Joshua Starr
Aug 6 · 5 min read

Thus far, most designers I’ve spoken with did not design their games for money. (Mild shock!) They care about the games they design and just want to see people enjoying them. Getting some money for it never hurts, but that usually wasn’t their motivation to design it.

As a publisher, this is my goal too… mostly. I started Grand Trunk Games because I felt my favorite genre was difficult for most people to discover and I thought I could change that. There is, of course, another factor at play for the publisher… we are money motivated. I don’t think anyone gets into the board game business expecting to become rich, but publishers are money motivated because if in the long run they are not profitable, they close up shop and stop printing games.

A lot of the time, the designer’s desire for people to enjoy the game and the publisher’s desire to make money are aligned. The publisher is doing the designer a favor to take on all the investment and risk associated with producing the game and makes it possible for fans to play it. The designer does the publisher a favor by making their business possible and hopefully helps the publisher build a reputation for printing great games.

However, sometimes the designer’s and publisher’s desires are not aligned. One example of that is making a game available for Print-and-Play (PnP). This is the ultimate way for designers to say they made the game for their fans — they are literally giving it away for free. Speaking generally from the publisher’s viewpoint, having PnP files available can be kind of scary. It becomes hard to gauge how many copies of a game exist and all kinds of questions start bubbling up. How will PnP files impact sales? What happens if someone starts counterfeiting my game with the files I release? Should I let game making services like Print & Play Games be able to manufacture copies of my game?

As a person who has done my fair share of PnP, I don’t think people making their own copies of my game is a major threat to sales if a high-quality and affordable version is available. Every PnP I’ve done has taken many hours to complete and was not cheap, often costing $30-$50 just in materials. In most cases that I’ve seen, PnP is mainly used when a game is unavailable or is prohibitively expensive. Most folks seem to want to support the designer and the publisher at a price they can afford and are frustrated when the only copies available cost hundreds of dollars on the second-hand market. Based on that, I expect if my games are in-print and have a “normal” price, people will tend to opt for purchasing those over doing a PnP.

However, let’s say you are interested in GTG’s newest game but live in a developing country where it would cost you one week’s salary to afford a Kickstarter copy (let alone a handmade 18xx game). You likely would not be able to play the game without PnPing it. Should you PnP a game you don’t have an original copy of? Is that stealing the designer’s work to recreate the game without his or her permission? Are you denying the publisher a sale if you would never be able to purchase it in the first place? I see people argue about this time and again, yet I wonder what the designer would want.

Based on my experiences, most designers just want their games to be enjoyed and wouldn’t care if you made your own copy. But unless explicit permission is given, it’s a moral gray area. Maybe the designer would give permission but no one ever asked them. Maybe the designer would give permission but doesn’t want to negatively impact the publisher. Maybe the designer doesn’t get to make that call because it is licensed to a publisher.

The question then escalates to the publisher. For me at GTG, I’m investing quite a bit of time and effort into the games I’m printing. I’m paying graphic designers and artists from my personal savings to make components for the game; not to mention having a graphic designer assemble files to be PnP-ready will incur additional fees. Releasing art files makes counterfeiting a concern and opens up other potential threats to sales. Making a game available for PnP creates a big headache with a lot of unknowns for me and ostensibly minimal returns… but doing so will ultimately create more fans of the hobby which is why I started GTG in the first place… So what should I do?

In the case of 1861/1867, PnP files were already released for 1861. Do I say PnP is still fine but not release any new art? Do I release new art but just for 1861? Do I release new art for both 1861 and 1867? Do I change the policy and say PnP is no longer allowed for 1861/1867? Blah…

Note: What I say below is still just an idea. I’d like to hear what you think before I make any decisions around my PnP policy.

I’m starting to think the easiest way to deal with this is to release PnP files but encourage folks to purchase an official copy of the game. Those who are able to afford an official copy should purchase one. Buying an official copy makes it more likely GTG will continue to exist and continue to produce high-quality, affordable games that you want. Those who cannot afford an official copy, should not feel guilt for PnPing it. I lead a modest yet comfortable life in California and I have a hard time spending even $60 on any one game. I can’t imagine how many people aren’t able to enjoy board games because they can’t afford to.

However, just because you can’t afford to buy an official copy doesn’t mean you can’t support in some way financially. The designer put a lot of work into developing the game and I’m investing a lot of my time and money to publish an updated version. The files will be freely available, but I’m thinking about making PayPal donation buttons on my website for myself and for my designers. There is no requirement to donate as the files are freely available, but now at least there is a way for you to directly support if you aren’t able to buy an official copy.

Again, I’m still trying to figure out what’s the best approach here and I don’t consider myself to be well-informed when it comes to this stuff. All I have is what I’ve observed and my gut feeling about what is “right”. If you have a suggestion or thoughts, please share them!

Photo credit: JC Lawrence https://kanga.nu/~claw/blog/posts/2017/08/20/founding-platforms/

Grand Trunk Games

I’m Josh Starr. I am continually learning about the 18xx genre. Anything I write about here is more of a reflection of my own learning than any prescription for strategy or the “right” way to think about or play games in the genre.

Joshua Starr

Written by

Grand Trunk Games

I’m Josh Starr. I am continually learning about the 18xx genre. Anything I write about here is more of a reflection of my own learning than any prescription for strategy or the “right” way to think about or play games in the genre.

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