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Gaming surges during pandemic

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The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the economy, pushing the unemployment rate to 14.8% and forcing an extra roughly 200,000 businesses to permanently shutter, according to a Federal Reserve study.

However, not every industry was crippled by the pandemic. Some managed to thrive despite the odds. One of these industries was tabletop gaming.

The industry includes board games, think Catan, card games like Uno, dice games like Yahtzee, and any physical game that can be played on a tabletop. As technology has improved, tabletop games have developed mobile and digital versions.

Data gathered by Sensor Tower, which tracks market statistics and performance data for mobile apps, shows mobile versions of traditional tabletop games brought in $703.8 million between August 2020 and July 2021, an increase of 40% from the previous 12 months.

The overall games and puzzles industry was worth $11.7 billion during 2020, an increase of over $1 billion from the 2019 value, and it is expected to top $12 billion in 2021.

Some local stores have experienced similar trends in their business during the pandemic.

Carl Morgan, manager of Meta Games Unlimited, said his store has been forced to make adjustments with how it conducts business, but those have allowed for growth.

To compensate for the lack of foot traffic in the store, Morgan began online ordering and curbside pickup.

An appeal of Meta Games, and many gaming stores, is its gaming room. The open area at the back of the store has tables set up for customers to come into the store to play and form a community around the games. But this service was temporarily halted due to pandemic-related protocols.

To compensate for this lack of community, Morgan started a Discord server to allow customers to interact and play together digitally. Discord is an instant messaging platform that enables users to communicate via text, video calls and phone calls.

“Discord enabled us to keep that sense of community going despite the fact that our game room was essentially closed for a year,” Morgan said.

With these efforts to make the services more accessible, Meta Games experienced growth during arguably the toughest time since the company was founded in 1997.

“Even being closed for a month and a half during 2020, we still ended up from the previous year,” Morgan said, declining to disclose revenue. “This year, we’re trending the same way; we’re probably going to beat last year’s numbers.”

This increase in business comes despite a push toward online tabletop gaming. Morgan said people were looking to find new ways to fill their free time during pandemic shutdowns and COVID-19 quarantines, which led the store to breaking out classic board games or venturing out to find new ones.

Another appeal of in-person tabletop gaming is the creative aspect. When played in-person, games like Dungeons & Dragons and Warhammer can use miniature figures to represent the players on the game surface. Stores like Meta Games sell these figures and art supplies to allow players to customize them.

Stephen Buck, owner of Cards ‘n Stripes Games LLC in Republic, said his business has experienced a similar growth in sales over the past two years.

“During 2020, we had an 8% increase in sales,” Buck said, declining to disclose revenue. “Measuring where we are this year, our sales have increased by 20% in comparison to last year.”

During the pandemic, there was one key adaptation that Buck believes helped the business soar. A part of the business at Cards ‘n Stripes has always been board game rental. Customers can come into the store and rent board games to try them out before making a decision to purchase. Since customers couldn’t come to the store, Buck decided he and his employees would take the store to them.

“We put our entire inventory online and started delivering everything from gaming accessories to rental games,” Buck said. “We adjusted rental terms so that when we picked items up, they would get cleaned and placed in ‘quarantine.’”

Both Meta Games and Cards ‘n Stripes have had trouble keeping product on the shelves to keep up with their growing sales. Many board games are created overseas and shipped to the United States. With roughly 80% of games and toys being made in China, according to research done by Germany’s Deutsche Welle, and the pandemic interrupting international supply chains, it has been difficult for game stores nationwide to maintain their usual inventory.

Buck credits his customers for their willingness to try out new games. Players may try new games that have similar mechanics if their favorite classic is not available. For example, players of the classic Catan may give 7 Wonders a try.

Along with the increase in purchasing board games, Buck has noticed an expansion of the role-playing games platform.

“There are games for kids, animal lovers, people that want to imagine it all in their head and for those that want to see their characters come to life through miniatures,” Buck said. “It hasn’t focused on any one type of game or platform that I can see. Just a desire to sit across from friends and have a great time.”

Meta Games and Cards ‘n Stripes credit their community-focused approach for the boost in business. Both stores keep a section of inventory fairly stable but are rotating other products in and out based off of what is selling the best.

“We try to focus on taking care of our community – making sure we have products available, ordering what we can that they’re looking for, taking time to match our customers with the right product and not just a product,” Buck said.

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