So, you’re a small time game designer or publisher. How do you get bigger? How do you increase your presence within the industry?

Answer – act like the person you want to be and you will become the person you want to be.

Step 1: Know your industry

The quickest way to become that “bigger” publisher/designer you want to be is to find others within the industry who are doing the same things and doing them well. Get to know these people and companies. Learn how they conduct their business. Find out what makes them successful. Then emulate what you can from them.

The key here is to learn as much as you can but find a balance with gaining experience as well. You don’t want your “gaining knowledge” to become so all-encompassing that it prevents you from making a move on your own and striking out with your own design. Knowledge can be gained from experience as well as from learning from others in the industry. Find a balance between both.

Step 2: Interact with your industry

Get out of your comfort zone. Attend conventions; demo your game to fellow designers as well as prospective customers. One thing that I did that I am extremely glad I did is participate in the Publisher Speed Dating event at Gen Con. Cosmic Wombat Games was also a sponsor of the Card and Board Game Designers Meetup. When I first heard about these events, my initial thought was, “why would a small 2 person shop like mine get involved with these? Surely, these are meant for larger companies who can put the time and money into them”. Then I realized it didn’t matter, I could do these because no one there knew anything about the size of my company and these events would be about building my name.


I would encourage you to find ways to build your name whether it’s through in-person events like Protospiel or other conventions, or through online forums like Facebook or Board Game Designers Forum.

Step 3: Stop thinking in terms of money spent vs. money earned


This line of thinking comes up a lot when talking about buying ads on Boardgamegeek or building high quality prototypes to send to reviewers or getting a booth at conventions. Many designers/publishers are hesitant to put money into something for which they will not see an immediate return on investment. I understand that for most of us in the independent game design/publishing business, money can be an issue. However, if you want to get into this industry and you want to make it “big”, you need to accept the fact that you will spend some money for which you will not see an immediate return on investment.

Everything you do, whether it’s putting ads up on BGG, printing postcards for a convention, donating prototype copies to 20 different game libraries, etc is one small way of getting your name out there. In all likelihood, none of these methods by themselves will give you the return you are looking for but what you are looking for is building a critical mass of information about your brand. Jamey Stegmaier explains it really well in his post on advertising. You are looking for someone to see your ad on BGG, then happen across a post on Facebook showing the art for your game, then run across the game page on BGG because it was linked in a forum, and finally when they see your postcard at their local con or see the game in the game library they hit a tipping point and are ready to buy, play, back on Kickstarter, etc.

Step 4: Be honest

Finally, the most important thing is to be honest with people. This may come as a surprise since I am saying “act bigger than you are” which seems to be dishonest at the core, but what I mean is that as you are acting bigger than you are, you need to respond to people in an honest manner. If someone wants to have your company publish their game be honest with them about timelines, royalties, etc. If a publisher sees you at a designer event and would like to talk to you about your prototype, be honest about what stage it is really in and what your plans for it are.

The interesting thing about all this is that as you begin to “act bigger than you are”, you will quickly realize that you are bigger than you were. Your reputation in the industry will grow. People will know you for what you bring to the community. Your brand will be established. Which is really the ultimate goal. Who knows, someday this may happen to you.


The following two tabs change content below.

Jeff calls himself an engineer but that’s just his cover. In reality most people don’t know what he does. We’re not even sure he does. Sometimes he can be found designing games, other times developing other people’s designs and bringing them to kickstarter. He is supported in all this by his loving wife and 2 boys who always keep him on his toes.

9 Readers Commented

Join discussion
  1. Jamey Stegmaier on April 14, 2014

    This is a great post. I like the mix of “act bigger than you are” and be honest about who you are.

    One of the things I’ve struggled with–something you address in this post regarding ROI–is what we should do at conventions. The industry standard for a big game company at a convention (or a small game company trying to act big) is to get big, flashy booths at conventions. These booths seem to legitimize those publishers. But are they worth it? I can’t tell. As you say, it goes well beyond data–it’s about more than the cost of the booth vs. the revenue from selling games at the convention. But at the same time, I wonder how much the booth adds to the value of the company. Is there any way to measure it?

