Fireside Chat 01 – Ideas for Marketing Your Board Game with Justen Aguillon

Justen Aguillon is one of my best friends in the world. We were roommates at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and hadn’t seen each other in about 5 years before this camping trip in Kerville, Texas. Justen has his masters in Business Admin so I wanted to have him ask me questions about marketing a board game as a businessman that is new to the board game industry.

Justen’s in B2B sales (Business to Business) for his day to day job versus what most game designers are in which is B2C (Business to Consumer). Though he still had great questions to ask as he switched his mind to thinking about the Business to Consumer side of marketing.

The History of My Creativity that was Sparked by My Grandma’s Stories

We started out the episode by talking about ceramics (clay Monsters) I made in college which were inspired by stories my Memaw told me as a kid. Which is also the source of inspiration for most of the games I design.

Justen talked about the monsters I made in Ceramics for my senior art show based on Memaw’s stories. He talked about Rocky, the ceramics/clay monster that I gave to him on graduation day that he was so proud of.

This brought back memories to me. I remember starting to making games with the intent to publish just out of college. It was about 8-9 years ago now that I started making Memaw’s Monsters the card game with the hopes to publish it. Many years before I learned how to make my games efficiently.

How do I Build an Audience for Selling My Board Game and Where to Start?

Marketing grew to a new hobby of mine as I continued to make games and created Streamlined Gaming. A popular question I get through SLG is “how do I build an audience that is interested in the game I’m wanting to sell?” And the following question of “Where do I start building that audience?”

Justen started asking me questions about marketing a board game to try and answer these two questions for you.

We talk about losing our car keys and how some other campers were helping us look for them. Then we realized that was basically word of mouth marketing which Justen calls one of the best forms of grassroots marketing (marketing you can do by yourself without paying money).

Then I talk about how you can do word of mouth marketing leading up to your game launch. Becoming part of the board game community through social media and other forums is a great way to start.

Justen talks about the B2B world and how they seem to have a “Feature Year”. A Feature Year is like a calendar year except it doesn’t start on January 1st and end on December 31st. It starts at a large convention that unveils a new set of technological features and ends before that same convention the next year.

Calvin (me) – For the board game world, our big conferences (conventions) are Gen Con, Origins, etc. But you can also show off your game at smaller conventions like Austin Board Game Bash. We can show off our games there and prep for showing them off at the larger conventions as well.

Memaw’s Monsters is the asymmetrical 2 player tower defense card game I’m making based on the stories my grandma would tell us as kids. The idea of the game is that Memaw has told us a story and then we go to sleep. The game takes place in our dreams as we relive the story that Memaw told us the night before.

It would be good for my game to playtest or demo it at local conventions to get player feedback and to meet players that enjoy the game.

Finding Your Target Market for Your Board Game

Justen then talks about finding my target market through these conventions. Your target market is the answer to the question of “who is the audience I’m trying to capture?”

Calvin – My target market is people that like trading card games. Someone that likes Magic the Gathering, Pokemon, Yugioh, EPIC card game and other similar games. It’s helpful knowing your target market because it makes things like paid ads easier since you can target specific types of people/gamers.

My game’s theme is a slightly more casual than most of the games for my target market, but the mechanics are very similar.

(About minute 17) Justen – How does your game work?

Calvin – It’s a game for 2 players and is asymmetrical (both players use different cards and have a different plan). One player is the offensive player that summons monsters and attacks towers. And the other player is on defense who controls the towers, base and spells. The monster player is trying to defeat the defensive players main base before their boss is destroyed. Once one of these happens, the players “wake up from their dream”, ending the round.

Getting Your Board Game to the “People Who Also Bought” Section of Amazon

Justen – I’m trying to imagine how I would see this as walking through the game store. I see this as a 12 or 13+ age game. I’ve started to notice online stores having “people who also bought” sections when purchasing a product like your game. How do you get your game to show up in the “people who also bought” section in Amazon for example?

Calvin (19 min) – Let’s say I put my product on Amazon and someone from my target market is shopping on there. When they go to purchase Magic the Gathering cards, how do I get my game, Memaw’s Monsters to show up under that in the “people who also bought section”? I don’t know for sure but my guess is…

Amazon’s algorithm simply shows you games that people actually purchased in the same order as when they bought Magic the Gathering cards. Or maybe even if they also bought a game later it will show up there. It doesn’t seem like you can purchase an ad in the “people who also bought” section so you would have to have a product good enough to actually have been purchased by your target market to show up there.

One of the most prominent places you can show up for a paid ad though would be in keyword searches. I could pay Amazon to have them show Memaw’s Monsters as  the “sponsored product” when a customer searches “2 player card game” or “tower defense game” for example.

How to Build an Audience for My Board Game or Physical Product?

