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

Inspiration: Now in Spanish!

Looks like a fellow reader enjoyed reading our blog so much that he wanted to share it with other Spanish speaking friends.  Javier Garcia translated all the Steps to Publication we’ve posted here into Spanish.  So if you’ve got some game design friends that are more comfortable reading Spanish, then let them know about this link!

Inspiration to Publication in Spanish: De la Inspiracion a la Publicacion

Step 2: How to stay Motivated

I like to credit my success to this acronym: MVP. Seems like any good “How To” Blog needs to have an acronym!

So what do you need to do in order to be an MVP?
You have to have
Motivation
Versatility
Persistence
This post is about Motivation.
First of all, what’s your motivation in making games? If you’re main motivation is to make money, then you are in the wrong line of business. I can’t count how many people respond to me telling them that I design board games by asking how much money I’m going to make.
I think everyone knows the Trivia Pursuit story by now, and ever since then everyone equates board game design with hitting the jackpot. Think of it in terms of authors. For every Stephen King and JK Rowling in the world, there are a million other authors who can’t scrape together a couple of nickels.
As a side note I’d like to say that we all do dream of a day where our side interests and hobbies can provide for us financially, but I’m just saying that it shouldn’t be your main motivation.
So what is your motivation? For me it’s the need to share my creations with the world; to spread joy and entertainment to as many people as possible! Ah so selfless!
That’s the first aspect of Motivation. The second is: how do you stay motivated? It gets challenging some times, especially after a poor play test, to go back to the drawing board and make yet another prototype.
My main motivation is my partner, Sen. We’ve been gaming buddies forever and like many of you, decided we could make our own games. At the time we were living quite close to each other and it was easy to meet up to work on our game. We had an idea of making a tile laying game that also had movement, similar to Drakon. We wanted to make a game about finding treasure using treasure maps, but we wanted the treasure hidden in a different location every time you played.
We did probably what happens to most people: we came up with a super rough prototype and played it a few times, but came up with some hitches that we couldn’t solve and soon lost interest.
Fast forward a couple years and I move half way across the country due to my job. A few months later and my buddy Sen comes out for a visit and we decide we should give this game design thing another shot. Trouble is, now we don’t live down the street from each other. What to do, what to do?
We decided to start using a forum. We had a friend set one up for us and we were off to the races. This forum allowed us not only to communicate to each other across the country but also keep track of our thoughts on a variety of games.
That was one thing that kept us motivated. The other was the fact that we worked on dozens of ideas at the same time. We have one section of our forum that is called “Brain Farts” and it allows us to jot down any random idea we have that would be interesting in a game. If one of these ideas intrigues both of us then we keep writing more and more about it until it gets promoted to it’s own separate thread.
This way if our interest starts to wane on any specific game or topic then we can easily move onto another game.
I met a fellow designer who was getting bummed out on his one board game design and he asked me for some advice. I said why not shelve it for awhile and work on some other games, just to keep your interest running high. He indicated that this was his one idea – his one chance to make a lot of money. I told him that I didn’t have any more advice for him.
So having the right motivation is important but finding a way to stay motivated is also important. Let’s assume you’re in this for the right reasons (whatever reasons they are), now you just have to find a way (or ways) to keep yourself motivated.
How do you stay motivated when designing board games?

Step 1: "No one’s going to buy a board game without a board!"

Many people get into designing their own board games because they play a lot of board games and think to themselves from time to time that they could make something even better.

Other people don’t play that many board games at all, but have stumbled across an idea that they believe is the next Trivia Pursuit.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to play games. A lot of games.
Here’s why:
I went to a game store on an advertised board game night where I came across another board game designer. He had brought his game and he wanted some people to help play test it. I was intrigued and agreed to play the game. I won’t bore you with the details of the game, but you can believe that all the playtesters had some advice for this would-be game designer.
My first suggestion was to get rid of the board. There was needless rolling of a die to move around the board when in the end it didn’t really matter. He was outraged at the idea of removing the board game!
“You can’t have a board game without a board! No one’s going to buy a board game without a board!”

My initial response to this was referring him to Apples to Apples, which at the time had sold over 3 million copies, and uses just cards and no board whatsoever. He had never heard of it.
Now it’s no crime to NOT play every game out there – but you should be familiar with what’s out there. If you’re making a party game – play a lot of party games! If you’re making a strategy game – play strategy games! Of course you can’t play every game (but I do try!), so instead think of it as researching your competition. Go into game stores and look at games that are targeting the same customers as yours is. Go online (www.boardgamegeek.com) and do the same.
    Why is this important (besides the anecdotal reason above)? You need to be familiar with game mechanics in other games, themes that are popular (and not popular!), how many pieces are in the games that are similar to the one you want to make and you need to be familiar with what kind of games each publisher publishes. This last point is important and will be the topic of an upcoming post.
    So the obvious take away here is to become familiar with what you’re getting into. They say the number one advice for writers is to read a lot, and the same can be said of game designers – play a lot!