Want to make a board game but have no idea where to start?

If so, you’re not alone. There are SO MANY people in the world who want to know the answer to that question.

Joe’s built up a career out of helping people find those answers. In this show, we talk about creating games, making online courses and communities, and the changing nature of crowdfunding platforms.

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You can learn more about Joe Slack on Board Game Design Course. You can also follow him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

His Board Game Design Virtual Summit is just around the corner – February 21-27, 2023. Learn more here. Highly recommended if you have even the faintest interest in game design!

Check out the Weird Marketing Tales website if you haven’t already. If you want to follow Weird Marketing Tales on social media, go to @WeirdMarketing on FacebookYouTube, and LinkedIn. Go to @WeirdMarketers on TwitterInstagram, and TikTok.

0:00 Transcript
1:14 What is the Board Game Design Course?
5:05 The growth of crowdfunding in recent years
12:35 Why start Board Game Design Course?
19:33 Joe’s board games
24:58 Making expansions for board games
29:41 The emergence of new crowdfunding platforms
34:46 Board Game Design Course: how’s it going?
40:06 What’s next for Joe?


Joe Slack: Back in the day when Kickstarter was new, you’d have a lot of creators going in there and, and saying, “oh, this is my dream. This is the thing I want to create. Uh, you know, will you, will you support me?”

But now you have to have like a fully fleshed out, well play tested game with all the art, a good looking video. You can’t just go there saying, I have an idea for something. Will you fund me? Like, that’s just not gonna fly anymore. 

Brandon Rollins: My name is Brandon Rollins, and this is the Weird Marketing Tales Podcast. On this podcast, I talk to entrepreneurs, small business owners, and creative professionals who are doing things that you probably didn’t know that you could do for a living.

And on today’s show, I’ve brought on Joe Slack from the Board Game Design Course. Joe, how’s it going?

Joe Slack: It’s going well. Thanks very much for having me.

Brandon Rollins: Oh, absolutely. I have been reading your stuff honestly since back when I was actively writing about board games. So it’s um, it’s exciting to have you on the show to pick your brain.

Joe Slack: For sure. Yeah. And it’s been great. I mean, you’ve been on Board Game Design Virtual Summit in the past. We’ve done some guest posts for each other, and I love all the stuff that you’ve created for other game designers as well.

Brandon Rollins: Oh, thank you. And yeah, I mean we’ve worked together through the game dev block, through Fulfillrite. Like we, we’ve actually had a lot of back and forth content now that I really stop and think about it. 

What is the Board Game Design Course?

Brandon Rollins: So I guess I should really start here for everybody who’s listening, what is the Board Game Design Course?

Joe Slack: Well, it’s a course for anybody who is making a game, thinking of making a game, or has been making a game for a little bit and, uh, doesn’t know where to go next. It, uh, really takes you from generating an idea, coming up with a vision for your game, uh, putting together a prototype, playtesting it, knowing what questions to ask, getting that information and feedback back from your play testers, making tweaks, iterating, making your game better.

All the way to, you know, when your game’s pretty much done, you’ve been play testing it, you got your rules all set, and, uh, getting into the conversation next about what’s next for you. Do you wanna, you know, just enjoy this with friends and family?

Do you want to pitch this to publishers or go out and self-publish this and helps kind of guide you in that direction from there?

Brandon Rollins: So you not only walk people through the actual act of product design for the game, and in a marketing context, I’ll just call it product design, even though that’s pretty loaded when you’re talking about a board game, but you walk them through the process of actually finding out what to do with it next.

Joe Slack: Yeah. We don’t go too in depth in that it’s, they’re basically courses unto themselves. And, since that time I’ve created, uh, the Creation to Publication program for people who kind of want to take that route of, you know, creating sell sheets and videos and finding that right match that’s gonna be that publisher and working through contract and everything.

And then also, more recently, I launched the Crowdfunding Success Course, which is for people who want to go the other route, self-publish, uh, put it out, you know, through crowdfunding and be successful that way. But yeah, the Board Game Design Course is kinda like game design one oh one I call it, um, in quotes.

And that kind of leads you up to that point where, uh, you can get to that point and then decide, you know, which is right for you. And, and we kind of weigh the pros and cons to help you decide because it’s, it’s a different journey for everybody. Being a game designer versus being a publisher are very, very different things as I know you, uh, I understand.

Brandon Rollins: Oh, absolutely. Would, would you say you’ve got more people doing it on their own, self-publishing or would you say you’ve got, um, more people who are going through the traditional publishing route?

Joe Slack: Well, that’s a good question. I haven’t really looked at the numbers for why people join to begin with, but it’s, it’s a fairly even split from what I’ve seen. Like I do a lot of, uh, different training sessions and webinars and type, that type of thing. And that’s often a question I’ll ask is, which route you’re going?

Cause I wanna be able to kind of tailor the content a little bit more and, and you know, sometimes it’s leaning more one way, sometimes the other way. But quite often it’s, you know, a fairly good match, uh, between the two. And with those other courses that I have out now, I have, you know, a number of people that have been through each of them, or are currently going through, uh, you know, the, the crowdfunding versus the pitching course.

And I’d say it’s, it’s relatively similar between, between the two.

Brandon Rollins: Yeah. That’s interesting. Do you feel like it’s shifted one way or another? Has it stayed about static in your view?

Joe Slack: Well, I’ve been running, uh, the course for, for a few years now, I guess. Um, it’s pretty static, I’d say during that time. I think prior, um, it might have been more traditional, uh, because, you know, the, with Kickstarter and, you know, now Gamefound and BackerKit other platforms opening up, it’s made it a lot easier.

