Thursday, June 22

Board Games Design and Publishing: Part 2

As I mentioned in the first part I'll not go into to much detail on the design front as it has been a long time since I did any real design on Border Reivers, so I'm going to concentrate on the publishing side of things.

In this part I'll discuss the options for publishing your game idea once you have designed it. I'm assuming two things - firstly that you want to get your game in front of a reasonable number of people and secondly that you don't have unlimited funds. As I see it, you have three options:

  • Submit it to a publisher,
  • Publish a limited run yourself in an amateur fashion,
  • Publish your own game professionally.

Submitting your game to a publisher is the traditional route. You contact a range of publishers to see if they are accepting submissions (fewer and fewer of them are) and once you find one that is, you submit your game to them. How they like to receive game submissions (rulebook only, prototype, etc.) vary from publisher to publisher so it's best to ask before you submit. This route has the advantage of being the cheapest - the only outlay is a rulebook, or possibly a prototype until you get to the contract stage when you'll need a contract lawyer. In addition, since all the production effort is handled by the publisher, you have far more time available for starting another game design. The downsides are finding a publisher who is accepting submissions, and taking the criticism. You will get criticism. The publishers are likely to be far more experienced at this than you are - how you respond will likely determine the success of your game design. You need to be able to adapt the game design based on the feedback you receive without taking it as in insult. You must also be prepared to be knocked back - it's far more likely than acceptance, especially for inexperienced or unknown game designers.

The amateur self-publishing route is what I've chosen for Border Reivers. You produce a small run (i.e. less than 100 copies) of your game. For such a small run you will not be able to afford to produce all the parts professionally and the cost per game will be exceptionally high. The advantage is that while the cost per game is high the cost for the run is still less than a larger professional run. Also, you end up with a smaller number of copies to get rid of. It's a nice way to make enough copies to get some feedback without committing a small warehouse-worth of storage space. With a limited run you can get printing done professionally (due to the wonders of digital printing) and you can probably afford generic wooden or plastic pieces. However, custom boxes and box inserts, bonding printed sheets to thick card, die cutting and custom plastic pieces will be far too expensive. Unless you're a competent artist (or know one who'll work for free) the artwork will also be lacking. The game will therefore look sub-standard in terms of production quality, but you can sell it based on its exclusivity, or trade on the fact that you're a one man band (which will appeal to some customers). You could also make the run a limited edition or sign the copies to attract more customers. The bottom line however, is that your game needs to be good enough to sell at a fairly high price despite the low quality production. This route requires by far the most effort on your behalf, as not only do you have to spend time sourcing parts and suppliers, but you will probably have to do alot of the artwork and game construction (gluing, cutting, etc.) yourself. This will take an inordinate amount of time - trust me. For this route (and to a lesser degree the next one) you will also need to have selling skills, it's no good making them if they just go mouldy in your basement. If you're going it alone, don't underestimate the importance of sales and marketing - both will be required to successfully sell the run.

If you go down the professionally self-publishing route you need to be damn sure your idea is a winner. Stop, think of all the downsides of your game, playtest it and listen carefuly to the feedback. This route is by far the most expensive, both in terms of hard cash, and also storage space. When I lived in Bristol I met the guys who designed The Buntu Circus. They had their design accepted by Waddingtons or someone similar (I can't remember who), but turned them down as they wanted to re-style the game. Instead they published it themselves. Their small flat was rammed with boxes of the game. To go down this route you need to publish enough copies so that the economies of scale make it cheap enough that you can sell it to stores and distributors at 40%- 60% of the retail price, and still make a profit. You also can't afford to do anything yourself (except possibly box packing), as this will be too time consuming for a large number of games. You'll need somewhere to store them (a garage or large spare room is an absolute minimum - a warehouse would be better). You're looking in the region of 500+ copies, preferably more to get the price per copy low enough. Also you will need to consider the effort required to sell and deliver large volumes to distributors as you are unlikely to be able to get rid of all the copies over the internet or via personal sales.

In the next part I'll go into more detail on option two - the only one I've had any experience of.

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