I've got a design for a board game. Now what?
September 2, 2009 3:16 PM   Subscribe

I've got what I think is a really great idea for a board game. Now what?

So I've got a fairly comprehensive, complete design for a new board game - full set of rules, design spec for the pieces/board, etc. And I'm reasonably sure I could make a working prototype out of existing pieces (wouldn't be pretty, but it would work). And I'm confident that it is an awesome strategy game.

So, is there any chance of an indie game design like mine getting published, and if so, what are the first steps you take? I'm guessing the major game houses are all like publishing companies - i.e. no unsolicited ideas - so what do you do? Are there agents for this sort of thing?

Option two is self-publish. Are there game/box/parts manufacturers that work with indie designers on small runs?

Option three (kinda weird) is hiring a Flash designer to do an online version. Would game companies look at an online game as a prototype for a board game?
posted by jbickers to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
You might have more luck going to an indie venture. Note: I am not a game publisher or creator.
posted by shownomercy at 3:20 PM on September 2, 2009

a friend of my dad's did this in the early 80s, and I know it involved a lot of going to local biz fairs and that sort of thing - he describes it a bit in a book he wrote that's largely available online. Can't promise how relevant that info is to the modern entrepreneur, though.
posted by mdn at 4:25 PM on September 2, 2009

Probably more oriented to targeting a traditional market

So you've invented a board game.
posted by nanojath at 4:30 PM on September 2, 2009

You could try this service. (Disclaimer: I have no idea how good/bad/ugly it is.)
posted by jeatsy at 4:43 PM on September 2, 2009

there are a lot of services out there like the one jeatsy passed on... they're kinda scammy. they assume you couldn't source your own printer, art, game pieces, etc.etc.

make your spec board. play the game. get feedback. get more feedback. play some more. REFINE GAME PLAY AND RULES.

how much money do you have? you'll need anywhere from 20k to 120k to get started. and that's the cheap route for self-publishing.

costs include graphic design, game pieces, web design, printer costs, warehouse fulfillment. get a lawyer, you want an corporate entity of some type. you want to copyright your game idea & name. BUY the url's associated with your game's name ASAP.

Lastly.... there are tons of services out there that can facilitate any and all steps mentioned... but I think the folks who end up being successful with this (i.e. licensing the game to a Hasbro-type or getting it sold directly to box stores or boutique shops, etc) are the ones who do most it themselves and put in the time to market the game.

You're a little late if you are trying to make it with a manufacturered product to Toy Fair for 2010. Shoot for 2011 and do it right.

PS. You should go to TOY FAIR this season, if only to do market research and make connections.

Good Luck.
posted by jbenben at 5:10 PM on September 2, 2009

First, you need to make the prototype and playtest the shit out of it. Do blind playtesting, too.

That you've not done so is not a good sign. You might have an idea for an awesome iPhone app, and maybe you're right. But if all you have to show are some interface mockups and, "I could write it," with no sign of testing, well, you're not really ready to think about publishing yet, and no one's going to be interested in backing your possible vaporware.

In your case, you don't actually know that your game is fun.

The publishers who publish board games that wind up in game stores are pretty much built on independent designers (or international publishing rights). If your game is fun and publishable they might very well pick it up from you. The more "polished" it is, the less the publisher will have to pay for having it developed, and that will make them more likely to buy your design.

If you're hoping that Hasbro will pick it up and sell it at Target, well, good luck with that.
posted by fleacircus at 5:12 PM on September 2, 2009

Major game houses are like publishing companies, but there are a plethora of small game companies that produce table top board games, too. You need to develop a relationship with these people, who are all highly accessible at gaming conventions, tournaments, online, and in their own personal haunts of game stores across the nation. If your game is as excellent as you think it is, the hardest part in getting it made would be the cost of materials and craft. If you can convert any part of your game into a flat piece of art, a card or a board or a booklet, try to do so.

Make your prototype, gather your buddies, and gametest the hell out of it. Adjust your game accordingly, and when you think it has been honed to a sharp point, make more prototypes and infiltrate a game convention. You have to network, make connections, make friends, and make sure your concept doesn't get copied by someone. It would be smart to hook up with an artist and a designer to help you along the way, or contract an artist who has done contract work with indie game designers or similar niche markets before. (I was one of these, briefly. No, my services aren't really available, and besides, my connections are pretty much dilapidated at this point, sorry.)

