Designing a board game is a totally different kettle of fish from publishing a board game. If you only enjoy the designing process, then do not attempt to self-publish. Or perhaps just consider the web-publishing route.
The size of the game box affects many many things:
• Design of the game box • How it appears on the shelf • How many to produce (so that you can fill up just one container and save on shipping) • Amount of storage space required • How many can be packed into one carton box by your manufacturer • How many games can be placed on one pallet • Pallet shape and size • Whether you need a custom sized carton box to pack it in for mailing to your customer
The above list is not meant to be exhaustive.
We were taken by surprise by its far-reaching implications and could have planned it better.
Lesson learnt: Plan way in advance the dimensions of your game box
Be prepared for delays. In nearly every phase of the game's development, we experienced delays, some of which were pretty significant.
Artwork was planned to take 8-9 months and it took a year; no fault of our excellent artist, Ray Toh. Manufacturing was scheduled to be completed in about 3 months and it took 5; some adjustments had to be made despite the amount of care put in by Ray and ourselves.
In retrospect, it was not surprising. Every game is different in design, mechanic, artwork, shape, size, weight... it is virtually impossible for things to work out the first time round without requiring adjustments.
Lesson learnt: Build in very substantial buffers when planning timelines
We were fortunate that we did not go the Kickstarter way and therefore did not have to make any promises to anyone. If we had, we would have disappointed a lot of customers and lost whatever little credibility we had built up.
During the development process, it was always tempting to put out news that such and such will be done by a certain date to get board gamers excited. We realised that it may backfire quickly on us if some of those unforeseen delays take place, and they inevitably do.
We took the more prudent route and were announcing updates only when we were reasonably sure of the outcome. Even then, we were still building in buffers before making the announcement.
Lesson learnt: Make promises regarding delivery of your final product at your own risk!
After speaking with a few fulfillment companies/distributors, we found out quickly the importance of the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP). Many of the discussions on prices were based on the MSRP. We also found out that an MSRP above US$60 is considered to be on the expensive side, but it obviously also depends on the number and quality of game components.
We realised that it would have been much better and easier to work out the budget with a target MSRP in mind.
Lesson learnt: Work on your budget with the MSRP in mind
When planning your budget, it is natural to concentrate on the bigger costs first. However, it is important to give the smaller costs due consideration at some point in time, because they can quickly build up and you may soon realise you are in the red due to them.
This is especially so if you are running your own online store like I am. Examples include carton boxes, masking tape, fees related to unloading the container carrying the game stocks etc.
Lesson learnt: Build in some buffer for smaller unforeseen costs
Set aside some money in your budget to send review copies for reviewers. Having said so, do pick and choose the reviewers after doing some research work. Reviewers will have their own preferences on the type of board games and it will be best for you to find good matches. You should also take into account the region the reviewer is in and his/her schedule.
We were surprised by the amount of attention Ray's excellent artwork was garnering from our playtesters and subsequently BGG-ers who saw the pictures we uploaded. It certainly helped our game gain the initial attention it needed. Of course, the game still needed strong gameplay to back it up, but artwork helped us get our foot in the door.
Lesson learnt: Attractive artwork is the crucial first step to marketing your game
If you plan to sell your games to different regions, then spend time researching on each region's regulations. The CE marking for selling in the eurozone was a prime example that I spent a tonne of time understanding. It was tempting to just follow what the big boys were doing but we eventually found out that some might be doing it wrong, i.e. the CE marking should not be applied if the board game was labelled ages 14+.
Quoting the reply we received from a legal officer of the European Commission:
"If you conclude that the product is intended for children under 14 years, and is considered a toy, it should be in compliance with the provisions of the Toy Safety Directive 2009/48/EC and bear the CE marking. If you conclude however that your product is not a toy, and is intended for children above 14 years, you should not verify conformity with the Toy Safety Directive or affix the CE marking according to the provisions of that directive. The CE marking shall be affixed only to products to which its affixing is provided for by specific Community harmonisation legislation."
Lesson learnt: Research and understand the regulations of regions that you plan to enter
If you are a small publisher or first-time publisher, be prepared that no distributor will be interested in your product. Or if they are, they are only interested in small quantities. Kickstarter seems to have diminished the industry's appetite for risk and first-time designers and publishers are viewed with much caution. This is even if you are very confident in your board game.
With the above in mind, do come up with a few alternative plans when it comes to distributing your games. For me, I chose to distribute Three Kingdoms Redux myself, which I recognise is quite a risky undertaking. I sometimes still stress over that decision. My Significant Other keeps reminding me to take it easy.
Lesson learnt: Have a Plan B, even Plan C, when it comes to distribution
We took a long time in deciding the company name. The decision was based largely on whether a .com URL was still available.
We had considered more Singlish names initially, but eventually settled on an easier to pronounce and more board gaming-related "Starting Player". We were very fortunate to find that startingplayer.com was still available and literally jumped on it; we had found it available in the morning and bought it that same evening.
It was after we had launched our website that we realised the wisdom of our choice. When asked for our website, our reply was short and snappy. Startingplayer.com is easy to pronounce and certainly not a mouthful. Best of all, the name is quite easy to remember.
Lesson learnt: Aim for a catchy and easy to remember webpage URL
Asia is not a suitable region to publish board games. There are very few board gamers over here and we are far from the main action in the US and Europe, which means that shipping costs to our customers is higher than what they are used to.
Lesson learnt: Migrate (Just joking... we love our home country and would still go through the entire process again even if we knew all of the above before embarking on this project)