The Stairstepping Game and Respecting Privacy – The Newsletter With No Name – Issue 8

Readers and Friends –

Welcome to my eighth newsletter – I think this newsletter needs a proper name – ripping off Sergio Leone / Kurosawa seems like a bad idea! Suggestions?

Thank you for reading. You can read all of the previous newsletters in the archive at – blog.sbdavis.com.

This weeks topics

  • Stair Stepping Strategy for Games – stealing and expanding on ideas for Software as a Service bootstrapping businesses
  • This week in brief – really brief as back end stuff is as boring for you as it is for me… but necessary.
  • Privacy focused Business Stack – how I’m currently building my “privacy respecting business stack”

​… if you are new here… Getting started with this newsletter (skippable for veterans)

I hope you’ll treat this letter as one side of our “asynchronous conversation” … I really want to hear from you.

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As of today, there are 3 of you – thank you all again.

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The Stair Stepping Game for Games – Part 1

How do you build a game business?

I think we can learn from other independent businesses (both creative and others) in ways that we haven’t fully explored. In particular, the Stair Stepping Strategy laid out by Rob Walling for Software as a Service bootstrappers.

When I started out as an aspiring game creator (which is where I still am), there was no Kickstarter (heck, there wasn’t a BoardGameGeek and I found most of my early, more unusual board games through “The Game Cabinet” – last updated in October 2000 apparently!).

As I wrote last week, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with how to make games (particularly board games) a more viable/reliable business both as a game creator and as a fan of games.

As with many creative pursuits, the odds of you making a living as a game creator are low, but, hopefully, you can share your creation(s) with the world without losing money (like I did the first time) and also available to the most potential players and other fans possible.

Maybe, you’ll make some money (if you want to).

Maybe, you’ll build a viable business… building any business is hard.

Many people have built creative businesses and other businesses successfully… why not game makers?

Hopefully, you’ll create the game or games that you’ve envisioned, constrained by only your imagination.

Hopefully, you’ll have a lot of fun.

Step 0 – Start a Mail List (almost mandatory)

Starting a mail list, even if it is a blank blog with a sign up form. Better to give people a reason to sign up. Even if you are going to give away your game for free, you need to give it a home and find a way to get the word out.

PS – If you haven’t signed up for my list… you can here 😉

Unless you’re creating Magic: The Gathering or Monopoly, you’re probably not going to be able to find players with ads, so participating in game communities and your own mail list are key… search engine optimization (SEO), an option for SaS businesses is not likely to help you much (one of my games is “Battleship Poker”… who is going to search for that unless they know what they are looking for already? Another, Boroco, is inspired by Sudoku… what are the odds of getting onto “Google Page 1” for that? Role playing games.. if you’re doing something like Dungeons and Dragons, you’ll likely get lost among all of the other parts of of that ecosystem, and if you’re doing something else… you’ve got to have people asking the right question)

Step 0.1 – Work in Public (a strongly recommended option)

If you can share your work as you go along, you can grow interest, get feedback, and there are inherent advantages to writing things down (or sharing them via a video or podcast, but writing is most often easiest). Start a blog, a newsletter, if you use social media, make sure to have your own “place” where you can capture your audience’s / prospects / potential customers’ information. Participate in relevant communities of both game players and other game creators.

Step 1 – Start VERY SMALL and FAST

Build and deliver something. For most games, this could simply be publishing the rules online at your own site or at one of the digital distribution services for print-and-play games or game rule sets (ALL OF THE ABOVE is better). Get people play-testing. If it is a board game, get it listed on Board Game Geek.

Don’t build something complicated (at first). If you are creating a board game, build a basic version of the game or something that is fun but uses only a couple of your innovative mechanics. If you are creating a RPG, maybe separate the setting from the game and create a basic scenario, mini-game, or one-shot to release… or add your setting to an existing game. Publish through Itch.io and the DriveThruRPG family of sites including Wargame Vault and DriveThruCards and others (other sites and services? Let me know!)

And, no matter where your game is available, make sure that the digital version leads the players back to registering for your mail list.

I find it interesting, and somewhat sad, that the digital versions of some games that are successfully Kickstarted are pulled. To me, this is a lost opportunity for long term growth of your mail list and current or future revenue.

Step 1.1 – Print on Demand / Build on Demand

Once you’ve got the basics complete, you can have your game built on demand from several vendors including, most familiarly, The Game Crafter, and, perhaps more seriously, Blue Panther LLC. For games that are purely written, there are also simpler book or pamphlet print on demand options (the DriveThruRPG family, Amazon, Lulu, and others).

This is an area where I wish more people would start businesses as having local On Demand manufacturing is good for the game manufacturers AND game makers AND the environment.

While many game publishers move to outsourced manufacturing, mostly in China (more on this to follow), there are limitations of this “bulk outsourced manufacturing approach”… mostly capital. In order to be profitable, you have to make reasonably large print runs.

The advantage of on demand production is that your money isn’t tied up in inventory (like my several thousand sets for Dice Holdem) in your garage. The disadvantage is that you are making a lot less per copy.

But, this can work as a business model. One of my favorite wargame (mostly) and boardgame companies, Hollandspiele uses print-on-demand almost entirely (with Blue Panther at this time). Their business seems to be successful and, the advantage of print-on-demand is that games can grow and succeed slowly, by word of mouth, so your costs are limited to what you spend on design, art, and play-testing (and, if you’ve had some success, royalties for designers who want to publish with you).

Step 2 – Cover your costs

Hobbies are allowed to lose money forever – that is what makes them hobbies and not businesses. Artists create work that they love for the love of the work. For the love of the process. For fun.

And that is OK.

It is awesome, in fact.

But, if you aspire to something professional (or your costs are affecting other asspects of your life or your relationships), it is wise to keep track of the numbers and find a way for your craft/hobby/art/passion to pay for itself (at least the hard costs). Tools, web hosting, materials, etc.

Step 3 – Building the Business

To be continued….

The week in brief

It has been a challenge getting back into a work rhythm after over a month of moving and parent related issues.

In addition, lots of “back-end” software work which I’m nearly done with…especially as I’m trying to build a more privacy respecting business…

Privacy Respecting Business Stack

I use WordPress for my platform and I’m really trying to respect privacy (but still do effective business) which is not the default way online business works, so there is some extra effort involved.

My current “privacy business” stack:

  • WordPress – my basic platform. It is easy, rich with tools, and portable (I’ve changed hosts multiple times over the years. My first blog, PlayNoEvil, is basically lost as I used a different, funky blog platform 🙁 )
  • Koko Analytics (web site analytics on-site, no cookies option) – I’m not in love with this so far. I don’t have a ton of traffic, there is also Fathom which I’ll look into once I have enough traffic to worry about it 🙂
  • SEOPress for SEO optimization, again, onsite and the way I’m using it, privacy respecting.
  • Sendy for email using privacy respecting settings (I use ConvertKit for this newsletter, but it does some tracking)
  • Contact Form 7 – basic forms processing.

“Privacy Respecting Business Stack” is a terrible name!

All my best.

Steve

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