How to Make Board Games for a New Audience

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Dev Diary posts are made to teach game development through specific examples from my latest project: Highways & BywaysJust here for Highways & Byways updates? Click here.

 


 

One of the biggest challenges I’m facing right now with Highways & Byways is that the audience I’m courting is different from the audience I won with War Co. In fact, I’ve been thinking this week that in the absence of major game development or logistics challenges, this will be the defining challenge of this Kickstarter campaign. War Co. was an expandable card game about the sci-fi post-apocalypse. It was gritty, complex, and grim. Highways & Byways is a casual family board game set in a nostalgic vision of the United States of America. It’s hopeful, approachable, and exciting.

 

 

I did this on purpose. I was looking for a change after War Co. and wanted to court an entirely different audience. There are a lot of good reasons to chase a new audience: it could be a bigger market, or they could shore up a weakness in your portfolio of games for sale, or maybe you just simply want a change. For Highways & Byways, all three of these reasons are true.

There are many dangers with pursuing a different audience than the one you’ve pursued in the past, too. When you market to a new audience, that requires either a lot of time or a lot of money. Both represent a sacrifice, and you can only hope that it’s worth it to do so. You might also run the risk of confusing people about the direction you’re taking with your business, something I’ve encountered a couple of times.

You might expect me at this point to say “here are 5 ways you know you’re ready to change your audience.” If you’re a solo developer, it’s a deeply personal decision. If you work in a team or a larger business, this is something you will have to consider with the unique evidence in front of you.

What I will offer instead are five guidelines for reaching out to a new audience:

 

1. Make it clear you are making something different.

Reinventing yourself or your company is one of the most powerful things you can do to reset your strategy. It is also a great way of courting attention. The only trouble is that you have to be crystal clear about what you are doing when you are doing something totally different.

If people expect you to make heavyweight games, but you really want to make a family game, you have to be crystal clear about that. Make sure your marketing materials make it very clear what you are doing. Put it on the box, the Board Game Geek page, and the pitch emails to reviewers. Make sure your new audience and your new intentions are written everywhere you can write it and spoken about everywhere you can talk about it.

Clear communication builds trust. When you’re breaking from the norm and doing something totally new, you need to make people trust you. That makes clear communication extra critical.

 

2. Invest heavily in the new audience while keeping your current customer base.

If you have launched a successful project, as I have with War Co., it’s tempting to pitch your new idea to the same audience. Yet if your new idea is in a totally different niche, you’d be breaking a foundational rule of marketing. Every product has a different target market, and you need to seek that target market out. Don’t sell gas to people who don’t have cars.

Stay in touch with your current customers – they trusted you enough to buy your earlier game or games. They may buy your stuff because it’s you and not because of the game itself. This is significant, but it probably won’t be enough to meet your new product’s potential. That’s why you have to build another audience.

 

3. Reach out to new channels.

A great way to grow a new audience is to reach out to new channels. You can do this through passive means such as advertising or active means such as social media and conventions. You can also get on blogs, podcasts, and live-streams by helping other content creators out. Don’t confine yourself to the same people you’ve worked with in the past. Find new collaborators. You don’t even have to stick with people in the board game industry! Remember: not everyone who would be willing to play your game spends all day on Board Game Geek or /r/boardgames.

 

4. Use your reputation to your advantage.

When you make a new product, many people won’t know who you are. They can find out quickly, though, and if they see you’ve already successfully launched a project in the past, that will help you. If you have a reputation for making good games, fulfilling on-time, helping others, or having great customer service, then use that reputation to your advantage. Play it up. Make sure it’s prominently stated or at least implied in your marketing materials. People who don’t know you can still come to trust you through the “social proof” provided by people who trusted you before.

 

5. Understand there will be misunderstandings.

Despite all your best efforts, some of your old customer base will be confused by what you’re doing with your new game. I’ve had people expecting me to make another rules-heavy game of sabotage-based mechanics like I did with War Co. I didn’t want to do that with Highways & Byways, and despite my best efforts, some people still had the impression that Brandon = War Co.

If you change up your style, people will still associate you with your old ways. McDonald’s has stepped up their game with coffee and nicer locations, but people still think of it as being a pretty bad fast food restaurant. The Beastie Boys never totally shook their party boy reputation even after they released the seamy, dark, weird, eclectic Paul’s Boutique. And at the root of every movie with a hero seeking redemption for awful deeds long since past, you can see this truism at work.

