So you’ve designed a game…
Congratulations – designing a game that you and your friends enjoy is no mean feat!
This page will give you a few ideas and resources about where to go from here. Our first advice would be though: “if you are doing this with the aim of making enough money to quit your job, or if you plan to invest money that you can’t afford to lose: stop now!” There are less than 20 people making a full-time living as board game designers in the world. A very successful hobby game will earn you maybe $5000 in royalties. You have to enjoy the process of designing and publishing a game as that is very likely to be your main reward.
Getting your game published
There are two main options: approach existing game publishers and try and have them publish your game while you receive royalties, or publish the game yourself.
Let’s talk about professional publishers first. The greatest barrier here is paranoia. Board game design and publication is a small industry, and generally, because of that, people know each other and reputations are very important. As a result of the industry size and interdependance, it is unlikely that publishers or other designers will try and steal your ideas. Most large publishers have guidelines on how and if they accept unsolicited proposals for new games; if they do accept these proposals, there will usually be a guideline on how to go about submitting your game on the publisher’s website. Publishers need to protect themselves as well as designers, and so submission guidelines are usually heavy with clauses that protect the publishers from law suits. These clauses aren’t there to scare you off, nor do they allow the publishers to rip you off, remember the loss of reputation for doing that could be very harmful to these publishers. The big guns: Hasbro and Mattel won’t accept direct submissions but require you to use an agent (these agents are listed here). Most other game companies accept direct submissions. In general you should be wary of agents offering to make prototypes or show your game if there is a large up-front cost (greater than a few hundred dollars say) – we list a couple of reputable agents here.
The Board Game Designers Forum (BGDF) is a great place to look for all sorts of advice on publishers, on contracts, on agreements, on prototype production, on playtesting. Plenty of aspiring designers are there showing their ideas and providing feedback.
Self publishing is the other option, but if you plan to walk this path, ensure you research it very well; again the BGDF is a great place to find all sorts of relevant information. Publishing a game is expensive, but the bigger task is finding a distribution network, this is where signing a contract with an established publisher can be so valuable for a new player. A big problem is that the price per copy drops as your print run increases, but financing and then selling 5000 copies of a game by yourself is a tough ask. Remember that the retail price will be about 3 times more than what you can sell it to distributors for, as there are substantial mark-ups at every stage.
Making your game as good as possible
There are several things you can do when developing your game to ensure that the final product has the best chance of success.
1) Playtest the game: playtest on your own, with friends, with family, and most importantly of all, give the game to people who aren’t affiliated with you, get them to read the rules themselves and play the game without you explaining anything to them. Listen to your playtesters. Playtesting is the most important aspect of game development.
2) Write a clean and definitive set of rules…more than anything else, more than theme, more than a good looking prototype, more than anything, a publisher wants to see a clear, concise and intelligently written set of rules that clearly explain how the game works with no questions left unanswered. The rules should be written in a clear and easily understood manner. Rules are everything in a game, and yours should be at their best when they are finally submitted to a publisher.
3) The prototype…the prototype is an important part of selling the game to the publisher, a clean and easily understood and well laid out prototype is going to see better success than a thematic and attractive but unclear one. Make more than one copy.
4) Target your publisher, don’t know what sort of games RGG publish, or GMT…research, research, research. Your game should be targetted carefully at a publisher, it is no good sending a chaotic fun ten minute card game to GMT, or a luck based miniatures game to RGG…look at the publishers and ask yourself honestly…can you see your game in that line???
5) Think about the end product…think about the end cost of the game, what pieces are going to be needed, what cost is that going to be, what sized box could it appear in?…these are the things the publisher will be thinking when they look at your game, they will be asking themselves: what would be the cost of this game after it is published and would I honestly pay that much for it? No-one is going to pay $100 for a game that lasts 15 minutes…think about it carefully. Cards come in standard sized decks: aim for 54 or 108 cards: if your game needs 60 cards it will likely cost as much as a game with 108 cards.
6) Go and research games…Boardgamegeek and BGDF are great places to find plenty of information on games and the game industry. If you haven’t played any games other than Monopoly, Scrabble and Uno, a world of fun awaits you, and it is a world with which you need to be intimately acquainted. Make sure you’ve at least played every game in the Boardgames Australia Essential Games Library that is remotely in your target audience.
7) Boardgames Australia ran Designer’s Forum in June 2008 for aspiring designers that covered a range of issues from legal concerns and protection issues to playtesting and game mechanics.
We have the audio file here to listen to. It is a big file file (138 MB) as it covers the full forum. If you prefer, you can read an excellent summary of the session in .pdf format by Andrew Stapleton Andrew Stapleton’s Forum write-up
Cheers and good luck!! The game industry is a fantastic place, we hope you find your niche!
Keep an eye on our site for news of the latest event for game designers, or drop us an email at info – at – boardgamesaustralia.org.au and we will add you to our mailing list.