Why Board Games Instructions Are A Game’s Biggest Marketing Opportunity Or Risk
Of all the elements that go into a board game, the element which gets far less attention than it deserves are the instructions. Clearly the instructions are incidental in terms of the gameplay mechanism and the general concept of the game, but they are absolutely integral to the gamers experience.
Rules which are hard to read, overly wordy or which don’t quickly summarise the main rule ideas in a visually compelling way will cause more impact in terms of future sales of the game versus even the most robust of marketing campaigns. There is a basic truth underlying board games marketing – you sell more games by getting more people to play games and have a great experience so they will tell their friends. That is the bottom line! Forget fancy social media campaigns, forget gimmicks and forget nearly anything else. To sell more of a good game you need to get more people playing your game, then the players themselves will do your marketing for you.
So, if your instructions do not get people up and playing quickly & with least stress then they are actually acting as a barrier to everything else you want to do. Good instructions will (for most games) allow for 2 types of instruction readers:
- TOPLINER – these gamers just want to flick through the instructions to get the basic idea & then use the instructions as a point of reference if there is anything they can’t work out. This type of gamer is most likely to set out all the contents of the box & try to intuitively work out what happens in what sequence.
- DEEP THINKER – these gamers are normally the minority, but they will interrogate every line of the instructions in great detail and work out in their minds first how to play the game before doing anything else. With these gamers, the instructions had better hang together robustly without contrasting/unclear points, because they need laser precision in terms of the gameplay patterns, interactions and mechanisms.
There may be some reading this who are fans of ultra-involved board games, you are likely to either be a TYPE 2 – DEEP THINKER, or you need to have gameplaying friends who are so you can get them to absorb the instructions and show you how to play.
For most games targeted at a mass market audience though, you need to write your instructions primarily from the point of view of TYPE 1 – TOPLINERS. You need a quick start callout, which looks graphically different and which summarises getting started & the key phases/movements of the game.
The bottom line on board game instructions is that if you don’t get people quickly past the instructions and into playing the game, you may have lost them. The implication of this is in one sense not a disaster – they might just not play the game and leave it in a cupboard, but where it really hurts you if your gameplay is compelling is that they won’t tell anyone about what a great time they had playing the game, which means you fail to get the knock on effect of one satisfied gamer selling your product for you to other people.
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