Good Day Internet!
Welcome to the first of many blog posts that will guide you along your journey of board game design. Our goal here is to help new board game designers create awesome publish-ready games. To start off, we thought we’d give a brief rundown of what you can expect, as well as some advice before you start your journey. We don't want there to be any misconceptions, so let's start with the brutal truth:
1. You Won’t Be Making Money
There are very few independent designers lucky enough to become widely successful in the board game industry. In general, a small publisher can expect to sell 300-700 copies of your game in retail (if it even makes it there) after a Kickstarter. Self-publish and you can expect even lower numbers. If a publisher did pickup your game, you can expect royalties of either 3-5% MSRP (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price), 5-6% Wholesale or 20-30% of Net Profit (James Mathe). Regardless which one it is, that’s about $1-2 in your pocket for each copy sold. So at best, you're looking at week's wage in revenue for something you've probably been working on for at least a year.
You’ll notice as you start exploring the board game industry that almost every game designer has some sort of regular day job. Even quite a few heads of successful publishers have regular day jobs. You’re really going to have to be in it for the love of designing games because chances are all the long hours you put in may just be to recoup your costs (at best). If you need to hear it from someone else, take a listen to this Game Crafter podcast.
2. No One is Going to Steal Your Game
There are lot of people out there with what they think is an awesome game idea, which is great. I'm here to tell you that the number of people out there who care enough to steal them is basically zero. As mentioned above, most games are not widely successful and there is a lot of work in creating a game. In most cases, it just isn't worth it to steal an idea or even a finished game. In general, you do not need to spend money nor write up contracts to protect your intellectual property. As mentioned in this awesome podcast by The Game Crafter, a lot designers don't even file a copyright until after their game is published. So don't worry about any of that stuff. Just focus on making your game.
3. Expect to Pay for Art
Unless you’re a fantastic artist who works quickly and efficiently, you’re probably going to have to hire one. This is especially important to understand if you plan to self-publish. If you plan to pitch your game to a publisher, then you don't have to worry as much. The majority of publishers will change the art for your game so don't go overboard. However, you also can't just disregard art and graphic design before pitching to a publisher. To do so would be a pretty big mistake.
All of that being said, don't concern yourself with art until you’ve got a well-tested and working prototype. There's going to be a lot of changes to your game, so don't spend money on art for your first prototype. You're wasting your money. However, when you do have a well-tested working prototype please, please, please hire someone. You may think friends and family are good cheap options, but they’re most likely only good options if you’re not looking to publish. Chances are the art will not be on time nor of the quality you want/need. Don't cheap out on it when it comes time. Your art is going to be really important to the marketability of your game.
4. Don’t Become Overly Attached to Your Game
Your game is going to be your baby--you're going to put a lot of hours into it. You're going to be passionate about it. So it’s going to be hard to listen to feedback and criticism from playtesters. You’re going to hear things that you think go completely against what you were trying to design. You may even think these people just don’t understand. LISTEN TO THESE PEOPLE!!! You don’t have to take every criticism to heart, but you need to at least explore it verbally with your playtesters and find out why they are saying what they're saying.
Unfortunately, a lot of game designers fall into this trap and are very defensive about their games, or delusional about their brilliance. You need to realize that playtesters are not out there to ruin your game, they are there to help you. This is all part of the design process in which you will be constantly taking feedback, sorting through it, applying it to your prototype and repeating until your game is done. Notice we said sorting through it. Don't just apply all the feedback you got! You need to examine what "problem" the feedback fixes and how often it comes up. If you keep getting the same feedback and you haven't done anything about, you're doing it wrong.
Remember, in the end this is going to result in a much better game and make you a much better designer. Please prepare for the fact that you WILL receive “negative feedback” for your game at some point. If you haven’t, then you haven't done enough to ensure your game is done.
5. The Community is Here to Help
The tabletop community is a fantastic group of individuals. There are not a lot of arrogant people in the industry--you may only run into a few in your designer lifetime--for the most part you're just going to find kind, helpful people willing to guide you along the way. There are no real trade secrets, and the whole industry is pretty open from designers all the way to distributors. Everyone realizes that in this industry the best policy is to help each other out.
If you'd like to meet some of these people you can go online to Board Game Geek, The Game Crafter, League of Gamemakers, Board Game Designers Forum, multiple Facebook groups plus many more resources and social platforms for designers. There’s also Protospiels, Spielbany (highly recommended), Gen Con, Origins and lots of other cons to get feedback from other designers and perhaps even meet some publishers. Each of these events has a slightly different feel, but in general they are very open to all kinds of designers. The only thing they may ask of you is that you return the favour by helping out with (aka playtesting/reviewing) their games.
If the big events are too far away, too expensive, or too infrequent (there definitely should be more), then your local board game store or board game café are great resources for playtesters. You also have the option of looking for local gaming groups on meetup.com, boardgamegeek, or you could post a print and play on the boardgamegeek “Works in Progress” forums. You can also contact us if you'd like us to play your print and play. We'd love to help you out :)
Bottom line: the journey is long and a little costly, but it's fun and there's an awesome community there to help you :)
Thanks for dropping by! If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.
Board game designer and developer discussing the ins and outs of game design.