6 Right and Wrong Reasons to Make a Board Game

Posted on Posted in Behind the Scenes

Making board games is really difficult. A lot of people who decide to make board games can’t tell the difference between the right and wrong reasons to make a board game. I want to talk about this in depth today because your motivations will seep into everything you do – for better or for worse.

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve been talking about the future of Kickstarter, board gaming, and those of us who strike it out on our own to make games. Much of what I’ve discussed is only superficially about board games. The deeper messages are based on business strategy and the ability to plan for the future. This is where your motivations become really important. The right reasons will keep you going in the tough times and the wrong ones will eventually push you out of the business.

The Wrong Reasons to Make a Board Game

Wrong Reason to Make a Board Game #1: A Get-Rich-Quick Scheme

Some people see multi-million dollar Kickstarter campaigns and become excited about the financial prospects of the board game industry. You’re smart enough to know that campaigns like that are rare and almost always the result of teamwork. Yet you may still aspire toward that sort of campaign.

Assume you made $4 million like Rising Sun. Let’s say it’s made by a team of five people – a low estimate, honestly. Now let’s say there is a profit margin of 15% on it, which is pretty high for a niche product with physical inventory. You are then left with $120,000 before taxes. That is roughly equal to one year of salary and benefits of a decently well-paid white-collar professional in an urban area once you add healthcare, dental, vision, and the taxes your employer pays and you never see. Seriously, try this online calculator out if you don’t believe me.

Now let’s be real – most of us would love that kind of cash to do this kind of work. Still, my point is that this is a best-case scenario in which you’re not even wealthy. Your upper bound in the board game industry, without doing some other kind of work, is the lower bound of the upper middle class in a low cost of living area.

There are right and wrong reasons to make a board game, and money is definitely one of the wrong ones. Yes, you should try to make a profit if you want one. However, don’t perceive the board gaming industry as your ticket to fabulous wealth. It’s not the linchpin in your FIRE retirement strategy.

Wrong Reason to Make a Board Game #2: You Hate Your Job or Boss

It’s seldom these days that I see a person truly convinced that board game design will make them rich. However, many want to start their own business because they hate their job or boss. They build a business with the expectation that they won’t make much money, but it will be enough to survive. One of the most foolhardy beliefs I see mindlessly echoed online is “turn your hobby into a job.” Don’t do that – create a larger business and use your hobby and an existing market to establish yourself and create a product.

If you build a business, you need to make it to where you can sell different kinds of products to meet your customers’ needs. Board games may not meet their needs forever, so you need infrastructure in place to switch if you want to. We have no idea how long the modern board game boom will last or if it will at all. Even if it does last, that’s probably going to bring tougher competition. You have to think bigger than board games if you want to see yourself out of the traditional job market.

Wrong Reason to Make a Board Game #3: You Think It Will Be Easy

I failed to mention earlier the fallacy of the “quick” part of “get rich quick.” Board games are long haul projects. They take several months at best and can even take years. You have to stagger game releases and work in a team to try to bring in steady income with games. Even doing so, you’re likely to have some duds in between.

It’s not easy! The time taken alone is difficult, but the actual tasks themselves are even harder. I didn’t appreciate how hard making a board game was until this blog took off and I started getting calls from entrepreneurs. We forget how much goes into making a game. There is game design, play-testing (which is incredibly detailed), manufacturing, fulfillment, marketing, and much more. Some things can be created on a lark, but board games – at least made for profit – cannot be created this way. It’s difficult and it requires money and project management skills.

The Right Reasons to Make a Board Game

These will be a lot shorter because there are no fallacies to point out 😛

Right Reason to Make a Board Game #1: You Love Making Board Games

If you really love making board games for its own sake, you should do it. Hoping for large amounts of cash, an easy project, or a way out of things you don’t like will make you unhappy. Yet if game development is truly something you love, it is worth it. Life is short and as long as you meet your commitments and stay in touch with the ones you love, spend as much time as you can doing what you want to do.

Right Reason to Make a Board Game #2: You’re Trying to Figure Out What You Love

Not everybody knows what they want to do with their life and free time, and that’s fine. Sometimes you just need a complicated project to focus on for its own sake. That’s where I was with board gaming in 2015 when I started making my own. When there are so many options in life that you don’t know what to do, sometimes picking a focus – any focus – can help set your life on the right track. I was 22 years old and right out of college. Making board games helped me decide what I ultimately wanted to do.

Right Reason to Make a Board Game #3: You Want to Work Hard & Learn Quickly

Last but not least, if you’re looking for a challenge, creating a board game can certainly fill that need. Between the game design, play-testing, manufacturing, fulfillment, and business skills, you will find no shortage of new things to learn. If you’re willing to work hard and you just want to learn as much as you can, this is a fun way to do it.

Knowing the difference between the right and wrong reasons to make a board game goes a long way. You need to understand your motivations so that you can remain productive and happy while you’re making games. Having unrealistic expectations can cause a lot of frustration.

What I’ve discussed above may have made you uncomfortable. I am empathetic to that. My only desire in writing this is to get you to examine your motivations so that you can remain happy while making board games.

Why do you make board games? Let me know in the comments below!

9 thoughts on “6 Right and Wrong Reasons to Make a Board Game

  1. Everything you wrote is so true. For me, I love the challenge of creating something, perfecting it and (hopefully) see it come to life soon. I also really appreciate that the more you put into game design and becoming part of the larger community, the more you get out of it. If you try to shortcut the design and community-building processes, you’ll only shoot yourself in the foot.

    1. Hi, Emily! Glad you liked the post. It’s true that there are no good shortcuts to game design. At least not hobby board game design, anyway. There may be more wiggle room on gift shop / mass market / party game / family game fare. I think a lot of people find themselves in trouble because they see multi-million dollar campaigns but don’t understand the massive amount of coordination it takes to make one of those campaigns.

  2. I agree with your points generally, but I do think that a big reason why board game design is not more accessible is due to lack of business skills and available resources.

    There are plenty of resources that help with the artistic aspect of creating a game but much fewer that deal with things like managing a project and the supply chain. Your blog is one of the few good ones out there!

    1. Hi Bobby, thanks for the kind words! I completely agree that there are many more resources available for play-testing, choosing a theme, etc. than there are for managing time, the supply chain, remaining cost-efficient, and reducing risk. Even simple primers in business skills go a long way.

  3. I started making board games because I learned it as a good way to teach the foundation skills for designing games. It worked well with my video game design art class I was teaching at a high school. I began using a sample design for a miniature battle game as a part of an art class project, where the students make a character design for the game. I now use the iteration process of design >play test > develop as design units in an art course. I’m designing board games because it’s how I do art now. I’m not sure if I will ever get published and there was a time that I thought I would Kickstart a game. At that time it was Kickstarter or get the masters degree. I went for the masters degree because of the tangible return on investment. I’m able to support my family and I have time to do what I love.

    1. Hi Matthew, this is blasphemy for me to say on a game dev blog, but I fully back your choice to go for the Master’s over the KS campaign. You can always do a KS campaign later 🙂

  4. Just wanted to say thank you for your post. For me it was reassuring that I won’t be wasting my time. Cheers.

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