Errata: Is there Money in Board Game Design?
This week’s question comes from an aspiring game designer who identified himself only as “S.” Very mysterious.
Aspiring Designer asked, “I’m thinking about going into board games. I already have some concepts for some cool new game mechanics. However, coming from the world of video games, I’m wondering about the board game market. Stuff like – how many board games actually make money? What obstacles and challenges face an inventor of a board game?”
First, understand that I’ve never marketed or published a game myself. So this information is based on my discussions with those who have and my sense of the market. With that disclaimer out of the way…
Do board games make money? Yes they do. But it isn’t the kind of thing where a published game is the ticket to fame and fortune. With a few rare, prolific exceptions, nearly every board game designer has a day job. Even big names that have published numerous games typically do it only as a supplement to their real income. So, if the goal is to become a “board game designer” as your job title, that may be a little difficult to achieve.
But not every board game makes money. The winner of the Spiel des Jahres each year, for example, can be expected to sell nearly half a million copies. Those games definitely make a lot of money. But for the vast majority of games, print runs are much, much smaller and the profits far more modest. And, if your game doesn’t happen to find the right audience, then it may go unsold and make no money at all. So the answer to your question is more a “Yes, board games can make money” than that they do make money.
As for obstacles, those are largely being removed. In the past, if you had an excellent game (or one you thought was excellent) you could shop it around to several of the big publishers at Essen or Origins or GenCon and see what they thought. Just like getting a manuscript published, an establish publisher might take you up on it or might pass. And, while that is certainly still a legitimate route to use, there are other options. Namely, Kickstarter.
The only other option use to be self-publishing. But the horror stories of spending tons of money on a print run and ending up with a garage full of games are numerous. With Kickstarter, though, you can set a funding goal at a level that will provide you with the necessary capital, and also ensure that there is enough interest before you commit financially. So the obstacles there are lowering.
Still, you will need to play test until the game is very polished. Board gamers are very sophisticated – especially hobby gamers. You’ll need to present the game in a way that is understandable and enticing. And you’ll need to be able to market it. Those obstacles still prove daunting for numerous designers.
Got questions about strategy, specific games, or the hobby in general? Post them in the comments here, email me at geekinsight at gfbrobot dot com, or send them to @GeekInsight on Twitter and check back next week for answers!