The only responses I have are simple. Be persistent in pursuit of your new idea. Be patient with others who can’t keep up with your every move. Be consistent in your communication. Over time, you’ll be able to reinvent yourself 🙂

 

 


 

Most Important Highways & Byways Updates

  • Reviews for Highways & Byways are starting to come in, such as this positive and descriptive one from Pawn’s Perspective.
  • Highways & Byways has a Board Game Geek page now!
  • I’m still working on getting on blogs, podcasts, and streams. I’ve worked with a lot of cool people, it’s a real privilege 🙂
  • I’m starting to get printing samples in – I want to nail down a first-choice and second-choice printer before the campaign so my pricing estimates are super accurate.

 

 

How to Find Artists for Your Board Game

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Board game development is a very individual process. Every single developer has different methods for creating their games. This article is the sixteenth of a 19-part suite on board game design and development.

One of the trickiest parts of self-publishing a board game can be finding good artists. It involves a mix of searching, managing, and writing good requirements. Because it can be difficult to do right, I’ve brought in Sean Fallon of Smunchy Games. He’s behind Rift Shifters and Paths. You may remember him from How To Design the Rules of Your Board Game and How To Play-Test the Rules of Your Board Game.

 

Akkenta the Tuskaar Necromancer, a playable character in Paths: Temple of Ukro’Raah by Smunchy Games.

 

This guide comes in five parts:

  • Sean & Artists
  • Finding Artists
  • Reaching Out to Artists
  • Getting Started with an Artist
  • Parting Advice

 

Below is a transcript of our conversation over Discord DMs. It has been lightly edited for clarity and flow.


 

Sean & Artists

 

Brandon: Thanks for coming back for another interview!

Brandon: Before we get started, what has been your experience so far with finding artists?

Sean: Thanks, Brandon! It’s great being back!

Sean: I have been working with artists for roughly 13 years now off and on in many different industries. From comics and graphic novels to books, video games, marketing, and now tabletop games.

Brandon: That’s a lot of different projects over a lot of different forms of media.

Brandon: What do you need to do before even looking for an artist at all?

Sean: The designer in me wants to say it depends, and the publisher side of me wants to say you need a well-developed game, money, specs, and a long-term plan. The reason why those two types of thoughts are different is that it really depends on how you’re approaching your game. If you’re a designer seeking a publisher, you will essentially need a solid prototype, a great sales sheet, and an awesome pitch.

Sean: However, if you are a publisher or publishing independently, you want to make sure your game is well-developed and have money, specs, and a long-term plan. The game doesn’t need to be finalized, but the basics should be pretty ironed out for what you’re trying to create.

Sean: Have I not followed this exactly in the past? It’s true. Sometimes I don’t even have the basics of a game ironed out, and there is a very specific reason for that. That reason is that your theme is that critical in order to nail down some concepts first, before diving into game mechanics.

Brandon: The closer to completion of the core game you are, the better. That said, I got an early start on Byways art, so maybe I don’t even follow my own advice 😉

Brandon: I’d say any time you’ve got good, stable specs that won’t change much is good.

 

I started getting Highways & Byways art as soon as the map was done. I was still designing Event Cards.

 

Finding Artists

 

Brandon: How do you go about finding artists?

Sean: Great question! I will usually start my search on DeviantArt in the job forums. I feel like there are many great undiscovered artists there, and those artists definitely deserve a chance to prove themselves. I will also use another website called ArtStation. Granted, ArtStation has a much better UI, but I typically won’t post there for jobs, unlike DeviantArt. On ArtStation I will message the artist directly, but finding an artist going one by one through profiles can be extremely time-consuming. Still, I feel it’s worth it in the end if you’ve found the right artist that fits your needs and is willing to work with you and your budget.

Brandon: How do you know which artists to reach out to?

Sean: The short answer is you don’t. Not exactly anyway.

Sean: The long answer to that question is you don’t know exactly which artist you should reach out to until you’ve contacted them. The reason for this is because you’re trying to gather as much information from them as you can, while you as the creator are also trying to provide them with as much information as you can about your project to make sure the artist is a good fit.

Sean: Something to consider is this: make sure first and foremost that their style matches the style needed in order to complete the game. Also, make sure that style can easily be replicated if that artist magically disappears where you longer have contact with them. These are two very critical pieces when knowing which artist you should contact.

Brandon: Those are two really important points. Art is tricky since there are so many styles. It’s really important to ask for a sample.

Brandon: And yeah, artists can disappear. Thank goodness that hasn’t happened to me yet. I work with James because he does great art and he’s reliable.

 

Reaching Out to Artists

 

Brandon: What do you say when you first make contact?

