If you think you've designed a great board game we've put together some advice on getting it published.
We often get emails along the lines of "I’ve designed a new board game, would you like to publish it?" The answer is always: "We’re a retailer, we just sell games; we don’t publish them". So we thought it would be more helpful to include some information on how to get your game published.
Caveat: We’ve never published a board game so this article is not based on direct experience; the information here is taken from our general experience in the board game industry.
If your experience of board games is the usual High Street offerings like Monopoly and Cluedo, then you might be surprised to find that there are hundreds of publishers producing many new games each year. The competition is huge. So you first must do some research. If you’ve never heard of the website Board Game Geek, then that should be your first port of call. It is an enormous internet database and fan forum for board games past and present. With some searching you might find your game idea is not as unique as you thought. There is a forum for Board Game Design where ideas are discussed. You will also be able to find what types of games are popular at the moment.
There is a Board Game Designers Forum filled with helpful advice.
Go to a convention where you can play games, meet some designers and make contacts. The largest board and card game convention in the world is Internationale Spieltage, usually just called Spiel, held in Essen, Germany each October. There are several vast halls to wander and see what is available. Here in the UK we have the UK Games Expo in May/June. Although smaller in scale, it is no less well-attended and filled with enthusiasm.
You’ll need to make a prototype to play test with. Most publishers that accept new submissions will expect a prototype. It doesn’t need to be fancy. Simple clip-art will help to illustrate your game’s components. Cards can be printed on paper and slid into plastic card sleeves for durability. Components can be borrowed form other games or bought in small quantities from specialist suppliers.
This can’t be said enough. Play it with your family and friends. Watch their reactions as they play. Ask them what they think – honestly. Listen to their ideas. You may need to tweak the rules, or even re-think some areas and then play-test again. Klaus Teuber spent years perfecting The Settlers of Catan by inflicting it on his family (at the time he was actually developing a new kind of gaming and had nothing to base his ideas on). Donald X. Vaccarino spent 2 years developing his popular card game, Dominion, before approaching a publisher.
It is also important to get some outside opinion. Find a local board game club and take your ideas along. Again, conventions can help because there you can meet and play with game enthusiasts. Be prepared for criticism. Not everyone in the board game world likes the same thing.
So you think you’ve developed a winning game and you’d like to get it published? There two routes to publication: 1. licensing your design to an established publisher and 2. self-publishing.
A few publishers accept new submissions from unknown designers. Here is where the Spiel convention helps because there are chances to pitch you design to a publisher. Take along a prototype and make sure it is well-tested. It helps if your game has a unique ‘theme’ or game ‘mechanic’ to catch their attention. The board game world is always looking for the next new thing. Very few pitched ideas make it into print, so be prepared to face a lot of rejection. At a convention you are more likely to be meeting with the smaller, independent publishers. The larger companies and in particular, the multinational household names tend to commission new designs rather than accepting unsolicited prototypes.
With this route you are more likely to see you design in print, but it going to cost a lot of money and there is a huge learning curve about the processes involved production.
One way of getting your new game into the wider community to judge the enthusiasm is to make is available as a Print and Play games. There are a number of websites for this. The main proviso is that the game should be playable by printing the components on paper or light cardboard and using commonly available parts like dice, counters and tokens (e.g wooden cubes).
Here's an example of my own Print and Play game: Free Print and Play Games
Good artwork helps to sell a new game as well as making the playing experience more enjoyable. If you’re not a talented artist you will probably have to pay for someone to do the artwork. Be careful of images lifted from the internet – they could be copyrighted. It should also be said that top-quality artwork is not essential. A number of excellent games have been published with quite simple art (e.g. Glory To Rome)
There are specialist board game printers in both Europe and China that will take care of the whole process, but this is the most expensive route to choose. You can achieve a lot with a good commercial printing house. Take along your prototype and see what they suggest. You may need to source some of the components separately and have them added later.
Packaging is an important aspect as it is the first thing that a potential buyer will see. The traditional full-colour box is the most expensive route but cheaper options do exist. Pre-formed boxes can be obtained from a stationery supplier. Clear plastic clip-boards have also been used in the past.
One thing will be obvious by now: self-publishing can be expensive. You’re going to need deep pockets. But help is at hand: in recent years it has become popular to finance start-up creative projects with ‘crowd-funding’ using websites like Kickstarter. These allow people to ‘buy’ your product before it exists. They are paying on the promise of delivery if the project goes ahead. If the project fails to achieve its funding target, they don’t pay anything. However with this route, you will have to do a lot to convince people that your idea is something they want to buy. You will often see advertisements on Board Game Geek for Kickstarter game projects.
Now the serious business of selling begins. There are many garages filled with unsold copies of people’s grand ideas. Again the conventions come in handy as you can take a stand and sell direct to the public. You can try approaching individual game shops, but it is usually possible to find a nationwide distributor to take care of this task for a percentage. There are specialist board game distributors in most countries.
Probably not. Of all the new games published each year, very, very few make it onto the shelves of W.H Smiths where the sales figures are likely to be large. Most designers publish their games for the pleasure of seeing their ideas in print and being played by other people. Only a handful of people in the world make living as board game designers.