It was a mid-May afternoon back a year ago when I first talked with Martin Looij from Keep Exploring Games. He told me he had seen some Facebook posts regarding Tour Operator and wanted to learn more as was creating a traveling-themed game himself. As it turned out, our perspective on the theme was different. His game’s protagonists were tourists while I was designing a game from the standpoint of the occupations in tourism around the world. Nonetheless, we agreed to keep in touch and to help each other with our designs.
Some months later, we talked again. Martin had seen some promo art I got commissioned for Tour Operator and was proposing to check the game for publishing. At the time I was in a dilemma, to self-publish or not, having faith in my game but not much time to market it correctly. I eventually agreed to sign it over to Keep Exploring Games, and on April 9, Tour Operator launched on Kickstarter.
What designers fear in signing their game over to some company is the thought that they will have no further involvement in their creation. “Now sit back and let the publisher run the show,” a fellow designer told me. I didn’t quite follow his advice, and I am glad I didn’t. For the past three months and a half, I have been following Tour Operator in all stages: art, graphic design, previews, promotion and Kickstarter release.
My advice to designers is to offer your help to the publisher, try to stay as close to your game as you can and don’t let your love for it die out. Some publishers prefer to have designers out of their way, but, in truth, you are potentially their most crucial ally in this project. As long as you know your boundaries, respect your publisher and yourself, and keep loving your game, everything will work out for both parties in the end.
The first thing you should do is have a sincere talk with your potential publisher. Explain how you envision your partnership and your involvement in the publishing process and listen to what the publisher wants from you. I am sure that you can work out a collaborative framework that will allow you to contribute to the publishing process. My experience working with Martin Looij and Keep Exploring Games is that a designer can help a lot. A very delicate subject is the game art. Most publishers will exclude the designers from choosing the game’s illustrator but in my case, the illustrator, Thanos Tsilis, was my choice. I had approached him before we had any contract with Keep Exploring Games and Martin was so happy with the art that he wouldn’t want to change the art direction. The same happened with the graphic design we needed for the KS page and the game box. The publisher’s regular graphic designer wasn’t available for some time, so I proposed a friend who closed a deal with the publisher and helped us out at a critical point.
A designer may also help with the game design in general. Martin gladly supported my proposals about the player mats and the size of the city cards, which I wanted big enough to show off our awesome game art. I tried to offer thoughts on why something should be the way I propose but never expected to get my way every time.
Another way a designer may help is promoting the game. There are various Facebook Groups right now which offer both product visibility and direct contact with board gamers and potential clients. Providing info about the rules and the gameplay, answering questions and talking to future backers or industry insiders helps to build an audience for any game, and that’s a job a designer might do very well. I remember the Tour Operator Facebook Group already having almost 800 followers when Keep Exploring Games had taken over, and I continued posting about Tour Operator in several groups during the pre-campaign period, especially art related posts. Get the publisher’s blessing on what sort of sharing is allowed and then keep loving that game!
A designer may also help as a collaborator during the KS campaign, answering relevant backer questions and posting updates. It’s a great experience, and I suggest you ask your publisher to give you collaborator rights. Of course, it goes without saying that you should be sure on the things you are commenting or your answers to the public and you always ask the publisher if something doesn’t stick with you before posting on the KS comments.
So, it’s all that easy? Publishers and designers get along without any problems, any slight little shadow between them? Certainly not. There were viewpoints with which I disagreed with the publisher, such as having a ticket resource instead of a clean plane seats one, or various city card decisions, with me wanting more mainstream cities and sites in the game and Martin Looij going for some more “uncommon” ones. In these cases the rule is simple. The publisher always has the decisive vote because at the end of the day they are more financially liable for the project’s success. Keep this fixed in your mind, and communication will be great.