Breaking into Board Games 101

Posted by Daniel Zayas April 19, 2019 in Advice

Update: There is an excellent podcast called Breaking into Board Games which this article has nothing to do with. I value their contributions to the hobby and would like to clarify the distinction.

So, you want to join the board game industry! I’ve run into enough people who are just entering the board game field maybe through a Facebook Group or a run-in at a convention that I think it is worthwhile to cover the basics of joining the board game industry.

In this short blog post, I will try to show you the benefit of being there in person meeting real people doing the work. I believe you can extrapolate this lesson to any industry, but I imagine you all are here for crowdfunding, and board games so let’s stick to that. I am basing this article on a GaryVee video I saw online recently, which breaks down the process pretty well I think.

Create Value for Free

I anticipate online outrage at this label, but so it goes. Free is such a dirty word in freelancing that I think it is paramount to heresy. Yes, I believe artists should get paid for their craft. Yes, those who intrinsically create value do not need to do anything for free. I am talking specifically here about a faster launchpad approach to meet people versus skilled labor. The people who have no relevant work experience, have no material connections, have no appropriate credit to their name as to why they want to work in board games except the desire to be there. Even as an artist or another relevant freelancer, how do you meet the industry and book your first gig? You need to meet people in person.

So what does this look like in the board game world? It comes in the form of convention volunteers. Every single publisher who showcases at a convention is in desperate need of help. So much so that they’ve started covering costs of your being there. You need to be at the biggest and most relevant conventions to achieve your goals in whatever you want to do in board games. That starts at the ground floor demoing games and hawking wares. I am literally telling you to buy a flight, pay for a cheap motel, do whatever you need to do in order to shake hands with the industry.

I have given this advice numerous times, and I get the response that the person can’t afford to do that. Well, then you can’t pay to launchpad your dream profession, and I got no time for you. Or I hear that they can’t physically make it to the shows. If you physically cannot be at those shows, that is fine. Just know that this is the ideal entry point and that is a setback to overcome in some online way, but you have to work that much harder now to get noticed. I do plenty of online work for these opportunities but that is a tangent we can explore another time.

Create Value for Big Exposure

You’ll read the above section and think about all the great local conventions you can attend and somehow magically that gets you in the business. No. I am talking about Gen Con, Origins, any of the PAX events, Essen Spiel. Large tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people type events. Volunteer for the companies who have the most massive active social media presence. Think a lot about what you are gaining in place of the short-term money you are out.

When I said to create value for free above, I want you to create value with a strategy in mind. Showing up to a booth to demo games and thinking that means automatic connections is not realistic. You just got in the room. Meet with as many publishers as you can. Tell them about the value you provided to whichever company. Swap business cards get a selfie with me or many other influencers (ask for a selfie first). Get featured on the most popular social media accounts that exist in the industry.

Be the Best

Word of mouth is a powerful thing in board games. You might have discovered me from some silly post on Facebook that generated a ton of comments, some of them vitriolic. I will tell you the lot of us are in the background really great friends with lifelong connections and we talk constantly in private. We also talk about the “rising stars” as it were whenever someone catches our interest.

If you are the best demo person or have made connections and done the free work toward whatever is your goal, and you perform, we all hear about that. When you are less than stellar, we also hear about that. If you have an anger problem or speak condescendingly to people or any number of red flag flaws, everyone hears about it. Be the best version of yourself and succeed.

Form Long-Term Connections

Somebody is always watching. Let’s say you end up at Gen Con for some publisher. That publisher treats you poorly, rarely gives you breaks, doesn’t buy you lunch, doesn’t say anything about you on their social media. Still be your best version of yourself because someone is always watching. In whatever off time you have, make the connections with better people. In the short term, it will suck. But that one publisher across from the booth you are working at will take notice if you are the best at the booth and if they are interested themselves in being the best.

After hours events are key. It is an ongoing joke with my colleagues that my work day starts after the convention hall closes. I meet the most amount of new people and foster relationships with the people I care about while out to dinner or at a bar or some karaoke event one of the companies present threw together. Find a way to muscle through a long day on your feet, don’t turn in early, and do what you can to be seen.

Match your Actions to your Ambitions

Maybe you are not looking to be the greatest of all time. Perhaps you want to relax and enjoy the board game hobby as just that, a hobby. But then don’t mix that with the posturing that you will be the greatest of all time. You need to put in the work. There doesn’t exist a person who is successful in board games who didn’t also work hard to get there. Be the person you aspire to be by always thinking about the actions you take and where that plots on your map to success.

I want to be surrounded by a competent, compassionate, and professional board game industry that always strives for greatness over excuses. I am working toward that by introducing as many passionate people as I can to the industry through my work in various communities and these occasional blog posts. What are your end-game goals? Knowing that will set you up for success when acting out the above advice.

Be well, and do good work.

2 thoughts on “Breaking into Board Games 101”

  • crowbiwan

    This is REALLY good advice. As someone who was looking to break into the industry as a Designer last year, I did make Origins and GenCon a priority and gained a tremendous amount of insight from attending both. Those connections and experiences have informed my plans on moving forward with the career I want to have in the industry and I’m excited for those next steps.

  • Jaysonsmithrn

    Wow! Everything I needed to hear. Thank, Mr. Zayas! This was an epic article. It applies to so much more tham just board games and design. Fantastic! Keep mentoring and creating famtastic content.

Comments are closed.