Disclaimer: I am by far not an expert on the things I am posting so do not take my opinions and experiences as gospel. Your mileage may vary but I wanted to share the experience and decisions with the path we have taken. I hope they can be helpful and enjoyable to some people out there interested in a behind the scenes look.
I apologize ahead of time if I ramble. I want to try to explain the process, testing, cost, reasoning for final decisions and share as much as I can about game design and creation. I’ve often seen companies make a decision and then customers wonder why a particular choice was made or didn’t quite make sense from a consumer point of view. I figured that this would be a great experience to not only communicate the process and steps we’ve taken but also hopefully providing some useful information to other designers and creators.
It has always been a dream of mine to manufacture, publish and create games. I would come up with ideas start work on a project but then end up filing it away for one reason or another. There wasn’t enough time, I didn’t know the right people, I didn’t have the skills, it takes a lot of money to start, etc. Even though they were valid reasons, in the end they are were just excuses.
I’ve been a gamer my whole life, originally started to get into programming to program games. Unfortunately it proved to be more stable to get a regular office job. My gaming focus then switched to board games and TCGs. For the last 6 years I’ve worked and volunteered for various companies in multiple capacities, basically whatever would get me to a convention, from Blizzard, Upper Deck, Cryptozoic Entertainment, IELLO and Renegade Games. It has given me an interesting experience in gaming.
When my father had a heart attack, it made me take a step back and re-evaluate things. I never wanted to be at a point where something would happen and I’d regret not actually trying. You put things off for, thinking there is plenty of time to do it and before you know years have passed. I wanted to make my dream a reality and I had to stop making excuses. I had some experience and knowledge so now it was time to apply it.
There was one catch, the family and house, which isn’t a bad thing. However I wouldn’t do something that would put me in debt beyond an amount I wasn’t capable of or risk my family's future and homes. That meant taking things slowly still working a full time job, while trying to do this.
Now I didn’t have anymore real excuses, it was time to move forward on a new journey and make it happen. Before getting into the games, testing, prototyping and manufacturing there were a couple important decisions to make first.
My experience with casting unlike some who started with miniatures, started with cosplay where for many years I’ve done cosplay and weapon prop creations for cosplayers. Most of them were Star Trek and/or Star Wars related but that was where my original casting experience came from.
We would create the weapon or armor prop either from wood, various bits, foam, using old toys, worbla and fiberglass. Once we had our original we would then make a cast of the item using silicone to create two-part molds. We did one piece, two piece molds and also did slush casting for helmets and certain pieces if we wanted it hollow.
To help reduce cost we usually would do a signup for them splitting costs so when 20-30 people signed up, paid in advance, then we’d start the mold creation and casting. If we didn’t get X people signed up, we didn’t collect money and didn’t get them created. It was almost like a mini-kickstarter without kickstarter. It let us focus on items that there were demand for, while not wasting time and money on things that didn’t quite have demand.
I only had a vacuum pump that was used to degas the silicone. This meant we would get some bubbles in the casting but it wasn’t a lot. Since the pieces were medium/large pieces it didn’t need a lot of fixing, which was an easier process. Many of the cosplayers are used to cleanup with filling holes, sanding and customizing was all part of the process.
For miniatures though that isn’t something that is acceptable. Since we were dealing with smaller pieces, fixing and patching was more difficult. No one likes bubbles or having to do more cleanup than usual. This meant we needed to also get a pressure pot to help reduce the bubbles to nothing. It did take a few weeks of trial and error to get things dialed in to where we considered it acceptable.
To Seek a Publisher or to Self Publish?
The main reason to create a game is because we want to get it published, there are two main options to getting something out to people. You should ask yourself if you want to approach an existing, established publisher with your design or instead would like to “self-publish”. It is usually one of the first decisions a designer should be making as both methods have their pro’s and con’s but the decision could affect how you will design the game as well as the work to put into it.
Many game designers get their games published by an established publisher. The competition can be first as there are thousands of designers all competing for the attention of a handful of publishers which may produce games like your own. Not all publishers are actively accepting submissions. Participating as part of a “Publisher Dating” at a convention like GenCon or Origins is a good place to start.
One of the main advantages of seeking a publisher is that you do not assume the financial risk, this is transferred to the publisher who you sell your design too. This also lets you basically accept a check and get back to what you may love, designing more games. You usually don’t have to worry about artwork (generic is good for demoing) or creating an intricate prototype.
There are disadvantages to being published as well too. You essentially are signing terms to release your design to the publisher. That can mean your game may not be published in the theme you designed, they might completely redesign the concept and theme of it. You could have made an awesome game about clowns but they decide instead to retheme it about dragons and you really wanted to make a game about dragons. You may not agree with changes they make to the rules as well.
It could also mean your game may not see the light of day. This usually isn’t done to be malicious but games do get shelved for many reasons. The priority or focus, the market could change so one project would be shelved while others get priority. When negotiating you always want to ensure that if after X amount of time something is published or released rights can return back to creator/designer. This is also a good idea just in case the company who did the game, for some reason, went bankrupt or disbanded and it doesn’t leave your game in limbo.
An example of this is Snow Tails, a board game done by Renegade Game Studio. It was originally out of print for a few years, rights to the game reverted back to the game designer. They were then approached by Renegade who wanted to republish the game. After some changes, updates and now the game is re-released.
Having a game publisher pick up your game is a great option for many. They don’t have to spend time manufacturing, selling, setting up distribution, shipping, acquiring artwork, writing rules and more. It means you can focus more on making more games, instead of spending all the time just working on one or two. It however isn’t always the best option.
If you don’t want to release the rights to your game and you want more of a creative role in the process there is always self-publishing. This route ends up being the most expensive route of the process as you have to rely on yourself and your network vs an established network. You need to look at how much time you will invest in it as well as money.
Do you need artwork or a graphic designer? Are you getting 3d work or sculpting done? Are you doing a website, who is doing the design? Where are you getting testers? What about distribution, advertising and promotion? After you have worked out your costs what about retailer pricing? These are all things you need to consider and more.
Self Publishing ends up being more about business than game design to some degree. It does take a good business mind to be successful when going down this path. Most of the negotiating and connections are done by yourself though.
For example when looking at distribution and someone asks you what your “retailer terms” are, they are looking for your wholesale price. You need to be aware of all the costs in your game from the plastic bags to the dice and how much it cost to produce. A retail buyer will want to know the wholesale price, how many they have to order to get that price, shipping cost, do they pay immediately or in 30 days (net 30). Keep in mind most retailers will want to double the wholesale price to make a profit on the game. Other things to look at game contents, box size as those can change how or what a retailer will order. Be aware of retail prices of games, their contents and how you plan to ultimately stack up to them.
Edited by Shinlocke