Is self-publishing your board game a good idea?

Posted on Posted in Philosophy

Today, I’d like to challenge one of the most fundamental assumptions of this blog: that self-publishing your board game is the best way to go. While I certainly like the self-publishing route and found it empowering, just as many people might find it to be disempowering drudgery. There is no single right decision when it comes to self-publishing or not. Consider your motivations and think carefully about which choice lines up the most with what you want.

Let’s go ahead and take a brief and brutally honest look at the reality of both sides.

 

Self-Publishing
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Why Self-Publishing is Great

Without a doubt, the most compelling reason to self-publish your board games is the fact that you have complete creative control. You are not forced to make any edits to your work for any reason. You do not have to conform with genre standards. You can take big risks and do strange things. You do not have to prime your work for marketing and you do not have to bend to the will of companies which have their own standards and norms.

As an individual creator or a creator within a small, independent group of creators, you’ll be able to connect with others on an individual basis. You do not have to run your ideas across a company before talking to others. You can simply just do it. You can reveal as much as you want to reveal, you can completely open your game up to the public, or alternatively, keep everything hidden. People will know you by your name and not just as someone with Asmodee, Stronghold, or some other publishing company.

When it comes to money, you’ll get all of it if you work alone. If you work within a small group, you’ll walk away with a much bigger share than any publishing company would be willing to offer you. Even if you sell less, the profit margin is much, much higher.

 

Why Self-Publishing Sucks

Though you might be walking away with a higher percentage of the profits, the odds of making a profit are pretty slim. In fact, you’re a lot more likely to sell a lot of units if you go through a publisher. Even if you make less money per unit, you could still come out better when you’re not trying to sell the game alone or in a small group. Selling is really, really hard. It takes a lot of time to learn and it’s an entirely separate discipline from game development or any other responsibility that you will handle on a regular basis.

If you self-publish, there will be enormous demands on your time. This is true for solo developers and small groups. You do the game development. You do the play testing. You go get the art. You promote the game. You run the Kickstarter. You ship the units. You do the accounting. You pay the taxes. You are quality assurance. You are customer service. Most of your time will not be spent designing.

If the time and money issues don’t give you pause for a minute, consider the high odds of failure. Publishers might reject you, but they won’t let you publish total garbage. Your game can still flop if you go through a publisher, but it’s a lot less likely because publishers don’t want to take chances on things that probably won’t succeed. Nobody can stop a self-publisher from failing.

 

 

Why Publishers are Great

Going through a publisher may strip you of some degree of creative freedom, but it will free up a lot of money and time. Publishers handle the marketing, the selling, and often they cover the art, too. You have to spend money making a nice prototype for publishers, sure, but you don’t have to get deep into the behind-the-scenes business processes. Going through a publisher will give you the best chance for your work life to be “me and my game.” They take care of the grittiest work for you.

On top of taking care of the ugliest work and doing it better than you ever could with your limited time, the publishers will probably sell more than you would alone. Publishers have all sorts of vetting mechanisms in place that keep you from going to market with a bad game. Once you jump through their hoops, your odds of having a successful game are much higher than if you self-published.

 

 

Why Publishers Suck

Of course, the cost of having a company swing the full weight of their art, marketing, and selling staff behind your idea comes with a hefty cost. They’ll ask you to make changes. You won’t get many chances to comply, so if you don’t make the changes, they probably will for you. You have to sacrifice your creative control to some degree when working with a publisher because they have certain business practices that predate you. They are bigger than you – that’s the key thing to remember. They don’t have to listen to you, and they’re probably better off if they don’t.

However, don’t assume you’ll get to the point where they ask you to make changes. Your odds of outright rejection are very high. You’ll probably have to ask multiple publishers if they are interested. Sometimes it’s because your pitch is bad, but sometimes it goes beyond you. Publishers play by their own rules, and it’s often in their best interests not to disclose all the rules that they follow. You have to watch them, make your best guess at what they want, give them a great pitch, and be okay picking yourself up in the probable event that they’ll reject you.

Let’s suppose that your game does take off after you avoid rejection and make extensive changes. You won’t walk away with much cash. In fact, it’ll have to be a Pandemic or Ticket to Ride sort of blockbuster to really, really line your pockets. Then again, you might still be better off than you would be self-publishing.

 

 

Self-publishing and going through a publisher come with their own unique benefits and struggles. I hope that by laying everything out here in stark, simple, honest text helps you make the decision that is right for your life. There are more options available to us than most people consider. It is from making informed decisions that we can become the best possible creators we can be.

 

Key Takeaways for Game Devs

  • Self-publishing vs. going with a publisher is a very personal choice.
  • Self-publishing gives you total creative control, a high share of the profits, and the ability to connect with people earnestly one-on-one.
  • Self-publishing comes with a lot of demands on your time, a ton of work, a high chance of failure, and less time spent developing games than you might hope.
  • Going through a publisher gives you a better chance of success in the market, more time, and takes care of non-development tasks.
  • Publishers will force you to change your work, if they don’t outright reject you. Then they’ll take most of the profits if you succeed.
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2 thoughts on “Is self-publishing your board game a good idea?

  1. Hello.
    I can give an image about my Board Game.

    Because I would like to produce this Game for my Country, the rules and the most of the text are in Greek.
    But I don’t have problem to make the game for another League if we co operate, or to produce it only for Greek Market through you and then the Companies translate it too in other languages for other Markets.

