Behind the Scenes: Lessons from a Kickstarter Board Game Publisher
Board game publishers deal with a lot of things you never see. Publishing companies like my own, Pangea Games, can take actions that seem really weird to an outsider.
In this series, I share tales from my own experiences, observations gleaned from playing other board games, and insights gained from the Pangea Games online communities. All of this will come together, week by week, to help you understand the big, complicated world of board game publishing.
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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?
For the last few years, we’ve been living through a glorious age: the Great Board Game Renaissance. In a world aglow with smartphones, tablets, and those annoying billboards that change every five seconds on the side of the road, analog gaming has become a welcome retreat for millions. I wouldn’t have expected history to unfold like that when I was a kid, but here we are.
For the last several years, wildly successfully Kickstarter campaigns have redefined the rules of success in the board game industry. You no longer had to submit your game to publishers or raise a bunch of money to bankroll your own print run. People like Jamey Stegmaier, creator of Scythe and the Kickstarter Lessons blog, were able to create multi-million dollar businesses with relatively little.
It’s no secret that board game publishers like to reduce risks. Most publishers have a system in place to help them filter marketable game ideas from unmarketable game ideas. That way, they don’t wind up sorry. Explained this way, it sounds innocuous. It looks like a true meritocracy where the best ideas are the ones taken to the market. Yet the process, so heavy on rejection, has left many game designers heartbroken.
There are weirdo group dynamics that are exacerbated by the technological advances of our era, namely search engines, social media, and an unending deluge of data. Nowhere are these weird group dynamics more obvious than in the tabletop gaming news cycle.
Creating board games takes an enormous amount of time and effort. The simple fact is that there are a lot of distinct tasks that have to be handled to turn a game from an idea into reality. This is why I urge new creators to share the workload, delegating tasks to a team instead of doing them all alone. When it comes to delegation, it helps to define some roles. Let’s start with three roles: designer, developer, and publisher.
I can remember a time of board games before the modern board gaming boom. Perhaps it’s Christmas Eve today that’s kindling my nostalgic impulses. I’d like to take a moment today and look back at the top-selling board games of all time. Some have aged beautifully, some have aged horribly, but in all cases we can talk about them and learn from them.
There are over 100,000 board games in existence. The vast majority have been forgotten and buried in the sands of time. A handful have stood out head and shoulders among the rest, working their way up to the top 10 games on Board Game Geek. This is a truly staggering achievement because pleasing Board Game Geek users is no easy task!
The board game market as we know it today did not exist yet. Catan was the first major hobby board game to come into existence. Even 24 years later, we can still look back at this game and learn lessons from it.
Santorini is a fantastic board game that came out about two years ago. In its heart, it’s an abstract strategy game that could have come from antiquity. It has been given the modern board game polish, though, with adorably cutesy art of Greek gods, and an incredibly photogenic set of stackable plastic components.