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Are online games killing their board game cousins?

Jared Heng | Sept. 17, 2008
Can traditional board games survive when there are free or cheap online games that are available anywhere there is an internet connection?

Paula Coles music hit Where have all the cowboys gone got me thinking. But not about gun slingers in the Wild West. In our current age of PC gaming, Im wondering, Where have all the board games gone? It seems that traditional family board games like Risk and Monopoly are increasingly being replaced by their online versions, at least in my country.

While the board game versions are still available, more people are turning to the online versions. Its hard to resist the attraction of easy and relatively cheap gaming connection anytime and anywhere there is internet connection. Without the need for face-to-face interactions, even strangers can become regular game buddies.

For example, one of my favourite board games is Puerto Rico, which was originally designed in German. It costs about US$50 and only gets played when my gaming group has the time to meet for a session.

In contrast, I know of at least two sites that host the online versions of this game. Participants can play for free anytime on the sites, and challenge multiple AI or human opponents. Its not surprising then, that the online versions are gaining in popularity.

Many online gaming opportunities exist, ranging from real-time strategy to simulation and massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG). These gaming segments have attracted their respective fans from various age groups.

MMORPGs may particularly threaten the competitiveness of not only board games, but also traditional software-based games. While board games may be considered a separate market, game development time tends to be longer than that of MMORPGs. If an MMORPG has bugs, the developers can simply patch it, or even tweak the rules as they see fit. Once a board game is released, theres no room for error in game mechanics.

Traditional software-based games may lose out to MMORPGs on price competitiveness. MMORPG participants usually have the option of playing the games basic version for free or paying only a small fee for extra features. In contrast, customers have to pay upfront the full cost of traditional software-based games.

I have to admit though, that I come from a culture where board games among family members are uncommon. This is unlike other countries like the US, where board games are very much a part of family interactions. In such countries, I also expect to see online games grow in popularity, but not necessarily at the cost of board games.

Jared Heng is staff writer for Fairfax Business Media, where he covers hot topics in the IT industry such as green computing, unified communications and software as a service.


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