The Power of Time in Game Design

whatsyourstory

We here at Inspiration to Publication want to share stories from other designers about their process of getting their games published. So if you are a designer and you have a story – we want to hear it! Please contact us and we’ll figure it out.

Here’s a guest post by fellow game designer, Patrick Lysaght. Patrick took us through his impressions of attending Origins as a designer – which was quite insightful. Today is an exciting day for Patrick because his game has launched on Kickstarter! Let’s see what time does to a game design.

Glory and Riches

The Power of Time in Game Design, by Patrick Lysaght

Glory & Riches launched on KickStarter this morning. By the time the campaign is over, the design will be two years old. It will be another 6 months or so until the game hits shelves. At this point, the primary changes will be the final cuts with art/layout. Reflecting on the development of the game over the last week brought something important to my attention. Waiting for something to happen is not wasted time, it is a critical element in the refinement process.

When an idea is fresh and new, the creative process consumes your brain. You rapidly innovate, solve problems, and face large challenges. If a design show potential, you transition into a development phases where the problems become simultaneously smaller and harder. A primary example in Glory & Riches was the balance between the strength of Economic Expansion mechanisms and Military Conquest mechanisms. I spent months tweaking, adjusting, pouring over minute details, and frustrating playtesters. This is essential to a solid design, but it is not fun.

This second step, however, is not the waiting I am talking about. For me, this step ended around October 2013. At this point, I thought the game was done from the design standpoint. Effectively, I stopped working on the game, and focused on some other things. I was ready to handoff the project to the publisher and artist. I actually thought I did. I was wrong. One day a few months later, a new layout design occurred to me out of nowhere. It elegantly solved a problem I had brute-forced with an earlier method. The new concept reduced production cost, answered playtester-feedback, and was very visually appealing. The cost of this idea was months of subconscious thought. Without that time, the game would not be as good as it is today.

Another key ingredient to the power of time in game design is the outside perspective it allows you to gather. For example, Glory & Riches is a resource-management and area control game. Early on, it suffered from the first-player initiative problem. Going first conveyed too powerful of an advantage. I developed a system which reprogrammed turn order based on geographical control. I solved the problem…too well. The game exploded from 2 to 4 hours. Players could not sustain any gains. I reverted to the original scheme out of a desire for simplicity and gameplay. Then the breakthrough came.

Months later in a meeting with the publisher (Jolly Roger Games), the owner suggested an auction format. This simultaneously resolved the initiative problem, increased player agency, and balanced the value of resources in the game’s final phase. He didn’t see all of those elements at the time, but his suggestion made the instant connection in my mind. I couldn’t have arrived at that point without outside input. Importantly, this meeting happened a month after the initial target date for the KickStarter. The delay afforded insight, and produced a much better product.

From what I have gathered, 2-3 years has become a standard cradle-to-shelf window. When I started, I thought it could move much faster. If I could have rushed it through the process, I probably would have. I’m glad I didn’t. I am proud of the finished product. I hope that you will enjoy playing it as much as I do. Give your game time to age into maturity. You will be surprised how much a few extra months can improve it.

Here’s the link to support Glory & Riches on Kickstarter!

We want your board game design stories!

whatsyourstoryWelcome to 2014! We’ve been working at designing board games for over 6 years now, and we’ve been writing about how to get published on this site for over 3 years. The goal of this site was to be very transparent and show people how we came to get our board games published. At the time we only had Belfort and Train of Thought being published but now we have six more games coming out this year! While we still have stories and lessons left to tell as we continue to learn new things about getting published, what we’d love to do now is to hear from other designers.

We’re introducing a new segment on our blog called: What’s Your Story?

We’ve already had one guest blogger, Patrick Lysaght, tell us a couple stories about following some of the steps outlined on this site (Pitching at Origins Part 1 and Part 2), and now we’d like to hear from you! Have you used any of the steps outlined in this blog? Have you found success – or even met up with some challenges? Do you have:

  • a story about how you pitched your game to a publisher, or
  • a story about how you make prototypes, or
  • a story about how you play test your games, or
  • a story about contract negotiation, or
  • a story about how you self-published, or
  • a story about how you used Kickstarter, or
  • any story about the design process?

Contact me and we’ll work together to get your story told: jay <at> bamboozlebrothers.com

-Jay Cormier

How to get your game published: Simplified!

Today I am featured in the Metro News newspaper all across Canada! There are two articles in it, one about how board games are making a comeback and the other is about how to design and get your game published.

It’s quite a simplified version, compared to the 33 steps that I’ve outlined on this blog (See The Steps), but it’s perfect for the subway reading crowd! Check out the issue today if you’re out and about – or take a gander at the online version here:

Why board games are making a serious comeback

How to chute your way up the design ladder

Screen Shot 2013-08-02 at 3.21.55 PM

 

-Jay Cormier

Step 30: Board Game Contract Negotiation, Part 1 of 3: The Offer

I will preface this article by saying that we’re not experts on contracts yet, having only been through a few of them, but we’re getting better at them!

