Since I’m about to head off to Asia, my mind started wandering about businesses and I seriously started thinking about the Board Games Cafe in Asia. I’m probably slow, but I just realised why the format is so popular in Asia and potentially not as successful in North America / Europe.
It’s a matter of capital cost and the Foreign Exchange Rates. With a game such as Settlers of Catan easily costing the equivalent of $160 – 180 in local dollars, it’s hard to justify more than one or two game purchases. Evan ‘cheap’ board games like Citadels are between $100 – 110. Enter the Cafes where players can pay to play at a fraction the cost of the game. No more risky purchases, and suddenly board gaming becomes affordable for a much larger target audience. I’d bet the vast majority of their profit comes not from the game rental but from food & drink purchases too. The game rental really is to defray capital expenses of the new game. In fact, if I were running such a cafe, I’d probably charge higher for newer games and a much lower price for older, more used (i.e. paid for) board games.
I don’t necessarily see board games going this route in North America – not heavily anyway, and not unless prices keep creeping up. In many ways, local game stores are stepping in to the same void as Game Cafes – offering play space either free or for a minimal charge. For now, game stores are able to survive mostly selling games – they don’t have to diversify even further to increase their margins.