So, you’ve thought of an idea for a board game and now you want to see it on your local game store’s shelf. It should just be a matter of getting some great art, making up some cards, finding a printer, running a kickstarter campaign, and that’s it, right? Just 4-5 months?
How long does it take to make a game, anyway?
First of all, let me be clear. A great board game is a not a product, it is not an item. A great board game is art, all the way from the mechanics that the designer spends hours poring over and tweaking, to the elements on the card, to the feel of the wooden bits in your hands as you play, to the actual art on the cards. A board game is created to induce an emotional reaction within its user. What better definition of art can there be?
And you can’t rush art
Now that we have that out of the way we can talk about what it takes and how long it takes to make great art. Game Salute recently posted a piece on the time it takes for a game to go through the process of being an idea in a designer’s head to a finished product on the shelves. I will tell the same story from the perspective of the game that Cosmic Wombat Games has up on Kickstarter right now, Stones of Fate.
Timeframe = ~3-6 months
For Stones of Fate = 6 months, Jan 2012-Jun 2012
You got your great idea. You get some paper, make up some cards, construct a prototype, and on your first playtest, your players break your game. Lather, rinse, repeat. At least that’s how it happened with Stones of Fate. The first time I ever played Stones of Fate with Luke Laurie, I broke the game. He still talks about it to this day. But this is what happens, it’s the process, it’s why designers do what they do.
Venn: A design by Jeff Cornelius
A good designer will be able to come up with a pretty good design that isn’t broken within about 6 months. This stage is a game that has been played with friends and family, usually close gaming partners. The designer has gotten about as much feedback from this group as will happen.
Stones of Fate was ready for the public in June, 2012. Luke debuted it at Polycon in San Luis Obispo, CA. It was good enough to win the Polyprize and was well received by attendees. But it still wasn’t done. I remember sitting down to play it after the Polyprize announcement and making big changes that very day. This was really its transition into phase 2:
Timeframe = ~1-2 years
For Stones of Fate = 1.25 years, Jun 2012-Sep 2013
You now have your game in front of people. How many people? Where? What do you do next? Development is that process where to get people you don’t know to play test. You will be modifying the game play and mechanics quite a bit. You could be working with a publisher during this time period or doing it yourself in preparation for self-publishing. Looking for and hiring artists is also part of development. It is basically the process of taking a good game design and fine-tuning it to get it ready for public consumption.
My preferred development process is to hit as many conventions as I can with a game. This gives me a wide variety of playtesters and feedback for the game and ensures the maximum appeal to my eventual audience. It also creates awareness and a following for the game. This cannot be emphasized enough. Your game NEEDS a following, without that it will not sell at all. Whether you are a self-publisher, first-time designer, or seasoned professional you still need a following for each game. It is even more critical to have this following if you are going to fund through Kickstarter.
One of the biggest mistakes we made with Stones of Fate was when we thought we were ready to leave the development process and go to funding/production. We were wrong as our 50% funded first Kickstarter will show you. Do not try to rush this step, it is critical for the future long-term success of your game. Take the time, build the following, listen to what they say, modify the game appropriately, and you will ensure your success. Which leads us to:
Timeframe = ~3-6 months
For Stones of Fate = 6 months, Sep 2013-March 2014
Congratulations, your game is finally ready for Kickstarter. (For the purposes of this article, I am going to talk about the timeline for a self-published/small company published game, if you are using a large publishing company with funding sources already in place you could skip this time.) Now, all you have to do is build the Kickstarter and watch the funds roll in.
Yes, but it is a little more complicated. You will need reviews (ideally some of this was started during development). You will need a sleek, professional looking Kickstarter page. It’s always a good idea to ask for feedback from your following for your page. It keeps them engaged and can make your project better in the end. Again, don’t rush this process, make sure you get it right.
We spent 5 months building and fine-tuning the Stones of Fate Kickstarter page. We got lots of feedback and incorporated as much as we could. We continuously engaged our audience. Even during the running of the Kickstarter campaign there is much to be done. Sometimes, you will have to rush to get this done because Kickstarter really is on a timer. Actually, it is when you push that green launch button that your timer actually starts. Up to that point you have all the time in the world to make things exactly right. After that you are on a timeline because you have promised to deliver something in a set amount of time. This makes it all the more critical that you not rush the previously mentioned steps and get them perfect so when you enter that timeline, you can be successful.
Production & Delivery
Timeframe = ~6-8 months
For Stones of Fate = Unknown
I will be writing a follow-up to this post after completion of our Stones of Fate process. Right now we are promising delivery by September of 2014 for Stones of Fate. This would put our total gestation period from conception to delivery at 2.6 years. And that is for a light card game! This would only get longer for a heavier Euro game.
I asked some of our League members and some other designers to give the timeframes that their games were completed in. The answers are below:
- Jupiter Rescue – 1.6 years, Nov 2012 – Jun 2014
- Aloha: The Spirit of Hawaii – 2 years, Nov 2010 – Nov 2012
- What the Food?! – 1.3 years, Jun 2012 – Dec 2013
- Euphoria – 1.25 years, Aug 2012 – Dec 2013
- Tuscany – 2.1 years, Oct 2012 – Nov 2014
- Ars Victor – 3.4 years, Jan 2011 – Jun 2014
- Evil Intent – 2 years
- Scalawag! – 1.25 years
Making games is a marathon not a sprint. You have passion; you have energy and that is good. Don’t let that go to waste. But keep some stores in place for the long haul because you’re going to need it.
