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BGDL 6 - Jay Vales: Why Good Reviews Aren't Always the Magic Bullet

BGDF member Jay Vales discusses how his game, Conquest at Kismet, came to be and how it got great reviews but underperformed when it came to sales. We go into the contributing factors and what other designers can learn from the experience.

We also talk about some interesting design concepts, dealing with real-life death, and how even Zee Garcia can’t guarantee you sales.

Listen to the episode here:

http://www.boardgamedesignlab.com/why-good-reviews-arent-always-the-magi...

Comments

Man oh man...

@Jay: Watched "Ender's Game" ... since you spoke of the movie in your interview.

I was disappointed - I won't spoil the movie... I will ask one (1) question:

Q: Do you think that Ender was influenced at all by the Captured Queen?

(Again trying not to spoil the entire movie; don't worry folks we're just talking about ... um ... Chess! That's right, nothing to do with the movie! lol)

*** WARNING ***

Spoiler alert for the movie "Ender's Game" if @Jay replies!!! You are warned!

Hahaha!

The movie had some issues and overall it wasn't that bad. Personally, I don't think so, but it wasn't really high on my list as far as the movie as a whole did.

The main inspiration was what would end up becoming the "time" mechanic in my game.

Cool episode. But maaaan,

Cool episode. But maaaan, that dog barking on the background is so distracting.

I know, right. Did everything

I know, right. Did everything I could to tone it down.

The count down mechanic

The count down mechanic sounds really cool - I started thinking of using triangle or hex tokens & tiles... Lots of possibilities! Is there a thread here about discussing those mechanics?

Well turds. I have been

Well turds. I have been working on a multi tap cooldown fighting game. Guess I am not as awesome as I had hoped. Great podcast though. Now I kinda want to check out another game I will get yelled at for buying :p

You still can.

mongoosedog wrote:
Well turds. I have been working on a multi tap cooldown fighting game. Guess I am not as awesome as I had hoped. Great podcast though. Now I kinda want to check out another game I will get yelled at for buying :p

There are several games that use it (Nightfall for life and Cutthroat Caverns for their potions) and the mechanic isn't copyrighted. I simply used it in reverse.

I say go for it. You'll put a different spin on it like I have just like people put different spins on the deck building mechanic.

Not too expensive!

mongoosedog wrote:
Now I kinda want to check out another game I will get yelled at for buying :p

Well fortunately it's under $30.00 so it's really not an expensive purchase for a game. It's not like $80.00 like Scythe where the cost is a factor in deciding if you want to buy the game - even if it is a FANTASTIC game!

Give @Jay's game a TRY! Especially if it has mechanics you might want to incorporate into your own game...

Since the gameplay is good,

Since the gameplay is good, why not release a sequel with "nicer" artwork since that was the chief complaint, although I like the simple graphics myself.

Good question.

funamite wrote:
Since the gameplay is good, why not release a sequel with "nicer" artwork since that was the chief complaint, although I like the simple graphics myself.

;)

Sorry to bring my dark

Sorry to bring my dark negative comments, but that explains why the majority of board games out there are bad.

Because it's not the best games that stands out, it's the best marketed games that stand out. And the main reason for that is that the huge amount of games and information makes it hard for people to know every game that comes out and chose the game that fits their need. It's not only board games, but could apply to other media.

Personally, I hate marketing because I hate selling stuff. I feel really bad about it, this is why I'll never work in a store. Maybe it's because I am too honest to sell something, I always see salesman as evil people or it's because I lack those social skills.

The only solution I could see is to market to a sub audience, a smaller group of people within the world that knows you and knows your games. So that when your next game is released, they will all look into it. In fact it could be a strategy for discovering new games, subscribe to the designer of games you like. But that implies that you might do a lot of different games with various style to gradually add people to your pool of fan to eventually support the next product that comes out.

Even games publish as free PNP or on game crafters have an hard time pulling out just simple comments from board game geek. I thought game crafter would have made games more accessible (since PnP is not for everybody), but it does not seem to be the case.

So far, the only way I can see how to deal with information overflow is a bit like a parabolic antenna. You want to build something relatively large by making various games, websites, or other gamish activity that is going to catch attention of a lot of people for various reasons. Then when you need it (ex: publish a game), you can funnel all that attention where you want it to be.

So for example, releasing a couple of free PNP games or having a blog or pod cast, could help gather attention that you can later redirect to your new published game. This is my current strategy for now.

I am also Anti-Social Networking for various reasons which is probably also hindering me. But I will not change my mind regarding that, I have my reasons.

By thinking more about it, it

By thinking more about it, it also explains Reiner Knizia's theory that games are only 80% complete.

