Welcome to your weekly dose of board game design!
This will be my last email post in 2023, so naturally it’s a good time to look forward to what I’ll be doing differently in 2024.
But first, two things:
Announcing our next game at No Box Games: Around the World in 10-15 Minutes! Travel the world, explore cities, and collect souvenirs in this 2-6 player print at home game. This one-page-per-player game will be our third game. Get notified on launch over on Kickstarter.
Time’s running out to have me as your Accountability Coach for 2024! In this coaching concept, we’ll meet once a month for 30 minutes to go over progress, discuss your games and goals for the month, answer questions, offer advice, etc. $199 for 12 total sessions (and a bonus session this month when you sign up quickly). Learn more here.
Last week I focused on 2023: the ups and downs of being full-time in the board game industry are much as they are in any other creative field. That being said, there are definitely some lessons I’ve learned that I’ll be carrying forward to 2024.
Continue encouraging and calling for the professionalization of the industry.
Excuse me for a moment while I step up to my soapbox…
I am a professional board game designer.
Even just typing those words used to felt weird. ‘Imposter syndrome’, perhaps, or just ‘how do you call yourself a professional board game designer’ or ‘what makes you qualified to get up here on a virtual soapbox to pontificate about this’…
My still-evolving definition looks like this: professionals get paid for what they do, create, or perform for someone else under specific expectations. That’s rather generic, but it’s a definition you can easily apply to a doctor, a lawyer, a graphic designer, an editor, or a thousand other occupations.
(Side note: there’s a new organization forming to do this as well. While there’s not a lot of details here yet, head to https://www.ttgda.org/ to learn more about the Tabletop Game Designers Association and its launch in early 2024.)
Some game designers that work for companies (as opposed to freelancers) get paid a salary to make games under the direction of the boss / company. Great for them, though there are often other complications (matters of credit, bureaucracy, and the reality that these aren’t always as stable as you’d like them to be).
As it stands with freelance game designers (the vast majority of designers out there), the traditional contract structure typically pays you an advance based on future royalties… but this doesn’t always happen. Sometimes it’s a small publisher that can’t afford it, or sometimes it’s just not available.
The result: the designer is in this ‘limbo’ where a lot of work has been done (and more may be requested still via further playtesting and development), but it will still be awhile before they see any money from it.
In 2023, one of my signed games came back to me because the publisher went out of business before they had the chance to publish the game. This happens, and while it’s frustrating, it’s understandable. That said, this game was signed (and therefore unavailable to pitch or publish elsewhere) for well over a year before this happened. The artist got paid for their hard work… because artists don’t (typically) work for royalties.
Another signed game came back to me because the publisher no longer wanted to make the game… despite having a signed contract, they held onto the rights for over a year. Few contracts necessarily require a publisher to publish a game, but that’s certainly the expectation and desire of a contract in the first place.
In short, I’m going to work at holding my publishing partners to a higher, more professional standard. This includes an advance on future royalties, a clearer understanding on what fees I would earn if additional work is requested, and working with them to ensure the game is as successful as it can be. While I don’t want to come across as ‘difficult to work with’, they’re necessary steps to making designing games a sustainable opportunity.
Measure the ROI of each convention to attend.
In 2023, I went to a bunch of different conventions. The Nuremberg Toy Fair. Airecon. A Travel and Tourism fair that was local to me. The UK Games Expo. Essen Spiel. There were many others to go to, but I’m going to start considering which ones are worth the time, money, and effort to attend.
My main goal in attending a con has been to pitch my games, but also to put my finger on the pulse of the world of board games. As you might guess, calculating return on investment when the ‘return’ isn’t exactly quantifiable is… challenging.
So I did what a nerdy game designer like me does:
I made a spreadsheet.
I chose the factors that were important to me:
The expected size
The travel expense / time
The number of pitchable publishers
The intangibles, from a professional point of view
The intangibles, from a personal point of view
I then rated each con from 1 to 10 (10 being the most ideal, like the biggest or the cheapest, and 1 being the least ideal, like the smallest or most expensive). I know from experience that the best way to rate these sorts of things is against each other – for example, if two cons are in the middle of the pack, compare them head-to-head to mark one as a 5 and one as a 6.
Next, I added a multiplier – the expected size isn’t as important to me as the time / expense to reach. The number of pitchable publishers is a little more important than the intangibles.
Finally, I noted the publisher overlap between different cons – even as someone that has 20+ games in a design pipeline, there won’t be much reason to pitch the same publisher at two different cons a few months apart from each other. This doesn’t factor into the numbers, but if all things are equal, there isn’t as much reason to attend two different cons with a lot of overlap.
The final total is a number that can be used to rank the different cons.
What does all this tell me?
To be honest, nothing I didn’t already know. Certain conventions are definitely worth continuing to go to (UKGE, Essen). Some are still great (Nuremberg), but I have access to two other options that have a lot of overlap with Nuremberg (the London Toy Fair, and the Spring Fair in Birmingham). Those two options aren’t perfectly overlapped, but combined there’s quite a bit of overlap… and Nuremberg is seriously expensive.
Now, to some homework for you.
This is all really specific to my personal use case, but I hope that sharing it here, you get to see the thought processes at play. You probably don’t need to make a fancy spreadsheet to compare and contrast a dozen-plus conventions, but there are definitely some questions for you to answer:
Which cons are within my ability to reach?
Am I limiting myself to local / regional cons (think the ones held at a local hotel), or can I consider national / international events (think GenCon, Essen, etc.)
Who will be attending them?
What will I get to experience there? What do I want to do there?
Who or what else do I need to work around (job, family, access to transportation, finances)?
A lot of this leads into the next point, too…
Pitch more outside of conventions
Conventions remain an excellent place for game designers to pitch games. They’re perfect places to see new games coming out, shake some hands, and network with real-world people. ‘Face-time’ is still very important in this industry.
Having said that, looking back at 2023, I definitely found myself prepping for cons as THE primary way to pitch. I kind of got away from pitching online in 2023, so my goal is to pitch games when they’re ready… as opposed to rushing to complete games for a convention or holding them until the next big con. Definitely found myself doing both of those things this year.
I’ll still be attending and pitching at cons – as mentioned before they’re still great places to connect and network – but I’ll be aiming to shift more of my pitches / connections to be via email / internet.
(Planning to pitch publishers in 2024? Tabletop Publishers is still a lifetime deal for $49.99 – sort, search, and filter your way through 500+ publishers looking for games.)
What I’ve been working on last week
Finished the Ornament Game for Button Shy’s contest – go watch the video if you’re curious: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOIWOvJTQVU
Iterating on a bunch of games from playtesting notes
Working with translators of Beards and Booty
What’s coming up this week
Some meetings with co-designers
Some final playtesting of our next game from No Box Games
Mailing off a couple of requested prototypes
Random picture of the week
There are Christmas sweaters, there are ugly Christmas sweaters, there are so-ugly-they’re-cute Christmas sweaters, and then there’s…. I don’t know what category to put this in.
Thanks for reading!
Got a question about game design you’d like answered? Find an amazing new resource that would help fellow game designers? Reply to this email and share =)
Thanks for reading, and see you next year!