Apps and boardgames some thoughts

I'd been thinking about saying something on the matter of Boardgames and apps, I'd wanted to mull my thoughts over on the subject and present a coherent and thoughtful piece on the subject (which would be a first for me). However after watching last nights Board Game Breakfast (episode 62) where one of the segments was “Barry puts his head on the block” talked about this subject and was pro games using apps. But his argument was shallow, concentrated on one point and missed a major flaw. His presentation was meant to be entertaining. Which some may consider it was but in reality it was a poor segment that didn't really address the issue.

Last year started to see one or two major games come out or announced that relied heavily on the use of an app on your iPad or iPhone (Apparently there are lesser tablets and phones on the market but why you would have them I have no idea). The games were the new XCOM Boardgame that has just come out and Golem Arcana (well they are the ones I know about).

This is a trend that I don't think will go away and will become even more popular I think. For me I'm not interested in games that rely so heavily on an app for game play. Ok to be fair owning one, I'd happily play one if some-one else has forked out for the game.

In the said poor piece I mentioned above in the Board Game Breakfast segment, the main point the guy made was about how it would cut down on components, possibly box size, and set up (potentially) and remembering rules/sequence. I'm not sure it would mean that games become cheaper because of the reduced components etc. Apps don't develop themselves, they have development costs. Then once released they have maintenance costs as bugs have to be fixed when they are uncovered by players (although I'd hope they are minor bugs at this point), making sure the app gets updated so it is compatible with new releases of the os. Then you have porting costs as you port the app to new platforms, and then the support of the app on the new platform.

All that is not cheap, even if the game publisher out sources the work to a third party app developer. Which is going to be the case for most publishers because I'm not sure that they have in house software developers. So this development cost has to be covered. How would the publisher cover these costs? By the only way they can by including them in the cost of the game they sell. It won't be on the App Store because that has to be free. Imagine the uproar you pay £40 for the game, get home then find you have to pay for the app that makes the game playable on top! No the cost of the app will be included in the initial purchase.

Now I have seen a comment or two about how some players already have a problem keeping fellow players out of their phones while playing. And they only see this new development as an extension of that, and helps take players out of being immersed in the theme. I can see that argument, but I'd also side with the segment I don't like very much in saying that the app could also help immerse a player more in the game. Whether it's in the use of atmospheric music, sound effects, dramatic readings of story, all can enhance the experience of players while playing. Look at Zombie 15 and its use of an MP3 track to run the game. It completely gets the player immersed and builds tension while playing.

In the video game world there is a retro scene, where middle aged folks like myself like to relive the games they grew up with by either running their original computers/consoles and playing the tapes/disks/cartridges of the game. Or using emulators and images of the games. However this is all made possible because there is a physical version of the game and they stand alone. In recent years games have as standard come with multiplayer options that require a server to connect users up to be able to play the game. The issue we have for preserving these games for future generations is that when these servers are killed off by the publisher/developer that game or the multiplayer portion the game is dead.

Then there is the issue of moving away from physical media to purely digital. Which then gives the problem of archiving games and running them and making them available. This problem only gets amplified with the app stores and mobile gaming.

Now we all know boardgames go out of print. Sometimes they get reprinted other times they stay out of print. What happens with a boardgame that relies on an app to be playable? Will the publisher keep it going indefinitely? I don't think so as it would be uneconomic to do so. It's why the likes of Nintendo etc shutdown servers for their games for old patforms eventually. You can't play multiplayer over the Internet in Mario Kart on a DS now. Let's face it the resources of Nintendo are greater than probably all the boardgame companies added together. And they find it uneconomic to keep such services going. Then I think it not unreasonable to expect at some point in a games lifetime that the app for it is no longer supported. How long we are looking at I don't know. One, two years after the last printing?

This is my major issue with using apps with boardgames where they are so integral to the game. I like the idea of helper apps, where they help keep track of life or stats, even provide virtual dice. However it doesn't matter if these apps get dropped the game is still very much playable.

But imagine ten years from now, you have friends over that you went to college with. You are all reminiscing about the old days, and the boardgame nights you had. You remember the adventures and narrow escapes. Then some-one says “do you remember what a great time we had playing that XCOM boardgame?” You reply “oh do I, I still have it”. You disappear for a minute or two letting your friends entertain themselves down memory lane. You return with the game. Everyone expresses disbelieve that you still have it. Then a voice suggests “let's play it for old times sake”. You crack out the contents of the box, you all gather round the table excited to be playing the game again. Only you can't as the app is no longer available and the game can't be played without it.

That in a nutshell is my problem with the whole boardgame and app trend. As I said near the start of this post I can't see myself spending my hard earned pennies on this type of boardgame. But I'll more than happily play the game if some-one else has got it.

I think the issue is a complicated one, with implications that seem at the moment in the places I hang out on line to be missed. I hope I have been more balanced here on the subject. I'd love to know your thoughts on this.



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