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

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Step 31: Working with a Developer

The contract has been signed, so now it’s time to sit back and wait until it hits the shelves right? Not quite. There’s still some work to do. Most publishers will spend some time developing the game even further. This is common and could last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. The publisher might have a team of people that are responsible for developing the game or there might be just one person in charge of it.

So what happens during this stage? Well, the developer plays your game over and over again, trying to see if it’s fully balanced and retains what it had when they first agreed to publish it. The most common thing that will happen here is small tweaks. The cost of one card could be made more expensive as it proves to be too powerful in their tests; the quantity of resources given out might be changed for balance reasons. It could be bigger changes that range from adding or removing certain aspects or even changing the theme of the game!

A famous story is how Reiner Knizia’s game, Through the Desert started as a game about campers. The publisher liked it but wanted to change the theme to camels in a desert – and the rest is history.

We were fortunate for this stage so far as we were involved in all suggested changes. Most of them were fine by us, but once in a while we would share our thoughts on why we would disagree. Sometimes it was because we had tried that in an earlier prototype and found that it didn’t work in the long run for various reasons. Most, if not all of the time, the developer listened to what we had to say and took action because of what we said.

For example, at one point we suggested starting players with some resources, and while at first it was thought not necessary by the developer, we eventually playtested it and found that it sped the game up considerably. Alternatively, we always had a rule in there that you could sell your buildings for a certain amount of gold. Eventually the developer realized that hardly anyone ever did that, so it was better to just remove it which removes 1 option players have – which is fine in this game as there are plenty of other choices to be made!

Playtesting Belfort

For us, the developer process was lengthy for Belfort and almost non-existent for Train of Thought. Train of Thought is a party game and it didn’t require any changes at all. The only development for that game came with the rules editing. Belfort is a deep strategy game and the developer playtested the game numerous times over the 6 months. Every few weeks we’d get some new reports on how the latest playtests were going. We communicated using an online forum since we were all located in various parts of North America.

It’s key in this stage to maintain a positive attitude and a humble demeanour. You don’t want to get on the publisher’s bad side at this stage. If you want a reputation, then get one that is about how easy it was to work with you as a designer. That isn’t to say that you should just lay down and accept everything they suggest. We chose our battles wisely and only really stuck to our guns if it negatively impacted gameplay. This should be one of the most fun times for you as a designer, so don’t spoil it!

-Jay Cormier

When not creating games by night, I’m a mild-mannered pediatric Occupational Therapist by day. In my line of work, I constantly tell parents that a huge percentage of the problems they or their children are experiencing could benefit from improved communication. And the same goes for working with a developer – fostering an open and understanding dialog is key to ending up with a result that everyone can be happy with and proud of.

Because Jay and I work as a team though, painfully separated by huge tracts of land, we have become somewhat experts in communicating with each other. For the most part, we are able to get our points across without ripping each other’s throats out. Having access to modern technology like Skype and our forum has really enabled Jay and I to be able to do our work despite the 3-hour time difference. We have become fairly adept at putting our ideas into writing, making physical prototypes and working things out from a distance. Giving and receiving feedback with our colleagues from the Game Artisans of Canada and our playtest teams has been hugely beneficial as well. All of these skills have been definite assets when it came to working with Seth Jaffee, our Developer on both Train of Thought and Belfort.

So, working with a developer is no different than working with anyone else – communication is a game. Everyone playing just needs to know the rules, the boundaries, and share a common lingo.

The Rules:

What I mean by this is not necessarily the rules of the game itself (though you should know those like the back of your hand, I hope!) but the “rules of engagement”, as it were. Questions you need to answer may include: Who’s in charge of what? Who’s tasked to what? Who’s the final decision maker? What is the purpose of this iteration cycle? Arming yourself with this knowledge can help you avoid some of the common misadventures that happen with groupwork – Going It Alone, Reinventing the Wheel, Passing the Buck, and the ever-dreaded Stepping On Toes.

The Boundaries:

Fact 1: You are designer of the game. So it’s your baby.
Fact 2: You have signed away your rights to the game. So it’s basically been “adopted”.