When you’re a game designer you have to wear 3 hats. The first hat is that of the designer. This is probably where you’re the most comfortable. The second hat is that of the salesperson. You have to pitch your game to the publishers and that takes skill. The third hat is that of the business person. You can’t confuse which hat you need to wear at each step as that could have negative consequences. The biggest challenge here is to try and NOT wear the designer hat when you’re negotiating contracts. It’s time to wear the business hat and keep other aspects – like your ego and the pride of seeing your game published – out of your mind until the contract phase is complete.

There might be two phases to contracts. The first stage could be a contract with intent to publish and the second stage is actually publishing. Both stages will be represented by the same contract though. A publisher might like your game but they want some time with their team to run it through multiple playtests to ensure it meets their standards.

Our first contract gave the publisher 6 months of development time. If they could get the game to where they wanted it, then they’d publish it. This is also known as an exclusivity contract as it’s expected that you will not continue shopping your game to other publishers. Once they’re done with their developing and they’re happy with it, then the full contract kicks in. If the publisher does want to go this route then ensure that the timeline is clearly specified. It should have a specific date as to when the rights revert back to you if they can’t develop it to their liking.

Regardless if it has a development aspect to it, the first thing that will happen is you’ll get an offer. If it’s verbal or even in an informal email, then ask for a formal contract before agreeing fully to anything. It’s cool to go back and forth in the informal negotiation stage, but progress on the development of the game should not commence until you’ve got a contract.

So what are we negotiating really? Well this part can be tricky. Why? Because as designers we often undervalue our own worth and are just so darned excited that a publisher wants to publish our game that we sometimes breeze through the contract phase a little too quickly. We have to remember that we are partners with the publisher and we’re bringing half of the equation to the table. Sure the publisher is taking all the risk financially but that doesn’t mean they can rake you over the coals either. Keep that business hat on at all times during this stage!

In the next two posts we’ll take a closer look at the various things you should look for when negotiating a contract with a publisher.
-Jay Cormier

The offer is a major high point in the life cycle of a published game. It’s when the publisher officially voices their intent to publish the game. Some games, as Jay stated, warrant further development as the publisher may be trying to fit it to a different theme, market, or even to a license they have access to. Some games are just a bit rough around the edges and the publisher wants some time to polish it up before they commit to anything in full. During this time, it behooves you as the designer who will have his or her name on the box (make sure to ask for that in your contract, by the way!), to work closely with the publisher and the development team to ensure that everything goes smoothly – we will discuss this phase of the process in further detail later on.

During this exclusivity or development phase you need to be concerned about a few things: Making sure that the process does not go on ad nauseum and making sure that you do not sign any of your rights to your intellectual property away permanently. Do no enter into any agreement with a publisher until you have something in writing saying that you will be paid for your idea in some manner and /or that the rights revert to you if no agreement has been reached after a set period of time.

Be sure not to reneg your contractual obligations by shopping a prototype to Company B if it’s already in development with Company A, even if you’re not getting a good vibe from Company A. Either wait out the development period and see how it goes or build yourself an out in the contract if need be to have the rights revert to you if either party is feeling antsy about the situation. Just don’t go behind anyone’s back. Not only would you been in breech of contract, it would seriously damage your reputation in a very small industry – one where your name carries weight. At this point of the game, it’s all business. So put that hat firmly on your head and make sound business decisions as opposed to ones that you might make as a designer or sales person.

Once you’ve negotiated the development timeline, if any, you need to sort out the good stuff. SHOW ME THE MONEY!

-Sen-Foong Lim

Step 13: To Self-Publish or Not To Self-Publish

We’re 12 steps into this and we now should be ready to get a game published.  We should have a game that has been playtested and tweaked dozens of times.  We should be happy with where we’re at with the game and have played it a few times in a row without anyone wanting any changes in the game.

Now comes the big question: should we self-publish or submit it to a game publisher?  There are four differences between them:

Creative Control

Creative Control Board Game DesignWith Self-Publishing you have full creative control. If you want something changed, then you can get it changed depending on how much money and time you’re willing to invest.

If a Publisher is making your game then they have full creative control.  If they like your game about camping, but think it would be better if it was about camels caravanning in the desert then you’ll have to change it (this is a true story of what happened with Reiner Knizia’s Through the Desert – a great game btw!).

$$$

If you Self-Publish, be prepared to invest a lot of your own money.  Depending on how big of a print run you want to do will be a factor in how much you will need (anywhere from $5000-$50,000).  If you want to do a super small print run then you have to be prepared to either make a lot less per game or even lose money per game – as was the case in the first print run of Trivial Pursuit.  This strategy has paid off for the makers of Trivial Pursuit of course – and for others as well (Alan Moon’s Spiel de Jahres winner, Elfenland had an initial print run of about 100!) – but you just have to be prepared for that kind of cost!  If you can afford a bigger print run then a big benefit you get is ALL the profits!  Of course you might want to use a distributor who will eat into those profits, but you still get all those profits.