It’s really kind of taken away that that gatekeeper, removed a lot of barriers. Anybody can go and, you know, throw a game up on a Kickstarter or another crowdfunding platform and try to launch it. Will they be successful or not? Well, you know, have they built the audience? Have they done their due diligence? Do they have a good game?

Uh, do they have all those things in place? Is another question. But, uh, definitely over the last, you know, few years, and going back almost as far as a decade, it’s just increased the number of people that are thinking, yeah, I wanna, you know, publish this on my own. I, you know, I want to maintain creative control.

And that allows them to.

Relics of Rajavihara – one of Joe’s games

The growth of crowdfunding in recent years

Brandon Rollins: Now I think that’s interesting because a lot of, um, well crowdfunding’s just generally been growing since its inception, really. I mean, in the late 2000s, uh, Kickstarter was started in, I think it was 2009. But there was a while there was a rumbling that like, kind of Kickstarter was going to fallen by the wayside or something.

And people say this kind of thing all the time, in tech, it’s always like, you know, whatever platform you’re using is gonna go it’s about to go, but there was a rumbling for a while. Then COVID happened, and then all of a sudden Kickstarter started growing just again by leaps and bounds. It was a very interesting thing to watch.

It’s good to know, honestly that people are still cranking out games faster than ever on there and seeking out advice on how to do it right, as well as Gamefound and others.

Joe Slack: Yeah, it’s been interesting because if you look at the numbers for Kickstarter, they just go up year after year, especially with tabletop games. They’re the biggest subcategory, by far on Kickstarter alone. And now you’ve got these other platforms, uh, that, that allow you to crowdfund as well.

And you know, the numbers are just growing. The number of, you know, campaigns going out, uh, the number of successes, the amount of money that’s earned, the, the number of big campaigns that have earned, you know, 500,000, a million, or more, um, you know, breaking records. And when the pandemic hit, you saw that suddenly a lot of publishers and creators were, were kind of scared.

They’re thinking, oh, you know, people aren’t gonna wanna spend money. They’re gonna be a little, you know, hesitant cause you know, we don’t know what’s gonna happen. And the number of campaigns dropped off around March and April 2020. But the campaigns that were still running, were earning just as much, on average, as campaigns before that.

So it wasn’t that people were reluctant to buy games, it was more that the creators were a little hesitant. And, you know, we had, we had shutdowns and things like that, so they knew there could be delays and a lot of creators held back. But then you see, um, a game like Frosthaven come out and smash the record for the biggest board game right around that time.

So obviously you, you know, people didn’t stop buying board games and in fact, people started buying more board games both from, you know, friendly local game stores, online and crowdfunding platforms because a lot of people were home. Um, you know, they weren’t going out and doing things.

Maybe, maybe party games weren’t gonna be selling as big cuz you couldn’t get a big group together. But, you know, solo games, two player games, family games, things you could play with, you know, the people around you. They definitely took off. That, and puzzles. I found really, did really, really well.

Brandon Rollins: Yeah. Puzzles had a moment during the pandemic, and honestly, it’s probab… they’re probably still doing well, although I haven’t checked that in a while.

Now in your view, for an individual or a small company trying to publish on, on Kickstarter or another game crowdfunding platform, would you generally say it has gotten easier or harder?

Joe Slack: I’d say it’s gotten easier to put your game up there, but in a lot of ways, over the course of time, it’s gotten harder to actually get funded and, and do well. And, you know, partially, partially is because, you know, when Kickstarter first came out and, and some creators were starting to put board games on there, there were, you know, a few projects a year and then it grew and grew to the hundreds and then into the thousands.

So competition, uh, went up quite high, and you’ll see that a lot of the better known publishers, CMON, for example, being one, have started to use crowdfunding a lot, and so then you’re competing with not only other small independent creators, but now you got these, you know, big companies with a lot of money, who do a lot of marketing and can make really good looking games and put out, you know, spend a lot of money on, on videos and marketing and everything else.

You’re competing with them as well. So, you know, when your game launches the same week or the same day as, you know, a big Marvel game, you know, people have to decide. They don’t have unlimited money. They have to decide which game they’re gonna buy. So they’re gonna buy that, you know? Marvel game from, from cmon, for example, are they gonna buy your game?

Especially when you’re a first time creator and they don’t know much about it. So it really goes into building up your audience and, and making sure that you have that kind of critical mass to be able to fund before you even launch. People have to know about your game. They have to be excited about your game.

And then when you launch, they have to be ready to, you know, hit that back button because, or, you know, that pledge button because, uh, if your game, your game funded quickly, then that, you know, kicks in all the algorithms and everybody’s psychology of everybody likes to back a winner. So if your game’s already funded, then people come there and they say, “oh, this game looks kind of cool.”

“Oh, it’s already funded, it’s gonna happen.” Uh, whereas, you know, if a game is really slowly moving along, people might be more reluctant cause they think, oh, this game might not actually be made. Should I put my money behind it or something?

Brandon Rollins: You know what’s really interesting now is that crowdfunding has matured as an industry so fast in the last several years, like I remember around 2015, 2016, it was still kinda the Wild West. It was a thing you did, it was a long shot. Maybe. Um, not a lot of people would take Kickstarter crowdfunding that seriously outside of board games where it already had quite a foothold.

But now in 2023, there are, you know, actually tens of millions of dollar of revenue kind of companies that now create programs that help people crowdfund stuff and then subcontract that, like, some of the work they don’t want to do to smaller agencies like my own. And that’s like really strange cause like even seven or eight years ago, crowdfunding was still a long shot. Now it’s big enough to have companies serving people doing that subcontract out work because it’s too small for them to do it. 

