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Should I Pitch or Self-publish?

One question I hear all the time is “should I pitch or self-publish my board game?”

It’s not an easy question to answer, as there is a huge difference between designing a board game and publishing one. Each requires a different set of skills and publishing a game also involves taking on many other responsibilities that not everyone is comfortable with.

There are some huge benefits and drawbacks to each approach, so in this article, I will go into detail about the difference between designing and publishing a game, then look at the pros and cons of each approach. I’ll also share my thoughts on how to decide which method is right for you.

The difference between designing and publishing a board game

There are some huge differences between designing a game and publishing a game that you need to be aware of. If you are self-publishing your board game, then you will be incorporating both the aspects of designing your board game and publishing it as well.

Designing a board game requires creativity, problem solving, playtesting, iterating, rulebook writing, and likely pitching it to publishers if you’re not planning on also self-publishing your game.

Publishing a board game on the other hand requires working with artists, graphic designers, manufacturers, shipping and fulfillment companies, and providing customer support to your backers or customers. There are a lot of logistics involved in taking your game and making it into a physical product and then shipping it to people worldwide.

If you are like most self-publishers, you’ll start by running a Kickstarter or other crowdfunding campaign. This involves creating your page, hiring and having a video put together, and communicating with backers throughout your campaign.

And I haven’t even mentioned marketing and promotion. This is such a huge part of ensuring your game will be a success and one that many new creators underestimate. You cannot simply create a great game, run a crowdfunding campaign, and expect people to back it by the thousands. Running a successful campaign takes a lot of work and requires you to build up a sizable audience before you launch if you want to dramatically increase your chance of success.

As a publisher, you will spend a lot of time working on behind the scenes activities rather than game design.

As you can see, there is a huge difference between designing a game and publishing a game.

Pros and cons of pitching your game to publishers

There are a lot of benefits to pitching your game to publishers. Some of these include:

  • They do the heavy lifting (figuring out promotion, logistics, etc.)
  • You can focus on creating more games
  • Potentially higher quality product (they probably have a bigger budget than you)
  • Larger print run and exposure

There are a lot of positives here to consider. If you really love designing games, then this approach will allow you to focus more of your time on that and less time on the other aspects of getting your game out to fans.

Also, don’t discount the fact that many publishers have distribution deals and are able to get their games into a lot of stores. This translates into many more people being able to purchase and enjoy your game.

But there are some downsides as well, including:

  • Loss of creative control
  • Potentially lower earnings
  • Longer production time
  • You may not find be able to find a publisher

The first point about loss of creative control is a huge one for many designers. They don’t want to hand their game over to a publisher and have it changed completely. If this is something you feel strongly about, then you may want to consider self-publishing your game.

The amount you earn on a game will also vary quite a bit from one game to the next. You won’t earn nearly as much per game when someone else publishes your creation, but the higher numbers of sales may make up for this.

If you sign a game with a publisher, your game will be in a queue behind all the other games they’ve already signed, so it may take upwards of two to three years before your game sees the light of day.

Plus, you may not be able to find a publisher for your game at all. Maybe it’s too niche or just not something that publishers are looking for. In that case, self-publishing may be a better option, however, at the same time you also have to consider whether this is a sign that your game doesn’t have the potential to do well in the market.

Pros and cons of self-publishing

At the same time, self-publishing does have some big benefits, such as:

  • You maintain creative control
  • Faster to get your game to market
  • Potentially higher earnings

As I mentioned previously, creative control can be something that’s very attractive to a designer. You can also have full control over when you launch your game and when it’s going to come out. If you’re able to get your pricing right, you should make considerably more per game, however, you’re likely to sell far fewer games than an established publisher would.

Some of the biggest drawbacks of self-publishing include:

  • More risk involved
  • A lot more work
  • You’re now running a business

While self-publishing through crowdfunding is less risky than simply getting thousands of copies of your game made and hoping to be able to sell them, there are still many risks involved. You may invest a lot of money on art and your Kickstarter campaign but it may not fund. This money will be lost and unrecoverable.

You are also going to be doing a considerable amount more work than you would if you just designed the game and handed it off to a publisher. As I mentioned, you are going to be responsible for marketing, logistics, customer service, and ultimately getting your game in the hands of each and every backer that supported your campaign.

You’re going to have a lot less time to design games, as much of your time will be filled with all the small tasks that are involved in running a business and delivering on your campaign.

How to make the decision to pitch or self-publish

I can’t tell you whether you should pitch or self-publish your game. It really is an individual decision and one that you have to make based on what’s best for you.

This may even change over time. Perhaps you pitch your first couple of games and get them published elsewhere while you learn the ropes and learn more about the industry. Your publisher may even allow you to be involved in the production and campaign so that you can gain the experience you’ll need to launch your own successful campaign one day.

It’s a big decision and if you decide to self-publish, there will be a lot more work involved than if you just continue to design games. However, this approach removes the gatekeeper and will allow you to maintain creative control throughout your whole project.

The decision is up to you.

Are you more interested in pitching or self-publishing your game?

Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.

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6 comments

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    Hey Joe. Thanks for a great article. A question I had is how do you know when it’s time to add to your team? Especially for artwork/graphic design. It’s just myself and my artist working on my board game prototype right now. But I know sooner rather than later I need to add someone to help supplement my artists work. Do you have any experience about how/when to add creatives to a game project? Any advice or direction you can give is appreciated.

    Hey, Kelly! Thanks so much for your comment. It would depend on your intentions. If you intend to become a publisher, you may need to expand your team at some point, however, much of the work that is needed is usually contracted out. This includes art, graphic design, rulebook editing, videography, etc. There’s usually not enough work in any of these areas to hire staff, as they are very project-to-project.

    If you’re planning on pitching to publishers, save the time and money, as they will hire all of this out themselves. If you are self-publishing, you’ll want to contract out all these jobs at some point.

    I hope this helps!

    As usual, your article is thought-provoking. Personally, I am coming down on the side of looking for the easiest option, but as you make clear, there is no such thing, just alternatives with different difficulties. It sounds like there is a potential board game here: how to design a board game, with an expansion on how to publish it. It would be either a light abstract or a complex euro. (Please let me know if this has already been done!). If all this were not enough, I have just been perusing https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2862823/i-cant-be-only-one-who-hates-new-trend-adding-vat/page/1 about the complexities of multifarious tax regimes. It seems that taxes have left the realm of paying for public services and become a bureaucratic obstacle to trade. Whatever my/your views on this, you might want to include this topic in your talks about the merits of DIY. Though, it would make for very boring reading (I gave up on page 4 of that thread).

    Thanks for your comment, Andrew! Yes, taxes could turn into a boring read, so I’d have to find a way to make it fun. Something for me to think about.

    I actually did see a game recently about creating your own board game. It may have been on Kickstarter. I can’t recall. But I do remember seeing a game like this not long ago.

    Something I rarely see mentioned but I did hear once and thought it was a really good point: Even if you pitch to publishers, it’s probably worth making sure that the contract has an agreement around how long the publisher retains the rights/licensing to develop the game for X amount of time. Because if they haven’t done anything with it for 3-5 years, as a designer if you really care about seeing your game through to the end, maybe you’d want to take back the license and either self-publish or find another publisher.

    Hey, Leo! I completely agree with you. There must be a take-back clause in your contract that allows you to get the rights back to your game if it hasn’t sold or been re-printed after a period of time.