How to Sell Your Board Game Outside of Kickstarter

Posted on 1 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.

Need help getting started? Look into these pre-order systems:

 

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!

There are a lot of ways you can do this that don’t require you to be a tech wizard. Here are some apps that you can use to set up an eCommerce store easily:

 

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.

Don’t just limit yourself to Amazon, though. There are other great online shopping sites that you can get your game listed on, such as:

 

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!

A few conventions to consider include:

  • Any local convention within 250 miles of you, regardless of size
  • Gen Con
  • Essen
  • PAX Unplugged
  • UK Games Expo
  • Dice Tower Con
  • Origins Game Fair
  • CMON Expo
  • BGG Con

 

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!

Not sure how to have this conversation? Check out this Facebook group. It is incredibly insightful for those seeking a peek into the minds of gaming store owners.

 

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.

Here are a few mass-market retailers who carry hobby board games:

  • Barnes & Noble
  • Books-A-Million
  • Target
  • Walmart
  • Best Buy
  • GameStop

 

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.

 

Final Thoughts

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 🙂

4 Lessons from Dinosaur Island for Aspiring Board Game Designers

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Behind the Scenes

A couple of years ago, Dinosaur Island was a massively successful game. It raised over $2 million on Kickstarter and stayed in the BoardGameGeek hotness for a really long time. Even now, two years later, the game’s name has enough cultural cachet to lead to the most popular board game giveaway Pangea has ever sponsored.

For the purposes of this post, I’m going to talk mostly about Dinosaur Island’s superficial qualities. That entails theme, components, and art. While the gameplay is certainly good in its own right, I believe it’s the aesthetic of the game that led to its popularity and, as such, the lessons in this post are dedicated to analyzing that aesthetic.

With that in mind, here’s a quick overview of the game from Board Game Geek:

In Dinosaur Island, players will have to collect DNA, research the DNA sequences of extinct dinosaur species, and then combine the ancient DNA in the correct sequence to bring these prehistoric creatures back to life. Dino cooking! All players will compete to build the most thrilling park each season, and then work to attract (and keep alive!) the most visitors each season that the park opens.

 

1. Dinosaur Island nails nostalgia.

Take one good look at this game. You know full well which era is being depicted and which movie is being imitated. It’s no secret that Millenials – which represent a glut of the board game market – love 90s nostalgia (which is, indeed, their own childhood).

Let’s be clear. Nostalgia works. It’s an effective lever for making money. Dinosaur Island is extremely effective at monetizing nostalgia.

 

2. With a distinctive art style, you will stand out on social media.

At a casual glance, Dinosaur Island might seem like a throwback. After all, it harkens back heavily to the very 1990s film Jurassic Park and the Michael Crichton novel that preceded it. The resemblance even toes the line of plagiarism (though I personally see the game as more of a loving tribute).

Sure, the neon and pastel colors make you think the game was made somewhere between the end of the Reagan administration and the pilot episode of Friends. But it’s really not a throwback. In fact, Dinosaur Island has a distinctly modern art style calculated for the social media age.

So let’s say you’re a modern-day board gamer. You’re scrolling through your board game heavy feed. You see pictures of gritty, realistic sci-fi worlds and detailed fantasy universes. There are grim, dark games and simple, abstract games. Nothing quite looks like Dinosaur Island, though, so you stop scrolling listlessly and double-tap like. Others like you do the same and the buzz builds. This same principle applies to retweets, Facebook ad efficiency, your ability to spot the game across the room at a convention, and so on.

It pays to look different.

 

3. Respect the power of the custom meeple.

It seems I can seldom emphasize enough the importance of the tactile experience of board games. After all, our world is rich with entertainment options the likes of which our distant ancestors could have only dreamed. There are only two things that meaningfully separate a board game from its video game counterpart. The first is socialization in real life with other people, and the second is the physical experience of components. Only one of those comes in the box.

 

 

With this in mind, a keen observer of the board game industry will notice there are a bunch of ways you can create unique physical experiences. You can use creative three-dimensional gameplay like Colt Express or props like Ca$h ‘n Guns.

