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Subject: Board Game Publishers are Doing it Wrong rss

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Nick Bentley
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I'm struggling to understand the publishing business and I'm writing about it to force myself to do research and think more carefully than I otherwise would. Here's one result:

Board Game Publishers are Doing it Wrong

The essay isn't about abstract games, or even games per se - it's about the business strategies of board game publishers (who are playing their own kind of game).

However, since you abstract games enthusiasts have become my community, I'm posting it here. If you read it, I hope you don't feel I've wasted your time.
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I somehow don´t think board game companies do stuff (fundamentally) wrong economically.
Board game companies may not act in the interest of a certain percentage of their (possible) customers, but they are still companies and want to make a profit.
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Russ Williams
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Also note that maximizing profit and sales is not the only valid goal of a company. As long as it makes enough profit to stay afloat, it seems reasonable to me for a company to also pursue "artistic" (or other) goals.

Especially in the case of game companies, there is often an element of simply enjoying the games they make and wanting them to be available to people, even if (as the article argues) it might be more rational from a purely profit-oriented point of view to stop producing most of their games and focus only on those one or few which are likely to become ongoing bestsellers. E.g., I certainly wouldn't fault a company like GMT Games or Victory Point Games, who publish zillions of niche wargames: clearly they and their customers are happy with that, instead of having GMT change their business strategy to focus on only one or a few games mostly like to be blockbusters. I'm sure they'd be thrilled if one or more of their games took off like Monopoly or Settlers, but that's not what they're aiming for, and I think the wargaming world is a better place because that's not what they're aiming for.
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Thom0909
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Ugh:

Quote:
Anyway here’s what all those companies should do: eliminate all but their top-selling games from their lineups, and put everything into promoting the few that make the cut.


The reason publishers have over-saturated is because the mass audience can only hold a handful of games. So the publishers we're familiar with here at BGG target a niche crowd, one for whom the market will almost never be over-saturated, as they will always buy more games. There are pretty clearly some companies making money doing this.

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Make a few products amazing and then do everything you can to make sure the whole world knows about them and thinks of them fondly, and get them into every conceivable retail outlet. That’s how you compete in a saturated market


I work in marketing research. Advising clients to make "amazing" products isn't helpful.

To me, this is like telling all new coffee shops to be more like Starbucks. It would be great if they could pull that off - lots of money there - but we already have a Starbucks. Sometimes you just have to find your niche.
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christian freeling
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milomilo122 wrote:
I'm struggling to understand the publishing business and I'm writing about it to force myself to do research and think more carefully than I otherwise would. Here's one result:

Board Game Publishers are Doing it Wrong

The essay isn't about abstract games, or even games per se - it's about the business strategies of board game publishers (who are playing their own kind of game).

However, since you abstract games enthusiasts have become my community, I'm posting it here. If you read it, I hope you don't feel I've wasted your time.

Indeed, "who are playing their own kind of game". They're in it for the money. That's no crime as far as I'm concerned, but it doesn't interest me all that much either. I'm an inventor of abstract perferct information games, where two not necessarily social players face one another over a board or screen to compete with a "sports weapon of the mind". To serve them, my mission is to make the best possible weapons, and make the game worthy of their investment in getting to understand it.
Deep strategy games require time, and if I were in a hurry, now that would be silly wouldn't it? I'd count myself lucky if I'd have another 10 or 15 years and unlucky if it were much more. I don't need the money, and if my games are good enough they'll survive, otherwise they won't. In the former case they won't need the marketing, and in the latter case no marketing strategy will save them. I just publish them at mindsports, after that they're on their own.
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Nick Bentley
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Prop Joe wrote:

The reason publishers have over-saturated is because the mass audience can only hold a handful of games. So the publishers we're familiar with here at BGG target a niche crowd, one for whom the market will almost never be over-saturated, as they will always buy more games. There are pretty clearly some companies making money doing this.


I agree with this, but I also contend that targeting our niche isn't a very strong business. At least that's my impression based on what I've learned from the niche publishers I've spoken with. They generally struggle.