    My Board Games is about Football.
    The European Soccer.
    It is about the Greek Champion ( League ) and the Greek Cup. It is in Greek language and it has the positions with code in english, for example Center Forward CF ( in Greek “Σέντερ Φορ” or “Κεντρικός Επιθετικός” ).

    The material is paper, not wood.

    It consists of 350 coloured in both sides.
    It consists also of 1 hourglass of 20 minutes duration.
    It consists of a block of paper ( that’s optional ), in order to write down notes.

    Τhere are 16 Teams, each one has 18 players, 11 players in the field and 6 players in the bench, for the subtitutes, 3 subtitutes per team and 1 player that will not play at all.
    Each card in one side has the player, with photo and the main osition that he plays and other positions that he plays too, also the number of his shirt and the characteristics of him.
    Also the foot that he plays, for example left footer or right or both.

    Some players have only one position some other more.

    In the Cards of the players there are many characteristics.
    Like shot and the mark for example, Shot: 9 ( Mark ), Power: 8 ( Mark ), like in the sample.
    Ιn the Board there are 5 rows of 5 position per row like in the sample.
    And one position for the Goalkeeper GK ( in Greek “Τερματοφύλακας” ).

    The begining of the game:

    The opponents choose their team.
    In order not to choose always the same team, there are some cards with the name of the team only in the one side, the other side has only th logo of the game.
    Thses cards will be upsite down and the players will choose by luck.

    So the pleyers have to have the mind, the tactic and the strategy in order to choose the aproprate players for each game.
    They have to choose 11 players in order to play and 6 in order to have in the bench, they have to declare the players that will play for the Champion and those that will play for the Cup.
    The two opponents have to declare 1 player that will not play at all.

    Then they wright down the player that will not play and the players that play.
    In the Board there are places that the 2 opponents have to put the players, according to the position they play.

    In the sample of the Board Games, there 5 rows.

    1st GK Goalkeeper.
    2nd Defense
    3rd Midle
    4th Attack
    5th extra Attack

    The players have to choose the system they will play, they can choose different than the other opponent.
    5 – 4 – 1
    ( 5 players that can play in defence ( their card has to write a position that consists of defence )
    ( 4 players that can play in miedle ( their card has to write a position that consists of middle )
    ( 1 players that can play in ofense ( their card has to write a position that consists of attack )
    4 – 5 – 1
    ( 5 players that can play in defence ( their card has to write a position that consists of defence )
    ( 4 players that can play in miedle ( their card has to write a position that consists of middle )
    ( 1 players that can play in offence ( their card has to write a position that consists of attack )
    4 – 4 – 2
    ( 5 players that can play in defence ( their card has to write a position that consists of defence )
    ( 4 players that can play in defence ( their card has to write a position that consists of middle )
    ( 1 players that can play in defence ( their card has to write a position that consists of attack )
    4 – 3 – 3
    ( 5 players that can play in defence ( their card has to write a position that consists of defence )
    ( 4 players that can play in defence ( their card has to write a position that consists of middle )
    ( 1 players that can play in defence ( their card has to write a position that consists of attack )
    3 – 5 – 2
    ( 5 players that can play in defence ( their card has to write a position that consists of defence )
    ( 4 players that can play in defence ( their card has to write a position that consists of middle )
    ( 1 players that can play in defence ( their card has to write a position that consists of attack )
    5 – 3 – 2
    ( 5 players that can play in defence ( their card has to write a position that consists of defence )
    ( 4 players that can play in defence ( their card has to write a position that consists of middle )
    ( 1 players that can play in defence ( their card has to write a position that consists of attack )
    etc
    Always put with symetry like in the sample.
    There are positions in each card of footballer / player, that say, whre this player can play, some playeres have only one position. Other have more.

    For example, one player has the main position.
    There is a main position CF Center Forward, this player can only play in the Center of the Attack like in the sample.
    If this player has also another position like AM Attacking Middlefield, he can play in the specific position too.
    In the rules there are all the positions.
    If an opponent / Manager puts a player of his team in other position than the shown in the card, this is a wrong position and the Marks of the characteristics will be the half, in case of the comparison with the player in the position of the opponent’s player / Manager.
    Also if you put a left footer in right position, then is wrong again, but the Mark will be less 1 point of the Marks of the cards.

    The player who begins and choose the side is with the classic Toss-up, if there is not a coin then the players / opponents can decide it.
    Each player / Manager moves a card and compare the player with the opponent.

    What is happens when the players have chosen different Strategy game and System.
    For example 4 – 4 – 2 and the other 3 – 4 – 3.
    Then the one opponent has one more Attacking man to compare and one les Defender player to compare.
    If the player of one opponent is better than the other the player must be on the top of / over than the opponent player.
    In oreder to show that these players had already been compared.
    That means 1 – 0, score.
    Players can be subtituted even if the are been compared or not, but the score if it is 1 – 0 and an oppoent set off the game the player that has been compared and lost, the score can not been changed.

    The game is for 2 – 16 players.
    Each time / game 2 opponent can play.
    Ages: ( I believe ) 8 – 108 years old.

    There are not small pieces, there are not pieces that can harm somebody.
    There are not dieces.
    There is not a ball.

    Looking forward your reply.

    Thanks.
    Ioannis G Balis.

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