Sean: Sounds silly but I would definitely start with a greeting such as “hello!” Or “Hey there!” and sound friendly. No one really wants to be greeted with “Dear Mr. Jenkins” – though it’s formal, you need to sound like you’re still part of the gaming culture. This will definitely be recognized.

Sean: From there, I will say something like “Are you open for commissions? If you are open for commission, what are your rates?” I will leave it at that until I receive an answer back from them.

Brandon: Once you receive an affirmative response, how do you start discussing specs, money, and timelines?

 

When do you bring up timelines? It depends…

 

Sean: That depends on the response for sure, but I will tell them a little bit about the project and what I’m trying to do. I will then explain my budget. My timeline is a very situational thing because I’m a long-term planner, so I will plan a project for a year or two out. The reason for this is because you have to understand that people are also human and get sick, or life issues come up. Although, I will typically give an artist 2 – 4 weeks to finish an art piece unless we have discussed otherwise, which I’ve been known to give much longer deadlines.

Brandon: So you start bringing it up relatively early just to give them a basic idea of what they’re getting into.

Brandon: I think this is important since the more communication, the better.

 

Getting Started with an Artist

 

Brandon: How do you formalize your working relationship with an artist? Do you use a contract? If so, what does that involve?

Sean: I definitely use a contract. You have to when it comes to property and rights, especially if these creations are part of your game. In my contracts, I detail that I own the works of the art, and I’m also able to do anything with them, including commercial use. I make it very clear that any art produced for the game is owned by me. I also allow the artist to put the work they do into their portfolio, as I know being an artist and a designer myself, that’s pretty important for freelance artists to have in order to attract other clients.

Sean: I also detail deadlines, grace periods, how the artist is paid, and pricing in which myself and the artist discussed. I will also detail workflow as most times I require a sketch up front. The reason I require a sketch up front is because even though photobashing is a great technique, it’s also something that artists will pass off as their own illustration. I have a problem with that. Throughout the process, I will request consistent updates and WIPs.

Quick Note from Google: Photobashing is a type of digital illustration in which photos/pieces of photos are manipulated together, sometimes along with digital painting, to create a final piece.

Sean: Now if an artist is photobashing to get down a perspective or something, that’s very different, but more often than not I’ve received images of environments where cars, roads, and modern homes were in images of a fantasy world where none of these existed. Photobashing is a well-respected art and is fantastic when done right.

Sean: However, with all of that said, I believe if photobashing is done right – it can be pretty incredible stuff if the artist has the correct knowledge of lighting, shapes, perspective, material – etc. and if you do happen to hire an artist that uses the photobashing technique and you have a unique material in your game, you should make sure you detail your descriptions and also be upfront with the artist about that because that could actually change their pricing and the contract in general.

Brandon: Yes, absolutely make a few things clear: rights, payment, and timelines are the most important.

Brandon: Then after that, deadlines, grace periods, and specifications.

Brandon: This is one area where you really, really, really need to be detail-oriented.

Brandon: You cannot shortcut this. Read the entire contract.

 

Parting Advice

 

Brandon: That’s all the questions I’ve got! Anything else that you think creators should take into consideration before finding and hiring an artist?

Sean: When you’re looking for an artist, remember that building a relationship with them is very important. The thing here to consider is that sometimes artists may have incredible work, or may have impeccable delivery time, but remember that both of you are human. You want to hire someone that you can hire again in the future and really establish an awesome working relationship with.

Brandon: Completely agree. Having an artist you can rely on in the future will save you tons of time, effort, and frustration down the line.

 


 

As with many areas of board game development, finding artists can seem really difficult at first. By following the advice Sean has shared in this post, I hope that you will be able to find exactly what you’re looking for to finish your project.

Have any questions about finding artists? Let us know in the comments 🙂

4 Ways to Keep Promises on Really Complicated Projects

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Dev Diary posts are made to teach game development through specific examples from my latest project: Highways & BywaysJust here for Highways & Byways updates? Click here.

 


 

Many have lamented that people in the modern era don’t treat their word as bond like they did “back in the day.” Maybe we’re flakier than we used to be, maybe we’re not. Either way, keeping your word is very important. You don’t have to be 100% perfect, but if you’re reliable, people will notice, especially your customers.

 

 

There’s one big problem, though: modern tasks are complicated and unpredictable. How do you come up with a reliable estimate of how long it takes to make a board game? It’s not an easy question – board games can take anywhere from several months to several years to create. Even individual tasks that you do on a day-to-day basis such as play-testing, writing a blog post, and managing social media can take a lot longer than you think. This puts you at risk of promising too much and delivering too little.

