SELF PUBLISHING 107: Marketing your Board Game

self publishing 107

THE BOARD GAME MARKET

Who buys board games? Well it depends on the kind of game of course but generally you find that they appeal more to people who are well educated and family oriented. They could be any age but most likely, they be aged between 25-44.

The market has a heavy seasonal bias towards Christmas in terms of consumer purchasing patterns. And particularly with family board games it is most likely that the housewife (if there is one in the family) will be the purchaser.

The market size for board games is tough to quantify exactly but in the US the board games and puzzles market was worth around $381 million, according to figures released in early 2001.  Since then, each and every year from 2002 to 2014 sales of board games increased between 10 and 20 percent.  We are in the Golden Age of Board Games.  A Rennaissance if you will.

Market size is often something that board games designers often dwell on, usually with optimistic hopes of taking ‘just one percent of the market’. One percent is actually extremely ambitious and it is much better to begin with the question “how much money will I be happy to make from this project” and then decide whether the market can provide you with that sort of return. If everything exceeds your expectations then so much the better, but one should not aim too high to start with.

In both the US and the UK, the majority of board games are sold via the large retail group, however a large number of the non-mainstream (ie: monopoly and scrabble type games) are available primarily through smaller Board Game and Toy or Hobby shops.

Smaller board games companies find it difficult to provide the range, margins and product support demanded by the large retailers and therefore if you are considering launching your own board game, take care to establish which retailers you will be able to distribute your board games to and whether or not they are likely to sell sufficient volume to make your enterprise profitable.  Of course, you could also go it alone, but that’s for another article.

HOW DO I MARKET MY BOARD GAME?

First of all, start by telling everyone you know about it. Tell them what it is, play it with them, and tell them where they can buy it. Start with friends, family, classmates, co-workers, and so on, as they will most likely be instantly interested your game, because they are interested in you.

Publish your game information on Board Game Geek. They have millions of users, and if you’re not already using that site, you should. You should be reviewing other games on the site, talking in their community, and maybe even purchasing ad space on their site to promote the sale of your game.

Create a page on Wikipedia.com for your business and games. Click here to see a good example of how a popular game company uses Wikipedia to their advantage! Note that Wikipedia admins often delete articles that are “not important enough”; having your article well-cited will help.

Your local game store is your friend. Most game stores will have a board game night where you can pitch your game. This works a lot like setting up in the game area at a convention, but on a smaller more intimate level. If you work with the game store in advance they may even promote you on their web site letting people know in advance to come check you out. In addition, some game stores will either buy copies of your game to sell in their store, or sell your games on consignment. They’ll do this because you’re local, so when you go in, explain that you are local.

Before beginning any marketing campaign, it is important to have specific business goals and branding desires, even if they are not easily measured.  Some example goals would be;

  • To reduce the risk of publishing by having a fan base that you can reach and count on to buy your games.
  • To have your company associated as a brand that produces great games.
  • To appeal to early adopter gamers that will jump start word of mouth marketing.

Knowing your goals, the majority of what has to be done as a marketing effort is to accomplish these goals.  It helps to shape the what, when, where, and how of the message. There are generally 3 main channels to which you want to market your games :

  • Hobby Retailers
  • Distributors
  • Consumers

MARKETING BOARD GAMES TO HOBBY RETAILERS

Retailers love:

  • Higher gross profit margins
  • No competition from online discounters
  • Promotional items
  • Advanced release
  • Demo copies

MARKETING BOARD GAMES TO DISTRIBUTERS

At least in the United States and Canada, and with the larger board game distributors, you should not count on them actively promoting or stocking your product.  If you are a new board game publisher, then you need a fulfillment company with existing distributor relationships that can get you in the door (or a really good Kickstarter project).  After that, you will need to market heavily to individuals and retailers to get them to pull your games through the distribution system.

The advantage of getting into distribution is that they have thousands of existing retailers as customers.  A certain portion of which will order your games and put them on their shelves.  Just do not count on distribution sales continuing at a good pace.  By the time your games have been flipped by the distributors, they will be moving on to the next new release.

MARKETING BOARD GAMES TO CONSUMERS

There are numerous ways to accomplish this, but there are methods that are often found to be the most valuable per unit of time.  It is suggested you should concentrate on:

  • Social Media Marketing
  • Reviews
  • Conventions

SOCIAL MEDIA

For most small or one-off publishers of games you should extensively use Board Game Geek for the marketing of your games, increasing your fan base, and so forth.  Your next most important place for social media marketing is a blog and then Twitter and Facebook.  The goal of these efforts is to build your brand, get people interacting, and a slow build of additional fans.  Don’t expect immediate results.  As with any marketing it takes time for people to get involved.

REVIEWS

There are popular board game reviewers with large audiences that can drive sales for your board games.  If you have produced an exceptional product, then there is absolutely no fear in providing review copies to some of these reviewers, free of charge to them.  If your game is good they’ll review it in their magazine, blog, newsletter, etc and drive buyers directly to your game

This is not a new or novel concept.  You should integrate this into your Social Media Marketing.  Even if people do not watch or read the review in question, they can see that it has been reviewed by a known authority on what a good game is.  That alone is worth it.

It is also important to build a good relationship with the reviewers.  Not so that their reviews of your games will be better, but rather so that they will be interested in reviewing your games at all!

CONVENTIONS

Attend local and nearby conventions.  Some ways to market your game at conventions are to :

  • Support small or regional conventions including providing game library copies and some prize table copies.
  • Exhibiting at large conventions is expensive and you will benefit from being an existing brand and having several products.  Without this, your booth will probably look empty which will give people an excuse to avoid your booth.
  • Demonstrating your new game at conventions is a far less expensive way to get people to see your game in action and build interest.  You don’t need a booth; Just register and demo your games in the board game area.
  • Bring extra copies of your game with you if you’re demoing so that you can sell them on the spot.  That way people will take the game home with them, and the word will spread even further.

HOW DO I GET A UPC FOR MY GAME?

Many game publishers wish to sell their games in retail shops, but to do so they must have a bar code on the packaging. This is actually a relatively easy process, but if you haven’t done it before, it can feel daunting.

The first step is to determine if you need a UPC (universal product code). The only reason to have it is if you plan to sell it at retailers. If you’re selling your game exclusively from our web site, your web site, or at trade shows, then don’t bother.

Second, find a provider of bar codes. You could go direct to GS1 (the administrators of UPC bar codes) and buy your bar codes, but that will cost you $750 up front and $250 per year. Instead, there are lots of internet retailers that buy bulk codes from GS1 and then resell them to you one at a time for as little as $10. Search “UPC bar code” on your favorite search engine and you’ll find plenty. Beware though, you want to make sure that the bar codes are GS1 certified, and also that they’re approved for use at major retailers.

Once you’ve purchased a bar code from a reputable seller, they will provide you with high resolution bar code images. The good places will provide you with both bitmap images (JPEG/PNG) and vector (EPS/SVG).  Download those images and keep them in a safe place that is backed up. Also make sure that you keep track of which bar code goes with which product, as you cannot reuse a bar code. Even if you have a variant of the same product (like a deluxe edition) it needs it’s own unique bar code.

Now you need to create a white space on your packaging and place the bar code in it.  Be sure to leave a white margin all the way around the bar code. Ideally that margin should be at least 0.125 inches (38 pixels). The bar code itself should not be warped in any way, and should ideally be 1.469 inches (441 pixels) wide and 1.02 inches (306 pixels) tall.

Congratulations! You now have a UPC printed on every package that is compatible with any retailer in the United States or Canada.

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