Top Ten Tips on Selling Your Game

by Neil Gow

So, you have designed your game, its been playtested, layed-up and printed. Your pride and joy is ready for the world to receive. The question is, how can you do it?

  1. You need somewhere to sell it … online

One of the tools that make the life of a small-press publisher so much easier is the internet. It provides a medium for communication, collaboration and distribution. Nowadays, many people will look online first for your game before they look for it at their FLGS. So it really helps if you have your game available online.

You can take advantage of Print On Demand services such as LULU or Create Space, or PDF sales sites like One Book Shelf and its myriad associated sites. You could even set up your own online shop if you have the know-how. You can also partner with sites such as Indie Press Revolution (commonly referred to as IPR) who offer a central sales and distribution hub in the USA and worldwide.

There are pros and cons to online sales. They typically have no set-up costs associated with them and allow you to sell your game without any investment in inventory (ie. Printed copies of your game) which is great if you are on a limited budget. However, some people do not like pdfs and find that the postage costs from a POD supplier can make your games a little too expensive. Additionally, a lot of the online distributors will take a slice of your income for themselves, so your profits may not be as high as they would be if you did the job yourself … although this should be balanced against the likelihood of those sales happening if you did it yourself.

However you decide to represent your game online, you will have to signpost your chosen sources from your website and/or mailing list.

  1. You need somewhere to sell it … offline

Not everyone wants to buy their games online – some people do not like PDFs and others will buy on impulse if they see the book on the shelf. So how on Earth do you get your game onto the shelves of a games shop?

Well, the easiest way is to walk in and ask whether they will stock your game! Yes, its obvious but it works quite a lot. If you have a sensible approach to the subject – giving the shop a reasonable discount to allow them to make a profit too, or working on a decent sale-or-return basis – they might be interested.

Sometimes, the easiest way is to do-it-yourself. Buy some padded envelopes and offer the ability for people to order from you direct. It requires a modicum of coordination, but nothing more than ‘posting a letter and paying a bill’ and it is a great way to keep in contact with the people who are playing your game.

  1. Have an online presence

Get yourself a website. It doesn’t have to be a cutting edge piece of web technology. With the right skin/template, you can turn one of the free pieces of blogging software (i.e. Wordpress, Blogger etc) into a convincing game webpage.

Whilst this will not sell your games directly, it provides a hub that you can use to signpost to other places where your game CAN be bought. It also acts as one central way to aggregate information that can be crucial in making your fans game experience better.

Also consider whether and how you will use the various social networking tools that are out there. You can create a Facebook page for your game. It’s a good way to communicate with people but it can be a little passive and easily lies redundant. Twitter is more dynamic and is a great way of opening a conversation with fans, but it lacks a certain depth and penetration sometimes.

Be aware of the forums that are likely to be talking about your game and be prepared to chip into the conversations there. This does NOT mean that you should be mentioning your game at every chance, but DO feel free to mention it when appropriate. Answer any questions that are asked about the game politely and take criticism with good grace. Nothing is perfect!

A good trick is to use Google Alerts to let you know when people are talking about your game. That’s the way some of those ubiquitous online personalities are able to magically appear when their game is mentioned!

  1. Don’t put your eggs in one basket

However you choose to sell your game, don’t ‘put all of your eggs in one basket.’. The world of RPGs can be quite volatile. A website that is selling dozens of books one day can close down the next. A forum upon which your game is dubbed ‘the new hottness’ can turn on your baby overnight. Make sure that you spread things around a little to accommodate this randomness. However, remember not to spread yourself too thin, in case you lose track of all of your routes to market.

  1. Attend cons and play your game

The UK has an exceptionally healthy convention scene at the moment. From large commercial cons (Dragonmeet, Games Expo and GenCon UK) to smaller, more intimate gaming cons (Conception, Furnace, Concrete Cow etc) and this gives you an exceptional opportunity to reach your market.

