Friday, June 4, 2004

How big is the boardgames market?

There's a lot of attempts to define and estimate the size of the board
games market. Even many of the publishers don't have precise numbers
because they sell their games to distributors and retailers and do not
get sell-through numbers reliably through their customers. There are
a few obvious things that could be measured to try to measure the size
of the market. The traditional way is to measure the total copies or
dollars of a game sold or a similar number. These are interesting,
but number of people is more interesting.

The question "How many board gamers are there?" is very specifically
predicated on the definition of a "board gamer". When I ask the
question, I even more specifically mean German-style board game
player. So, I am excluding focused Go and Chess afficionados,
ConSim/War game players and other people who could reasonably called
board gamers. By this definition, I think the number is between 2,000
and 80,000. If I had to go down to a specific number I'd say there's
about 4,000 "serious gamers" and about 40,000 "casual gamers". One
obvious way to try to measure this though is to measure total copies
of particular popular games that have been sole.

Presumably, if there are 100,000 copies of Carcassonne sold, there are
roughly that many people who own a copy. Naturally, there's some
fraction of those still in the distributor and retail channel.
Further, there's some number of those copies that were never opened,
never played, or played and abandoned. So, the total number of people
who actually play it with any regularity is somewhat lower. But, even
the initial number is hard to obtain for any given game.

In an attempt to come up with at least approximate estimates, I took
to looking at the href=>BoardGameGeek collections data
as a starting point. For a number of games, there's a known print run
size and it is known to be essentially completely distributed.
Further, for man other games, print run/distributions sizes are
approximately known. Given this and the number of BGG collections a
game appears in, it is possible to estimate the number of total owners
any given game has. This number will not be precise, but it seems to
be reasonably accurate, within about an order of magnitude. Overall,
I estimate between 1 and 10% of most "German-style" games are
reflected in the BGG collections for typical games. More "mainstream"
games yield lower percentages and extreme niche games are higher
percentages. The table below shows some of the games I based this
estimate on.

BGG ownersBGG %
ad acta1500815%
Ticket to Ride100004634.63%
Apples to Apples1000000~10000.1%

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