In a recent Atlas Obscura article, reporter Sarah Laskow wanted to better understand the landscape of board games and how cooperative games played into the scene. I'd done some research into that very topic for a talk that I gave at LinkedIn and shared the numbers I found with her. I'd dug into the subject because it had seemed to me that coop games were popping up everywhere. I wanted to know if this was a real phenomenon or if I’d just become sensitized to it—was this the blue car effect or were coop games now a thing?
My method was fairly straightforward: I did a search for all of the products listed by year with a “co-operative play” mechanism. I found the numbers were fairly consistent year over year until about 2000. This shouldn’t surprise many—that’s when the Geek first went online and also coincides roughly when the hobby really started to pick up momentum. In order to control for the phenomenal growth of the hobby, I had to control for the total number of products per year. The admins at the Geek were kind enough to modify their search feature (at the time, it capped out after a set number of pages) so I could get a rough tally.
Here’s the number of products featuring “cooperative play” mechanism each year:
Here’s the total number of products listed each year in the Geek. This is rounded to the nearest 50 (I took the shortcut of counting pages of search results, not individual products).
Dividing the two gives the percentage of products featuring cooperative play. It’s no imagined effect—something changed in 2009. Prior to the release of Pandemic, products with a cooperative play element accounted for 2 to 4% of the total. The style of play has been growing ever since. In 2015 the style appeared in roughly 12% of all the listed products.
Keep in mind this is only compares the number of titles with this play style—it’s not a comparison of total sales. I’d expect that coops would still be dwarfed by strictly competitive games. But it does show that willingness of designers and publishers to create games with this style of play has grown significantly since 2009.
I’d be interested to see how other trends have come and gone over time. How have worker placement games fared over time? Roll-and-move games? Deck builders? … Legacy games? (I suspect that would be a small chart!) If any of you have the time to make such a graph, I for one, would love to see it.