Joe Slack: Yeah. And even with, uh, what you see on crowdfunding campaigns, uh, you know, back in the day when Kickstarter was new, you’d have a lot of creators going in there and, and saying, “oh, this is my dream. This is the thing I want to create. Uh, you know, will you, will you support me?” And, you know, sometimes that was, that was enough, you know, just having the idea, maybe a prototype.

But now you have to have like a fully fleshed out, well play tested game with all the art, a good looking video. You can’t just go there saying, I have an idea for something. Will you fund me? Like, that’s just not gonna fly anymore.

Brandon Rollins: In 2013, you just said, yeah. You said This is my dream. This is a cool thing I want to do, and you actually would get money for it. A, a lot of the time, 2023, you have to say, this is the product. You are gonna get this discount and look at all these reviews for whatever it is that I have just created outside of board games too, you, it’s not just a board game thing.

Joe Slack: Yeah, it’s, it’s really changed over time and, you know, you, you have to get, you know, stretch goals now, in a lot of cases, people want those extras. You know, we have to decide, are you gonna do Kickstarter exclusive things or, um, just things that you can get at a better. Discount a better rate, cause you need to incentivize people to buy it now cause they have to make that decision.

Well, am I gonna get it now? Am I gonna get it later? Is it even gonna be available later? And, you know, with so many options and so many games in particular out there, you know, you’re, you’re vying with a lot of different competition, so your game has to look good. You’re competing with the indie creators, like I said, you’re competing with the really big companies who have those budgets.

So your game has to really stand out and it has to be looking like it’s full and complete and people can download the rule book and maybe even play it on Tabletop Simulator or, um, you know, have a bunch of reviews, have a bunch of influencers talking about your game so that it stands out from all the rest because there is a lot of competition.

Zoo Year’s Eve: another of Joe Slack’s games

Why start Board Game Design Course?

Brandon Rollins: Absolutely. So I think one of the broader questions I’ve got for you is, how’d you get the idea to create this game design course in the first place?

Joe Slack: Well, it was something that I’d been thinking about for a while. Um, You know, back in the day I was just making games on the side. I was just a hobby. And, um, after about four years of, of, of doing that, I realized there was no, like one place you could go to, to get all the resources you need. You know, you’d listen to a podcast here, read a blog here, read a book there.

But it wasn’t really condensed in one place. And that’s when I wrote my, my first book, the Board Game Designer’s Guide. And, uh, a lot of people really found that, that helpful. It’s, uh, you know, sold thousands of copies now, um, over the last four, four or five year, five years now, I think. And that really helped a lot of people.

But I thought, how could I help people, uh, further? And I had this idea for, you know, maybe a course, an online course. And it was right around that time that I quit my day job and was gonna be doing this all full-time that I actually landed a gig teaching at Laurier University in their game design and development program.

So it was a four month contract covering, um, covering a leave. And I was teaching the first year students there and. That was a really great opportunity. It was great for me. I was able to help a lot of students there, but, you know, it’s, it’s a lot different helping 40 people who are here to get a degree versus, you know, anyone in the world who might be designing a game for, for fun who doesn’t wanna necessarily get a degree.

So I’d already been thinking about this idea of, of running a course and, you know, when I finished up my stint there at Laurier, I thought, yeah, I wanna go forward with my own course because I can reach people anywhere in the world. They can take it anytime they want. Uh, they’re not restricted by a lot of things.

And I had actually taken a couple different game design courses that I had found online. And one thing that I found was really lacking was any kind of communication or connection between the students and the instructor. It was, it was more, here’s some videos, here’s some things you can do. Let’s make a game about this.

And they, you know, kind of guide you through. And I was like, I kind of already know all that stuff, but what if I had like questions and there was really. No way to interact with the instructor. So that was a, a huge thing that I wanted to have as part of my own course. So I have my own community where people can interact with each other.

But one of the biggest selling points, I think, is that I do, uh, twice a month Q&A calls. So group Q&A calls, anybody that’s in the course can join and ask any questions that are relevant to their game, because sometimes somebody’s at the stage of, you know, trying to come up with an idea or having trouble making a prototype, or they’re having trouble with, uh, something that’s happening in their play test or they have questions about publishing or pitching, you know, everybody’s at different stages, so I really wanted to have that as part of the course so people could ask the questions that were relevant to them at that specific time.

So, you know, they don’t get stuck in one particular spot.

Brandon Rollins: Yeah, absolutely. And I can imagine people were, were really hungry for that sort of back and forth because there were a lot of board game blogs and podcasts kind of scattered through the wind, but actually having a back and forth community where you can bounce ideas off of one another that’s stable and also linked to the educational materials.

To me, that actually is a pretty substantial value add right there cause, you know, it happens when industries grow really fast. A handful of people just start writing and making videos about their experiences, recording stuff and that kind of thing, but it’s all just kind of scattered out.

It’s the cohesion in the community that really makes a difference.

Joe Slack: And like I say, like I, I didn’t invent game design. I’m, you know, all these ideas are not necessarily new, but I am trying to put everything together in a package, um, that will help people, you know, one step at a time. You know, they can go through the videos and go through all the materials and, you know, just have all the steps there.

And then when they have questions, you know, I’m there. To answer them. I’ve been designing games for over nine years now. I’ve run, you know, four Kickstarter campaigns. I’ve got games published with other publishers. So I think that I have enough, uh, knowledge and, and, you know, facts behind me that, and experience that I can answer most of those questions that people have at various points.

Or if I can’t, I’ll, I’ll find out the information.

