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 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

Step 31: Get to Know Other Designers

<caveat – this probably should be somewhere near Step 12, and will be ret-conned in later!>

As a game designer, I have found it extremely helpful to surround myself not only with great playtesters, but also other game designers. Initially many people think that you might not want to talk to other game designers about your unpublished games because they could steal your ideas. I have never thought this was an issue, mostly because everyone and their brother has a dozen ideas for their own board games. The ideas aren’t what’s lacking. What’s lacking is the ability, and often the experience and knowledge of how to get a game to market. This is where fellow game designers can be a big boon to you.

I belong to a group called the Game Artisans of Canada. This group was founded in 2008 by a few game designers with an interest in sharing stories and experiences in an effort to help each other get their games to the market. Many of the GAC members have games published already, including Rob Bartel with Two by Two, Sean Ross with Haggis and Matt Tolman with Undermining – to name but a few. There are different chapters across Canada which each meet up on a regular basis for play testing. In addition to this, they have an online forum which everyone across Canada can ask questions, share playtest sessions or debate game design philosophies. There’s a whole process to become a Game Artisan, which involves a trial period as a Journeyman and a lot of mentorship from your local chapter.

Attendees of Cardstock 2011! Look at all that brainpower!

In addition to our chapter meet ups and the online forum, GAC has an annual get together called Cardstock. This is heaven for game designers. 20 or so designers meet up and playtest each other’s’ prototypes over a long weekend! This year it was in Calgary and many of us flew in to take part in this experience. I was flabbergasted at all the creativity and brainpower that was at Cardstock. Every game that Sen and I brought to Cardstock left a much better game. Talk about invigorating!

The Game Artisans even have their own newsletter called Meeple Syrup that is dedicated to celebrating the organization’s successes. Issue 3 was just released and is available here.

Sen and I joined them in 2010 and have had numerous examples of how they have helped us become better designers and probably published more often.

1. Game Designers make the best playtesters. Game designers understand the need for balance and how a suggestion can lead to other issues. They understand that sometimes a playtest session needs to stop in order to tweak the rules before starting again. The feedback we get from playtesting with other game designers is always fantastic and leaves us excited to take another crack at it.

2. Game Designers have a ton of various experiences that each of us alone don’t have yet. Have a question about how a contract should be worded? Ask GAC. Not sure how to contact a publisher? Ask GAC. Trying to figure out how to solve a game design problem you’re having? Ask GAC. There’s a ton of knowledge amongst all the members of GAC.

3. Game Designers have contacts. We have already experienced a few examples where one GAC member has helped another get a game to a publisher and get published!

  • Michael Mindes of Tasty Minstrel Games asked me and Sean Ross about our opinions of the game Alba Longa, designed by GAC member Graeme Jahns. It was being published in the Netherlands by Quined and Michael was thinking about bringing it to America. I told him my honest opinion, as did Sean, and he decided to co-publish the game with Quined.
  • Quined then asked Graeme if there were other designers with games that he think they’d be interested in. Graeme thought of our game, Akrotiri and they were interested enough to send an email to us asking us for the rules. After reading the rules, they asked for a prototype. They’ve played the game twice and are still fascinated by it. Time will tell if that turns into a publishing contract!
  • Rob Bartel introduced us to Gamewright and they now have our game Jam Slam and are still deciding about whether they are going to publish it or not.
  • Dylan Kirk has contacts in China and when one of them asked if he knew of any games that might be a good fit for them, he told them about Train of Thought. On my trip to Essen coming up, I have a meeting set up with that publisher to see if they’d be interested in publishing the game in China!

4. Blind Playtesting! With different chapters across Canada this gives everyone that’s part of GAC the ability to get their game blind playtested. This means sending the game to another chapter with the rules, and letting them figure it out on their own. This is so valuable as this is the experience that a publisher would get when we would send a game to them – so the feedback from these sessions are extremely helpful.

5. Improved Quality. While this goes hand in hand with some of the other points in this list, it deserves its own callout because I’m referring also to the perceived quality of all games by members of GAC by publishers. Publishers are already starting to recognize the abilities of GAC. They know that if they receive a game from a member of GAC, that it has been playtested by other designers and most likely, even blind playtested. The goal would be to get to a point where a publisher comes to our group to ask for game submissions.

So while you may or may not be able to be a part of something like the Game Artisans of Canada, you should definitely surround yourself with other game designers. Try online places like Meetup.com or Craigslist, or even by asking your local game store if they can host a game designer night once a month – and see who shows up! You’ll become a better designer because of it.

~ Jay Cormier

Online, there’s the Boardgame Design Forum – http://www.bgdf.com – where like-minded people post about their designs. You could also use http://www.boardgamegeek.com and post in your local forum to try to find a design group or start up your own. An online group is a great place to bounce ideas off of people and a local group is excellent for playtesting.

Another thing that a group gives us access to is a huge collective boardgaming experience. Jay and I have played a ton of games, but there’s only so many hours in a day! With the difference in tastes and personal collections, we can draw on the gaming knowledge of many instead of just the two of us. So when we propose an idea, we’ll often get the reply of “Have you played yet? It sounds pretty similar.” While you might think this is discouraging, it isn’t – either we take a look at Game X and decide that it’s similar and we’ve saved ourselves the time of re-inventing the wheel and potential embarassment of pitching it to a publisher; or we find out that our game is different and, hopefully, better!

The group can also help bolster confidence in your designs – there have been a few times when people in the GAC were thinking of abandoning a project, but other members helped the game stay on the rails and move closer towards a final versions.

