Board Game Designer vs. Developer vs. Publisher

Posted on Posted in Behind the Scenes

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.

teamwork - like board game designer, developer, and publisher

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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 marketPublisher23 weeks before campaign
Develop basic loreDeveloper23 weeks before campaign
Game specsPublisher23 weeks before campaign
ContractPublisher22 weeks before campaign
Set up websitePublisher21 weeks before campaign
Set up mailing listPublisher21 weeks before campaign
First draft of the gameDesigner19 weeks before campaign
Manufacturing RFQsPublisher18 weeks before campaign
Fulfillment RFQsPublisher18 weeks before campaign
Start and maintain WIP thread on BGGDesigner or Developer18 weeks before campaign
Work on brandPublisher18 weeks before campaign
Play-test the game – early, privateDesigner18 weeks before campaign
Play-test the game with at least one person not designing itDesigner17 weeks before campaign
Play-test the game – online, generalDesigner16 weeks before campaign
Preliminary artworkDeveloper15 weeks before campaign
Screen artwork with audiencePublisher15 weeks before campaign
Play-test the game – online, guidedDeveloper12 weeks before campaign
Play-test the game – blind, onlineDeveloper11 weeks before campaign
Play-test the game – blind, offlineDeveloper11 weeks before campaign
Create physical prototype (with or without art)Developer11 weeks before campaign
Test physical prototypeDeveloper9 weeks before campaign
Sign-off on game / Art must be donePublisher9 weeks before campaign
Print review copiesPublisher9 weeks before campaign
Facebook group outreachPublisher9 weeks before campaign
Board Game Geek outreachPublisher9 weeks before campaign
Reddit outreachPublisher9 weeks before campaign
Send review copiesPublisher7 weeks before campaign
Podcast outreachPublisher7 weeks before campaign
Blogger outreachPublisher7 weeks before campaign
Streamer outreachPublisher4 weeks before campaign
Press outreachPublisher2 weeks before campaign
Manufacturing preparation (complete)Publisher1 week before campaign
Fulfillment preparation (complete)Publisher1 week before campaign
Kickstarter campaignPublisherCampaign
Pre-order / sales systemPublisherTBD
Ongoing distributionPublisherTBD
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 🙂

3 thoughts on “Board Game Designer vs. Developer vs. Publisher

  1. Mulțumesc mult pentru articol, va trebui să răsfoiesc acest site!
    Răspunsul meu este că am trecut prin toate cele 3 “munci”.
    Am început desigur cu designer și dezvoltator, apoi, fiind într-un mic oraș fără tradiție în acest domeniu, a trebuit să fiu și editor.
    Editând cinci jocuri împreună cu doi prieteni, am reușit să atragem un grup de aproximativ 100 de tineri în activități regulate, apoi au apărut ocaziile în care să fiu doar dezvoltator înainte de a fi editor.
    Mergem înainte!

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