Corporate Board Game Companies: Good for Profits, Bad for Gamers.

When I think about board games “corporate” is not the first thing that comes to mind.  But increasingly, the board game is becoming a corporate entity.

I had never really thought about this till just the other evening.  My husband and I, via Game Paradise, are the custodians of approximately 1100 different board games these days.  Back when we started this I created a tracking system to help keep them all organized.  You have to when you have that many games!  We keep information on the games such as:  How many parts are in it?  How many players does it support?  Is it an “adult” game, or is it kid friendly?  Who publishes it?   It was this last question that led to a rousing debate and my ponderings on the corporate nature of games.

You see, we have a new business partner that wanted to help catalog a new batch of games that had just came in.  Some were old, some were new.  She had cataloged a couple of games with me by her side, but this day, she was flying solo.  She ran across a game by “Parker Brothers”, and found that the company wasn’t in our system.  Being the smart cookie that she is, this seemed completely outside of the realm of possibility because Parker Brothers is a huge game manufacturer.  She sat the game aside and we discussed it later.

It turned out that my husband had put all of the Parker Brothers games in the system under “Hasbro”, a parent company who bought up Parker Brothers years ago.  There was a lively debate about whether or not we should do that, and ultimately it was decided that all Hasbro games needed to be divided into more appropriate categories.  Why?  Because Hasbro owns a little bit of everything and is continuing to gobble up game companies.  If we put all of Hasbro’s children under the Hasbro company name, half our library would be Hasbro.  For instance, TSR (the company that created Dungeons and Dragons) was bought some time ago by Wizards of the Coast.  Wizards of the Coast was bought by Hasbro.

After realizing just how much could be swallowed up under a single parent company, I began thinking about what that really means for gamers.  I don’t know about you, but when was the last time you saw an “Original” game created by Hasbro?  Sure, you might see new titles out, but they are usually rehashes of the same old tired things.   Why is that?  Because product development is expensive and doesn’t always pay off.  How many hundreds of games are created before a company manages to create the next “Settlers of Catan”?   Thus innovation is solely in the realm of the smaller companies.

Secondly, Hasbro kills small games stores.  Do you like your local game shop?  If you do, heed my warning.  Hasbro is a multi-billion dollar corporation that does business with big box chains, like Wal-mart.  The prices that us smaller retailers get the game for is actually a buck or two more then I can buy it off the shelf for at Wal-mart.  That means that no one is going to come to my little store to buy a copy of Monopoly for twice the price they can get it else where, and that means my little shop can’t afford to carry it and be competitive.  This means poorer selection, and the slow painful death of game shops.   (On that note, I am much chagrin to say that my other half saw “Settlers of Catan” on the shelf at Wal-mart for the first time a couple of days ago.  **Grumbles**)

I know why small companies sell out to people like Hasbro.  The money is good, but having the “Microsoft” of board games is not good for gamers.  It means less innovation, the death of the local game shop, and unfortunantly the death of gaming as a major pass time in our society.  The next time you go to buy a game, I implore you to keep this in mind.

This entry was posted by The_Null_Entry on Monday, June 6th, 2011 at 11:18 am and is filed under Random Things that Fall out of my head . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

8 Comments

  1. parkrrrr says:

    I think Hasbro is big enough that you can’t really say the entire company acts the same. Their Avalon Hill subsidiary has brought us the recent reprints of Acquire, RoboRally, and Betrayal at House on the Hill, for example. True, the reprints have their faults, but in the case of RoboRally at least they made a good game that had become rare and expensive available to a new generation of gamers.

    Even within their old standby titles, they’ve shaken things up a little. While Risk 2210 A.D. is called Risk and looks like Risk, it’s said to be a substantially better game than vanilla Risk. (I have yet to get my copy to the table, though, probably because it’s got the Risk stigma attached to it.) The Monopoly Deal card game has that horrible “Monopoly” name, but it’s actually a pretty decent little filler game, all in all.

    I think the mass-market part of Hasbro has a bit of an identity crisis: they have some good game designers, and they want to sell new games, but at the same time they have this whole pile of very valuable trademarks, all of which have a loyal following. So they’ve shipped some games that were new and original, but had one of the old standby names.

    By comparison, consider what their competition at Mattel has done: just last week you showed us a pair of Uno games that fit the mold of pretty much every other recent Uno game. Take vanilla Uno, reprint the cards so you can’t replace them cheaply when one gets lost, add a cheap plastic gimmick, and sell it as something new. See also Uno Attack, Uno Spin, etc.

    Granted, I’m not saying I love Hasborg, but I think they could be a lot worse.

  2. parkrrrr says:

    On a completely different note, if you break Hasborg up into its original constituent companies for filing purposes, where do you file Scrabble? In my (admittedly ridiculous) Scrabble collection, I have copies ostensibly made by Selchow & Righter, Milton Bradley, Parker Brothers, and Hasbro….

