Bez ShahriariUnited Kingdom
Inspired by this thread on FB:
To some extent, I'm in a position to try to be the change I want to be. However, some things (good retail alternatives to shrink-wrap) aren't offered as options by printers, and some things (box size) are an arms race and anyone not following suit is at a disadvantage (shelf presence in shops/cafes/cons/psychology of worth). But someone needs to take a stand.
Honestly, for massive change, we need to lobby Asmodee/Hasbro. So, if you agree that smaller boxes are needed, then you can do your bit by telling off companies that produces overly large boxes and also voting with your wallet (refusing to buy their stuff and telling them that you are doing this).
Ultimately, most of what I'd like to see comes down to honesty and prioritising the consumers rather than marketability and profit.
No production waste.
No unecessary waste in the final product. That is impossible of course, but it's the dream.
Honesty in playercount and play length.
I like Between 2 Cities, which says '3-7p' on the side, and then mentions '1-2p variant' in smaller writing. I feel like if a given playercount is on the box, then it should be worth buying/having even if you ONLY play it at that playercount. As such, I'll be changing Kitty Cataclysm to 3-5p for 2nd edition. Yes, it's more restrictive and might lose me a few sales, but over the past year I have come to agree with folk who say that 2p is a slightly lesser experience.
If your playtime ranges from 75-150 minutes, and you have over 700 pieces of data from playtests, then putting '115 minutes' seems wrong. Just plonking down the median, or mean, is a bit misleading. I would advocate for some sort of standardisation - I would like for a playtime to be a range, that covers 85% of FIRST TIME plays where folk are learning from the rulebook. If the playtime is dependent upon playercount, I'd like that mentioned. For hobby games, maybe even have a different time listed for each playercount if it varies a lot.
If there's a lot of randomness or variability in length, I think that 'ish' conveys a lot of information.
Smaller boxes in general.
It's one of my most-loathed things in games. Dread Curse is fantastic, but I HATE that the components could be easily stored in a box 1/4 the size.
Clearly stating how long and how many players can play a game.
Both on the box and in the manual. I find it surprising how many boxes/manuals are missing this info.
General desire to make a good thing.
Spending a little longer on development. Better rules writing. More proof-reading.
Being willing to make changes between different editions of the game.
Continuing to absorb feedback. Unless it's a CCG, I'm all for tweaking numbers for a future edition. And you can always work to improve clarity in wording, graphic design, or even change entire mechanisms if it's going to result in a clearly better game.
There's a saying that a game is often played more after a day of release, than in the entire design/dev run-up to that. You'll inevitable get some feedback. Maybe even some startling insights! Why not use that?
So, those are my opinions.
Do you disagree with any? Do you have any to add?
I am a full-time designer/artist/self-publisher and I am available for freelance work. I go to cons as a trader and help run the all-day Friday playtest sessions in London. I left my last 'real' job in 2014. I was getting benefits for a few years. I'm currently writing sporadically, but getting back into the habit of daily posts. If you have any questions/topics you'd like me to address, send me a geekmail and I'll probably address the topic within a week.
Archive for publishing
27 Jan 2020
- [+] Dice rolls
Things I would PERSONALLY always ask for in a contract now:
1 - a termination clause in the case of a slow release. If the publisher hasn’t released the game by a certain date, you should be free to pursue other opportunities.
2 - a growing number of minimum sales per year. Whilst many (if not most) board games will only be printed once, anything lucky enough (and of a high enough quality) to be continually printed should escalate in copies sold. Word of mouth makes all multiplayer board games inherently ‘viral’. You might be guaranteed x sales in the first year, then a larger number each subsequent year. If the publisher doesn’t sell the guaranteed number of copies, you are at liberty to terminate the contract. Honestly, if the number of sales is dropping, then the publisher probably doesn't care about the contract either at this point.
3 - some free copies from every version in every print run. Not just free copies at the start. It’s great to have a game translated into dozens of languages, but annoying if you get sent less than half of them.
4 - the right to buy at wholesale price or better. I attend conventions myself, and it’s sometimes nice to have copies of my games to sell, even if they are being published by others. I am, of course, happy to maintain RRP.
