Happy New Year!
I was in Beijing and Shanghai over the holidays. Yes – it was frigid. Even 3 layers of pants and 6 tops (+ a coat, scarf, hat, and mitts) couldn’t keep out the bitter cold. I guess I have been spoiled by HK’s mild weather.
Part of my travelling duty was to observe. The culture, the youth, the trends… to hang out in places youth hang. To spot out new things they wear, fun places they go, things they eat… to be one of them, talk with them, dance with them, sing with them… yea, it’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it!
It was a lot of fun and eye-opening. Throughout the month of January, I’ll be placing greater focus on blogging about China’s youth and discussing my observations and thoughts. Feel free to jump in and ask questions, or to leave comments about your own observations. If you’d like to contact me directly, please do so at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today, the trend I’d like to chat about is … boardgames.
It is at this point in which my North American readers are raising an eyebrow and thinking: ‘What?! I’ve been playing boardgames since I could walk!’
It is true that boardgames is old news everywhere else in the world, but in China, the craze is only now beginning.
In Shanghai, I attended the ‘2009 Eastern China Boardgame Convention’, held in a warehouse type space on Hua Yuan Lu. Inside, there were game upon game set up with young players crowded in groups around each table. Some were crowding to see and to get in on the action, while others were trying to stay warm (there was no heat in the great big warehouse and it was cccold!)
I was able to speak with the event organizer, Tate Wu, who was patient enough to give me a whole rundown on the boardgaming industry in China.
Gamers congregate in cafes, akin to internet cafes. They are able to rent boardgames per hour, while also ordering food and beverages. It is fascinating that only 2 years ago, there were a scant 5 boardgame cafes in China. Today, there are over 600.
The average ages of boardgame players in China is 20 years old. This is incredibly young compared to 30 in Taiwan and 40 in Europe. Boardgame cafes usually attract a mix of males and females, usually friends, but there are many who go with an open mind to meet other boardgame aficionados and to make new friends. According to a boardgame blog, the most popular boardgames in China today include Settlers of Catan, Killers of Three Kingdoms, Monopoly and Carcassonne.
Boardgames had never before been popular in China, as there are several key reasons it is difficult for youth to play at home:
- The one child policy (and therefore, no siblings to play with!)
- Small house sizes deter inviting people over.
- Costly – especially because the majority of games are imported, as China did not produce their own games (though they have since started to enter the boardgame industry with Chinese-designed and produced boardgames).
The single child insight is especially interesting and not something people from other countries with siblings would even think about. This also explains China’s immense online gaming craze for fantasy and situational games such as World of Warcraft, as online games can played alone (though there is a great deal of player-to-player interaction online).
There are many marketing implications for this exciting trend. Boardgames in China are still relatively underground and is not associated with any kind of brand sponsorship. For example, Li Ning had jumped aboard the outdoor fitness and running trend when they sponsored the Lining Evening Fun Run in Beijing last summer. They created an entire experience including free concerts by popular local bands along the way, contests, games, cool giveaways, shoe demonstrations and running tips and tricks, turning a several kilometer run into a huge social event for youth – especially since it was held in the evening, giving it a cool and edgy vibe.
It is still a relatively new trend, but with such strong (and growing) enthusiasm for boardgames, it will be interesting to keep an eye on it’s growth and on whether marketers will be able to tap into this trend in a way that is relevant to youth.