How to Master Time (So You Can Make Games)

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Game development is a marathon. It’s a long, difficult endeavor that eliminates the unprepared by sapping their endurance a quarter-mile at a time. It takes at least a year, at the bare minimum, to take a board game idea and turn into a ready-to-sell product. Anything less than that is next to impossible, and 18-24 months is a lot more realistic.

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Staying organized and managing your time well are critical to self-publishing a game. There are a lot of things to do, a lot of things to track, and a lot of time that needs to be spent. You need to keep your digital and physical files organized, you need to keep a to-do list, you need to keep a project timeline, and you need to make and stick to a calendar. If you do not stay organized, you’ll be pulled in too many different directions and you won’t get hardly anything done.

Let’s start from the top down. I’ll talk about big time-frames and how you can organize your time and your efforts in the long-term and we’ll slowly work our way down to from years to minutes.

Wall Clock

Years

Accept that it takes at least a year to make a game, and often 18-24 months. It almost always takes more than one game to make a good amount of money. By self-publishing, you’re starting a business and that most businesses need 3-5 years to make a decent amount of money.

Years are too big of a time frame to meaningfully organize your activities around, but it’s important to accept the long arc of what you’re getting into. Lots of people make games. Most people quit. You don’t have to be one of them. I feel like the main differences between the quitters and the winners are expectations, passion, and willingness to improve.

Months

Game development as a process falls into several stages, most of which take months. They include…

Early Production

Game design and development. This is the process by which game ideas are crafted into working products. This usually takes at least 6 months. Making the game work isn’t necessarily the hard part. The hard parts are play testing it, getting artwork, and getting the whole product ready for the market.

Artwork. You get someone to do the art for your game. Unless you’re really talented, you shouldn’t do art for your own game. The amount of time this takes is dependent upon your artist’s schedule and the complexity of your game, but even a simple board game could take around 4 months.

Production. You’ll need to print some sample copies of your game to make sure all your ideas translate well to a physical product. This could take a month or more. It could take much, much longer if you wind up having to make changes.

Rubik's Cube Taken Apart
It takes a long time for games to come together. Photo taken by Hangsna and posted to Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY SA 3.0 (Source).

Reviews. Before you can launch a Kickstarter, you’ll need reviews for people to take you seriously. Reviewers tend to drag their feet, so you should account for two months between sending them a copy and them writing a review. You also need to account for the time it takes to produce sample copies. Budget 3 months for this.

Kickstarter. While most Kickstarters are around a month in length, the preparation before and the clean-up afterward take another month together. You should plan to spend about 2 months on Kickstarter. This is assuming, of course, that you succeed. About half of Kickstarters in the board game market don’t. If you fail, you’ll need to relaunch and that involves more time. Also, if you want to succeed in the first place, you’ll need to have a community built up from several months prior as well.

Late Production

Manufacturing. It takes about a month to print board games. Then it takes about three months to ship them by sea. Yes, you read that right. You can air ship them, but it’s really expensive and I can’t recommend that you do that in good faith. Plan for 4 months to manufacture assuming everything goes well. Manufacturing delays in addition to that 4 month time frame are very common.

Fulfillment. Whether you ship your games yourself or with the help of third parties, it’s going to take a bare minimum of two weeks to get everything in the mail. Plus you’ll be intermittently solving problems related to fulfillment in the months to come.

Sales. This can go on for as long as your game has a community! Here is the thing, though: this never really ends.

Marketing. Even if you had a game perfectly ready to go, you’d still need to build a community through wise marketing and promotion practices for at least six months, but realistically closer to a year to make even a modest amount of money on Kickstarter.

How do you keep track of all of this? One such way is to create a Gantt chart, shown below. Each different stage can be imagined as a row. The columns represent time. This helps you get a feel for how your game’s creation process will work. If you get ahead or fall behind, you can tweak the bars to be shorter or longer and move everything else that comes along with it. I made this chart in Excel, but there are better programs for it.

Weeks

Every week, it’s a good idea to set goals. Sure, you can have broader goals of “be a good game dev” and “make this game a real thing.” In fact, those are really important to have! But with weekly goals, your focus should be making them specific and achievable. Line up your weekly goals with your broader goals.

I like keeping my weekly goals in Evernote. I set weekly goals every Saturday and I track certain metrics like web traffic, followers, newsletter subscribers, and sales that I think line up with my bigger goals. Here’s what my weekly goals look like right now.

Days

On a day-to-day basis, you want to make sure you have time to actually achieve what’s on your weekly goals. After all, it’s the weekly goals that link up to the monthly stages of board game development and the multi-year epic journey that is getting published. I suggest using Google Calendar to track your time in 30 minute blocks. You can move these blocks around as you like, but the idea is to actually set aside time every day to work on your goals.

Google Calendar

Hours

When it comes to setting up time for making a game, it’s not just about putting in long hours. Sure, you might have to put in long hours, but the reality is that you don’t have to put that much time in everyday to make it. You just have to put a good amount of time in most days for a few years.

Make your time count. Only spend time on what’s worthwhile. Try to schedule tasks when your mind and body are capable of doing them well. Always look for ways to improve your processes. If you can outsource work, do it. If you can automate work, do it. Work smart so that when you work hard, it’s worth the extra oomph!

Minutes

Focus is critical. Find out what distracts you. Is it social media? The constant buzzing of text messages? Are your kids interrupting you? Is it noisy neighbors? Figure out what triggers distraction in you. Seek to eliminate or reduce distraction wherever you can so you don’t get your precious little minutes stolen.

Mindful use of your time is key to success in game development and self-publishing. Set realistic expectations. Have an understanding of what it takes to get from point A to point B. Set clear goals. Keep a schedule. Block off time. Reduce distractions. Improve processes.

You do this and you’re one step away from Start and one more step toward Finish.

Time is Only Half of the Problem, Energy is the Other Half

I originally wrote this blog post in early 2017. The tips I’ve talked about here have helped me to survive a failed Kickstarter campaign, launch a successful one, and start a marketing agency.

I used this advice every day while I took care of an injured family member and even as the coronavirus pandemic took hold of the world. To this day, I still use Google Calendar, although I’ve given up Evernote for a more visual Trello board.

I want it to be crystal clear that I practice what I preach, because I need you to understand that time management is half the battle. Energy management is the other half. I talk about that at length in this post. To save you a click, though, here are the basic principles:

  • Figure out when you’re most likely to be in a creative, analytical, and social mood.
  • Plan your day around when you typically experience these moods.
  • Always leave some flexibility in your workload so you can switch tasks if you get stuck.

If you can combine these energy management tips with time management skills, I earnestly believe that it will help you to achieve your goals.





How to Order a Print Run for Your Board Game Kickstarter

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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:

Final Thoughts

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!





How to Build a Mailing List and Send Newsletters as a Board Game Dev

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I’m a big fan of mailing lists. Sending email newsletters to well-targeted mailing lists is one of the best ways you can spread the word of your business and keep customers engaged. I spoke about the value of mailing lists earlier in How to Generate Traffic for Your Board Game Kickstarter or Website, but today I want to dive into the details you need to know to get started. As such, this guide will be split into five parts:

  1. Mailing List Basics
  2. Setting up a Mailing List on MailChimp
  3. Creating a Landing Page that Works
  4. Creating a Template that Works
  5. Building Your Mailing List

Mailing List Basics

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.

Who would have guessed you needed a physical mailbox to send emails?
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:


Setting up a Mailing List on MailChimp

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 no.reply@brandonthegamedev.com. 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 brandon@pangeagamescompany.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 brandon@pangeagamescompany.com
  • *|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.

Here is what my landing page looks like in MailChimp’s editor.

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.

This is an example of my newsletter, with the calls to action highlighted in yellow.
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.

As always, feel free to ask questions below 🙂