This week is the Board Game Design Virtual Summit 2020. This is a totally online summit on board game design and publishing and is hosted by Boardgamedesigncourse.com. All interviews are hosted by game designer Joe Slack. The interviews are really interesting about finding success on Kickstarter and beyond. On Day 3, he interviews Victoria Cana, Jay Cormier, and Jamey Stegmaier.
You can join the Summit here.
Victoria is a producer at Wizards of the Coast where she leads a team of game designers in the Magic R&D department. Moreover, she is an award-winning indie game designer and co-founder of Cat Quartet Games, a publishing company. Victoria's first board game, Gladius, successfully raised over $96,000 on Kickstarter in March 2020. In the interview she talks about how she was able to get her game funded successfully on Kickstarter through hard work.
If you're planning on self-publishing your game, you hear you need to build mail list. She had 700 emails on her list but 70 on her list backed her game, Gladius. But she wondered where were most of her backers came from. She says going to board game conventions got her more exposed to potential backers. She would demo her game and play test her game and build a following. She networked with publishers and other people in the industry.
She and her partner, Alex were able to get a booth for indie board game designers. Through that the conventions gave her exposure to play testers and people want to demo her game. She went to 35 conventions in 3 years. It is a lot of hard work and hustling.
One of the conventions she went to was Pax Unplugged which was big board game convention and it gave indie designers a chance to play test their games in their prototype area. She got involved in some panels as well.
She goes on to say that the smaller conventions were super awesome. She used to live in New York City but now lives in Seattle and the local conventions have been very supportive for local indie designers. They want to support the community. You don't always have to go to the big conventions. You can just drive to these local conventions in your area. She says to look for conventions that support indie designers. Some let them rent booths in high traffic areas for a few hours a day at a convention.
As an indie designer, you have to sell yourself and your game to people. If you're an introvert like her, you can concentrate on just selling your game and you can network easier and your passion will show.
She got involved with play test groups that meet regularly so they can help each other with play testing each other games. And your game can grow by word of mouth when players like it and share with her friends.
As she developed her game, she started to get people to sign up for her email list. She said that you should get your prototype more polished as you attract more people to sign up when your game looks great. Only super excited backers would be interested when your game's prototype is basic with no art or any components.
She mentions that conventions are expensive and she and her partner were recent grads with student debt so she had to do many cost saving things to get by. They try to get in to conventions for free by looking for conventions that support indie designers. They drive if they can unless it is too far and they fly in. They didn't stay at hotels. They try to stay with friends or relatives or use Air BnB. And she prioritized specific conventions to go to.
She said to start early to get engagement in your game as it develops. She created business pages on Facebook, Instagram and other social media and posted regularly. At first it was hard as only her mom or a friend would like her posts. Eventually more people starting noticing and received hundreds of followers and engagement.
Have a strategy when you're designing a game and going to conventions. Network with people in the industry and make a list of publishers or other people you want to meet. Choose panels to be on or attend panels. Prioritize conventions to go that support indie designers.
Jay Cormier has designed over a dozen published games Belfort, Junk Art, Akrotiri, Scooby-Doo! Escape from the Haunted Mansions, Dungeons & Dragons: Rock Paper Wizard, and MIND MGMT: The Psychic Espionage Game.
Since 2013 Jay has taught board game design at the Vancouver Film School as part of their video game design program. In 2018 Jay created the Fail Faster Playtesting Journal to help game designers keep better track of their playtests. In 2019 Jay started his own board game publishing company, Off the Page Games.
Visit Jay's site for lots of great game design stuff.
To make good board games, you need to keep doing it. Your first game design won't be great. If you keep working on it, you will get better at it. Don't give up too early.
After designing games with another designer, Sen-Foong Lim, he eventually became a publisher so they can work on their game MIND MGMT: The Psychic Espionage Game and publish it themselves. He had done a YouTube series called How to Start a Board Game company. Each video was released each week tracking what he is doing with his game Mind MGMT and how they were designing it and planning its Kickstarter campaign. He gave themselves 10 months to get everything done and planned out for the Kickstarter.
He said to give back to the community. His partner Sen-Foong Lim has a Meeplesyrup podcast and he had his blog. On one blog post he wrote about the 33 steps he and Sen-Foog took to get their games published. Many people thanked him because they used his post to publish their games.
HE then started to do videos where he would interview designers, publishers, artists, financial advisors and also shared advice on game design, planning, making money with board games and more.