  3. To the best of my knowledge, Acquire, RoboRally, and Betrayal were all created and published prior to them being bought by Hasbro. This fits my theory that this company doesn’t create anything new, because development is expensive. Instead they let the little guys take all the risks and simply buy up the good products.

    Consequently I have the same issues with Mattel that I do with Hasbro, however I think of Hasbro as being even larger and thus more evil then the former. It’s the main culprit that stands out in my mind, but Mattel is just as guilty.

    I’m all for competition in the market place, and I know that I use to buy games from the cheapest location in town that had them, and that led me to Wal-mart on more then one occasion. However, I also have been on the retailers side of thing, cursing whenever I saw a game being carried by such big box stores, because that meant that my store had to either take a financial hit in order to stay competitive on selection, or take a hit to our character by not having something so simple as Monopoly.

    As for how we file games in our system, I categorize each game based upon who made the publication I own. I’m currently away from my library, so I can’t tell you exactly which Scrabble we have, but if the box says Milton Bradley, thats how we now have it filed, regardless of who currently owns it.

  4. parkrrrr says:

    You’re right, of course, those three games predate Hasbro’s acquisition of them. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to think of anything their AH division has published that doesn’t predate the acquisition. Though, now that I think about it, Risk 2210 A.D. was published under the Avalon Hill name.

    I think we’re on the same side as regards Wal-Mart, though from what I’ve heard (and, to a small extent, experienced) Wal-Mart isn’t all that great to work with from the supply side, either. I’m sure they’ve exacted a wholesale price from Hasbro that cuts Hasbro’s profits to the bone, but Hasbro has no more choice in whether to work with Wal-Mart than you have in whether to work with Hasbro (or at least with their distributors.)

    Seems to me that your real competition isn’t Wal-Mart, anyway, since they mostly carry the Hasbro and Mattel games “real gamers” don’t want. If Hasbro and Mattel were making gamer-friendly games, and if they were using their existing connections to sell them through Wal-Mart, then you really would be competing with Wal-Mart for gamers’ dollars. So perhaps it’s a good thing for hobby game stores if Hasbro is too big to innovate and too corporate to take a chance on independent designers’ games. That Wal-Mart is starting to work with the likes of Mayfair seems like the more scary prospect for you.

    Now, granted, if you’re trying to achieve the holy grail of having a game store that appeals to the hoi polloi as well as to gamers, that’s of small comfort. You do have a value-add that Wal-Mart doesn’t, in your “try before you buy” philosophy, but that was never going to help you with games like Monopoly that everyone’s already played (usually wrongly, but still.)

  5. The_Null_Entry says:

    Perhaps its a difference in culture from state to state that has me concerned about the health of game stores when trying to compete with big box chains. When I previously worked in a game shop, it was a small one in the Minneapolis area. And we actually had a rather large band of people through that I would not call “gamers”. These are of course the same people who get irate and simply can’t understand why you would carry “Diplomacy” but not good ol’ fashioned “Shoots and Ladders”. This phenomenon of the non-gamer shopping there became increasingly apparent during the fourth quarter when board games become a popular last minute gift. But I admit, this might be far more prevalent in Minnesota then in Indiana.

    The hubby did report that only the original Settlers of Catan was at Wal-mart, none of the expansions. God willing, that will be all of Mayfair that they carry.

  6. parkrrrr says:

    I seem to recall that the base Settlers game has gotten a lot of exposure on one of those electronic game thingies the kids these days like so much. I wouldn’t be surprised if Wal-Mart looked at the popularity of that one title and went looking for a distribution deal for just that.

    I should say that I don’t have any experience in retail games. You’re probably right about the non-gamers, and especially the fourth-quarter ones. On the other hand, if you stock one or two copies of Monopoly at twice what it goes for from the big-box store, you have two possible outcomes: either you sell it to a desperate last-minute shopper, in which case you make whatever profit you thought was reasonable when you priced it, or you don’t, in which case you don’t need to restock at the obscene small-outlet wholesale price. Just dust them and keep them out of the sun and nobody needs to know they’ve been there for years. Provided, of course, that the calming effect they have on the non-gamers is enough to pay for the sunk costs.

    Granted, if you don’t sell ’em, it’s probably because someone now thinks you’re grossly overpriced, but at least now you’re just that overpriced snooty game store instead of that worthless game store that doesn’t even carry Monopoly.

    (Tongue mostly in cheek, of course. I realize there are hundreds of co-branded versions of all of those junk Hasborg games, so you can’t really do that to the extent that you’d probably need to to keep the non-gamers happy.)

  7. P3ppers says:

    FYI Settlers of Cataan was not seen at Wal-Mart. I saw it at Target. Not that the same concerns don’t exist regardless.

  8. Target, check. Sorry for the misquote.

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