David Preti, COO of CMON - Looking to the Bright Future of Board Games
David Preti - Looking to the Bright Future of Board Games
The tabletop gaming industry has seen double digit growth for nearly two decades straight with no sign of slowing down. Roughly ten board games are released per day and many are calling this the "Golden Age of Tabletop." We spoke with CMON's COO, David Preti about what it means to be a major part of an industry coming into its own.
FIRST UP, HOW ARE YOU AND CMON DOING DURING THE PANDEMIC?
I'm happy to say, very busy. On one hand, we've continued to work at full speed on our upcoming games. We have staff and freelancers all over the world, and while no one has been unaffected by the virus, so much of what we do is behind the scenes, like the design, development, and artwork of our games so it's wasn't too difficult for most people to work from home. On the other hand, we've also been doing things we've never done before to transition to this new environment; really learning on the fly, for example, how to turn live events into on-line events in a very short window of time. I'm really proud of the effort everyone has put forward while being under such stress.
WHAT DO YOU THINK THE BIGGEST CHANGES AT CMON HAVE BEEN DURING THE PANDEMIC?
Definitely our increased focus on direct interaction with players. When the lockdowns began worldwide, I really wanted to live up to our potential as an entertainment company. We make board games to entertain people, and I wanted to offer ways for people to take thier mind off current events. We increased the free content we offered on social media like free missions for Zombicide and Massive Darkenss. We did our first print-and-play of a game called Xenoshyft, and we put a couple of free games on Tabletop Simulator. The other big thing, as I mentioned, was taking our live events on-line. When we, sadly, had to cancel our annual CMON Expo in May, we immediately began working on an on-line version not knowing what to expect. That effort became CMON Virtual Expo, and we were so happy with the fan response, and thousands of people from around the world turned out. We did another Virtual Expo focused on Asia in July, and the two events really taught us a lot and gave us good feedback for future on-line shows.
IS THAT THE WAY OF THE FUTURE?
I think the virtual events are here to stay. I miss live events very much, there's nothing like the energy and excitement that comes out of an amazing event like GenCon or CMON Expo. But even after things get back to normal, virtual events are going to remain a major part of gaming. There're so many unique things about them, the best of which is that they are accessible to anyone with an internet connection.
MORE PEOPLE ARE PLAYING GAMES THAN EVER. DO YOU THINK THE PANDEMIC HAS BOOSTED SALES?
That's certainly part of it, but really the industry has been growing exponentially for about twenty years, ever since the introducing of what I call "modern board games". Even in the time since we launched Zombicide in 2012, overall tabletop sales are way, way up. And now it's multigenerational, with that first group of fans from the late 90s now old enough to have kids and game as a family. I'm sure the pandemic has sped up that process, with people staying in becoming the norm, and them looking for ways to spend time other than looking at a screen. It's definitely the case that many, many people are discovering modern board games for the first time, and really enjoying what they see.
ONE RESULT OF THAT DEMAND IS THAT PEOPLE HAVE A LOT MORE GAMES TO CHOOSE FROM.
Yes they do! Many more gamers, and many more games being made. And for us that means a few things. One is more competition. We use Kickstarter to launch many of our games, in fact we're the #1 company of any kind on that platform in terms of funds raised, but we never take that for granted. There are a lot of great games on that platform now, so we are constantly looking for ways to innovate both in our games and in our campaigns. We want every Kickstarter we do to feel special, exciting, dramatic, and most of all fun. Many of our backers like to watch the campaigns in real-time, leaving thousands of comments, joking with each other, talking about the latest unlocked stretch goal, and enjoying a three-week-long party. But after the campaign comes by far the most important part: you have to deliver! In that respect we've never let our backers down - we always deliver what we promise, and it's so important to us to have that reputation.
Second, is that "more gamers" means we need to be even more inclusive in our games. From the start, I've wanted CMON to be the most inclusive company in the industry. A big reason for that is that our company is just so diverse. We have people from around with world, from all backgrounds, working for us at every level, and that has always been reflected in our games. The first Zombicide featured a huge variety of playable characters, and most of our big box games since have followed in that mold. It's always so nice to hear that a new gamer picked up one of our titles because they saw themselves represented in it.
YOU ARE THE "COO". WHAT DOES THAT MEAN AT CMON?
It's very much the place where creative meets commerce. While I spend a lot of time growing our overall business, like with our new publishing arm, Guillotine Press, my passion has always been creating and developing the worlds of our games. I supervise, and in many cases lead development of the art and back-stories of our games to make sure the end product feels like a "CMON Game", so gamers know what they can expect when they see our logo, no matter if it's a family-priced game like Gizmos, or a huge licensed title like Bloodborne: The Board Game.
WHAT MAKES A "CMON GAME"?
For me, it means a high-end, premium, immersive experience that tells you an incredible story. We put a huge emphasis not only on art and graphic design, but also on story-telling and world-building and characters. We want our games to, thematically, make logical sense as you play them. It makes the games more intuitive, but also, it allows players to revel in their victories or defeats afterwards, and really be able to tell the story of their gameplay. And while we absolutely remain competitive in pricing, we don't cut corners on quality of components. From the box itself to what's inside, we want the entire experience for players to be first class. We are really proud of Death May Die for example, the way all the missions are neatly ordered in their own tuck boxes, and it's very easy to pick your Old One, pick your scenario, and just play. We are always trying to reduce the time between lifting the lid and the start of play.
LONG TERM, WHERE DO YOU SEE CMON AND THE TABLETOP INDUSTRY?
There's a good chance we are right at the critical mass tipping point, when games' popularity spills over fully into general pop culture, the same way superheroes did about 20 years ago via films. We've seen increased appearances of major games in movies and on TV, and I do think at some point soon we will have a major, successful crossover of a modern board game IP into filmed or animated media. Maybe movies, maybe streaming, but something like that is inevitable. Personally, I would love to see a Zombicide cartoon! Many of these IPs will be around for decades, and you'll see lots of iterations of them, which is something we've already seen at CMON with the launch of our graphic novel publishing arm. Games are unique in that they each contain endless stories within a cardboard box, and we want to tell those stories in as many ways as possible.
I also think that at some point the competition will die down a bit. Not only is it getting more expensive to make the games, but the bar to get noticed has become very, very high. The industry went from being the wild west to the golden age quickly. There will always be room for new publishers, or self-published passion projects, but there are growing challenges for smaller publishers.