How to Sell Your Board Game Outside of Kickstarter

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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 🙂

How to Advertise Board Games Online

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“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 🙂

A Crash Course in Board Game Development

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Last week, I posted A Crash Course in Games, where I acted as a tour guide to the board game industry, covering much of the contextual information you’ll need to make games. Let’s pick up from there and talk about what specifically goes into making a game. What is board game development all about?

I tend to use the word game development as a catch-all term for everything that is associated with making a game – that includes game design, product development, marketing, promotion, Kickstarter/crowdfunding, fulfillment, and selling. I use “game development” to describe “the entire creative process of creating a game from start to finish” the same way people say “the White House” to refer to “the United States government.”

So what goes into game development? Let’s break it down…

 

Board Game Development: Game Design

When people think of board game development, they’re probably thinking of board game design. The processes associated with creating the actual game itself – the way it plays and feels – fall under the purview of game design. Game design involves creating a game with a core engine that drives the gameplay at a fundamental level. It involves creating mechanics that determine how players interact with the game. It involves creating rules which define objectives and constraints that keep the player focused on certain goals and make it difficult for them to reach them.

 

 

One of my games, Tasty Humans, on Tabletop Simulator.

 

Game design also involves a lot of play-testing. Throughout the game design process, you’ll be playing versions of your game, most of which will be horribly broken. You’ll start out playing your game by yourself, simulating other players. Then you’ll start play-testing within a close circle of associates. Once you confirm that your game is reasonably well polished, you’ll be able to play with disinterested strangers. When it’s almost ready to go, you’ll give your game to people who have never played it before and who do not have any help from you. That’s called blind play-testing.

This whole time, you’ll be making tweaks, improving your game here and there. Bear in mind, game design only covers aspects related to the game itself.

 

Related articles:

 

Board Game Development: Game Production

Game production is the process of making sure that your freshly designed game becomes a physical product which is perceived well by others. This involves creating or buying art, doing accessibility testing, doing play-testing for factors not directly related to gameplay per se, buying samples, preparing the game for manufacturing, and manufacturing itself. The utopian ideal here is that your game will be beautiful, easy-to-use, physically attractive, and – most important – an actual thing that actually exists in the actual world (and not just your mind). Production is what takes a game design from pen and paper to the print shop. It’s also what makes a game design sell-able.

 

Related articles:

 

Board Game Development: Game Marketing & Promotion

Of course, games very seldom sell themselves. You’ll hear every once in a while about a game that flies off the shelf. You probably won’t be that person. (But please call me if you wind up being that person.)

Marketing and promotion is hard work, and you’ll want to start laying the groundwork as soon as you can. It involves creating a strategy, getting web traffic, using social media, using email newsletters, getting game reviews, going to conventions, doing live-streams, issuing press releases, and – most of all – networking. Marketing is about building relationships with people and you need lots of time to do this right. Talking to people is often the difference between selling a game and not selling a game.

 

Related articles:

 

Board Game Development: Kickstarter

A lot of board game developers choose to go through Kickstarter for funding these days. Considering that you have a roughly 50/50 shot of success on the platform, that’s a pretty good idea. Kickstarter has become a de facto testing ground for new board game ideas. If you choose to use Kickstarter for board game development, there’s a lot that comes with that territory as well.

 

This is about HALF of the War Co. packages shipped in the USA. It was a small campaign.

 

First, you need to spread the word early. Kickstarter is not square one. It is a loud rallying cry that is only useful if you already have an audience who is listening to you. Marketers would refer to it as a “call to action” – something that gets all the wallflowers in your audience to join the party (by throwing money at you online).

Of course, you need to put on your vanity glasses to deal with some preparation in addition to just schmoozing. You have to account for Kickstarter math (fees, taxes, and shipping). There is also the complex matter of making a great campaign page. Completing a Kickstarter requires fulfillment network, as well as creating timetables and coming up with a way to keep your promises. Planning the launch day is critical. You need to set stretch goals if you exceed your goal and come up with a back-up plan if you fall short. Expect to make regular updates. Some people opt to set up a pre-order system after their campaigns.

 

Related articles:

 

Board Game Development: Selling

Let’s assume you create a great game, people like it, you Kickstart successfully, and people know your name. That still won’t sell your game. Trust me, I’ve learned this in the school of hard knocks! Selling involves creating a game that has something about it that makes people want to click Add to Cart or grab it off the game store shelf. That links back to production and marketing. There is also the matter of setting a price point that works for folks. You’ll probably find yourself thinking about advertising, conventions, selling to distributors, and direct selling to customers.

Then there is, of course, the matter of keeping momentum after your game’s release. This isn’t easy! It requires an ongoing effort that links back to your game’s design, production, and marketing.

 

Related articles:

 

Final Thoughts

I’ve just dropped so, so much information here that it would be easy to get intimidated, close the tab, and quit. However, it’s this great complexity that I feel compelled to detangle throughout the course of Start to Finish. Every single subject I’ve mentioned above – game design, production, marketing and promotion, Kickstarter, and selling – is something I feel comfortable talking about at length. We’ll walk through this together and go into all the details. We’ll get really into the weeds.

With an idea of what’s to come, you’ve already got a much better start than I ever had.