Getting The Best Out of BGG for Kickstarter Creators
I’ve seen creators asking how to get the best out of BoardGameGeek, the primary boardgame fan site online, and it has to be said, it’s a place with a steep learning curve. It has a lot to offer, but its not always obvious how to get at it, so I’ll try to express my opinions on it and offer what help I can here. Before I start, Boardgame Geek is a resource, but also a form of social media, so all the advice that I’ve given on social media stands there, also, Gatekeeper Gaming have an excellent blog on the basics of getting on with BGG, though I will go over some of their points here.
Cover the Basics
BGG is a huge resource, full of helpful people and absolutely tons of articles and documents that tell you in some details the rules of the site and how to get set up on it. Since the rules are clear and reasonable, users and admins don’t have a huge amount of patience with people who break them, so take a few minutes scanning those rules over and learning the basics of how the site works. The main rule here is that you will get out of BGG what you put into it.
The absolute basics are to make a profile for yourself and your game, and to do it earlier rather than later. Your profile will come up right away, but the one for your game will need an admin to pass it before anyone can see it and the BGG admins are amazing hard working people, but they are largely volunteers struggling with a monstrous array of information, so don’t expect them to snap to it at speed because your Kickstarter is launching next week. In addition, your game profile might get knocked back and need altering, so leave plenty of time for it. Its free and you can alter and update it once its accepted so there’s no reason not to do it as soon as possible.
Another reason to create your BGG profile sooner rather than later is that your BGG profile is accessible to other BGG users, and they will look. If you try to promote your Kickstarter or your game generally and people see that you only have one game in your collection, or that you’ve been a member of the site for five minutes, or that you’ve only been involved in threads about your game that you posted they’ll see what you’re doing for what it is, shilling, and they will not like it. Be present on the site, fill out your collection, rate your collection, involve yourself in discussions, post reviews of other games and generally be part of the community. This helps give you legitimacy when you come to ask for things and also it earns you Geekgold.
Geekgold is a currency on BGG that can be used to buy an avatar on the boards, little badges to decorate your avatar and other things like hover text and such. It is generally earnt through engaging with the site. It’s a funny thing that the first lot of Geekgold that you need will feel like it takes a lifetime to earn, and then you’ll quickly find that you’ve stockpiled it with very little to do with it. Still, since its mainly earnt by being part of the community, and its mainly spent on badges and avatars, an avatar is a quick way of people being able to see that you’re part of the community.
In short, the first step to using BGG is to use BGG, not for yourself, just use it for a while.
This is harder to do than you might think. People used to Instagram or Twitter will expect instant feedback on the number of views and followers that projects gain, whereas having people subscribe to your posts, lists or pages on BGG is a much harder struggle. Being generally active on the pages is helpful, but even well know BGG users like Todd Sanders don’t have massive followings there.
A big help for picking up a solid following fast is to enter (and preferably place) in the BGG design contests which are running almost constantly. To do well in one of these contests can require a lot of work and hustling on the boards, but if you can spare the hours it can really up your profile, many successful BGG contest entries have gone on to have extremely successful Kickstarter campaigns. Better known contests such as the solitaire competition can be worth a lot.
Really, that’s the only rule worth mentioning in relation to your Kickstarter on BGG. You can’t post about Kickstarters directly on the forums since they will quickly get flagged and taken down by an admin, there are a few exceptions to this rule, but they tend to be lists of criminal, inept or otherwise controversial Kickstarters. They are generally exempt from the rules because no-one would be fool enough to shill their product on such forums. Don’t do it directly and don’t try to get around it. There is nothing sadder on BGG than a post from a not very active user along the lines of ‘Hey, have you heard of this hot new game? I think its on Kickstarter…’.
Ultimately, its incredibly tough to really promote a game on BGG, its users are savvy and aware and they’ve generally seen a lot more shill posts than you’ve made them. The people who get promoted by BGG do so because they have a large and enthusiastic fanbase which has organically grown and really cares about the details of their game. Stonemaier games always hit the hotness list not because Jamey Stegmaier makes them hit the hotness list, but because his fans do. You can directly promote games much more easily on Instagram and Facebook than on BGG.
