How to Get your Boardgame Published in 926 Easy Steps

I recently fielded a nice email from an aspiring tabletop games designer, so I thought I’d share my hurried response. Many have published many more boardgames than me, but I know the lay of the land. Here is the summary you need while you are sipping your coffee in the morning:

First, here is the journey of my most recent boardgame that got published:

How the Boardgame Crows Was Developed and Sold

Even that isn’t very recent, as it happened B.K. (Before Kickstarter) GASP! (Look, I’ve been busy with Darkest Dungeon since then, ok!)

First, some basics. You essentially have two routes to getting your game published: self-publish, or sell the design to a publisher (traditional method).

Self-Publishing: you need to do all the funding (or crowd-funding), marketing, coordinate development, handle all distribution and fulfillment, or partner with appropriate companies that do .

Pros: most control over the game art and components and mechanics, grow a customer base, run the business the way you want to, etc.

Cons: SOOOOOO MUCH WORK. Not to be entered into lightly. Is your goal to build a company, or just make a game? Do you want to be worrying about manufacturing and shipping and customer service and social media and and and…

Traditional Method(sell the design to a publisher):

Pros: allows you to focus entirely on designing games, least financial risk

Cons: tons of work to pitch to a publisher and get it bought, less money in a success scenario, least control over the game (depending on your contract, publishers can and will change things in the game, make art you might not like, and so on)

I have done both.

Answers to (his) specific questions:

  • Crows was published in the traditional way. I sold the design to a publisher (Valley) and they handled everything.
  • Crows was sold in 2009, which was before Kickstarter. I didn’t have money to self-produce, and was busy with my day job as an indie developer anyway and didn’t want to spool up another company that would handle publishing and fulfillment. Oh yeah, I was going to night school as well for my MBA. I had zero extra time.
  • I tried to pitch the game to all sorts of publishers. I went to SPIEL in Essen Germany (biggest boardgame fair in the world) and pitched the game to a dozen publishers or more. Valley is the first one that gave me an offer and I didn’t want to lose it. Plus, I liked their Modern Line and felt they were growing stars and I got a good vibe from the guys in terms of how the designer would be treated. And they did, in fact, treat me very well during development. Sadly, their company ran into trouble and we have had some problems since, both with Crows and the other game I sold them. Fortunately, all rights have reverted to me now.
  • If you are selling the design to a publisher, you don’t need to pay for art. You can use clip art or placeholder art, as the publisher will likely redo all the art anyway, unless what you have is great. They may even change the theme! I am experimenting with another prototype where I invested in making great art just to make the prototype shine more. But I’m not sure this is smart or not and it’s not traditional unless you are self-publishing.
  • Finding artists can be done via personal networking or go to Boardgamegeek.com and post in the Game Design forums about “Looking for artists”. Cruise DeviantArt and look at portfolios. Etc.
  • Yes, conventions are vital! I sold Crows at a convention, via pitch meetings. Regional conventions are great, as is BoardGameGeek CON, GenCon, Origins, etc. But the grand-daddy of all is SPIEL in Germany. At conventions like SPIEL, you can ping publishers beforehand and try to set up pitch meetings.
  • On that note (pitch meetings), you should identify publishers you like and scour their websites for info on whether they accept unsolicited submissions. For example, Fantasy Flight Games does not, so it’s no use trying to pitch them.
  • >>Any general advice I’ve probably overlooked: YES, read through the links I give you below. They are great and those guys are more knowledgeable than me.

The rise in crowdfunding has been AWESOME for independent developers. It’s amazing to see what can happen now. (e.g. Kingdom Death!!!, Scythe, ZombieCide, etc.). However, crowdfunding and running your own company are SOOOO MUCH WORK. We crowdfunded Darkest Dungeon and it was well worth it but a huge time investment. Ask yourself whether you want to tinker with games and get them published (traditional), or really start your own thing. Not every KS campaign or company needs to be crazy big, of course. My friend David Gerrard Kickstarted “JunKing” and runs his biz on the side, while he still has a day job. It’s doable and I don’t meant to discourage you — I just think it’s worth asking yourself the question of which scenario (Traditional or Self-Published) you really WANT, and then throw yourself into that with abandon.

Great reading: Jamey Stegmeier’s blog. Literally start at the beginning and read ’em all! http://stonemaiergames.com/e-newsletter/blog/

Also, James Mathe: http://www.jamesmathe.com/

Good luck, and game on!

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