When choosing a game to publish you're hoping that enough people like it to buy all the copies you've manufactured. If you sell out, you can then decide whether or not to re-print, but selling out has to be your first goal.
With any game there will be people who like it, people who are ambivalent towards it and people who don't like it. If you've chosen well there will be people who love it and there may well be people who hate it. You're hoping that enough people like it enough to play it again with new players, and that some of those will like it enough to play it again with new players and so on. So you're hoping that despite the 'cult of the new' the game will attract enough 'let's play X again' players and not too many 'God no,not X - that's terrible/dull' players.
The playtest copies of Sumeria are now out in the world and the feedback is starting to trickle in. I'm convinced it's a great game - I personally love it and in my first rounds of playtesting several of my playtesters really liked it too though a few were only slightly positive/ambivalent. So I was hoping that the blind playtesters would on average be positive towards it - convincing me I'm made a good choice that would prove largely popular.
So far, the feedback has been decidedly 'meh'. Don't get me wrong, this is great and what I needed to hear, but it's got me in low spirits. Admittedly some of the playtesters ended up playing the game wrong (due to a lack of clarity in my rules) and some others found some weaknesses in the 2-player game that either need to be fixed somehow or require the 2-player version to be stripped out (which would co-incidently remove the need for some of the components and hence reduce the cost both for me manufacturing and for the customer). I've also had several ideas for changes which could improve things significantly (or not!).
Personally, I found that the game improved the more you played it as you found out how to improve your strategy, and most of the feedback so far is from people who've only played it once or twice. But this is important feedback. If you play a game once and think it's 'alright' you're more likely to move on to something different rather than play it again. I was hoping the simple rules (very Euro-esque: clean, simple, no exceptions and short enough to fit on 4 sides of A4 with lots of diagrams) would be popular with the Euro crowd and the wafer-thin theme not too much of a problem.
I don't think the problem with the early feedback was close friends being too positive - I've had plenty of negative feedback from them in the past for other games. I think it was just their kind of game, and as I get a bigger sample of the game playing public I'm getting a more accurate judge of what proportion of gamers will really like it. My initial sample was biased (not in a personal way, but just by being a really small sample that just happened to be made up of a high proportion of people who really like the game).
This, combined with the decidedly mediocre ratings it's started to pick up on BoardGameGeek and the drop in the scores of It's Alive! and Carpe Astra (both of which are really popular with some people) over the last couple of months have got me down. Just to prove it never rains but it pours, I also heard the returns I was hoping for from Alliance this week won't start until next month, so my figures for this month will be quite poor. Next month should be great and I'm still on target for the year, but disappointing nonetheless.
I was in two minds about posting this, in case this post was read by my blind playtesters and then influenced them to be more positive in their feedback, but I figure I should trust them to be honest - they don't know me and have no reason to want to please me. In the end I figured this blog should be about the ups and downs of running your own games company so it can stand as encouragement/warning to those who are considering a similar move. I can't just keep posting about how great everything is, especially when I'm feeling quite down about things.