This is the 5th and final part in the blog series: So you’ve designed a game… now what? 

If you’ve not yet done so, please read Part 1: What’s your motivation?Part 2: Testing and development, Part 3: Pitch or Publish and Part 4: How to Find a Publisher

Though I’ve run three successful (small) Kickstarter campaigns and self-published many games, I’m certainly not an expert in making self-publishing ventures commercially viable. My aim, through this article, is just to provide a basic checklist of questions to ask yourself when embarking on publishing your own game. 

I’m assuming that you’ve read the previous posts in this series of articles and that:  1) Your game is properly developed and tested with the target audience. 2) You’ve already decided that you wish to self-publish your game, rather than pitch it to a publisher.

Funding

Can you currently afford to fund the manufacture, storage and distribution of your game?
Yes: Go to the next question.
No: Go to the Crowdfunding section.
Don’t know: You need to spend time fully costing out the various options. Keep reading. 

Are you prepared to take on the financial risk of self-funding a game publishing project?
Yes: Go to the Marketing section.
No: Go to the Crowdfunding section. 

Kickstarter creator example

Crowdfunding

Are you familiar with the best platforms for crowdfunding games?
Yes: Wonderful. Go to the next question.
No: Look at Kickstarter, Gamefound and BackerKit. Gamefound and BackerKit started out as pledge managers for Kickstarter, to enable creators to manage campaigns more effectively than in Kickstarter alone, but have now become good options for running a whole crowdfunding campaign. It’s worth launching your game on a platform that already attracts board game customers, as potential backers may be browsing projects and come across yours. 

Have you supported crowdfunded game projects in the past?
Yes: Great. Go to the next question.
No: It’s really important that you experience campaigns as a backer. You can pledge a very small amount (£1 or $1) to support the campaign. You’ll then see all the communications and be able to follow the arc of the campaign. The number of projects Kickstarter creators have backed is shown next to their details. Showing that you are backing other projects and therefore understand and are engaged with the platform, helps potential backers trust that you will deliver.

Do you know how to prepare before launching your game on a crowdfunding platform?
Yes: Super. Go to the next question.
No: Spend as much time as you can looking at other game campaigns. Start to learn what backers want to see, what the conventions creators use. Dissect campaigns that you like or that have been very successful. Mirror the page structure and start to map out the content you’ll need for your own campaign. Make a list of the assets you’ll need to create (e.g. video, images, text…).

Screenshot from my Cracker Games Kickstarter 

Have you created a detailed budget?
Yes: Fabulous. Go to the next question.
No: You really need to do this. You might not know how much everything will cost yet, but you definitely need to know before you hit the ‘launch’ button on the platform. Make sure you have considered: Platform fees, postage, VAT, import tax, shipping, storage/warehousing, manufacture prices, marketing costs, sample production, prototype copies for reviewers, fulfilment costs, graphic design and art costs (for game and campaign).Include a contingency budget.  You need to run costs for different numbers of backers. You need to be absolutely sure of the minimum amount you need to secure to make the project viable. This will be your target. Don’t set the target too low – you must be absolutely prepared to run the project if you only just meet your target. Cost in your own time too. 

Delivery timescale for my Greetings Card Game Kickstarter Campaign

Have you determined your timeline?
Yes: Good. Go to the next question.
No: Map out the different stages of the project. Speak to manufacturers about waiting lists and production times. Be realistic about the time it will take you to get the game completely production ready. You need to tell backers up front when you expect to fulfil the campaign. Decide how long you want your campaign to run for. Longer isn’t always better (see Marketing).

Marketing

Do you have a highly-engaged customer base that you are already connected with? 
Yes: Amazing. Go to the next question.
No: Your mission is to create your own customer base or to find partners who have established customer bases that you can tap into. If you want to build it yourself, it’s crucial not to underestimate the time and effort that marketing will take. If you want to find partners (other creators, marketing agencies, distributors, retailers) to work with, examine their customer bases to make sure they are a good fit and add their costs to your budget. 

Are you sure that your customer base will actually buy your game?
Yes: Ok. Go to the next question. 
No: There’s a big difference between following someone on social media and actually buying their product. If you haven’t got any evidence about the actual purchasing power of your audience, consider how you will acquire this. Create pre-production copies of the game, show them to potential buyers and really listen to their feedback. Don’t discount the negative. You’re trying to work out how to convert potential customers into actual customers. These people can tell you why they would buy and why they would not. 

