Many words and lots of advice are often shared amongst social media groups, other blogs, websites, and books – and only part of those thoughts are spoken about.
In this article I plan to discuss a few of those unspoken thoughts and cut straight to the chase. When marketing your tabletop game you essentially need to understand PMF (also known as Product Market-fit). This is critical in your games success – or any product for that matter.
This is obvious to some degree for those of us that have been in tabletop or the video game world for awhile now – however not as obvious to those that are new. More importantly, obvious to those of you that may be professional marketers or entrepreneurs of some kind.
Although, PMF (Product Market-fit) is not the unspoken word I’m referencing here. That term is relatively well known and the concept of having a great product (game in our case) is also well known.
I want to talk about the read of your audience and the reality that sits before them. People often confuse sales and marketing, and truthfully, they are two different things. A great salesman can sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves, but a great marketer is someone who can later sell the woman endless pairs of white gloves.
Salesman vs Marketer
You see, the marketer and the salesman share the same concept of selling, and both the ketchup popsicle and the white gloves are in fact products – but only one of them is what the woman in the example above really wants, needs, and regularly buys.
This same concept is applied to tabletop games. Tabletop gamers specifically look for white gloves, but every once in awhile will jump for a ketchup popsicle. Taking this a little further, sometimes the gloves that tabletop gamers are looking for aren’t always white.
In tabletop gaming there are many sub-niches (or sub-sections) within the tabletop gaming community. Some, for example, love heavy Euro based board games. Some tabletop gamers will only ever play war games and RPGs, and some love combat only board games or cooperative.
There are many different flavors within tabletop gaming, including card games. Going back to our analogy, it’s important that the marketer understands these different niches, or they won’t be able to sell any gloves – or specifically white gloves in their case.
These unspoken words are never clarified for most creators and/or publishers because they’re in the mindset of selling different colored ketchup popsicles to different colored glove wearers.
Plainly put, there is so much focus on the salesman trying to sell and not enough on the marketer trying to market. This is a trap that most people fall into when it comes to marketing and selling their game. They will often create a ketchup popsicle of a different color to “stand out” and not even realize that gloves (in this case) are far more important when it comes to getting their game off the ground – or even more so – creating an IP for longevity purposes to keep their company afloat.
With this I want you to think about your game, your product – whatever it may be – and really ask yourself this question: “Do I have a ketchup popsicle of a different color? Or do I have enough evidence to market my game as the needed and desired gloves?”
That question is important when it comes to your next steps – but for now, think about it, and start asking questions of those you know, and then shortly after ask strangers you don’t know. The more honest of an answer, the better you will know how to market your game and not just sell it.
The Unsung heroes of gaming
Silent influencers have always played a major part in the gaming community – whether that’s tabletop games or video games, and unfortunately, this seems to have been forgotten by many publishers and creators. Even worse, this isn’t even a thought that will cross the mind of a first time game creator trying to break into the industry because it’s rarely spoken about.
The guy that is a cashier at your local grocery store? Or the woman that is making your food at a local fast-food restaurant? Or the person that is at the front desk of a hotel? Or
These are your silent influencers. They are the gamers that login to social media, discord, leave a review about a game, but most importantly, ask their friends to play with them.
Why? Because they want to have fun and a great experience while doing so – and they want to get lost in the world, game, and setting you’ve made… even if it’s just for a little while.
Silent influencers should be number one on your most important audience to target as a marketer.
How do you target a silent influencer? It’s simple really. Build a relationship with them, even if it’s a high level relationship to start, build it – because that’s how friends are made.
The one thing that makes any product great is if the creator of the game is heavily involved in it. If they aren’t actively building relationships with silent influencers, then it’s game over. The game will sell – most definitely – but its lifespan is cut short.
The Art, type, and theme of a game matters
As mentioned above, there are sub-niches (sections) within the tabletop and video game world. Don’t be fooled that any gamer will play any game – they’re rare, and the gamer that is willing to play a game outside of their comfort zone is typically a gamer that is someone who looks for familiarity. In reality, we all look for that familiarity level, but some more than others.
Don’t fall into a trap that all games, themes, and types are equal either – they’re definitely not. More often than not, you’re going to attract a larger audience with Fantasy (High and Low), Science Fiction, Post Apocalyptic, Steam Punk, Diesel Punk, Lovecraftian (C’thulu / Eldritch), Dark Fantasy – or a mix of any of these.
