Step 33: Promoting your game

So the art is done and the game has been sent to the printers, now you can sit back and let the money roll in right? Nope – not yet! In an older post we talked about how with book authors they are expected to promote their book, while in the board game world there isn’t the same expectation. That might be true, but I think it’s safe to assume you’re as interested as the publisher is in ensuring your game is a success!

There are many things you can do to help promote your game. Let’s take a look at some examples, though this list is certainly not exhaustive.

1)     Designer Diaries: Many gamers love to read about how a game came to fruition. Write up your story of how it came to be published. Remember that most people probably haven’t played the game when they read your designer diaries, so don’t refer too much to rules that they won’t understand. Once you’ve completed writing them, ask your publisher if they would like to have it or if they’d prefer if you distributed it. If you’re on your own, no worries, that’s what www.boardgamegeek.com is for! Post it in the forum or ask Eric Martin if he’d be interested in sharing it in the News section. Once it’s posted then get your friends and family to head on over to read it and give it some thumbs to get it started. (thumbs are the equivalent of the ‘Like’ button of Facebook). Here’s the Designer Diary for Train of Thought and here’s the Designer Diary for Belfort. For Belfort we decided to mix it up and instead of just talk about the history of how it came to be, we interviewed all the people responsible for bringing the game to fruition: The playtesters, the developer, the artist and the printers!

2)     Leaking art: work with your publisher before leaking any art as they might have a proper marketing plan on how to release it. Again, use bgg.com and get those thumbs going again. If you get enough attention then it will make it to the front page of bgg.com in the images section. We had our artist Josh make up some fun promo images using the art from the game!

3)     Blog: Blog about your experiences with game design. It’s one of the reasons I started this blog. Many blogs are devoted to how to make your blog successful so I won’t go into that detail here. Rest assured that pretty much any press is good press! We even did a video ‘interview’ describing the history of Belfort!

4)     Leaking the rules: Somewhere within the last month before your game is released to the public you should get your publisher to leak the rules online. This could either be on their website or on bgg.com. Then do whatever you can to promote that the rules are available. You know – Twitter, Facebook – the usual suspects.

5)     Local PR: There are a few things you can do locally.

  1. First is to ensure your local game stores are aware that the game is coming. If the publisher has created a sales sheet for your game, print them out and give one to each game store in your neck of the woods. If one doesn’t exist then ask the publisher if you can make one on your own using art from the game. Generally any publisher will be happy for any extra promotion that you can do. A sales sheet is similar to the sales sheet we talked about in Step 14, but it’s for a different audience! The audience for this sales sheet is for retailers and customers! It will have art of the finished box and hopefully a picture of the game in progress with many of the components. There should be a short description and enough flavour text to get people intrigued.
  2. You can also make a press release and send it to your local TV, Radio and Print establishments. If you spin it as a ‘local citizen achieves dream’ or something like that, then you stand a good chance at getting some media attention. If you do get any media attention, then ensure you forward it to the publisher. If it’s appropriate then they can add it to their website. I’ll devote another post on how to write up a good press release.
  3. Once the game is out, the PR doesn’t stop. It’s up to you to go to as many game stores as you can and show the owners how your game plays. Hopefully they’re carrying your game (remind them that since you’re local, there will be more demand here), and now that you’ve given them a tutorial, or even played the game with them, then they’re much more likely to recommend it to others (assuming they like it!). There’s a store in my city of Vancouver that I showed how to play Train of Thought and they liked it so much that they recommend it to a lot of customers and it ended up being one of their best sellers last year!
  4. Organize ‘Meet the Designer’ days at your local stores. Much like an author will do a reading or a signing at book stores, you can do the same things at game stores. Help them advertise it however you can – possibly be including it in your press release. These can be a great way to show your game to people.

Train of Thought6)     Conventions: If the publisher is going to a convention and you can afford it, then ask if you can come too (heck, first ask if they’d like to pay for your flight or hotel!). I can’t imagine a publisher turning down having a designer at their booth helping promote their game. I attended BGG.con when Train of Thought was released and spent most of my time at the Tasty Minstrel booth showing people how to play the game all week. It paid off because Train of Thought ended up being the second highest rated game at the convention!

7)     Reviews: The publisher should be responsible for sending out review copies, but there’s nothing stopping you from helping in whatever way you can. I’ve sent one of my own copies to a reviewer in order to get a timely review. We’ve also sent review requests that we get (since we’re the designers, some reviewers contact us) to the publisher.  Once you do get a review, assuming it’s positive, then do whatever you can to promote that review! Post it on your blog; send it to your publisher so they can post it on their site; link to it on BGG.com.

8)     Awards: Again, this is up to the publisher to submit the game for various awards. You can help by listing awards for which you think you have a better chance at winning and forwarding them to your publisher. We were fortunate enough to win the Dice Hate Me Game of the Year award and now that victory is on the front of the box for the second printing!

9)     Above and beyond: Sen and I will always go above and beyond expectations when trying to promote our own games. For Train of Thought we filmed a 45 second video that gives a nice overview of how the game is played. We got some actor friends, and some videographers and shot and edited the video, then Sen added the music since he’s talented that way!

For Belfort we did a different type of video and enlisted the assistance of one of our friends to help us animate it.

Also I worked with another friend of mine and we wrote a 10 page comic book set in the world of Belfort. We’ve paid an artist out of our own pocket to professionally illustrate it.

Of course, we got permission to do all of this from the publisher first! As you can see there are many ways in which you can help promote your game, and why wouldn’t you?! It might not be a strength of yours (heck, you’re a game designer not a marketing major, right?), but it can only help you to learn about some of the things you can do to increase the potential of your game becoming a hit!