I’ll be honest, there is no way to be 100% reliable. Yet I personally have several rules I follow before I make promises to others, four of which I’d like to share with you today.

 

1. Make bold announcements only after you are prepared.

Once you’ve got a lot of commitments, take on new work slowly. If you take on too much responsibility, you won’t be able to fulfill most of your commitments as well as you would like to. It’s good to be ambitious, but there is a very big difference between private ambition and public promises. Knowing the difference can save your reputation.

If you want to take on an exciting new project, do at least some of the work before you publicly announce what you’re doing. Sure, you don’t want to wait too long since showing people the development process is great for marketing. No matter what, though, you want to make sure you at least have some idea of what you’re committing yourself to before you say you’re committed.

For example, after I found out how difficult it was to publish a game with War Co., I was more cautious when creating Highways & Byways. I had some experience publishing a game through Kickstarter, plus I had already drafted up a version of the game before I said online “I am working on a new game.” Furthermore, when I made that announcement in March 2017, I used a somewhat vague public timeline for when it would be on Kickstarter, opting to say “early 2018” or “Q1 2018.” It’s only this week that I finally settled on the launch date of March 26. (Shameless plug: click here to get an email when it goes live.)

 

Highways and Byways: Version Highway 3
I made a lot of progress on Highways & Byways before I started promising dates.

 

2. Use your resources to estimate timeframes for delivery.

When it comes time to commit yourself not just to a project, but to a project date, you’ll be doing that oh-so-dangerous business task of estimating timeframes. This is really, really hard to get right. You can Google search for terms like agilescrum, and systems development life cycle to see just how much thought people have put into estimating timeframes. Big corporations sink billions into better processes for estimating timeframes and they lose many billions more by being bad at it. (And let’s have some sympathy for them here, it is truly hard to get right.)

The best way to come up with a time estimate for something complex like making a board game, growing a blog audience, or creating new software is to use experience. You can either draw from your own prior experience or ask someone who has experience. But hey, sometimes you’re doing something really wild and you don’t have experience and you don’t know anyone who does. That’s where I was with War Co. (even though I could have totally found experienced people if I’d bothered to try).

In that case, research as much as you can online and make your best guess. Experiment and keep track of how long it takes to do certain things. Improve your guesses as you go along. As long as you follow the last guideline – being careful about what you publicly promise – this should get the job done.

 

 

3. Keep two timeframes – an optimistic one and a cautious one.

This is a personal favorite technique of mine for making sure I can make both accurate estimates and avoid promising more than I can deliver. My own personal timeline is pretty optimistic. I thought that I’d personally have Highways & Byways on Kickstarter by the first week of February. That’s not too far off, but if I’d promised that to my potential backers, that wouldn’t have looked so good.

When I’m held accountable for delivering something, I use a more cautious timeline. I make sure to account for all the odd little things that can come up, which I call incidentals – surprises which you can’t predict. Folks familiar with the original Star Trek might even liken this to the Scotty Principle, which goes a little something like this…

 

Kirk: How long will it take you to fix the engines?

Scotty: Aye, it’ll take me sixteen hours. I have to recalibrate the technobabble machines.

Then he delivers in twelve hours.

 

This principle could be cynically referred to as “padding estimates,” but that’s not the point. The simple fact is that underperforming on a big promise looks way worse than slightly overperforming on a small promise. People are not rational, and you have to deal with that when you make promises. Furthermore, if you’re working as part of a team, people may very well be waiting for you to finish your tasks before they start theirs. If you can’t keep your promises, you could make liars out of them, too.

 

4. Be transparent when you can’t do what you said you could.

The three principles I’ve laid out above will help you keep your promises, but you’ll still screw up every once in a while. It happens. Creative projects are way too complicated to reliably predict all the time, no matter how much we want them to be predictable.

If you fail to meet your promises, the next best thing is to apologize sincerely, provide an explanation, and stay in touch with the people you’re reporting to more often. It’s so simple, but a lot of people screw this up. If you get this right, you might even benefit from the pratfall effect by becoming more popular after handling a mistake with class and grace.

 

Do you have any good tips for keeping your word? Share them below, I’d love to hear them 🙂

 


 

Most Important Highways & Byways Updates

  • Highways & Byways is going live on Kickstarter on March 26Click here to get an email when it goes live.
  • The Highways & Byways giveaway contest is over and a winner has been chosen and you can see this on Facebook.
  • I’m still working very heavily on outreach: you’ll see me on a lot of podcasts, guest blog posts, and even a few Twitch/YouTube streams!
  • Highways & Byways reviews are still ongoing – it’s a lengthy process.