We all know the names Fantasy Flight Games, Wiz Kids, Days of Wonder, and Z-Man. But there are dozens of games being designed and distributed by less recognizable companies and individuals. These are the intrepid independent game designers who spend hundreds of hours creating, designing, testing, and releasing their own personal masterpieces.
There have been people wishing to design their own games for decades. But recently, with the advent of print on demand and self-publishing, designers have at last been able to make that desires a reality.
There are three major sources that provide this opportunity. One of them is a network of websites with the names Drivethru RPG, RPG Now, and Wargame Vault. Here, designers can upload their rules, settings, and even figures and terrain to be printed out by their customers at home, or purchased through the website to be delivered in bound books or high quality card stock. They have also recently begun hosting products that can be printed on 3D printers. This allows for a wider range of higher quality terrain, especially for dungeon crawls and the like, and figures. The limitations of this network is that one cannot release a board or card game in a box. It’s limited to rulebooks, or products that can be printed on paper or a home 3D printer.
That’s where Superior POD comes in. They offer a line of products for board games, such as cards, markers, tiles, dice, boards, and boxes. A designer can upload their artwork and order it to be delivered either separately or all nicely shrink wrapped in a completed box. They even have discounts for Kickstarter projects and bulk orders, and their general prices are very reasonable. Their biggest drawback, however, is that they have no viable distribution. They list a distribution arm called Adventure Game Source, but it’s very sparse and there hasn’t been a lot of work put into it.
And that’s where Game Crafter shines. Though parts are more expensive here than at Superior POD, they have a very wide range of accessories, and most importantly, they have a distribution arm that gets the games in front of people, and a promotion wing that works hard to sell the products. They even have booths at game conventions where designers can share table space to push their wares.
These have made it possible for groups like the League of Gamemakers to form. Its members support one another in their projects, and help others through their online blog that provides resources for other tabletop game makers. Its founder, Peter Vaughn, along with fellow members, began publishing weekly material in 2014. They continue to have a strong, growing presence online through social media.
“All game making is collaborative in some way, even if you self-publish,” said fellow League of Gamemakers founder Luke Laurie. “There can be all manner of challenges in working with other people. It’s important to find partners and collaborators that you mesh with and bring out the best in one another.”
While designing and building games are large tasks, they are only the first steps. The game makers still need to distribute and promote them. “Another huge challenge for indie game designers is knowing how much work the publishing part really is,” says League of Gamemakers founder Peter Vaughn. “Once you make a game, you often make a company to distribute it…. Once you develop and produce, you don’t get to design as often.”
As for marketing, designer Teale Fristoe said, “I do anything I can! Kickstarter helps legitimize and spread the word about new games. Once a game is released, I send it to reviewers to share with their audiences. I also try to make as many appearances at local board game events as possible, as well as reach out to other audiences that might appreciate the game.”
The most difficult challenge for indie designers tends to be balancing their passion with their life. “For many designers, creativity and motivation ebbs and flows with the challenges of life,” said Pencil First Games owner Eduardo Baraf, “but to some degree if you want to actually be independent you need to be able to be consistent.”
So for all the difficulties that independent game designers face, they have to have a real passion for the work to carry them through. Luke Laurie probably put it best, saying, “I love how game design brings together so many different cognitive and creative aspects. Ultimately, all of my work leads to the creation of a game that helps people have fun experiences together. For me, it’s wonderful to be engaged in a field which has the primary purpose of increasing happiness and togetherness in the world.”
What are some game ideas you’ve had that you’d like to turn into a reality? Comment below!
Images by: The League of Game Makers