What’s ahead for the wine industry in 2023 and beyond? Speaking at the “State of the Industry” session at last week’s Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento, I suggested that the challenges our bvindustry faces today are not unique to wine, so perhaps we can find clues by looking outside the wine box.
The particular case I examined in the short time available was the board game industry. Board games? Yes, you know, games like Risk, Life, and Clue. Once upon a time board games were so popular that they were part of the fabric of life. Then the board game industry was battered by forces that I think are analogous to some of the headwinds we in the wine industry have experienced.
Ready Player One
The story of the fall and rise of board games is interesting if we think about it in terms of similar patterns in the wine industry. Board games (and wine) suffered four big blows in recent years. First came in the form of demographic and socio-economic change. Generations shifted — the players got both older (aging Boomers) and younger (Gen X, Gen Z), too. The faces around the table were different and the opportunities to gather together were different. That vintage Life board game box shown above isn’t what life looks like today.
Then video games hit the scene. Video games were the “craft beer” of board game industry — a competitive product that was new and innovative. Innovation was the name of the game: there was always another video game to try. Board games (and wine) were not so innovative and suffered as players looked for the next big thing.
Next came smart phones, which were sort of the hard seltzer of the board game industry. You could play games on smart phones, of course, but the fact is that “gamification” became a general strategy, as app developers sought to keep users glued to their screens (and then to track their every move). Apps that had nothing to do with video games used “gamification” techniques. If you find yourself constantly checking smartphone apps, you may be playing a game without knowing it.
A lot of the time, if I’m honest, my smartphone is sort of like the TV series Seinfeld, “a show about nothing” that I watch again and again. That’s hard seltzer to me and products like hard seltzer had sort of the same impact on wine that the smart phone had on board games.
Finally the covid pandemic struck, which hit both board games and the wine industry hard. Gathering together for board game play or to share wine in social settings were both suddenly problematic. For wine, restaurant and tasting room sales channels dried up.
Game Over for Games?
The situation for board games looked particularly bad because, if you’ve followed the story so far, you can see that a whole generation has grown up in a different game environment than before. It was hard to believe that board games could ever stage a come back. Game over for them. But they did it! Board games are back! How?
A recent Washington Post article by Jacvlyn Peiser suggests that the board game renaissance is a combination of old and new. The old virtues of board games — the social and educational elements (which I talked about in more depth in my talk) — have not really changed, but are perhaps now a bit more precious to us because we had to live without them during the pandemic. And there is also a new side in that innovative game designers are finding new ways to connect with users and their interests and needs.
But it’s the classic appeal that is the foundation of the innovative surge. The Washington Post article concludes with a comment that board games endure because they get friends and family together to share experiences and make memories. What could be better?
Everything’s Better with Wine?
Well, of course, board games are better with wine (for those of legal drinking age). Wine and social gatherings are perfect parings. There are even board games for wine enthusiasts. Did you know that there is now a special Napa Valley Monopoly edition?
How realistic is the Napa Monopoly game, which is based on Napa Valley properties in the same way that the original game was modeled on Atlantic City, New Jersey? I checked on Amazon and the classic Monopoly was selling for $11 while the Napa version was around $44. A four-times Napa premium seems pretty realistic to me, don’t you think?
Today’s gamers haven’t given up their screens, but they have rediscovered the pleasures of in-person interactions and board game sales have benefited. That’s a good thing.
Since I used board games as a way to think about wine, this was an optimistic result. Perhaps the virtues and pleasures of wine, which have sustained it as culture and industry for thousands of years, have not suddenly lost their value, either. Perhaps, as the clouds lift, wine’s classic appeal with become even more apparent.
The Game Endures
It seems to me that the wine industry, following the board game analogy, needs to continue to innovate, to reach out to consumers with different interests and lower specific levels of commitment than before. But in doing that, it is important not to forget the values and virtues that have made wine an enduring part of life.
It is reported that Bernard Arnault, the head of LVMH and the current holder of the “World’s Richest Man” title, once met with Steve Jobs, the visionary creator of the Apple electronics phenomenon. Do you think people will still be buying your iPhones in 30 years, Arnault asked Jobs. Don’t know, Jobs said honestly.
Do you think people will will still drink your Dom Perignon Champagne in 30 years, Jobs asked in reply? Yes, Arnault said confidently. The wine will endure. There will be Dom Perignon for generations. Jobs agreed. So do I.