Recently Steve Dee penned a piece about the struggles of advancing your creative work, particularly as it pertains to the skills required to promote work versus the skills required to create work. It’s a good piece and one I’ve been chewing over for a while now, particularly because much of what we resist in these landscapes are very personal problems.
In independent fields we can all bring to mind that one person who was good at spruiking their wares but those wares were awful, the kind of person who would externalise blame when things didn’t pass a play test. Heck, even outside of creative fields, we all have anecdotes of what we’re pretty sure self-promotion looks like and it’s never pretty. It often feels rude, or unethical. I’ve had plenty of times when I’m trying to sell a product to a consumer, being honest about it, when I’ve been interrupted by Fox to clarify a point that honestly didn’t need clarification, which leaves me with a feeling of awkward ethical quandrary: Would I have been lying if I left out that information? Was it really relevant? Or was I just telling myself it wasn’t relevant in order to sell a unit?
These are not small questions and they are almost always very personal. But what I can offer about this is some tiny drop of help about one area I know is a struggle, and that’s presentation.
First things first, as a card game designer, here are four resources I use the heck out of:
These are free resources that you can use for the creation of your games. GIMP I use a lot because it’s familiar to me for designing card faces. I know that some folk swear by Scribus, or Illustrator – software you may already have. It isn’t important to me which you use, because what you should be using are the tools you’re familiar with and you can get mileage out of. I know that a deft person could use HTML code or Word or Google Docs to create fairly decent card faces for a number of purposes.
Use what you’re comfortable with, but be aware of its edges, what it can’t do. When you know what you can’t do yet, you can start looking for workarounds, or avoid making games that require those ‘can’t’ areas.
Other than that the rest of these resources can give you an enormous leap forward in producing quality looking games without busting your bump on making every individual piece yourself. You don’t have to have the skills to reinvent the wheel, after all.
But that’s just pragmatic advice. The major piece of advice I have is recognise when you could be spending effort better. A piece of advice I give students starting out with games is find the thing you want to do the least of, then design your game so you avoid it. That’s how games like Dog Bear avoid creating any art assets (until the wonderful Cass Marshall hooked me up with some from her and another artist). That’s why The Suits works without redesigning card faces.
That’s good advice for making a game and finishing it. When it comes time to sell a game, that’s when you have to start on refining a different set of skills. And refining that different set of skills is going to be, as with everything in adulthood, a do-it-yourself project.
So with that out of the way, here’s a short list of context for this advice:
- Success Is Random – Despite what we’re told about meritocracy, the idea that your product succeeds or fails based entirely on its quality is simply incorrect. You’re competing with everything, with everyone, on every day, which means you might catch a potential buyer when they’re poor, or a potential fan when they’re cranky. This is not on you. You are putting your work out there to be experienced, not filling a progress bar full of Effort at the end of which is Reward.
- With Random Events, Roll More Dice – gamers know full well the best way to see lots of crits isn’t to magic your dice somehow, it’s to roll more dice. The more chances you give yourself to randomly succeed the better. This means putting your games into a variety of fora, going to different cons, talking to and listening to a lot of different people, trying things out that ideally don’t risk you anything.
- I Am A Very Small Fish – Most of my work as a producer has been at the scale where a weekend, selling product face to face with a consumer is a good scale to work with. I do not have a sum of money to hire artists on any regular basis, I do not have a Patreon set up for same, I do not have a publisher, I do not pay for advertising. My costs are mostly in the form of getting attention and at times, giving product away.
- I Was Raised To Sell – The skillset I earned from my family growing up was one of sales, whether I was selling god or printers. Don’t mistake it: Part of why I can do what I do is because I’m familiar with convincing people on the spot to make a decision. In fact, that knowledge is part of why I want to make sure I’m respectful of people and their time – I could get people to buy things they don’t want more often than I do.
Tomorrow, assuming everything goes well I’ll go into the philosophical struggle of ‘What goes into a game’ and ways to work on getting people to engage with your games and why you’re not bad for wanting that attention.