If you find yourself reading this guide after you’ve funded a Kickstarter campaign, congratulations! After an enormous amount of work creating, testing, and promoting your board game, it’s time to send it off to the printers. How exciting!
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Even if you’re not at this stage, this guide will still be helpful. In fact, it might even be more helpful because there are there are three things you want to absolutely nail before you launch your Kickstarter:
Realistic timetables, cost estimates, and specifications are the foundation upon which everything else you do after funding a campaign is built. Campaigning isn’t easy, and neither is fulfillment.
Throughout your campaign, you want to be thinking about what you’re going to do immediately after the campaign. You’ll want to contact your desired printer before you launch the campaign. When you fund, let them know. Every time you hit a stretch goal level, it’s smart to send them a message about it. The point is: you want to keep them in the loop. If this sounds like a lot of email, consider this:
You send more email than they need: they mark as read and move on with life.
You send less email than they need: “um, we’re going to need four extra weeks to do this.”
It’s also a good idea to see if you can get a jump start and begin printing during the two week period in which you’re waiting for your funds to clear. Depending on your printer, you might gain a week or two on the front-end of your schedule, and that’s never a bad thing!
Naturally, you’ll want to let them know exactly how many games you need to print. You need to definitely print enough to fill your Kickstarter campaign plus 20 or 25%. You should do more than that if you plan on taking pre-orders or selling the rest. Be careful not to be unrealistic when you do this. This industry moves fast and your garage only has a finite amount of space.
Before you complete the order, double check your specs again before you finalize the transaction. You need to make sure you’ve accounted for any stretch goals that you promised during the campaign.
Another interesting thing to point out is that different companies have different payment methods. Some will accept payment through PayPal. Others will insist that you pay by wire transfer. If you’ve never done a wire transfer, this can be an intimidating concept. Your printer will provide you the information you need, and you can go to any place that has a Western Union to do it. Not sure where to look? Try your nearest full-service grocery store.
A Few Board Game Printers You Can Contact
By the time you’re ready to order a print run, you likely know which printer you want to print your game. However, if you’re not sure where to start, here are three companies you can try:
You’ll notice that this is a relatively short post of mine. That’s for a good reason. Once you get to this point, the most important factors are preparation you’ve already done and making sure T’s are crossed and I’s are dotted. The printer will take care of manufacturing, and in a few weeks or months, it will be ready for you to fulfill – either on your own or through a third-party company.
In the mean-time? Pop open a bottle of champagne – you’ve hit a major milestone!
Before you create a mailing list, you need to understand how they fit into your marketing strategy. I talk about this in How to Choose & Use a Board Game Marketing Strategy that Works, but I’ll recap the basics here. After people are paying attention and interested in your game or brand, you’ll need someplace for them to go before you ask them to take action. The best places I know to send interested potential customers is to an online community or a mailing list. In fact, I personally use both – providing access to an online community in exchange for an email address.
For you, emails are valuable to have because you can push marketing messages to customers. You can persuade people to read your posts, back your Kickstarter, or buy your game. For customers, this is an easy and passive way to stay in touch. Even better, if you’re putting thought and love into your emails, you can make their lives better by reading them. This is what I try to do – spend about 20-30 minutes every week crafting emails that people want to open.
Another thing you need to do before you create a mailing list is get a P.O. box. Yes, that sounds weird, but you need to hear me out on this. In order to be compliant with anti-spam laws, you need to have your business address at the bottom of every email you send out. This is a legal requirement. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in putting my home address – which is ██████████ – on the internet for strangers to find. That’s why you get a P.O. box. For folks based in the USA, that’s as simple as going to the post office and saying “I would like a P.O. box” and then paying them $60-or-so every six months.
What do all these numbers mean?
Once you set up your mailing list, you’ll become aware of a number of cryptic-sounding metrics that will tell you about the health of your mailing list. Here are some you need to know:
Open Rate – the percentage of your mailing list that opens your email. (25% or higher is considered good.)
Click Rate – the percentage of your mailing list that clicks on at least one link in your email. (2% or higher is considered good.)
Hard Bounce – happens when you send to an invalid email address.
Soft Bounce – happens when your email is sent to a valid email address, but they don’t receive the email.
Subscribes – the number of people who join your mailing list.
Unsubscribes – the number of people who leave your mailing list. (Ideally, this is 1% or lower.)
By far, the most important metric is click rate. It indicates the number of people who are using your emails to get where you want them to go. If your click rate is low, that means you need to work on your call to action. We’ll talk more about calls to action in the template section below.