5 - a growing % royalties based on copies sold. With more mass market titles, it’s common to get a slightly higher % after 100k or 200k units have been sold.I have realised that this is not usually possible in the hobby market. In any case, it's something to make up for shortcomings. You don't need this if the initial % is great.
5. An advance. Within a month of signing, you should have some cash in your account. Otherwise, what's the incentive for the publisher to actually progress with the game? For a larger company, I would expect £5k. For a tiny company, £500. Even a one-person company should be able to offer a signing bonus of £200 if they have any intention of mass-producing a game.
My first contract was very reasonable financially, but few folk talk about the emotional advantages of getting copies of all the languages your game is printed in along with all the newer editions. Not only is it a way to celebrate your own successes, it also allows you to check what the publisher is doing with future editions and let them know if anything seems wrong! Future printings are often an opportunity to make minor corrections.
It is important to be realistic - a Napoleonic war game will struggle to sell a tenth of what a lighter party game will achieve.
For the guaranteed sales figures, % royalties and the advance, the style of game matters as does what you hope to achieve. If I have a game that I think might sell millions, then I'll be more careful (perhaps requiring a far larger number of guaranteed minimum sales in year 3) compared to a niche game that would be amazingly lucky to sell 5000 copies ever.
For a game that I'm already producing - so licensing it is costing me potential profits - a higher advance is able to offset that.
Cardboard Edison did a great report that shows that 83% of designers were getting 4-8% of wholesale price as royalties. If signing with a company that is able to achieve higher sales, then a lower % can still get you a good profit.
It’s also important to be mindful of what you want to achieve - some games I hope to make money on. Some I just hope to have available one day for those who love the concept. There is no chronology for this that fits everyone. It may be that your first game becomes your best-selling thing. Everyone’s path is unique.
*This post is modified from an answer I wrote for a forthcoming book and is posted here for the benefit of anyone considering a contract.
I shared this on a FB group and there were loads of good comments.
Many people pointed out that the idea of growing minimum sales is problematic. It will only actually happen with a tiny minority of games.
I would still ask for it, personally.
Others pointed out that the advance is super-important.
Remember to declare that you want your name on the box, assuming that's important for you! That may seem obvious, but some major publishers might not always do that.
And ideally you want a higher % of sub-licensed versions (when the publisher sells to a foreign language publisher to partner with them).
Fabian makes some great points below.
Edited item number 5. (strike through/commentary/new number 5 added)
- [+] Dice rolls
Inspired by a twitter thread.Benefits of small:
- lower environmental impact
- maybe cheaper to produce
- cheaper to transport
- easier for purchasers to store
- easier for purchasers to transport
- some people find little things cute/pretty
Benefits of big:
- visibility (in shop/at con/in house/wherever)
- bigger canvas for the box art (can allow you to appreciate the art better)
- easier to store things inside
- harder to steal from a shop
- some people find bigger things impressive/majestic.
Have I missed anything?
Edit: Originally, I didn't have the 'harder to steal' point and 'visibility'/'legitimacy' were simply 'better marketing in a shop/at a con'. Thanks to folk for input.
- [+] Dice rolls
I used to believe that only the rules of a game mattered.
I would have happily played Malifaux or Warmachineusing tokens rather than miniatures. I still would. Of course painted miniatures are prettier, but playing a game in this way allows you to still enjoy the rules and engage with each other (via their shared experience and the interaction that the ruleset offers).
As anyone who paints minis knows, there is a sense of ownership, visual appeal and physical heft that adds to the play experience.
In a sense, anyone willing to playtest a game in the early stages needs to be willing to overlook component shortcomings. Maybe there is no artwork. Maybe 'cards' and 'tiles' are just bits of paper that were drawn an hour ago. The question is whether the rules have any inherent value. If they don't, it's simply not worth ever spending the time and money on art or other pretty bits.
With folk games (e.g. Go), I will often play on a board made using a cereal box to help teach the game to newbies. My pieces are plastic and the board is cardboard, starting to break apart at the folds. It's good enough.
But there is no denying that a wooden board would enhance the experience.
Any 'well produced' game is enhanced by nicer components and artwork.
Gigamic's abstract games (though I'm biased) are given a sense of 'legitimacy' by being produced in lovely wood. The wood is lovely to touch and the grain is nice to look at.
