International Games Week 2020 – A Virtual Success

This year’s International Games Week was unlike any other. What began as a much smaller event in 2007 (National Game Day) has grown into an international, week-long celebration of gaming in libraries, and the power of play to bring us together. Moreover, it has grown into an opportunity to connect libraries with game publishers. Over the past few years, hobbyist board gaming and role-playing games have seen a rise in popularity, and IGW has become a great way to connect libraries with excellent new games. In 2019 alone, we had over $22 thousand worth of game sponsorships, with participants receiving free games including Exploding Kittens and Fairy Tale Fluxx. 2019 also saw the participation of over 1500 libraries worldwide. 

This year, the American Library Association’s Games & Gaming Roundtable was poised for a successful IGW 2020 – and then the pandemic hit. Social distancing measures forced libraries of all kinds to cancel in-person programming. Library budgets took a hit with library staff across the globe experiencing furloughs and less money to run programs or add to their collections. ALA staff have also experienced furloughs. And while puzzles and board games have increased in popularity during the pandemic, the game industry has still felt the financial strain, especially the hobby game industry, with whom we’ve primarily partnered with in the past (e.g. not mainstream or commercial game publishers like Hasbro or Mattel).

These are the factors that this year’s IGW committee had to deal with. However, with the current pandemic forcing libraries to provide more virtual resources and expand their digital infrastructure, the Games and Gaming Roundtable, and the IGW 2020 committee, rose to the challenge of rethinking how we make this event accessible to the global library community. First, we decided to put a hold on our practice of asking for donations. Instead, we reimagined IGW 2020 as an opportunity to focus our efforts on promoting print and play games and sharing tips for running successful virtual gaming sessions. We had a total of 326 participating libraries across the globe this year, and while that is only 20% of last year’s registrations, the libraries that did participate had some exciting game programs. Many utilized the recommended print and plays, and many ran virtual game programs, including games over Discord, cell phone app games, and even Pokemon Go! One library auctioned off a board game, and another library gave out make your own board game kits. Participation at these events ranged from a handful of people to over 500! So while this year’s event was smaller, we still made an impact with innovative library game programs this November.

And this year we couldn’t thank our game sponsors enough for helping us make IGW 2020 happen. This year has been all about reinventing library services, and all libraries, from university to public, from urban to rural, and everything in between has had to come up with ways to continue connecting their patrons with resources. While we’ve spent so much time apart this year, games, as always, are a great way to bring us all together. 

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