Monday, February 1

The Art of the Matter

Back when I ran Reiver Games I made four games. The first Border Reivers was a hand-made limited edition, and I did almost everything myself, including the art (except the box cover, that was an original painting by my dad, a retired art teacher and artist). It was ... basic. Very basic. But back in the days when a self-published game was a fairly novel item, it was enough to get me by, and didn't put off the 100 customers to whom I sold a copy of Border Reivers too much.

For my second game, I got a friend who was a computer games artist to do some really cool Frankenstein-themed art, and because he was a friend, I got it dirt cheap. It still added a £1 per copy to the total cost though, a not insignificant amount. While I loved the art on the It's Alive! components, I was less enamoured of the box art, and it received some criticism from punters, so when it came to making a second print run, this time aimed at shops at distributors, I asked him to do another box. Sadly, I don't think that box was any better.

My third game was Carpe Astra, and again I got the friend to do the art, again at mate's rates (though with a print run of 2,000 I could afford to pay a bit more this time, despite the fact I was aiming to sell to distributors and hence was pitching at 40% of retail for a manufacturing and art cost. Again I was a bit mixed on the art, I loved bits of it, but I think the box art could have been better, especially with the target market in mind.

For my final Reiver game I splashed out and hired bona-fide board game artist Harald Lieske to do the art. Harald's done the art for several games I own (Vikings, the Spiecherstadt, Puerto Rico) and several other famous ones (Dominion, The Settlers of Catan), so clearly a big name with loads of board game experience. He knows what looks good on a box and how to do all the art ready for printing. I was doing a relatively small print run (3,000 copies), so my budget was limited (but many times what I'd paid for the previous games!). We eventually reached an agreement where he'd meet my budget in return for simpler art than he was originally planning. I was delighted with how Sumeria turned out, it's still my favourite art associated with one of my games by quite some distance.

What brings this to mind is two things: Zombology and Kickstarter. With Zombology (which I've finally finished - one of my goals for the year ticked off already!), I went back to my roots and made a short hand-made print-run doing everything myself including the art and cutting out boxes and all the cards by hand. Actually, that's not strictly true, I took some of the icons from, either as was, or slightly tweaked.

Complete Zombology prototype

But the point still stands, the art is mostly mine and pretty basic, this is not a beautiful game. While I hope it's not so distracting as to put off the 28 customers I need to cover my costs, it's not winning any art awards.

In these days of Kickstarter, games need to be beautiful to attract punters, and despite the vast wealth of games on Kickstarter, generally the art is of a very high quality - it's almost expected. My friend Tim's game Toast is a great example of that. To set up a games company these days you need to either be a great artist (Daniel Solis, I'm looking at you), have a wealthy good friend who's an artist (do they exist?) or to fold a large art cost into the manufacturing cost of the game. I can't help but think that life would have been easier as Reiver Games or Zombology would have sold faster if I was a great artist or if I'd set up a partnership with a wealthy, games-loving artistic genius.

As I continue with my own game designing (and conceivably self-publishing), I want to work on and improve my artistic skills. Practice might not make perfect, but it's definitely going to improve my skills, which can't hurt in making my games easier to sell.

In other news, January was a staggeringly good month, 59 games played, Zombology construction finished and a weekend in Coventry with Tim and a weekend in York with Paul. I wish February would be as great, but a work trip to Boston, MA is going to get in the way of things, so I'm not expecting much. At least I'm hoping to finish off the print on demand version of Zombology as I planned in my 2016 goals.

No comments: