As any fan of board gaming will tell you, we all have the moment where we think we could create a game that would sell like hot cakes. It may be during a play test of a bad game and you suddenly think "I can do this better" or it may be during a bad day at work when you decide "I don't want to do this anymore, I am going to make a game and become a millionaire...".
This is when the hard work begins.
Ideas and reality
So you have had your eureka moment and you know what type of game you are going to make. You have written out your resignation letter to the boss, like you have pretended to for the last four years. You suddenly start brain storming and jotting notes down, comparing your visions to games you have played or seen, inadvertently thinking about all this money you will soon be making.
But then you sit down eating breakfast looking at your beautiful family and the door goes; it's the mail man delivering your latest board game, junk-mail and bills. Suddenly the eureka moment is gone, reality kicks in and you realise that without proper financial support you can not make this dream come true.
This is the moment that separates the dreamers and the designers. Like when playing a game, some people just make a move without thinking whilst others analyse and think about the consequences. This is not a game and the risks and rewards are greater and that's why most people would back down here.
You now see that the journey from gamer to designer will not be easy: you will need your job to pay bills and run the household. You have gone from thinking this was a great idea to "is it really possible, do I have the time and do I have the resources"? Sadly this is where most projects end - as an idea inside our heads with a few notes jotted onto some scrap paper.
Mark Swanson currently has his game, Fuedum, listed on Kickstarter and talked to me about how he got his project up and running:
"With my game Feudum, I found a way to dream big, but still be practical. I set aside time for my job, my family, but also for my passion. I just had to compartmentalise it! I negotiated this with my family, and they knew that there would be days where “Daddy” would disappear into the basement to work on “his game.
"I made sure to never let it become a chore! I reasoned that if games are fun, game-making should be too!"
This would be the end of the story for most, however some of us are that determined and stubborn that they continue with their ideas. These are the dreamers; the people that give us games to enjoy; the people who against all odds carry on and risk everything.
Mark added: "The wisest thing to do is to let other people into your development! Share progress, photos, stories, art. Building your community before you launch is so important. As Stegmaier points out in his crowdfunding book, You don’t have to launch tomorrow!
"There’s no need to rush to the finish line. Get your ducks in a row! Hire an artist. Polish your video! And make sure your KS page is public for awhile before it launches so that people can give you feedback! When folks leave feedback, it involves them in your community and they feel personally invested in it!"
Don't give up!
Those who carry on find every opportunity and spare moment to work on their ideas. Getting the first draft of the rules nailed down so a game is playable, often working 12-hours a day between their day job and game idea. They sacrifice the hobby of gaming to play test their dream.
Research is key during the early stages of your board game as Mark explained to me:
"I learned so much along the way from a treasure trove of wonderful sources such as Jamey Stegmaier’s blog, Jame’s Mathes' website and the BGG Designer forum. I joined and participated in Facebook groups like Kickstarter Best Practices, Tabletop Game Kickstarter Advice, Tabletop Game Publisher’s Guild. These communities equip and enrich you with the knowledge you need to succeed!"
From ideas in our heads, onto paper and then born into a playable game - albeit a poorly constructed mess that resembles nothing we had dreamed of, but its a start. We slowly learn that the rules we had spent hours writing are simply not fun or don't fit the style as we had hoped.
Suddenly your friends and family are not ideal people to get feedback from as they will agree with you as to not hurt your feelings. Play testing with people who will judge and pick holes is essential in the growth of your idea. Criticism is needed and making use of people with different views on what works and what doesn't is the first step to creating greatness.
We must accept no game is perfect and not everyone will like the game but if we listen to this feedback, adapt or put a sound argument on why a particular rule cannot be changed and compromise on the other things then your project will begin to grow.
From the ashes of borrowed parts and hand-drawn art will rise a colourful phoenix, a game that you will be proud of and one that is not only fun to the majority but one that works. The only thing left to do is publish and sell your game.
The key to success
Do you go direct to a retailer or use Kickstarter? Do you self-publish or give a massive percentage of your baby away? The game you have nurtured and grown so fond of fostered out to parents that may not love it as much as you. But these foster parents may know how to take the game into the next phase of life better than you so surely its a risk worth taking?
This blog isn't about the publication of a game, it's about the initial design stages so we will leave these thoughts there for now.
Wise words from those who made the journey
The successful projects are the ones where designers have listened to criticism, changed their design and rules due to feedback and most importantly believed in there ideas.
I spoke to a few designers about this and that is how this particular blog was created. I am sure even just us gamers can relate to at least one bit of the above, but what I am about to write embodies everything I have written thus far.
The fact that the initial dream can become a reality if you work at it hard enough.
Mark finished by saying: "Don’t get me wrong, there is a risk. But, if you do things right, it can be a calculated one! I took out a home equity line of credit to raise the funds I needed to pay everyone. But, I took this step after receiving enough feedback (from play testers and reviewers included) to feel confident about my chances."
Image Credit goes to Mark Swanson. You can find out more about Feudum by visiting the Kickstarter page.