MtG would not be as nice to play if all the artwork was just empty white boxes.
I'm not saying that the art needs to be photorealistic. I think that abstract art can be beautiful. Stick figures can convey joy and be expressive. As long as things are done with purpose, pretty much any style can work.
When you're playing a game, you inevitably look at the pieces and touch them. So having thicker tokens, or linen-finish card-stock is great. Upgrading the pieces to wood will probably be even better.
And just as the production of the pieces matters, so does the production of the rules and the box. Everything is part of the experience.
So, what are the disadvantages?
- time/money on the publisher's side
- added cost for consumer
- environmental resources
- more space on a shelf
What are the advantages?
- legitimises the game
- able to amplify the experience (or add to it) via visuals
- tactile appeal adds another channel of engagement/enjoyment
- functionality (PVC cards are washable and resilient to bending; linen-finish cards stick together a bit less; thicker tokens/wood pieces are easier to move around)
Are there any other disadvantages/advantages that I've missed?
- [+] Dice rolls
22 Jul 2018
Research is exploring the world around you, thinking deeply about everything you see, and wondering if this could be a game.
Examining a method of establishing government, a psychological bias, or the movement of an animal, or the nesting of ducks, or the growth of an apple tree, or anything else.
Maybe you don't need to do the wondering or pondering. Maybe simply gaining the experiences to draw upon could be called research. Whether you're playing boardgames or living your life and paying attention to everything. Being mindful of the world around you is research.
Let's call that INCIDENTAL RESEARCH.
(Note: for this and the other terms, please tell me if there's an existing term/framework for this.)
After the concept has been decided, you might be doing research to either see what's out there, or find out about the world you're portraying. Maybe you're making an alternate-history steampunk game about machines gaining sentience, and so you start reading about the British monarchs and old technology, maybe paying special attention to Charles Babbage's machines in the Science Museum.
I think this is usually called HISTORICAL RESEARCH, although it'll only serve games that actually have some grounding in reality.
Maybe you're making a big-body dexterity game, so you read all the information about the (few) other games you can find in the same genre on BGG. Maybe you even buy one to play.
I guess that is MARKET RESEARCH?
Playtesting is it's own sort of research. It's a form of experimental research that instantly informs your future creative work. When I played the terrible game (I'm not being humble) that informed the creation of In A Bind, I paid attention to what was fun. What was confusing? What was boring?
Nowadays, I do a lot more pondering and simulations in my mind, but this sort of experimental research is the fundamental cornerstone of all game creation. Making something, seeing how real-life-humans react to it, then making decisions based on that new knowledge.
This sort of research is basically either PLAYTESTING (in one of its many forms) or BLIND-TESTING for the rules, which I'm dividing only because at that point you may be investigating how to create the best rulesheet, rather than what the best set of rules is.
Of course, you will get all sorts of INCIDENTAL PLAYTESTING during the process. By the end of this year, I'll have self-published 10 games (3 different IAB decks, 6 W++ games and Kitty Cataclysm). One of the W++ games was changed because of the creativity of a proof-reader (Mick Wood). Three games were changed for the 2nd edition Wibbell++ deck because of my observations when my primary purpose was demoing/selling.
In the end, you need to decide whether your game is good enough to sell. And should you print 3,000 or 1,000? Or is it a good enough mass-market game that a publisher can guarantee 20k initial print run? Some of this will be based on your knowledge of the industry, what already exists, and how many copies other things sell. Thanks to all the incidental research you've done by virtue of either working in the industry, or just having a major interest.
A few ways to do this are via MARKET RESEARCH.
This might be demoing your game to the target audience and asking them how much they will pay; asking surveys; or running a KS. This isn't demoing with the primary purpose of improving the game. This is demoing with the primary purpose of testing the market.
Do you think I've missed out any forms of research? Would you give any of them different names?
- [+] Dice rolls
21 Jul 2018
1 - have a vague objective/restriction/notion. E.g. "I want to make a game a bit like Fluxx but with more control."
2 - ponder possibilities.
3 - Draw a deck. (I mean, literally. With a pencil and/or pen.) Play it. Look at what the fun parts are.