As with anything, I cannot give you the perfect answers on how to run the right email campaign for your business. All I can do is give you guidelines and examples. You need to go into this with the mindset of a scientist. Always be experimenting. Always be ready to change when the data says that’s the right thing to do.
A Quick Note on Email Marketing Software
At the time I wrote this article initially, MailChimp was the best system on the market. Now it’s one good choice out of many. I’m leaving most of this article untouched, but I’d like for you to know there are a lot of other good email marketing software providers out there. A few examples:
There are lots of sites that will help you set up a mailing list, but the one I use is MailChimp and I really like it. This is what I’ll be teaching you to use. Click that link and then click Sign Up Free. Provide an email, username, and password.
Once you’re logged in, create a list. At the time I’m writing this post, that means clicking Lists then clicking Create List button. You’ll be asked to enter the following:
List Name – I use Brandon the Game Dev Newsletter. Short and descriptive.
Default From Email Address – I set up one on my web server called firstname.lastname@example.org. This isn’t hard to do, but it’s out of the scope of this article.
Default From Name – I use Brandon Rollins. More personal that way.
Remind people how they signed up for your list – I use:
Thanks for signing up for my newsletter! You’ll very soon be receiving updates from Brandon the Game Dev.
Contact Information – I use my P.O. Box.
Enable double opt-in – I leave this unchecked. Otherwise, people have to respond to a confirmation email when they sign up, which lowers sign-up rates.
Notifications – I leave all of them unchecked. They get old fast.
Click Save. Then click Settings and click List fields and *|MERGE|* tags. Merge tags are really cool, so you’ll want to pay attention to this. They pull information from your sign-up form and they associate it with each email. For example, when I sign up for a MailChimp campaign, I might see Email Address, First Name, and Last Name. Naturally, I’d enter email@example.com, Brandon, and Rollins respectively. That info is all stored in a database.
Each bit of information is associated with a merge tag.
*|EMAIL|* is firstname.lastname@example.org
*|FNAME|* is Brandon
*|LNAME|* is Rollins
Someone can then write a newsletter that starts out as “Hey *|FNAME|*!” and it will show up as “Hey Brandon!” For my friend Carla, it’d be “Hey Carla!” and for my friend Sean, it’d be “Hey Sean!” This lets you personalize your emails with anything your users provide. You can add more merge tags if you want to customize your emails even more. There is a ton of potential here.
We’re going to stick to the basics today, though, so let’s talk about…
Creating a Landing Page that Works
MailChimp lets you create your own landing pages. You can create forms hosted by MailChimp and you can also get HTML code which you can put on your own website. I’ve used both, but I’ll stick to MailChimp’s basic forms since teaching you how to use custom ones requires you to know HTML. You can learn HTML on W3Schools for free – I used it in my teens and it’s still alive and well.
Click Signup forms. Click Select next to General forms. You can customize a whole bunch of forms, but we’re just going to talk about the Signup form itself since that’s the one you want to get absolutely right. This form will double as your landing page unless you decide to make a custom one and use Mailchimp’s HTML code on your own website.
Customize Your Landing Page
What MailChimp gives you by default isn’t bad, but it’s not pretty either. You can spruce up this form very nicely with a little effort. First things first, though, think about the data you want to gather on your landing page. You need an email address for sure. I recommend gathering at least first name for your merge tags as well. Everything else is extra, so you have to strike this subtle balance. If you ask for too much information, people will drop off your page and not sign up. If you don’t ask for any extra information, it can be hard to segment your mailing list into groups of people with different interests.
Regardless of what you decide to do, click on any fields you need to delete, rename, or relabel – you’ll have options on the right. Click on Add a field and then a button below to add a field asking for more information.
Once you’ve added and removed fields to your taste, click Design it. You can change the colors, fonts, and spacing of every part of your landing page – the page, the body, and the form itself. Click around in there and experiment to your taste. When you’re done, copy the Signup form URL that’s near the top in the screenshot above. That’s your landing page’s address. Share that address anywhere you need to such as your social media or your website.
Creating a Template that Works
Click Templates then Create a template. I personally recommend that you pick one of Mailchimp’s featured templates and modify it to your tastes. On the right side, click on the Design button – you’ll see items including Page, Header, Body, Footer, Mobile Styles, and Monkey Rewards. You’ll be given lots of options on how to customize the page, such as colors, font sizes, line spacing, and more. I personally recommend staying pretty close to the original design, but swap out the colors for sure. Once you’re happy with the basic colors, fonts, and spacing of your template, click on the Content button to see all the things you can put into your mailer. What you see in the screenshot below can be dragged and dropped right onto your template.
