6 Reasons You Shouldn’t Make Board Games Alone

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Behind the Scenes

Welcome to the inaugural post of Behind the Scenes: Lessons from a Kickstarter Board Game Publisher! In this series, I’ll be talking about aspects of board game publishing you don’t normally think about. Why board game publishing companies do things that seem weird from the outside? What can we learn from board games that are already published? What can we learn from gamers’ conversations online? I’ll be taking on all these questions and more week by week, just like I did with Start to Finish: Publish and Sell Your First Board Game.

Let’s kick this series off in style! For my first act, I’d like to reexamine an old article I published a year ago called How to Work Alone in the Board Game Industry. It’s an article about exactly what it sounds like. I still stand by most of what I’ve said in this article, but there is just one teensy-tiny problem with it.

I don’t think you should work alone. Simple as that.

 

 

The board game industry has changed an enormous amount in the last few years. We’re seeing more million dollar Kickstarter campaigns. We’re seeing “good ideas” go to Kickstarter and struggle to fund, if they fund at all. More and more, game developers are starting to co-publish, working in larger teams and getting more than one brand name on a box. What’s all that about and what does this have to do with working alone versus working in a team?

Trust me when I say that all these questions are related. Below, I have six reasons not to work alone. Each point builds on the last.

 

1. The board game industry is maturing and gamers expect more.

This is the mother of all reasons not to work alone in the board game industry anymore. As of the end of October, there are roughly 600 funded board game Kickstarters from this year. That means there are probably around 1,200 Kickstarter projects in the board game niche. Now how many more board games never showed up on Kickstarter? There could be 5,000 or 10,000 or 20,000 board games coming out in a year depending on how you count it.

We’re in a Renaissance and we’ve got selling tools available to us that would make Don Draper green with envy. The barriers to entry are really low and just about every game developer with an idea has tried to make a buck, it seems. Yet money is finite, patience is finite, desire is finite…

Gamers won’t just buy anything you make. That was never true in the first place and it’s especially untrue in a world in which we have a massive and openly accessible market (Kickstarter). Gamers are expecting more gameplay, more components, and better art in every box. And frankly, they should expect more. Gamers are consumers and consumers shouldn’t buy stuff they don’t want.

But for you, the creator, that means you need to follow market trends to meet existing gamer desires. You need to make better art. Your game needs to play beautifully. All of this takes more time, more money, and more know-how. It’s getting exceptionally difficult to make a Kickstarter-ready game alone.

 

2. Switching responsibilities is exhausting.

Let’s say you want to go it alone anyway. Let’s say you’re independently wealthy and that you’re a go-getter who is willing to work sixty-hour weeks because you really love games. In this scenario, it’s easier to crank out Kickstarter-ready games every few months than it is for most of my readers (who often have jobs, families, and other commitments).

Should you?

From a psychological perspective, switching tasks is complicated. You lose a little time as your mind adjusts to your new challenges. Of course, variety is good for you and it keeps life spicy, but like actual spices, too much is really difficult to deal with. Do you really want to switch from design to play-testing to art direction to branding to promotion to account to taxes to legal responsibilities?

 

3. Your ability to master the aspects of running a business is finite.

I did everything myself for a couple of years. While it gave me a great sense of how board game development works as a holistic process, there were a lot of things I missed. When I started working with Sean Fallon, Tyson Mertlich, Ryan Langewisch, and many of my other frequent collaborators, it was a weight off my shoulders. I put in the same amount of work, but focused on fewer things. It was a weight off my shoulders. I slept better, ate better, exercised better, was a better boyfriend, and a better employee at my work.

Time is precious. It’ll slip right through your fingers if you’re not paying attention. Tick. Tock. Don’t waste your time doing stuff that other people can do better. Learn enough to understand the work that needs to be done then find someone who’s good at the work and likes the work. Then pay them – either straight up in cash or in royalties or profit shares.

 

4. Occasional failure is inevitable and you need to be able to rebound.

Even if you delegate perfectly, sometimes you’ll come up with an idea – alone or in a group – that is not right for the market. I did it with Highways & Byways. I’ve seen some of my friends and even major publishers do it, too. They’ll either fail to fund entirely or raise far less money than they were hoping for.

Look, sometimes you’re going to screw up. That’s alright. You’re human. The waves will still crash upon the shorelines, birds will still sing, and the Earth will continue to orbit around the Sun. You can’t see the future, and if you can, I hope you see yourself giving me a call to ask if you can be my business partner.

When you work alone, you could lose several months or even years on a single bad project. If you work with others, especially on different teams, you can have multiple irons in the fire. If one game fails, that’s okay, you’ve got another coming. In other words, you fail fast.

 

5. You need to build a brand.

Since board games are coming out faster and faster, the window in which individual games stay “relevant” is, on average, becoming shorter. Individual game names don’t have the staying power they once did. Consider this…

These are board games that raised over a million bucks on Kickstarter in the last four months at the time this article was written. How many would you remember unprompted? Be honest.

