What? So What? Now What?

27 July 2020 | 2 Comments

Every now and then I have the pleasure of chatting with author and book publisher Todd Sattersten via Skype or email, and I always walk away from our chats wanting to apply his knowledge to the game industry. It helps that Todd is also a gamer.

A conversation last month led to my blog post about tabletop brand extension strategies and how they can sometimes cause confusion for consumers. It was then that Todd revealed 3 simple questions that he considers essential for any company to answer for every product.

Below I’ll post those questions, each followed immediately by Todd’s explanation and then–in a separate paragraph–some thoughts from me.

What is it? This is a question of clarity. Do everything you can to communicate what the reader is getting, so they can know if it is right for them.

This includes the product name, the packaging, and the product page (or project page, in the case of Kickstarter). In 2020, I think this includes more than just how YOU present the product but also how other content creators reveal the product (i.e., the unboxings, playthroughs, and how-to-play videos for Pendulum).

So what? People want to know what is different.  They want a surprise. I think this is the challenge with a second book or board game in the same universe. You want the familiar but you need something new.

Just yesterday I was watching a review by Tom Vasel about a game that functions great and is fun, but he questioned if it had anything really unique or innovative about it. I discuss this a bit in my article about the “hook,” the elements of a product that make it stand out and catch a consumer’s eye.

Now what? This is about utility. With board games, the utility is an activity that is fun to do with others. It is entertainment. With books, it can be a variety of things – entertainment, instruction, self-reflection, etc.

Say a consumer has gotten this far–they know what the product is and they’re excited by how it’s different. Now what? Here are a few stages of this question:

  • How do they buy it? However you answer this question (Kickstarter, preorder, retail release date, etc), I’d highly recommend giving customers a way to act now. For example, there’s a big “Notify Me When It’s Ready” button on the Pendulum page that lets you sign up for our monthly e-newsletter; sometimes we even have this button take you a sign-up list for the specific product (see Wingspan Oceania).
  • When they receive it, how do they start using it? Part of this is product design (clear rulebooks and how-to-play videos), but I think another part involves how you actively encourage the consumer to use the product (without being annoying). For example, if you preorder a product from Stonemaier Games, you’ll often get a one-time enewsletter before the product arrives that encourages you to open up the game for a component check (linking to our replacement parts form) and presenting various options for learning the game. I think it’s also good around this time to have reviewers share their thoughts about the game (in addition to advance-copy reviewers), as that provides a reminder to people that they were excited about the product when they originally purchased it. It’s all too easy to let a game or a book sit on the shelf for a while without those enthusiasm prompts.
  • What’s next after someone has used the product? You can provide ways for people to interact with the greater community specific to that product (e.g., Facebook group, Discord channel, etc). Sometimes publishers provide fans with ways to create and share their own content, like our editable card frames or the miniature modding methods offered by Far Off Games and Cephalofair. You can also expand the lifetime of a game through promos, expansions, etc.

I love the simplicity of these 3 questions. What do you think about them? If you’re a creator, how would you answer them for your latest product?


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2 Comments on “What? So What? Now What?

  1. I’m doing a “now what” with my filmmaking game, Roll Camera – it’s a coop dice worker placement game where you puzzle through the problems and resource limitations of shooting a film scene by scene. At the end of the game, your “editing room” is filled with 5 scenes, and the board includes story cues so you can actually read out the story of the film you’ve made. It’s fun.

    My “now what” idea is that once the game is in backers’ hands sometime next year, I’m going to launch a monthly competition – players can record themselves recounting the story of a game they’ve played (and get as creative as they like), and post the videos on our FB page. At the end of each month, the video with the most likes wins that player a limited edition foil “award” card which is playable in the game.

    Hopefully this gets players engaged in the world of the game, builds community interaction and engagement, and makes the game itself a better experience! That’s the idea, anyway; we’ll see.

  2. I think as your hobby grows then you begin to look for new game mechanics and new themes. So I wouldn’t say I’m looking for a ‘hook’ in a novelty sense, like games like The Mind, but within the parameters as for-mentioned. I think there is so much work to be done to carry the consumer through the process. I sense you want to cover every eventuality so you are delivering a product which is fully supported throughout its lifespan. I think for an established company like yourselves then this sounds like a fantastic template that other companies would be inspired by. I have said on previous occasions that I would tier the release between standard and deluxe versions. Then I would sell deluxe components that could be added to the standard version. When you truly fall in love with a game then you are willing to improve components. I know there are a number of companies that do this but I think your company should hold the official deluxe components and you control their quality. It’s more saleable. I think I would also include favourable reviews and how to play tutorials would be linked to my website. I’m quite late to the hobby, so I am still catching up and there are numerous of streaming tutorials for me to learn from. Personally, I would scour these to see which ones really sell my game and teach it well. Yes you can have a professionally released tutorial but building a community is also key here and having a spotlight on fans is a great way of being inclusive On your website and a would inspire people to review your product. The hardest area is getting people excited about your product before any review hits. Pendulum had a moderate reveal. Although you specifically do not hype a game, Pendulum did dip it’s toes with digitally obscured imagery. What I imagined was more exciting than the reveal. I think release the material as it is, with close ups. Reveal the instructions and if the game is good enough, which should be apparent at the testing phase, then the end user can imagine playing the game in their mind creating a dependency on the product which usually converts to sales.

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