Monopoly purists will shake their heads at this one. Hasbro is promoting an updated version of the classic game, called Monopoly Live, at this week's Toy Fair in New York, where toy and game manufacturers show off their latest products for 2011.
Monopoly Live, slated for release this fall, still has the familiar board, but along with it comes a decidedly unfamiliar new addition — a Big Brother-ish infrared tower that acts very much like an airport control tower, telling all the players what to do when. It even prevents them from cheating.
And what happened to Monopoly money in the new version? Well that's gone too — now players slip electronic cards into little red devices, not unlike miniature ATMs, to find out how much money they have left. Sheesh.
So will Hasbro — also promoting Battleship Live at the Toy Fair — one day dispense with game pieces altogether and implant cyber chips in players?
Traditional board games have had a tough time of it lately, with sales down 9% in 2010, according to data from NPD Group, a research firm. Board games are, of course, under attack by video games and everything digital. That's why many board games like Monopoly are getting a digital update.
Jane Ritson-Parsons, global brand leader for Monopoly, told the New York Times that the new computerized Monopoly is intended to appeal to the video game generation. "How do we give them the video game and the board game with the social experience? That's where Monopoly Live came in."
It's an interesting gamble. After all, Monopoly is one of the most revered board games, and one of the biggest board game franchises in the world, with countless versions (one game enthusiast has unofficially counted over 2000 of them). So is the world ready to do away with such Monopoly standards as play money, chance cards, and making up rules as you go along?
Hasbro thinks so — at least when it comes to kids age 8 to 12, the target audience for Monopoly Live. Company executives say this age group "wants a fast-paced game that requires using their hands." That's why the tower "rolls" electronic dice and tells players how many spaces to move. In fact, the tower keeps a close eye on each player, spews forth rules, and generally manages the game — even to the extent of helping to speed up the game by springing a property auction on players if things are dragging.
John Frascotti, Chief Marketing Officer for Hasbro, claims that Monopoly Live is "really just an extension of the brand, not a destruction of what was," but that may not satisfy the Monopoly masses. Ken Koury, a competitive Monopoly player, told the Times that with a computer doing the work, "it changes a lot of the rules, it removes a lot of the skill. ... I'm wondering what's left for the player to decide — is it they just keep pushing buttons and wait for someone to win?"
Assistant professor Joey Lee at Teachers College, Columbia University, agrees. "Being able to negotiate with others, make up your own rules, argue with other players, that, to me, is part of what makes it a successful social game," Lee told the Times. He added that the tower in Monopoly Live is "more of that blind adherence to following orders, versus being able to figure and learn the game for yourself."
Perhaps Hasbro was inspired by the Monopoly Live launch event for Monopoly Here and Now a few years ago in London — or they're so keen to electrify their boardgame to attract plugged in youths they've overlooked the pleasures of the game.
We'd have to imagine they would have run this idea past focus groups, although we can't imagine anyone liking the idea. Are they just out to attract a whole new generation of mindless Monopoly munchkins?
We'll have to wait until Monopoly Live hits the market (with a $50 price tag) later this year to find out if the revamped version clicks with consumers.