The tabletop games industry has been booming for some years now. Back in September 2016, the The Guardian website describes how the Thirsty Meeples cafe in Oxford taps into “[t]he rise and rise of tabletop gaming” (1). In January 2017, the New Statesman website explains “[h]ow board games became a billion-dollar business” (2), and in December 2017 the Financial Review website describes how “the golden age of board games” (3) allows the Draughts game cafe in London to benefit from the popularity of boardgames and how the industry grew over time. Even as recently as April 2018, an article on the Bloomberg website (4) says that board game nights are the latest way to network. So the boom clearly continues, and it has made me wonder if small players, be they game publishers, designers or developers, rules writers, content creators, game cafe owners or games group or exhibiton organizers, still have a role in the industry.
As you can probably work out from the title of this article, I think that small players do have a role. In fact, I think that they play a vital role in a growing industry. There is an ever growing army of bloggers, vloggers, tweeters, zine publishers and self-publishers, reviewers, play testers, rules editors, cafe owners, conventions organizers, playtesting and games group members and others who are usually run by only one or two people who hold down a day job and have only a small number of followers. These people contribute some of their spare time to make an ever growing number of games a reality.
It is not uncommon for independent game publishers to reach out on Twitter and ask people to check their Kickstarter project page for mistakes or other issues before launch. Smaller game publishers often ask backers to help proof-read their rulebooks. There are also the usual requests for retweets or other free marketing support, because word of mouth is very powerful. Every time it is individuals who step into the breach willingly, because they are passionate about the tabletop games industry.
It is sometimes suprising how frequently smaller players in the industry help each other. Of course, both sides benefit from this usually. A small publisher sending out a free review copy of a game to a small content creator means that the publisher gets (nearly) free publicity while the content creator gets a chance to increase their follower numbers by being one of the first to write about this new game. Similarly, when an independent games designer takes their game to a local playtesting group, which is held in a local games cafe, everyone wins. The designer gets constructive feedback, the playtesting group keeps going and probably growing, and the cafe gets extra business.
I think most of us want to make a living out of what we love doing, but everyone starts small – and it is so vital for every industry to keep bringing in new talent, new ideas and new perspectives, or it risks stagnating and eventually becoming irrelevant. If the tabletop games industry wants to continue to be successful and continue to grow, it needs to ensure small players get a chance to play a meaningful part and contribute to a thriving community.
It is encouraging that publishers like Pegasus Spiele has an annual press event where bloggers, vloggers and other content creators are welcome. It is even more amazing when companies like PSC Games sends out review copies of their new games to small content creators like myself (see my reviews of Lincoln and Battle Ravens).
None of this is about getting freebies. None of this is about devaluing the immense amount of work and time bigger names in the industry have put in over many years to get to where they are now. None of this is about expecting everything to be handed to you on a plate. None of this is about saying that bigger is worse and smaller is better.
It is all about encouraging a thriving industry to stay relevant and up-to-date, and for the community to support each other and the industry. It is about making the tabletop games industry a fun, friendly, inclusive and thriving world where we can respect each other, even if we don’t always agree with each other. It is about encouraging fresh ideas, viewpoints and approaches to rejuvinate the industry and ensure it will still be around for many years to come.
If you are a big player in the industry, what do you do to include or co-operate with smaller players? How do you feel about smaller players? If you are a small player in the industry, what role do you think you play? Do you feel you can make a meaningful impact on the industry? Please share you thoughts and suggestions in the comments below, so we can start a discussion.