Forget individual products for a second. You want to create brand that has staying power. I can’t tell you what Z-Man last published, but I know who Z-Man is. Same for Cool Mini Or Not.

Building a brand is not a one-person job. Effective brands require the input of a lot of people. You can take the lead, as I do with the branding of Pangea Games, but you shouldn’t just make a brand that’s a stand-in for you. It needs to be bigger than you.

 

6. Your time is limited.

I can’t stress this enough. Everybody in the world has the same amount of hours in a day. How many can you really work before you burn out? Twelve? Fourteen? Sixteen?

Don’t waste your time on inefficient ways of doing things. Work smart before you work hard. Delegate, get others’ input, and quit for the day when you’re in tired mode. Board game development, for a publisher, is a long process that takes years of work to succeed. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and you do yourself no good if you work yourself to exhaustion.

 


 

It is extremely difficult to build a viable business by working alone. You need to collaborate with others to create board games that satisfy current market demands.

Do you have any experiences working alone or in a team? Share them below, I’d love to hear them 🙂

How to Sell Your Board Game Outside of Kickstarter

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Start to Finish

It’s been over a year in the making, and we’ve finally arrived: this is the last article in the Start to Finish: Publish and Sell Your First Board Game series. You’ve learned how to design and develop a game, build an audience, and market your game. You’ve learned how to run a Kickstarter campaign, fulfill your promises, and even recover from failure.

After you have completely finished your game, settling all responsibilities associated with the Kickstarter campaign, that leaves one massive question: “what next?” With a successful project behind you and a head full of useful experiences, your options are wide open. You can make new games, start a business, or even simply make your game a one-off to bring in passive income.

Let’s talk about wrapping up your project. In this, I’ll briefly go over some ways you can sell your game outside of Kickstarter. This is no exhaustive guide. It’s just enough to get your wheels turning.

 

 

As I see it, there are ten broad ways you can sell your game outside of Kickstarter. There are probably a lot more that I’ve not even thought of, so I encourage you to chime in if you see something missing in the comments below!

 

1. Take pre-orders.

About a month ago, I published an article called How to Take Pre-Orders when Your Board Game Kickstarter Ends. That will give you an idea of how you implement a pre-order system. The benefit of taking pre-orders is pretty clear: you can continue earning money while your inventory is being manufactured and shipped to your warehouse. It helps keep the hype train going too.

 

2. Sell your game on your own site.

This is almost identical to taking pre-orders, except you sell your game after it’s being shipped to your warehouse. With a few quick edits, you can turn your pre-order system into an instant sales system. All you have to do is tweak the wording and connect your shopping site with your fulfillment company’s systems. The specific way you do that depends on your shopping site software and your fulfillment company’s software. The important thing is that you know you’re able to automate this process!

 

3. Sell your game on Amazon and other online shopping sites.

You can sell your game on Amazon just about as easily as you can sell your game on your own website. Even though Amazon and other shopping sites take a significant chunk of your sales as part of their commission, they can bring you lots of customers.

 

4. Sell your game at conventions.

A lot of board game companies make substantial sales at conventions such as Gen Con and Essen. Even smaller conventions are a viable option. You’ll need to research each convention you plan to attend to ensure that they are appropriate forums for selling your game. If they are, a nice-looking booth can draw quite the crowd!

 

5. Get on the shelves of your local game store.

Your friendly local game store can be another way to sell your game offline. You may be able to get management to pick up a few copies and carry it in their store. Many game stores are happy to help locals get their businesses started, provided you bring a quality game to the table!

 

6. Create events and sell your game there.

Building a community is a great way to build an audience. One especially effective way to build a community through scheduling events that excite or intrigue people. You can give away games, host game nights, or do live-streams. There are so many possibilities here. Whether you make events online or offline, it helps raise brand awareness. That can go a long way!

 

7. Get on the shelves of a mass-market retailer.

I’ll be honest. I do not yet know exactly what you need to do to get your game in Target, Barnes & Noble, or other large stores that sell board games. Getting stocked in a mass-market retailer is not something you do on a whim, so you’ll need to plan this out well in advance. Just be aware that mass-market sales are another avenue by which you can sell your game.

 

8. Build a backlog of games.

Sometimes the best way to sell your game is start a new one. Building new games brings attention to you and keeps your name in people’s minds.

 

9. Release expansions to your game.

If your game has substantial brand power, you might be able to release expansions and make some good money that way! This isn’t for everyone – releasing expansions and making money doing so requires a pretty strong game in the first place. If you’ve got an engaged fanbase, ask them for their ideas and see if you can make something they’d like.

 

10. Sell merchandise.

You don’t have to stick to selling games. You can sell posters, art books, or even e-books/novels of lore (for more story-heavy games). Think about a world bigger than just a single game.

 


 

Once you’ve completed your first game, possibilities begin to open up. This article is not a detailed guide like many of my posts. Rather, my intention here is to make you think about how many directions you can go in after you publish your first game.

