Marketing - Perils and Pratfalls

Two by Two has experienced  minor delays and the publisher, Valley Games, has chosen to push out the release date to August. Delays are quite common in the industry and I'm not particularly concerned by this one, although it does mean that the game likely won't be on hand at the Origins Game Fair in Ohio. The good news is that the publisher has received the print proof of the game from the manufacturer and given it the thumbs up. That means that final copies are likely coming off the press as we speak and getting collated, boxed, shrink-wrapped, and loaded onto pallets for their journey across the Pacific. Something about that journey seems very fitting, given the game's theme.

As the game approaches its launch date, my role and relationship to it continue to shift. It began with me as a solitary designer, working in isolation. From there, I shared it with family, friends, and intrepid playtesters who needed to see a physical version and later a coherent rulebook so they could make sense of it. When I began to show it to publishers, I had to slip into the role of a businessman and start approaching the game as a product that they could brand and sell. Now, as it nears release, my role transforms again. I can no longer affect the physical aspects of my game or tweak and tinker with the rules that will be included in the box. All I can affect and influence are people's perceptions of the game. Soon, even that opportunity will fade and the game will have to sink or swim without me.

As a result, I find myself currently involved in aspects of marketing, presentation, and public relations. It's an area where I have some measure of talent and experience, at least - I can turn a phrase on a dime and I've spent a lot of my videogame career working very closely with the marketing department and interacting with our online community of fans. A number of boardgame publishers have approached me, asking if I'd be able to write various types of marketing copy for them and, if the pay's sufficient or it applies directly to one of my upcoming games, I've been happy to oblige. Sometimes this involves introducing retailers to the game via an article in a distributor trade magazine. Other times, it's a design diary for boardgame news site. It can just as easily be a description of the game for the back of the box, some ideas for a promotional contest, a list of possible review sites to consider sending copies to, or engaging with online communities such as BoardGameGeek to put the game on the radar of early adopters and industry enthusiasts.

It's that last bit that can be the most tricky now that I finally have a horse in the race. I'm no longer an impartial bystander even if members of that community still occasionally mistake me for one. Because the game has yet to be released, the community hasn't had a chance to experience the game and isn't able to talk about it and promote it to each other. During the critical window leading up to launch, that role largely falls to me and it's important that I handle that gracefully and with aplomb. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I get it wrong, and most times it's hard to tell the difference. Take, for example, the tempest I stirred into my teacup by including Two by Two in a recent geeklist (a user-created list of games pertaining to a specific subject - in this case, newly released "gateway" games that can be used to introduce new people into the hobby).

As some of the comments beneath my entry suggest, I crossed an invisible line there and posted my still unreleased game to a list that was really intended to highlight games that were already available. An act of bias and hubris, to be sure, but opinions on how gauche or crass it was seem to vary. The dominant opinion seems to be "Meh, it's a geeklist." Where it gets interesting is when I start looking at the stats BoardGameGeek tracks on the game's entry page. However small the teacup may have appeared, the entry page saw a sudden spike of visits (250+), the rulebook saw a bunch of new downloads, and suddenly there are more people out there who are aware of Two by Two and have even added it to their wantlists. So is that good or bad? We'll probably never know but I think I'll cool my jets for a while on that particular front. Other marketing is expected to go live soon and the best marketing of all is to simply get the game into people's hands so they can form their own impressions and share them with the world.

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