The Business of Board Games
Welcome to Unscripted – a lighthearted, unrehearsed, and sometimes silly Q&A series with Rose Gauntlet Entertainment founders and tabletop game designers Isaac Vega and Lindsey Rode.
In this edition of Unscripted, we’re talking all about the “Dark Side” of board gaming…business *GASP*! We’ll look at where our business brains come into play and how that fits in a creative environment.
First question – when it comes to designing and producing a new game, when does product viability and financials come into play?
Lindsey: That comes into play long before you start to make the product. You budget out everything. If you have an idea, firstly you test that idea out as cheap as possible, which for us is usually on scrap paper. Then we make simple prototypes using InDesign and take it to Tabletopia to test out with a little bit more polish. Finally, we'll go through and budget everything and determine our profit margin and how that affects our company, igniting a discussion about finances before we ever start talking about production.
That discussion can impact design. Will we have miniatures? How much does that cost? What are the quotes for that? We start reaching out to manufacturers really early just to get a feel of whether this iteration of the game could be profitably or even financially possible.
It’s vital to talk about the financial side long before your game exists and to continue those conversations over the lifetime of the product.
Isaac: Yeah, and because we've been in the industry for so long, that discussion starts a lot earlier than maybe some creators are used to because that’s part of our design process. We're thinking about those things even before it comes to the table.
Now, if we were looking at a new designer’s prototype, it really just depends on where they're at and what adjustments could be needed to move forward. But in general, because we've been in this industry for so long, we’ve seen enough and have enough experience to know those financial discussions should start super early.
As an indie game company, how do you balance creativity with financial practicality? Have an example?
Isaac: Well, for us, like part of the reason that we started this company is that we wanted more of the flexibility to tip the balance more towards the creativity side. We wanted to have the opportunity to create more of our passion projects and make things where we felt we had something interesting to say.
As far as financial practicality though, we do, of course, still have to take that into consideration. A perfect example was the gameboards for Keystone: North America. We had to figure out whether we wanted to the gameboards puzzle pieces or foldable? Could we afford neoprene mats, or did that need to be part of a deluxe version of the game to maintain a viable price point? What about wooden tokens?
So financial practicality definitely comes into play with every project. There are things we want to do with every project that are just too expensive that we have to cut certain things so we can make that price point where it needs to be. We try to focus more on creativity first and making everything else work around it, but sometimes financials do limit that creativity in specific ways.
Lindsey: Yeah, I don't know that we have an exact formula with this. If we think something is cool enough, we're going to do everything in our power to make it happen. Our thought is, if the idea is cool enough, other people will support it regardless, even if it's a couple bucks more. Just because it's that cool.
I don't know if that's how other companies do it, but we're willing, to take that risk, probably more so than some of the bigger game companies. That's one of the great things about being small.
Isaac: Yeah, that is an advantage of being small and going to crowdfunding. We're able to take chances that we’re passionate about and gauge consumer interest before we actually make it.
Like those really chonky wooden components in Wild Gardens!
Isaac: Oh my god, yes!
You mentioned crowdfunding – for Rose Gauntlet, do you see it more as a long-term tool in the toolbox or more of a necessary steppingstone to leverage until you can move into direct releases?
Lindsey: So, for right now, it's a necessary steppingstone. I think it will always be part of our company in some way, but not how most of our releases will be done in the future. If we have crazy ideas or more off the wall things later that maybe we don't know if there's a market for it or we haven't seen anything like it before, using crowdfunding to kind of experiment sounds way better than making 5,000 copies without any sort of input or feedback from the community.
So, I think in that way it'll always be part of us, but I don't know if we'll always use it for every title like we are now.
Isaac: It would be nice in the future when we have more funds to have the flexibility to decide between the two options. Direct releases allow for more of a surprise to our audience because it's like, “Oh, by the way, we've been working on this game for the last two years and it's here and it's available right now!”
It can be incredibly beneficial to announce a project and get it in people’s hands so quickly. In fact, that alone can sometimes be a huge incentive on its own to get people interested. Sometimes people don't crowdfund because they know they won't actually have the product in their hands for months or even years.
Last thoughts here – do you have a practical piece of business advice that anyone starting a company in tabletop gaming should know?
Isaac: I think the best piece of advice, something that we still need to follow ourselves, is to do as much as you can with a project BEFORE you start investing a lot of money into it. Test your prototype, polish it, get it to as perfect as possible before spending. From there you can start investing in the art, editing, etc., but get it as close to final as you can first – it can save you a lot of future headaches.
If you skip the polishing, the game’s design could change and you may end up wasting a ton of money on the graphic design, the art, or other elements of production because you haven't fine-tuned all the different moving parts of the game.
It doesn't require too much financially to make a prototype, but it does require a lot to make a product. And once that product is well on its way, changes are harder and harder to make as a company.
Lindsey: For me, my piece of advice would be whatever business you want to do, whatever product you want to make, do your best to find someone who's making a similar product or running a successful similar business and ask them if you can pick their brain, or even better, if you can work alongside them in some capacity for a period of time. You're going to learn so much faster, working alongside someone else, even for a short period, then you will forging ahead on your own without having any experience.
That’s the thing I did that I'm most grateful for looking back. I worked with other companies and saw what worked and what didn't before taking those risks myself.
Isaac: Oh, and one last piece for me – get to know as many people in the industry as you possibly can. Networking is huge in our industry and pretty much any industry I've ever been a part of. Learning how to develop and maintain good relationships with people and seek advice from them at critical moments is really, really helpful in every stage of business.
Having a good network is incredibly helpful to you finding success.