What you missed in Part 1
If you’re new to this article series, “How well will my game sell? and other game publisher questions” you can read part 1 here. In fact, I highly encourage reading part 1 as what we are about to get into in this article will depend on a few of the topics we had discussed in part 1, such as quick validation and understanding the outcome of your idea. The entire Product validation process is a long and arduous beast that rears it’s head like a Leviathan, but that leviathan is important to understand how to tame if you really want your game to sell.
As a brief recap of part 1 we were introduced to product validation and some basics of how to get started. We learned how to approach people and quick validate our product, what to do with the data we collected from it, understanding the outcome, creating a quick prototype, and then prepping to build a community for play testing. We also talked a little bit about the differences between what it means to be a designer and a publisher, and how different the two really are.
Long-term product validation as a game designer
Long-term product validation isn’t as difficult as we might think it is, at the least from a “doing” or “task” perspective. If anything, long-term product validation is the easiest of the methods, but only if you have patience.
You see, this is where the waiting game comes into play, but there will be moments where you need to quickly spring into action no matter what it is you’re doing at that moment.
If your game hasn’t been signed on to a line-up by a publisher, it’s going to be incredibly important to take every chance you can in order to get in front of a potential customer, and even more so, a play tester.
Step 1: Marketing your game to play test as a game designer
Marketing a game is where most game designers struggle because of two reasons:
- Game Designers believe that it is solely the publisher’s job to pull in play testers. This is in fact the exact opposite. While the publisher has the platform and the megaphone to reach potential play testers, it is up to you as the game designer to pull people in to play your game and foster any interest that may arise from it. Very rarely is a publisher going to push play testing. My tactics as a publisher here at Smunchy Games is a bit of a rare one because I push our flagship product’s testing for the Paths: World of Adia TTRPG. However, for the other games we publish, I will heavily rely on my lead designers to help push their products. It shows me that they are putting their soul into it, and it will reflect within the game play. Play Testers and gamers will see this.
*Publisher’s note: This doesn’t mean I won’t help push the other designers games, but the reason why Paths: WoA receives so much of my attention is because how massive of a beast this game really is. There is no way that any one person could push something alone of this size. I encourage you to ask anyone on the Paths: WoA team about this one.
- You don’t know how.
Number two on our short list above is typically more of the response I would expect, because let’s be honest, marketing is hard.
If I were a betting man, which I am a betting man, I would bet that when you hear the word “marketing” you glaze over. Even if you are someone who is a pro marketer, you understand how much work can go into something such as the blanket term “marketing”.
Marketing has many different facets of what can be done as far as out reach goes, or even more so, a fancy word known as “Inbound” marketing. Inbound marketing is more or less creating things that attract people to your product, service, website, game, etc.
This article, as I type and you read, is in fact a great example of inbound marketing. It is content that I have created to draw people into Smunchy Games. However, the important part to remember here is that this isn’t a sales pitch. That is the big difference between something like Marketing and Sales. You as a game designer can apply the same marketing tactic that is inbound marketing but in a different way. This is where you can get creative.
*Note: Here is an awesome resource that can help you understand inbound marketing, whether you’re a game designer or a publisher. Hubspot is fantastic when it comes to a marketing resources.
If your creative juices aren’t juicy right now, I can help with a few suggestions.
- Write a dev diary in a blog format and share it with your audience. This is a great way to attract people to your game. As an inbound marketing tactic, this works fantastic because you immediately cut out those that aren’t exactly interested in playing your game. Those that are interested, however, will stay wishing to play more assuming you maintain their interest.
- Guest blog or be a guest on a podcast, live stream, or show that talks about game design and other aspects of tabletop gaming.
- Be a play tester and give feedback on other games. Build relationships with other play testers and game designers, and then slowly introduce them to your game too.
Step 2: Play testing your game regularly
Availability. I can’t stress this enough. You as a game designer must be available to play your game. Not only now while you’re validating it, but even more so when a publisher accepts it.
Whenever I line-up play tests as a game designer, I always think back to one of the Goblin lines in the World of Warcraft or any great mob or mafia movie. “Time is money, friend” and gosh, is that ever true.
A Publisher will rarely have the time to setup play test schedules on a regular basis. However, they will be able to set scheduled events for play testing.
This is where the game designer comes in and plays that critical role. While these big events that a publisher holds is important, it’s even more important for you as the game designer to regularly interact with both the publisher’s community and the community you’ve built.
Knowing this, it can be extremely difficult at times to pull players in to play test a game that isn’t already signed with a publisher.
Why is this?
