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Tasty Minstrel Games was started in early 2009, and has become a favorite game publisher for many people.

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Anatomy of a Hit... X-Factor

Michael Mindes
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Finally, we are at the end of the STARFOX anatomy of a hit series. We are now summing it up with the X-Factor.

If you have a unique game which has the X-Factor, then you know it. However, it is hard to build a game specifically to have the x-factor and have it work properly.

For example, Dominion has the X-Factor. It brought along a new and insanely popular game mechanic.

Another example, Twilight Imperium (Third Edition) also has the X-Factor, since it is a game with an insanely epic space empire scope.

Our final example, Magic: The Gathering has the X-Factor. With the mental competition, collectibility, and customization!

X-Factor Comes From Different Places

I think I named this the X-Factor, because it is so elusive, more so then obsession. How to make it happen is unclear. Certainly a new and popular game mechanic like Dominion, a new type of game like Magic, and a completely immersive game like TI3 result in the X-Factor.

Then again, if somebody really figure this out (I suspect that Fantasy Flight Games has) then the bar will be raise to a whole new level for what will bring X-Factor in a game.

What games for you have the X-Factor?
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Thu Oct 13, 2011 1:00 pm
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Anatomy of a Hit... Obsession

Michael Mindes
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In this second to last post in the series, "Anatomy of a Hit", lets go into obsession. The goal here is to make at least a small subset of gamers obsessed with your game.

I would like to change the style around for this post, and I will say the following:

"I do not know how to get people obsessed about a game."

I would like to hear your opinions as to how to accomplish this, so please don't be shy!
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Thu Oct 6, 2011 1:00 pm
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Anatomy of a Hit... Fun

Michael Mindes
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... DUH ...

Games need to be fun. However, fun means different things to different people. What I will present in this blog post, is the method we use at Tasty Minstrel Games to make sure that our games are fun for a certain set of people, namely our fans.

Right now, we use a very basic filter system.

Filter #1 - Seth Jaffee

Seth Jaffee, the man in charge of game discovery, design, and development at Tasty Minstrel Games is the first filter that we have. He has to not only like a game, but also has to have the desire to work on a game to improve it through development effort.

Seth leans toward really liking Euro games with heavy analytical requirements. He is better at game that are more tactical and require optimization of a limited resource of some variety.

Filter #2 - Michael Mindes

Michael Mindes (me), AKA, the man holding the funds. Since every game that is published by Tasty Minstrel Games is funded out of my pocket personally (as 100% owner) I obviously need to like the game. At this point in time, I also want all games to go through our development process, so Seth has to be willing to work on it.

I lean more toward games which have a large number of meaningful decision per unit of time devoted and personally shy away from the heavier analytical games. I don't like playing a spreadsheet, since I am constantly thinking about how to optimize systems for Tasty Minstrel Games. Additionally, a great integrated theme will make a game significantly more enjoyable and fun for me.

I also like war games very much, but I know that such games are unlikely to make it through the Seth filter, and war games is not a niche that TMG is looking to be in either. So, for the purpose of finding TMG games, I have a slightly different filter than what I would personally enjoy myself.

Filter #3 - Other People

Seth operates this system while developing the game by playing with a sizable cross-section of gamers. If these people reject the game, then we will typically shelve a project with a potential to revisit.

We did this to a game that both Seth and I really liked but was getting a mediocre to bad response from the "Other People" filter. So we shelved it after putting in significant development work. This was almost 2 years ago, and the designer has been working on it since, and it sounds like it has greatly improved over that time.

There Are People Like You Out There

Remember, if you like something, then there are at least several thousand people that will also like it. As you develop good discerning taste, then the amount of people that agree with you increases.

If you can get two discerning people with great taste to be a 2-stage filter, then a game is likely to be fun for a much greater number of people. This is a union of sets and not an intersection for you math wizards.

People do not have to agree with both me and Seth on what makes a great game. They just have to agree with either of us.

Conclusion

It is obvious that a hit game with have to be fun to pay. The question of what makes a game fun will be different for many people.

If you have a discerning taste for games (evidenced by a love for games but disliking most that you play), then that will be a good filter. However, if you can add a second person with a discerning taste in a different game types, then you will have a spectacular filter.