(Minute 20:45) When you have a product that you are wanting to eventually sell, often times you might ask “how do I build an audience for my board game or physical product?”

I (Calvin) suggest first focusing on building your audience on one platform before branching off to a second platform.

And then a third, forth and so on.

Your ultimate goal could be to have an audience on all of the big platforms though that’s not necessary at first. In fact, it’s actually quite overwhelming and can lead you to not taking any action and feeling too much pressure. I know it did for me at least so I started with Facebook only for awhile.

It’s way too difficult to try and learn all of the platforms at once and know what type of content works best there so just start with one or two that you know really well and go from there.

Where Should I Start Building My Audience for My Board Game I’m Wanting to Publish?

Calvin continues with a list of platforms that are good to be on for building an audience for your board game.

  1. Facebook Page
  2. Instagram
  3. Twitter
  4. Reddit (mostly for being a part of the community. Not self promotion for your game)
  5. Board Game Geek (similar to Reddit in that it’s primarily for being a part of the community vs. promoting your game.
  6. Website
  7. Snapchat

A great way to start making content in one of these outlets is to write down anything you think is interesting about your process. For me, anytime I would want to tell my mom or brother about a new feature of my game design, I would create a Facebook post instead. This would allow both my mom and brother to see it while also allowing other audience members to join in on the fun.

Justen (27 min) How are you currently creating content to promote your game on these platforms? You are documenting your creation of Memaw’s Monsters is that correct?

Calvin – Right now I am showing my audience how I make my game by creating updates on Memaw’s Monsters progress. I post those updates to the Streamlined Gaming Facebook page, my personal Instagram account. Then I’m taking my Facebook post updates and copying them into blog posts which I plan to edit later.

Justen – You have people commenting on some of the updates right?

Calvin – Yeah actually that has been one of the coolest parts about it! Sometimes I get stuck on a simple thing like “what should I name this ability or keyword?” When I’ve reached out to my audience and just asked them their thoughts, they have responded very well and were super helpful. So they have helped shape parts of the game in a sense which is awesome to be a part of. This has actually been a very cool side effect of making social media updates as I create my game.

Justen (29:30) How close do you think your game is to being finalized?

Calvin – Very far from finished. I’ve had 4 rounds of playtesting and the game continues to receive massive updates. I will mention that I’ve never published a game so that makes it hard for me to guess how much longer I have in the process. Memaw’s Monsters is still in the alpha phase of testing. It is cool though that I’m getting past the “will this mechanic or game idea work” and more into “ok, this works now let’s balance it better.” This game in particular has been challenging to find a healthy balance between both the offense and defense cards. Memaw’s Monsters being asymmetrical definitely brings on a lot of challenges for me as the game designer.

Justen – We talked about this concept of flow the other day. And how if something is too difficult, then you get anxious and burned out. But if it’s too easy then you can get bored and depressed. What are your thoughts on that for your game?

Calvin – During our playtests so far, the defensive cards have been high anxiety with too many options for the player. This makes the game overwhelming for them while the offensive cards and strategies have been too easy and boring. Making players feel like they are on autopilot, or that the game is being played for them. So I’ve been really focusing on how to make the defensive players life easier while finding ways to entertain the offensive player more.

(Related Reading – 3 Reasons You Should Make a Board Game)

Why I think showing your games progress create’s great content

Justen and I started talking about documenting my process and I pointed out one reason in particular that I think it’s so cool is that it will be awesome to look back on in 5-10 years. This is why I think other game designers would love doing this too. I mean how awesome would it be for your game to be popular one day and then be able to look back and see the progress you made on it? I think that is so cool. For me, even if my game is never popular, I think this will be super interesting to look at years from now.

Justen mentions it also being able to help people more immediately. I talk about how some of my posts have already helped people as they have commented and told me thanks for the new perspective on the subject.

Side Note – I believe one of the biggest reasons prototypes aren’t fun to play is because game designers lack a solid math structure in their game. I’ve playtested a lot of prototypes and the #1 reason I see the game being boring is because the math is broken. The crazier thing is that most of the time playtesters and even designers don’t realize how off the math is, players just don’t enjoy it much and they tell you this usually by not wanting to play again. Building a strong mathematical foundation is essential to having a fun strategy game.

What Is Your Strategy for Demoing Memaw’s Monsters at Upcoming Conventions?

Justen (39 min) Austin Board Game Bash comes up in about a month. Do you think you will be ready to playtest your game there and start promoting it to people you don’t know?

Calvin – I feel like I’m never ready. I’m not sure if I will be demoing my game or not but I want to. One of the problems I have is that I’m a “perfectionist” which is probably just a really lame excuse. I’ve worked really hard on 2 games in particular in the past. Spent several years on them and ended up “fixing them” until they broke. I would try to fix “one last thing” and then make an update that broke the game and made it unfun for me and my playtesters. So I would burn out and give up.

