Notes from PAX East 2015 (Part 2 / 3 – Making & Selling Games)

I went to PAX East 2015! It was awesome! I took a lot of notes!

(Part 1: Social Stuff)
(Part 3: Dungeon Mastering)

Here are the notes from the “how to make and sell games” type talks.

Business Basics for Indies

Dan Adelman

This talk is mostly about video, not board games

  •  Business Strategy
  • Also: What are the barriers to entry?
    • Indie games have a low barrier to entry
    • Marginal Revenue (selling one more copy) > Marginal Cost (making one more copy)
      • Marginal Cost is 0 for video games (i.e. it is free to sell a copy. Thus selling at any price = profit). Except not.
      • Everyone can undercut, leading to a race to the bottom
        • 99 cents is expensive when your competition is free
  • Adelman’s Law of the Games Industry: “Anyone in the games industry to make money is in the wrong place.”
  • Marketing: Helping people who would love your game, find out about your game (not spammy!)
  • Product  Quality of product
    Differentiation from competitors
    Audience Expectations
    Internal Consistency (art, music, gameplay, marketing all aiming for the same audience).
    Know where your customers are
    What platforms are excited about your game? (They will give you free publicity)
    Where does your game belong?
    PROMOTION  Where does your core audience get their information?
    Establish a relationship with journalists. But! If you are at the point that you need to establish a relationship with a journalist to market your game, you’re too late.
    Price Low low low but don’t undersell yourself. This is tricky.
    Announce in advance when your price will drop so customers don’t feel cheated
    Examine the competition carefully
    Check your audiences’ disposable income
  • The 4 P’s must fit together and be internally consistent; point to the same consumers.
  • Negotiation: Know these words.
    • Specifically, make sure you understand “BATNA”, “Logrolling” vs “Fixed Pie”
  • Never be afraid to ask for a better deal than they offer. Raising your money per game from $2 to $4 doubles your profits and takes a 5 minute discussion if they’re willing.
  • Practice negotiation. Roleplay, rehearse. Make it a conversation. Remove ego.
  • (You have to work with them afterward. If either side gets heated during negotiation, is this really a partnership you want?)
  • Get to know people before you need them (see: Promotion, above). But don’t be disingenuous!
  • Everyone will remember everything you say. Good and bad.
  • Everyone starts at the bottom.

Heads Up: the Art of Interface and Graphic Design in Video Games

Vicki Ebberts, Alexandria Neonakis, Kate Welch, Eric Monacelli

  • Read this article by Anthony Stonehouse
  • Fiction Geometry Notes Example
    Diagetic Yes Yes You and the character can see the same information, in the same way. Pip Boy
    Meta Yes No In-game elements “seen by the character” projected against the 2D HUD Plane Blood Splatter
    Spatial No Yes Elements that you see, that exist in the game world, that are invisible to the character. Floating Money
    Non-Diagetic No No The classic “HUD”, which is removed from the game world and doesn’t exist in the game fiction. WOW HUD
  • New UI problems will present themselves in nontraditional games.
    • Oculus rift is going to be AWESOME AND WEIRD AND INTERESTING
    • Hearthstone is already breaking this model – the entire game is a user interface – there’s almost no “fiction”.
  • What do companies look for in designers?
    • Graphic Design
      • Ability to organize information in a smart way.
      • Ability to organize information in a hierarchy clearly.
    • Being aware of what’s new and fresh, and also what’s out of date
    • Fail a lot and don’t give up
    • Ability to think like a user of any product
  • Process
    • Get clear goals. What problem are we trying to solve? How does this help the player?
    • Sketch out ideas on paper. Don’t discriminate against bad ideas.
    • Whiteboard user flow. Confirmations. Transisions! User Feel. Buttons.
    • Wireframe. Prototype anything new/risky/tricky. Use physical paper to prototype quickly.
  • Pair. Work with a developer until things feel right. User test frequently!
  • If anyone is noticing your UI, then it’s probably in their way.
  • In AAA Shooters, the UI is not the content. In nontraditional games (hearthstone), the UI is the content.
  • Watch playthroughs on youtube to find elements that work well. But make sure it works in your game.
  • Just go on twitter and search #UX and #UI. See what happens.

 Do You Have What it Takes to Publish an Indie Board Game?!

Breeze Grigas, Jeff Gracia, Sarah Como, Eli Kosminsky, Aerjen Tamminga, Luke Peterschmidt

  • Basically the answer to most of your questions is kickstarter but this isn’t a kickstarter panel so we’re going to assume you know that.
  • Why do you want to make games? Is it to quit your job? Make something with your friends? Check “make a board game” off your list?
  • ^^ Answer that question before going further.
  • As a publisher, what is your product line.
  • You don’t need a finished product to approach a publisher. It just needs to play, and show the core idea. You must make it. Test It!
  • If you decide to self publish, you’re going to spend 80% of your time not making games. You’ll spend 80% of your time publishing, and then 100% of your time selling.
  • Remember that the publisher takes the risk.
  • Retail price should be 5x creation cost.
    • 2/5 Retailer
      1/5 Distributor
      1/5 Publisher -> 1/5 of that to you
      1/5 [??? didn’t write this down]
    • Example: $210k kickstarter, had to spend $80k in shipping (incl. international).
  • Find your local game developer cabal and ask them.
  • Go to the Unpub Convention in Florida.
  • “Design toward what you can do”, “Pick something you can execute on”.
  • Get to know Board Game Geek.
  • Read The Characteristics of Games
  • Read The Design of Everyday Things
  • Playing bad games is a great way to make good games.
  • Play games that people love but you don’t like. (“Read 50 Shades, and figure out why it sells. You don’t have to love the actual product to learn something from it”)
  • Give your game to other people, then just sit back and watch! (Blind Playtesting).
  • Three Questions that you should be able to answer for your fictional character in the game / player character in the game:
    • Who are you?
    • What do you do?
    • How do you win?
  • Immersive Gameplay (top down design) > Canvasing (same rules, different art)
  • Listen to Mark Rosewater’s Podcast.
  • Playtest with new people. But also make sure to playtest with the same group for a few times so that they figure out the strategy of your game.
  • You want to hear: “This is fun, and I’d like to play it again.”
  • Play with other designers, and be able to answer their questions about why you didn’t make certain decisions.
  • You can go for an LLC or just a DBA (“Do Business As”). Actually, just get a deleware C Corp. (srsly).
  • YOU WILL PROBABLY SPEND ABOUT $10,000 BEFORE YOU GET TO MARKET. Have this money ready to go when you go to publish.
  • Have a “red button gamer” play your game. (rbg is someone who just wants to blow things up and see what happens – they’ll have different strategies and tactics and might find new ways your game is broken).
  • Go to your local game store with your game
    • Get the best local M:TG players to play your game. They will break it. Retool. Have them play it again. They will break it again. Repeat until it takes them “long enough” to break your game.
  • (Game design tip: Blind Bid events even out the game).
  • Think about weight for shipping!
  • Check out the GameCrafter site.

Birthing Board Games: From Conception to Maturity

Timothy Blank, Donald Mitchell, Lauren Woolsey, Phil Cartagena

  • Find your local game maker’s guild. Join it.
  • Games are made of: Concept, Theme, Components, Mechanics
  • “A good game gives its players interesting choices” — Sid Meier

[this panel wasn’t particularly information dense!]



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