Custom meeples, too, are a popular way of creating a wonderful physical experience. In many ways, they are actually superior. They are often the most cost-effective components when it comes to crafting unique experiences, often costing as little as $0.03 or $0.04 per piece in bulk when carved out of wood.

Gamers love custom meeples, they’re cheap, and they photograph well. Hard to beat that!

 

4. No matter how pretty the theme, don’t skimp on the game.

I’ve spent the entirety of this post so far praising the superficial qualities of Dinosaur Island. It’s true – the success of Dinosaur Island can be largely chalked up to the way it looks. That means art style, components, and theme as a whole.

But don’t succumb to the cynical conclusion that you can polish garbage and sell it for $2 million on Kickstarter. That’s just not true. As seemingly illogical as consumer behavior can be, gamers are at least sophisticated enough not to buy a truly bad game. To believe otherwise is to reduce gamers to mindless consumer drones, which is simply not the case.

A quick scroll through comments on Board Game Geek reveals statements such as the following:

  • “To my great surprise, this quickly became one of my wife’s favorite games… The theme makes it easier to teach, and once you’ve played a few times, the level of depth increases and you’ll really burn your brain at least a couple turns (but not too much).” – FranklinT
  • “This is a very good eurogame which is easier [to learn] than it appears at first sight.” – Glasgow17
  • “Jurassic Park the game is fun, light-hearted but heavy enough on strategy and a solid experience.” – Dudewiththeface

I interpret comments like the above as being indicators that the game meets at least a certain minimum expectation of quality. You see a lot of comments coming from people who find themselves in the unique position of being surprised by the quality of the game.

Not convinced? Consider one more factor. The number of board game reviewers with a truly substantial reach is pretty small and they constantly have to deal with a deluge of games. Many, upon reading rule books or playing a game, decline to provide a review when a game isn’t good. That didn’t happen here. If it did, the game wouldn’t have the reach needed to raise $2 million. So in summary, no – beauty cannot substitute for quality.

 

Final Thoughts

Dinosaur Island is a master class in branding through products. The game is keenly tailored for the audience it targets. Its art, components, and use of late 80s / early 90s nostalgia made the game stand out in a noisy world. From its success, we can all learn how to create games with enticing themes.

How to Advertise Board Games Online

Posted on 1 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.

 

 

Why advertising is good

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.

 

Nuts and bolts of advertising

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.

 

Advertising and experimentation

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.

 

Where to advertise board games

You must first understand the reason for advertising, how to get started, and the importance of experimentation. Once you arrive at that point in your understanding, it’s time to put your new skills to use. The next logical question, then, is “where do I advertise?”

I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating that Facebook is the best place to start. You don’t have to put a lot of money into it, you can target very narrowly, and you track success and failure easily. I can personally vouch for Facebook because I used it extensively for the Tasty Humans Kickstarter campaign.

After that, I would recommend Board Game Geek. I cannot personally vouch for it, but I’ve heard pretty consistent good feedback online about it. It makes sense, too. Board Game Geek caters to a highly targeted and engaged audience. It’s not as accessible or cheap as Facebook, though, so I would recommend practicing on Facebook first.

 

Other ways to advertise board games

You’re not just limited to digital advertising, though. As much as I love digital marketing, I must admit that not everything must be done by Facebook, mailing lists, and social media.

Indeed, you may have success advertising in your local news. Even if they’re not a good place for advertising, the act of contacting your local news may lead to some favorable press coverage for you. The same basic principle applies to local radio, too.

We could go into a discussion about national radio, news, TV, or billboards. But I’ll be direct with you. Board games are an extremely niche item for a clearly defined hobby audience. I advise against using these means to push your games.

 

Not exactly advertisements, but worth considering

Lastly, I want to mention other forms of outreach as well. People tend to think advertising and outreach are the same things. They’re not, but nevertheless, other forms of outreach in tandem with advertising can form the basis of a very good marketing plan.

Other forms of outreach to look into include:

 

Final Thoughts

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 🙂