If you are like me, designing games is an enjoyable activity, or at least preferable to doing your taxes (somewhere on Accounting subreddit, a user is cursing my name). I started a game company to design games.
The whole initiative to publish came out of a desire to control all elements of game design. Like most designers looking to self-publish, you will find that you spend a lot less time designing games and a lot more time pouring on all the factors that go into turning an idea into a physical product. Some of these factors include but are not limited to: marketing, manufacturing, collaboration with artists, taxes and banging my head against a wall trying to learn Excel.
From a personal development standpoint, deciding to self-publish is the right decision. From an enjoyment at creating games standpoint, I find myself going obscene lengths of time without working on game designs.
The trouble is that while going through all the trouble of launching a game, you find yourself having become disconnected from the game design community because…well you haven’t designed games in a while. Your creative edge when it comes to game design has become blunt.
I eventually stumbled across a solution that effectively maintains my abilities as a game designer while still respecting the time limitations I am under.
The solution is the 24 hour game design challenge. The challenge is simple: create a game in 24 hours. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it has to be playable and the first draft of the rules need to be complete.
There are numerous game design sites hosting challenges with real prizes if you are inclined to share your ideas. Sites such as Board Game Geek post monthly 24 hour contests and The Game Crafter has a variety of design contests as well. You even stand to win a prize to boot, so why not give it a shot?
The 24 hour contest is important not only because it forces you to work quickly and avoid the humming and hawing of game design, but through thematic restrictions that are frequently incorporated into the challenges as well. Stipulating that must design a game with a Gothic theme for example can push you out of your farming (in my case) comfort zone and require that I design in a totally new way.
You can add an additional level of challenge through an idea generator like Boardgamizer. The device is great and throws a theme, mechanic, and victory condition at you along with an option constraint that forces you to design in all sorts of crazy ways.
Try out one of the above 24 hour challenges, dedicate a few hours (or a sleepless night) to pounding out a game. Whether the game is terrific or terrible is irrelevant, the point is that we are flexing our game design muscles, which is why we got into this industry in the first place.
The first board game convention I attended, I did not even think about bringing a sign. After all, the convention had a schedule and numbered tables to indicate where games were being played; why did I need to provide a sign? Admittedly, I was naive thinking that the convention organizers should hold any responsibility in getting my game played. After all, as a game creator you are your game’s salesman and it is up to you to hook people on your game.
From the experience I learned 2 important lessons:
- Not all gamers read the schedule
- An appealing sign pushes browsing gamers into playing your game
Since that lackluster day of sitting alone at my gaming table, I have learned a few important points that are shared below.
Banners and Free-standing Signs
The type of sign you use will depend on the convention you are attending. For conventions where a full-size table is given, a large banner to hang off the edge is an effective option, though they can be expensive. If you choose to go with a banner, shop around at local stores and you may find a better deal than online printer. I found competitive pricing at a local university print-shop and saved even more on not having to pay shipping.
If floor space is in plentiful supply, you may also consider a free-standing sign, though again you will want to shop around for a cost effective solution. Building your own stand to hang the sign on is also a viable strategy. A guide to building a free-standing sign post out of PVC can be found here.
Regardless of the convention specifics, I always bring along small table signs printed on Letter paper. When folded lengthwise, they should have your game on one side and your company (if applicable) on the other. They stand on their own, are portable, and are handy regardless of the table size. I get mine printed on cardstock so they don’t get crushed when I put them in my bag (a crinkled sign does not exude professionalism).
Whether to get them printed on Matte or Glossy card stock is a personal preference. I prefer Matte because it generates less glare from room lights that can obscure the sign
Another lesson I learned the hard way is to always bring more copies of signs than you need.
You can and will lose signs at conventions.
Consider the following scenarios when deciding how many copies of your sign to print:
- You have poor memory and misplace the sign
- Another attendee misplaces the sign for you (i.e. steals it)
- An attendee handles your sign while in the process of consuming Cheetos
- The sign gets soaked by a Blade-runner level downpour on your way to the convention
- A teething toddler gnaws on your tasty (and somewhat toxic) sign
- An ill child decided to reproduce the sum total of the day’s caloric intake on your sign
Any and all of the above can happen so print more signs than you need. That way, when you spot a child happily consuming your sign while the absent-minded parent looks on with pride, you can simply smile and nod, producing a new sign from your bag.
The “Back in 15” Sign
I am bad for having to make last-minute dashes to the bathroom after consuming coffee at regular intervals. During one such experience, I returned to a small note small note stating “WHERE WERE YOU? Creator was not here so we went to another game”. Do yourself a favor and have small sign to throw down when you have to dart away for food, the bathroom, or to argue with your phone provider about last month’s bill. I write mine on the inside of my table signs and then just turn them inside out when I have to leave.
- Signs attract people to your game, even in schedule-heavy conventions
- Banners and free-standing signs are great, but check if your convention will allow them
- Use small table-sized signs at all conventions
- Bring back-up signs in case the first ones become unusable
- Create a “Back in 15 minutes sign” for those moments of inconvenience
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I recently listened to an interview with Phil Reed, CEO of Steve Jackson that you can find here.
During the lengthy interview, Phil brings up the concept of designing with material costs in mind. In essence, he argues that when designing a game to start by researching and keeping a running total of the component costs and use this background information to dictate what components to include in a game based on the prince point you are aiming for.
Wow, did I wish I had heard of this before I started designing games!
It seems like a common sense notion, but it is not…at least for me. I did not price out components prior to beginning the game design process. For Crop Cycle, I knew I wanted to make a smaller game than Centaurus (i.e not miniatures, a game board, full-box, etc.), but I did not have an outline for exactly how small the game should be. With no previous games under my belt, I also did not have the background knowledge and experience that Phil Reed and other serial game publishers hold.
In hindsight, if I did it again I would begin with researching the manufacturing. The easiest way to get accurate information is to request a few quotes from manufacturers that provide component breakdowns (Panda Games and Wingo both provide this). Alternatively, ask around in game publishing circles such as the Facebook communities here and here.
What I did instead was use the prices of a print-on-demand service as an estimate for the relative differences in cost. For example, I assumed that the comparative difference in cost between cards and tokens when I approached a manufacturer. I did not ask for quotes until later in the process and failed to realize that the price differences of a Print-on-Demand service can vary wildly from a print-run manufacturer.
To use Crop Cycle as an example, the game uses small tokens to use both indicators and as a means of keeping score. For the prototype, I used Circle Shards from The Game Crafter. The cost was cheap and I naively assumed that the cost would be comparable when speaking with manufacturers.
This was a mistake.
It turned out that die-cut tokens can dramatically increase the cost of a project, particularly as some manufacturers lack the required machinery and will outsource the component to another factory. I would have known this if I asked for quotes from manufacturers at the outset rather than waiting around.
Of course, I am not recommending that you pester manufacturers with every conceivable piece component imaginable, but if you have a few manufacturers in mind, ask them for the component costs of common items such as cards, game boxes, dice, and tokens. Then, when you to sit to thrash out the finer points of your game, you will have a much better idea of the overall cost of manufacturing and whether adding an extra cards or dice will still keep the game within the price range you intend. Remember that the MSRP (price retailers sell the game for) is typically 4-5 times your production cost.
Give it a try. Once you have decided to take the leap from designing game to publishing, get your component costs down and then delve into designing your first foray into the world of publishing.
James Mathe, a serial kickstarter creator and experienced game publisher wrote three fantastic articles on speaking with manufacturers and the costs of game design. I recommend you read them all!
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