Do you have a marketing plan in place?
Yes: Excellent. Make sure you keep reviewing it regularly. Go to the next question. 
No: Talk to other creators. Go to industry events or send messages to them online. Explain who you are and what you are hoping to do. Ask for advice and learn from their experience. Your marketing plan may include in-person or online events, social media, marketing companies, paid advertising, podcasts & video channels, blogs and reviewers. How will you collect contact details of potential customers? It’s always a good idea to make sure you have names and email addresses yourself as your email list is almost always your most powerful marketing tool. 

Mojo Nation Play Creator’s Conference

Production

Are your print files ‘production ready’?
Yes: Fantastic. Go to the next question.
No: Find someone who specialises in writing rulebooks. You are not objective enough. Your rulebook matters, it’s important to get it right. Unless you have fabulous graphics skills, you’ll need to find a graphic designer and possibly also an artist to work on your game. Ask for recommendations through board game creators facebook groups and by using your wider network. You’ll need to create a clear art and graphic design brief to find the right people to work on your project and to minimise ongoing costs. Pay a professional proof-reader (don’t skip this step). Research the legal requirements for details that need to be printed on a game box. Register with a barcode provider if you ever intend to sell your games direct to retail. 

A blind playtest of Doughnut Dash (self-published)

Have you blind-playtested the game several times?
Yes: Brilliant. Go to the next question.
No: Print up a copy of the game that looks as close to the final product as possible. Make sure the artwork and graphics are done and that the rulebook is finished. Put the game in front of players and get them to teach it to themselves using the rulebook. You just watch and take notes, you don’t teach the game, you don’t help, you don’t correct. Look at the mistakes they make, pay attention to their confusion. Encourage them to speak what they are thinking out loud. Then be prepared to make changes to the print files and repeat. Skip this step at your peril.

Have you got multiple like-for-like quotes for your game from manufacturers?
Yes: Ace. Go to the next question. 
No: Create a detailed manufacturing brief. The brief should include the final files, component quantities, dimensions, thickness and materials required. They’ll need to know the type of box you want and whether you want an insert or not. You should ask for quotes for specific numbers e.g. 1500, 3000, 5000, 10000. When you receive quotes, make sure you know if they include required testing to meet trading standards, shipping, taxes and samples. 

Retail and Distribution

Do you intend to sell any games outside a crowdfunding platform?
No: Fine. Go to the Fulfilment section. 
Yes: Ok. Keep reading. 

Do you have established online sales channels for your game?

Yes: Superb. Go to the next question. 
No: You could sell your game through your own website, through Amazon, or through another third party ecommerce platform (like Etsy or Ebay). If you intend to sell games through your own site, you need to make sure that customers will be able to find you. If you plan to sell through Amazon, there is much to learn. You will probably need to allocate budget to Amazon advertising and time to learning about the platform (it’s not intuitive and there are many hoops to jump through). If you plan to sell through another online platform, really take note of where games are selling and make sure you’re not trying to sell games where nobody is looking for them.

Do you have retail and/or distribution channels in place?
Yes: Outstanding. Go to the next question. 
No: Consider attending or even getting a booth at a trade fair where you can meet potential partners or identify them through desktop research. Organise meetings where you can pitch your game. You’ll also need to have all the figures close to hand – trade price, recommended retail price, quantities, lead time. Retailers and distributors will want to see what the product looks like. They’ll want to be able to visualise it in their catalogue or on their shelves. Make sure you show the game at its best – highlighting features and demonstrating how it will stand out from the crowd. You must be fully prepared for these important sales discussions.

The Dark Imp stand at a Christmas gift fair

Do you have other plans for selling your games?
Yes: Smashing. Go to the next question. 
No: Consider getting a booth at a gaming convention or gift show. Work out where potential customers will be and make sure you are there too. Be strategic about the time and money you spend on attending events. Burnout is real and costs can quickly mount. Remember, this is a business venture. 

Fulfilment

Do you have the capacity to fulfil your campaign and/or deliver orders?
Yes: Awesome. You rock. 
No: Look for a fulfilment partner. There are companies that will handle all of that for you – from receiving the shipment from the manufacturer to sending out to individual customers. Some will handle crowdfunding campaigns and bulk campaign fulfilment, others will warehouse games for you and send out orders as they come through. Make sure you get recommendations and seek multiple quotes before committing to a company.

This list by no means covers everything you’ll have to think of, but I hope it helps you get started. If you have comments to add that you think may help others, please add them to this page.

The most important thing to remember is that there are people that you can learn from, who have done exactly what you are trying to do. Make sure you connect with them. Asking for advice will help you avoid common pitfalls. Thorough planning will help you make the most of your time and money. It’s probably best not to just wing it!