If a Publisher is making your game then you need to invest none of your money (except all the money you’ve spent on tools, resources, entry fees for competitions, travelling to conventions, pizza for your playtesters etc…).  They take all the risk, and as you can imagine – they take most of the profits.  As a designer you are left with anywhere from 1%-10% of Distributor Cost (Publisher sells the game to a Distributor, Distributor sells to a Retailer, Retailer sells to a customer).

An example:  If a game is sold in retail for about $40, then the retailer might have bought it from the distributor for about $20.  The Distributor might have bought it from the publisher for $10.  A designer might get 5% of this – or $0.50 for each game sold.  As you can see, it’s hard to get rich as a board game designer.  Hopefully we’re making games because we love making games though!

Expertise

Expertise Board Game DesignA Publisher is going to have contacts and relationships within the industry for artists and production.  If you decided to self-publish then you’d need to find an artist and figure out where to get it made.  This expertise can be invaluable.  For us, we lucked out with Tasty Minstrel Games as they have hired two of the best artists in the board game community with Josh Cappel and Gavan Brown.  Not only that but they have learned a lot in their short history about production companies and have formed a relationship with Panda – the best place to get a game made.  Finally they have a tight relationship with PSI – the Distributors.  Not only are our games going to be distributed by PSI, but they have already played our game, Train of Thought and mentioned that they think it would be a good game to get into Barnes and Noble.  We wouldn’t have been able to get a contact like that if we Self-Published.

Time

Time Board Game DesignIf you Self-Publish you have an advantage of spending as much time as you can to get your game to market as soon as possible.  The downside is that takes a lot of your time.  A heck of a lot.  I was talking to the designers of Redneck Life and they mentioned that by Self-Publishing they now spend up to 80% of their time marketing their game instead of spending time on designing other board games.  So if that’s something that interests you, then go for it!

The challenge with a Publisher making your game is that they take forever.  From the moment they say they’re interested to it hitting the store shelves will be at least two years.  The game has to go through their development team, where they playtest it even more and make tweaks (hopefully with the designer!).  Then they hire an artist, and send it to China (probably) to get produced.  They get it shipped back to America and get it to the distributors. Then they do the marketing, which includes going to conventions, ads and in store promos.  That’s a lot of time.

So taking all these things into consideration, Sen and I decided that we preferred to have a Publisher make our game.  We were ok with the smaller profit potential because we weren’t in it for the money, and we would rather spend more of our time on making new games!

So for your game, what are you thinking about doing?  Self-publishing or sending it to a publisher?

-Jay Cormier

The only other items I can add to Jay’s excellent post are:

Space

The other part of the continuum when paired with “TIME” (see above), space, like it’s partner, is a limitation we all have to deal with. Neither Jay nor I have the space to safely store 1000 boxes of Belfort and 1000 more of Train of Thought, in a climate controlled/hermetically sealed enviroment. When you are your own publisher, you need to store your product and make sure the mice and water don’t get at your stock. When you have a publisher, they are responsible for all the mundane, yet vitally important things like safe storage of the game.

Many, Many Hands

In the case of games that are pretty much ready to go, you may not want or need much more input. But for some of the more complex games, like Belfort, we had the assistance of a great guy named Seth Jaffee to take it from a 10 to a 10.5! Seth is the developer for Tasty Minstrel. His job is to take a game that may have some minor rough spots and buff them out. He’s like Victor – he’s a cleaner.

Having a publisher usually means more eyes on the little details, more eyes on proofing, more people helping the project move along accordingly. So while we gave up some creative control and had to come to consensus on a few items, we are more than happy with the final products of our union with Seth and Tasty Minstrel Games. Both Train of Thought and Belfort are shaping up as games we are super proud of. Without the input of the publisher, both games would have been slightly different and, in my opinion, slighty worse if we had taken the self-publishing route.

In our case, working with the publisher and developer has been a dream. We’ve heard others tell different tales regarding other publishers. In the end, it’s all about communication and making effective use of collaborative tools to get the job done.

So, from the perspective of Jay and myself, where it’s incredibly difficult to co-ordinate even ourselves due to the geographic distances we have to travel to actually meet face-to-face let alone everything that self-publishing entails, you can see why we have reservations regarding publishing one of our games ourselves.

This doesn’t mean that it’ll never happen – many times (especially after a rejection letter), Jay and I often muse about publishing a game on our own. But then we go over the laundry list of reasons why we shouldn’t and we give ourselves a big old face palm for even thinking of doing something silly like that. But I can see a time in the future where we may want to go that way if we are both in a position to be able to meet the huge demands of self-publication.

For now though, we’re more than happy with our publishers – we’re estatic!

-Sen-Foong Lim