Friday, February 19

Hit-Driven Industry

Recently I had some friends round for a day's gaming, and one of them happened to mention that board games must be a hit driven industry, like computer games (one of them works in computer games). He mentioned that most games probably don't make much money, or even make a loss, but this is covered by the hit, which is so wildly successful, that it pays the bills for years to come, and provides plenty of income which can then be risked on another batch of contenders, one of which may also be a hit (but most of which won't).

In the three and a half years that I've been publishing board games, I've read a bunch of things that make me think my friend was correct in his description of the market:

  • Wired report that over 15M copies of Settlers of Catan have been sold.
  • In 2008, 75% of Steve Jackson Games' nearly $3M turnover came from Munchkin products (7 years after the original Munchkin release).
  • Bruno Faidutti, designer of over 50 games was making more money from Citadels than the rest put together in 2004 (several years after Citadels first came out).

If you're going to start a company publishing original games there's two likely ways to succeed doing it:

  1. Start with a massive hit, that funds the rest of your product line for a while, until you're established.
  2. Start with a massive wad of cash, that allows you to establish yourself with a reasonable product line and gives you time to find your first hit.

Success or failure will rely on a few things: ability to manage your finances, ability to market your games, ability to keep costs down and not least ability to choose successful games.

There's no way to guarantee a game will be a hit. Playtesting helps, but that's not the be all and end all - your playtesters might love it, but be unrepresentative of the market. Gut feel combined with a good knowledge of the market and what's successful helps, so does excellent marketing that makes everyone want a copy before it's released.

It is at least six months since the release of all my games, with none of them selling like hot cakes I realise they are not going to become massive hits. I still hold out hope for them being successful (i.e. profitable), but it's not going to happen overnight. I need a real breakout hit, something that is hugely popular and sells extremely quickly. But how do I convince the designer of such a game to bring it to me rather than the established publishing companies, and will I recognise it if I see it?


Dan said...

This is spot on. There is a big difference in how many games a hit vs. a non-hit sells. If there was a way to figure out which games were going to be hits and which ones weren't, then I'm sure more companies would be doing it. I will say that Days of Wonder is doing a good job of being a hit factory - though that view may be skewed since they put out so few games.

Steve said...

Steve Jackson only turned over $3m? I would have guess a LOT more than that!

Jack said...

Dan: I agree that Days of Wonder are very successful in terms of their hit-to-miss ratio, Ticket to Ride being their biggest hit I believe.

Steve: I was surprised too. There's not as much money in this industry as people think!



Philip said...

Great post. I hope you find (or have already found) it!

Jack said...

Hiya Philip,

So do I! There's some definite potential in one of my submissions, I won't know until I'm committed whether o9r not it's going to be a hit.



Hulken said...

Hi Jack!!

Just wondering how the work on the new game or games is going?

Anny news on the "for the american market" game?


Jack said...

Hiya Daniel,

I'm in the process of sending out a new version to my playtesters. It was very well received at a games clubg a couple of weeks ago.