If you are trying to bring your own game invention to market, here are the "Top 10" pieces of advice from Andy Daniel, president of Enginuity Games.
1 Decide whether to license or publish. This is the first choice you must make. Licensing is simpler (though not necessarily easier) and has little to no risk. Publishing is much more complex and very expensive, but if you have the desire and money you can publish your game. If your game is a huge success, you'll make more money as the publisher than as a licensor, but it's much harder to make your game a huge success as a publisher. For example, Mattel and Hasbro can probably sell many more of your game than you will ever be able to, so 5% from them might be more money than 100% from you. If you have a single product and don't want to turn this into your life's work, licensing is usually the better route. You can self-publish now, license later. Don't ignore the possibility of publishing your game now, getting it well known, and licensing it to a larger company once it's a success. It's much, much, much easier to license a successful product than an unknown one.
2 Ideas are worth less than execution. Most inventors put far too much value in their wonderful idea. While it's true that a great product often starts with a great idea, the painful reality is that the marketplace rewards great execution more than great ideas. Ask yourself this: do Coke & Pepsi taste 100 times better than the smaller brand cola beverages than they outsell 100 to 1? Are McDonalds' hamburgers 100 times as tasty as that of a smaller chain that is 1/100th their size? The short answer is that a significant part of these companies' successes are based on great execution as opposed to great product.
3 Patents aren't for everyone. If money is no object, there's really no downside to getting a patent on your game, but remember that patents cost thousands of dollars to obtain and to maintain (there are renewal fees in addition to the one-time filing fees and issue fees). However, you must decide if the money spend on a patent is not better used to build prototypes or to promote your game. The fact is that most game companies don't patent their games because patents are comparatively easily circumvented. A valuable game trademark (Monopoly, a trademark of Parker Brothers, is perhaps the best example) is usually worth a lot more than a strong patent. Companies that provide various inventor services such as patents and invention submission services often have a very low success rate - ask before you sign with one.
4 Publishing the game is only half the battle. Once you manufacture your first production run of your new game, you're only halfway home. Now you have to sell those games. Even though printing games costs money, remember that selling games costs money, too. You may need to attend trade shows, advertise, mail samples, etc. Don't spend every penny on production.
5 Simple usually works best. Usually, simple concepts are most successful. People have short attention spans, and if your game is complicated to explain, people are less likely to buy it, and store owners are much less likely to stock something that takes very much of their own time to explain to customers.
6 Decide what to do differently. This part is tricky. If you do everything differently than the norm, it's unlikely your product will be very good, but if you do nothing differently, it's unlikely that your product will be great. You are at a disadvantage over the established names in the industry. If your product is just another flavor of the same, why should a store owner take a chance on it? Be a little bit different.
7 Games are inherently harder to sell than toys. Imagine three items on a shelf in a toy & game store: a teddy bear, a ball, and your game. The customer already knows what two of those three things do. The store owner is well aware of this fact, too, and many toy store owners shy away from games for that reason.
8 Bad artwork is just as expensive to print as good artwork. If you're going to publish your own game, don't scrimp on the artwork, which is a one-time expense. Once you've bitten the bullet and gotten good artwork, it's no costlier to print thousands of copies of it.
9 Your own artwork will look better to you than it does to others. Face it, it's a bit like the pictures your young son or daughter drew. Remember how they always seemed much better than those silly pictures drawn by your friends' children? If you're not a professional artist, and you can afford it, hire one. Here's a hint - you can split the work with your artist - internal components like the rules sheets don't necessarily need the expensive time of a professional, but for the outer box, leave it to the pros.
10 Understand the economies of scale and the costs of the marketplace. You will rarely be able to a sell a game to a storekeeper at more than 50% of the retail price. With larger chains, this figure will be even lower. With various fixed costs, the industry rule of thumb is that you must be able to produce your product for 20-25% of the list price. Don't just assume that the public will simply pay a higher price - even a slightly higher price can substantially reduce sales. All industries have economies of scale but this goes double or triple for printing, which is one of the higher cost components of a typical game. For example, you can usually print 2,500 of a sell sheet for about 10% more than is costs to print 1,000 of them, and for twice the money you might get 10,000 of them.
It can be done.
It can be very rewarding.
If you don't love what you're doing, don't do it - there are easier ways to make a living.
Copyright 2003 Enginuity LLC, San Jose, CA. All rights reserved.
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