Bowen: My Point, Exactly...My Millennials

Bowen: My Point, Exactly...My Millennials

April 15th, 2018 by Barb Bowen in Opinion Columns
Barb Bowen

Barb Bowen

Photo by Angela Lewis /Times Free Press.

My family loves to play games. We started years ago with Password, Monopoly, charades and bridge. It's not that we are so competitive. We're merely playful and fun-loving. Okay, maybe a little bit competitive.

When my little kids became big kids, we had some true gamers in the family. Role-playing games, complex card games and interactive electronic media games like Dungeons & Dragons, Magic the Gathering and World of Warcraft. I have been surprised to discover their interest shifting from video games to tabletop games. And more importantly, why.

My millennials have been bringing new games to the family gatherings, like board games, card games and dice games. Many of them have resulted in raucous laughter, unlikely teamwork, and discovery of hidden talents even in the most introverted family members!

"Where do you find all these fun games?" I asked. And the answer surprised me.

"Conventions," they said.

Yes, my adult children attend huge conventions specifically for comics, cards and games. In the exhibit hall game sellers at vendor booths explain how to play the games. In another room you can check a game out of the "library" and play it with your friends. If you need more players, you raise a flag at your table and strangers will join you. You can watch others play the games, including celebrity players.

"I've never bought a tabletop game without seeing a video of someone else playing or having played it myself," said my youngest son, Logan.

Who watches videos of people playing board games? Millennials. Heads up to all the businesses who are trying to capture this younger generation's attention.

And they're not just playing the games; they are interested in game development. At conventions panel discussions offer attendees the opportunity to hear the developers talk about creating the games. In testing rooms, you may play games still in development and give feedback on whether it was fun, difficult, or ho hum.

"Online games often seek player response during new game development," said my oldest son, George. "Globalization through the internet makes the dialogue hyperactive."

Yes, you can even play board games online. For example, people play Dungeons & Dragons via Skype using a service application like Roll 20 that projects the board images and maps from the dungeon master and simulates dice rolling.

Can't make it to the convention? No problem. You can experience the event through Twitch, a live video platform where streamers and bloggers are sharing what they are seeing.

Know what? The game developers understand how to market to millennials. Hands-on experiences. Friend-to-friend referrals. Watching someone else play. Hearing the creators talk about the backstory. Participating in development. Making everything accessible on the Internet.

Forget about television advertising. This generation is not buying their games in the toy store. They don't care about direct mail sale flyers, and rarely look in their mailbox anyway.

Are board games replacing video games? No, but my millennials tell me the video game market is changing.

"MP [multi-player] video games from the big developers don't offer the satisfying experience we used to enjoy," Logan told me. "Now the developers are selling the most basic game and charging extra for all the add-ons. It feels like they just want our money. It's a hollow façade."

"Pay-to-win means the player with the most money wins. It's no longer about skill or character development. It's about how many additional enhancements you purchased, like better weapons, faster vehicles, more places to go (geography) and more missions to complete," said George. "The gaming community is pushing back on this because they feel it's an unfair advantage when someone can essentially purchase the win."

"Small independent game developers are not using that kind of predatory marketing. Those games have a more authentic feel," Logan said.

His wife, Hillary, explained further, "We want a game that is well-rounded, with a good storyline and a complete world to explore. We want it to be immersive and draw us in. It's about how I feel when I play the game."

Instead of digital/video games they are moving toward tabletop games where everyone is in a room together, face-to-face, sharing a fun experience. Even if it's a virtual room.

"The social aspect is lost with interactive video games because the other players become faceless, disembodied voices; the culture is harsh and rude," George said. "Board games require more people skills, and this is refreshing."

"Playing a bad board game with friends is better than playing a good video game by yourself," Logan and Hillary agreed.

For all the people who have visions of the pale-faced teenager sequestered in the dark basement playing video games all alone, perhaps there is hope.

Barb Bowen, a partner in Bowen & Bowen, is a fundraising consultant and professional writer. Contact her at

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