Almost every convention organiser is desperate for GMs to run games at their cons and hey, you are a GM with a game to run! It’s a match made in heaven. Playing your game at a con is absolutely the best way to get the game into the faces and minds of the people who might buy it, play it, talk about it and raise the profile of the game. And remember – after people play at cons, they talk about their games online and you should be ready to pitch questions about those games when they do!

Your con scenarios should come with pre-generated characters, an engaging plot that can be resolved in one session and should be designed to highlight the cool parts of your game. Remember that con sessions are generally booked for three-four hours and six participants. Whilst you can request a smaller group and a shorter session, be prepared for this to be the default.

You should also develop a couple of demos for your game. One of them should last about 30-45 minutes and take the players through a short adventure that shows the general flow of the game. The second one you should consider is a shorter one – as short as 15 minutes. This should showcase the essence of the game and deliver a swift BAM! moment and maybe even a cliff-hanger.

Why two demos? Well, sometimes you have an audience that wants to have a longer discourse about the game, which makes the 30-minute demo perfect. However, sometimes in the throws of the con, with loads going on, you have to grab people for the shortest time and still get the awesome of your game across. The right tool for the job is required!

  1. Recognise the champions of your game

This may sound controversial, but you should recognise that some people are going to be really into your game - REALLY into your game. This is a good thing and should be encouraged. Talk to these people, make them part of your games progress. These enthusiasts are the best advertising your game has got and you shouldn’t be shy of them.

Similarly, if you find that someone is running your game at a convention, or is posting Actual Play reports of your game online, contact them and see how things are going. These are perfect people to approach as playtesters in your next venture (if you have one) and it is always good to have a bit of banter with your players.

  1. Stalls at conventions

Beyond playing your games at conventions, you can get a stall and sell your game to con attendees. Some conventions will give you a stall for free, in exchange for running some games at the con. Others will charge you a fee.

  • Think very carefully about that fee in relation to the likely profits you will make from the convention.
  • Think whether you can buddy up with either a friendly retailer or another games designer (or two!). If you can cut costs, you will make more money.
  • Do you have enough people to cover your stall for the entire convention? Remember, you cannot run a game and staff a stall at the same time, and you need to eat!
  • Remember you are there to SELL THE GAME. You have to remain attentive, pleasant and approachable all of the time. If you sit with a face like an arse, behind a wall of books, avoiding eye contact and grunting replies to customers, you will get exactly the number of sales you deserve!

How many games will you sell? Well, its not an exact science and sales can differ for a number of factors including the size of the con, the buzz around the game, the attendees at the con, the subject of the game, the stage the game is in its sales cycle etc. There is one fact about sales however – if you do not play your game, sell your game, pimp your game and generally work yourself when you are selling, it will not sell!

  1. Think laterally about your customers

You have to understand your customers and think beyond simply ‘roleplayers’. In the first instance, its ‘gamers’ and in the second interest, that’s a bloody broad church. If your game has crossover potential with any of the myriad facets of the wider hobby, you should consider offering it to them. MMO-gamers, war-gamers, CCG-gamers, LARPers, older gamers, children gamers – they can all be potential customers for the right game.

Your game might also have possible appeal outside of the hallowed ranks of tabletop gamers and if it does you should have some routes to market worked out in that direction as well.

  1. Watch your costs

You can easily spend a lot of money promoting a game. Buy yourself some nice colour fliers, a canvas banner, two convention standing banners, some badges, a couple of T-shirts, some banner time on and BAM! You have easily run through £350+ before you have even sold one copy of your game. Throw in travel to conventions, accommodation and refreshments at the same and it can become quite a cost intensive business.

Keep those costs down. If you can doss on a friends floor instead of staying in a hotel – do so! Don’t feel the need to get hammered on every night of a con. Pre-book your travel so you can take advantage of the best bargains.

Also think long and hard about what promotional material you need to have and whats stuff that’s just cool to have? Sometimes, less is more.

  1. Have fun

Oh how twee to end something like this with ‘Have fun’ but there is a serious point to it. When you are happy and enthusiastic about your game, other people will feed off that happiness and enthusiasm and your game will ‘live’. If you are tired, miserable or clearly not enjoying yourself, no-one will be interested.

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