Developing board games – a product manager’s personal experience

I have never developed any board games (yet). Still, a few days ago I have been playing with a friend who owns many games. I asked him how does he choose the board game to buy. While he told me his story I realised that probably some really clever product managers were actually using my friend’s approach to learn about their ideas, and they are actually running a lean product development approach. This short post is a product manager’s insight into board game development without any real knowledge of how it actually works. If you are a product manager of board games, please provide some real-world feedback and let me know how it actually works!

How a boardgame-nerd does it?

So here is the process for my friend to buy a new game:

  1. He is subscribed to the BoardGameGeek news list
  2. Every week once or twice he receives an email. In this mail, every new game is shortly presented
  3. If he finds a game interesting from this description, he opens that game’s webpage (on BoardGameGeek) and subscribes to it.
  4. Sometime later, the game developers post the game’s rulebook.
  5. If the game seems to be interesting after reading the rules he decides to buy it.
  6. Unfortunately, at this time the game does not exist yet. So he just puts the game on his wishlist managed at BoardGameGeek. Once the game reaches the shelves, my friend will buy it immediately.

What does it mean to a product manager?

So what did I learn from this process? As a product manager, I want to learn about my potential market as quickly as possible with the least possible investment made. Especially I would like to foresee and mitigate the biggest risks.

What might be the biggest risks in game development? There are currently 51 different game mechanics presented at BoardGameGeek. This means that it’s pretty unlikely that my new game will have a totally new mechanics, and it might not work out well. Besides the mechanics, the game is about balance and a story. So, I guess these are the biggest risks. I don’t know if the story will find its audience if there is a market for it and I have to find the right balance in the game. How to mitigate these risks cheaply and quickly?

A proxy for the market

Using the newsletter of BoardGameGeek I can quickly get feedback about the story. When the news about my coming game is out, I see the number of subscriptions to it. By this time my game is only a rough idea of a story, but I can already see if there is interest in it or not.

Finding the right balance

At this point, I can decide to move forward with the game development, and create the rulebook. Besides the rulebook, my designers have to be drawn at least the concept arts. Moreover, in order to write the rulebook, the game should be balanced. This is probably a rather costly task as testing means playing the game a lot. Thus I definitely want to know that the story will stick.

Once I post the rules, I again receive feedback. There might be people who leave my page and others who subscribe to it or even add it to their wishlist. These data should be enough to come up with a reasonable estimate about my future market – if I’m an experienced boardgame product manager. With all these insights I can pay the designers to finish all aspects of the design, I can start working on marketing materials and organise the production and launch.

Have you ever created a board game? Would you mind sharing your approach to it?

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