03 - Study before you start

Submitted by ehanuise on Tue, 12/03/2013 - 13:01

Stay a little bit more ... on the payroll

If you plan on becoming a board games publisher, the very first piece of advice I can give you is don't leave your day job just yet. And if you are currently unemployed and wanting to set up as a board game publisher to get an income, I'd advise you to think again as you will need to be able to sustain your efforts for a while without any money coming in before you have even a faint hope of earning some money.

There's an old but very true joke among board games publishers :

"- How do you make a million dollars in board games publishing ?

- You start with two millions and know when to quit!"

Of course there is money to be made eventually, but being successful as a board games publisher requires a very good knowledge of that market, and that isn't something you can learn in school. So you will have to school yourself, and it will take a long time. Give it at the very least a year or two. You can take short cuts, but you will pay them in expensive mistakes. Sometimes very expensive ones.

By keeping your job for a while, you'll be able to school yourself on your free time and think through your business plan thoroughly. Doesn't this sound better than betting the house on a whim over a possibly foolhardy project ?

Build up your board games culture

Hopefully you already have some board games culture, have been playing them as a kid, and maybe later on as a teen or adult. Now that you intend to become a professional, you need to build up an extensive knowledge of board games. This will allow you to understand what different kind of games exist, how they work, and enable you to make decisions on whether a game is worth publishing (that is, risking your own money on) or not. It will also help you determine whether a game is original or bears resemblance to existing games, whether it resolves problems usually present in that kind of game, etc. It will also help you get familiar with different game styles, some of which you may not yet be aware of. And it will be fun as during that part of your schooling your job will mostly be to play games in order to better understand them.

Make sure you don’t limit yourself to the kind of games you usually play : if you’re a wargamer or an abstract games fan, give Euro games and party games a chance! Exposing yourself to lots of different game styles will allow you to better understand which games you want to publish and which ones you will want to avoid. It will also help you understand the market for these games and the kind of experience they offer to the players.

Just ask

Back in the days of Avalon Hill and SPI, many games carried a postcard-sized form asking customers for feedback and information. Before Internet this was the main source of feedback publishers got, and just asking people proved a very efficient system. This allowed publishers to better choose which games to publish , which extensions to consider, etc.

This remains very true nowadays : never fear to ask. Keep this in mind all along the way when reading this book and tuning your publishing project. The more questions you ask, the more chances you have to get valuable answers.

Get involved in your local community

You also need to get in touch with other gamers around you. According to your location, this can take different forms : in some countries players gather mostly at a games library, in other places it is meetings at clubs, board gaming cafés, conventions, publisher-run events, private groups meeting at each other’s place, ...

If you have no clue where to start, ask your local retailers where his customers gather to play, he should be able to give you some pointers. Also check out the players from your area on community sites such as http://www.boardgamegeek.com, or even on social networks such as Facebook or Meetup. In the very unfortunate event that you live in a remote location with no gaming community you can try to start one local gaming group, or maybe you should consider to relocate : you will need to be able to contact gamers on a regular basis during your schooling and afterwards for playtesting and polling purposes, so this is not a job well suited for someone living in a very remote area with no other gamers around. Don't fool yourself in thinking that playing and meeting with people over Internet will do : it won't. You do require face to face contact.

Get involved in the global board games community

Internet makes distances smaller, and online communities are thriving. There are a few global boardgames communities gathering on websites such as http://www.boardgamegeek.com or http://www.fortressat.com and if you’re from a non-english speaking country there probably is a similar boardgames community website in your language somewhere on Internet.

These online communities cannot replace actual face to face meetings with players, but they provide a good place to get information about trends, opinions, and the general ‘feel’ of the market.

Players online also post a lot of useful info to understand how they receive games that are put on the market and can be quite vocal about their likes and dislikes. They also post a lot of useful resources such as strategy articles, player aids, erratas, etc. Once you publish your own games, they will get the same kind of treatment, so you should know what to expect.

Be however aware that people may behave differently online than they would in real life, and that the opinions and tastes of an online community are not necessarily a mirror of the actual market. Not everyone that plays board games is participating in online forums, and some vocal minorities can appear much more bigger than they actually are. Some games are highly regarded by online communities yet actually sell relatively few units while some games that are often despised by online communities sell huge amounts nevertheless. Especially, ratings and actual sales figures can be wildly disconnected.

Reader feedback - here are some books about Game Design :

  • The Art of Game Design : A book of Lenses, Jesse Schell, CRC Press (English), Pearson (Français)
  • A Theory of Fun for Game Design, Ralph Koster, Paraglyph Press (English)
  • Rules of Play : Game Design Fundamentals, Katie Salen & Eric Zimmerman, MIT Press (English)
  • Kobold Guide To Board Game Design, Mike Selinker, Open Design LLC (English)