Just remember that as you continue to publish more and more games, you should continue to work and improve the system.
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Thu Sep 29, 2011 1:00 pm
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Anatomy of a Hit... Reach

Michael Mindes
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There are a number of ways to talk about and tackle the concept of reach here. I want to personally analyze the 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

The simple bottom line is that if you want to create a hit, then you need to have more people playing your game.

Degree 0

Degree 0 is where I consider the background information, buzz, ratings, advertising, reviews, and so forth. While all of this information is helpful for getting people to make a purchase and want to play your game in the first place, it is not a person who actually played the game.

This is extremely important, because the more powerful your level 0 promotion and marketing is, the more likely somebody will actually open up and play your game rather then just buying it and having it sit on a shelf.

Degree 1

This is where you have your early adopters, demoing retailers, convention library plays, fan base, and so forth. At Tasty Minstrel Games, we publish games that cater to these individuals. We do a significant amount of work to try to match our products to the desires of these individuals.

Optimally, you want to have a large number of Alpha Gamers in this group that play games often, are teaching the games, and are the main source of gaming knowledge. As a company, if you can become a favorite publisher of these individuals, then that is a great start!

It is also important to seek their permission to contact them on a regular basis to keep up to date on what is happening at your company. Without this permission, then it is less likely that when it comes time to actually launch a game that these individuals will be ready for it and anxious for the games to show up.

Degree 2+

Degree 2+ is where a game will either become an eventual hit or not at all. This is where your control over the situation becomes almost nil.

The only aspects that are in your control which will help the spreading of the game here are:

*Bringing these degree 2+ individuals to a degree 1 individual for future games released.
*Shorter game play, Theme, Accessibility, Reach, Fun, Obsession, X-factor. Wait, that sounds like the anatomy of a hit... STARFOX.

Conclusion

Since we have little control over the movement outside of degree 1 as a publisher, it is imperative to concentrate on the levels of degree 0 and degree 1.

If you build the size of degree 0 and degree 1, then everything should propagate through the rest of the board going world, until Kevin Bacon himself is on a talk show saying that he loves the game you published.
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Thu Sep 22, 2011 1:00 pm
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Anatomy of a Hit... Accessibility

Michael Mindes
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A quick self-promotional note: I am relaunching my personal blog where I discuss business, marketing, taking action, and more. One of the aspects will be an interview series of those that are successful in their chosen field/dream. My blog is found at: http://michaelmindes.com

Hopefully this will be twice a week. The first interview will be with none other than Bruno Faidutti, and will post on Friday morning. So, please check it out, subscribe, become a fan, and spread the word about the blog. I will greatly appreciate it.

/End Self Promo

I hope that thus far, you have been enjoying the series about the anatomy of a hit. Today, we will discuss how accessible a game is. I look at this from the angles of:

*Ease of learning
*Ease of use
*Ease of teaching
*Theme

Lets get into it! Remember, if a game is going to be a sales result hit, then it needs to be played a lot.

Ease of Learning

Games get played more often if they are easy to learn. I remember one evening that I started to read the rules for Caylus. I personally feel good about my ability to read rules, but I chose to stop reading the rules and not play.

If you want your rules to be easier to comprehend, then do the following:

*Strip them of any superfluous information.
*Maintain a common tense, voice, and point of view.
*Provide summaries of what is in each section.
*Maintain a common lexicon through the rulebook and if this can matchup with common game mechanisms that is even better.
*Provide good visual diagrams of what the text actually means.
*For the high-tech, provide QR codes which direct to rules explaining videos.
*Remove as many unnecessary words as possible.
*Provide comical interlude to make the experience of reading the rules more enjoyable.

Ease of Use

With ease of use, I am referring to the actual game play use of all of the various components and mechanisms of the game. I played and personally really like Roads & Boats, but the game requires a ridiculous amount of physical bit manipulation.

My copy of Railways of the World has coloration issues where the blue and purple are hard to tell apart, even for those that are not color blind.

Be careful to monitor for issues that are a stumbling block to being able to fully play a game.

Ease of Teaching

Most people do not want to read rulebooks and would prefer to just be taught a game. Now, as a publisher, you will have no control over how other people teach your game, unless you provide actual teaching videos via smartphone and QR code technology.

However, if a game is simpler, it will be easier to teach. Also, if a rulebook is structured in a good order to teach the game, then people will later be more likely to tech the game in that fashion.

Theme

Sometimes, theme will cause a person to just not want to play, buy, or own a game. Now, you should not worry about trying to please everybody here, that will just lead to failure. However, you should remain consistent across the entire brand of a company. Fantasy Flight Games does a great job of this with their goal to be the best publisher in the fantasy, sci-fi, and horror themes.

Conclusion

This is an area that I am still learning much about, and I wish I could share more. However, if you want to generate a hit, Accessibility is a key component.
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Thu Sep 15, 2011 1:00 pm
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The Importance Of Initial Gameplay - Grab em and keep em!

Michael Mindes
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I should have a better understanding of the sheer number of games that are published in any given year. They are staggering and I have heard reports of as many as 500+ in 2010 and 2009 alone. As a publisher or game designer, how could you reasonably expect your game to be a top game release for the year.

Even more difficult is being a top release for the year to compete with the established top releases from prior years? That is why I strive to reduce risk and maximize hit potential.

One way to do this right is to get the initial game play to be fun and easy to learn. We at Tasty Minstrel Games learned a lot from Terra Prime about this. While I believe personally that it is a great game, it failed miserably in one majorly important aspect.

The initial game play ranged from great to horrible. That is to say the players would have a horrible time if they ventured out further than they should without being properly prepared.

While this is fine for the design of the game, it makes becoming a commercial success very difficult.

Why Give Terra Prime Another Chance?

This is exactly what many people would be thinking. The fact is that a first time player would quite possibly venture out early, get destroyed, and then proceed to suffer through the remaining 1-1.5 hours of game play.

Not exactly what you would expect to drive sales!

Should Designs Be Dumbed Down?

Absolutely not. It is hard to get a design to have simple rules, a wealth of strategic depth, and provide exciting/addicting initial game play. You also need to avoid trying to design a game to meet everybody's gaming needs.

Think of who or what type of gamer is going to not only like, but LOVE the game you are designing. Then proceed to design the game for them. Without a sizable group of people LOVING your game, then you will not proceed to hit status.

For example, when we went through the process for creating Martian Dice, we were specifically trying to appeal to the following types of people (in no particular order):

* Gamers with children that they want to bring in the world of being a gamer.
* Casual gamers that play various other dice games.
* Retailers that want a fun game they can recommend and sell at their checkout counters. One of the keys here is to be easily teachable and fun to teach.
* Serious gamers that want a time filling game that packs a number of meaningful decisions is a short time period, combined with the fun of rolling dice. I personally miss the sheer tactile fun of throwing a fistful of dice. I miss it, because I usually do not like games that result from the randomness thereof.

Those are the kinds of people we made the game for. The core here I believe is to think of gamers that you know and design the game specifically for them to LOVE. That will make the process easier and less abstract.

Back On Track - How To Improve Initial Game play

Sorry for the tangential "design for a target gamer" bit. Initial game play is essential in a world of hundred of new games released every year! Since if you want a hit, then you will need people to play the games that you produce. If they play it once and then shelf it, you are unlikely to build the user base required for a hit.

Through the process of publishing board games, I have found that there are some factors that can help initial game play to go more smoothly and be more fun.

* Provide clear, concise, and well organized rulebooks. Reading through a rulebook is bothersome enough. Having 30% extra that is unneeded, confusing language, or poor organization makes this even more difficult. We have all played a game where it took an hour longer than it should have and were not even sure if we played correctly... This is not good for initial game play!

* If there is something that a player can do early which will prevent them from winning, then that should be removed from the game. The idea here is that every choice in a game should be from a pool of good choices. If the game allows me to do something stupid and I lose as of a result, then I will blame the game...

* Make the total length of game play time shorter, but don't truncate the game so much that you don't get the full feeling. When Tasty Minstrel Games started development on Belfort, the game lasted 9 rounds. As a result of dropping that to 7 rounds, the game became more interesting and shorter (which is a great combination).

* Give players something beautiful to look at. I know the rare arguments about how artwork shouldn't matter so much, that it is the game system which matters. Not so. If players can visually bring themselves into the world surrounding your game system, then they will more greatly enjoy the game. I personally think of Puerto Rico, which is a fantastic and innovative game for its time. I also think it has been somewhat lacking in the visual awesomeness possible.

