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"Our community of engaged players will count in the dozens of millions": The rise of digital board games

Philippe Dao of Asmodee Digital has a Ticket To Ride (and Catan and Mysterium and more...)

"Our community of engaged players will count in the dozens of millions": The rise of digital board games

Gamers might not be familiar with Asmodee. But they will definitely have heard of its games brands.

Asmodee is the board game giant which, thanks to some huge acquisitions in the last few years, is now a major force in the tabletop gaming world.

In 2014 it merged with Days of Wonder and Fantasy Flight Games, then acquired the Catan brand from Mayfair in 2016, followed by F2Z Entertainment, Edge Entertainment and more.

So if you like a decent board game evening with friends, you'll probably have put money in Asmodee's pocket: Ticket to Ride, Small World, 7 Wonders, Catan… Asmodee holds the French publishing rights to the WizKids and Pokémon lines too. Ironically, one of the few brands they don't own is Monopoly.

On a roll

Starting with Mysterium and Potion Explosion earlier this year, Asmodee Digital has been steadily adapting its biggest titles as mobile games. The digital board game category is on a, ahem, roll. And it's something that Asmodee Digital wants to champion as a format; not just its own titles, but the whole genre.

In May, Asmodee Digital helped launch a dedicated section on our sister site Pocket Gamer, called TableTap. Its aim is to cover the digital board game genre, demystify it, celebrate it, and introduce gamers to new titles.

At the forefront of Asmodee Digital's mobile board game evangelism is Philippe Dao, Chief Marketing Officer in Paris. His background is in video games, mobile games as well as in music, media and entertainment.

"I joined Asmodee Digital with a strong belief that the company is in a unique position to fuel the growth of digital board and card games for many years to come," he tells us.

"This is thanks to Asmodee's large catalogue of game IPs and our continuous striving to bring the best of both worlds – physical and digital – to all the games we publish and distribute."

We quizzed him about his strategy and thoughts on the market.

PocketGamer.biz: What was Asmodee Digital's original mission?
Philippe Dao: We started Asmodee Digital so that we could make digital versions of our games and established fans could play them more. And new fans would get the chance to try our games. Our aim is to provide a complementary experience to the players, on digital channels.

For established players of our most popular games, a mobile or PC version lets them play a game with less set-up (and clean-up!) time. Plus, for our games on mobile, players can play while they’re on the move.

For new fans, digital versions of our games give them the opportunity to try our games out at lower cost than a full physical version. Also, it gives us the opportunity to reach more potential players.

In the last 20 months, Asmodee Digital has grown to a team of over 30 board and card game specialists and digital gaming experts. The team is growing quickly as we publish more games on digital platforms.

How are you delivering your mission to spread the word about digital board games?
Since we are building a large database of digital board game players, we want to be able to bring a great experience to our community of players: that's not limited to chats or forums but to a large suite of services we are permanently improving, such as the transferability of DLCs, cross-platform online multiplayer, a social sharing system, and so on.

We believe the community itself will help evangelize digital board games, serving as ambassadors. Pocket Gamer's TableTap digital board game section is the perfect initiative to give more exposure to the genre to mobile gamers.

Why don't digital board games get the attention they deserve?
I think a game like Hearthstone has paved the way for expanding the genre to a larger audience and the digital board game will benefit from these games; players and publishers alike.

In this respect, the target audience by no means limits us to fans of tabletop games anymore. I would say that the appeal of digital board games is already broad enough for casual, mass and hobby players.

What do you think the key opportunities are for the digital board game sector?
Over the past few years there has been also a steady increase of board and card game category on the main app stores and other digital games distribution platforms, including Steam

Asmodee Digital, like most publishers, benefits from this renaissance where we see a growing community of players of physical and mobile board and card games.

The mobile games market is very much focused on free-to-play games right now; digital board games tend to be premium titles. Is this a barrier to mainstream success?
You can get mainstream success with premium titles especially the ones for the casual audience.

A platform like Steam would definitively be a driver for further mainstream success of premium content thanks to its engaged audience.

It’s also interesting to note that some of our games have been, and others will be, developed as freemium to allow us to reach other segments of players. Generally speaking we are very pragmatic here in the sense of the business model choice is always based on the product and its target audience.

What is the trick to making a digital board game that's more accessible and easy to understand, without the (sometimes) large instruction manuals that you get with physical board games?
Actually when adopting a board game to digital, you have multiple challenges to overcome: game design, user interface, multiplayer experience, game economy, UX, adaptation of rules, modeling of the cards, enhancements, business model.

At Asmodee Digital we have put a process in place that allows us to understand this complexity at each level, assess the adaptation possibilities before making the big decision of going digital. This process is completely iterative; we are growing our expertise with each game's development. We also get players on board at the beginning of the process and follow their feedback very carefully.

There is nothing more important to us than community, and we’re passionate about them being part of this iterative development process.

What specific qualities do you look for in a board game in order to consider adapting it for a digital mobile edition? Does one type of game work better than another?
The qualities relate to the challenges I mentioned, plus strong interest from existing players. There isn’t any type of game which is more suitable for a digital adaptation: each game is unique.

How big is the digital market versus the physical market?
This is a very difficult question to answer: we actually don’t oppose digital to physical: we think one market compliments the other and conversely. Also, if we refer to digital board and card games category it is not an easy task to assess the category, especially on the app stores.

What are the big trends in games you see at the moment?
There is a confirmed trend we have started to follow which is considering a board game IP as an inspiration for a digital game which will not be a digital board or card game: strategy, RPG, adventure are genres we are considering very seriously. Catan Stories which launches in November is a good example.

How was GenCon for you? Why is it important to take digital board games to a traditionally physical game event?
Gen Con has been a real success for us. We have been presenting many of the new digital board game titles for 2017 and announcing a few exciting developments. We got a fantastic response for some of our new signings (Scythe Digital, Terra Forming Mars) as well as our next digital releases including Ticket to Ride First Journey, Smash Up: Conquer Your Base with factions among others.

Where do you hope the company will be in five years' time?
We hope Asmodee Digital will continue to create some of the most entertaining digital board game experiences and stories for every type of audience, from casual player to long-time tabletop game fans. We have an impressive catalogue already, and much more in the works for the next several years. I am convinced our community of engaged players will count in the dozens of millions.

What advice would you give for a small indie company wanting to develop a digital board game?
Focus on quality and community management!

There are more games coming out from Asmodee Digital this year in the form of Smash Up: Conquer Your Base, Milles Bornes, Catan Stories, Scythe Digital (an early access version) and more. Read about them, and digital board games from other publishers, over at the TableTap section.


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Chief Operations Officer

Dave is Steel Media's Chief Operations Officer. He gets involved in all areas of the business, from front page editorial to behind-the-scenes planning. He began his career in games and entertainment journalism back in the 1990s when Doom came on four floppy disks. Please contact him with any general queries about Pocket Gamer, Blockchain Gamer and Steel Media's other sites and events.

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