Brandon Rollins: It’s interesting what you said because I have heard, and I don’t remember where I heard this from, that what you really need to do to innovate is only make like a 3% change to something that already exists, and that’s a true creative innovation. So really, I mean, like, just taking stuff that more or less exists and actually putting it together in a different package actually is a form of creation that is genuinely useful to a lot of folks cause it’s kind of…

It’s one of those things that, you know, apple didn’t make the first smartphone, but everybody considers the iPhone to be like the first like proper smartphone, right? In ’07, you had Blackberries and that sort of thing.

But somebody, you know, Steve Jobs and everybody working for him just said, um, well, we’re just gonna do this a little bit neater and a little bit more cohesively. And that was enough to make a huge difference, even though no individual part of it was actually like totally uncharted water.

Joe Slack: Yeah. And the same thing goes for game design. Uh, completely. Because if you look at games coming out, they have something familiar with other games. Um, you know, you look at a game like Century Spice Road, it’s very similar in a lot of ways to Splendor in that it’s engine building. Um, you’re, you’re building up your resources so you can get more powerful and get more stuff, but it has little twists and changes and those are the innovations.

And you’ll see that throughout games and game design. Um, you know, I always encourage people to look at innovation. You know, take something, make changes, um, make, make it your own. Make it a completely different game, but it doesn’t have to be, you know, this, this thing that, you know, nobody’s ever seen, nobody’s ever heard.

Because if you have something like that, sometimes people will shy away from it if it looks completely different than anything they’ve ever seen. You know, there’s, they might think, oh, there’s a lot to learn. This is very different. You know? But if you have some things that are familiar and at the same time you have some things that are, uh, different and innovative in different ways than you know, you’re scratching a new itch.

You are, you’re creating something that, that people will be interested in if that familiarity can be really, really helpful.

Brandon Rollins: Absolutely. And I think it’s worth noting that there’s roughly as many game mechanics listed on Board Game Geek as there are keys on a keyboard. And I don’t think anybody could seriously look you in the eye and say, “Hey, you know, I think we’re running out of music that we can make.” Like nobody’s gonna look you in the eye and say something like that.

And same thing with board games. Some of them are gonna, no doubt, feel samey in the same sense. Top 40 pop songs will feel samey after a while, but you know, there’s an enormous amount of room to create and do in like, new interesting things with stuff that already exists.

14 Frantic Minutes, another Joe Slack game (he’s made a lot of them!)

Joe’s board games

Brandon Rollins: Now you’ve, you’ve made a bunch of board games, right?

How many did you say you made?

Joe Slack: That are published, I’ve got four published with other publishers and I have one game and an expansion that I’ve launched myself and another game that are published now and another game, 14 Frantic Minutes that I launched on Kickstarter, last, last year now. And, uh, it’s going to be moving into production soon.

For the games that I published on my own, uh, one of them is called Relics of Rajavihara, and it’s a solo puzzley game where I’ve, I’ve kind of taken the idea from a lot of different, Kind of NES puzzle games. If you think of like Adventures of Lolo, uh, Fire and Ice, which is one of my favorites.

Um, or even some of the puzzles in Legend of Zelda where you’re, you know, moving around blocks and, uh, trying to solve things in, in a different way. I’m gonna turn that into a tabletop, physical 3D tactile experience where you’re an adventurer and you’ve got to move around these crates to, you know, get to the gem and then move on to the next level.

And kind of like a video game, you move on, uh, progress one level to the next. And then once you’ve, you know, beaten those first 10 levels, uh, and faced your, your nemesis, who’s, who’s in this, um, palace. Um, he, you know, runs off to the next, uh, next area and you open a new box and there’s a new, uh, type of block and it introduces a new mechanic.

Uh, so it’s always constantly changing and growing from there. And then Montalo’s Revenge was the expansion that came after that, and it introduced, um, some new variables and new challenges as well. Then, 14 Frantic Minutes is my more recent game and it’s a puzzle solving game that’s a solo or co-op, and it’s, but it’s real time.

So, uh, you’ve basically been, uh, trapped in this lab by this mad scientist you’re working for and you have to get out. So you have all these different circuit pieces that are very Tetris, like Polyomino pieces. Uh, you’re attaching them together to try to connect this circuit so you can escape from one room to the next.

And all the while, this mad scientist is coming after you. So every two minutes he advances further, and if he ever gets into the room you’re in, you’re toast. But otherwise you have to get through seven rooms that get harder every time and you have to connect more things up, and you have to get out before he catches you.

Brandon Rollins: Yeah. So you’ve, you’ve made a lot of games that would, I, I would say fall into the kind of adventure category, but also sounds like you’ve made some that are more like, um, is “party” the right word? I know you’ve definitely made some that work in a group setting as well.

Joe Slack: Yeah. Some of my games that I have with other publishers, uh, you could say, that are more like that. I, I have one called Zoo Year’s Eve, which is a, uh, a bluffing game. You can play two to six players where you’re trying to sneak animals into a, uh, New Year’s Eve party. So that’s more of a, a lighter party game.

And then I’ve got a couple others, Kingdom’s Candy Monsters, which is more of an engine building game with some, cute chibi art with some really crazy creatures that eat candies and, uh, King of Indecision, uh, which is a game where you are trying to appease the king by collecting the different things that he wants. But he’s always changing his mind about what he wants. So you have to kind of anticipate what he’s going to, to want and when he is gonna change his mind.

Beyond that, I’m trying to think Four Word Thinking, which is a word game. It’s a real-time word game where you’re trying to put together combinations of letters to make words and create more words faster than all your opponents.

Brandon Rollins: That’s interesting cause you’ve really run the gamut of different games you can make. Would you say that one type is definitely harder than the other?