* Make it fun! Laughing will make your game much more likable.

* Provide a learning game variant. After receiving feedback about the first plays of Eminent Domain taking a very long time due to the tech decks, we introduced the learning game which ignored technology completely.

Conclusion

Board game publishing is a creative endeavor. Playing board games is an inherently viral activity.

When you combine there to, it is imperative to get the game into as many people's hands as possible early, have them want to play the game, and create a game which will provide fun initial plays.

Cheers!
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Mon Sep 12, 2011 1:00 pm
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Anatomy of a Hit... Theme, Theme, Theme

Michael Mindes
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This blog post for some reason features many great 80's songs... Enjoy accordingly.

Let's face it. Psychologically speaking, even if we are a person that is satisfied with live, we can always find something to improve. Or perhaps, we just want to immerse ourselves in an alternative world to the one we live in.

Getting to the core of that psychological need and fulfilling it will release the endorphins and make people feel good. Feeling good as a result of playing a game leads to more plays, more satisfaction, and eventually more sales for the publisher.

That is what having a well integrated theme is all about.

Everybody Wants To Rule The World

Tears for Fears got it right. In life, everybody (almost everybody) will not have a chance to rule the world. When players escape into a game, a presupposed state is often that they rule the world. Or at least a portion of it, or something that resembles ruling the world. The players are always (almost always) in control of their destiny, which can be a nice escape from life where our control over any given situation varies wildly.

The better a theme is integrated and allows people to think in some sense that they are ruling the world, then the more likely something will be a potential hit. It just fills a void in the lives of most people.

Or if the player actually rules the world, or a small portion of it, then they would still enjoy a simulation of ruling something else!

Don't You Forget About Me

Don't, Don't, Don't! Simple Minds, Simple Pleasures. Sometimes we just want to do something silly and fun. Even the most hardcore analytic hardcore gamer will want an opportunity to decompress, well maybe not them, but a lot of people.

Give them an immersive theme, a simple game, and ride the wave. Martian Dice fills in well here. Imagine being a Martian and abducting Earthlings so that you can run tests on them and determine who is in charge. Cows, Chickens, or Humans? We don't know, we are Martians, and Martians love running tests. We also love blowing up (vaporizing really) tanks.

The more memorable the theme is, the more a game will get remembered and therefore played.

You've Been Hit By, A Smooth Criminal

In real life, everybody (almost everybody) wants to be a hero in some sense. When playing a game, it can be nice to play the role of a criminal knowing that it is within a game.

Giving people the opportunity to do this, while not necessarily what I would choose to publish could allow for some extremely large sales. We don't have to look any further than the Grand Theft Auto series of video games to see that this is true.

I like to think that Belfort would have been popular at Neverland Ranch

I Want To Be, Your Sledgehammer

One of the Internet Marketers whose blog I regularly read said that he was invited to a demolition party on new year's eve. A friend was remodeling his house, and thus invited people over to do the demo work. He said it was one of the best parties that he had ever been to, and this guy says that he is at a lot of parties.

Part of the enjoyment was pure visceral fun of swinging sledgehammers and destroying stuff. Part of the enjoyment was the novelty of it. How many demolition parties have you ever been to?

If your theme can tie into the visceral and intuitive nature of what somebody wants to do and/or be unique, then the likelihood of producing a hit goes up. Last year running a vineyard was a popular and unique game theme with Vinhos and Grand Cru.

Conclusion

Theme is a critical component for any game. Tasty Minstrel Games places a high importance on having games with a well integrated theme. This is probably because I deplore games that feel like I am playing a spreadsheet. Working as a game publisher and a financial advisor, I have plenty of things in my daily life to try and optimize. I will do it in a game, but I do not want to feel like I am playing a spreadsheet.

If a game has a strong and well integrated theme, then it is hard to feel like you are playing a spreadsheet!
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Thu Sep 8, 2011 1:00 pm
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Anatomy of a Hit... Shorter Game Play

Michael Mindes
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Let's face it... There is a fixed amount of time in any given day, regardless of how much we might try to bend that fact to our advantage. Couple that with the fact that every year there are HUNDREDS of new games released.

The result is that people do not have the time to play a large percentage of games released in any given year. There are a number of acclaimed 2010 releases which I have not yet played despite the desire, including Troyes, Vinhos, and Dominant Species.