MIND MGMT: The Psychic Espionage Game had a successful Kickstarter. He said planing is important. He did things like email contests to acquire emails and engagement. Being present on Facebook groups and engaging people without being spamming people. Designed the Kickstarter page. Since it is a one vs many game, He played the game online live with everyone and people used the comments to play. He had them search for things and got alot of engagement. He gave them a secret mission to unlock a stretch goal by going to different websites. So many people a thread on BGG to try to solve this mission together for a week. MIND MGMT was an IP so he went out to get engagement of the fans of MIND MGMT on board with the game.
He said a successful Kickstarter should have a lot of comments on it. So he would engage his backers and showing them the progress and asking what they think.
He also used an engaging video for the Kickstarter he did with a production company. Many people like to watch board game videos. He found a balance between world building explanation and playing the game itself. He would then use short excerpts from the video in different areas of the Kickstarter page.
He treated the game as a deluxe using a tray and wooden components. There was risk as he spent $20,000 for all the play testing at conventions, design and art, doing the video, doing ads, sending finished copies to reviewers, and more to get the word out there before the Kickstarter.
He said he made some mistakes in that he should started way earlier before his planned Kickstarter campaign. His artist has a full-time business so doing art for games is a side hustle. And he received the art when he wanted it 2 months earlier. He didn't spend enough time looking at the samples from the manufacturer because of the time coming up. And thus could have gotten better samples to send to reviewers who did video of their reviews and playthroughs.
One big advice is to make your Kickstarter match up with the brand of your publishing company. So that people would recognize your brand and remember it better. Another is you don't have to have a small game as your first game because it might be easier, but to work on a game that you're passionate about.
Study Kickstarters that interest you. You can just pledge a dollar to a Kickstarter campaign so you can follow along with all the updates and engagement. Successful Kickstarter campaigns were planned far in advance before launch. Then you can reverse engineer the campaign and learn from it for your own Kickstarter.
Jamey Stegmaier runs the day-to-day operations of Stonemaier Games, located in St. Louis, Missouri. Jamey designed Viticulture, Euphoria, Scythe, Charterstone, and Tapestry.
His passion for crowdfunding led him to write A Crowdfunder’s Strategy Guide, a book about crowdfunding, entrepreneurship, and putting customers’ needs before your own as you form a community.
Check out all of Jamey's game design blogs and Kickstarter Lessons here.
He was inspired by Kickstarter because he always designed board games. He decided to take it seriously and had his first campaign in 2012 for his game Viticulture. He also had a successful campaign with Scythe but then moved away from Kickstarter and funded his own games. He didn't want fans to wait 8 months for game, but only a week or two since he already received his games from his manufacturer before announcing it.
With funding his game, he needs to gauge demand so he knows how much he should produce. Kickstarter had challenges where he has to ship games individually to his backers and they don't always update their info.
He is finding ways to gauging demand as he sold out his first run of 10,000 copies of Tapestry within a week. It is a good thing to sell out but wished he produced more in his first run to meet the demand. He had problems with supplying the demand of Wingspan earlier.
The reputation of his company Stonemaier Games is such that he doesn't have any problems with distributors buying copies of his games to sell to retailers. They know his brand and trust his products.
He advises first time or smaller publishers to use a distribution broker who will store the copies of your game in their warehouse and deal with getting their copies to distributors. They deal with all those logistics. He said he uses Greater than Games which is also a publisher known for games like Spirit Island. There is still a challenge to get your game to retailers who never heard of your game.
You should send copies to reviewers to review your games and build a reputation. Also to list your game on Board Game Geek and engage with your audience.
There are 2 ways to sell your games internationally. One he sells the English version to distributors around the world like in the UK or Australia. For the other way, he looks for a localization partners in a country like France. He gives them the files and they translate it. Then he works with them to get the game manufactured in China and they work to get it distributed to distributors. Games that are language independent are easier to sell internationally as people can buy the game and download their language version of the rules book.
It is difficult to know how much copies to produce as there are risks. When you produce too many copies and then there is not as much demand means you lost money as copies that are not sold is money lost. Then there is not making enough copies and it gets all sold but people demand it. Jamey prefers this as he can produce more on the next print run. But he doesn't want to sully his reputation for manipulating the market by not producing enough.
As a person runs the day to day, he does many different jobs in his company. He designs and play test his games as well as talk to manufacturers and distributors, planning the pipelines, and all sorts of other logistics. He loves it, but he knows he can’t do it all. He outsources work he know he is not an expert in like hiring graphic designers, artists, accountants and more. He would burn himself out. His time is very valuable and he needs to work on things well. If some tasks do not drive his passion, he would outsource it.
One last advice for designers who want to start their company is ask yourself if you are a game designer or a game publisher. A game designer just designs the game and play test it and make it work. A publisher deals with funding, logistics in manufacture and distribution, marketing and much more and includes game design.