4 - Come to terms with the fact that the fun part is nothing to do with my initial objective. Change my objective. E.g. "All the silliest cards that challenge your running, hopping, contortion and voice-acting. Let's just see what happens."
5 - Ponder possibilities
6 - Draw a new deck.
7 - Repeat steps 4-6 (removing anything 'below the table')
8 - Repeat steps 4-6 (removing the vocal stuff)
9 - Eventually, I start just redrawing parts of the deck rather than the entire thing. Iterate.
10 - Continue iterating.
11 - Continue iterating.
12 - Continue iterating.
13 - Continue iterating.
14 - Continue iterating.
15 - Continue iterating.
16 - Make a crazy change (E.g. Removing points - each card was worth '1')
17 - Continue iterating.
18 - Make a crazy change (taking away a 'score' and adding player elimination)
19 - Continue iterating.
20 - Continue iterating.
21 - Continue iterating.
22 - Finally realise what I'm making - a game wherein tasks are done simultaneously and becoming exponentially more difficult. This is the point where I'd say the 'concept' was finished.
23 - Focused research into similar things. (Mainly via BGG) For inspiration and to avoid making something that already exists.
24 - Continue iterating.
25 - Try something completely different, just for the sake of it, partially 'for a laugh' and partially justifiable in retrospect as 'doing due diligence'. (e.g. a new deck that had no physical 'binds' at all.)
26 - Confirm - after a couple of playtests - that this idea is terrible. Go back to the earlier iteration.
27 - Continue iterating. Start demoing it with intent to market it.
28 - Continue demoing & iterating.
29 - Continue demoing & iterating.
30 - Check prices with printer. In retrospect, I'd say that my design was finished at this point, but development had barely begun.
31 - Run a KS
32 - Tell people about my KS. Be lucky enough to have it fund.
33 - Ponder things. Solo test. Honestly, a couple of weeks' pondering and a full day solo-testing was all the development that I think this game needed. Because of the lack of interaction, solo-testing and pondering was far more useful than real-life testing would have ever been (in terms of hours spent. Note - the expansion deck had its own journey and had a lot of testing but I'm just focusing on the main deck.
34 - Write the rules
35 - try different layouts/ideas for art.
36 - Make decisions and do more solo-testing for the final cards.
37 - blind testing & rules iteration
38 - blind testing & rules iteration
39 - blind testing & rules iteration
40 - Start final art.
41 - Get anxious.
42 - finish final art.
43 - scan
44 - edit digitally and resave images
45 - put into a pdf
46 - rewrite the rules, with some 'flavour text'... lay them out.
47 - edit my own rules (I had no cash to hire an editor)
48 - Send to printer.
49 - get the games. Give them to backers
50 - ring up shops, asking them to stock the game.
51 - organise demo days for August.
52 - run events.
53 - be lucky enough to have a friend (Dave Cousins) take the game to Essen and show it to publishers.
54 - reply in a reasonable manner to Gigamic's email of interest, letting them know that I'm waiting for a reply from publisher X.
55 - (A few months later) Tell publisher X that their offer wasn't as good as Gigamic's.
56 - Sign with Gigamic.
- My responsibility kinda ends.
I mean, I did tell Gigamic a few months later to radically change one card. But the art/product design was entirely them.
So, in summary, the way I made it (and even the way I had the idea...) was 'a lot of iteration'. That's become my stock answer for when folk ask. But if someone is genuinely interested, I could talk for hours about it. :-p
- [+] Dice rolls
14 Jul 2018
Yesterday I was talking to Drew Richards (a product design graduate who made a co-op boardgame as part of their masters) about the creation process of a typical game.
I think of it as 'concept, design, development, mass production'.
Drew pointed out that 'concept' was the 3rd step in their opinion. They would add 'research' and 'insight'.
I'd like to tell you about my current mental model. Feel free to tell me why I'm wrong, or what your own model looks like.
This might involve reading, looking at the world around you, or first-hand experiences.
Sometimes you might think of a 'double diamond' shape - you look at all the possibilities, expanding your vision, then pick one to concentrate and 'converge' upon. Then you look at all the possibilities within this new, smaller, space. Then converge once more.
