Myths of Evolution (1): Scientific Metaphysics
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How Many Players?

One of my favourite bloggers, Yehuda, is telling a fairly tall tale on the About page of his new multi-author blog Purple Pawn, which covers board games, card games, tabletop RPGs, trading card games and all other non-digital gaming.

Hi Yehuda,
There's no way for me to add a comment to your About page on Purple Pawn, so in the spirit of my attempt to use Fridays to improve communication between blogs (somehow!) I have decided to write my commentary here.

The About page on your excellent new board games blog makes the following claim:
While a few million people play video games, several billion people play tabletop games every single day: board games, card games, vintage games, role-playing games, collectible card games, war games, miniatures.
Biased much? :)
Firstly, the number of people who play videogames is a few hundred million, not a few million. And if you include video gambling, which you could, it goes up even further.
As for the several billion you contend who play tabletop games, you are of course choosing to omit the fact that 99% of these play classic board and card games. The collected audience for role-playing games, collectible card games, war games and miniatures is under ten million (and roughly half of the sales to this audience appear to come from just one game: Magic: The Gathering). That said, the estimate of the number of people who have played role-playing games is 20 million (based solely on Dungeons & Dragons since nothing else comes close) but this doesn't reflect the current size of the market for tabletop RPGs, which genuinally is "a few million" players.
But I think perhaps that you know all this, and are being deliberately pugnacious. :)
Perhaps you should revise your statement to admit that the audience for videogames is in the hundreds of million scale, and not just the millions. But if you choose otherwise, well, it's your blog, you can spin the data however you want to!
Hope all is well,


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A few billion play board games every day???

Okay, I should be biased *towards* this because I'm part of a Tabletop Gaming society...

It's utter bull though.

There are 6-7 billion people in the world. If there are "several billion" playing these games every day; that means that 1 in 3 people need to be playing one of these games every single day.

As part of perhaps one of the highest consumer groups for these (I Roleplay, I play TCGs and I play Boardgames) who's also part of a big group of people who are also highly into all these things - none of us play every day. Not one. There's a crazy friend of mine who does it 5 days a week; but most of us average to 2 days a week.

If we do it only 2 days a week; to have several billion people playing "every single day" - you'd need to have everyone doing it 2 days a week.

Okay, I could be wrong... but I don't know anyone (aside from our little geeky group) who plays board games or card games or roleplays AT ALL.

Those figures are ridiculous.

Hi Chris, thanks for your comments.

As to hundreds of millions of video gamers, you may be right. I would have to find more data for that.

As to billions of tabletop gamers, I did not deliberately choose to omit the fact that most of these are playing classic games such as poker, chess, Chinese or Japanese chess, Go, Mancala, and so on. On the contrary: that's my entire point. Literally.

Tabletop games are understood by the media and others to be "proprietary" tabletop games, such as CCGs, RPGs, and brand names. In this case, video gaming dwarfs tabletop both in numbers and in industry sales (roughly 8 billion dollars to 1 billion dollars, I believe). Which is why they don't get much coverage in the Western world.

But my point is that, on any given day, massively more people will play any non-sport/non-video game than will play a video game, by far. In fact, I believe that more people will play just Chinese Chess on any given day that will play all video games, combined.

As to "billions every day", here is where I was choosing to omit something: I'm counting EVERY game. That includes selection games (such as RPS), workplace games, lotteries, gambling, dice, cards, dominoes, backgammon, chess, mancala, and on and on. There are over a hundred million school age children just in China. I don't know about your kids, but my kids play some sort of game every single day.

My definition of a game is liberal: any task with goal(s) where the goals themselves are not significant (although the payout or other benefits from playing might be). That's not my exact definition, but it's fairly close. I try to convey that through the vast array of types of material that gets covered on the site.


I'd assumed it included the "traditional" games - a statistic like that could not omit them.

Funny - I don't regard a lottery as a game. I regard it as a reverse insurance policy with the bias the wrong way: it (overall) removes money from the player in exchange for increased risk. But then, as Chris will no doubt note, I don't regard any pure chance occurrence as a game...

Yehuda: thanks for clarifying your position here!

Regarding "billions every day", if you include gambling, this is a cinch - billions of people play in lotteries of various kinds every day. :)

Regarding videogames, I submit for your approval the installed bases of the most popular videogame consoles thus far:

PS2 - 140 million
Gameboy - 120 million
Playstation - 100 million
Nintendo DS - 85 million - and rising

It's hard to estimate what proportion of the player base had a PS2 globally, for various reasons. But as you can see, the lower ceiling you can place on the videogame space is 140 million. My best estimate is 200 million players global. But if you include videogambling (and surely you must since you include lotteries in traditional games) this could double.

So definitely in the hundreds of million range. :)

I think it's nice to make the point that traditional board and card games are still an important part of the global "play diet" - but if we are brutally honest, it's gambling which is the king of the castle (both by number of participants and by turnover), followed by traditional non-gambling games, followed by videogames. With gambling eliminated, I'm not sure how far ahead traditional games would be...

Keep up the great blogging!

Peter: a lottery offers excitement and the possibility of fiero in return for the decision to play. It's Caillois' alea - games of chance and fate - something Rationally minded individuals such as yourself rather detest, but which "everyday" people get pretty good value for money from, irrespective of the return on investment (which is of course quite low).

Best wishes!

Chris, I updated the About page. Better?

Still undiscovered is the overlap between video gaming and tabletop gaming: what's video poker? Or Go played across the internet? Video game, tabletop game, or both?


Yehuda: You are a gentleman and a scholar, sir!

And I agree, this business of overlap is a thorny one... Is the essential nature of a boardgame in its physicality, or in its mechanics? If the former, then Go over the internet is (oddly) not a boardgame. If the latter, then are turn based strategy games boardgames in another guise?

The terminology certainly becomes very confused after a while! :)

Best wishes!

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