One of the most popular boardgame video reviewers, Marco Arnaudo, has a saying, “In every boardgamer, there is a wargamer screaming to come out.” I happen to agree, and I am on a crusade to help bring more gamers to the wargaming hobby.
You may wonder who am I to try to teach publishers about doing their job, so I will briefly introduce myself. My name is Ania B. Ziolkowska, and I’ve been a freelance graphic artist in the wargaming industry since 2014. You may say this isn’t very long. It’s not, but I believe that I have a fresh perspective, not only from an industry insider point of view but also as a trained ad specialist. And, what’s probably most important, from a casual gamer-turned-wargamer point of view. So bear with me and I guarantee you that following these five simple and (mostly) free steps, will not only attract new customers to your business but will also increase loyalty to your brand.
1. MAKE THE RULEBOOK AS CLEAR AS POSSIBLE.
If your reaction to this point is “doh, it already is“, but before releasing the game only your team (playtesters, designer and developer) read your rulebook, then I bet you I will find at least five things in it that may be improved to serve gamers better.
The common oversight is to give the rulebook to only industry insiders to review. The designer and the developer have good knowledge of their game’s rules, so they may easily miss some unclear paragraphs. Playtesters and proofreaders are a great asset, there’s no doubt about it, but they are usually wargamers themselves. Give your rulebook file to a few casual gamers and ask them to use the commenting tool (which is built into a text editor). Have them write down all their questions and doubts while they read along. Also, ask them to mark if and where later in the text they’ve found the answer to their previous concerns. That will give you a good understanding of what needs to be fixed, rearranged and explained in more detail, or just calls for annotation in your rulebook.
In general, try to avoid acronyms and abbreviations. There is a lot of military jargon in wargames as is, so don’t make it harder for newbies by adding to this acronyms. If you can’t (or won’t avoid them) then provide a glossary in the front or back of the rulebook. Explaining an acronym or abbreviation just once in the text may not be enough – you can’t assume that a reader will remember all the definitions right away. Or that they will remember where in a sixteen-page- rulebook the acronym was already mentioned.
Use many illustrations.That may cause the rulebook to be longer but will help gamers understand the rules better and will also make pages look less intimidating (by breaking blocks of text into more coherent parts).
Insert a lengthy example of a play in the rulebook and make sure that it doesn’t follow the simplest choices the player may take during their turn. Also, ensure that it doesn’t include that one exception to the rule in the whole mechanics.
And finally, post your rulebook online. Assume that at some point gamers who have never heard of your company may consider purchasing your game. Now, their decision may be to check out the artwork, the reviews and other players’ opinions and/or the rulebook itself. An artwork is a powerful tool, it may be eye-catching, but most gamers need at least one extra incentive to purchase – either they know and trust your brand, or they are interested in the particular topic your game covers, or they had positive experiences with other games by that designer. Those who are new to wargaming won’t have the benefit of any of these. They may read or watch some reviews or ask around. However, reviews may not exist yet, and some gamers want to judge mechanics and complexity for themselves – especially if they’ve never bought a wargame. So post it! Post that rulebook on your website and on Boardgamegeek (because this is the place where the people who you want to attract hang out).
2. WATCH YOUR PLAYTESTERS PLAY.
Playtesters are one of the most valuable assets in the game development process – they are passionate, self-motivated, methodical and they are usually working in exchange for the product and (yes!) appreciation. It’s really impressive that tests can be conducted by people all over the world thanks to the internet, but I would strongly advise you to have a small group of playtesters that you can actually watch while they play. This is may be done via webcam, but watch them closely: Are they having fun? How many times do they need to consult the rulebook? How do they use the turn track, holding boxes and tables on the map?
I’m often surprised how different players actually use tracks and holding boxes in contrast to how the designer or developer intended it to work. I see many pictures of games in play with counters piling up on a track, sitting outside playing areas to avoid covering important information or crowding in small holding boxes. These are easy to avoid mistakes in the design process if you just simply watch how people play and interact with your prototype.
3. SEND YOUR PRODUCT TO THE RIGHT VIDEO REVIEWERS.
You may ask, who the hell is the “right” video reviewer?! That’s a fair question. If your game targets grognards and people already well acquainted with wargaming, then just send your copies to those with high recognition and well-earned respect. In that case, even the old-school wargame magazine review would be a great and very useful promotional tool.
If you, however, produced a lighter wargame, a solitary piece or a wargame with cards, then your target customer is beyond the scope of grognards. You need to reach younger people, wargame newbies and casual gamers looking to expand their horizons. In that case, a video review is the way to go.
