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Classic board games go digital

Pass go — and click. Classic board games like Monopoly are going virtual under a partnership between Electronic Arts and Hasbro.
Image: Electronic Connect Four
This screen grab released by Electronic Arts shows a scene from "Connect Four," one of the board games recreated in "Hasbro Family Game Night."AP
/ Source: Reuters

Pass go — and click. Classic board games like Monopoly are going virtual under a partnership between Electronic Arts and Hasbro as the whole family from children to grandparents become gamers.

Games like "Monopoly Here and Now: World Edition," "Battleship" and "Boggle" have entered the digital world with EA using the International Consumer Electronics Show to showcase upcoming spring releases aimed at the burgeoning casual games market.

A new version of "SCRABBLE" for PSP and Nintendo DS introduces a SCRABBLE Slam mode that challenges players to get rid of Slam cards by spelling words.

Those wishing to go green can save paper by playing "Trivial Pursuit" on Wii, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 2.

After releasing "Hasbro Family Game Night" on Wii and PS2 last fall, EA is offering all of the games on Xbox Live Arcade.

Gamers can buy games individually or the entire suite, which includes "SCRABBLE," "Connect Four," "Boggle," "Yahtzee," "Battleship," "Sorry!," and "Sorry! Sliders."

Family game night
But despite the recent influx of board games going digital, Hasbro isn't about to lose its lucrative board game business.

"I don't think you can ever replace the experience of pulling out a box of "Monopoly" and playing in front of the fireplace with your family over the holidays," said Chip Lange, EA Hasbro vice president and general manager.

Instead, Lange foresees video games giving franchises like "SCRABBLE" and "Yahtzee" new life through online connectivity that allows families to play together from across the country.

The virtual world also opens up new gameplay options like a 30-minute speed game of "Monopoly."

"The cardboard version of "Connect Four" is limited to connecting four checkers in a row, but we can do things like blow up checkers in the digital version and it adds a lot of new strategic gameplay mechanics," said Lange. "These video games keep the brands relevant in the digital age."

Due in large part to Nintendo's successful Wii and Nintendo DS platforms, the game industry has seen an explosion of new players over the past two years.

According to the Entertainment Software Association, 65 percent of American households now play video games and they are taking up casual games which range from board games to music games like "Rock Band 2" and "Guitar Hero: World Tour."

"Casual games are expanding the market by bringing lapsed gamers back into the market, and families together around the TV," said Geoff Keighley, host of Spike TV's "Game Trailers."

"Casual games are successful when they are easy to understand and pick up and play. So the established Hasbro brands should really help EA's games break through the clutter."

Variety of gamers
According to a recent study by IGN Entertainment and Ipsos MediaCT, over half of gamers polled were married, 48 percent have kids, and new gamers — those who have started playing video games in the past two years — are 32 years old on average.

"Today's gamers represent a wide variety of demographic groups: men and women, kids, parents and grandparents, younger and older consumers," said Adam Wright, director of research for Ipsos MediaCT.

"All this underscores the fact that gaming has become a mainstream medium in this country that appeals to people from all walks of life."

But not every platform has been a smash success.

EA received a backlash from Facebook users last year when the popular but unlicensed "Scrabulous" game was forcibly replaced by EA's official "SCRABBLE" game, which launched with far less depth than its popular predecessor. Lange said changes have been made.

"We listened to the gamers and a lot of the later developments in the game like being able to type in your letters and being able to turn off the animations for slower PCs all came from the message boards," said Lange.

"I think people have realized that the video game market has grown from being just a series of core holiday blockbusters to being a global male/female interactive platform for all ages."