Latest posts by Jeff Cornelius (see all)
- How to Design Tie-Breakers – September 12, 2016
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- It’s OK to Play With Yourself: Designing Solo Rules – May 30, 2016
10 Readers CommentedJoin discussion
Very interesting! I was wondering what you were going to use that data for. Great post, Jeff.
Jamey, I have to say when Jeff showed the timelines to the group, Euphoria stood out to me as unbelievably good for that deep of a game. I would have expected longer, so it sound like it was a hit from first prototype – congrats! I was excited to get down to a year or so with a 2-3 person team on a card game, but now I need to step it up. 😉
Although, to Jeff’s point – it’s not a race. Oh wait… (both a marathon and a sprint…). The biggest amount of challenge on timing to me seems to be in development. Iteration with audiences and keeping track of modifications you make in between those audiences (versions of the product), and doing that over and over with small tweaks. That and the natural gaps in between opportunities to get to conventions. A few of us in the league are in a play testing group in so cal, but it meets monthly, which when a design is hot, can be too long to wait. Currently considering a more frequent design night.
I think it’s not so much the design but the development of a game that takes the time. You can come up with a design pretty quickly but fine tuning that game takes a while – primarily because of finding playtesters. As you mentioned, Peter, there is that natural gap between conventions. Also, it’s hard to ask other designers to playtest because they have their own projects they are working on.
I will not ever put out a game that hasn’t seen at the very least 20 playtests or so with perfect strangers. I see too many games that are published that just aren’t finished. I think that happens because of lack of adequate playtesting. My advice is take your time, be patient, and FINISH your game!
It’s not the end of the world if your game takes 3-4 years to get out. It would be worse if it got out in 1 year and didn’t work or was broken. Of course, we can’t all by Jamey and put out a great game in 1.25 years. 🙂
Great article!!! Thanks so much for your insight and sharing, and congrats on the successful (and ambitious!) Kickstarter Campaign.
I have a question about the Conventions. You stress how important these are, but can you elaborate? Do you just get a ticket as an attendee, and they have designated Play areas where you just pull random bystanders aside to play your game? Do you go as a Vendor, even if this is your first game and you have nothing to sell? Do you have to rent booth space? Sorry, but I am not understanding how this works!
Thanks in advance
So far, we have attended conventions as regular attendees and just scheduled events for our games. I am surprised by the number of people that are not aware this is an option.
Most conventions will have event submission online. Just make sure you plan ahead so that you get your events submitted in time. They will ask you for a short blurb on your game. This is the most important part. Make this as exciting as possible to draw people to your game.
I would not recommend going as an exhibitor or vendor with nothing to sell. It will most likely not be worth your time. But definitely set up events. Then at the con you will want to go around and talk up your game. If you are playing other games, mention that you will be running yours. Have cards with your event times printed out to hand to people. You will have to do your own marketing. Be prepared for the convention to become a “working trip” for you and no longer a “fun trip”.
One thing we did with Stones of Fate early on was to make the act of playing it and bringing others to play it a game itself. We challenged people who signed up to bring back 3 friends and fill out a feedback survey on the game. If they were able to do this we gave them a Stones of Fate Lite version (which was a smaller subset of the full game). People loved this and we demoed to about 60 people over 2.5 days at that con.
I’ll add that just being at the con is important – and while there are ways to get the most out of your con experiences (a topic for another League post for sure), I have made plenty of connections just by showing up and meeting people. Designers, publishers, and people who are prominent in the community are your friends, you just haven’t met them yet. So don’t feel like you have to craft the perfect con experience to make an impression and make connections. Be there, have your game(s), talk to people, get people to play your game. If you have extras – great. give them to people who’ll play them. If you can get scheduled sessions, run events etc. fantastic. But be there even if you can’t.
Thanks to both of you, that was incredibly enlightening. I was one of those who were unaware that ‘regular folk’ can schedule an event with the con, but you better believe I will be doing this once i’m up and ready.
Also, great tip about handing out freebies and challenging others to spread the word, that is brilliant.
Excellent article. I thought I was taking too long but a first complete game in 2.5 years seems about right. And since I’ve ended up doing all the artwork as well – I’m quite happy. Just a little concerned that I haven’t built a following yet. But every little tweet helps. Does anyone know what kind of critical mass of followers is good to go live with the green light on Kickstarter?
It’s hard to say what critical mass you will need to run a Kickstarter. It depends on how much you will need to fund and what your base price is. I would say take your funding goal and divide it by your base price. That will give you the number of backers you will need.
Then, take that and multiply it by 10 since you will only get about 10% of your base to come on board. We had 450 facebook fans, >500 twitter followers, and a mailing list of 170 and still have just over 400 backers. A lot of those are from outside our network as well.
Keep in mind its not just about your network either. You will need to reach out to many more people that just don’t want to commit to following you on twitter or liking your page on facebook. That is where facebook groups, boardgamegeek design forums, and such come in. Make sure you are regularly posting and asking for feedback on your design. Also, make sure you are providing helpful feedback to others. It’s about participating in a community not just getting whatever you can get out of it.
Also, I can’t say enough about going to conventions and meeting people in person. But do this early. Don’t wait till your Kickstarter starts and then go to a convention. It won’t generate the interest you want and it will distract you from your Kickstarter.