Today in Weekend Warrior I want to talk about the emergence of technology in board games. This was raised in a comment a few weeks ago and I wanted to address it and give my thoughts on the matter.
The topic is of obsolescence. Does the use of apps in board games run the risk of the game being unplayable in years to come? Ultimately, the answer is yes, however let’s look at this a bit more closely.
The first board game I owned that did something close to what the app driven games of 2020 are attempting was a Star Trek board game with a VHS. Do we play it any more? No, because we no longer own a VHS player, but we did play it to death while we had it. This was a game that was made obsolete by the march of time and progress of technology, but also supplanted by newer game experiences.
In our current times technology is progressing faster than ever but there has been an important change to the kinds of technology being used in games, we have moved from analogue to digital.
For example, after the VHS games came DVD games. These are still playable today. DVD’s are backwards compatible with current optical media devices such as Bluray Players. They can also be loaded into a computer or a video games console. Even after optical drives are phased out it would be possible to use a periphery device or to load the “DVD” as a disk image on a computer.
With apps we are even more future proof unless you can predict the decline of mobile phones. The beauty of apps being used in games is that the device required to play the game is right there in your pocket. Not only are apps convenient because they are on your phone, but due to our interconnected world it has never been easier to cast your screen to a larger device so all the players can see what’s happening or to share the soundscapes to your speakers for a more immersive experience.
Apps, of course, can be made obsolete, especially as technology moves on and a developer stops supporting an app. If the publishers go out of business they may stop updating it for the latest version of the OS or the remove it from the app store. However we live in a digital age and for the determined gamer this should pose no issue. Content can rarely be deleted permanently from the internet and fans of a game would likely make available an .apk file which could be side loaded onto a device or emulated on a computer. Fans will often go to great lengths to keep a game alive, they may even add additional content too. Fans kept games like Blood Bowl alive and kicking long after the publisher abandoned it, I don’t see why any app based game worth playing wouldn’t find a similarly dedicated following.
This is all well and good for app based games where the content is stored on your device, but as we move into the age of cloud based gaming we come to a stickier issue. What if the app requires an internet connection? I think that these games are fewer and farther between than some doomsayers would have you believe. Of course, for these games you are at the mercy of the publisher. If a game is going out of print and the server that hosts the files is being shut down then the publisher might make an offline version available. If however the reason this is happening is because the publisher is going out of business, then you might be out of luck.
Finally, and think this is probably the crux of the issue, the life span of games is probably less than that of the app. It’s nice to think that you’ll still be playing these games in fifty years and to wonder how that might be possible on the space age tech that we’ll undoubtedly be using by then but the truth is that games these days do not have that kind of life cycle.
The industry has changed over the last thirty years and so much content is on the market that a game is lucky if it can stay in the zeitgeist long enough to actually hit retail shelves at this point. Not buying and playing a game because you might not be able to play it in 10 years time seems a short sighted because you could be having fun with it today.
The truth is that app assisted games are able to create play experiences that are impossible or impractical to achieve through other means and as time marches on we will find new and exciting ways to enhance our analogue gaming experiences with digital technology and I, for one, am looking forward to it.