So I have an idea for a game, now what? What do I need to start?
Try to formulate your core rules and make a simple prototype. Then game design is iterative, that means your try it out, get feedback, improve it, playtest it again, improve it, playtest, improve, ...
How to become a game designer?
Becoming a game designer is easy: You make a game. It doesn't need to be price-winning, it doesn't even need to be published. As soon as you have a playable prototype (hopefully rather unique) you are a game designer.
Where can I playtest my game?
Most people test their game with friends and family, and that's a good start. But they might be too concerned about your feelings to give completely honest feedback. Firstly, think about the right target group for your game. Then you should look for "neutral" test groups, e.g. in schools and kindergardens game clubs or designer groups. Link to regional groups.
How to handle feedback on my game?
First of all, just listen to the feedback and make notes. SAZ members find a test report form on our website in the member area. You can ask questions, but don't comment on the feedback. Negative Feedback can be disheartening, but it's a part of the design process and it's better than no feedback, because you can use it to develop your game. So don't argue to justify your design decisions - it doesn't help your game and it makes it less likely to get honest feedback in the future. There's no need to immediately implement every comment from the playtesters, but if several people point out the same part of your game you should probably rework it.
How perfect do the rules need to be?
The rules don't need to be perfectly layouted, although pictures and examples can be helpful. Before showing the game to a publisher, people who have never played the game, must be able to understand the game without questions just by reading the rules. You can (and should) test this, by letting a new playtester read the rules and then watch them explaining your game to other new playtesters and note which questions come up during play.
What makes a game unique and attractive?
Most important are the emotions and the atmosphere which a game can create and anything that makes the theme come alive. Different kinds of gamers might look for different experiences. For example some like the puzzle of an economic game, others the thrill of a strategy game. A unique hook could be a new combination of mechanisms, a fresh use of an old mechanism, a clever gadget (especially for children's games), etc.
When is the game finished and ready to be shown to a publisher?
The game is ready, when playtesters want to play the game again and again and stop demanding bigger changes to it. And of course, now you yourself should be convinced that the game is good.
How perfect does my prototype need to be?
Your game prototype doesn't have to look perfect, it needs to be playable. A good layout with easy to understand icons is much more important than illustrations to visualize the theme. To quickly recognize an action or the function of a card it is a good idea to use some free-to-use cliparts. But comissioning illustrators and graphic designers is the publisher's job. One exception might be if the illustrations are an integral part of the game mechanics, but even then, try to save money by reusing free art, because even if you payed for it, the publisher is likely to use different illustrations. However, a good-looking prototype certainly is more attractive to a publisher than a very poor looking one.
Where can I get game components?
There are many sources for game materials. You can buy cheap old games from flea markets, thrift stores or ebay and salvage their parts. Or you order components on websites like spielmaterial.de (where you get a discount as SAZ member.) The link collection on the SAZ website lists many other sources.
Where can I find existing mechanisms for games? How do I know what they are called?
If you are interested in game mechanisms, there are books (e.g. Building Blocks of Tabletop Game Design) and websites (e.g. pagat.com for card games) about game mechanisms. If you like a specific game, you can also look up which mechanisms are listed for it on the website boardgamegeek.com. A more personal source of information are public game nights or game shops, especially if the staff are gamers. If you go there regularly you will learn the most important terms and mechanisms while playing.
Which software or online tools are helpful?
You can find some useful online tools or programs in our link collection. If you want to test your games online with other people Tabletop Simulator or Tabletopia are two feasabile options.
How many prototypes do I need?
For playtesting one prototype is enough. Later, if more then one publisher wants to test your game at the same time, you still have time to make an additional copy. Also, for further development it might be helpful to keep one prototype for yourself.
How can I protect my game?
There are two stages where you might wanna protect your game. From playtesters or from publishers. In Europe the author's rights automatically give you enough protection and most publishers are trustworthy. However, a record of each game presentation is useful. SAZ members can find such a record form on our website in the member area. You can find more information about protective actions, copyright, patents, non-disclosure-agreements, etc. here.
How can I bring my game on the market?
There are different approaches: Most game designers are going through a publisher. A publisher takes care of further development, illustrations, production, marketing and distribution of the game and you will get a royalty for each game sold. Instead of searching for publishers yourself, you can use the service of a game agency which has many contacts and experience to find the right publisher for your game. However, in case of success the agency takes a share of mainly 40% of later royalties.
But you can also self publish. Then you can decide on everything and might have a higher win margin per game, but you'll also have to pay for production and marketing and manage the distribution, which is a financial risk. Crowdfunding (like Kickstarter or Gamefound) can be an option for self publishing, too.
How do I find the right publisher?
Look at the assortment of the different publishers and ask yourself in which publisher's line you would search a game like yours. Most publishers have detailed information for game designers on their websites, some also in the publishers' profiles on our website.
Should I send prototypes directly to the publisher?
Only send prototypes on demand of a publisher - never without. For the first contact a one-pager presentation is enough. If the publisher is interested, they will ask for more information or a prototype.
How do I approach a publisher?
Usually you write an email first and send only a presentation sheet. This should contain the basic data of the game, the core idea, a short list of the game's components and what makes the game special. An additional picture or sketches help to visualize the game. Another way is making a short video (not more than 5 min) to which you share the link in the email. If the publisher is interested the'll come back to you. They might ask for a prototype and/or the rules, other information, a video call or a personal meeting on a board game convention or game fair.
How do I prepare for a personal presentation?
Concentrate on the key elements and keep it short. You have only a few minutes to make the publisher curious. If they are interested, you might play a few turns or even the whole game, depending on how much time has been set aside for the meeting.There is also a tutorial by the SAZ for the yearly Game Designer Convention in Göttingen.
What are my rights against a publisher?
A contract with a publishers contains rights and duties for both sides. As should be specified in the contract the publisher has to publish your game until a certain deadline, in what amount and for what uses he pays you royalties and that your name should be on the box and in the rules. Also he should ask you for permission before making changes to your game rules. See also our Model License Agreement and our Position Paper on Game Authors' Participation.
How much money can I make with my board game?
Don't quit your day-job right away, most games will not make much money. If you go through a publisher you will usually get 6-10% of the net sales (about half of the shop price). For SAZ members we have a Mirror of Royalties and Contract Terms with many more details on this point. If you self-publish you have a higher win-margin of course, but you have to go in advance to produce, store and take a high risk to be left with your games if the distribution fails.
What do I get from the membership in the SAZ?
There are a number of benefits to being a member of SAZ. These include access to a series of publications both supporting game designers in many aspects of their job and sharing the collective knowledge of SAZ members, a newsletter on what's currently going on, as well as continuing education opportunities, also ticket discounts to fairs and conventions, advice on contracts and author's rights. A complete list of benefits can be found here. The main benefit is that with us you find a big, friendly community of experienced game designers that are willing to share helpful information and to give advice.
Where can I study game design?
Unfortunately, at universities there are only studies for digital game design. But they include elements of analog game design as well. SAZ organizes several formats of further training, like SAZ Academy, an online lecture series. You also can find a lot of videos and manuscripts online. On the SAZ website you can find a list of books on tabletop game design.
Which is the correct name: game author/designer/inventor/developer? Which of these should I use?
We at SAZ, prefer and use the terms game author or game designer(because we do creative work, not engineering). But, other than in the digital game world, a game developer/editor works for the publisher and does the further development from prototype to finished product.