6 December 2018 | 23 Comments
Last Wednesday, I mentioned in our e-newsletter that we had a new game and that I’d be revealing information about it on Facebook, our website, and BoardGameGeek, even though we wouldn’t officially announce the game or accept pre-orders until January 2.
The game is Wingspan. In the last 8 days, nearly 1900 people have joined the Facebook group, over 14,000 people have viewed the Wingspan page on our website, and over 28,000 people have viewed the BGG page, where it’s currently been at the top of the hotness for 3 days.
How did this happen? Is it too soon for such buzz? Can it be replicated? I’d like to talk about all that and more today.
First, some context: I’ve been experimenting with different release methods this year. The latest version of this ongoing experiment was Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig, which I announced completely out of the blue in early September. There was a barrage of information, including reviews, pre-orders, and even just the name of the game.
It was exciting and fun…but it wasn’t perfect. Distributors and retailers were caught off guard–they weren’t used to a publisher announcing a game that way and actually having the game in stock right away. Many consumers were excited, but my sense is that they felt rushed to learn a lot about the game and make a decision right away. There was no sense of anticipation. Also, while Stonemaier fans knew that something would be revealed that day, they had very different ideas about what it would be (and I don’t think anyone guessed this).
After dabbling with a new method for Scythe Encounters, I decided to tweak the formula for Wingspan. Starting on November 28, I simply started to talk about the game on our website and in the Facebook group. I was very clear from the start that pre-orders wouldn’t begin until January 2, and crucial information wouldn’t be revealed until then (MSRP, SKU, retail release date, reviews).
Rather, I wanted for there to be a period of time when people were aware of the game and could learn more on an ongoing basis in bite-size pieces. I didn’t have a set schedule; rather, every day in the morning I write a short post in the Facebook group that features photos of a specific element of the game. I talk about what the component is, how it came to be, and its function in the game.
I must admit that the results have far exceeded my expectations. My surprise stems from experience with other recent releases and the fact that people still only have about half the information about the game. Also, let’s be honest: This is an industry where many of the blockbuster games are fantasy/sci-fi boxes brimming with plastic (nothing wrong with that, but Wingspan is quite different in terms of composition).
So why is this happening? Of course, there’s the product itself, but there are plenty of beautiful, well-designed games with creative themes. Heck, there are even other bird-themed games. Also, I think it helps that we already have a critical mass of e-newsletter subscribers to get some early momentum.
However, I think there are a few factors that have helped Wingspan soar:
- Anticipation is fun, especially if you’re not 6-12 months away from experiencing the thing you’re anticipating. Wingspan is already in our warehouse and will start shipping to Stonemaier Champions as soon as pre-orders open on January 2 (the retail release date will be a few months later to give distributors plenty of time).
- The daily dose of information has captured the best feelings of stretch goals without the downsides. Every day, people are learning about some new component or element of Wingspan. Because we started with nothing–just a name–every new reveal feels like an addition.
- “If you enjoy Terraforming Mars and Gizmos, we think this game will take flight at your table.” I actually think this sentence has been instrumental in helping people conceive the potential of Wingspan without knowing everything about the game. Wingspan is a competitive, card-driven, engine-building game, which just so happens match with Terraforming Mars, one of the most successful games of the last few years. This comparison helps to frame the game’s potential.
- Most of the advance copies of Wingspan went to reviewers. But one of them went to Kim Euker, a professional photographer, which has allowed me to feature much nicer photos of the game than I would otherwise be able to do. It seems like a key to unlocking the hotness on BGG is getting a nice image (ideally of the real game on the table) on the front page, and these photos absolutely helped accomplish that goal.
So can this method be replicated with the same success in the future? I think there are far too many variables to say for sure. But I think any creator can do those four things (though the first is tough if you’re using Kickstarter, and the fourth is also tough for Kickstarter creators unless you have a really nice prototype).
Is this system perfect? I don’t think there’s such a thing, especially since tastes vary. Some people want to read the rules, but once you know everything, I can no longer reveal things you don’t know, which takes away from the fun. Also, I’m not preventing people from simply ignoring the game until January 2, when they will have all of the information (including the rules and reviews) all in one place. It’s a win-win for both types of people, and my company doesn’t suffer as the result of a game not reaching its visibility potential.
There’s also the risk that there’s not enough to keep peoples’ attention for a full month before pre-orders begin, and people may lose interest. I actually don’t plan to continue the reveal every day, as I–as will other people–will be busy with the holidays in a few weeks. But my hunch is that the timing of the reveal fits well into the anticipation window, and it helps significantly that people who pre-order from us will actually get the game in January.
So far, I really, really like this system. It’s a hybrid between all the other announcement methods I’ve experimented with this year, and it’s worked so well that I’m eager to try it again in the future.
What do you think? Have you enjoyed the Wingspan “soft announcement”? Would you like to see other creators use the same method (or perhaps you’ve already seen that happen)?
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