FEATURE3 August 2020

Return to childhood

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Covid-19 Features Impact UK

The Covid-19 restrictions led to an increase in board game purchases, and classic games dominated sales. Did the pandemic lead people to revert to simpler pastimes? By Liam Kay.


Whether it be a divisive Monopoly game at Christmas, Cluedo with the family on a quiet weekend or card games with friends, many of us have positive memories of playing traditional games.

During the recent Covid-19 lockdowns, with people restricted to their homes for weeks on end, board games hada moment. Sales in the UK increased by 240% in the week ending 21 March, compared with the same week in 2019, according to figures from the NPD Group.

Additionally, Kantar’s Covid-19 barometer study from the first week of April recorded a 34% increase in US respondents playing board and card games with their families since lockdown began.

NPD is tracking 14 countries – the US, UK, Canada, France, Italy, China, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Russia, Brazil, Mexico and Australia – and similar trends are being seen across the globe, albeit at higher rates in some countries than others.

The answer for the increase in sales is as much about nostalgia as a need to pass the time in lockdown, according to Frédérique Tutt, global toy market analyst at the NPD Group. With families trapped together for weeks, many returned to the games they played in their youth.

She says: “During the lockdown, people wanted to keep themselves busy, or keep their children busy as they cannot go to school. They wanted to find a way to connect, or reconnect, around the sitting room or dining room table to bring generations together. Games are a particularly good way to do that.”

However, consumers are not looking at the latest games for their children, Tutt says. The top 10 biggest-selling games are all older, ‘classic’ games, such as Monopoly, rather than newer, trendier alternatives. “What’s different is people have reverted to the original classic they knew, and they used to play when they were children themselves,” she explains.

At the moment, much of the appeal of board games, as well as simple pastimes such as baking, is their ability to offer some certainty in an uncertain time, according to Matilda Andersson, managing director, London and Amsterdam, at Crowd DNA. “Nostalgic pastimes and activities not only provide a feeling of stability amid the uncertainty, but offer small moments of unadulterated joy,” she says.

“This is because they are rooted in innocence, familiarity, and sweetness. Often, we first experienced them during childhood when life was simple andthere was no responsibility. Nostalgia takes us back to a time when we were cared for and looked after, and it contains lessons on how to cope, survive andeven thrive.”

Tutt says the fact that people are shopping online has also affected the move towards classic brands.

“People are buying games online, and online does not facilitate the discovery of new products,” she argues. “That is something that retailers and manufacturers alike should think about for after the lockdown – how can you promote discovery? How can you promote your new toy or game?”

Tutt expects the growth of board games – and classic ones at that – to continue. She doesn’t think recent spikes in sales have simply cannibalised the expected rise in Christmas purchases. Instead, it has brought in new players – or perhaps reawakened an old love for a classic game.

“After this period, I think we will have recruited new gamers and adults and kids who like to play together,” Tutt says. “When it comes to the peak of the market at Christmas time, they will want to go back to that category, remembering the fun they had playing together and wanting to replicate that.”

Lockdown pastimes

  • Baking: 40% of UK consumers claimed to do more baking at home during lockdown (Kantar LinkQ survey of 1,411 respondents, 20-22 April 2020 )
  • Crafts: there was a 60% increase in visits to crafts chain Hobbycraft’s website in the six weeks to 4 May (Hobbycraft figures)
  • Home improvements: 32% of Britons used DIY to help them cope during lockdown (Office for National Statistics, opinions and lifestyle survey, 17-27 April)

This article was first published in the July 2020 issue of Impact.