Quote:

I work in marketing research. Advising clients to make "amazing" products isn't helpful.


Oh, I agree with this and I probably shouldn't have used that word. I'm making an argument about how to distribute resources. As I mention Days of Wonder is already doing what I recommend to extent. They publish one game a year and they put a ton of resources not only into the design of the game but also into related efforts that help sell the game - most notably, carefully done digital versions, which themselves take lots of resources to produce.

So what I'm saying is not simply that every company should "be like Starbucks", but rather than a company like, say Rio Grande, could do better by killing off a bunch of their offerings and concentrating their resources on the games that make the cut.

This is *not* to say it would we better for gamers. We like lots of games. But I think Rio Grande could improve it's bottom line.

When cast this way, is my argument still objectionable?
 
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Nick Bentley
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russ wrote:
Also note that maximizing profit and sales is not the only valid goal of a company. As long as it makes enough profit to stay afloat, it seems reasonable to me for a company to also pursue "artistic" (or other) goals.


No argument there. My essay was just dollars and cents, but focusing on dollars and cents alone seems a dangerous thing to do if you want to live in a pleasant world.

Still, it helps to isolate and analyze financial issues so that, whatever other goals a company may have, it can know what it's getting into.
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milomilo122 wrote:

When cast this way, is my argument still objectionable?


I think it has to be dealt with on a publisher-by-publisher basis. Maybe some should trim-and-focus. The 'milk the brand' idea certainly works in many industries.

Of all the publishers listed at BGG, I suspect only a handful would be in position to benefit from it. Others would struggle to pick the right "winning" games and the results would be brutal.
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christianF wrote:

Indeed, "who are playing their own kind of game". They're in it for the money. That's no crime as far as I'm concerned, but it doesn't interest me all that much either. I'm an inventor of abstract perferct information games, where two not necessarily social players face one another over a board or screen to compete with a "sports weapon of the mind". To serve them, my mission is to make the best possible weapons, and make the game worthy of their investment in getting to understand it.
Deep strategy games require time, and if I were in a hurry, now that would be silly wouldn't it? I'd count myself lucky if I'd have another 10 or 15 years and unlucky if it were much more. I don't need the money, and if my games are good enough they'll survive, otherwise they won't. In the former case they won't need the marketing, and in the latter case no marketing strategy will save them. I just publish them at mindsports, after that they're on their own.


Yeah, I had to put on a totally different thinking hat to write this essay. My goals as a game designer are generally not commercial goals. I think I would design games totally differently if they were. On other hand, I have been listing a little bit in that direction and I just got a publishing offer for a non-abstract game which was designed with "normal people" i.e. not inveterate games players in mind. So maybe I'm going there.
 
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Nick Bentley
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Prop Joe wrote:
milomilo122 wrote:

When cast this way, is my argument still objectionable?


I think it has to be dealt with on a publisher-by-publisher basis. Maybe some should trim-and-focus. The 'milk the brand' idea certainly works in many industries.

Of all the publishers listed at BGG, I suspect only a handful would be in position to benefit from it. Others would struggle to pick the right "winning" games and the results would be brutal.


I've been thinking about the same issue, and that's why I emphasized at the bottom of the essay the idea of both publishing lots of games *and* killing lots of games. The idea being you test the market by publishing games, but you're always trying to concentrate your resources on those which show the most initial promise. That way a publisher doesn't have to rely on it's own guesses about what will work commercially and what will not.
 
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milomilo122 wrote:
The idea being you test the market by publishing games, but you're always trying to concentrate your resources on those which show the most initial promise. That way a publisher doesn't have to rely on it's own guesses about what will work commercially and what will not.


Guessing is cheaper, of course. But if you're paying to design, develop and print a bunch of games, then it becomes a less radical change, more along the lines of just not letting the weak games hang around as long.
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Prop Joe wrote:
milomilo122 wrote:
The idea being you test the market by publishing games, but you're always trying to concentrate your resources on those which show the most initial promise. That way a publisher doesn't have to rely on it's own guesses about what will work commercially and what will not.


