Games, like any media, are about selling product. You don’t have to make a lot of money, but what do you do if you’re an up and coming game publisher and you want to hone the needed skills of project management, art, graphic design evaluation, and business acumen?
Well, one thing you could do is take a risk on an unknown, fledgling game designer chomping at the bit to wow the world with the next game to push Magic: The Gathering to the dust bin. Instant success right?
Unfortunately, no. Solid, engaging games are not as common as you might think. Having played quite a few games of the “what game was that again?” variety, the best course for many publishers is to find an unappreciated, older gem of a title and brush it off for the Kickstarter crowd. Some aged games have just as much staying power as newer products, but lack the zing that a crowdfunding-refresh seems to generate.
If you’re a publisher looking to tackle a project like this, listen up.
Which Title to Choose?
Find a game that rates highly for mechanisms with plenty of potential for blinging out the components (usually ones that people have taken on themselves). This gives you a lot of flexibility for stretch goals. It also helps if some of the mechanisms are modular and adding more content doesn’t require a lot more rebalancing of the game.
How to Improve It?
If you’ve gone through the hard work of contacting the designer and working out some kind of contract, now you need to decide how the new edition of the game is going to change. Here’s a guide for some things that gamers like and some things gamers hate.
Updated Components – Gamers love to see new art and reimagined art. They also love it when you give them options for wooden meeple components or miniatures. Heck, some people even like standees, but those people also prefer paper plates probably.
Modular Variants and Optional Rules – When you expand someone’s favorite game, you’re often saying “Hey yeah, that ‘67 Camaro was cool but wouldn’t it be great if it had motorized seats and climate control?” Maybe. Sometimes it’s better something stays original, and sometimes it’s better if it’s updated. Allowing new content to be optional is a great way to appease everyone.
A New Theme – Many games work well just because of their mechanisms. There are lots of games which have some kind of inner workings that fit multiple themes. If a new theme generates more interest and excitement from a newer audience, usually it’s not that big of a deal to consumers unless the maturity of the theme changes in one direction or another.
Clearer and More Streamlined Rules and Mechanisms – Another thing that every publisher should focus on is making the game more appropriate for changing gamer demands. If play can be shortened by eliminating over-complicated use of components, that’s a good thing. If rules can be eliminated by combining components without hampering strategy or theme, that’s a good thing. Overall, simpler is almost always better as long as the core experience and weight of the choices involved do not change.
Plastic Inserts to Organize Pieces – Ok, some publishers may roll their eyes at this one, but gamers today are elitist and demanding, yours truly included. If you can’t spare the extra time to design a nice game insert with the help of your game manufacturer, please don’t expect a blockbuster Kickstarter campaign unless your designer’s name is Vital Lacerda and your artist’s name is Ian O’Toole. Having a well-made insert just reminds the consumer what you as a publisher are about, game quality. Without that reputation, plenty of purchasers will pass on your campaign.
Changing the Game – At the core of many great games is a connection of theme and mechanisms. Altering one or the other without a suitable need or fitting replacement really irks some people. If a Ticket to Ride 2nd Edition came out with a Candyland type theme, sales would likely not be the same. In addition, if the game changed from card drawing to dice rolling, a similar alteration in sales could happen.
Changing the Price Point – Many gamers are happy to spend extra bucks for a new edition, especially if it hits all the “Likes” from above. However, a more than 10% jump in relative price (adjusted for inflation) is going to get noticed, especially when it could be a pure reprint. Take the time to get some early feedback on pricing and see what, if anything, can be adjusted.
Talking About Marketing the Reprint – This one may be a bit confusing, but as a publisher, you’re out to make a buck. Consumers know that, they just don’t want to be reminded of it. Overly aggressive sales tactics or throwing everything and the kitchen sink into a Kickstarter to make as much money as possible is plainly obvious to consumers. We KNOW the money we spend is a flexible expense from discretionary income. If we’re choosing to give that money to you over adding to a rainy day fund, there’s no need to also comment about how your marketing is top notch and your “influencers” are some of the best. Stay humble.
Recently Published Games That Get Reprints – Before you hit the publish button on that Kickstarter page, I also hope that you take the time to see how recently the game in question was published and when was the last expansion released. If your reprint is deviating from the content that’s already out there, which was just released itself, maybe it’s too soon for a reprint? For some games, even seven years is too recent for a reprint. Again, testing the waters with fans is key.
Upgrade Kits Unavailable – Ok, this is a dicey one, but it should be said. If there is no way to bring a 1st Edition game to be playable with a subset of components from the 2nd Edition, you’re gonna take some heat unless the game has long been out of print. People love their games. They spend hundreds, sometimes even thousands, on specific games. If you update a relatively recently published game and don’t offer even a way for previously released content to work with the new version, you do so with risk. Then again, some gamers don’t care about this at all.
Revised and second editions are great. I think they’re just the right thing to reintroduce some amazing games to new fans. What does bother me on these campaigns, is publishers who don’t do their homework. They may be asking for Kickstarter failure without some basic research about how to bring a much-beloved title back to life.
Now to get back to playing Endeavor: Age of Sail!