Geek & Sundry via YouTube
Geek & Sundry via YouTube

How Wil Wheaton Boosts Board Game Sales

Geek & Sundry via YouTube
Geek & Sundry via YouTube

Wil Wheaton was a child actor, arguably best known for his roles in Stand By Me (1986) and Star Trek: The Next Generation. You probably know that he’s now become something of a geek overlord, not to mention the archenemy of Sheldon Cooper on TV series The Big Bang Theory. But unless you’re a member of the gaming community, you may not know that Wheaton is pretty huge in the tabletop gaming industry, thanks in part to his web series on Felicia Day’s Geek & Sundry YouTube channel.

In TableTop, which is gearing up for its fourth season, Wheaton invites various guests to sit down and play games with him. But we’re not talking Monopoly or Scrabble. TableTop dives into everything from popular party games such as Cards Against Humanity and Wits & Wagers, to role-playing games like Fiasco and Dragon Age. Guests have included game designers, actors, writers, Internet celebrities, and Wheaton’s family.

Here’s an episode where Wheaton plays Carcassonne with comedian Kumail Nanjiani, writer Nika Harper, and YouTube gaming personality Jesse Cox.

These seemingly simple videos of friends enjoying a fun diversion have caused a tabletop game boom. After each episode airs, the games played on the show benefit from major sales boosts. According to Wheaton, the effect started almost immediately, just three episodes into season one. He told Fortune:

“We started getting emails and phone calls from game shop owners and publishers because they were not prepared for the explosion of sales that they had. They wanted to know if we could let them know a little bit in advance when an episode was going to air, so that they could stock up. . . . We have looked at sales figures from the big game distributors, and it’s pretty cool. People see our show and then you just watch the spike in the sales. And for a lot of games the only reason that spike trails off is because the game sells out and they have to take time to make another printing.”

Dave Chalker, creator of the game Get Bit!, agreed that his Kickstarter-funded game benefited after appearing on the first season. “While Get Bit! definitely had its fans prior to TableTop, there’s definitely been a big boost,” he wrote on Critical Hits. “I’m sure it’s been a factor in translating it into 4 different languages for international editions (which led to a game of the year nomination for the French edition), as well as winning the Origins Award for Best Children’s, Family, or Party game.”

One game store tracked their sales of several games before and after they appeared on TableTop. The only one that didn’t see a huge spike was Settlers of Catan, which the owner attributes to the fact that Catan was already a pretty mainstream game.

Need more proof of the Wheaton Effect? Here’s an analysis of sales and BoardGameGeek ranks of the games King of Tokyo, The Resistance, and Alhambra. There are even more here.

Though the monetary sales of games are obviously a good thing for both publishers and independent game makers, Wheaton says he's just happy that more people are coming together to play games: “There is a wonderful, timeless, communal experience that is a fundamental part of who we are as social animals, of getting together in the same place to do something together.”

Jeremy Freeman, TruTV
A New Game Show Helps Contestants Pay Off Their Student Loans
Jeremy Freeman, TruTV
Jeremy Freeman, TruTV

Most game shows offer flashy prizes—a trip to Maui, a million dollars, or a brand new car—but TruTV’s latest venture is giving away something much more practical: the opportunity to get out of student loan debt. Set to premiere July 10 on TruTV, Paid Off is designed to help contestants with college degrees win hard cash to put towards their loan payments, MarketWatch reports.

The show gives college graduates with student loan debt "the chance to test the depth of their degrees in a fun, fast-paced trivia game show,” according to TruTV’s description. In each episode, three contestants compete in rounds of trivia, with one contestant eliminated each round.

One Family Feud-style segment asks contestants to guess the most popular answer to college-related poll questions like “What’s the best job you can have while in college?” (Answer: Server.) Other segments test contestants' general trivia knowledge. In one, for example, a contestant is given 20 seconds to guess whether certain characters are from Goodfellas or the children’s show Thomas & Friends. Some segments also give them the chance to answer questions related to their college major.

Game show host Michael Torpey behind a podium

Based on the number of questions they answer correctly, the last contestant standing can win enough money to pay off the entirety of their student debt. (However, like most game shows, all prizes are taxable, so they won't take home the full amount they win.)

Paid Off was created by actor Michael Torpey, who is best known for his portrayal of the sadistic corrections officer Thomas Humphrey in the Netflix series Orange is the New Black. Torpey, who also hosts the show, says the cause is personal to him.

“My wife and I struggled with student debt and could only pay it off because—true story—I booked an underpants commercial,” Torpey says in the show’s pilot episode. “But what about the other 45 million Americans with student loans? Sadly, there just aren’t that many underpants commercials. That is why I made this game show.”

The show is likely to draw some criticism for its seemingly flippant handling of a serious issue that affects roughly one in four Americans. But according to Torpey, that’s all part of the plan. The host told MarketWatch that the show is designed “to be so stupid that the people in power look at it and say, ‘That guy is making us look like a bunch of dum dums, we’ve got to do something about this.’”

Paid Off will premiere on Tuesday, July 10 at 10 p.m. Eastern time (9 p.m. Central time).

[h/t MarketWatch]

Kena Betancur, AFP/Getty Images
Want to Live as Long as an Olympian? Become a Chess Grandmaster
Kena Betancur, AFP/Getty Images
Kena Betancur, AFP/Getty Images

It’s well known that physical fitness can help prolong your life, so it’s not surprising that elite athletes, like Olympians, tend to have longer lifespans than your average couch potato. But it seems that “mind sports” can help keep you alive longer, too. According to BPS Research Digest, a recent study suggests that international chess grandmasters have lifespans comparable to Olympic athletes.

The study, published in PLOS ONE, examined the survival rates of 1208 mostly male chess grandmasters and 15,157 Olympic medalists from 28 countries, and analyzed their life expectancy at 30 years and 60 years after they attained their grandmaster titles. They found that both grandmasters and Olympic medalists exhibited significant lifespan advantages over the general population. In fact, there was no statistical difference between the relative survival rates of chess champions and athletic champions.

There are several variables that the study couldn’t take into account that may be linked to chess players’ long lifespans, though. Grandmasters often employ nutritionists and physical trainers to keep them at their best, according to the researchers, and exercise regularly. Economic and social status can also influence lifespans, and becoming a world-champion chess player likely results in a boost in both areas.

Some research has shown that keeping your mind sharp can help you in old age. Certain kinds of brain training might lower the risk of developing dementia, and one study found that board game players in particular have slightly lower rates of dementia.

If keeping the mind sharp with chess really does extend lifespans, the same effect might apply as well to elite players of other “mind sports,” like Go, poker, or competitive video games. We’ll need more research to find out.

[h/t BPS Research Digest]


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