Guessing is cheaper, of course. But if you're paying to design, develop and print a bunch of games, then it becomes a less radical change, more along the lines of just not letting the weak games hang around as long.


Exactly.
 
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Okay, let's take a case in point. I have one published game Petteia, based on historical research, and I just happen to think it's cool to have a game manufacturer listing it in their product lines. My interest is mostly academic.

Let's suppose that weren't the case and I wanted to make my version of an ancient Greek board game a household name. How would I do it? Please note that to date, I've made about 5 euros on the game.
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whac3 wrote:
Okay, let's take a case in point. I have one published game Petteia, based on historical research, and I just happen to think it's cool to have a game manufacturer listing it in their product lines. My interest is mostly academic.

Let's suppose that weren't the case and I wanted to make my version of an ancient Greek board game a household name. How would I do it? Please note that to date, I've made about 5 euros on the game.


Well, if you're a publisher, and you've only published one game, you have to kind of hitch your wagon to that, yes?

As such, the advice of the article wasn't really directed to someone in that position.

However, if your goal going forward is to make a profit by selling as many games as possible (thereby establishing economy of scale), here's the advice I think one could derive from this article.

1. Make sure you have a game which is appealing not (just) to gamers but to the people who comprise the mass-market. That means short, intuitive rules, gameplay less than an hour, "peppy" gameplay (whatever that means), and components with strong appeal to them (if your game is abstract you're at a disadvantage, but it's not hopeless - abstract games do occasionally become bestsellers). If your game doesn't have that, scrap it and invent something else. I read an interview with Alan Moon where he said he abandons designs that don't satisfy the requirements of the mass market, no matter how "good" they are from his point of view as a game enthusiast. This is a totally different kind of game design than most of us in this forum focus on and care about (as Christian mentioned).

2. If you've got a game which you're pretty sure is good enough in regards to the criteria above (and it's easy for us game designers to mislead ourselves because want so much to be good game designers), then throw yourself into learning how to become a good marketer and promote the stuffing out of it. Make videos on a schedule until you figure out how to make viral ones, etc. Stop being a game designer and start being a promoter, in other words. Also, don't spend too much of your time promoting to gamers. Don't spend all day on BGG, etc. Become the game's agent and pitch to every retailer you can get on the phone, or whose store you can travel to, etc. The operating principle here being: games, even very good games, almost never catch on by themselves, because the market is saturated, as described in the article.

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The article says market is saturated. That is possibly true. Word is there will be several thousand new games, at least, to be shown off at Essen.
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Rio Grande recently ditched many of their product lines to focus more on a few core titles. I wonder if ditching Carcassonne was a good idea? But they've very strnogly hitched their wagon to Dominion as of late.
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milomilo122 wrote:
1. Make sure you have a game which is appealing not (just) to gamers but to the people who comprise the mass-market. That means short, intuitive rules, gameplay less than an hour, "peppy" gameplay (whatever that means), and components with strong appeal to them (if your game is abstract you're at a disadvantage, but it's not hopeless - abstract games do occasionally become bestsellers). If your game doesn't have that, scrap it and invent something else.

And if it has all that, it's still hard to get it noticed, even here at BGG.
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milomilo122 wrote:
Make sure you have a game which is appealing not (just) to gamers but to the people who comprise the mass-market. That means short, intuitive rules, gameplay less than an hour, "peppy" gameplay (whatever that means), and components with strong appeal to them (if your game is abstract you're at a disadvantage, but it's not hopeless - abstract games do occasionally become bestsellers). If your game doesn't have that, scrap it and invent something else. I read an interview with Alan Moon where he said he abandons designs that don't satisfy the requirements of the mass market, no matter how "good" they are from his point of view as a game enthusiast. This is a totally different kind of game design than most of us in this forum focus on and care about (as Christian mentioned).


Aren't several of the games you mentioned either abstracts or party games (which, in a way, are abstract? Insofar as the players aren't simulating anything thematically)
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AnEvenWeirderMove wrote:
Rio Grande recently ditched many of their product lines to focus more on a few core titles. I wonder if ditching Carcassonne was a good idea? But they've very strnogly hitched their wagon to Dominion as of late.


