Dollars & Sense #24: Gaming as ROI

What’s ROI? Return on Investment, or, spending a little, and getting a lot back. ROI = bang for your buck!

In tough budget times, libraries look for ways to stretch their dollars, and strive to maintain the level of services patrons expect. Board, card and/or video gaming is an excellent low budget investment, because hardware, software and equipment can be utilized for multiple age groups and styles of play. What will awe your director and funders more: spending $500 for a one-time program, with an attendance between 30-100, or spending $500 for 1,500 programs in a year (3 a week for 50 weeks: one program for children, one for teens, and 1 for adults). Attendance is by no means the only indicator of success for gaming programs, but participation figures are often the most visible and tangible numbers. For most board and video game programs, you can count on 10-30 participants at each program for a total between 15,000 and 45,000 participants. Costwise, that works out to $.03-$.10 per head, as opposed to $5.00-$16.67 per head. If the YA Librarian purchases a $200 Wii, three additional controllers and nunchucks for $180, and 2 additional games (to supplement the accompanying Wii Sports) like Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. Brawl for $50 apiece, that’s a $480 investment. Spend the other $20 on a recharger for the remotes, and the library is set up to offer at least three programs a week:

  • Mario Kart free play and tournaments for children and teens,
  • online Brawl against other libraries for teens
  • Wii bowling and tennis leagues for seniors
  • Bonus: all three games can be used in family gaming events. Get creative and host a parent-child golf tournament with community sponsored prizes, or celebrate the Olympics by tracking scores at a drop in event and awarding tin foil medals in a variety of events.

If the YA Librarian purchases $500 worth of card and board games on a variety of comprehension levels, mixing classic and contemporary games, the library is set up to offer board game competitions or free play events. For teens, try Apples to Apples (available in 2 junior editions) or Settlers of Cataan.

For youth, try Ticket to Ride in card format, or Tsuro. For very young children, offer the Once Upon a Time Matching Game or Chomp. For adults, consider Munchkin or Agricola. Uno, Scrabble, and Pictureka are all ages classics.

Consider multiple copies for instructional purposes, or dedicate a program to one type of game (card format, word games, role playing games, versions of Monopoly). Depending on the content, you may be able to put pieces from a game into the hands of youth and invite them to come up with their own rules, turning the session into a board game design program. Teens may even be interested in teaching youth how to play board games. Presto! Now you have a volunteer program.

For video game equipment and materials, plan to spend a minimum of $250-500 on a console, $30-100 on controllers, and $25-60 on each new game. Don’t forget to budget for batteries or rechargers, extra extension cords, prizes, and refreshments. For tabletop gaming materials, plan to spend $10-15 for card games, $15-70 for board games, and $35-50 for dice games, paper and pencils for tabletop games, prizes, and refreshments.

Of course, you can have a successful gaming program at your library without spending ANY money – find a local person willing to donate their time, expertise and equipment, borrow a digital projector and a television, and you’re good to go. A detailed list of equipment costs and sample budgets is available in the ALA Librarian’s Guide To Gaming: An Online Toolkit at http://www.librarygamingtoolkit.org; specific pages follow.

Equipment Costs: http://librarygamingtoolkit.org/equipmentcosts.html

Grants for Gaming:’  http://librarygamingtoolkit.org/grants.html

Sample Budgets – if you have only $500 to spend: http://librarygamingtoolkit.org/budget500.html

About Beth Gallaway

Beth Gallaway was named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker in 2006 for her work in advocating for videogames in libraries. She is an independent library trainer/consultant specializing in gaming, technology, and youth services, and is a YALSA certified Serving the Underserved (SUS) trainer.
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