A small introduction
Before we dive too deep into this article, I’d like to introduce myself and give you a little bit of my background and a small window to look through into my life.
I’m married to my lovely wife and business partner, and we’re coming up on 11 years this November. We have four children together. Two boys and two girls.
I am the founder and CEO of Smunchy Games, our small, yet ever growing publishing company. I have roughly 12 years of experience running different businesses and companies, as well as marketing for them. I also have 10 years of UX Design experience.
My heart rests within all different varieties of nerd and geek culture, but specifically tabletop games, video games, miniatures, and books. Nothing stokes my passion more than these four things. I enjoy creating and I love watching it all come to life.
That’s enough about me, let’s talk about your games and how we can dig deeper into guaranteeing ourselves that the time and financial investment we’ve put into our game is wise and that it will sell.
Product Validation is a major key that will help you reach success
Product Validation, those are some head scratching words. Well, especially if you’ve never heard them put together in that way, right?
Product Validation is a fancy way of saying “My product is something that people want to buy”. This is typically a really long and arduous process, and can be extremely painful if done the wrong way – but I’m here to help.
But first, let’s talk about how many times we’ve beaten our head against a wall with this. By no means has selling something, let alone marketing something ever been easy. Even worse, there are so many strings to pull, baskets to weave, and gosh does it feel like a mess by the time we’ve tried – and we’ve only gotten an inch worth of movement when we have an entire mile to run!
It’s too much, and honestly, social media, google, networking, conventions, play testing, the constant feeling of being “on” – it hurts. It hurts a lot.
Something else about myself that always shocks people after I’ve been able to get to know someone is when they find out that I’m an extreme introvert. To those that know me, this isn’t shocking of course, but after I’m done speaking on a social media sales floor, or running a teaching course on business, or even conducting a workshop for UX design – people are floored that I am someone that enjoys hiding away with a good RPG book and a cup of coffee, reading in beautiful silence where NO ONE can reach me.
So when I say I understand the feeling of being introverted, trying to market and sell your games and books – I totally get it. 100% my friend.
Ugh. Okay, now that we’ve gone through that pain of re-imagining ourselves trying to do the face to face thing and all that extroverted business, let’s dig in, shall we?
Product Validation, aka “My product is something that people want to buy”, is legitimately about talking to people about your game, book, or product of any kind. Today, we’re going to specifically talk about games, but this does apply to any product you can think of – even services to some degree.
Let’s say you’re trying to create and sell this epic tabletop RPG, or well, you think it’s epic at the least. What, exactly, is the first thing you should do?
Step 1: Seek quick validation
Quick validation of your idea is something anyone can do, assuming you can speak with people. If you don’t feel confident in your ability in approaching and speaking with strangers in your industry, by all means find someone who will on your be-half, or at the least – practice trying to.
Note: I would spend 5 or more hours speaking into the camera of my phone every day to watch my facial expressions. I was hoping to nail my sales pitch and speech due to the nerves of being shy and introverted. You don’t have to be as over the top and crazy as I was, but practicing will help in the long-term.
Once you’ve either found yourself in a comfortable spot, found a friend to help, or have decided to overcome your fears and just do it – the next part is simple in theory.
You approach the individual, whether online or in person, and ask if they would like to take a look at your game. Great, right?
If they say “yes”, then you have succeeded! If they say “no”, then maybe another time might be best. However, don’t just settle for “no” meaning “never”. This word “no” could mean “not right now”. Which means if you get some extra courage, you should ask them if you could email it to them some time. If they still say “no”, then it is definitely a “move on, please” and you should move on.
Although, there is one more tiny piece to this that might be really hard to digest. Honest feedback. This is something you want and need. This means you need to prepare yourself for some extremely heavy criticism, or some minor praise. Rarely will someone be over the moon and jumping for joy. This is normal in the quick validation process.
Be sure to take the feedback you’ve received and compile it into some form of data. Whether this is a word or a google doc, a spreadsheet of some kind, or even a notebook. This is the feedback you need in order to quick validate your idea.
Continue with this same step until you’ve collected at least 10 pieces of feedback from people you don’t know within the industry you’re trying to sell to, and have the knowledge that they play these types of games.
Note: Try your best not to ask other game designers about your idea right away. The reason for this is because it can be hard for other game designers to separate their bias and personal processes, as well as aspirations from feedback about the idea and lead immediately into the design. You don’t want this. Not this early anyway.
In the future, if you get to dig deeper into the design, speaking with other game designers will be incredibly helpful. For now, try and find gamers that play your type of game and might like your idea. These people are the most important right now.
Step 2: Understanding the outcome of your idea
I’m sure the immediate question you have is, “Why 10?”. I know, it’s such a specific number. The reason for this is because 10 people will more or less provide enough different perspectives that the feedback will allow you to make your decision. For example, “9 out of 10 dentists approve of this toothpaste brand” may be a commercial you’ve heard on Television before, or possibly a comedian making a joke about it.
This is because it is a set standard, but also plays a role in a form of psychology that is something we won’t have time to cover in this article at this time.
After looking at your feedback, you need to decide whether or not the feedback you’ve received is valuable enough to move forward with your idea. Here is a small list of items to consider when taking this feedback you’ve received into consideration:
- How many people said they liked the idea?
- Did they say why? Did you ask them?
