How can Journeys with Jesus stand apart in buyers’ consideration?
Evaluating the competitive environment for your startup will depend very much on the nature of the industry and the product. In general, you want to understand who your competitors are, how you are differentiated from them, and how those differences will translate into buyers’ decisions.
Depending on the buyer and the situation, your product won’t always be the best choice. You want to understand what it is that makes your product the best choice for some people some of the time (and potential investors want to understand how many people that is and how often).
For most of the startups I’ve worked with, customers make a preemptive decision. Their choice of one product means that they are very unlikely to buy a competing product anytime soon. Sometimes that is because the purchase price is high and the product is expected to last for many years. In other cases, the initial monetary price is low (often with ongoing revenues), but the switching costs are high, and so they expect to make the decision and stick with it for as long as possible.
Board games are different. Customers are making a long term decision — they want to buy a game that they will enjoy playing for years — but the purchase price is relatively low and choosing one game doesn’t preclude them from purchasing a competing game in the relatively near future (sometimes even at the same time). However, the purchase price is high enough, that customers will be quite selective about the games they purchase, and, as with any product category, different buyers will be attracted to different games in specific situations.
The other thing that makes the tabletop games market different from most competitive markets is how many different choices consumers have. Board Game Geek lists over 120,000 games in their database. Not all of those games are currently in print, but even out of print games can be found in resale markets.
So, while some startups may only have a few primary competitors to consider, at SDG Games we literally have thousands. To be meaningful, we need to narrow down that competitive set to those most likely to also be in the consideration set of those thinking about buying our games (and especially our first game, Journeys with Jesus).
Game buyers are likely to consider at least four factors when looking for a new board game:
- Theme: What is the story surrounding the game?
- Gameplay: What are the mechanics involved in the game?
- Time and Complexity: How long does it take to learn and play the game?
- Number of Players and Engagement: How many players can play at once and what is the nature of the interplay between players?
Game buyers are looking for a game with a theme they like, that will fit well with the group (family, friends, party, etc.) they hope to enjoy it with, and that will be fun for everyone involved.
Given that our target market is Christian homeschooling families, SDG Games’ real competitors are games with a theme that would appeal to Christian families and is preferably educational, that has gameplay and complexity that would be easy to learn by children and adults, that can be played in the time spent on a school subject (or less), that has friendly interplay between players, and that can be played by a family-sized group.
Even by limiting the consideration set in that way, there still are many games that fit the criteria. To get a sense for the competitive distinctives of Journeys with Jesus, we will evaluate it relative to two highly rated games on the market as representatives for the full competitive set.
The first game is the top rated “Christian-Themed” board game at Board Game Geek: Settlers of Canaan. Like many Christian-themed games, this game is an almost direct reworking of a popular secular game: Settlers of Catan. Some such reworkings are almost indistinguishable from the original — just with some Christian content or imagery. Some reworkings fall far short of the original. From the reviews I’ve read, it appears that Settlers of Canaan lives up to the quality of the original.
The second game is the very popular Ticket to Ride, which shares much with our game. The gameplay is similar and both games help players learn geography.
One of my favorite tools for competitive analysis is the Strategy Canvas introduced by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne in Blue Ocean Strategy¹.
This tool compares the relative performance of each competitor against the same evaluation criteria the potential buyer is likely considering in making their decision. For our homeschooling mom buyer, we will use five criteria:
- Theme: High (good) is a theme that directly supports the family’s Christian educational goals. Low (bad) would be a theme that is inconsistent with Christian values or teaches things inconsistent with the Bible. For this evaluation, I’ve used a three point scale: Biblical theme (high), Not Biblical (medium), Anti-Biblical (low).
- Complexity: High (bad) is a game that has lots of rules and is hard for kids to learn. Low (good) is a game that is straight-forward and easy to learn. For this evaluation, I’ve used the “Weight” score from Board Game Geek for the two comparison games. For Journeys with Jesus, I used the “Weight” score for 10 Days in Africa which seems to have a similar level of complexity.
- Conflict: High (bad) is a game that relies heavily on inter-player rivalry and likely leads to a “cut throat” style of play. Low (good) is a game where players actively love and support each other (e.g. in a cooperative game). For this evaluation, I’ve applied a rivalry score in the range of 1–5 based on my own understanding of each game.
- Game Length: High (bad) is a game that takes a long time to play. Low (good) is a game that can be played quickly and replayed again if time allows. For this evaluation I used the maximum game length listed by each game publisher.
- Cost: High (bad) is an expensive game. Low (good) is an affordable game. For Journeys with Jesus, I used the list price. For Ticket to Ride, I used the price from WalMart. For Settlers of Canaan (which is out of print), I used the average price from eBay.
Using those criteria results in the Strategy Canvas shown below:
- There’s not tremendous difference between the three games.
- Journeys with Jesus scores best or tied for best on all criteria except cost ($45.99 vs. $43.75 and $39.99).
- Our game especially stands apart on the level of complexity and the amount of conflict.
- For future games, there’s likely an opportunity to further differentiate on cost (if we could get prices below $35), game length (45 minutes or less would be better), and level of conflict (a cooperative game could be very interesting).
Hopefully this gives you a sense for how to perform competitive analysis. Let me know if I can help you with analyzing your competitive market.
¹Kim, W. Chan., and Renée Mauborgne. Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant. Boston, Massachuetts: Harvard Bus Review Press, 2016.