Why Self-publish? Part 1: Getting feedback
15-second version: If you go it alone in game design you have an incredible amount of freedom and control. Just make sure you've got enough people along the way keeping you honest and keeping your quality at the highest level.
"Why self-publish?" is something I've been asked several times lately, on BGG and in person at UKGE2018 and elsewhere. Like many other game designers, I started out wanting to design games, without a great deal of thought given to what happens afterwards. Many designers aim to pitch their games to a publisher and hope that what they've got is good enough to make it through to production. I tried that initially, sending off my first game to one of the production giants - it was rejected but I got a load of useful feedback that I was able to use to make the game better. But there's not many publishers out there - and most of the established publishers only got to that position by having a great game and making a go of it themselves.
I've long loved the idea of running a business - taking your ideas, turning them into something real, getting them out to the world, making your creations a part of other peoples lives and hopefully, eventually, making a living out of it. So I was never really that keen on the idea of taking my ideas to someone else and having them run with it. Perhaps I'm too much of a control freak for that; maybe I just thought could do it better, or just like to be pulling the strings myself.
In "A Crowdfunder's Strategy Guide", Jamey Stegmaier's excellent book on Crowdfunding, he talks about the idea that the gatekeepers have gone - in other words, all the publishers, editors and agents that would normally each have a say in whether your idea becomes reality, are no longer what stand between you and creating your product, and you can make an idea real as long as you've got enough people who believe in your idea. Of course, that's both an opportunity and a risk - what you gain in accessibility you lose in access to people who really understand the market and the business, so if you decide to go it alone you have to be sure that you've got enough controls in place to keep the quality high and to stop you making silly or expensive mistakes...
...and all that is if your idea is good enough of course. Self-publishing, whether you self-fund or crowd-fund, really makes you think about whether your idea is any good, and whether you've really thought of everything you need to. This works both ways of course - the first time someone pulls your idea to pieces (that is, gives you the honest feedback you need) you'll be defensive, grumpy, you'll want to throw the idea away and start again, you'll then be defiant, you'll lose confidence, and ultimately, if you're smart, you'll take it all into account. That doesn't mean throwing away your idea as soon as someone doesn't like it, but it does mean listening to everyone. If the first three people you show your game to don't like it, well they're probably on to something - but maybe they're also not the kind of people you're aiming at. Got a deep, serious game that takes three hours to play? Family gamers probably aren't going to like it. But you thought you had a light family game and the families hate it? Maybe they're seeing something you haven't.
Here's something to try next time you've got a great idea. Go and find someone you know well enough to talk to, but not someone with a vested interest in your happiness, and tell them about your idea. Whatever their reaction, just the act of telling someone you don't know that well will focus your mind on the idea and I bet you'll almost immediately think of something you could improve.
And then of course, nothing's ever perfect - at some point, you just have to go for it and follow your dream, but the more you've thought, tested and exposed your idea to people, the better the chance you'll have that people will love it.
Have you gone it alone? How did you feel the first time you got that harsh feedback?