Joe Slack: Well, I just love creating different types of games. I’m, I’m not the type of designer that’s just gonna create the same type of game over and over, so I just have an idea and I run with it. But I, I think, you know, there are some games that are more simple and straightforward, uh, rules , you know, have come together very easily.

Like Zoo Years Eve came together very easily. The idea was just there and it just kind of worked right outta the gate. I had to obviously make some tweaks and adjustments and some balance things, but it was a very simple type of game. Whereas I’ve got other games that I’ve been working on for, you know, four or five years that is still not, you know, got to the stage of, of being published that, you know, we’re still working on and tweaking kind of in the background, um, and kind of going.

Brandon Rollins: Just a heads up for our listeners, um, we actually had a disconnect at the previous moment in the call, so we’re just gonna pick up from there. So we were talking about the games that you had created, Joe, just a minute ago.

Now, in your opinion, which one has caught on the most with the audience?

Joe Slack: I have to say the one that I think resonated most was Relics of Rajavihara, and I think there’s, there’s a few things behind that. I think it was kind of an innovative type of a game that nobody had seen before, like even when I was creating it, um, I, I’d never seen anything quite like it. I mean, people were familiar with that kind of puzzley type of game in a digital format, but not quite so much in a tabletop format.

So there was that element of familiarity, but also being able to, to transpose that and put it into a tabletop kind of space and I think also because I was running that campaign, it was my first really big one. I was, you know, very involved in it. So I, I was the one behind it. And of course, you know, when you create something, you are the most passionate about it.

Nobody else can be as excited or as passionate about it. So I think hopefully that came through. And also people saw that I delivered really well on the campaign and whenever there was any kind of issue, anybody was missing anything, I always made sure that everybody was, you know, fully satisfied and, and you got any missing parts or anything that went wrong and… 

Making expansions for board games

Joe Slack: Built on that with the expansion, and it was an expansion and a reprint, and I was really surprised because roughly about half of the backers that came back that bought a physical copy of anything bought. Both the Relics of Rajavihara and the expansion, as well as both another half purchasing just the expansion.

So I had a lot of people come back. I had somewhere around 50% of the people who bought the original come back and buy the expansion, which I understand is quite high. I’ve heard a lot of people say, like you, you know, you can expect maybe 20 or 30%, but I had 50% right off the bat. And also I had all these new people who hadn’t seen the game before and they went all in.

They bought not only the base game, but the expansion as well. I had, you know, a slight discount on that if you buy it kind of as a bundle. But I was, you know, really, like, taken aback at how , how um, how well that did and how many people jumped on. So I think that’s been the one that’s kind of resonated the most.

And cuz I’ve been the most involved with, you know, when you do a game with another publisher, they kind of take the reins and, you know, you can answer some questions and be somewhat involved. But, you know, being the designer and the publisher, being very involved, and all the way through, you know, whenever there was an issue, a problem, a question, I was always there to address that. And al-, always, you know, just keeping up, keeping people, you know, well updated, which I think can be the fault of some Kickstarter creators if they don’t communicate really well. So I think that really helps when you communicate well with your audience and always keep them involved and in the loop.

Brandon Rollins: Absolutely. And I would say, just to take it to a general business context, like a lot of what folks do with expansions on board games is they’re trying to increase customer lifetime value. That’s what you would call it if you generalize it across all industries. But what I think is interesting here is that you didn’t just increase like the lifetime value of your individual customers.

You were acquiring new ones too. And from the sounds of it, it wasn’t like some marginal effect that was happening, you picked up a few people here or there like you, not you, you not only got more out of a surprising amount of backers from the first one, but you picked up quite a few new people too. Is that fair to say?

Joe Slack: Yeah, absolutely. And, uh, you know, when you, when you launch something like this, well, you know, whenever you launch a campaign, you don’t know exactly how well it’s gonna do. You have a, an impression based on people you’ve have following you through email, people who have clicked the notification button for your Kickstarter campaign.

Um, so I thought on both cases, the campaign would do well, but I didn’t necessarily know that the second one would do as well. You know, you, you know that only a fraction of the people that buy your original game are gonna buy expansion. You can’t have more than a hundred percent of them, uh, buy it and not everybody’s going to, which is totally fine.

But you don’t know how many new people you’re gonna bring in. You don’t know how many people have missed the first campaign because you gotta remember when you’re running a Kickstarter campaign or other crowdfunding campaign, you have a short window. It’s, you know, maybe 20 or 30 days where only people who see your campaign during that time.

We’ll be able to have the chance to jump on board and maybe you and your pledge manager for a little bit longer. But most of the attention’s gonna be during that crowdfunding campaign. But, you know, if, if you’ve got a solid game and there’s something interesting to it, then other people can still discover that at a later point.

So being able to do another print run and add an expansion, uh, really opens up that door for new people to come in and, and experience your game for the first time. 

Brandon Rollins: It’s interesting how Kickstarter can act like this whole discovery engine as well, just to get, and actually, no more broadly, something I’ve noticed about Kickstarter. It’s actually really, really good at reaching a new audience. Obviously, you have to bring your own audience going in, if you want to fund, but I’ve found that for whatever reason, regardless of how many people you bring in, it seems like Kickstarter itself accounts for like 30 or 40% of the pledges that you get, both in terms of number of backers and money and it’s weird how consistent this is despite whatever methods are being used to build an audience.

Have you found this to be true in your experience as well?

Joe Slack: Definitely, I mean, you can bring in a lot of people, but the fact is there’s a lot of other people that will not have heard of your game. Just no matter how much you get out there at conventions or run ads, there’s gonna be some people who have never heard your game or only kind of heard around it, around the periphery, and they’re gonna discover things on Kickstarter.