Did you know that Google owns YouTube, and a Google search will always select YouTube video over any other content which may be related to your game? If you really want to have a wider impact with your game, try to look for those reviewers who make well-filmed, well-edited, dynamic videos which are a maximum of 10-15 minutes long.
In the era of the internet, social media and smartphones, we all have shorter attention spans, and we tend to switch to another video after a couple of seconds or minutes unless there is something which is dynamic enough to keep us interested. Fortunately, there are some reviewers who balance the art of the boardgame review really nicely. To illustrate what I mean check The Discriminating Gamer YouTube channel.
4. SHOW UP AND BE PREPARED.
Go to conventions. You don’t have to show up at each and every one of them, but try to attend at least some that are near you. You don’t need to have a huge booth. You don’t even need to have your own booth – many publishers share their space to lower the costs, and that’s perfectly fine.
Show up, lay your games on the tables and set them up ready to play. Your game may be too long to play at the convention or even to explain all the rules in just a couple of minutes, but show the game itself in action.
Prepare a short description of the game – what it’s about and why this particular subject is so interesting. If this is not a strictly wargaming convention, then don’t go into too much historical detail – be brief and focus on the things which capture the imagination, stuff like ‘’In the 15th century knights were mostly nobleman, and they despised archers for not fighting honourably by killing enemies from afar. On some occasions, like during the Battle of Creҫy, knights even rode through lines of their own archers. However, at Agincourt, where the English were outnumbered 4-1 by the French army, archers played a huge role in the English victory.” Those kinds of details will stick in the listener’s mind better than numbers and dates.
Also, prepare a super-simplified version of the rules – a basic structure, so you are able to give at least an impression of the game’s flow. Don’t improvise, convert rules into a script, try to read them out loud and time yourself – this is not a lecture, this is a convention, you have to be reasonably quick.
When you have both scripts ready for your product, there is nothing simpler than reaching out to your fans and asking for help. How many people will your company send to the event? Are they sociable people? Are they eager to share the product with a wider audience? It is always better to anticipate a bunch of enthusiastic fans, who may even know your games better than you do than to show up at the convention and just sit behind the table and not interact with visitors. When you have scripts ready, give them to your volunteers, and you are ready to go.
When I say “show up“, I don’t mean only conventions. I mean show up on Consim World, BoardGameGeek and at least some other social media. And do it regularly! You cannot just appear once in a while with a copy of your newsletter. First and foremost you need to give value to your audience. Share images of your upcoming games, pictures from the process, designer’s notes, but first and foremost answer gamers’ questions.
When you publish a game, this is not over yet If you don’t show up to answer questions about the rules (or instruct a designer to do this) the game quickly becomes a rotten egg, and sadly your company image suffers too. This is especially important when you are a small company, and you cannot assume that one of those hundreds of players, who already purchased your game, will know the answer. No, you haven’t sold that many copies yet, so make it a priority to help gamers understand those rules. Gamers who are left alone with their questions unanswered may not trust that your next game will be worth buying.
5. RESPECT AND APPRECIATE.
Does it seem to you that I’m being silly now, assuming that you may actually do the opposite? I don’t suspect you will, but do you do enough to make your customers and especially loyal fans feel appreciated? The more you acknowledge your audience, the more connected they will feel and they will also be more likely to purchase your games.
When someone posts a good review on any of your products thank them by leaving a comment or simply hitting the like button. When someone tags you in a post or a comment which recommends your product, at least leave a like. If someone posts a picture of your game in play on Facebook and tags you in it, share that picture on your page (I mean share by hitting the share button, not saving the photo and posting it as your own). Those small gestures mean a lot to many gamers and build a loyal group of fans and ambassadors of your brand.
When you are at a convention, and anyone (and I mean anyone literally) stops at your booth to take a look at your game, assume that this person may end up buying it. Don’t dismiss a person based on their appearance, age, gender or other popular stereotypes about what wargamers look like. Always engage with people, even those who show only the slightest interest.
If a fan helps you at the convention, give them some games in exchange for their time. Thank them by name on your social platforms. And never, ever forget to include playtesters and proofreaders names in the credits!
You may wonder how your relationship with your fans, volunteers and playtesters may help you attract more casual gamers. The answer is, we don’t live in a bubble. The better you treat those customers you already have, the wider the net you cast in the sea.
These are just a few examples of how to attract new customers to your brand and most of them involve only your time and effort. The best thing is, by concisely following these steps you will provide not only better games for all of us – no matter grognard, play-it-all or a newbie – but will also strengthen your own brand, gain a loyal audience, customers, fans and ambassadors – something which no money can buy.