The One Thing That Can Sink Sales for Board Games

Posted on Posted in Dev Diary

Dev Diary posts are made to teach game development through specific examples from my latest project: Highways & BywaysJust here for Highways & Byways updates? Click here.

This week, I posted A Crash Course on Selling Board Games, which is my way of helping demystify that which terrifies many first-time game developers. Selling can be scary. A lot of people are afraid or rejection and a lot of people are afraid of being sleazy. These are both very valid fears.

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The one thing that can sink board game sales is pitching to the wrong gamers. Everything you create needs to be created for a specific kind of gamer. When you know who you should talk to, you won’t get rejected nearly as much. When you know who you should talk to, you won’t feel like a sleaze because they’ll be glad you said “hello.” This is so, so, so, so important. You have to have a clear target if you want to hit a bullseye!

You may wonder why I’m writing about this today. It’s really simple: I very nearly failed to do this with Highways & Byways. I’ve spent a lot of time building up this blog, the email newsletter, and the Discord community. These are all worthwhile and I’ve had a blast doing them. I see people helping each other in the chat. I’m able to provide specific advice to new game devs on very particular areas of development. This is all great…but it has nothing to do with Highways & Byways.

Know what my plan has been so far? Posting road pictures on Instagram and Twitter while occasionally asking people to help me play-test. That was fine for getting the ball rolling, but now that the physical prototype has arrived, that changes things. It’s only very recently that I’ve come to understand who the game is really for. It’s a casual family game – best for board game couples, families, and perhaps gateway gamers. It is around this realization that I must proceed. It’s time to reach out to people who fit that description.

I want to give you a clear sense of how to find your particular audience. You need to be really clear, so start by asking yourself some of these questions.

  1. What’s the basic idea of your game? Think about one sentence to explain it and no more.
  2. How long does it take to play?
  3. How many players?
  4. What’s the minimum age you can see enjoying the game?
  5. How do you play it? Think about two sentences to explain it and no more.
  6. What makes it special? Think of three to five simple things.
  7. What will it cost? All you need is a ballpark figure.
  8. What components will it have? Just a rough guess will do here too.
  9. What is the art style?

These questions push you toward defining and describing your game. Sometimes when you create games, you might not have this entire vision in your head. Sometimes you make something and need to say “who would really like this?” By defining it, you can start thinking of people who will respond best to the way that you answer these questions.

If a game is three hours long, it won’t appeal to a busy father of four. If a game is $100, it won’t appeal to a broke college student. If the game is pretty pink with unicorns, it won’t appeal to the archetypal masculine sort of player. You get the idea.

Sometimes answering these questions won’t quite be enough for you to get a clear understanding of who likes your game. If that’s the case, just start playing it with as many people as you can. Pay attention to what people say during play-testing. Your ears should perk up at phrases like “my 10 year old daughter would love this” or “this game would really appeal to Ticket to Ride and 18XX players.” Oftentimes, players have an intuitive wisdom that is better than anything you could write on a sell sheet.

Remember: people like games for different reasons. Everybody has different tastes. The art of selling is to appeal to people whose tastes line up with what you’ve got to sell. The earlier you think about this, the easier selling will be in the long run.

Most Important Highways & Byways Updates

  • The Highways & Byways physical prototype arrived this week!
  • I’ll be updating both this website and the Highways & Byways website soon with photos of the prototype.
  • Now that I have a prototype ready, I can start physically testing the components.
  • I’m getting ready to launch a full scale outreach campaign for Highways & Byways alone. This is a separate project than the game.
  • It’s been an uncommonly busy week.

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