Manufacturing or Marketing your own Game
By Tom Jolly

The Question

I HAVE AN IDEA FOR A NEW BOARD GAME BUT HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO MARKET IT OR GET AN OPINION WHETHER OR NOT IT IS WORTH PURSUING. WOULD YOU TELL ME HOW?

The Answer

If you want to make the game yourself;

Here's a few helpful hints. For a first-time effort, don't print a heck of a lot of games; find out first if other people love it or not. My first print run of Wiz-War was 100 copies in zip-lock baggies; the counters were Xeroxed, the boards I hand-silkscreened myself and the cards were printed on cardstock that was cut by the printer into 2x3 inch cards.

However, I had to move up to real components, the best place to find printers for this is the Thomas Register, which any large library should have (it's also available on-line, but the on line version doesn't have nearly the info that the book does; Thomas Register. It's a set of about 20 huge books of manufacturers in the US, and includes everything from chip-board box makers to card deck makers to game component makers. Pick one out, call them up, tell them what you're doing and ask what their minimums are; some card-deck makers won't go below 5000 decks, at a cost of about $1 a deck or more. Games like Trivial Pursuit don't use the same kind of cards, so would be cheaper, but obviously the deck is damned large in their case, too, but I imagine they have a printer that prints to thick cardstock, then cuts the cards out of the sheet and collates them...then again, they probably printed a few 100,000 of them, too.

My decks in Wiz-War were printed onto brown cardstock in black ink, 125 cards to a deck and weren't super durable. Still cost me about $1 a deck, and I had to sort them by hand, but I could also get away with printing only 500 at a time. Boxes cost be about $1.30 each, and were a 2-step process; first I had to have a printer make the wraps for the boxes, then the chip-board box maker had to make the boxes and glue the wrap sheets on. The minimums here were 1000. Naturally, I had to get sizing specs for the wrap-art before I could print it up. Some box makers do both the printing and the wrapping, so save a bit of coordination effort. With the current availability of cheap color printers, nowadays you can knock off 10 or 20 full color games just by printing on a full-sheet label or two, and wrapping it around a blank box. If you want to be fancy, you can even get a glossy clear laminate page to put over your box to protect the water-soluble inks. Both of these run about 30 cents each, blank white boxes (or brown) can vary a lot depending on size, but full-sheet labels won't fit around the big ones. The ones I've bought in the past cost about 70 cents each.

Token sheets, if you use them, require a die to cut them out. Cards can use a die, too, if you want them so they punch out of a sheet. Dies can vary wildly in price; I've paid as little as $50 and know they can go over $300. Then you find a printer that does die-cutting and get him to print and cut your...oops, left a step out. After you print your tokens, if you use any, you have to have someone glue it onto cardboard, then you have to find someone who can die-cut cardboard. This is harder than it sounds. Token sheets end up costing about $1 each, too. Maybe, if you're lucky, you can find someone who prints onto thick chipboard. Good luck. Corner cutters to cut your decks or boards can cost quite a bit ($200 on up), and often don't do a very good job....the cut tends to drift if you are cutting a stack of cards. I guess if you shell out a LOT of money, you might get a good one.

Dice, if you use them, should cost you less than ten cents each. Plastic pawns should cost 2 or 3 cents each. Check under Game Components in the Thomas Register. Plastic chips (tiddlywink style) can cost as little as 1/2 cent each from places like Mr. Chips.

If you decide you want to convince a game publisher to make your game;

You should probably realize that it's harder than heck to get anyone at all to buy a game unless you're already really famous in the game design circles, which is obviously a catch-22. Usually, if you're dealing with the big guys (and many of the small ones), you'd be expected to give a brief description of the game just to get them interested at all, and in enough detail that the company gets an idea WHY it's different from everything else on the market, and why it might do well. Of course, if you're just doing an add-on to someone else's game (say, a D&D module), then this isn't as important, but it also limits your market. Anyway, AFTER your "query letter" is sent to the company (or e-mail, in this case), the company would either send you a letter saying that they aren't interested, or they would send you a form to fill out that says something like "...if we happen to be working on a game similar to yours right now, and we look at yours, and subsequently bring our own design out without giving you any credit, then you can't sue us...". Of course, there's a bit more legalese in their contract, but that's the gist of it. You, in turn, could, if you want, send them a non-disclosure form that says something like "you won't tell anyone about my game". Here's a sample NDA form.

I actually wrote an article for a magazine about the subject of "corporate game theft", in that I designed two "unique" games with unique game mechanics, and Ideal came out with games or puzzles based on EXACTLY the same concepts shortly after I designed or published both. However, both were verifiable coincidence. Since then, I've seen the same thing happen a half-dozen times to other companies, very strange when viewed from the inside of the industry, suspicious looking when viewed from the outside. There's an incredible amount of apparently coincidental game development occuring out there, partly due to the fact that new games build on concepts from old games. For example, collectable dice games weren't a "great idea", they were an inevitable evolution from CCG's, which is why 2 companies (Gamesmiths and TSR) came out with them the same month.


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