This means that you need to understand a few things, like it’s the publisher’s call whether or not the game needs to be rethemed. It’s the publisher’s call whether or not there are too many cards in Deck A, B *and* C. And, thus, by proxy, it’s the developer’s call as he/she has been employed by the publisher to take the game and make it better suit the publisher. You need to be aware going into this relationship that the developer is not there to work for you. He has a different agenda. It’s more than likely 99.9% parallel to yours, but you’ll note that I used the word “parallel” as opposed to “same”. He may have the task of ensuring that there is the least amount of language on the cards, for example, which requires you to review how the rules work with only icons. Your agendas need not clash – in the end, all parties just want to make a good game. But it takes an understanding on all sides of the die that everyone knows what’s up.

Speaking of which, one boundary that you, as the designer, may wish to discuss with the publisher and developer is your overall vision for the game – what were you trying to accomplish when you made the game? What are some of the high priority “no sale”, make-or-break items for you? If the developer holds these in mind while he is doing his thang, everything will flow from those overarching elements. It’s important to look at the game from the macro viewpoint every now and then to ensure that the wholistic nature of the game is still intact after all of the micro changes that are made. But without talking about that kind of stuff, how is the developer supposed to know? He’s not a mind-reader anymore than you are.

Share a Common Lingo

This, simply put, means that everyone is on the same page language and terminology-wise. You will save yourself a lot of confusion and arguments if everyone knows that when you say SP you’re referring to Skill Points, not Spell Points. Having very clear rules with well-layed out phases of play and a glossary of terms can really help everyone understand each other. When everyone speaks the same language, the flow of ideas is much more seamless. It helps streamline conversations when people can refer to the same points of reference instead of having to call something the “the-part-of-the-game-where-we-roll-dice-and-move-things-but-we-don’t-pick-up-any-cards-because-that-comes-at-the-end phase” (er…you mean “The Movement Phase”).

So keep the lines open between you, the developer, and the publisher. In the end, change is generally for the positive – i.e. to make the game better (in terms of playability, saleability, etc.). Be open and accepting to feedback, because if the agendas are parallel, everyone is hoping to get to the same place. So embrace change instead of fighting it, just ask for clarification/explanation from the developer if needed.

In short, communicate.

-Sen-Foong Lim

Belfort Designer Diaries: Part 2, The Developer

Belfort was 4 years in the making from initial seed in our brains to final product on game tables everywhere. In our interview series, “Belfort: From Inspiration to Publication”, we bring you the perspective of the whole process from start to finish from the perspective of the people involved in making the game a reality. Next up, we’re sitting down with Belfort’s developer and fellow game designer, Seth Jaffee (Terra Prime, Brain Freeze, Eminent Domain).

Sen: Welcome, Seth! Good to talk with you again. Tell us – what motivated you and Michael to sign Belfort initially?

Game Developer for Tasty Minstrel Games, Seth Jaffee

Seth: We played it at GAMA and I was really happy with the overall feel of the game. It really fired on a lot of different cylinders for me, much like Homesteaders did when I first played that.

Jay: Which, coincidentally was how we met. You were playtesting an almost finished prototype of Homesteaders and I asked if I could play – not knowing you were part of the publisher team! But enough about you – more about Belfort!

Seth: Well, I thought it could use some polishing but I saw a lot of potential there. It was clear to me, in talking to Jay, that a lot of thought had gone into the game. At the time, Michael and I didn’t have a long list of great games to publish, so we thought this would be a good one to add to the list!

Jay:  Thanks for making that choice – we appreciate it! For other designers out there, what are some things that designers can do that make their games appeal to a publisher?

Seth:  I’m not sure I have a good answer to that except to say something generic like, “make it awesome!” I know that I like and appreciate thorough games that are well thought out. It’s also got to have some kind of “hook” – many games are solid structurally, but have nothing to really capture attention, they come across as just mediocre to me.

Jay:  I remember you and Michael talking to me at GAMA after playing it for a second time. Michael mentioned that he would like a shot at publishing it, but wanted some time to develop it further. That’s where you come in as you’re Belfort’s developer. What’s the role of a developer on the team?

Seth: My role is to find games with that spark, that potential, and then make sure that potential is realized. Basically, I get to say, “I think this game would be better if…” and then I get to see if I was right! My goal is for the game to feel to me like a real, finished game that I would want to play again and again.

Sen: Is there a timeline for that goal?

Seth: The best answer to that is “yes, and no.” I would like to have more time to concentrate on the games so that they can get finished up and published faster, but having a full-time job puts a bit of a damper on that. Also, it’s tough to find willing playtesters as often as I’d like. So it’s very difficult to stick to any particular timeline! I’m trying to improve that though.

