The Play This Thing article on Mythoria questions the value of games, specifically a video game that would work well as a physical game.
The notion of making money by selling real, tangible stuff is one that I’ve toyed with, and it’s interesting to see it noted elsewhere. I still need to finish Alpha Hex‘s video game iteration, but I’ve long had ideas for making it a physical card game as well. I printed up some cards to playtest it during design, and it proved to be very helpful… and it plays fairly well in tangible form. I’d love to use the Game Crafter to sell a base Alpha Hex set and expansions if occasion permits, but leave the digital version free and open source (if they ever support hexagonal cards, I’ll jump on it). I’ve even made card designs for both formats, and written some story and lore with an eye to making physical card-specific art, not unlike that MTG thing. It might even be a “wheel within a wheel” for some other game designs I have in mind.
To me, having a physical game, ready to play if the digital world goes offline, is a valuable thing that I’m willing to pay for. There’s a retro appeal to buying stuff with my money, instead of… digital, ephemeral… nonstuff. (Especially when draconian DRM means the providers can deny me the privilege of playing at a whim.)
My wife and I have collected many board and card games, and many times, they are more fun to play than popping in another video game. We don’t need electricity or a connection to the internet, just some light, a level surface and somewhere dry to play. There are no patches, no permissions, no waiting for the Dungeon Finder to work its magic. That freedom can be good for the soul, even if it’s just a periodic thing, another tool in the toolbox of the larger world of “gaming”.
I’ve designed three board games and two card games in the last year or so, and I’d love to get them out there and make a bit of money from them. There’s even a place for making one of my board games into a nice hardwood coffee table offering… even if it’s just something I do for Christmas gifts. (Though it would be great if they were commercially viable.)
These video game things can be good fun, to be sure, but sometimes, it really is great to hold game cards in your hands, to move pieces on a board, and to play with people face to face, rather than through anonymous filters, monitors and cables. It can even be instructive when trying to design games for the digital realm. Offline games have been designed and played for thousands of years; there’s a lot of good data there to sift through with an eye to why games work.
Paper Dragon Games has a tangential take on things; their headline offering, Constellation, is a game that is designed to have a “board game” feel, but is entirely digital. We can certainly automate setup and some mechanics digitally, making some game mechanics easier. The digital version of Alpha Hex benefits from automated ownership tracking and attack resolution, for instance, and the XBox Live version of Settlers of Catan is far easier to set up than the board game.
It can be very useful to make a game digital… and it can be useful to go the other way, too. It’s harder to pirate a card game, for one. Sure, photocopiers work, and I’ve even offered a PDF version of Alpha Hex, but if the cards offered for sale are of sufficient quality and the game is good, there will still be a market for the “real thing”. I probably won’t ever make a living purely on card game sales, but it’s worth offering the option to anyone interested in the game.
There is certainly room in the “game tent” for both digital and physical games, sometimes even different iterations of the same game, as with MTG. When I look at monetizing my game design hobby, though, I can’t help but think that it might be a good outlet for me to take some of my game designs that could work in either format (or both!) and offer a physical version. It’s one more way to break up the demand curve and reach out to different people.
Parallel product lines can also help build a brand, which can be useful for indies. We even see things like the merchandising efforts of the Blizzard WoW team, what with the card game and the miniatures game. They didn’t pan out to be as popular as their parent game, but they are solid offerings, and likely at least partially profitable for Blizzard.
Sometimes, it pays to make the game real.
…even if it’s only because you get to use house rules…