One of my other fears is not wanting to publish a mediocre product (game). I see way too many Kickstarter games that don’t look or feel like a complete game. Their game design is lacking and the balance is off. So I really don’t want to fall into that category of creating a mediocre/unfinished game. This is one of the reasons I try so hard to make a great game and work on them until they break and I burn out.

With my latest version of Memaw’s Monsters, my goal is to keep notes on the versions that work well and have a better system in place to roll back updates that went poorly. One way I do this is by using NanDeck and a spreadsheet to create my prototypes. This makes it really easy to update my game and also simple to roll back changes. If I mess up the game now, my plan is to take a break (a few days/weeks) off and then come back to the latest version that was fun.

Another great side effect of me documenting my game design process is that I have an accountability group. Knowing that I have an audience watching is very helpful in keeping me going and not giving up on an idea because of one frustrating playtest.

Justen (44:22) Tell me more about Austin Board Game Bash.

I went last year and I would guess that there were 200-300 people in attendance. My family and friends went with me and we enjoyed playing some games together and taking some pictures/videos. I didn’t have a game I was working on last year but I did see my friend Mike Abrahamson showing off his game so I introduced him to my group and we tested his updated prototype.

I remember thinking “hopefully I will have a prototype next year to show off”.

Justen – How do you get to demo your game there? Do you have to get a special ticket or talk to the organizer?

I’m not really sure but I will need to ask Mike to see how he went about doing it. My guess is I can demo the game at a side table since I don’t have anything to sell but if I want a nice table in a great location, then I could pay for that too.

(Update – Mike said he reserved his table and paid a higher price to do so though it ended up being unnecessary this particular year because there was extra tables anyways. He plans to get regular tickets this year and just find room to demo his games. Though if he were selling his games he would need a vendor booth.)

Where are Board Games Sold and Who are Your Competitors as an Indie Game Designer?

Justen – Who does solo/indie game designers compete against when trying to sell their own games? Or rather who all sells board games?

For aspiring game designers like me wanting to sell their published game, you can do that through:

Side note: When you are demoing your game or having it playtested, it’s popular to collect email addresses from people that enjoyed your game. You can let them know how often you plan to send out updates on the progress of your game and ask them to sign up to be a part of it. It’s also popular to give away something of value in exchange for their address. Similar to what I do with the board game design FAQs or with the free artwork pack that designers can use for prototyping.

Justen (50:24) What ways have you thought about publishing your game. Are you thinking of going through a publisher?

In the board gaming industry I basically have two options for publishing:

  1. I can self publish by raising funds through Kickstarter (typically a 500 game minimum for mass printing)
  2. Or I can pitch my game to an established publisher and sign a contract with them.

I mentioned some tips that Scott Morris, the president of a board game publisher, gave to game designers wanting to pitch to a publisher.

And then I talked about how a board game is manufactured and shipped. Similar to what Cody Thompson taught me in our fireside chat together.

Questions about Crafting a Great Elevator Pitch for My Card Game

Justen (55 min) One thing I want to say for those of you wanting to communicate a need/want that an audience has (such as a desire to play your fun new game with friends and family) is to develop your 30 second elevator pitch. How would you do that?

(55:35) Here’s my elevator pitch for example when pitching to a playtester or potential customer

“This is Memaw’s Monsters. It’s a 2 player card game. Oh and it’s asymmetrical so that means we both play different sides. It’s based on stories my grandma would tell us as kids. The game takes place in a dream/nightmare of us reliving that story. One of us would take on the role of the Monsters trying to invade the base of the defensive player who is trying to keep the Monsters out. Would you like to play?”

Justen – How long does it usually take to play?

Great question! And something I should add to my elevator pitch. It takes 20-30 minutes a round. Ideally you would play 2 rounds. One on offense and one on defense. Then compare the scores each players got while on Offense.

Things I could have done to improve my elevator pitch above

  1. Add in the game length and/or length of rounds (it’s exactly 2 rounds of play).
  2. Also mention who the game is for (trading card game players or people that like Magic the Gathering and similar games).

One way that I’ve improved my pitch is by talking about it in the updates that I’ve made as I create the game. My elevator pitch has become almost second nature which is very helpful for someone like me that has trouble with public speaking.

Justen – That was a good talk. Let’s plan on doing a post Austin Board Game Bash talk and see how the event went.

That’s probably really good and a great motivator for me to actually go and demo my game. Otherwise I might just chicken out and not go. haha!

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(Want to learn more about making and selling a board game? Get the answers to many questions new board game designers have here.and thanks for reading!)

Board Game Design Frequently Asked Questions Call to Action image for Streamlined Gaming. "Board Game Design FAQs" typed in the left side with "Get My Answers" typed in the bottom right with pamphlets in top right.

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