I stepped into an Uncle’s Games today and had a minor brainstorm: more board games need to be packaged in software-sized boxes.
Now, I’m probably biased as I’ve spent several years making software and DVD boxes for retail, but there are some very smart things DVD and software packagers are doing to merchandise their products at retail that board game companies are not.
The issue became clear to me as I spoke with the store’s regional manager about a game he had on display at a table near the front of the store. I was observing the fact that while the game looked great out of the box and set up on a table, inside the box it didn’t fare so well. The cube-shaped box was awkward to handle and less visually appealing than either of us expected the publisher would have wanted.
“It’s terrible on the shelf,” said the manager. I could quickly see why. The unusual dimensions made it an odd fit on a standard display rack, and the cube shape made it very easy for browsing customers to put it back on said shelf sideways, backwards, or even upside-down. There was absolutely zero chance of placing it on a pegboard, like similar predecessors of the game had done. The box, despite stylish and flavorful graphics, was a merchandising mess.
Board and card games tend to appeal to a similar audience as software and DVDs, so it’s reasonable to say there’s something to learn from the latter product categories about merchandising. Software and DVDs are sold in all kinds of stores; non-mainstream games typically are not. A game like Carcassonne has enough wide-appeal that it bridges the gap for many gamers, moving users from the world of Monopoly and Scrabble to games like Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride. Marketing a game like Carcassonne in a store like Target or Walmart could be an incredible move for game publishers in that it could expand the gaming audience significantly. But how and where in the store does Carcassonne fit? Not with the toys. With the DVDs, video games and computer games.
And what is the number one reason people don’t generally explore new boardgames? They’re unfamiliar territory. Working in software and DVD packaging, it was my job to give the consumer reasons to buy titles they might be unfamiliar with. It all came down to informative packaging.
Game publishers might consider using the DVD/Software packaging model for a number of reasons:
1) Location. Big Box stores already have shelving fixtures perfect for 5.25″ x 7″ boxes. They keep them all in one location, where teenage-and-older guys tend to congregate. The gamer types are already browsing in that part of the store. And in most cases, the electronics department isn’t particularly far from the toys, either. Convincing a big-box retailer to allocate shelf space to unproven, irregularly sized boxes that don’t display well spine-out is tricky. Convincing them to give some space to a face-out product designed to conform to their existing fixtures is notably easier.
2) Information Presentation. People pass on games because they don’t instantly recognize what they’re about or how they work. Many of the more “hardcore” board games out there (and non-collectible card games — generally speaking, games under the umbrella of “eurogames”) don’t do a particularly good job of familiarizing a browsing consumer with the product. You don’t learn about games from the box, you learn about them from other gamers, and without other gamers around, you don’t sell the box. There’s typically tons of flavor expressed by the packaging, but even on the back, not much that illustrates the actual experience of playing the game.
I learned all about solving this very same issue by designing for retail digital media. Use a bookflap on the front to create a full “center spread” to really show off both flavor and features. Show consumers what the product is really like and how easy it is to learn the game. Give us pictures of people enjoying it. And on the back, make it plain as day what it’s about, what it’s like, and who’s going to want to play it. Several game publishers already use a basic grid to show number of players, age range and duration of a typical game. This is a good place to start, but not nearly enough on it’s own to get grandma to pick it up as a birthday gift. If she feels like she “gets it” though, it goes straight into the cart.
3) Economy of Cost of Goods. Turned-edge laminated slipcase boxes are not cheap. These days, most are printed and manufactured overseas. Standard-issue software boxes can easily come in at less initial cost than a traditional board game box, can include features such as embosses and foil strikes that help draw consumers in at the point of sale, and are readily produced domestically. Additionally, if multiple games are being put to retail at once (and most big-box store corporate buyers are looking for assortments of products when they fill their resets), then the cost of printing the boxes gets mitigated by ganging multiple boxes into one print run. If all your boxes use the same die, then the cost of cutting, folding and assembling is also lowered.
It won’t work for every game. Some games could substitute a cloth or vinyl board for the traditional turned-edge laminated board, but others will just lose too much perceived value. Still, for many tile based games including Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan, all of the key components can already be packaged to fit inside a box 5.25 inches wide by 7 inches tall. Even if the box needs to be ever so slightly deeper than the typical 1.3 inches to house the game, you’re still delivering a product that retails cleanly and easily, and lives neatly in a gamer’s bookshelf or cabinet.