Drag all the elements you like into your template. If you don’t want something in your template, hover over the item and then click on the trash can symbol on the top right. Once you get all your content items in the right locations, click on each one on the left. Then edit the details on the right. Details can be editing an image, updating text, changing where a button goes, and so on. Make sure to click Save & Close any time you make a change on the right side! When think you’ve got a good template, Preview and Test in the top right corner and then Enter preview mode.
Create a Template that Resembles Others
Now the whole time you’re doing this, you need to be looking at newsletters that you like and imitating their style. Pay particularly close attention to their “calls to action” – any articles they want you to read or buttons they want you to click. When you’re sending out your own mailer, you want to have one very clear call to action somewhere on the mailer. If you don’t, it’s pointless to send out in the first place. I personally put three calls to action in each blog email – one text link to an article and two image/text links to an article at the bottom – I’ve highlighted mine in red.
When you’re done with your template, click Save and Exit and give it a name you’ll remember. When you’re sending out email campaigns, you’ll be using your template. You can then swap out text and images and keep a consistent look and feel between all your emails. Go ahead and sign up for your email list and send out a sample campaign to yourself while you’re the only one on it. Make sure everything looks okay and go back and edit your template if it doesn’t.
Building Your Mailing List
Building your mailing list is a great first step, but it can be utterly defeating to put all this work into making a pretty mailer and pretty landing page only to send it to ten people. That’s why you need to think about ways to generate leads for your mailing list. There are a handful of ways to do this.
Create a lead magnet. That’s basically a fancy marketing term for a good reason for a person to give you their email. You could offer a print-and-play version of your game in exchange for an email, create something useful such as a how-to guide, or you could offer people entry into a contest for a free game. I personally use my Discord server of over 1,000 game developers as a lead magnet because I put the invite link on the confirmation page.
No matter how you plan on reaching out to people, creating a lead magnet is essential. Why would anybody give you their personal information without a compelling reason? A lot of people don’t ask this question and therefore get hung up on the fact that people don’t want to give up their email addresses. You have to give them a good reason before you do anything else.
Link your landing page to your website and social media. Most of the time, my pinned tweets and Facebook posts go to my mailing lists. The same applies to the home pages of most of my websites, which usually contain a catchy line such as “Learn to make board games from scratch. Join my community of over 1,000 game developers, artists, and passionate creators.” Then right below that, I put a big, bright button that goes to my landing page.
Direct messages. Everything I’ve said above is great for passive outreach, but let’s assume you want to play hardball. If you have a social media following on Twitter or Instagram, you can send out personalized direct messages to each of your followers. Say something like “Hi (Name), I saw that you’re interested in (thing that’s relevant to your business). I’m offering (lead magnet). Is this something you’d be interested in?” If they say yes, send them the link and tell them what they need to do next, such as sign up and gain access to the lead magnet on the confirmation page.
Help content creators. I’ve talked about Why and How to Get Featured on Board Game Blogs and Podcasts. One of the best reasons to do that is because you can ask them to link to your landing page. You can often see this in the first or last paragraph of guest posts on your favorite blogs or in the show notes of podcasts you like. This is really solid way of growing your audience for free.
Do giveaway contests. Feeling a little more spendy? The absolute best way I’ve found of generating email lists is by offering something for free on Facebook in exchange for an email sign up. Just create a post like this, take out $20 in targeted ads, and watch the emails roll in.
Advertise. Last but not least, one of the best ways to passively bring in email leads with nearly no effort is to take out a Facebook ad. Target your audience very specifically by age, location, and especially interest. Keep an eye on it and make sure you’re not paying more than a dollar per email sign-up. You can read more about Facebook advertising in my previous post, How to Build up a Facebook Page as a Board Game Dev.
Mailing lists are pretty amazing for businesses. I hope this guide gives you what you need to get started. Come up with something to say, make a pretty landing page, make a professional email template, and bring in sign-ups using the methods I’ve described above. Monitor your metrics and experiment until you find something that works.
