Playing over Paying: From Fan Boy Three Founder David Salisbury

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24 November 2022
Dave approaches the idea that buying more than playing might not be good for us

Why do we buy boardgames? Or more importantly perhaps, why do we buy more boardgames than we can realistically play? 

During lockdown many of us bought in far more boardgames than we could play at all, given that most games need other people around. Playing games gives us a whole load of positive chemical responses – dopamine from doing, oxytocin from doing with other people, endorphins from competition. And when we don’t have that we accept watered down versions. We can get dopamine from shopping and oxytocin from getting a like of a social media post. 

In the absence of doing, we spend. 

Each of us has in essence a hobby bank which we can fill with time or money or emotion depending on what stage we are in our lives and what other things are pressing concerns. We can still ‘hobby’ when we have no money by playing. We can still ‘hobby’ when we have no time by spending. We can still ‘hobby’ by watching learn to play videos, but that gives us no dopamine and thus it’s not going to make us as happy as doing or buying. 

When I opened Fan Boy Three – one of the first Organised Play stores – I expected that I’d sell a lot of games. But by creating a space where people could play games as well as buy them, people actually bought less. If you have a collection you want every game you like, but of you have a community you can share the burden of ownership and have access to more games for less money. 

In many ways that is sub optimal for a game store. But most of us see our roles as community hubs foremost and capitalist money extraction machines second. 

The first day we have work experience kids in I always ask them what do we sell? And while you might think that we sell games, or cards or miniatures or boardgames or experiences or food and drink the real answer is we sell happiness. 

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That’s what hobbies are – they are the missing piece of us. 

During a cost of living crisis or a recession consumer spend naturally falls, but the hobby is what we call counter cyclic. Hobby spend often goes up, because while people might not be able to afford that new car or that skiing holiday, that boardgame or cardgame can be a justifiable treat. The sub £50 market should be robust during the next couple of quarters, even if the £80+ market is going to take a knock. 

It’s been proven that very low levels of dopamine are a cause of addiction. Every new spend is a small spike that soon drops off. It’s better for our brain health that we play, and play regularly. That we challenge ourselves. That we get out of the house and spend time with other people.

That shelf of shame you built up through lockdown? That was your brain doing what it needed to in order to survive. No shame there – just opportunities to dust them off and engage with each other. 


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