For the past couple of decades, videogame consoles and PCs have grown exponentially more capable with each hardware update. Processor speeds double and triple, and the number of simultaneous operations dramatically increases as a result. For the average consumer, this advancement in technology is most easily discernable in the so-called "graphics race," a constant push toward photorealism through higher polygon counts and particle effects.
How strange, then, that humble board and card game adaptations have begun asserting their strength in the crowded gaming market.
2007 marked the beginning of an industry-wide refocus on classic non-digital games. The popularity of titles such as UNO on Xbox Live Arcade, and Scrabulous on Facebook signals what could be the beginning of a revitalization of board and card game adaptations. In 2008, these types of games will only grow in popularity as the casual game market continues to expand, social networks become even more ubiquitous and digital distribution finally arrives on the last of the major gaming platforms.
The genre's made a major transition over the years, from passé cash-in to legitimate next-generation offering, but are board games really the new black? Will these tabletop genres really stand out?
The UNO Factor
Though the Xbox 360's Live Arcade launched with the oft-celebrated Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, the revolutionary service wouldn't receive its first breakout hit until UNO in May 2006. Despite the console's penchant for hardcore gaming titles and retro rehashes, the classic card game continually topped XBLA's bestseller list for months and went on to become the most heavily downloaded Xbox Live Arcade title in 2006, beating out both Geometry Wars and Street Fighter II Hyper Fighting. Two years later, UNO is still riotously popular, holding the No. 3 slot on Xbox.com's list of top Arcade titles at the time of this writing.
Of course, this is partly due to the high quality of the adaptation, handled by veteran Microsoft developer Carbonated Games, but UNO also carries with it an undeniable mass-market appeal. It's UNO, for crying out loud. Spanish classes in high schools across the U.S. still play it on slow days, and no board game-loving family would be caught without the colorful little cardboard box sitting on a shelf in their closet, next to Clue and at least two different editions of Monopoly.
UNO's success has taught game developers that there is a right way to bring tabletop gaming to a digital platform, and that doing so effectively can yield tremendous results. The unprecedented success of something as banal as a card game adaptation may have opened the floodgates for future tabletop adaptations, all hoping to replicate the UNO phenomenon.
Ease of Implementation
However, it's not merely the formula's proven success that appeals to developers. It's also the relative ease of moving these games into the digital realm, allowing for a quick development time with potentially lucrative results.