For the most part, if you're not talking about Hasbro, game companies are run by real people, who you can meet in person, and shmooze with. There are lots of people trying to get into the game design business, more than you would think. Networking, connections, and having a quality concept are all vital. But it's one of those things where the luck of the draw, who you know, and your ability to commit are just as important, too.
posted by Mizu at 5:19 PM on September 2, 2009

I should have said that emailing some publishers is perfectly okay. But they will probably say something like, "make a prototype, come to a convention, and pitch it to me."
posted by fleacircus at 5:21 PM on September 2, 2009

The creator of Pandemic discussed some of how he created the game -- and, much more crucially, how he had it play-tested. Some of the most relevant stuff starts at about 9:00 about creating and at about 18:00 about what to do or not to do when testing on people.
posted by jeather at 7:25 PM on September 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You want to spend some time at Boardgame Geek. They even have a BoardgameGeek forum on Game Design, where there will be a lot of useful info and people who can give you more nuts and bolts than we can.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:22 PM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding that you should plug into BGG. First, it's a great resource of designers with tons of helpful info. And second, there are A LOT of games out there, your's may very well be the next great thing, but it could also accidentally be a total rip off of something already published.

If you think its ready to go, do up the prototype and playtest the hell out of it. Play it with people you know first, then start handing it to people and having them play it with no input from you.

After you make any tweaks from that and feel really great about it, you can send to to some of the small publishers. ZMan for one will accept anything for a playtest. Hasbro works almost exclusivly in-house with the exception of the occasional guest design from a hugely successful freelance designer like Kniezia. You're really going to find traction in the hobby market here, not the mass market.

If you want to self publish, the 120k total is utterly insanely high unless you are talking about trying to hit the full on mass market mainstream yourself as opposed to the hobby sector or it's going to be some lavishly produced coffin box game that you still print tons of. Realistically you ought to be only thinking about the hobby market at this stage. You can do it for much less than 20k too if you plan to really self publish on a small scale to build up interest and can end up putting out a new edition once the game has gotten some buzz.

Toy Fair is again, really more of a mass market sort of vibe. I think getting yourself to Origins or GenCon would be much more productive as you'll be hooking up specifically with the hobby market and publishers.

Board Game Design Forum is also a good spot to connect with other designers.

Here's a link to the info on a current game design contest being done by Rio Grande, if your game is ready to go, you could probably still get it in if you live near any of the initial round playtesting groups.

Finally, I think this is an amazingly helpful read. Viktory II design blog

Oh also, big thing, don't be all sneaky and refuse to share your big idea. No one will want to listen to you if you can't drop some facts on what's actually going on. Everyone in the system has more than enough of their own ideas that they can't get to all of and won't be trying to snake yours.
posted by teishu at 9:28 PM on September 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

You know you can prototype (or indeed, publish and sell) your game at Game Crafter, right?
posted by DarlingBri at 12:33 PM on September 3, 2009

#3 is important. What Cory Doctorow says about aspiring authors is just as true of aspiring board game designers: Your enemy is not other people stealing your ideas, it is your own obscurity. No one is likely to buy your game until they've played it. If you wait for their friends to introduce it to them, that requires their friends to buy it, which is a chicken and egg problem. Put it on the internet for free and publicize it. But this step is key: put a link beneath it that says something like "Like this game? Buy a physical copy so you can play it with your friends!" The online game cannot replace the offline social experience, except for those who were never going to pay for your game anyway. At least if they play it for free online they might tell someone who will buy it.

Online is also less expensive than paying the upfront costs for a manufacturing run. At first, make the link to Fundable, with the promise that when enough people have preordered the game through Fundable, the print run will happen and they'll be sent the game. If it doesn't reach a set figure by the deadline, Fundable gives them their money back.
posted by Matt Arnold at 9:18 PM on September 3, 2009

« Older Delicious, mid-range downtown Calgary restaurant   |   Somehow, I don't think a Post-It note on the... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.