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet I can both more easily know about new games so that I can be more discerning about what I try and play and the costs/risks of production of games are reduced. These combine to an analysis paralysis when it comes to game choice.

Time, Time, Time, see what's become of me

While I look around for my possibilities. I was so hard to please.

I know that if a game will take me an hour to learn and 2 hours to play the first time, then it better be a fantastic game! If a game is going to take 1 minute to learn and 10 minutes to play, then I will be wary of the enjoyment I am likely to get from it. The sweet spot for me is probably 20 minutes to learn and less than 1 hour to play. That is so I know I will not waste too much time on a bad game or game that I do not like, while if I really enjoy it, then I will be able to come back to it often.

Now, if you can create a game which takes 1 hour to play, but feels like you make the quality decisions and feel of a game that takes 2 hours, then you should do well.

For gamers, it will feel like stepping into a time machine. I spent 1 hour playing the game, but I got 2 hours worth of game play out of it. Who does not want that?

Building The Time Machine

The first step in building the time machine is to have a complete game (preferably enjoyable). The second step is to remove, adjust, and fix any parts of the game which take too long for what they are worth or require too much physical manipulation (like shuffling cards). Yes, I am talking about you Dominion, Ascension: Deckbuilding Game, and Eminent Domain.

A good example of a quality time machine is the Ascension: Deckbuilding Game iPad app. While I enjoy Ascension and think it is a decent game, I do not own it, nor would I likely play the physical version very much. However, when the physical manipulation is removed and instead of taking 45 minutes that game take 5-10 minutes, I feel like I am in a gaming time machine. Since I have bought the app, I have probably averaged 3 plays per day over the course of several weeks.

What To Remove And Streamline?

"The second step is to remove, adjust, and fix any parts of the game which take too long for what they are worth". Wow, that is really general, and is barely helpful. Let's look at some of the items we regularly look at removing/fixing.

1. Rounds of game play. What would happen if the game was just a round shorter? Test it and find out. If the game is just as enjoyable and does not feel like it abruptly ends, then keep the round out. Also pay attention to the late rounds and see if players are generally doing the same thing. If they are, then remove the game play aspect and make it an end of game special resolution (to do what everybody does).

For example, when we started development on Belfort, the game was 9 rounds. The first round was almost always identical, so it was removed and everybody started from the result of the first round. The final round was removed and the game did not feel short. Now Belfort is over 7 rounds and takes 20-30% less time to play for the same amount of game play.

2. Supplementary rules and options. Determine philosophically what a game is about and the game play should be like. Anything in the course of game play which is outside of that core should be removed and tested. Test the resulting game with that piece removed, is it better? If yes, then keep it and you have just shortened the game.

For example, Martian Dice used to have different types of scoring for abducting earthlings and destroying cities (with different military defense types). While that version was good, it just felt like another dice game which is too affected by the randomness of dice. Once we removed the second scoring option and implemented the tank vs. death ray threshold for scoring, then the game got faster (about 15% faster) and more enjoyable. It brought us closer to the core fun of rolling 13 unique dice and having meaningful decisions as a result in a very short period of time.

3. Physical Exchange Methods. If you have a constant exchanging of physical pieces, try to think of a way to make that easier. Common items are centralized tracks or dials.

4. Player Negotiation. We try to avoid having player negotiation in game, because it adds to the time required to play significantly. Especially if I am playing, since I drive a hard bargain! If we wanted to publish a game which featured negotiation, then it would need to be the core of game play like with Catan or Genoa.

5. Available Information. When publishing games into the hobby game market, you must expect to have players utilize and analyze all available information. It will happen. If something does not need to be known to all players, then make it unknown. It will speed up the game play.

For example, Homesteaders suffered significantly from analysis paralysis from having too much information available. Early versions made ALL buildings (and there were more than there are now, and they were all unique) available at ALL times. I think there were over 60 buildings! In addition, all of the resources a player had on hand were public information. This led to insane calculation and optimization of the auctions every round, and recalculation. I don't know how long it used to take to play a game, but now it only takes about 1 hour! I would guess it was at least a 50% decrease in time required.

