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.
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:
- Gather data about people and companies to understand what people need.
- Determine the feasibility of a business (or, in your case, the desirability a board game idea).
- Identify and develop new markets (in your case, player bases).
- Test demand.
- 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:
- 14 Cheap Ways to Do Market Research for Your Small Business
- 23 Excellent Questions to Ask Your Customers
- 15 Ways to Use Market Research to Grow Your Small Business
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:
- Figure out which gamers you want to serve.
- 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.)
- Find ways to please those gamers.
- Figure out where those gamers hang out, online and offline.
- Prove there is real demand for your game.
- Find similar projects to imitate and reference if you decide to run a Kickstarter.
- 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.
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.