So, if you can’t directly promote your Kickstarter on BGG what’s the point of being on it? Well, firstly, maybe you could give to and support the community that will be supporting you even without clawing something back from them. Secondly, there is a lot BGG can still give you.
It gives you a hub on a trusted site that a lot of your backers will be aware of. Your BGG game page is a valuable resource, if you take your game around conventions people who play it might have a BGG account and could pop up with a comment and a rating which when provided by real people have a lot of sway with some users. A six rating from a handful of real people is worth far more than a ton of nine and ten ratings from yourself or your friends. Its also somewhere that you can post images and videos, you can put together all of the media mentions that your game gets and post up designer diaries. Because BGG is more trusted than your own site users like to use it to see that you’ve actually been working as long and as hard on your game as you claim.
There are things on BGG known as Geeklists. These are lists of various types that people can subscribe to in order to get their boardgame news. There are several of these lists for Kickstarters in various areas and even of exhibitors at the larger conventions. Due to BGG rules Kickstarters cannot be posted directly in lists and forums, but links to you BGG page can, and you can have links to your Kickstarter on your BGG page. So, look up and of those lists that are relevant to your game’s style or mechanics, particularly the ones leaning towards KS and get onto as many as you possibly can. Remember, these are free resources so if they bring in even one backer they will have been worth it.
PnP (Proof and Play that is)
Probably one of the single most important things that BGG offers is a resource of blind playtesters and proof readers. Playtesters are very tough for a small independent to acquire, blind playtesters even more so. Proof reading is dull and difficult and once you already know what something was meant to say, almost impossible. There are people on BGG who will proof read your rules for fun and play test your game without ever having met you. Not huge swathes of people, but some people. Better, if those people like your game they will feel invested in it and most likely turn up on launch day, possibly even with their friends. These people congregate on a set of Forums named ‘Seeking Playtesters’ and you should learn to come to them in a way that will make their life as easy as possible, so here are a few things to consider:
Post clear - Make your post title as clear as you can. Player count and theme in as few words as possible and an indication of what you’re looking for if possible. If you don’t want rules feedback or require at least three players to test people want to know that before they click.
Make it nice and easy – In short, have your stuff on google drive, one drive or something similar. Do not make people sign up to a mailing list in order to be allowed to help you, preferably don’t even ask them to visit a site they don’t know already. Make it so that they click on a link on your post and have the file or folder open up there and then. If you can, allow comments on the files, there are lots of people who just won’t bother to comment if you require them to post on the thread.
Put your rules up – This is the easiest thing in the world, put up a link to your rules and ask for feedback on them. People can do that without printing a single thing out and even if they just catch a few typos its worth doing.
Make a PnP – This isn’t possible for every project or worth it for many. If your game has 300 cards, or hex tiles, skip it. Also, if it has 10 cards its probably not a strong idea. But if your game has something between 40-80 cards a print and play is a great idea. This is a file, preferably PDF of the game components that someone can print off and cut out, sleeving cards or making them with some spray glue and patience. Other components can be salvaged from other games if they are reasonably generic such as dice and euro cubes. Then someone on the other side of the game can test your game for you without you having to send them a physical copy. You’ll not get a massive number of testers with this, but they will be people who are willing to invest time and money in being able to test you game themselves. Which is to say they might not be quantity but they will be quality testers.
TTS Modules – Not for everyone, but if you have Tabletop Simulator or similar making your game on there costs time rather than money, so giving people another way of testing your game by making one is a bit of a no-brainer. The more options you give people who are looking to help you out for free, the better
You’re not going to get a Stegmaier level BGG following off your own back, only the community can decide to give you that, and they’ll only give it if you prove yourself to them. But you can build yourself a solid handful of day one backers, and give people looking at your KS page a way to reassure themselves. You can also improve your game before you even launch and gain fans before you’ve even printed. All that, and you can actually make friends and help out the community as you’re doing it, entirely for free. I honestly can’t see why any creator wouldn’t be active on BGG. Have you got any tips for using BGG, are you a user, and if not, why not?