Research might start off loose. Be playful in your living and get inspired by everything. Or maybe you want to restrict yourself to research within a particular thing. Maybe just reading and learning about war (maybe you only make wargames).
This is something upon which to base the concept.
Drew gave the example of riding a bus as research. Maybe the insight is the separation in demographics between the upper and lower deck.
So then you decide that you'll make something to allow older folk better access to the top level. Or whatever.
It might be worth checking the concept, specially if you're making something more 'practical' than entertainment. Whereas entertainment is all about delight and surprise (presenting things that folk might not realise they want), it's still important to check the viability along the way.
For a boardgame, I think this means that you know what it is you're aiming to make. Maybe you have some intended experience, some component you're aiming to use, or whatever.
In the case of a game, you know what you're making and maybe you start writing cards. Or typing numbers into a spread-sheet. Or pondering possible mechanisms to use in your game. By the end of the design process, it should be a game that has been playtested a few times and been enjoyed.
The basic core mechanisms should be in place.
This is usually organised by the publisher. Sometimes, it may also be the designer.
Trying to maximise the fun experience that the game already is. There may be new elements added to support to central core, or things removed.
If there are numbers, some of them will be tweaked.
Simultaneously, rules-writing will happen - if it hasn't already - and there will be blind-testing to check the comprehension of the rules.
At this point, there as so many things that need to be done. Illustration, graphic design, messaging printers for quotes, sending files off, maybe getting a pre-production copy... and then the shipping.
Like so much of the above, it can really happen in any order. Maybe the illustration comes first and a game is made around it. The writing of rules can come at the start of design, or towards the end of development.
But I guess that this is a vague notion of how I see the 'default workflow' currently.
Tomorrow I'll post a few vague thoughts about research.
- [+] Dice rolls
I have never successfully pitched a game. I don't much like pitching. (A vaguely autobiographical piece.)
12 Jul 2018
I think I've done one pitch for a game. That was pitching Wibbell++ to Gigamic, for French-language localisation and distribution.
I'm currently 0 for 1, putting me at 0%.
Conversely, I had 7 vague offers to publish In A Bind based purely on me putting it on KS and then demoing it (not in a pitching capacity). I did get a rejection from Hasbro, which felt weirdly nice as I didn't realise they were even interested!
In the end, I got 2 actually contracts written out from major companies thanks to me publishing it myself and Dave Cousins selling/pitching it on my behalf at Essen 2015. I sold it to Gigamic and I'm very happy with the 2nd royalty statement, which I just read today.
I definitely owe Dave a nice meal.
I also have a 2nd design that should be coming out from SSG at some point. It was a thing I designed for a competition and was known as 'Yo Dawg, I heard you like moving gnomes, so move a gnome to move a gnome to move a gnome to maybe remove a tile.' I was happy to hear 2 judges say they were interested in publishing it soon after.
I wonder why I haven't pitched more games. Part of it is because I'm terrible at making PnP games and my prototypes tend to be unique things. Pitching seems like a lot of hassle and anxiety. I have a party game co-design that could probably sell fairly well (but probably not millions). But that depends on the publisher's whims, what else they have in the pipeline, and their willingness to market it.
Pitching is a weird thing. In a way, pitching multiple games is so much more efficient. If I had 10 designs to shop around, then I think it'd feel much more rewarding to be pitching stuff and sending stuff around. You can't help but get into a system.
Self-publishing is work, but so is pitching.
Honestly, the designs that I actually take time to finish now tend to be those that I plan to self-publish. One new thing a year seems to be a reasonable amount as it's enough to feel some accomplishment and little enough that I currently have plans for the next 5 or 6 years. It gives me time to fully develop my own games and I believe that this is something within my capabilities.
Part of me would like to have more games published by other publishers. I will feel validation when/if SSG produce something with my name on it.
I'd hate to never again do art for my own things.
I love going to cons, even though they can get tiring.
I don't know if I'll ever really have the confidence to pitch something that I wasn't planning to self-publish. Either I'm offering them a 2nd-tier game of mine, or I'm making a sequel to one of their games, or something that relies upon an IP they have. Or things I cannot create.
Honestly, that sounds exhausting.
People say that self-publishing is hard work and it is.
But don't underestimate the work of pitching.