We also help promote each others’ games through things like newletters and Rob Bartel’s “Canadian Heritage Collection” catalog – a catalogue of games designed or published by Canadians that is sent to Canadian game retailers. Jay will be bringing one of Al Leduc’s prototypes to Essen to give to an interested publisher, Jolly Thinkers. We help with suggesting publishers, using our links and contacts when possible, to get our colleagues’ games in front of the decision makers. Jay will be pitching Matt Musselman’s “Bordeaux” to Queen and Alea at Essen later this month. Fingers crossed!

Help can be as simple as amking a suggestion. Why, even tonight, I suggested that a new designer take a theme that Jay and I had been toying around with and run with it, because his game fit better than any we’ve been able to think of so far! Hopefully, something becomes of it. We just want to make good games and help good games to be made.

In fact, both Jay and I are even working in collaboration with other GAC designers on separate games. Jay is working with Graeme Jahns, Ryley Tolman, and Gavan Brown on a party game tentatively called “Like It” while I’m involved in co-designing Yves Tourigny’s brainchild “Midnight Men” with him.

Like It logo

Like a boss.

“Like It” was sparked at a late-night session at Cardstock 2011 after the group had played “Clunatics” and Gavan seeded an idea. The next morning, Jay, Ryley and Graeme were eagerly discussing it and a quick prototype was mocked up in short order. There’s some really great mechanics in this game that have been great to watch develop over time on the GAC forums. That’s the beauty of the internet – connecting people in Vancouver, Calgary, and Lethbridge in order to create something new.

The Nightwatchman, from "Midnight Men"

The iconic Nightwatchman, bane of evildoers everywhere, brings justice to the streets of Cosmo City in Yves Tourignay's "Midnight Men"

My involvement with “Midnight Men” comes much later in the development of it; Yves had already done much of the work, including the all-important part of getting the game signed to Canadian game publisher Filosophia for a 2012 release. I became enamoured with the project as soon as Yves began discussing it, due to my love affair with comics from a young age, and was eager to try it out. I finally got to play it at Cardstock 2011 and it was apparent that the potential was there, but that there were kinks to work out. I was determined to help with that. After re-creating my own prototype version and tabling it with my local playtest group in London, I provided even more feedback to Yves. So much so that I think I was driving him to drink! I suggested that Yves discuss the possibility of me being part of the development team with Filosophia, but Yves did one better and offered me a role in the actual design of the game. I accepted immediately as I’ve always wanted to make a superhero game myself. Yves has created a richly detailed world and I am honoured to be part of bringing it to life. The progress that Yves and I have made on the game since we began the partnership has been a real testament to the power of teamwork.

This year has been a banner year for Jay and I as designers and it’s in no small part to our links to the Game Artisans of Canada.  2012 will be even better, if all goes as planned.  So, If you’re serious about game design, do yourself a favour and seek out like-minded people. It makes the job that much easier – as the old saying goes, “Many hands make light work.”

~ Sen-Foong Lim

The Road to Comic Book Publication: Steps 1-4

So far we’ve been regaling you with tales of our experiences in getting a board game published. While we still have a few more steps in the actual process to divulge to you all, I’ll be taking a few side steps on this blog to tell you about another project I’m working on: getting a comic book published.

Tim Reinert, who’s responsible for writing a fascinating blog about comics and movies (and music I think) at Four Colours and the Truth, and I have been writing comic book scripts for the past 6 months. Whereas our post have so far been about our actual experiences that got us published in the board game world, the posts about the comic book world will be more about our process of trying to get published.

So looking back over the Steps to Publication, I can say that steps 1-4 are the same for comic books.

Step 1: Read a lot of comics.  This is tip number one for a reason. You have to be familiar with what works in the medium that you’re creating in, so just like a board game designer should play a lot of board games then so too should a comic book writer read a lot of comic books. It will also give you an idea of what’s been done before and what’s selling/working right now on the stands.

This is a passion for both Tim and I, so we’ve got this one in the bag. My reading tends to be almost anything that’s not superhero. That is, until I met Tim. Tim reads everything. Everything! His knowledge of superheroes is second only to Mr. Stan Lee himself. Then add to that his love for indie comics and you’ve got yourself a well-rounded bunch of comic readers!

So if you’re planning on making board games, play games; writing comics, read comics; painting pictures, see a lot of art; making music, listen to a lot of music…etc..!

Step 2: Motivation. Same as in the board game Step 2 – staying motivated is key to success. I took what I learned with my board game designer buddy, Sen, and sought out Tim as a partner to work together with on writing comics. I personally find that I am more motivated when there’s another cook in the kitchen. We’re even piggy-backing the same forum that Sen and I use to communicate on board games, to keep track of our comic book ideas. Fortunately, Tim lives down the street from me, so it’s not as challenging as it is with Sen to get together to write!

Step 3: Versatility. We love all kinds of comics, and we want to write all kinds of comic stories. Our one main mantra is to ensure we’re taking advantage of the medium, meaning that we want to tell stories that can only be done in comics. So far we’ve written a fun adventure tale, a quiet noir story, a time travel story and even a superhero story. If one doesn’t light the world on fire, then we’ve got 5 more ideas ready to go!

Step 4: Persistence. So far we’ve been quietly writing away, and tweaking our scripts for the past 6 months or so. We’re just at the beginning of our journey, but if there’s anything I learned from board game designing it’s that if you believe in yourself, then you have to stay in it for the long haul.

So this blog will now bounce back and forth with updates on our board game progress (Sen and me) and news on how we’re proceeding with our comic book aspirations (Tim and me). Enjoy!

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