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One of the hot-topic questions asked in the hallowed halls of game design is "how to reach a bigger market." This question actually comes in many different forms, sometimes referring to the female demographic ("the other 50 percent"), or just the broader potential market in general. Harmonix, developers of the hugely-successful Guitar Hero, referred to the game as "the other 90 percent" at this year's Game Developer Conference. (As did Relentless Software's David Amor.) The general sentiment is the same: There is a huge, untapped game-buying audience.
There are a lot of people in the world, and just about every single one of them is a game player. Caillois' Man, Play, and Games argues that games are not a niche activity by nature, but rather a necessary cultural one. Somewhere along the way from tag to Final Fantasy, though, arises a stigma. To understand how the digital world might overcome its negative connotation, it helps to look at another medium that has: the modern German boardgame industry.
In North America, boardgames generally have fallen into one of three camps: family-friendly (Monopoly), party (Trivial Pursuit) or geeky (Talisman, Arkham Horror). Boardgames live an entirely different life in Germany.
Simply put, Germany is the world center of boardgaming. If you've heard of great games like The Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne or Bohnanza - two of which will be gracing your Xbox 360 by the time you're reading this - you have Germany's love for boardgames to thank.
The most important factor that contributes to the German game industry's success is a simple one of demographics: boardgaming in Germany is not niche. Quite the opposite, it's seen as a healthy, family-oriented activity suitable for after-dinner entertainment. And "family" means cross-generational; grandmas through granddaughters can all be expected to play in the same game.
While at first this doesn't seem unusual - Monopoly is a family game, isn't it? - the truth is the Germans are onto the Holy Grail of the videogame world. They make games appeal to a wide age group and a large assortment of mental faculties or attention spans. And more importantly from a revenue perspective, they have a consuming public trained to buy new titles every year instead of fixating on the aforementioned Monopoly and playing it to death for 30 years. Each year brings a whole new crop of games, flashily marketed with the premiere designers' names (in fact, a common alias for these games is "Designer Games") and capitalizing on existing franchises. It's a direct parallel to videogames.
At German game shows, press and public flock to see new releases and purchase them - picture an E3 where you can buy the games you see demoed right away. The SPIEL game fest (aka "Essen") regularly grosses crowds of over 100,000 people - 151,000 in 2006 ! Compare that to Gen Con , the largest specialty game convention in North America, which generally tops out around 25,000 . Now consider that Germany is a country with 27 percent of the population of the United States.