In the last few years, live-streaming has skyrocketed in popularity. Through live-streaming, we can share videos of ourselves and our screens with a greater audience, who can communicate with us through chat. It’s tempting to think that the analog nature of board games would preclude live-streaming, but this is not the case. Live-streaming board games can be done with digital tools such as Tabletop Simulator or video cameras capturing gameplay on the physical tabletop. No matter how you choose to do it, live-streaming can be a great way to build an audience and share your game with the world.
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To help you understand how to put on a great show for your fans, I’ve brought in Will Esgro of Happy Fun Time LIVE. He’s an up-and-coming board game live streamer I’ve worked with in the recent past. He knows how to put on a good show!
We interviewed via Discord direct messages which have been lightly edited for clarity and flow. This interview is broken into six parts:
Who is Will Esgro?
Why watch streams?
Why stream games?
What are the technical requirements?
How do you build a community?
Who is Will Esgro?
Brandon: Thank you so much for agreeing to interview with me for the blog! This is going to be a good one – I hear a lot of questions about live-streaming board games.
To get started, tell me about yourself and Happy Fun Time LIVE.
Will: Thanks for reaching out and for providing an outlet to share my experiences.
I’ve been involved in gaming since the age of six when I got my Nintendo. I’ve always tinkered in technology and I often pour myself into side projects when I get bored. Streaming started as one of these “distraction” projects.
I got involved in Twitch streaming when it was migrating from JustinTV, which was basically a platform where people could stream media over the internet and talk about it while watching. I was using my online handle wesgro2. I’d stream Kerbal Space Program, Day Z, and Mech Warrior Online.
After my wife and I received our amazing son 2 years ago, we made the joint decision that I would stay at home with him. Originally, I worked part-time for about a year during the transition. While this was all happening, I started having friends over often to play board games.
I stumbled into Kickstarter, where I noticed some of the most innovative and exciting games were being launched, and this led me to find content creators on YouTube and Twitch. Everything sort of clicked after that.
Brandon: And you’ve been streaming for roughly a year now?
Will: Under the new Happy Fun Time LIVE brand, yes.
Brandon: For those unfamiliar, this is the Twitch channel where you do play-throughs and interviews with the creators of new games.
(Which is a lot of fun for the creator, I might add.)
Why watch streams?
Brandon: With all this in mind, what is the appeal of streaming board games for the viewers? Why do people watch?
Will: I think our core viewers watch and participate in streams to replicate the experience of playing with a regular gaming group. Not many rural or suburban areas of the US or world have places where you can meet up with fellow gamers and just play. It’s unfortunate, but many local game stores in or around small towns devote their resources and space to Magic and Warhammer players. Board games are often overlooked. I don’t blame them because often those are the only returning customers to their stores.
Others will pop in to check out a game they may have been interested in.
I like to ask people ahead of our streams what they want us to play.
Our best night in terms of views are on the nights where I’m just relaxed and having a good time with the guests and our chat.
Brandon: Vicarious experience is a big part of what makes streams work, though having a community is probably bigger. People can respond to you, and you to them in real time.
Having streamed several games, I have to say that it feels like doing small-town radio. You can really connect with your audience in a way that blogging, video, podcasts, etc. don’t allow you to do.
Why stream games?
Brandon: What is the appeal of streaming board games for the creators?
Will: I think the biggest appeal for me was that we are in a board game boom right now. The pool of content creators is small but growing pretty rapidly. I wanted to get in on the ground floor and ride the wave.
I think each creator has their own reasons and influences. Mine were that I like board games and the opportunity to grow in that area of Twitch streaming is exponential as opposed to mainstream gaming which is already gobbled up by too many mainstream streamers.
I’m also planning on streaming some figure painting as I learn the process.
Brandon: For you, it gives you a chance to see new games before they’re out.
For game developers, I’ve noticed that streams are a really good way to spread the word about games. This is especially true since they’re often recorded and saved online for later viewings.
If you’ve got a live Kickstarter campaign and a compelling game, it’s not hard to pull viewers from the stream to your campaign either. I did that with War Co. and made thousands of dollars that way.
Will: And vice versa, we often get new viewers and sometimes strong community members through partnering with designers to promote their games.
Brandon: That’s true, game makers tend to have their own audiences which in turn make yours bigger for later streams with other creators.
What are the technical requirements?
Brandon: What’s involved in streaming from a technical perspective?
Will: I use Streamlabs OBS. It’s free, robust software that is only limited by your imagination when streaming. I just started using a new bot called GatherBot which interacts with viewers while we stream. There is a quest mode that lets people in chat take on different quests in chat to earn rewards. I’ve been loving it.
