Saturday, June 5, 2010

More GTS09 talk notes - Self Publishing

Here are my notes from listening to another talk from GTS 2009 - this one called Publishing Your Game Yourself (mp3 link here)

The speakers are from Bucephalus Games:
- Anthony Gallela
- Dan Tibbles

Here are my notes:

Opening comments
  • Very difficult to sell your own game
  • Design, production, manufacturing are easy
  • Selling is far harder than all of these
  • Important to figure out who target audience is - there's a risk that the game is unsellable
  • 75% of new games are essentially unsellable, or they don't sell through their print run
Designing a marketable product
  • What's the key to your game?
  • Theme?  If so, then the game must pursue the theme at the expense of all other parts
  • Mechanics?  If so, then nothing else can get in the way
  • Listen to testers - be willing to change the game - don't be too invested
  • 1st 3,000 copies are sold based on appearance and artwork - NOT on theme or gameplay
  • Shelf appeal is therefore key
  • The box should reveal what the game is like - no surprises, no hidden stuff
  • Refining a game is key - it often involves removal of features and rules, boiling it down to the central, pure elements
  • Blind playtesting - very important; creates a much better rulebook
    • Should you be in the room?
      • Anthony says yes; your observations will let you see what assumptions they made when there were rules gaps or problems
      • Some say no; reasons cited are that the players won't be honest
  • Consult retailers and distributors - they are your initial direct customers
  • GAMA has free focus groups at the conferences
  • Talking to others is key
Selling to a publisher
  • Very unlikely to happen
  • Game design is easy; everybody has one, so they're cheap and readily available - it's the marketing and selling that's harder and much more expensive
  • Game companies don't want to work with you
  • They'll often prefer to work with in-house designs, or they're small, and are actually publishing the owner/operator's design
  • The numbers for this happening are a fraction of a percent chance - a few games are printed out of thousands of submissions
  • To do this, you'll need to do all the development ahead of time - the testing, the rules, the layout, the winnowing out of rules
  • Might be worth doing, but expect rejection
  • If you're going to do it, look hard for submission guidelines, and then follow them
  • Show them a good prototype - they can imagine it better, but you need to make it look good, and make it look how you want it to
  • Royalties - no advance, probably 3-10%, average of 5%
  • Make sure you retain rights, and you get the rights back after 18-24 months out of print
  • 3,000 to 5,000 copies is a good run in the hobby market
  • Don't publish with money you can't lose all of
  • Don't start with a big print run - go with 3,000 max
    • You'll always find flaws
    • You're probably blowing your money
  • Maybe 30% of games can sell 3000 copies
  • Maybe 2% of games can sell 5000 copies
  • Nearly nobody sells more than that on a first game
  • There are 1,000 new games published every year - most of them don't get much distribution, don't get sold
  • Companies are usually willing to share their sources for production in Asia
  • Designers are often blind to flaws - missing words, missing typos, etc.
[Dan Echoed a bunch of the China sourcing talk here]

  • Game stores nearly always buy from distributors - there are only a few of these
  • Toy stores don't use distributors - instead, they'll order directly or from sales reps
  • GAMA is a good way to meet up with distributors
  • Reps might also be an option if you can interest them
  • Market is multi-level
    • Distributor
    • Retailer
    • Customer
  • You should talk to each of these folks to gauge marketability
  • Alliance would be a good source to talk to; building a relationship with them (and listening to their feedback) is very useful, since they're so big
Post-Talk Q&A Session
  • Majority of new game companies fail - 90% of them fail
  • Breaking even is success
  • Art costs - can be a couple thousand dollars even for simple games
    • Might be worth it, but only if you're definitely self-publishing, and even then probably not
    • Art schools, commissions are ways around the costs
  • Why do game companies fail? 
    • It takes lots of work, and you may not be able or willing to put in that effort
    • Unreasonable expectations
    • Very limited return, and gets frustrating on all the work
    • Lack of preparation - getting the design, production, or marketing wrong
  • Patents are silly
  • Game designs are very difficult to steal, and also very difficult to protect
    • Stealing isn't worth it
    • Ideas are duplicated

This was also good stuff - not quite as new to me or as insider-y as the Chinese manufacturing talk, but good to hear lots of my suspicions and intuitions confirmed.

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