- Were they being polite, or did they mean it?
- How many people said they didn’t like the idea?
- Did they say why? Did you ask them?
- Were they angry or upset at another situation that wasn’t related to the game?
- How many people asked you a bunch of questions about the idea?
- These people could potentially be interested, and mean more than a simple “yes” or “no”. These people, if they are interested in your game idea may want to try it. This is critical for future game testing.
- How many people ignored you?
- This many seem irrelevant, but it’s actually incredibly important. This isn’t a bad thing, but it may help you identify how to approach others next time going forward. I will cover how to do this in a future article.
For the sake of this article, we’re going to assume that you have 7 people interested, and two of the seven started asking you a bunch of questions about the game. If this does happen to you, that’s a sign that your idea might be worth pursuing.
Step 3: Create a simple prototype
When creating a simple prototype, it’s incredibly important to keep it exactly that, simple. Whether it’s index cards, something scribbled on some paper or even a white board will work great. With our current example of a tabletop RPG, a google doc would be ideal for this situation as you can easily share the thought with any of the email addresses you’ve collected, as well as any future emails you plan to collect from people that may be interested.
This step in particular is a bit ambiguous because your game, or a tabletop RPG in this example, could be about anything and it is ultimately based on the idea you were able to perform some quick validation on.
Here are a few guiding notes and questions on that might help:
- Keep it simple and straight to the point. Don’t beat around the bush.
- Be clear and concise. Understand that the person reading this document is going to have an experience. You want them to understand it and you want their experience to be a good one.
- Don’t underestimate your audience of people. They’re smart, but they may not have a ton of time to dedicate to this at the moment and reviewing a prototype concept can be a lot of work.
- Show some flares of your passion. Don’t crank it up to level 10, but tease with some flavorful pieces within the document – but make sure you know your audience first. If your passion doesn’t meet your audience and their passion – then save those flares for something more toward testing when your audience grows.
Step 4: Create a way to receive feedback from your play testers
This step is incredibly important and should not be considered at the last moment. This requires a bit of planning and effort. This step of creating a way to receive feedback from testers, based on your prototype, is how you’re going to build your community that revolves around your game. If you’re pitching this game to a publisher, this level of planning will make it even easier for them to sign your game. Why? Because you’re already helping them build the audience they need in order to sell the game.
Here are some of the best ways that I’ve created communities in the past:
- Starting a discord server or joining one and building relationships:
- Starting a facebook page and group
- Joining twitter and regularly using hashtags that are both popular in the tabletop rpg space as well as my own hash tags that are relevant to the product:
- Joining reddit and building a relationship with other gamers in the same mindset and joining subreddits. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Using Google docs / Google drive and allowing players to provide feedback. For example, here is the Paths: World of Adia Player’s Guidebook google drive folder:
Step 5: Inviting players to play your game
This is where things start to get hard. Truly.
We can officially say that gamers have an interest in what it is you’re creating. This is where you, as a game creator, will have to decide which path you’re going to take.
Path 1: Seeking a publisher
You want to create games, and that’s all you want to do. It’s that simple. If this is the path you choose, marketing isn’t exactly something you will need to concern yourself with. Although, you will need to learn to pitch to publishers effectively. This is something I will cover at a later date from a tabletop RPG perspective here on SmunchyGames.com , but if you are a board game designer or creator, the meeple syrup show is a great place to learn some new tactics.
Path 2: Independent Publishing or Starting your own Publishing company
You want to design, create, world build, understand business, logistics, shipping costs, marketing, sales, distribution, taxes, learn legal, formulate contracts, plan business strategy, pay for ads, and invest quite a large sum of cash into your new found company.
This path will be seen in a future part of this blog series, “How well will my game sell?” – specifically because that article is going to cover a lot of ground on business strategy and marketing, and more importantly may have many off-shoot articles that we will not be able to cover today in this one.
With that said, it’s important to have some business and marketing resources at your finger tips – both in and out of the games industry. Here is a small list of articles, influencers, and companies that have helped me in some shape or form:
- Brandon the Game Dev: Your Board Game Kickstarter: Why & How to spread the word early
- Brandon the Game Dev: Start to Finish: Publish & Sell your first board game
- Stonemaier Games Blog
- UXisTheProduct Blog
- The Smart Passive Income Blog
- Entrepreneur On Fire by John Lee Dumas
- Roll Persuasion
- The Angry GM
- Tim Ferriss
- Ok Dork blog: Noah Kagan
Stay tuned for “How well will my game sell?” and other game publisher questions (Part 2)
I had a lot of fun with part 1 of this blog series, and I hope you received a lot of valuable information that will help you through your game creation process. Everyone wants to achieve the dream of becoming a game creator, and this is a great first step.
As we continue with this blog series, it may get harder and harder for me to type. Not because of how long these articles may become, or how much time they will take – no. It will be harder because I will reveal more and more truths about both being a publisher and how much endurance is required to finish the race. Some of these things will make you question your route of choice and will hopefully help you pick yourself backup, dust off, and begin running once again.
Honestly, I would be lying to you if I said that being a publisher was easy, or even more so – getting your game signed by a publisher. It’s not by any means, and is incredibly difficult. Knowing this, I believe with this blog series, this information will help you navigate the waters you need to navigate and you will find some sort of success on the path you travel.