If you want to get board game folks talking, there’s a sure-fire method: mention Asmodee. The recent acquisitions by Asmodee of other heavyweight operations (publishers Days of Wonder and Fantasy Flight Games, along with the Catan and Spot-it franchises) were each major news on their own, but in succession, the events have spurred discussion of what Asmodee will do next. Yet for all of the chatter, there is one possibility that has not been explored.
While smaller publishers polish their portfolios, in preparation of for their own Asmodee buyout offer, the corporate gaze has likely been shifted to manufacturing. The next logical step for Asmodee is to manage their own factories, and the rationale is clear: board games are too expensive.
The board game industry has sustained double-digit growth over the past decade as consumers are willing to pay a premium for a niche product, but Asmodee did not acquire an all-star lineup simply to bolster their success in local game shops. Asmodee is instead pursuing the larger mass market, and will set out to cure consumers of the sticker shock they experience when asked to pay $49.99 for an unfamiliar board game. Mass market adoption has been a contributing factor to this past decade’s successes, but hobby games on the shelves at Walmart, Target, and Toys “R” Us are clearly still in the trial phase. No publisher, even Asmodee, can rest on their laurels with hopes that inertia alone will drive sales. Lowering prices, however, would likely draw in new customers.
The acquisition of new brands and franchises was completed with Catan, a move which would be impossible to top. When I interviewed Mayfair Games back in 2011, VP of Sales Bob Carty told me that the company wanted Catan to be “the next household game,” but that didn’t align with the rest of what I was told. Mayfair’s focus was on winning over families through success in smaller specialty toy stores, and the company abided by a strict “Made in America” ethos to aid that initiative. Under that direction, I could never see Catan being sent to China and coming back at, say, $19.99. But now, the times have changed.
At the opposite end of the market, hobbyist gamers have also proven they are willing to pay a premium for add-on deluxe components or upgraded collector’s editions. This should ease the hesitation of publishers to court the mass market with slimmed-down editions, as those could be sold more cheaply due to streamlined production, or even at a thinner margin, with the hopes of pushing expansions and upgrades downstream.
Much was made over Asmodee’s moves to re-organize their North American distribution chain, and to combat deep online discounting with a likely higher wholesale cost for web retailers. The sky was falling, said the core hobby gamer audience, but the message wasn’t clear. Asmodee’s moves weren’t about the hobbyist, they were about maturing an industry and showing that publishers were prepared to cement the nascent support of mass market retail buyers.