    I’m still very new to this industry, so sometimes I feel like an outsider looking in, wondering if the old ways of doing things are the right ways, or if they’re just the ways that things have always been done.

  2. Jeff Cornelius Author on April 14, 2014

    I am new as well Jamey so I can totally understand that feeling. We (Cosmic Wombat Games) will have a booth for the first time at Gen Con this year. I will let you know how it goes and what I think we got out of it. Also, if you are there, stop by and say Hi. 🙂

    • Jamey Stegmaier on April 14, 2014

      Absolutely! We’ll have a few demo tables, but we didn’t make it into the main exhibition hall. I’ll definitely stop by, and I definitely want to get your thoughts afterward on if you think it’s worth it.

  3. James Mathe on April 14, 2014

    I’ve done a booth at several large conventions over the last 4 years. I’ve lost money at pretty much all of them. I still think it was worth it for brand building. But this year Minion Games is done with that (also cause GenCon sold out in December) and we will not be doing any booths at all.

    Advertising online (banners) is all about branding – it’s not ROI. You need to know that when you spend the money. If you’re looking for a return on the money you spend, you’ll not see it or it’ll be so hidden you can’t tell anyway.

    I run the Speed Dating events and we welcome small publishers to participate. Feel free to contact me through my blog at

  4. Peter Vaughan on April 14, 2014

    Great post Jeff!

    I completely agree with step 3 re: money spent and earned, but I also have taken quite the losses at conventions. I am writing a blog post about conventions actually later this month – I was just waiting for PAX East to round out my experiences with different cons. I didn’t expect PAX to change my views or give me as many lessons as it did, but it was eye opening. PAX itself brought up so many interesting points that it may need it’s own article. At PAX, the main exhibit floorwas separated from tabletop, and yet the big companies or “want to be cool” companies stayed over on the exhibit floor among the video games. I can’t help but feel the same way as Jamey looking at this with a fresh perspective trying to find the right place/position for my company and wondering about the value of any given booth in a big sea of exhibitors. Not just the tabletop companies, but imagine a small software company trying to eek value against the minecraft, league of legends and blizzard booths, and not necessarily selling product. Lots of things to think about.

    • Jeff Cornelius Author on April 14, 2014

      I think with conventions, the answer to whether you should spend money on a booth is “it depends”. It definitely depends on the particular convention. Gen Con is a board game convention, that is their primary focus, so it just makes sense. PAX has always been more about video games than anything else so my opinion would be “not worth it”.

      You definitely have to focus your advertising (both online and in-person) on your target audience. Hence, why BGG may be a good online advertising tool but a generic “geek” site may not be worth the cost.

      • Peter Vaughan on April 14, 2014

        Actually, before you rule out PAX, let me say this – the tabletop area is alive and well, with HUGE lines to check out games at the library! It was awesome to see. AND I completely sold out of all the copies I brought there. The other publishers who I shared space with either got pages and pages of names to email when their game is out, or sold well themselves (one was upwards of 120 copies sold, which is darn good for an indie company). Now, I can’t compare that yet to my first Gen Con with product yet, and I’m not yet considering operating costs for the booth but I would consider PAX “definitely worth it” – especially for light to medium depth games.

  5. Peter Vaughan on April 14, 2014

    Btw, Max Temkin exemplifies your point completely. He’s certainly has clout now due to the success of Cards Against Humanity, but he’s still thinking outside the box and acting under the mantra of perception is reality, as I observed at PAX East – just everything that CAH does is does with a level of sophistication and image and that has reaped rewards far beyond the sale of the hot party game.

  6. Kelsey Domeny on April 15, 2014

    Great, article with an excellent reminder. I’ve needed this even this week, to remember that I am the only one who will keep my company small. “Perception is reality” words of wisdom that spill far beyond the world of crafting games.

    “To booth or not to booth” as a question… I am finding that it is beneficial as a small company to pair up with other small companies to get space on exhibit floors. I simply do not have the money for a GenCon booth. But I have the money to spilt a booth 2 or 3 ways…

    Thanks again. You’re an inspiration!

Have something to say?