Why is that? There are many reasons behind that which is something I will need to unpack in a later article and they definitely outweigh any other type of game within the tabletop and video game industry. This slightly plays into an earlier article I wrote, “We need less one-off games, more narrative, and something that is going to hold our imaginations”
as the above themes hold story better than most others when it comes to escaping reality for a little while.
The art for your game matters, a lot. If your art is sub-par or is visibly odd in any shape or form, it is guaranteed death – because it will feel cheap. That is the truth of the matter as most gamers are visual and placing something as such in front of them that looks like a child drew it is not going to fly. There is a reason why concept artists, illustrators, and 3D artists are so expensive to hire – purely because of how much time goes into a great art piece, but more importantly, how important they are to your game. If anything, do not dismiss art or any form of lore, theme, or story from your game. If you do, it will be the death of it, and the woman in white gloves will look for a better pair of gloves that are more to her liking.
Taking our earlier example, if you have created a great pair of gloves instead of a different colored or flavored popsicle, remember that some gloves are stylized differently, have a unique feel, and materials are different depending on the glove. This is important to remember because even though all white gloves are white, they aren’t all the same – nor should they be.
The key thing here to keep in mind is that your game needs to be unique – and naturally everyone has heard that before, so I’m going to take that one step further.
What does “unique” really mean? It means creativity.
For example, you can have similar mechanics to other deck building card games, but please don’t make the world, lore, and art similar to everything else – and by similar I don’t mean stylistically looking the same, I mean from a design perspective, and not just a game design perspective.
Let’s take Orcs for example – if you’re going for a classic style fantasy game and you want your Orc to look like that traditional style orc, great. (Unfortunately this has been done many times before, so hopefully you’re adding a new concept here)
However, if you’re not going for that classic feel and you’re just throwing that same known O
Being generic at times is okay, as the above, tiny epic defenders game by Gamelyn games. While I enjoy the gameplay, I immediately feel like this was ripped from the World of Warcraft – especially with that Orc character design with the claw weapons you see there on the box cover.
Side Note: I have nothing against Gamelyn games, and their game mechanics are fantastic, but I would really like to see Gamelyn Games hire some writers and world builders, and even art directors that mesh lore into the art in order to really flesh out their games as I feel this is a pattern they often take – making it stale after awhile. Gamelyn Games does great at marketing their games, but their success is purely due to brand loyalty and getting their foot in early with great game mechanics. I think they could be even better if they changed this pattern and took it to another level blowing their competition out of the water.
These little things make or break games, and they matter a lot. Reach out to a world builder, a writer, an artist – and they will be able to tell you more about the importance that these things hold within gaming and why game mechanics alone are not enough to truly market to a broader audience.
I could write a whole book on Kickstarter, but I will save that for another article for another time. What I want to touch on here is that
“Yes Sean, I know. Everyone is claiming it to be a glorified pre-order system.”
While that is true to some degree, I want to highlight something that I think is often missed in discussions about Kickstarter and it’s use for tabletop games.
There are in fact many gamers in the tabletop game industry that doesn’t even know what kickstarter is. (A shocker, right?) – more importantly, there are thousands of people that will never back a kickstarter game either.
Why is this? Why is there such a distaste or unknown / lack of knowledge when it comes to kickstarter? The reason is because gamers are loyal to game and publisher brands. Not kickstarter.
This topic is briefly touched on throughout many other resources, but I want to make it clear here. Your brand matters.
As before, the woman has now had her ketchup popsicle, but her gloves are stained and ruined beyond repair – and she has already bought ten different cleaners trying to save her favorite pair of gloves (starting to sound familiar gamers?) – so instead she goes to the glove store to find the exact same pair of gloves she once had only to fight out they’re discontinued because they were a one-off type of glove.
This deeply saddens her, but notices a new pair of white gloves, stylized slightly different. She makes her way through all of the sales tables of popsicles and takes a closer look at these gloves.
She’s been burned already knowing that her favorite gloves were discontinued, why should she buy this pair? Should she take a chance? The maker of these gloves are unknown. She puts it back to think for a second and then notices another pair of gloves, similar to her old ones, and picks them up. This is the same maker as her last gloves – she knows this maker and is familiar with their quality… but how can she trust them? This pair of gloves could also become discontinued.
She then notices that the new maker of the unique stylized gloves that she looked at first has plans to never discontinue these gloves as more in this same style will be released, but in different colors – and the originals will always be there. She takes a chance and buys them.
Fast forward 10
I will end on this last note, and that is don’t expect a magic silver bullet for marketing, but don’t ignore the power of your brand, and don’t ignore the other components that make a game what it is (writing, story, lore, art – etc.) Even abstract games have beautiful art and some kind of concept behind them.
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