I mean, they’re, they’re on there looking for, you know, what the latest, greatest game is. Or maybe they get a notification that, you know, one of their friends has backed a game and then they go and check it out. Or you know, when they get an update about something, they just naturally hear about other games. So you’re gonna bring more people in that way.

The emergence of new crowdfunding platforms

Joe Slack: And I think Kickstarter is a really great platform in that way. So that’s one of the kind of downsides, or one of the things that some of the newer kids on the block have to, to grapple with, like Gamefound and BackerKit. Um, great systems, great platforms, but they don’t necessarily have the large number of, you know, previous backers.

I mean, they’ll, they’ll grow and they’ll get there in time if they do all the right things like I see that they’re doing. But Kickstarter just has this large base, this large following of people who’ve been on there some, some for years, some for over a decade, and they’re just used to the system. They know they can find other great games on there.

So just naturally, just by being on the site and being active there, they’re gonna have a higher chance of seeing your game.

Brandon Rollins: It is interesting with all the new players on the block, like game found and even BackerKit as a crowdfunding platform proper, not just a pledge manager. It’s interesting because like technically speaking, these are actually superior platforms. I mean, if you really want to be that way, you can say they’re superior platforms because they, they give you more customizability on your pages.

The ability to handle add-ons and collect addresses in a more efficient manner after the campaign. They’re really good at this. The technical parts they do really well and that’s definitely gonna help ’em in the long run. But the thing is, it’s just that user base. It’s just trying to pick users off from Kickstarter, that that is a hard thing to do.

We’re seeing almost the exact same dynamic play out in social media as well, because it’s like we know that YouTube is a rising platform. TikTok is a rising platform. I mean, arguably Mastodon too. I have mixed feelings about it, but arguably that too. But of course, it’s like, it doesn’t matter if they’re technically better, they still have to peel users off from older platforms like Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and that sort of thing, and that is hard.

Joe Slack: Yeah. I mean, people are used to what they’re used to. If somebody’s going on Facebook every day or going on YouTube every day, you know that’s, that’s their normal platform to pull them away and say, oh, you gotta check out this. Other platform, try this, other software, whatever it is, even if it’s better, there’s either gonna be a learning curve or you know, things just look and feel different.

So they’re not used to it, you know, it’s not quite as familiar. So I think that the same thing’s gonna apply there. But, uh, At the same time, Gamefound and BackerKit have, have done a good job of building up their audience as a pledge manager. So a lot of people, after they do their Kickstarter or other campaign, you know, they will, a creator will use them as a pledge manager so they can collect extra sales, collect the address, collect taxes, that type of thing, um, afterwards.

So I think a lot of people who use Kickstarter have also used these platforms at one time or another. So they’re at least familiar with them and at the same time, Gamefound and BackerKit have built these audiences from that. So when a new game launches on their system, they can, you know, spread the word to everybody that’s, you know, used them as a pledge manager and people will get more comfortable using them as a crowdfunding platform, but it will take some time. And, and that’s the, the challenge when you have one company come along who’s a big behemoth and, I mean, Kickstarter has its faults. It’s it’s not perfect.

It doesn’t have a pledge manager built in. It’s not really set up well for addresses and collecting taxes and, and doing a lot of other things, and being a big company, I think they’re slower to change, whereas I always get all these updates, like every month, I’m getting a new update at least once a month from, um, from Gamefound saying, here’s a new thing that we introduce, like now people can pledge and pay like in monthly installments, and you can add things on easier. Everything’s all integrated. 

So I mean, in terms of a system, you’re absolutely right. It, they’re superior in terms of being able to handle things, make it an easier, better customer experience. But people are just so used to, you know, the original one out there, the one that that pick up and, and grew and became the place to go.

So it, it’s, it’s harder for them to pick those people off and also bring in creators and say, use our platform instead. You know, they have to say, you know, what they can offer that’s, that’s different and better.

Brandon Rollins: Absolutely. I did not know about the payment in installments. That’s really interesting. 

Joe Slack: Yeah. It’s a, it’s really new thing. 

Brandon Rollins: I wonder how that works. 

Joe Slack: Yeah. I’ve, I haven’t used it myself, but it, it was announced fairly recently and I can’t remember if it’s exactly like monthly or on whatever, uh, basis, but it basically allows to it in installments, and the creator can choose whether or not to turn on that function.

And I think that would work really well for some of the larger campaigns, like one of these ones that the all-in pledges hundreds and hundreds of dollars, especially with the shipping. So if it’s, you know, somebody’s gonna spend like $400, it’s a lot easier to say, well, it’s only a hundred dollars a month for the next four months rather than 400 right off the bat.

You know, some people can’t afford that or they’re thinking, oh, that’s just way too much money all at one.

Board Game Design Course: how’s it going?

Brandon Rollins: That’s absolutely fascinating. So I, I’ve got some questions related back to Board Game Design Course. How, How’s that gone over? How have people received that so far?

Joe Slack: It’s gone really well. Um, I can’t remember the exact number, but I’ve had definitely well over a hundred, maybe 150 people who’ve, who’ve gone through the course. And I’ve seen people get their games signed. I’ve seen people, run their own Kickstarter campaigns and be successful afterwards and just, in general, being able to move their games along further and faster, which is really the goal. 

Because, you know, it took me, you know, many, many years before my first game was ready and I put it out on Kickstarter. It wasn’t even a complex game. It was a, it was just a simple party game. But, you know, learning all this stuff, you know, I really try to pack all that knowledge into a much shorter amount of time.