Yeah, they may have already started tacking in the direction I'm pushing.
 
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AnEvenWeirderMove wrote:

Aren't several of the games you mentioned either abstracts or party games (which, in a way, are abstract? Insofar as the players aren't simulating anything thematically)


Definitely. As I say, abstract games can be, and are, competitive in the mass-market, something that's sort of increasingly hard to believe the more time one spends on BGG where there aren't very many abstract enthusiasts.
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whac3 wrote:
Okay, let's take a case in point. I have one published game Petteia, based on historical research, and I just happen to think it's cool to have a game manufacturer listing it in their product lines. My interest is mostly academic.

Let's suppose that weren't the case and I wanted to make my version of an ancient Greek board game a household name. How would I do it? Please note that to date, I've made about 5 euros on the game.


If that's net profit, instead of revenue, you are probably doing pretty well.
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Meadmaker wrote:
whac3 wrote:
Okay, let's take a case in point. I have one published game Petteia, based on historical research, and I just happen to think it's cool to have a game manufacturer listing it in their product lines. My interest is mostly academic.

Let's suppose that weren't the case and I wanted to make my version of an ancient Greek board game a household name. How would I do it? Please note that to date, I've made about 5 euros on the game.


If that's net profit, instead of revenue, you are probably doing pretty well.

Net profit
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milomilo122 wrote:
...something that's sort of increasingly hard to believe the more time one spends on BGG where there aren't very many abstract enthusiasts.

Assuming an abstract player knows absolutely nothing about BGG. What is the appeal of BGG for one who is only interested in chess, go, hex and arimaa? I'd say very little.

BGG is a sort-of shiny database of colorful and often thematic games and I honestly think there are dedicated forums out there that meet the demands of abstract enthusiasts much better than BGG does.

I reckon many of the abstract players are also thematic players as well. Not so say there aren't purists, but I honestly think many of the abstract players are more omni-gamers than pureblood abstract players.

That, I guess, is the appeal of BGG for abstract fans: BGG offers a lot of one world and a bit of the other at the same time, minimizing the amount of sites one has to visit to stay current.


TOO LONG DIDN'T READ:
I'm certain there are plenty of abstract players, but they get their needs fulfilled elsewhere on more specialized forums.
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Stunke wrote:
I honestly think there are dedicated forums out there that meet the demands of abstract enthusiasts much better than BGG does.

Barring fora on specific games (Chess, Go, Checkers, Arimaa), where would I find those?
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I dont think business strategies are easily adaptable to the boardgaming industry.

Most of the mass-market boardgames are rather simple games, categorized as "family games" for which there is a broad audience, but these customers demand games that are easy to learn/play and offer quick fun.
The biggest incentive for playing these games is the social get-together in which they are played and enjoyed.
But these customers also have a downside, that is that "playing games" is for them a very low priority altogether. kids may like playing the games together with their parents but most grow out of it and neither are they looking to buy the next best game on the market, any simple game that fills their need is sufficient.
as such companies face a hard time trying to get them to change from the customer's usual game(s) to their own game.

As mentioned before, the other side of the boardgame market is all about more thematic, more advanced and complex games for which you will only ever have a niche target audience, an audience for which the "family games" category of games captures the least of their intrest.
these are the people that are willing to invest in games/get the next best game.

the middle market between these 2 categories of customers is rather thin, people either being mostly on one end or the other.

and the people on the thematic side are even further subdivided per the themes they like, be it wargame, tactical, economical, science fiction, fantasy or others.

so while your essay is all about economic business strategy, it clearly can only apply on the "family games" side but the nature of those customers has an inherent limiting market potential (they dont need 10 monopoly-like games, 1 or 2 is sufficient to them).
also, these customers build up their fond memories over generations, they played the games as kids with their parents and later play these games as parents with their kids and thats the main reason why such mass-market games last so long.

I, for one am pretty opposed to applying too much "business strategy theories" to the boardgame industry, being one of those gamers for which theme and advanced game systems are my "thing".
Mass-market strategies would "kill" the games that I like.

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