The Board Game Design Course

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Game Design

The top 3 things you can do to make your game a better product

Last week we walked through 7 ways you can improve your game right now. One of those recommendations was to look at your game from the angle of a game developer. In that article, I said that we would dive into this deeper in the next article, so we’ll do that and more!

In today’s article, we’re going to look at the top 3 things you can do to make your game a better product. This isn’t something that a lot of game designers think about when they are designing a game (especially their first), but it is worth consideration.

After all, publishers may love a game, but at the end of the day they are running a business. You can’t run a business without making money. And a board game publisher won’t make money unless they put out games that people want to buy.

That’s where the idea of looking at your game as a product can be super helpful.

A really fun game is great to play but won’t necessarily be found by everyone who might enjoy it if the game isn’t marketable (I’ve definitely been in this situation before).

At the same time, a game that is “gimmicky” and gets people’s attention may sell some copies initially, but if players feel it isn’t a great game and word spreads, sales will die off.

But… if a publisher recognizes you have an amazing game AND sees how they can market it to their audience, you’ve got a winning combination.

It’s time to look at how you can make your game a better product while you’re designing your game.

#3 Clear Up Any Fiddly Rules

A great rulebook will allow players and publishers to understand your game easily, improving the chances that your game will get played and maybe even published.

You may notice that you have lots of “edge cases”, exceptions, and if/then situations in your rules.

Ask yourself: Are all of these rules necessary? Are these rules there as bandaid solutions to things that have come up in playtesting?

If you’ve added a rule anytime that something came up outside of typical gameplay, you may now have a hodgepodge of rules with a lot of conditions and clauses that are unintuitive or difficult to interpret. It’s always a good idea to review and revise your rules, especially following blind playtesting, which is also critical in making your game better.

Rules may not sound like something crucial to making your game a better product at first, but when you think about it, this is the way people will initially learn how to play your game. If they can’t figure the rules out, they won’t be playing it. Poor instructions can lead people to thinking much less of a product.

#2 Perceived Value

When someone is looking at your game in the store, picks it up off the shelf, and checks the price, are they going to turn it over and read the back to learn more about it, or put it back and let it continue to gather dust?

Burgle Bros is a great co-op game, where you work together as thieves to pull off a heist. It has a fairly small, compact box, where everything fits nice and tightly. But when you pull it off the shelf and see the price tag of $63.95 (the price at my local game store), you may stop and think twice. Again, it’s a great game, but people may perceive this as overpriced for what you get. This is just one example to get you thinking about perceived value.

Generally, a game will be sold in retail stores for about 5-6 times the landed cost of the game (cost of manufacturing + freight shipping to the destination). That may seem like a lot, but it is marked up by the distributor and retail store, which are both taking on risk when they order copies of a game. If the game sells, they make a nice profit, but if it doesn’t they may have to mark it down to cost or even take a loss.

So, putting on your developer hat, it’s good to look at ways you can reduce or re-use components. For example, make money and other resources in multiple denominations, not just single values. Look at ways to use cards multiple ways (tops, bottoms, both sides, etc.). See if you can reduce the number of cards, while ensuring the gameplay doesn’t suffer (you may find it actually improves your game – I have on multiple games!).

If you can create a game that packs a punch in terms of content, gameplay, and fun, without hurting the wallet, you’ve got a good product.

#1 The Hook

Having a “hook” or a unique selling proposition (USP) for your game is crucial in the current age of board games. Thousands of new titles are being released each year, so if you don’t have anything that sets your game apart, you’re going to have trouble marketing your game.

I often hear new designers say they don’t know what the hook is for their game. If this is one of your first games and you don’t intend to publish it, that’s ok, but if you’re trying to pitch your games to a publisher or get people excited about your upcoming Kickstarter campaign, this is certainly a red flag.

You need to figure out what makes your game both unique and appealing to players. If you’re not sure what this is yourself, listen to your playtesters. What are they saying about your game? What do they enjoy most about it? What has them coming back for more?

Think about why your game is innovative. Can your game be played without a table? Does it combine mechanics in a way never seen before? Does it have amazing table presence? Why?

Ask yourself why your game is different and what gets people excited about it. Then home in on this. If you can’t figure out your hook, keep working on your game and ensure that you develop a strong hook to get people excited about your game.

This can also help you a lot with your pitch.

Wrapping it up

If you’re working on your first game, I would encourage you to focus on completing it and getting your first game under your belt. Just completing creating a game is an accomplishment in itself. Recognize that your first game probably won’t be as good as your fifth game and your fifth game probably won’t be as good as your tenth game. Like most endeavors, you get better all the time.

But if that first game turns out to be good after all and you decide to get it published, you’ll definitely want to be thinking of your game and how to market it as a product.

The more you work on games, the more you’ll want to look at how to make them better products. This will make them more publishable, whether you intend to pitch your game to publishers or self-publish your game.

Which idea above are you going to focus on with your current game?

Please leave a comment and let me know.

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    Thanks for the insight. I will be addressing “rules” and the use of cards very soon!
    I really appreciate you sharing your expertise.

    Rules for my current game.
    It has many rules for each variant of the game. But luckily the rules are simple to edit.

    I love clearing up fiddly rules, it instantly makes your games feel smoother and more enjoyable. Put as little between players and the fun as possible so reckon. This was a great read, thank you.

    That’s the way to do it, Sam! Rules are one of the biggest barriers for new players, so the easier you can make it for players to get into your game the better.

    After a couple of years designing, I have become more aware of the end user and focusing on making a product. I know the hooks of my 2 published games. But I need to sit down now and find the hooks for my new games, or what I want them to be

    Great to hear you’re thinking about the end product, Ulrik! Always good to keep this in mind.