So within, you know, a few months you can learn, you know, what, it took me, you know, two or three years to learn. So I think the, uh, the response has been very good. And, you know, the people that took that course, some of them have come back and taken the Crowdfunding Success course or the Creation Publication Program.

Or have also joined me at one of my virtual summits, which, I have one of them coming up where I have, you know, a dozen or more different people in the industry, designers, publishers, and others in the industry where I do interviews and we do Q&A panels. And also I have a Discord server open for kind of networking and, and play testing with, uh, anybody that’s interested.

Brandon Rollins: That’s really cool. Do you have a lot of people talking on the, on Discord? I know Discord’s been on the rise a lot over the last couple of years.

Joe Slack: You know, I haven’t really used it anywhere near to its, uh, to its capacity or, or what I could do. Um, I have set it up basically for, like I have a monthly play testing session that I call, uh, Board Game Designers Online. So we just pick a Sunday every month and I just invite everybody on the server.

We say, let’s, let’s play test some games. We’re open for the whole day. And I also use that server for these virtual events, for the, the virtual summits. So, you know, those are open and I’m there and accessible. And sometimes we play some games. Sometimes somebody just wants to, to chat. So, I’d say a much smaller user base than, than most people have.

But, um, I’m, you know, thinking in the future it’s really good platform also for, uh, play testing and bringing people in, like I’m involved in a lot of different play testing groups, but, you know, those are mostly other designers and we, you know, take turns playing each other’s games and giving feedback.

But, you know, there’s definitely value of having your own setup and made for people who own the platforms and are interested in your game. Maybe if bought some of your previous games, might be interested in play testing, you know, what you’ve got coming out next. So I think those opportunities are there.

It’s just, there’s only so many hours in the day to, uh, to do all the different things and to, to use all the different possible avenues you have to, uh, to reach people.

Brandon Rollins: Yeah, that, that’s really interesting cause having those kind of community events, like having play test nights, that’s a really good way of keeping people engaged. That’s smart. You guys do it on Tabletop Sim or something like that?

Joe Slack: Yeah. Most people use Tabletop Simulator, but you know, there’s, there’s rising number of people are trying other platforms like Tabletop Playground, uh, Screentop.gg, and PlayingCards.io

Brandon Rollins: Yeah. Wow. There are a lot more alternatives than there were even a few years ago.

Joe Slack: Yeah. Oh, and Tabletopia as well. I forgot to.

Brandon Rollins: Oh yeah. Of course. Tabletopia has always been a, that’s been a factor for a while too.

Joe Slack: Yes.

Brandon Rollins: Um, so I, I’m curious, how do you, how do you usually pull in new clients, or rather, I should say, new students since we’re talking about a course?

Joe Slack: Various different ways. Um, I have a blog that I’ve been writing for four and a half years now. So every week I have, uh, you know, new topics and I talk about everything from game design to where to find materials, to running Kickstarters, pitching publishers, kinda everything in between, everything related to game design.

So, I do have a lot of, uh, traffic on my site. So a lot of people will see those blogs and then they’ll wind up signing up for the email list so they can, you know, see those on a weekly basis so they don’t miss anything. And I’ve got, , my books as well, so those are some, some areas that people come in.

And I usually do a training session as well, like a webinar once a month where I talk about a topic and might be kind of getting into board game design and, and getting started on that. Or it might be on crowdfunding or it might be on pitching to publishers or anything kind of relevant. And, uh, I usually offer the course on those as well, uh, usually for those who attend those sessions.

I like to give something back for those that, uh, give me their time and are really interested. So there’s usually some kind of offer for my course and usually has some kind of package as well maybe with extra months in the community or one of my previous packages with the, the virtual summits or something along those lines as well.

So, uh, people find me there and I’m also active in different Facebook groups. And, uh, yeah, just talking about game design whenever I have the chance, uh, being on podcasts like this and, and others particularly those on game design. So, you know, people, people hear the name after, after a while.

Brandon Rollins: I imagine once you build up kind of a reputation, like people start to come to you and you’re not even entirely sure how they found you.

Joe Slack: It’s true. Yeah. So sometimes you don’t, you don’t know how they’ve found you, but, uh, some people are just like, oh yeah, I heard about you online, or somebody mentioned you and, uh, checked out your site and you have some really cool resources and, you know, then they want to, you know, work with you or, or join the course or just, you know, chat about game design, which is always cool.

What’s next for Joe?

Brandon Rollins: Yeah. Very cool. So what comes next from here?

Joe Slack: What comes next? Um, well my next big event, uh, that I was mentioning is the Board Game Design virtual summit. It’s one I’ve been running for the last few years. I started up in 2020, during the pandemic, I, I actually had the idea, you know, prior to the pandemic hitting, um, of having like an online game design event with a whole bunch of amazing people around the industry so people could learn about game design and, and publishing and crowdfunding and content creation and everything related, uh, to game design.

It just so happened the pandemic hit and I’m like, well, I should really go ahead with it because all the, you know, live events are now closed, all conventions are down. And, um, it was, you know, really well received. I think I had somewhere around four or 500 people attend that, uh, which was absolutely incredible.

I wasn’t expecting that many people. And then I rented again in 2021 and, last year I had to take a, take a pause and I just had too many projects on the go and I didn’t feel I could do it justice, so I pushed it off till this February. So it’s happening, uh, February 21st to 27th. It’s a live event, basically every day I release three new interviews so you can watch them at any point after that.

10:00 AM, I hit the button and released three interviews and, uh, for over the course of four days. And then leading into the weekend, we have some Q&A panels with the guests. And then as I mentioned, the Discord server. And, uh, so tickets are free to join if you want to join for just the week.