The reason could be that spending more time to make the game better is not going to increase the amount of sales. Putting that same amount of time on marketing will yield much more sales. So it's better to have a good enough game with good marketing, than an excellent game with poor marketing.

I don't agree...

larienna wrote:
By thinking more about it, it also explains Reiner Knizia's theory that games are only 80% complete.

The reason could be that spending more time to make the game better is not going to increase the amount of sales. Putting that same amount of time on marketing will yield much more sales. So it's better to have a good enough game with good marketing, than an excellent game with poor marketing.

80% is such a...low number to be talking about my game. Just because I have plans to release the game doesn't team that the game is 80%. For all you know, it could be 90%, or even 70%.

But I do have to ask the question: Does marketing or more content contribute to this 80%? If more content is the issue, then are expansions to games part of this 20% that you talk about? What does that make games like Dominion...which has well over 10 expansions, hundreds of cards added to the original pool, but not really considered fully realized until you have ALL the cards. Clearly if this was the issue, then the core game is surely less than 10% (even less) and its expansions are easily over 90%.

If marketing is the issue, then what amount of a game should be considered marketing? How do you know if a game is going to be a sleeper hit (hardly any marketing) or a huge success? Even Eric Lang has duds, but that doesn't mean all his games are 80%. That's preposterous.

To be honest, you have no clue what I plan to put or add or change to my game, but I will say it's not 80%. You also have no cue about how I plan to market my game.

This...80% is such a pie-out-of-the-sky number. To be honest, many games are released at 50%...even 20%.

It's a learning process. You create a game as best you can and you think it's 100%. But to increase the longevity of a game, you create expansions, but to more you create expansions (which the case with a lot of games), to farther away the original game is "80%" and becomes a lower number. What of Magic The Gathering? does not having expansions to Monopoly make it 100%? That game has...EXTENSIVE flaws that are mostly unfixed.

I respect Knizia as a designer, but game design is organic and I know he will agree to that. He's...ALWAYS making games, and so in his mind, it makes sense, but that's how he operates.

I'm pretty sure he wasn't

I'm pretty sure larienna wasn't saying your game was at 80%.

If anything, larienna was implying that your game was farther along because you didn't spend some crazy amount of time or money on marketing.

No one's calling your baby ugly or anything.

And considering the current state of games and especially the games that get funded on Kickstarter, I believe Knizia's theory to be largely correct.

The final 10% of a game's design is by far the most difficult, and often, designers just say "good enough" and don't spend the time to make a good game great.

You may be correct

@Gabe: Yeah that might be an "under-statement".

The thing I believe is most designers don't have the opportunity to work with someone else who can say what that last 10% is all about.

Maybe that last 10% implies changing your business model, going along with the more usual game formats, making the game more replayable, etc.

These sort of things that "partners" can offer more objective and less partial advice about. Again the challenge is finding people who are willing to take the time to LEARN about your game and then invest time in making it better.

That's why I believe that games released by a Publisher are far more solid that designers self-publishing their own designs. There has been a lot of discussion on other threads lately about "Not my design" or "Because it is changed, I no longer 'love' my game". I don't feel that way but it seems like other designers care about "preserving" their design AS-IS...

I on the other hand am open to changing the game to make the overall quality better. So that 10% left over, we're now in the process of trying to make it the best possible game ever. And that means tweaking that last 10%...

But yeah, if you don't have anyone who will say: "Hey, this can be better or that can be different, etc." it's more likely that the last 10% never gets addressed...

The missing 20% is not about

The missing 20% is not about the content of the game but rather the solidity of the design.

Sure expansions could "patch" the orignal game and make it more solid. But you can never exceed 100% even if you had 50 expansions.

-------------------------------------------------------

Quote:
The thing I believe is most designers don't have the opportunity to work with someone else who can say what that last 10% is all about.

Exactly, if you add marketting into the equation of time investment (which I was not considering before), then it makes sense now why people are not pushing further, because their time is better spent elsewhere. It's a valid strategic decision. But leaves the game as good enough.

Quote:
But yeah, if you don't have anyone who will say: "Hey, this can be better or that can be different, etc." it's more likely that the last 10% never gets addressed...

Exactly, yes publishers help because they have an experience the designer does not always have. While people kickstarting themselves does not have that expertise. It does not means non-publisher games are bad, rather than the risks of a bad game to be lower with a publisher.

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Marketting made by the designer might not always be possible. In my specific situation, trying to attend to such board game conventions to promote a game would cost me thousands of dollars just to make the trip (hotel, food, transportation).

The problem is that even a good selling game would not gives me back that much money. So it's not worth the investment. I could stick to local conventions, but not only they are few of them and not very popular, most people in my local areas prefer party games which I don't play and design.