This goes back to the quote “Time is money” but instead of referencing your time, it’s referencing the play testers time. While players love playing games, they also want to play a game they know that is guaranteed to release. This is the vicious cycle that most game designers face.
This is the reason why it’s so important that you as a game designer must have your goals set and make them extremely clear to the people that you’re asking time from.
If this is a game you plan to self-publish as a game designer, make that clear with your play testers. If this is a game that is going to be published by a publisher, make that clear as well.
Each play tester has their own time, schedule, likes, and dislikes. These are unique to the individual and it will be important for you to decipher. If you remember in the first article I wrote, “How well will my game sell?” And other game publisher questions (Part 1) , then you will remember the “Seek Quick Validation” section and how to approach people to listen to your idea. The same concept of quick validation applies to gaining play testers.
Step 3: Finding a publisher that wants to listen to you
This one is quite possibly the most difficult task. It’s easy to go to conventions and pitch a game, it’s harder to find a publisher that really cares.
Taking a step back from the statements above, what do you really want from the game you’re creating? This question, “What do you really want?” is a big one and is the most important question you will ask yourself. Specifically because the answer to this question will set everything you’re doing into a forward motion, or it may not.
Most publishers, myself included, have a good read on when a game designer isn’t really passionate about their game, or even more so, when they just want to see it on a shelf and nothing more.
Something that you must remember as a game designer pitching your game, story, product – or anything for that matter – to a publisher is that they’re investing in it.
This investment must bring them a return. This term is something in the business world that is regularly used called “ROI” (Return on Investment).
This is what makes or breaks any publisher, and even more so, a game designer.
It’s important that the game designer understands this as it is going to be the number one deciding factor whether a publisher is going to want to listen to your or not.
While I typically look for passion first, not all publishers are this way. Although, passion is still required in order to become published, even if it’s not number one on your list – it’s still incredibly important to have.
If you’ve followed steps one and two of this article, it will be easier for a publisher to say “Yes” to your game rather than “No”. This is because with the community you’ve built and the play testers that have taken an interest, it’s easier to see the forms of ROI that the publisher will need.
Does this mean the publisher will listen to you even after they’ve seen some guaranteed promises of potential ROI? No.
This is where it’s important that you as a game designer have a list of questions that you must ask the publisher after the pitch and only if they’ve also stated that they have some interest in your game or product.
Here is a list of some questions that may help you:
- What kind of business model do you have?
- How much creative control do I have as a game designer?
- Am I allowed to contribute to any new game mechanics that may be inserted into the game?
- I know that as a game designer, I’m not doing any heavy financial investment into the production or marketing of the game. Are there other ways you may expect me to help?
- This is my first game. Can i get a run down of your process as a publisher?
- I am planning to regularly make new games. Do you have an interest in seeing any new games or products that I may design and/or create?
- What can I expect from my game after 3 – 5 years of it being circulated in the industry? Should I make more? (This one is going to be harder for the publisher to answer because there’s a lot of unknowns there. But it’s still good to show them you have interest in their future, and your future.)
So there you have it. A step closer toward your goals.
Part 2 game design conclusions
While it’s extremely hard to do any of the above steps, the one thing you have done is proven to yourself that you’re trying to make forward progress by even just simply reading this article. You should be proud of yourself for that.
Marketing, Business, Publishing, and Sales – these are all extremely difficult things. These first steps however, especially as a game designer, are quite possibly the most difficult. Not because these aren’t hard tasks, they are, but because you are constantly questioning yourself in everything you do.
We as people are our own obstacles and it can be incredibly difficult to get out of our own way in order to make amazing things happen.
I hope you’ve found part 2 of this article series, “How well will my game sell” and other game publisher questions, to be helpful.
As I continue to share my experiences and industry standards, the more that voice may creep into your head saying “I can’t do this.” I want to encourage you to ignore that voice. Remove it if you have to. That voice, you as the obstacle, are the only one that is truly holding you back from achieving great things.
Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for part 3.
Oh, one more thing.
Here is a list of podcasts and other resources that can help you build your communities of play testers purely because they have great ideas or you can become a guest.
Also, discord servers. Discord is really where it’s at for the best networking online you can possibly get at a relationship building level.
- I’m going to shamelessly plug the Smunchy Games discord server as there are so many people there that would love to connect and network with you at either a professional level or from a play test level. https://discord.gg/BfssuVU
- The Board Game Design Lab Discord server https://discord.gg/etqJ3rQ
- Board Game Play Testing discord server. https://discord.gg/qKDzgYj
- Board Game Design Lab facebook community group https://www.facebook.com/groups/BGDLCommunity/