So that brings us to the last step in this blog! That doesn’t mean we’re done though. We’ll be adding more stories and lessons we learn along the way, which will probably mean tweaking or adding some steps here and there. We haven’t even talked about Kickstarter yet, and with a new game of ours hitting Kickstarter soon – I’m sure we’ll learn a lot from that! And who knows, maybe we’ll actually self-publish a game or two in the future! Thanks for reading so far!

-Jay Cormier

Advertisements

Step 32: Working with an Artist

If you don’t self-publish then you often don’t get much of a say in the art for your game. Remember, it’s the publisher taking the risk in publishing it so it’s fully within their rights to make all decisions on the art. That said, if you have a good relationship with the publisher then you still have a voice during this stage. Once we submitted the game to be published, then it’s the publisher’s job to seek out an artist. It is possible to recommend an artist of course. I know that Matt Tolman really wanted Gavan Brown to do the art for his game, Undermining, for example, and that is actually what happened!

Train of Thought box artFor Train of Thought, Tasty Minstrel Games also chose Mr. Gavan Brown! Our first exposure to his art was when we were shown the box art. Immediately we both loved it. At the time, the train had the dragon from the Tasty Minstrel logo as a conductor riding the train. It was the only thing that wasn’t perfect and even though we had no ‘right’ to asking for art changes, we expressed our opinion. Fortunately Tasty Minstrel felt similarly and we all agreed to tweak it a bit. We were fortunate to work with a publisher that allowed us to express our thoughts on the art. Well, we say fortunate, but we’re not really sure what it’s like working with other publishers…yet!

The rulebook was another story altogether. Sen and I wrote the rules a long time ago and when Gavan took our words and put them into his art style – there was a clash. Our words were too stuffy and lawyer-y compared to the fun style that Gavan brought to the game. We did a quick re-write and that got incorporated into the rules as well.

Belfort was even more of a collaboration between us and the artist. When we first heard that Josh Cappel was doing the art, we were ecstatic! I remember buying the game Endeavor because of the awesome art that game has. Tasty Minstrel set up a page on Basecamp so we could see Josh’s art as he made it, and so we could all comment on it.

90% of time we were over the moon with what Josh Cappel provided for the art. There were a few examples where we requested some changes. Sometimes the publisher agreed with us and sometimes they didn’t. For example, there was one issue with the guilds on the board. Initially they didn’t have a spot for worker placement, which was fine as it was going to be on the Guild card, but when the art for the Guild cards came out, they too didn’t have a spot for a worker to be placed. Once this was brought up, Josh found a solution that made everyone happy. He re-jigged the board art so that there was room for a worker placement spot. This is the main reason why it’s great when the designer has input on the art process. I can see why a publisher wouldn’t want to give veto rights to a designer – but at least allow them input as they are (hopefully) the people who’ve played the game the most and would catch things that don’t fit with the game.

The only time I had an issue with the art was the back of the box. Josh put a lot of humour in Belfort and so he had a very funny letter covering most of the back of the box. It was really fun, but my opinion about the back of board game boxes is that it should show as many pieces of the board game as possible. Fortunately everyone was in agreement and new art was made and it was perfect! Now it’s the most perfect-est box back ever!

We were lucky to be paired up with not only excellent artists so far, but with artists that are very collaborative. May you be so lucky in your game designs! The take away for us on this is that you should try to ensure you are allowed some sort of input on the art process. While this probably won’t be put in the contract (but maybe it should be somehow), hopefully you’ll be working with a publisher that wants to collaborate with you as much as possible. Also, you shouldn’t be afraid to express your concerns, though you need to know which battles are worth fighting. We might have had other issues here or there (though I don’t think we did!), but only really expressed our concern if we thought it would impact the game play or the game’s sell-ability.

-Jay Cormier

To me, this was probably the most exciting stage of the whole process of bringing a game to market. While its fun to work on the initial design and it’s awesome to finally get the finished product in hand, there’s something about watching a skilled artist take something that’s just a dream in your head or some chicken scratching on paper and make it 200 times better than you could even imagine!

Gavan had the difficult task of working with a party game that was really just words. Oh, our original prototype had train car on the backs of the cards that you could connect to see who made the longest train, but that was about it for real graphics. What Gavan did with the game, however, was give it a “face”. He created the conductor from scratch, giving the game a human mascot – a talking head – that we could use for expository purposes. Gavan also implemented a ton of design elements on the box that make it that much more effective packaging using elements that Jay and I would never have thought of – things like the ISBN number and the vertical spine – to make it shelf-friendly in a potential mass-market situation.

Josh had the potentially staggering task of creating what amounts to a whole game world from scratch. And not one that he had dreamed up, but one that two other dudes had knocking around in their noggins! Belfort gets many compliments on the great artwork Josh provided and if there was an award for best game artwork, Belfort would be a strong contender – the in-game humour, references to other games, and hidden gems are just a few of the reasons why the Belfort artwork is tops in my (biased) book. Speaking of books, if there was an award for best game rulebook, I would also humbly submit that Belfort might be *the* best game rulebook this year. And a huge part of the credit for the layout, flow, and humour inherent in the Belfort rules comes from Josh. He took our ruleset and reformatted and rephrased things in a way that better suited the witty, anachronistic fantasy world that he had drawn for Belfort and it all took shape from there.

The synergy generated between us (the designers), the developer and publisher, and the artists we’ve worked with on our games has been nothing short of eye-opening and pudding-eaten proof that a well thought out product and a game that is literally *designed* for maximum impact in all aspects can deliver much more than the sum of it’s parts. I look forward to working with Josh and/or Gavan again and would recommend them without question to any publisher looking for more than just an illustrator, but a game-specific graphic designer who can not only draw and design, but oversee other artists when more content is needed (see Gavan’s work on Eminent Domain for an example of this).

-Sen-Foong Lim