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 each new board game designer 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: board game designer, developer, and publisher.
The first thing you need to know about designer, developer, and publisher roles is simple. The lines are blurry. The definitions I am about to give you are simply for your convenience. They are to be tweaked, twisted, torn up, or thrown out at your convenience.
What’s the difference between board game designer, developer, and publisher?
Designers make the game’s soul. They come up with the basic ideas behind the game (the core engine), design mechanics, create the rules, and sometimes even come up with the theme.
Developers bring the game to life. Developers tweak until the game is perfected. They commission art, proofread, and play-test. Sometimes they even order samples and liaise with reviewers.
Publishers share the game with the world. They take the completed game created by designers and developers, and run as far as they can with it. They raise funds, market the game, and if everything goes according to plan, manufacture and fulfill it.
Designers can develop, publishers can develop, designers can publish, publishers can design, developers can design, and developers can publish. It’s all very flexible.
A sample timeline for a board game designer, developer, and publisher team
What does this look like in practice? I’ll demonstrate below with the sample timeline I created for Kickstarter Math: How to Deliver Your Board Game On-Time and Within Your Budget.
|Validate game idea by market||Publisher||23 weeks before campaign|
|Develop basic lore||Developer||23 weeks before campaign|
|Game specs||Publisher||23 weeks before campaign|
|Contract||Publisher||22 weeks before campaign|
|Set up website||Publisher||21 weeks before campaign|
|Set up mailing list||Publisher||21 weeks before campaign|
|First draft of the game||Designer||19 weeks before campaign|
|Manufacturing RFQs||Publisher||18 weeks before campaign|
|Fulfillment RFQs||Publisher||18 weeks before campaign|
|Start and maintain WIP thread on BGG||Designer or Developer||18 weeks before campaign|
|Work on brand||Publisher||18 weeks before campaign|
|Play-test the game – early, private||Designer||18 weeks before campaign|
|Play-test the game with at least one person not designing it||Designer||17 weeks before campaign|
|Play-test the game – online, general||Designer||16 weeks before campaign|
|Preliminary artwork||Developer||15 weeks before campaign|
|Screen artwork with audience||Publisher||15 weeks before campaign|
|Play-test the game – online, guided||Developer||12 weeks before campaign|
|Play-test the game – blind, online||Developer||11 weeks before campaign|
|Play-test the game – blind, offline||Developer||11 weeks before campaign|
|Create physical prototype (with or without art)||Developer||11 weeks before campaign|
|Test physical prototype||Developer||9 weeks before campaign|
|Sign-off on game / Art must be done||Publisher||9 weeks before campaign|
|Print review copies||Publisher||9 weeks before campaign|
|Facebook group outreach||Publisher||9 weeks before campaign|
|Board Game Geek outreach||Publisher||9 weeks before campaign|
|Reddit outreach||Publisher||9 weeks before campaign|
|Send review copies||Publisher||7 weeks before campaign|
|Podcast outreach||Publisher||7 weeks before campaign|
|Blogger outreach||Publisher||7 weeks before campaign|
|Streamer outreach||Publisher||4 weeks before campaign|
|Press outreach||Publisher||2 weeks before campaign|
|Manufacturing preparation (complete)||Publisher||1 week before campaign|
|Fulfillment preparation (complete)||Publisher||1 week before campaign|
|Pre-order / sales system||Publisher||TBD|
Interpreting the sample timeline
As you can see, publishers typically handle the majority of tasks associated with creating a game. This is because publishers act as organizations which have the resources to coordinate a lot of different tasks simultaneously. Designers, on the other hand, have relatively few tasks – design the game and do some early play-testing – but their work is critical! Game design and play-testing take up more time than nearly anything else except for possibly manufacturing and commissioning art.
Developers are in the middle. When games are first created, they’re often raw and rough. They’re nowhere near ready for the marketplace. They have to be further developed before a publisher can do much with them.
You’ll notice that the timeline doesn’t linearly go from design to development to publishing. This is no accident! From the very beginning, the publisher will need to make sure an idea is viable from a manufacturing, cost, and market perspective. Publishers who accept submissions rule out pitches that don’t meet these requirements. Publishers who work directly with certain designers may create specifications which the designer is obligated to follow. It depends on who you’re working with and how they roll.
Developers can get involved early on too! If the publisher and designer have a clear idea on what the theme will be, a developer can start working on certain elements of the game that will be applied later. This could involve creating lore or commissioning artwork. This can have the effect of enriching the game as an overall experience while saving time in the long run for everybody involved.
The most important takeaway here is to come up with a coherent way to split up labor. The board game designer, developer, publisher paradigm is the simplest way I know of doing that. This is a method I’ve been using on my own games, Yesterday’s War and Tasty Humans, and I’ve found it extraordinarily effective.
I’ll leave you with a question: are you more of a designer, developer, or a publisher? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you 🙂