Standing Out from the Crowd, Part 1: Choosing a Theme | Casual Game Revolution

Standing Out from the Crowd, Part 1: Choosing a Theme

Chess King

Every year the board game industry grows and incorporates more and more dedicated players. The last few years have been termed the "board game renaissance," and in a lot of ways it truly is the best era in gaming thus far. By the time industry magazine ICv2 reports of the most recent figures (typically 10-20% annual growth since around 2008) a plethora of new board game publishers have already sprung up. With the growth of Kickstarter, starting a publishing company has become a lot more accessible for those that don't have the financial resources to afford printing thousands of copies of a game on their own. This is great for consumers, though the immense competition requires all publishers to be on top of their game (pun definitely intended). 

With this drastic industry growth, competing is becoming ever more difficult. As a publisher, there are some things you can do to stand out from the crowd, which we'll outline in this article series.


Choosing a Theme for Your Game

There are a few tried-and-true themes, such as fantasy realms, that can do incredibly well but also aren’t going to stand out among the crowd. For a small and/or new publisher, avoiding being lost in the barrage of other projects is a must. With a limited marketing budget, as most first-time Kickstarter creators face, it can be difficult to draw the traffic required to fund. Having a unique and compelling theme can gravitate more eyeballs to the campaign and more potential backers.

Deciding upon a theme can be difficult. If it is too outrageous or niche it might actually dissuade potential backers, whereas if it is too broad it might simply look all too familiar. Here are some tips for coming up with ideas:

  1. If you already have the game mechanisms designed, begin brainstorming themes that would fit without too many required changes. Otherwise, think of unique themes that you believe could create interesting mechanisms. For example, I always joked with my brother about ghosts stealing our socks in the laundry. I thought the movement of cards from the washer to dryer could allow for some unique mechanisms and fun gameplay, so I developed the game further and successfully funded Supernatural Socks on Kickstarter earlier this year.
  2. Ask players. I honestly didn’t know if the theme would appeal to players, so before commissioning artwork I began playing the game and asking people what they thought of the theme. I posted about it on and in Facebook groups for board games. I also went to gaming stores and talked to board gamers, I discussed it at conventions, and anywhere else where potential customers might frequent. Note: though I always ask my family, the opinions of non-gamers and those with bias (i.e. family and friends) should never be counted as highly as those in the target demographic for the game. Gamers always told me lost sock jokes and commented on how unique and clever they thought the theme was. The constant laughs made me confident that it could do well and I proceeded with development.
  3. Though it is already mentioned that the theme must match the game mechanisms (a silly theme on a heavy euro might not make too much sense) this is also true of the art style. Art is crucial for selling a game, and if the theme will only work with a certain unpopular art style, than the game might not do as well because of it. (More details about artwork will follow in a future article.)
  4. To further drive home this point, the theme must fit into what the target demographic would appreciate and want to purchase. [Save while purchasing games online]

Coming up with a truly unique theme is hard work, especially since the industry is already so saturated. There are literally thousands of new games coming out every year. Standing out amongst those other games can be quite difficult, though there are steps to take in order to make sure that your project doesn’t look like all the rest.