And then for those who want to own it for life. Join the Q&A panels, uh, get more involved or even join the course, the board game design course at a really, really deep dis discount where they get that and the summit in one package, uh, people can, uh, buy into those packages as well.

Brandon Rollins: And all that stuff is going to be in the links in the transcript, as well as the show notes.

Yeah. So I got one last question for you, um, somewhat of a hard one. Now if you could go back before you started Board Game Design Course and you could tell yourself just one piece of advice, what do you think that would be?

Joe Slack: It’d probably be to focus. As a, as a game designer usually have, you know, so many games on the go. And, you know, knowing when I, you know, left my full-time job and wanted to do this full-time, I knew I’d have to, uh, do multiple things because, you know, as a game designer, you never know when your next game’s gonna be signed, when it’s actually gonna be coming out.

So you do need to have kind of different streams of income, different projects going on, that type of thing. Uh, but at the same time, I found when I’ve been able to focus on kind of one thing or two things at a time, rather than spread myself out too thin, I’ve, I think I’ve been more successful and also have less stress.

For instance, if I was getting ready to launch a, a book and I had my virtual summit coming up and I was gonna be hosting a protospiel and I was also working on games. You know, it could get very stressful with so many things on the go, but when I, at different times when I’ve said, okay, you know what?

This is gonna be my focus this month. I just want to make sure to get this book done and, you know, get the best it can be. I think that allows, you know, the quality, quality to be there so that it’s, you know, the best possible book, the best possible course, wherever it is. And knowing that you, as, as much as you want to create new content, at some point you have to stop and kind of say, okay, you know what?

I’ve got a ton of stuff here already, or, you know, I’ve, I’ve launched enough courses, I just want to focus on this. Bring people in that could really use it and not spend so much time constantly creating, okay, I gotta come up with something new. Something new again, you know, cuz we’re always creating new games.

That’s one thing, that’s creative endeavor, but also to be creating all this new content all the time, it can, it can really be draining. So at some point you have to say, you know, what I’ve put out, I think everything that I think that can be helpful and let’s just try to reach the people, um, with the, the materials you already.

Brandon Rollins: Yeah, I think that’s good advice because once you figure out something and say economically viable, you like doing it at a certain point, you actually do have to buckle down and just complete it, like spend the proper amount of time to get it finished so that you can do that, complete it, ship the product, and then move on to the next thing.

Because you, you can get partial credit on some things in marketing and business, but ultimately you do, you do still need some finished products. So it’s like, yeah, get it done, even if it’s imperfect, spend time and really focus on making it.

Joe Slack: Yeah. And, and that’s a really good point. You can’t let perfection be the enemy of, of good or good enough, as you know, an of often used expression, um, if you wait for something to be perfect, it’ll never get shipped. It’ll never get completed. I’ve heard the expression: when it comes to a board game, board games are never finished. They’re just published.

Because, you know, you could work on a game forever trying to tweak it and get it, you know, perfect, perfect bit of balance and, and just getting it right. But you know, when a game’s working really, really well and people are really enjoying it and, you know, asking you, “oh, when can I buy this?”

“When’s this coming out?” You know, those are the signals that you know your game, even though it might not be perfect, it’s getting pretty close. So you you should be wrapping it up at some point.

Brandon Rollins: Yeah, I, I think that’s a good general rule and I think that that kind of advice works for most products. It’s like, yeah, you, or services even, I mean by the time people are having a good time using them, if they’re helpful and they need to be helpful, that kind of thing, um, they’ll tell you and then, you know, you are very close.

You really just need to finish some housekeeping and there you.

Joe Slack: Yeah. And as well, if you release something, um, especially if it’s something more like digital, if it’s like a course or, or like an ebook or something like that. If you do get feedback and somebody says, you know what? I wish there was more of this in here. I wish you went more in depth on that.

Well, you know, that could be the next edition or just in alteration. Um, if it’s a course, okay, add a new module. Say, “Hey, more content.” I mean, nobody’s gonna complain about getting more stuff, especially when they’re, you know, already in the course or if they’ve been thinking about getting it. Um, you know, you’ve just, you know, more value to it. So, uh, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s, it’s a little different when you’re making something physical like a board game and then you, you know, discover that there’s a major issue. 

Cuz I’ve definitely been there where I’ve, uh, put something out, put out a game, and then discovered afterwards. Or, or, or, a player has discovered afterwards that there was a misprint on a card and it was something, you know, substantial and, you know, having to go out and get that reprinted and, you know, deliver that, ship it out to everybody that, you know, needs a copy that, you know, bought your previous one, that can get very expensive.

So definitely, you want to do your due diligence rather and go over everything. Check out the files, the digital proof, the physical copy. Read everything over, play test it again with that sample copy. Make sure everything is, is just right before you put it out.

But when it comes to something digital, you have a little more flexibility and you can, you know, alter, tweak, make a new edition or just add more content cuz you know who’s gonna complain about more.

Brandon Rollins: Absolutely. Good advice to live by. Where can people find you online?

Joe Slack: Best place to find me is boardgamedesigncourse.com. That’s where you find all my blogs and courses and books. You can reach out to me through there.

Brandon Rollins: And I’ll be including that link as well as your social media and the link in the show notes in the transcript.

Joe Slack: Awesome. Thanks Brandon.

Brandon Rollins: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for coming on. I really appreciate it.

So for anybody who’s listening to this show the whole way through we both really appreciate it. If you could please take a moment to subscribe anywhere you get your podcasts.

You can find us @WeirdMarketers or @WeirdMarketing on pretty much any social media known to man, and you can also read our work and listen to all the podcasts on weirdmarketingtales.com. Thank you again for listening. I’ll see you again in two weeks.

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