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Give the game away? When it might make sense

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Broadsword56
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Joined: 02/05/2015

I'm an unpublished and unknown hobbyist designer.

My game's topic appeals to a niche within a niche within a niche audience (historical, naval age of fighting sail, War of 1812).

It's a card-assisted solitaire game with a reactive and dynamic AI.

The game costs me nothing to produce (other than my designing and developing time, of course) as a Cyberboard-only computer version and host the file somewhere.

The game is designed to be played in several optional ways:

1.) Play it a standalone, self-contained, fast-playing solitaire strategy game with only 8 turns, resolving combat by dieroll on a simple Combat Results Table;

2.) Play the strategy level, then set up the generated ship encounters in a "maneuver" level from first sighting (max 19 km) to combat range (1 km), then resolve combat with the CRT;

3.) Use the strategy and maneuver levels within the game to stage the tactical setup for battles that players can resolve outside the game, using the tactical naval boardgame or miniatures of their choice.

These multiple options are what I believe would make the game most appealing. The wargaming hobby is highly fragmented already -- between boardgamers (who prefer different tactical boardgames) and miniatures players, between enthusiasts of simple CDGs and hex-and-counter "grognards," between naval Napoleonic and War of 1812 fans, and between players who favor different miniatures scales (1:600, 1:1200, 1:1000, etc.) Any of these players could enjoy my game without having to give up their favored tactical naval system.

I design a line of 3D printed, 1:1000 scale historical naval miniatures, which I sell on my Shapeways site. Those actually do cost money to make. So, I'm viewing my game not as a work to sell and make money from in its own right, but rather as a "killer app" that could foster an online community of interest around my topic. Once people have my game and are enjoying it, the reasoning goes, they'll want to have the actual ships that fought in the campaign -- and then they'll really want to buy my miniatures.

So, my intent would be to offer the Cyberboard version for free, posting the offer on various sites where historical naval wargamers and miniatures hobbyists hang out. I'd certainly rather sell the game, but realistically I just don't think enough people would buy it to make it commercially viable. It actually seems to have greater value as a freebie -- and if it caught on, I could sell add-ons or enhanced versions with additional scenarios, etc. If the game developed a sufficient following, then a physical published version could still be considered -- and a publisher might be more interested because the game already had a preexisting fanbase.

Is this a realistic marketing move? Or am I selling myself short?

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