Seth playtested so much that instead of waiting for us to redo components or art for our prototype, he would just mock up the components he had with Post-it notes and such!


 

 

 


 

Jay:  What’s the process of developing a game that you didn’t design?

Seth: The process is basically an iterative playtest: consider changes, tweak, playtest some more, repeat. Considering changes includes listening to players’ comments as well as my own ideas, so it’s important to pay attention during playtests.

Jay: It’s been very interesting as designers to work with a developer (i.e. you!) on a game we designed. As designers we’re very happy with the game and have had it playtested numerous times to get it to the place where Tasty Minstrel was interested. But then to have you develop and tweak it even further has been really interesting as you definitely added to the overall balance of the game. What were some of the things that you knew you wanted to tweak immediately?

Seth: It’s tough to remember specifically what happened with Belfort, but I recall that there were some things I knew should change right off the bat. Other changes came up over time and testing, and some changes didn’t work out or even got reversed. Some of the things that I remember changing over the course of development were things like…

  • Costs of the buildings (and balance of powers)
  • Number of spaces and how many workers a player can send to the Village
  • Placing workers 1 at a time (until passing) vs sending as many workers to your buildings as you want at a time (and only once per turn)
  • When you collect things from buildings compared to Income
  • Guild configuration (and specifics of powers)
  • Scoring specifics
  • Exactly how the Trading Post worked (I can’t remember the original version, but I see notes that it changed!)
  • Cost of walls

Stuff like that. Mostly details, but some significant structural changes. In all cases, my proposed changes were in an effort to accomplish what I thought the game was already trying to achieve- I was not out to change the game per se – just to find a better way!

Sen:  We think you did an admirable job! Out of all the changes made, what do you feel is the biggest improvements that you and your playtesters made to Belfort?

One modification Seth made to Belfort was to reduce the game's length to 7 rounds to make it a faster game.

Seth:  I think the biggest improvement was probably changing the game length – jumpstarting the early game and reducing the total number of rounds so that players have turns to get things done, but the game ends in a reasonable amount of time on the clock.

Jay: A fine balance, indeed! And speaking of balance, how do you balance your vision of what a game could be with the designers’ original intentions? As a designer yourself, is it hard developing other people’s designs?

Seth: I actually think it’s easier to develop someone else’s idea than to design and develop my own game from the start. When picking up another designer’s idea, they’ve already done a lot of work so I can pick and choose the parts of theirs that I think are working and I can try to fix the parts I think need work.

Jay: Were there any areas that were “off-limits”? I don’t’ specifically remember any really!  But do you have to get approval for any changes by the designers or the publisher?

Seth: I think that once they sign a game, a publisher can pretty much do what they want, and I have heard stories of themes and rules being changed without the designer’s knowledge or approval. I’ve also heard that some designers, such as Reiner Knizia, put stipulations in their contracts requiring that they must approve all significant changes to rules. I personally like to keep the designers in the loop, so when I think of a change to the game, I usually run it by the designer – it might be something they’ve already tried, and I am not out to reinvent the wheel. It’s also helpful because the designer can playtest changes with a different pair of eyes and different players, making for more testing of any proposed change.

With Belfort, I didn’t consider anything “off limits”, but I did discuss each change with you guys.

Sen: That’s right – I remember. We were always excited to see on the forum that you had another playtest and had a few new ideas or tweaks to suggest.

Jay: I too remember having great debates – in a totally friendly way – about the merits of certain game mechanics. In the end, more playtesting always answered our questions.

Sen:  Early on there was a chance Belfort could be more serious with humans as all the workers instead of elves and dwarves. Were there any other thoughts of changing the theme of Belfort?

Seth: I don’t think I ever considered changing the theme of the game, I liked it the way it was. I also secretly thought to myself that the light fantasy setting of the game might be the land where the TMG logo dragon lives!

Jay:  And astute observers of the final game board can see that you are correct! Thanks for your time and effort, Seth! Belfort wouldn’t be the same without you!
In our next installment, we will be talking to the game’s artist – the prolific Josh Cappell (game designer of Wasabi, artist: too many to mention here).

For past interviews in this series, please go here:

Belfort Designer Diaries: Part 1, The Playtesters

If you are interested in learning more about how we came up with the ideas and how the game grew from something small into what it is now you can read this interview by Jeff Temple and watch this video we recorded.