Solitary Confinement: My Thoughts on Quantic Foundry’s Analysis of Solo Boardgamers

The New 1%

The 1% is usually a reference to a global elite of wealthy people, who control much of the political and social trends by virtue of their wealth. If there were an equivalent in the board game world, I suppose it would be the game companies, professional designers, and reviewers who can command great interest with game announcements, reviews, and the like.

But, in board gaming, aside from those folks, there is another 1%: solo boardgamers, according to Quantic Foundary (henceforth QF). What is QF, you might ask? Well:

“Quantic Foundry is a game analytics consulting practice. We combine social science with data science to understand what drives gamers and how to make game experiences more engaging.

In QF’s analysis, it seems, one is indeed the loneliest number. You can view their original findings here–or just continue on while I break down their main points and how they align with my experience as a person who often games alone.

Do You Choose Solo Gaming or Does it Choose You?

Roughly 1% of board gamers indicated that their preference was to play board games solo.

I think the operative word here is “preference.” Do I prefer to game alone? While I’ll admit the experience has grown on me, I think the general answer is “no,” for most people, including myself.

Which makes this statistic somewhat misleading. While I do not prefer to game solo, it is my primary way to game, as I would rather play solo games than no games at all–especially after all the time I spent growing my collection. You might well ask how it came to this, for me. Well, here’s the scoop:

A Path to the Dark Side of Gaming

Once upon a time,  I did not have kids, and my wife and I happily adventured through many a cooperative game, or even competed for glory. But, with the advent of kids, all that changed. Now one or the other of us is always taking care of kids, and many a good game sits on the shelf unplayed.

Which is why I turned to solo gaming: I wanted to be able to recapture the spirit of those earlier game sessions, even though there was a little something missing, namely my wife and partner in gaming.

So, I took one of our cooperative games off the shelf, and tried it out by myself. The rest, as they say, is history.

Is my preference for solo gaming, now? It’s complicated to say. Some late nights, all I want to do is be alone and relax for a half hour to an hour. Rather than frittering away time on social media, getting all bothered by politics and social issues, I decided that I’d rather immerse myself in the world of a board game while sipping tea (or perhaps something a bit stronger). Often, I’ll put on some instrumental music, and the new age-y ambiance makes it feel meditative, in an odd way.

Regardless of preference, I will say that solo gaming is here to stay as a part of my hobby, and I will more likely buy a game if I feel it has a robust solo mode, in addition to regular game play.

Demographics

That’s all well and good, but what about the rest of the survey of solo gamers? Well, another thing that stood out to me was the demographic data. What does QF have to say about this?

Games that require more players tend to attract slightly younger gamers, and solo board gamers are much older than other gamers (about 5 years older than gamers who prefer 5+ player games).

Apparently, the average age for a person who prefers solo games is around 36. I’m just a bit shy of that, so that seems spot on.

The next bit of data makes me feel like an old fart, really:

The appeal of solo board gaming may be related to gaming motivations that vary with age. In our data, the motivations that change the most with age are (precisely) the social-oriented motivations: the appeal of Social Manipulation (bluffing, deception, and negotiation), Conflict (attacking, stealing from, or obstructing another player), and Social Fun (laughter, cheer, and silliness) all decline with age.

Let’s deconstruct this a little;

  1. Bluffing was something I was never very good at in games. And even when I did well, I felt kinda sleazy afterward. I know some people love it, but I was just o.k. with this as a mechanism.
  2. Conflict is something I usually avoid. In a game with winners and losers that lasts for a considerable length of time, I’ve found someone usually has hard feelings.
  3. Social Fun: I’m a wet blanket who doesn’t need “fun.” Ya young whippersnapper!  Kidding aside, I like social fun, but I also want to play a game, not just have a thinly veiled excuse to act goofy.

All that to say, I wouldn’t put as much weight on these factors as on the next set of positive factors, or things solo boardgamers value.

Unintuitive Findings?

The unintuitive finding is that [solo gamers] strongest motivations (relative to other board gamers) are Immersion (lore, characters, immersed in another world) and Aesthetics (beautiful artwork, components that reflect theme).

I am at a loss as to why these things should be unintuitive. Let’s take binge watching a show or going to the movies, effectively solitary experiences. You go to the movies, or watch six seasons of Game of Thrones precisely because they are immersive.

In a theater, you are actually surrounded by visual and auditory stimuli related to the film you have chosen, and there are social penalties exposed on those making other noise or visual distractions, because the immersion is the whole reason you’re there.

In a show, you may have a home theater setup that is pretty awesome and immersive as well, but regardless, you fall in love with the world and the characters, and want to see what happens to them all.

Why should games not strive for a similar effect? I usually reject games that fail to transport me into their world with their artwork, backstory, and components. Games that are simply exercises in accumulating points are uninteresting to me as solitaire experiences. It’s no coincidence that I enjoy Robinson Crusoe, from Portal Games, when their slogan is: “Board Games that Tell Stories.”

QF also noted that they would expect solo board gamers to prefer short (30 minute or less) game experiences, based on their findings about higher player counts gravitating toward longer games. Again, as a solo gamer, I do not think this is particularly shocking.

I do not want a game session to be over too quickly, as I then feel like I did not feel a sense of immersion before the game ended. The equivalent would be sitting down to a Lord of the Rings movie and finding it ended after about seventy minutes. The epic scope would be lacking, and you’d likely leave disappointed (though this isn’t license to make the game overly long for its own sake, like the Hobbit trilogy of films; ugh).

Solitary Confinement

On the whole, the QF portrait of solo gamers felt accurate to my experience as a male solo gamer (they did note that solo gaming really knows no gender prevalence, but I’d still be interested to see a female solo gamer’s take).

I would just caution fellow gamers, like with a personality type profile, to not feel boxed in by the insights a QF survey can legitimately provide. This is another tool to help you understand your gaming tastes (you can find their actual survey here, to help you identify your motivations).

Even though I do not consider solo gaming my preferred way to game, I do have a lot in common with other gamers self-reported experience as solo gamers, and this is another way the internet allows us to further our hobby, by observing the preferences of other gamers and using them to inform our own.

Happy gaming!

— Dave.

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