Conclusion

Even after a game is finished, works well, and is fun, there is still a significant amount of work which needs to be done to make it the best game that it can be. So work hard, because it is hard work. A complete design is really only the end of the beginning.

I don't know about other publishers, but if you as a game designer place a game with Tasty Minstrel Games, then expect that we will spend a lot of time working to improve the game and that designer feedback and communication is necessary. We don't want to spend time exploring an option that you already know does not work!
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Thu Sep 1, 2011 1:00 pm
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Anatomy Of A Hit, An Intro

Michael Mindes
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The ultimate goal of any publisher is to produce a hit. A hit game will bring in more revenue and profits than you could imagine. I won't go into the obvious examples again.

A hit game will keep you in business if you treat it right. STARFOX... Now that was a hit video game... Let's apply the letters:

S = Shorter game play
T = Theme
A = Accessibility
R = Reach
F = Fun
O = Obsession
X = X-Factor

As of right now, Tasty Minstrel Games has 3 games which are poised to become potential hits, Eminent Domain, Belfort, and Martian Dice. While I feel that I do not yet have a great example of a hit created, I do have a good understanding of what it takes.

I will now go over a brief overview of each of these 7 characteristics and then follow up with more detail about each on in subsequent blog posts. Until all 8 of these posts are released, my blog will post on Thursdays in addition to the normal Mondays.

Shorter Game Play

A game cannot become a hit without the inherent virality of playing a game. With a shorter game play, the game in question will be played more often which should boost its ability to spread quickly.

Theme

I hear arguments to the contrary sometimes, but theme is essential. Having a well integrated theme that people can fall in love with will be a boon to any game's sales.

Accessibility

The more people that can play a game and enjoy it, the more likely it can become a hit. Also, it means that it will be played with more types of people that can go out into the world and further spread the word. A good concise and clear rulebook is important here.

Reach

With the exception of early adopters, people want to try before they buy. Therefore it follows that more reach will allow for more sales. However there is more depth than that. It matters who you can reach, the total numbers you reach, and your purchaser's likelihood to play the game after a purchase.

Catan sells tons of copies because it is mainstream. There are plenty of people out there who have the option of playing Settlers or many of the "worse" games from the past. So they play Settlers, and those that they play with in turn love the game!

Fun

I think this one is obvious. After all, it is a game!

Obsession

Obsession is what will lead from your early adopters into a greater total reach. If there are reasons for early adopters to love a game, obsess about it, and continually evangelize it, then you will be more likely to produce a hit.

Eminent Domain accomplishes this. Prior to its release there are plenty of people that played the Print and Play version dozens of times.

X-Factor

What is there that sets this game apart from the other 500+ published in any given year? Is it an innovative mechanic? Amazing artwork? Incredible humor? Or just the tactile enjoyment of rolling 13 dice like in Martian Dice?

Conclusion

Ultimately, Tasty Minstrel Games is publishing games in an effort to provide quality play at a great value. This and much that is outside the direct control of the publisher will determine what will become a hit.

If you want to be a board game publisher, then commit to bringing more value to the table then other publishers. If you do this, then eventually the customers and fans will find you.
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Thu Aug 25, 2011 1:00 pm
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Reducing Risk and Publishing For Hits

Michael Mindes
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It is well documented that sales in creative industries are dominated by hits. You will either have low sales or huge sales. While a commodity based industry's sales are driven by total costs, error tolerances, and relationships. For example, sales in the music industry are dominated by Elvis, The Beatles, and Michael Jackson. While, nobody cares about a ball bearing as long as it does what is required of it.

Being a financially successful publisher/producer in a creative industry requires some hits. The hits might not be to the level of a top tier, but you certainly need products that are better than most. In the board game industry, flagship titles could be, Ticket to Ride, Catan, Dominion, Magic: The Gathering, Legend of the Five Rings or even Eminent Domain.

Recognizing this when starting Tasty Minstrel Games and wanting to build a profitable and systemized board game publishing company, I decided that I needed to do 2 things:

1. Reduce the financial risk on every title released.
2. Produce every game with all of the elements possible to increase the chance of becoming a hit.

Reducing Risk

This is important for the cycling through of cash flow (more later), reduced capital requirements, and the general well being of the financial status of any business. Going into the world of a creative business, in particular I was looking for a devoted fan base, powerful branding, low initial print runs, and ways to contact fans any time I wanted.

