Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Boardgame Quality Metrics

People try to measure how good a boardgame is in many ways, such as
ratings and counting number of times played. Total number of plays is
probably one of the most common. As a measure of how "good" a game
is, it's not bad, but it doesn't take into account length of the game
or replayability over time. That is, a 15 minute game that's played 6
times is probably not "better" than a 3 hour game that's played 3
times. On the other hand, using total time playing has problems on
the low end: A 15 minute game played 10 times is probably "better"
than a two hour game played twice. Further, a game played every other
week for a year is probably "better" than one played every day for a
month and then never again.

Various other metrics have been suggested, including Joe Huber's
"happiness" metric which works well, but requires a lot of
bookkeeping. So, I've been trying to identify a metric of game
"quality" that meets the following criteria:

  • Doesn't bias unduly for or against long or short games
  • Doesn't require ratings
  • Doesn't require overly detailed records
  • Doesn't overly credit "fad" games that get played a lot for a
    little while
    and then never again
  • Does bias towards "classics", though not overwhelmingly
  • Measures "replayability" in some form
  • Is easily understood and doesn't require deep understanding of
  • Is easily calculated
  • Can be readily used on a per year basis or on a "all-time" basis

So, after careful consideration and analysis, I've come up with a
metric that I like and thought I would share it and suggest it to all
:-) I've actually suggested this metric before, off-handedly but I
like it even more now that I've looked at the actual statistics for my
own games.

The metric is the "month metric", in which a game receives 1 point for
every unique month in which it is played. For example, I played
Medici in both February and March of this year, so for the year it
scores a "2", but it also was played in 5 different months over
2000-2001, so it's total score is a "7".

For my own games, only a dozen games have an all-time score above 10
and there's a nice distribution below that. For the year, naturally a
"12" is the highest possible score, though I had no game above 7, but
a solid group (9 games) at 6 or above. The other nice thing about
this metric is that I find it is (probably unsurprisingly) heavily
correlated with all of the other metrics discussed (# plays, total
time playing, "happiness").

Monday, December 2, 2002

Advocacy of Board Games

Over the past few years, I've seen several discussions about board
game advocacy. In the past, I've had the opinion that board game
advocacy wasn't actually a good thing. I've relatively recently (the
past 6 months) changed my mind.

My original thinking was as follows: "advocacy", or trying to spread
the word about board games is motivated by several desires, one of
which was to increase the number of board gamers out there.
Unfortunately, more people isn't always a good thing. More people
means a bigger market, and means more money is involved, and money can
be a bad influence as well as a good influence. Take the Internet,
for example. Back in the "old days", the net had a nice small
"community" feel. People shared information, were self-policing, and
were usually fairly "neighborly". In contrast, the net today involves
a lot of outside policing, discouraging of sharing information, and is
often an unfriendly place. However, in return we've gotten a great
deal. There are a great many exciting communities, a wealth of
content, and long term commercial viability, even if many .com's blow
up along the way. I didn't see the same benefits for growth of the
board game community. As it is, I have more than enough games to
play, more than enough people to play them with, and noone complains
if people share rules, post them online, or otherwise do things that
a "big business" involvment might prevent. However, I've come to the
conclusion that the benefits of growth outweigh the costs, especially
if as a community, we're careful.

Specifically, the reasons I see for advocating board games are many

"Lost Spielfrieks"

There's a lot of people out there who don't know these games of
ours exist, and when they discover them, they are thrilled and excited
and it brings a great deal of happiness to them. Advocacy helps make
people aware of these games who may be very interested but aren't
otherwise aware of them.

Casual Gamers

I used to be more skeptical on this point, but I now believe there
are a lot of people out there who may never become heavy gamers but
genuinely enjoy these games of ours occasionally. This may be as
often as monthly or as infrequently as a couple of times a year, but
they're out there. I'm often reluctant to push my hobby on my friends
or family, but often find that I don't need to push; they pull. After
a surprising interest last year, I brought several games to
Thanksgiving this year, my cousins, uncles, aunts and parents all
enjoyed the games (Zirkus Flohcati, Puerto Rico, TransAmerica were all
big hits). Sharing games with casual gamers is a good thing.

Social Good

This is the arrogant reason where I say "my hobby makes the
world a better place", and maybe I'm just deluded, but seeing articles
that show that href=http://www.alzheimersupport.com/library/showarticle.cfm/ID/1650/e/1/T/Alzheimers/>playing
games helps prevent Alzheimers or Frank Hamrick's href=http://groups.yahoo.com/group/spielfrieks/message/22215>story
about playing games at the Ronald McDonald House really make me
believe that games are a good thing. This is in no way to imply that
any other particular hobbies aren't good for society, it's just
that I think board games are a good one.

Market Size

While I have some concern that a too large market has the
potential to make the board gaming industry too much about money,
having it be large enough to support the game designers and companies
is obviously important too. Many many games are produced out of love
of games rather than love of money, but if "board games" as a product
are a complete failure, the quality (at least of production) and
availability will drop. I don't want to see the board game industry
ever become as big business focuesed as certain other entertainment
industries (music, movies, or even mass market toys), but I don't
think there's much risk of that. A moderate increase (say, a factor
of 2-5 in the US) would do a lot to improve the success of companies
like Alea (part of Ravensburger) and Rio Grande.

Given this thinking I've been pleased to see these two recent
"mainstream press" articles
on these games of ours, one in href=http://www.usnews.com/usnews/issue/021209/misc/9diversions.htm>US
News and another in href=http://www.fool.com/news/foth/2002/foth021125.htm>The Motley Fool.