We’re not a large site but all the same we enjoy promoting smaller publishers and trying to help out those who might not have our reach. As we’ve grown the number of games we get sent is increasing and a lot of the games we take on are preview copies of games coming to crowdfunding, Kickstarter mostly. We’ve received a good variety of games this way and would like to offer some advice to those looking to contact an outfit like ourselves for some pre-Kickstarter press. We are not saying this will make or break your campaign, but it might make one stage of the overall process a little smoother.
Let’s get the the first one out of the way. You need to be putting preview copies out months, not weeks or days, before you launch. Even a small outfit like ourselves can get pretty busy so if you are contacting us two weeks before you go live and expecting a game played and reviewed in that time, you are going to be disappointed. We have been contacted mid-campaign by people wanting a review which is absolutely mad and is going to get you turned down.
Some of the games we have previewed this year
Most sites like ours will be happy to give you a timeline of some sort, but keep in mind that we are doing this for the love of the hobby, not to get paid. Sometimes life gets in the way. Factor in some slack in your timescale, just as you should for delivering your product to customers.
Building your audience
We are no experts in social media, learning as we go how to engage with our audience. However I see a lot of companies only building an audience as they approach launch and this is no way to gain yourself a following: spamming groups with your game is not going to give you a good reputation, nor endear people to you.
There is loads of advice out there, much better than what we can offer, in how to build your presence for a games launch. Engagement is important, making sure you giveback to those who help you out and respond to what you are doing. This needs to be started maybe a year before you actually head to Kickstarter, which means by the time you launch there are a good number of people willing to give you a boost.
Quality of Components
Anyone dealing in the world of Kickstarter previews knows that the product they receive might not be final. However, it is always a good idea to include some of the final art that the game will use, as One Free Elephant did in there recent Microbrew review. It really helps if a site like ours can show off some of the final product and it is good for you if people can get a better idea of what they are going to get for their money.
The quality of preview copies has gotten increasingly better over the last year or so, even for the size of companies I am dealing with. That said I would have no trouble receiving something not as polished in order to support a smaller company that maybe doesn’t have the resources to put out plush copies. It’s always a good idea to look at what others are doing: Scoffton for instance had a wonderful 3D printed box insert, that was a great idea. There are a lot of ways to get your game in front of people for little investment and I have used Tabletopia in the past to play games for preview articles.
This is the big one folks. Let us lay this out plainly for you. A site like ours is NOT a playtest group. This has been particularly bad for us this year with Iain writing more in feedback to some of the games he has seen than he did in the actual review. Now, we’ll admit that we are pickier than some sites when it comes to rules, but we are this way for a reason. We love boardgames and the first interaction between a customer and your game is very often the rulebook. Bad rules make for a bad experience and we want people to have a great time with every game we come across, whether we like it or not.
The problem with rules is really twofold. If we have to come to you to clarify rules, it means that we may not be able to produce the preview/review in the agreed upon time. It also frustrates us trying to understand your game. We are going to give you the benefit of the doubt as much as we can when writing up our preview but that said, initial impressions count for a lot. In the past year we have had to feed back really fundamental rules issues with games such as ‘how do we setup this game’ and that is really unacceptable.
Previewers should not have to come back to you again and again for rules questions. If they do maybe you should ask yourself if you are really ready to launch? This is especially the case if you are getting the same feedback from multiple sources. I completely sympathise with designers that it is sometimes hard to get good feedback, but it is one of the most fundamental parts of testing your game. You need to find people who are willing to tear your game apart, who will help you shape your vision. Take the time to get your rules correct and you will have a much smoother time post launch.
Although not quite within the arc of this article, we would like to touch on the pressure that some companies put on themselves and others. We have seen it multiple times were someone has launched their game before all the previews are in, before they have really built a following, before they are ready by most measures and we don’t really understand why.
Outside of avoiding Chinese New Year, if you are printing in that country, or hitting a particular convention, the only pressure you are under is that you put on yourselves. To then pass this onto reviewers is unfair and you have to consider what that is going to do to the quality of content you are getting back. Take your time, factor in delays and launch when you are ready, even if that means delaying your intended start date.
Help us to help you
We hope this article will help you have a think about how you approach sites like us. We want to help you, we want your game to be an incredible success but we don’t want to bend over backwards to help you make that happen. We shouldn’t have to deal with indecipherable rulebooks, missing components and tight review turnarounds. Every time we have to come back to you with rules enquiries or questions, is time we aren’t playing your game or writing up a preview. If you take the time to get your review copies out on time, to get the rules and components right then you are going to get much better content out of any review site.
If you like this article we would recommend the blog of Jamey Stegmaier.
We also recommend Cardboard Edison, a great site full of all sorts of tips.