- [+] Dice rolls
My KS for #BGDevCon 3 is live.
If you're able to get to London (UK) and interested in talking to folk about the creation of games, you should definitely try to come along.
This isn't a convention for playing games, and playtesting is forbidden.
It's about talking, listening, learning and sharing knowledge. Everyone goes away with something new (both metaphysical and physical).
It doesn't matter whether you've sold tens of thousands of games and won the SdJ, or are trying to prototype your first idea, or are just an enthusiast who likes thinking about things in a deeper level.
Everyone is welcome.
- to meet friendly creative people.
- being able to have a live discussion, face to face, about game design
- sharing your own story. Getting things off your chest. Learning through teaching.
- hearing a variety of speakers and learning from them.
In a way, you can hear most of the same stuff on podcasts, videos or read it in books. Knowledge isn't exactly the reason to watch a live talk. It's about human connection.
I just find it incredibly energising and valuable. The scheduled time for chit-chat is an incredibly important part of the day. Microtalks run without any time for questions. Then, you can walk over to someone you disagree with and learn about each others' points of view. Or just ask follow-up questions in a more casual format.
We also had a 'roundtable discussion' with some memorable venting and I think it'd be potentially valuable to have some scheduled time to bitch about stuff we hate. Warning each other away from pitfalls and also learning about each others' stories.
For folk who want more traditional talks, I hope that we'll be able to run 2 rooms in parallel for the later parts of the day.
I hope it'll be a good day for everyone who comes, so if you can make it to London then please check it out.
Questions/comments are also always welcome.
Andy Yiangou, regular host of the Enfield playtest meetups, is the main reason that #BGDevCon was able to happen. Andy kindly allows us to use the Adult Learning Academy on one of the few days in the year that it's otherwise closed. Andy also deals with most of the catering, grabbing a bunch of things from the local Cash 'n' Carry and working to prepare it all nicely.
Dave Cousins came up with the hashtag, which has become the name. Originally, it was called, "Convention to talk about Board Game Design and improve our knowledge", which is a self-explanatory name but maybe a bit limiting (I'd like it to be all non-digital games) and a bit long for the sake of marketing.
Matthew Dunstan came to both previous events and ran excellent workshops both times. Matthew has offered to help organise stuff, which is much appreciated.
Adam Porter, Rob Harper and Matt Evans all did post-con publicity/reviews and I now realise how important that is. Also, it's very nice to read.
Ultimately, #BGDevCon relies upon the attendees to provide interesting material so I want to give thanks to everyone who has prepared material. Rob, Robb, Rob, Dave, Andrew, Andy, Mike, Lars, Hamish, Paul, Callum, Caezar, Andrea, Willie... and almost certainly a couple of others I've forgotten.
I'm excited that we have sold 12 tickets to the event since the KS launched a few hours ago, and I hope we get enough folk to have another great gathering.
Btw, I'm aware that this is a bit more self-promotional than the typical Friday blog post I promised. 'Normal' service will be strived for next week. :-)
- [+] Dice rolls
...or at least, one problem with a game system, is that it's harder to market.
It takes more time for me to teach the games. There are at least 7 incredibly different games (only 2 of those 7 being word games). At UKGE, folk would usually be taught Wibbell, then Grabbell, then some of them might also want to play Phrasell or Faybell or something else. If it were just one game, I could play and show the anticipated experience far more easily and quickly.
Not all will be to your tastes. But I think at least one will. However, this does mean that someone might discount the deck because of the game they were first shown. I met Italian folk who hate Wibbell but love Grabbell. I've met folk who hate any one of the games, and folk who love any of them. The games are massively different, but most folk will not appreciate that and might just judge the deck based on the first thing they see. That's part of the reason I make sure to teach at least 2 totally different games to everyone who stops by at a convention.
I take pride in the fact that there are so many games, but it does make it a more confusing message, even once all the games have been learned. Maybe folk see a Wibbell++ deck and one person wants to play Alphabetickell and another wants to play Grabbell.
I wonder how things would have gone if I'd decided to make it a single game. Wibbell. That's a good enough game for folk to spend £10 on it. I think it might have actually sold better.
Of course, as time goes on, hopefully people wil start to appreciate the '++'.
- [+] Dice rolls