goals, but most people think of basketball when there is a team versus another team or at least 2 people.
The problem with some sports is that they are not very fun if you are absolutely horrible at them. The first time you played golf? You probably thought it was the worst game ever and might not have even finished your round since the 3 balls you brought are now in a tree or lake somewhere. But professional Golf is a thing of beauty, of pageantry, a master of his craft at work, despite how boring I might find it to watch. So depending upon the individual, Basketball might require a few hours practice or years of lessons to become reasonably proficient and increase your fun level.
AAA PC Game and Call of Duty
Video games are great, fantastic, for a number of reasons. Don’t get me wrong, just because I write a blog about board games and have shelves of them in my house doesn’t mean I am a pursit.
Far from it. Currently I am addicted to Cities: Skylines which is what Sim City should of been had it not been designed by Bonobos. Anyway…
Video games are great but they have immense startup costs that should have made them substantially more difficult for most folks, but they have exploded in popularity nonetheless. The hardware alone, whether it is a $500 console or a PC is a tremendous cash outlay. Most games won’t run on a crappy $200 Best Buy PC so you have to get the fancy components and nice stuff to actually have it run well.
And that doesn’t even include any of the games. Each and every game has to then be paid for on top of the hardware, some games you even have to keep paying and paying and paying for. If you thought board game expansions were bad, World of Warcraft makes those look like amateurs.
In addition to monetary costs, there is a lot of time that has to be invested to learn these games. Someone who has never played videos games trying to learn DOTA 2, with its own language and subculture, will find themselves in a unfamiliar abyss without a paddle. I have told the story before, but my Fiance has always struggled with console games as she grew up playing Mario which did not have two joysticks. The physical manipulation of video games is not as easy for the uninitiated as veteran gamers would have you believe.
And finally we make it to board games. One of my favorite bloggers in the personal finance, Joshua Kennon, likes to talk about the equality of stock ownership in America. Whether you are black, gay, short or tall, educated or uneducated, whatever you strengths or weaknesses, if you have the money you can become an owner in a great business like Coca Cola. Technology continues to bring the price and barrier to this purchase lower and lower.
I think an analogous statement can be made about board games these days. Probably the biggest barrier to entry in board games is the rulebook. People hate reading.
And unfortunately that is kind of required. But video-smiths like Rodney from Watch it Played and others have done their best to make learning and teaching games as easy as possible. I guess in a larger sense the biggest barrier to board games is literacy. That seems like a foolish thing to talk about in a developed country, but we often forget a large part of the world is not literate. The pretty pictures of Mage Knight and the int of the fact that this card can be used for 4 different things is lost on someone who can’t read.
Aside from that, board games are amazingly accessible. If you can read and manage to struggle through the rulebook, honestly all you need is a flat surface(usually a table), other humans(unless you are a badass solo gamer!), and some time.
It is pretty cool that you don’t have to shell out a thousand bucks for the right hardware to play a game or spend time learning a new language and culture to play. As long as you are willing to listen and learn, I can teach you the game and we can have a great time.
You also do not need internet. Similar to literacy, internet will someday cover the whole world but we are not there yet. I can tell you in my short gaming career some of the coolest sessions were when we played Carcassonne with the light of only a cellphone when the power went out and playing ZERTZ on a picnic table on a beautiful spring day. The ladybugs and ants would try to crawl up and move the pieces that must have looked like giant snow capped mountains to them.
You can rip a board game off the shelf and immediately open it, set it up on the floor and start playing. I often hear about how “busy” we are these days, running from this to that. I would think the ease and accessibility of board gaming would have more pull in light of that and I know it is one of my favorite things about that hobby.
So what was the point of all this nonsense? Well the point was to illustrate one of the great and amazing things about board games is their barrier to entry is extremely low. Not just that learning the rules is easy or the fact that you don’t have to set up internet to play, but everything. The costs, the time to get setup, the technology and hardware(or lack thereof) required to play, and even the costs of your opponents. Your opponents essentially have to spend an hour or so of their time and zero dollars of their money since they are not required to buy the game as you only need one copy.