Fan Base - Going into build the Tasty Minstrel Games fan base, I did not do an extensive analysis of my target audience. I figured I would just throw it out there, get email subscriptions, and build from there. If I were to do the analysis today, I would have the following bulleted list of attributes of an optimal fan:

*BGG community activist
*Local game group host / Alpha gamer
*More analytical than the average person
*Technically minded and internet savvy
*Interested in how thing work, even if they do not want to do it
*Desires involvement with the production process or emotional ownership of a product
*Values generosity
*Desires special treatment as a fan
*Board games is their #1 purchasing vice
*Likely to be in favor of open source values

A person that has these attributes is an optimal fan for TMG. A person like this will be more like myself, and I believe more likely to actively spread the word about quality games in general. In particular, they are more likely to try and spread the word about quality games produced by companies/people that they like.

Given that gaming is an inherently viral (more on this later) activity, in reducing risk, it becomes essential to have the thought leaders on your side. Over decades, Steve Jobs managed to get every tech thought leader interested in Apple products. This was leveraged to bring Apple from a decent company in early 2000 to the premier company of the world today. They have done this with only 3 new physical products, the iPod, iPhone, and iPad.

You have probably heard about the "1,000 true fans". In some case you do not even need 1,000. Martin Wallace has perfected this in the hobby board game industry. He creates a handful of new titles in a given year, releases a very small print run, sells out, and then another publisher might decide to license the game from him. He sells enough to cover his costs and likely profits sufficiently to live off of for the next year. Then he collects royalties for past successful games.

Powerful Branding - When I started Tasty Minstrel Games there were a handful of powerful brands in the hobby gaming space within the United States. On the top of my personal list were 3 companies, Fantasy Flight Games, Rio Grande Games, and Days of Wonder. With Mayfair Games coming in on the strength of Catan alone.

I thought about why each company had a powerful brand with me, and I planned to bring each of the best elements of each company into the future brand image of Tasty Minstrel Games. I desired the following:

*The production and art quality of FFG
*The availability, catalog, scope, and distribution of RGG
*The devotion to quality gameplay and rulebooks of DoW
*The power of having a blockbuster hit of Mayfair

I desired to create a publisher and system that would embrace the best of these top brands without bringing in problems of each. We would have enough problems of our own to deal with! (more on this later)

Low Initial Print Runs - This keeps the initial outlay of cash low, which is key to being about to search for hits. It is better to produce 1,000-2,000 games and earn less profit per copy than to print 5,000 copies and be wrong.

With a small print run that does not sell well, you will not destroy your company. With a large print run that does not go well, things like this can happen.

Contacting Fans At Will - what is the point of having a fan base if you cannot contact the at will? Almost everybody has email, and with an optimal fan being Internet savvy, email was the answer. Since the beginning I have used 3 different bulk email service providers, aWeber, InfusionSoft, and Mailchimp.

By far and away, Mailchimp is the best. On top of that, it is now free with up to 2,000 subscribers!

Producing For A Hit!

Currently, this is a qualitative process which depends highly on gut instinct. Which, I believe is another way to say that this is something that I do not sufficiently understand to codify and talk about it. Although, here are some generalizations about positive influences on being a potential hit:

*Playable by 2 players and multiple players
*Shorter games
*Integrated theme
*Outstanding artwork
*Innovative game play
*Fun game play
*Filling an unknown void
*Targeting a small and influential thought leader block
*Gateway potentials

Dominion did a great job of the last 3. In particular it filled a void of former Magic: The Gathering players who as a group are a small and influential block of thought leaders. When I first played Dominion, I felt a need to play more often than humanly possible. We described it as competitive deck building in my group.

This in and of itself would have lead to lots of sales, but it is also very easy to learn and execute mechanically. Which allows Dominion to be a gateway game.

Conclusion

If you want to build a financially successful publishing company, you will need to find ways to reduce your financial risk on any given game that you publish, which in turn will allow you to publish more titles in search of the needed hits.

Once you find yourself in a position where this is working, you must tread carefully to remain true to the principles that brought you there. do not squander you efforts of building a fan base and brand in order to make a quick buck or two. As most children learn, you shouldn't kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.
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9 Comments
Mon Aug 1, 2011 2:00 pm
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