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Game Design

5 ways to know when your game is done (and how to prep for self-publishing your game)

There’s a joke in the board game design world that says, “No game is ever finished, they just get published.” That is to say that it’s difficult to know when a design is done, whether you are pitching this to publishers or self-publishing your game. Yet, they still end up on store shelves. Most will play really well, but sometimes issues are discovered after a game is published.

So, we’re going to look at 5 ways to tell that your design is done, or at least that you’ve taken it as far as you can yourself.

#5 The feedback you’re receiving would make the game different but not better

When you playtest your game with other designers and players, you’ll often receive a lot of feedback. Quite often it will be necessary criticism that you need to hear in order to identify problems with your game and make it the best it can be.

Often, other designers will give you feedback that would change the game more into the game that they would have designed or would have liked to play, so you have to watch for this.

But when players only have suggestions on how to make small changes that would make the game slightly different, but not necessarily better, take note of this. If this is the only feedback you’re consistently receiving, no major problems are being identified, and you’re not getting any suggestions for improving your game, this is a great sign.

#4 Players want to immediately play your game again

“Can we play again?”

This is like music to a game designer’s ears.

While this won’t happen with every game, particularly longer games that you wouldn’t normally play multiple times in a row, with a shorter game, this is something you want to hear from your players. If one player has just tasted defeat, they may want a re-match. If it’s a co-op game and the players narrowly lost, they may want a chance at redemption.

If your game is a bit on the longer side, what you might hear instead is players discussing strategy and what they would do the next time they play. They’ve found some depth to your game and have indicated they are interested in playing again in the future.

If you’re hearing any of these types of comments consistently, you can be confident that your game is getting close to the stage where you’ll be ready to pitch it to publishers.

#3 Publishers playing your game give you their card and ask you your plans

If you have the opportunity to play your game with one or more publishers, do it! They are a wealth of information and can often give you great feedback about the gameplay, rules, and how to look at your game as not just a game, but also as a product.

If you’re really fortunate and a publisher takes a liking to your game, they may want to pursue it further. If it complements their catalogue and they can see it being a potential addition to their line-up, they might give you their card and ask you what you plan to do with your game.

You may even end up getting your game signed as a result (just don’t expect this to happen on the spot!).

#2 Players ask when your game is coming out and how they can find out about this

If players finish playing your game and immediately ask when it will be available, this is a great sign. It’s even better if they say this while playing your game.

They’ve indicated they enjoyed your game and are interested in picking it up when it becomes available.

If your players are consistently asking when your game is coming out, it means there is some demand for it, which is always a great thing!

#1 People want to buy your game right now!

It’s an amazing feeling when someone is ready to pull out their credit card and buy your game right there on the spot.

If players are asking to buy your game right now, they are putting their money where their mouth is. They’re not just saying they like your game, they are ready to put down their hard-earned cash to get a copy so that they can share this with their friends and family.

If this is happening consistently, there is definitely a demand for your game and there is something special about it. You’re now ready to pitch that game to a publisher (and you can even mention/share a list of people who want to buy it right now)!

Summarizing how to tell your game is ready

Please notice how frequently I have used the word “consistently” throughout this article. You might even say I used this word very consistently. 😊

There is a good reason.

One positive playtest does not indicate demand for your game. I’ve had plenty of one-off playtests where all the players absolutely loved the game, had no criticisms and would have been happy to buy it right then if it was available. However, quite often the next playtest brings me back to Earth. The players didn’t like the pacing, they felt something in the mechanics didn’t match the theme well, etc.

This is natural and it happens all the time. That’s why you want to be hearing the above consistently. I can’t give you how an exact number of times in a row this should be happening, but you’ll have a good idea when you keep getting these positive reinforcements with different groups over and over.

You also want to be sure that players are saying these things without any prompting. If you are asking players if they want to play again, they may say “yes”, however, this may be out of courtesy. If they are asking to play again or buy your game themselves, you can be sure this is the real McCoy (who I recently learned through Steampunk Rally most likely refers to Black inventor Elijah McCoy – how cool is that?!?!).                   

You can also continually ask yourself, “Can this game be improved or made more fun?” When you no longer feel you can add anything to make your game better, you may have done everything you can with your game.

Preparing to self-publish

Putting the final touches on your game before you launch a crowdfunding campaign (using Kickstarter, Gamefound, or another platform) requires some additional work. If you’re planning on pitching your game to publishers instead, you’ll want to read this article to understand how to do this successfully.

Before the campaign, you’ll want to prepare several other things in advance. These include the following steps:

  • Put together a project plan and start promoting your game
  • Find an artist and commission some art for your game
  • Set up your landing page and email service provider
  • Set up a Facebook group for your game (optional)
  • Get manufacturing quotes
  • Record your Kickstarter video or hire this out
  • Contact reviewers and influencers
  • Start putting together your Kickstarter page and launch your promo page
  • Research and determine your fulfilment partners
  • Finalize pledge levels, pricing, and stretch goals
  • Get feedback on your Kickstarter page and make improvements
  • Run ads leading up to your campaign (optional)

I give a more detailed breakdown of all of these items in my article entitled 12 things to plan for before you even think of launching a Kickstarter board game campaign.

All the while, you’ll want to build up as large (and excited) an audience as you can to increase your chances of funding quickly and to make your campaign as successful as it can be.

Preparing a campaign and building a sizable audience takes time and effort. So, make sure to give yourself plenty of time, at least 6-12 months to build your following. You’ll do this through identifying your audience, discovering where they hang out and becoming part of these communities, demoing your game, sharing art and other aspects of your game, getting input from potential backers, and creating some raving fans for your game.

You should also have a well-tested rulebook for your game that has been blind playtested (by players learning from the rules without any assistance from you) so that you can share this on your Kickstarter page with those who like to review the rules to determine if this game is for them.

What other indicators have told you that your game is ready?

Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

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