Hardware is the tough part. We use between 2 and 3 webcams for our live board game play, which is a challenge since I have to take it all down and set it all up each week.
Monday and Wednesday stream setups are easy because I just play video games or invite community members to play Tabletop Simulator or Tabletopia games with me.
Will: That is the Friday table.
Will: And that’s for Mondays and Wednesdays.
Brandon: Would you say you need a special computer to run streams, or can you work with a simple office desktop (or even laptop)?
Will: For board games, you’ll need a decent processor, RAM, and graphics.
Technically, you could get away with using a cell phone, but it may fall flat due to lack of scene changes and no great way to show the board and players at the same time.
I suggest at least an i5 processor, 16 GB of RAM, and a 900 series Nvidia graphic card or equal AMD tech level hardware.
Brandon: The bravest among us may even wish to make their own PCs using parts they get from Amazon.
Will: I’ve been building my PCs for the last 15 years. 🙂
Brandon: Using sites like PC Part Picker and YouTube tutorials as guides. Helps you make a really great computer for a much lower price. I use a home-assembled PC for Pangea Games too. Five hundred bucks in parts and still lightning fast after three years.
Brandon: Once you have all the supplies, how does streaming work socially? How do you engage viewers and maintain a community?
Will: It all starts with your offline friends. Ask them if they want to be a part of it and ask them for feedback. If they don’t enjoy watching you or supporting you, that’s your first sign that something isn’t working.
Start various social media accounts to promote when you stream, then start following and engaging members of the community you would like to grow in.
I suggest Twitter as a primary way to reach out and Reddit as a secondary one. Those seem to have the most traction in cultivating an effective and engaging community.
You also have to commit to at least 10 to 20 hours of watching other content creators and genuinely supporting them. Parallel growth with other streamers is a large part of the initial process.
Start running giveaways. I take about half of what I generate monthly and apply it to prize support for our viewers and subscribers.
I run a monthly giveaway of $40 – 50 in value. Then I run smaller giveaways each time we hit $50 worth of bits on our channel. The monthly is run through Gleam.io which is a great tool for growing each of your social media accounts and media channels symmetrically.
Brandon: That first part is important but easy to miss: make sure you’re able to engage your friends first. Then social media, giveaways, getting involved in the community, and finding peers are all really good ideas.
Will: I now have about 500 followers on each account and our channel.
The really crappy part of streaming is casting.
Will: Some people are not great in front of a camera. That includes friends and community members.
Brandon: That’s true. Some folks just aren’t telegenic – through no fault of their own.
Will: You have to be ready to have serious conversations with people as you grow regarding how they fit.
This is very challenging and it could temporarily stifle your growth if they don’t take it well.
You also have to develop a sense of who will be right for each game you choose to play on stream.
If you have a goofy friend who is always cracking a joke, they might not be as great for a very involved 4x or Euro game.
They may distract too much from the gameplay and ruin the experience and frustrate you while you’re live.
Will: Same goes for someone who pays lighthearted games too seriously. It takes away from the experience.
The funny thing is I think we all have that friend who shows up for some game nights that we wish we could politely ask not to join in the future when playing a certain game. Like when Grandma used to always flip the table during Monopoly.
I actually have to have those conversations though, and it sucks.
Brandon: Flipping the table after the first turn of Monopoly is a house rule where I live.
It’s true, though, you often have to have uncomfortable conversations with people when doing public-facing entertainment. That’s never easy.
It is, after all, a light version of show business.
Brandon: Okay, one last question.
If there were one piece of advice which you could give yourself before you started streaming, what would it be?
Will: That is a tough one. Streaming is a long experiment until you “make it”. I don’t think I’m at that level yet. Once I’m there, I think I could better reflect and let you know what I did to get there, and what formula clicked.
For now, I’m just happy to have a core group of about a dozen viewers who hang out each night I stream.
Brandon: That’s a good attitude to have. Building an audience from scratch is a long, slow process that gets easier only after a lot of time.
That’s all I’ve got. Thank you very much!
Live-streaming board games is becoming more popular as time goes on. It’s a great way to share your games and engage your community. Have you ever streamed a game? Would you like to? Let us know in the comments below 🙂
August 2020 Update
Because of the coronavirus pandemic of 2020, a lot of people cannot go to conventions, local game stores, or even their friends’ houses to play board games. Love of gaming can’t be quashed by a virus, though. If you want to watch some live-streaming board gamers, the top 10 most popular shows at the time this update is being published are: