How Much You Should Spend on Board Game Advertising

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Uncategorized

A couple of months ago, I asked the readers of this blog to send in answers to the question “what confuses you most about board game development?” I got a lot of responses, and one of them was about how much to spend on board game advertising. That’s what I’ll be talking about in this post.

Need help on your board game?
Join my community of over 2,000 game developers, artists, and passionate creators.

This week, I want to respond to a comment by Nikhilesh Chitlangia. I want to particularly focus on part one, which can be roughly summarized as, “how much should I spend on advertising for my board game?”

This is a tricky question for two reasons:

  1. It presupposes that you have adequate funds to advertise in the first place, which is not true for many creators.
  2. It also presupposes that you have the ability to create an ad that leads to sales, which is also a pretty big assumption.

For the sake of the rest of this post, we’re going to assume both are true. That is, we’re assuming you have the money needed to bankroll your game and you have a decent understanding of how to make a good ad.

Basics of Board Game Advertising

Let’s go over some of the basics of board game advertising before we start talking hard numbers. First, board game advertising is primarily online. I cannot readily think of any print publications or other traditional media that would provide a suitable outlet for advertising products in such a niche market.

With this in mind, there are five basic ways to advertise your board game online:

  1. Facebook
  2. Instagram
  3. Board Game Geek
  4. Paid previews
  5. Pinterest

That last one might come across as odd, but I’ve included it because I believe that Pinterest is a generally underrated website for advertising to niche audiences. Advertising pins blend in really well on boards.

With previews, you want to make sure you pay someone with a large audience who likes games like yours. From there, they will handle the rest. All you have to do is share the video when it’s done.

As for the other advertising channels, you must follow these basic principles:

  • With everything but Board Game Geek, make sure you target only people who like board games. If you can narrow down your audience further from there, that’s even better.
  • You need a great picture of either the game box or the game being played. You might experiment with videos as well.
  • When additional text is required, as with Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest, a simple, straightforward description of the game goes a long way. We got a really good response with the following copy for Tasty Humans: “Become a monster. Eat villagers. A puzzle-solving, tile placement board game for 1-4 players.”

Metrics for Ad Spending

When you start advertising, you will likely be inundated with acronyms and jargon. A lot of people obsess over CPC (cost per click) or impressions (number of ad views). Those are important, but they’re not the most important, at least not strategically.

Three metrics matter more than everything else. They are ROAS, CAC, and LTV.

ROAS is return on ad spending. You can calculate by dividing the amount of revenue an ad campaign makes by the amount you spend on it. According to BigCommerce, an ROAS of 4 is good. You can grow a business on 3, though many other businesses require 10 or more.

Personally, when it comes to board games, I shoot for a ROAS of 5. I like to spend $5 on ads for every $25 I get on a game.

CAC is customer acquisition cost. That is how much you pay to get a brand new person who has never bought from you to buy from you for the first time.

LTV is lifetime customer value. That is how much the average customer spends on your business once they become a customer.

LTV and CAC are often used together. You generally want the LTV of a customer to be three times the CAC. This is a relatively lofty goal, but one I think you should strive for as much as possible.

What’s important about all the metrics above is that you want to watch the amount of revenue your ads are bringing in, not necessarily the cost per click. If it takes 50 clicks to get a sale, but the cost-per-click is $0.10, then it costs $5 to make a sale. If your cost-per-click is $1.00 but a fifth of clicks buy your game, then it also costs $5 to make a sale.

(That said, if you really need a CPC number, I shoot for $0.20-0.30 on Facebook with 1-in-20 making a purchase.)

How Much You Should Spend on Board Game Advertising

As I see it, there are two different methods you can use to determine how much money to spend on board game advertising.

1. The “How Much Money Can I Afford to Lose” Method

Believe it or not, this is the method I used with the Tasty Humans Kickstarter. My team and I collectively spent around $2,500 in marketing and ended up gaining around $28,000 between Kickstarter and BackerKit in return. We figured we might be able to raise $15,000-18,000 at our level of marketing spending, but the game exceeded our expectations.

We chose the $2,500 figure simply because that’s the amount we were willing to spend and because we would not feel bad if we underperformed.

This method has its shortcomings, though. You pretty much have to be willing to spend at least $1,000 to get a decent amount of attention with advertising. You can’t expect magic to happen without spending a substantial amount of money.

2. The Desired Revenue Method

Let’s say that you have a great abundance of capital available to you right now. Instead of your limitations being set by the amount you are willing to lose, they are set by what you desire to gain.

In this case, if you want to make a certain amount of revenue, then to determine your advertising budget, you can divide the revenue you want by your expected ROAS. That is to say, if you want to make $50,000 and expect an ROAS of 5, then you should spend $10,000 on advertising.

This method is pretty handy, but be careful. Advertising spending can have diminishing returns if you spend a truly enormous amount on it. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that you will receive the ROAS for which you are hoping.

Advertising is Not the Only Way to Generate Leads

For all this talk of advertising, I want to make something clear. You can either market with time or with money. Advertising is very expensive in terms of money, but not so bad in terms of time. I love ads because they are simple and allow me to continue with other aspects of my busy life. They are not, however, a silver bullet. You need to generate leads (that is, potential new customers) in other ways.

First and foremost, your game needs to be great. This goes without saying, but I’m still saying it because it’s that important! If your game isn’t great for a specific group of gamers, no ad will save you. Likewise, if it is truly great, your odds of getting word-of-mouth or “being discovered” are dramatically increased.

Content marketing is a great way to spread the word about your game. That includes writing blog posts, using social media, live-streaming the game, showing up on podcasts, and so on. The point is: give people something to consume and it will help spread the word of your game and your brand.

Reviews are tremendous at establishing trust and are relatively low-cost, often only costing the price of a prototype and shipping. You need some amount of reviews for people to take you seriously and buy in the first place. Beyond the fifth or sixth review, though, additional reviews serve primarily as a way to be mentioned in front of others on their media channels, thereby generating leads.

Play-testing with others and generally networking – online or offline – is a way to generate leads, too. Just make sure you don’t come across as too salesy. Be genuine, try to have a good time, and help them with what they need help with as well.

Lastly, making in-roads with board game distributors is also a good way to market your game. Not only will they buy your game outright sometimes, but they will also shelve it online or offline in ways that people are likely to see.

Final Thoughts

There is no hard and fast rule on how much you should spend on board game advertising. All marketing efforts should be examined in terms of how much revenue they bring in. Once you confirm that your advertisements are bringing in enough money, then your spending should be determined based on either how much you can spend or how much you want to make!

How to Find an Audience for Your Board Game & Make Them Happy

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Uncategorized

A couple of months ago, I asked the readers of this blog to send in answers to the question “what confuses you most about board game development?” I got a lot of responses, and one of them was about how to find an audience for a board game. That’s what I’ll be talking about in this post.

Need help on your board game?
Join my community of over 2,000 game developers, artists, and passionate creators.

This week, I want to respond to a comment by Chris Helm. In it, he states that he is most confused by finding a buying audience. How do you identify an audience? Do their tastes change over time?

This is an excellent question, and it’s right up my alley. I run a marketing agency as well as a separate blog dedicated to talking about the discipline of marketing. Finding an audience and determining how to please them is primarily a marketing question.

Game Design Principles & Finding An Audience

At this point, many game designers will balk at the idea of doing market research. Marketing research, they fear, will inhibit creativity and be an act of “selling out.”

That’s not the way I see it. In truth, marketing ultimately comes down to creating good experiences for people so that they are willing to exchange something of value for something else. If we lived in a world without money, marketing would still exist.

Game designers market without even meaning to when they design their games. Game designers tend to play a lot of games and interact with a lot of gamers. They almost always want to make games that their gaming groups will enjoy, just by nature. Intuitively, game designers are marketing to themselves and to their closest gaming friends.

By purposefully undertaking marketing research, and identifying it as such, game designers can get ideas on how to make a great game. Therefore, market research is how game designers can find an audience, identify their needs, and make them happy!

Marketing Research for Board Game Creators

First, let’s go over the basic ideas behind market research. The five main objectives of marketing research are to:

  1. Gather data about people and companies to understand what people need.
  2. Determine the feasibility of a business (or, in your case, the desirability a board game idea).
  3. Identify and develop new markets (in your case, player bases).
  4. Test demand.
  5. Boost the success of promotions.

Marketing research can be conducted in a number of different ways. The simplest is observation. Either online or in-person, you watch people play board games and listen to or read their reactions to games. This includes listening to reviews, reading threads on Board Game Geek, browsing social media, and so on.

Observation is likely how you are going to find an audience. That is, how you are going to select a group of gamers to create a game for.

Play-testing is market research, too. In fact, play-testing is nothing more than assembling a focus group around a specific product, which is in your case, a game.

Play-testing is largely how you are going to make sure your game is pleasing to your intended audience.

Other marketing research tools include interviews, surveys, and reading the websites of competitors. This is just scratching the surface, too, but I’m trying to keep it high-level for this post. For more details on market research methods, most of which you can adapt to board games, I’ve got three more posts you can check out:

How to Use Marketing Research to Make a Better Board Game

As you can see, the basic applications for marketing research in board game development are easy enough to understand. Read reviews, watch people play games, pick an audience to design for, look at similar games, and play-test to make sure your game is good.

All of this is pretty traditional wisdom. Yet what is often missing is the bigger picture – the reason for doing all these things in the first place.

When doing market research in the board game industry, you have seven objectives:

  1. Figure out which gamers you want to serve.
  2. Make sure you are making a game for gamers who actually exist. (Failing to do so actually led to the collapse of a game project I did in 2018.)
  3. Find ways to please those gamers.
  4. Figure out where those gamers hang out, online and offline.
  5. Prove there is real demand for your game.
  6. Find similar projects to imitate and reference if you decide to run a Kickstarter.
  7. Refine your pitch using real market data if going to a publisher.

Tastes Change Over Time, So This Process Never Ends

It’s tempting to think that once you have found an audience – a group of gamers you really connect with – that you don’t have to do market research anymore. This is not the case.

People’s tastes change over time. Certain board game design trends fall out of favor or become cliche. Art styles wax and wane in popularity. The industry moves quickly and many gamers keep up with trends.

This doesn’t mean that you have to become a trend-chaser, always trying to make a game based on the latest hype cycle. It does mean, however, that before you initiate each project, you need to make sure that you are meeting a need that is still likely to exist in a year.

Keep in mind, board games take a while to develop. That’s why it makes sense to chase, say, a three-year-long trend toward science fiction themed games and not the latest current event.

Final Thoughts

Finding an audience for your board game is straightforward. By observing people’s behavior online and paying attention to their likes, interests, and needs, you can create games that gamers are more likely to enjoy. Through play-testing, you can refine your ideas and make sure that they live up to their promise.

Market research is how creators and companies identify people’s needs. That way, they are always making relevant, high-quality games to be enjoyed for years to come.

4 Lessons from Imhotep for Aspiring Board Game Designers

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Uncategorized

A few weeks into our long isolation, my fiancee and I played Imhotep for the first time. Yes, I know we’re just a few years behind the rest of the world in that regard. But hey, that’s what being isolated for weeks on end is for, right?

In any case, we received this game as a gift from grandmother, who apparently has a really good eye for which hobby board game to buy! Naturally, we needed to set the game up and take a few photos to send to her, if nothing else. We ended up playing longer than expected!

Need help on your board game?
Join my community of over 2,000 game developers, artists, and passionate creators.

Like many board games, Imhotep has a lot to teach board game designers. But first, a quick explanation of the rules:

In Imhotep, players become builders in Egypt. You want to build a combination of pyramids, obelisks, burial chambers, and temples. All of these structures will earn you points.

You build these structures with stone. Stone is gathered from a quarry and transported via boats. Collecting stone is a single action, as is loading stone onto a boat, and offloading it onto the structure of your choice. You get one action per turn.

It’s all pretty straightforward euro fare at this point, but one mechanic stands out to me as being incredibly profound. You can’t load stone onto a boat and build a structure in the same turn. That means you can load stone onto a boat and your opponent can move your stone to a completely unexpected place, thus wasting your stone or forcing you to use it in a way you didn’t want to. Keep this in mind for the rest of the article!

1. One way to obscure scoring: count points for different actions at different times.

Anytime you make a “point salad” style game, it’s important to obscure scoring so that there’s no clear winner or loser during the game. (Point salad here meaning any game where you gather points from a variety of sources.)

In Imhotep, this is done in a very simple way. When you build pyramids, points count immediately. When you build temples, points count at the end of the round. Collecting cards, creating a burial chamber, and building an obelisk, on the other hand, are all only scored at the end of the game.

This is hardly unique to board games, but Imhotep does this in such a clear way that new board game designers would do well to pay attention.

2. Use simple mechanics to create options for counterplay.

One of the elements of great game design is interaction. When players don’t interact, this creates games that feel like “multiplayer solitaire.” That’s not necessarily bad, but a lot of gamers don’t like that.

Imhotep, on the other hand, avoids the multiplayer solitaire problem by limiting players actions so severely. This means you can choose to either move stone onto a boat or offload stone from a boat. You can never do both in the same turn.

That means you can place stone on a boat with the intention to move it to a specific place. Your opponent can then choose to move your boat somewhere else entirely, thus thwarting your plan. Even if they don’t do that, the threat looms and that creates a new level of gameplay where you make your moves based on expected countermoves by your opponents.

3. Don’t let players control their destiny completely.

Games need luck to feel fresh. Without luck, you create games that can be completely solved. With very few exceptions, you have to add luck to a game to make it interesting. This is not just true for luck-driven games like Quacks of Quedlinburg. It’s also true for super skill-heavy games like Twilight Struggle.

In Imhotep, the element of luck doesn’t come from the game, but rather other players. Even though anticipating your opponents’ moves is a skill, you can never do so with 100% certainty, so there is always a luck element. There is always chance. You measure risks, move accordingly, sometimes getting lucky and sometimes getting unlucky.

4. Force players to improvise.

Because boats are moved unpredictably in Imhotep, you are forced to improvise. You can’t count on your stones going to any particular place on the board. Because of that, you simply have to load up as much stone as possible and take advantage of the opportunities in front of you.

Sometimes, you can pick up a clean 7 points by moving to the pyramids at the right time. Other times, you can create a horizontal row of four stones in the burial chamber, scoring a cool 10 points at the end of the game. Yet you cannot consistently plan in advance. Every turn, you look at the board in front of you and you make the best move you can.

Final Thoughts

Imhotep is a smart, sharply designed game with a surprising amount of strategy. Because it plays quickly and is easy to learn, I recommend that board game designers pick up a copy to learn from it. It has a lot to teach about creating a strategic game based on improvisation 🙂

Photo credit: Pongrácz Zsolt. CC BY-SA 3.0 license. Source.