So marketting in person is something I can simply not do even if I have the best available game in hand.

larienna wrote:The problem

larienna wrote:

The problem is that even a good selling game would not gives me back that much money.

Depends how well it sells.

When selling at convention, you have no middleman. So you get much more returns from every box you sell.

Where are you located?

He's located ...

In Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

@Eric: You'd probably be better off "Translating" Fallen Kingdoms to French and trying to get involved with the "French Gaming Community".

We don't have a very strong anglophone Gaming Community in Montreal.

Yes we do have a meetup and there are a couple of places you can go to actually try games without any buying. But for designers, there's not much other than focusing on your own game and getting it "out there" (USA).

Many of the distributors buy from the USA direct. So they sell whatever is HOT and interesting. They also sell the more common stock like Magic, Pokemon and board game staples (King of Tokyo, Smallworld, Pandemic, etc.)

We also have a Comic Con in Montreal which is pretty popular. But we don't have a "Board Game Con". People at the Comic Con are interested more in buying comic singles or buying graphic novels or talking with the celebrities. Not many people interested in buying GAMES.

We also don't have a CON to PLAY board games... Like Protospiel or something like that.

On the other hand the French community have Publishers (Maison d'Edition) and have I believe several cons a year... Not sure if they are in Montreal or Quebec (city).

Anyways there is not much aside from the few regular meetups.

Quote: We don't have a very

Quote:
We don't have a very strong anglophone Gaming Community in Montreal.

I don't have the numbers but I don't think there is much difference with the french gaming community. The french might stigmatise gaming more than the english people. The main difference is what get's played and published. If you look at most quebec publishing companies, it's either party games or fluffy games. That is what sells here, because people are somehow always on the party. Euro games are getting more and more popular here, but there is still a lot of resistance.

Quote:
But we don't have a "Board Game Con"

We had a couple of conventions here like Filosophia, Draconis, and there is a new one at maisonneuve college (possibly a revival of Maycon). There is the one organished by the libraries which I think is "Montreal joue". Not comparable in anyway to those con in USA, they might actually feel like Garage Conventions. Still, there is some effort to have some kind of conventions and I respect that, but again I don't think my designs match the target audiance of those conventions.

Quote:
We also don't have a CON to PLAY board games

There is the stack academy, which will take place next year at the University of montreal. I know the guy who runs it, it has been a while since I have been there. Else, there is always concordia university twice a month which is free.

Quote:
You'd probably be better off "Translating" Fallen Kingdoms to French and trying to get involved with the "French Gaming Community".

Fallen kingdom is a good game, for my first game, but it's not really publishable. It's unfortunately too long for what it is. My new design try to be more compact and dense. The best I could do is to eventually make a game app for it. I focused more on video game programming to have less design restrictions.

Quote:
When selling at convention, you have no middleman. So you get much more returns from every box you sell.

Yes, when you do more than designing, you get more from each copy sold. But I doubt you can gain enough money to cover travel costs. If the convention is at car distance, fine, you could probably make some profit. For example, if there was a convention in Ottawa, I could make montreal-Ottawa and get back the same day, I have done it with my friend (it's a 2 hour trip). In that case, only food and gas is required. Using the train is also possible, the ticket cost around 50$, so the losses are not so bad if you make more than 1$ per game sold.

larienna wrote:if you make

larienna wrote:
if you make more than 1$ per game sold.

If you make less than 1$ per game sold, your cost to produce the game should be like 20 cents. You must be missing at least a zero there, and maybe a few more digits :)

But that's not the point. You go to conventions as this is almost the only way to get noticed without having a huge marketing budget.

Quote:If you make less than

Quote:
If you make less than 1$ per game sold, your cost to produce the game should be like 20 cents. You must be missing at least a zero there, and maybe a few more digits :)

People always said that the designer gets 2.5% of the retail price. So a board game sold 50$ gives 1$ to the designer.

Where 40-50% of the retail price is taken by the retailer, and then the printer, the publisher and the distributor takes their cut leaving almost nothing to the designer.

The only way to break this is to self publish so that you get the publisher's cut ... but you have more work to do (find artists, manage production, marketting, etc.)

Quote:
You go to conventions as this is almost the only way to get noticed without having a huge marketing budget.

If they are conventions in your local area I agree, if they are not any it will be expansive to travel to those conventions.

larienna wrote: People always

larienna wrote:

People always said that the designer gets 2.5% of the retail price. So a board game sold 50$ gives 1$ to the designer.

If we're talking about published games, then it's completely irrelevant since publisher will have a presence there. It's important that your game is at conventions, not necessarily you in person.

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