The Greater Niche
What a great time to be a game designer! The last few years have been incredible in the digital space with the growth of lower cost platforms that allow for smaller, more nimble independent teams to publish outside the traditional publishing framework. iOS, Android, Steam, more powerful browsers, Facebook (for a while), Xbox Live Arcade, the Playstation -- it's just outstanding.
We're seeing a similar revolution in the board game space. Kickstarter, obviously, is the biggest one. Or more generally, the internet and things like Amazon fulfillment, which lets relative nobodies fulfill customers around the Earth. And foreign printers being more accessible than ever. Go to the Panda GM site and check out how simple it is to fill out a quote! They have drop downs that tell you what you can choose! But, perhaps more importantly is the growth of Print on Demand (or POD) sites. Not only their growth, but just how robust and high quality they've become in such a short period.
Over 2 years ago when I first self-published Farmageddon via The Game Crafter, it came in a dinky, nondescript cardboard box like the one I used to store Magic cards in when I was in junior high. The cards were mis-cut, the colors were off, they printed rules on plain office paper, and it was...humble. Now, games that ship in their fully printed boxes are shrink-wrapped with fantastically cut cards, thick cardboard tiles, tons of minis, and even stickered custom dice. Many people are even using them to fulfill their games!
TGC doesn't include the also excellent PrintPlayProductions, with their excellent chipboard variety and great interface (as well as many of the things TGC does), Blue Panther with their cool wood stuff, and more. If you're doing cards only? DriveThruCards prints 'em at $.08 apiece, no limit (if I recall correctly).
I think many immediately rush to "how can I get in on this?" or they see dollar signs (or your preferred currency), or they think only of wild, off the wall innovation. All of that is fine. But, one thing that's really comforting to me is that this movement allows us to give niche ideas their proper due. It lets us retread well-worn favorites knowing we don't need to sell 50,000 copies, but maybe just 500.
Think about the power of that for a moment. That obscure RPG you want to write? You can now find your audience. That non-World War II conflict about which you want to make a war game? You can now find your audience. Want to craft a trick-taking game? Or a game built around poker? Go for it. You can find your audience.
There is power in that. A few years ago I would cut ideas because I didn't think I'd be able to reach enough of an audience to obtain a publisher's eye. Now? I don't have to limit myself to "can this compete with Ticket to Ride?"
The key to keeping this revolution alive is passion, quality, and customer service. That sounds awfully business-y for a design-oriented post, but it's key. If you're targeting a niche, you don't have a lot of customers to churn through and anger. Each one is precious. You can lose a customer with one misstep. However, if you please that niche customer? Someone who knows there are only so many creators making their preferred experience? They're all ears. They want you to succeed. They'll help you succeed, not just with dollars, but with their passion. If you give them outstanding games and experiences that go above and beyond to make them happy, they'll reward you for it. Plus, their word of mouth will slowly expand that niche outwards.
It's all too easy to put your game on a POD site and walk away. It's too easy to say "well this is what I want" and check out. Don't do that. Don't forget that our current age is an absolute gift for creative people. Finally, we get to make the games we want on our terms. That doesn't mean we should cast aside publishers. Absolutely not. I love publishers and plan to keep working with many of them. But, when you find your Wozzle, or your Pull!, or the game that delights you and just a handful of others?
Go for it. It's 2014 and that's completely possible.
What's the niche you want to see more of? What's the game you plan to make?