Don’t be singularly focused on a single game or even the board game industry at large. Step back, survey your accomplishments, and appreciate the bigger picture. Most of the skills covered in Start to Finish: Publish and Sell Your First Board Game are transferable to other industries, and even life in general.

Pursuit of passion doesn’t always lead to success, but it does lead to a better understanding of yourself and the world around you. After fully creating a game and managing the various processes that go into doing that, you’re equipped to take on bigger challenges than you’ve faced before.

Think about what comes next. How you choose to sell your game from here on out sets you up for your next adventure.

Good luck and stay tuned for an entirely new series of blog posts starting next week 🙂

How to Advertise Board Games Online

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Start to Finish

“I love advertising!” That’s not a sentence you hear spoken out loud often. Advertising has a reputation for annoying people with messages that aren’t relevant to them, relentlessly wearing them down with half-truths broadcasted over TV networks and on billboards.

Thankfully, that’s not the whole truth. The relieving truth is that advertising is one tool in the marketing toolbox that small businesses can benefit from. Like any tool, it must be used correctly and judiciously, with an understanding of its purpose and its limitations. Whether you’re just spreading the word about one game or whether you’re building a whole long-lasting business from scratch, you should consider advertising as part of a larger marketing plan.

 

 

Advertising is the fastest way I know to bootstrap a company. Think about it. There are three ways you can build your audience for the first time. You can reach out to people individually, you can create content for them to consume and come to you passively, or you can advertise on an existing platform. The first one is great – you’ll make a lot of contacts, and even a lot of friends. It’s also slow and it doesn’t scale well. Making your own content is good, but doing so with no outreach will make you feel like you’re screaming into a void. Advertising is much faster, though it does cost money.

If you want to get your feet wet in advertising, the best way I know to do that is through Facebook. Once you’ve built up a Facebook page, you’ll gain access to Facebook’s incredibly robust Ad Manager. That will let you target your ads to really specific audiences, tailoring messages specifically around people’s tastes. What’s more, you’re provided with tons of metrics that help you optimize your ads so you get what you’re paying for.

Let’s assume for the sake of discussion that you use Facebook for advertising. You’ll want to think of your objectives before you start any ad campaigns. Do you want to get web traffic, social media engagement, or emails? Don’t think in terms of “getting the word out there.” Build a system that pushes people where you want them to go – a sales funnel. Then use your advertising to get people into the sales funnel.

The most important part of any advertising campaign is the audience. Think about the age, gender, geographic location, and interests of the people you’d like in your sales funnel. You only want to attract people who would ultimately be interested in your product. For example, if you’re creating a fantasy area control game, you could target people in countries that speak the language used in the game and target people whose interests include both “board games” and “fantasy books.”

Most online advertisements have three parts to them: the copy, the image, and a call to action. The copy is simply the text on the advertisement. The image is exactly what it sounds like. The call to action can be a button, a link, a sign-up form, or something else like that. You take out the advertisement with intention of getting people to heed the call to action.

Making great marketing copy takes a lot of trial and error. I often have to try three or four different variations of my copy on simultaneous ad campaigns to see which one performs best. After a couple of dollars in each simultaneous campaign, I go with what performs the best. Some general rules of thumb to follow:

  • Keep it short.
  • Make it clear.
  • Make it exciting, intriguing, or otherwise cool.
  • Experiment until you get it right. Use that data!

Images also take a lot of experimentation to get right. Here are some rules of thumb you can follow when choosing an image:

  • Make sure it is the right size for the ad.
  • Use a high-quality image.
  • Have a clear object in focus.
  • Use contrasting colors.
  • Match the copy to the image.
  • Experiment until you get it right.

The call to action is pretty simple. It needs to be clear like “click here,” “sign-up here,” or it needs to simply be a link. Don’t be overly clever with your call to action.

I must reiterate how much advertising involves testing. Gather data and keep experimenting until you make the most effective ads you can. If an ad is clearly not performing well, pull it and don’t spend any more money. On Facebook, the direction of an ad is usually clear enough after $5 are spent.

You’ll notice that all this testing has a side benefit. Advertising provides an empirical way to analyze how good your ideas will perform in the market. Advertisements that perform well tend to go alongside games that will perform well. If something inspires people enough to click, it’s more likely to inspire people to buy (provided your game is a good value). This is such an underrated quality in advertising. You can use it to gauge product-market fit as well as build an audience.

Naturally, advertising is no replacement for real human interaction. While it can bootstrap your company quickly, it doesn’t pay to be friendless. You want to get to know people, make some connections, and make some people’s days better. Genuine human connection is a much sought after quality in a noisy digital world. Advertising will help your game sell, but connecting with others will help your game be remembered. The importance of the latter cannot be overstated.

 


 

Advertising can be a great way to draw some attention to your game quickly. Used wisely, advertising allows you to spread ideas faster than you can on your own. It can also help you test your ideas with an audience, refining them until you find something that fits with both your vision and others’ willingness to buy.

Have you ever taken out ads for your game or games? How’d it go? Let me know in the comments below 🙂