I’ll be the first to admit that I’m pretty lousy when it comes to marketing. It’s the sort of thing I never wanted to do, but is essential for making a game (or really any product) successful. So, reluctantly, I’ve put on my marketing hat many times for Corporate America, and have actually found it kind of fun.
I’ve done three main things to promote Corporate America since it came out in July. First, I’ve been writing blog posts like this one. (Maybe they aren’t terribly effective, but they are fun to write.) Second, I’ve traveled to many friendly local game stores, bringing the game to as many people’s attention as possible. This has actually gone pretty well–probably half of the stores I’ve visited have picked up the game, and some have sold a dozen or more copies, which is great for me and great for them.
Finally, I’ve pursued as many reviews as possible. To me, getting a reviewer to try the game and offer an honest opinion should mean much more than an ad saying the game is good. And because Corporate America has gone over so well with so many different groups of players, I feel confident that reviewers will have good things to say about the game.
Today I want to share my experiences with getting the game reviewed, and share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way. It turns out there’s a lot more to reviews than I realized.
Before I get to the individual reviews, I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to give Corporate America a shot. All of the reviewers spent their time and a lot of thought on the game, and I very much appreciate it!
Before I started the Corporate America Kickstarter, I knew I would need to get reviews to show potential backers that the game is legitimate. A friendly Board Game Geek who successfully ran his own Kickstarter connected me with Cyrus Kirby of Father Geek. I was a bit nervous requesting a review from him, since his site definitely caters to family gamers, but he assured me that he is willing to look at any game, even if they have some innuendo and a theme that would probably put his kids to sleep.
Cyrus posted a very thoughtful review of Corporate America which no doubt helped bring about the Kickstarter’s eventual success, so I’m extremely happy I contacted him. He gave the game serious consideration when few others would.
I recently learned Cyrus is on temporary hiatus while he relocates his family, which I’m really sorry to hear. Even though he now charges for his Kickstarter previews, I was really looking forward to his preview for the next game I’m planning to Kickstart.
Dice Tower Preview: Ryan Metzler
The Dice Tower guys have a huge reach, so going into the Kickstarter, I wanted them to take a look at the game. Having a video to post on the Kickstarter page is also very useful. A Dice Tower preview costs money (which has more than doubled since I did the Corporate America Kickstarter @.@), but it was well worth the price.
Ryan did a great job explaining the game and even had some kind things to say about it, which isn’t a guarantee with a preview. I later discovered that Corporate America probably isn’t Ryan’s favorite type of game… he prefers euros, which are much more restrictive in what players can do. I have no regrets with getting Ryan to preview the game, but in the future, I will try to find better matches between games and reviewer preference.
Dice Tower: Tom Vassal
Tom’s review of the game came as a pretty exciting surprise to me. After the Kickstarter, I partnered up with the guys at Game Salute, who passed on a copy of the game to Tom to look at. They didn’t tell me, and it took a fan to point out that he saw the game in the corner of a frame of another video for me to realize Tom had the game. Some internet sleuth work eventually confirmed that Tom was planning on reviewing the game.
Tom is one of the most popular board game reviewers for good reason. He is not only prolific, he is fair and open minded. I was nervous getting him to review the game… I tried to be balanced with Corporate America‘s political humor, but I’m sure Tom and I don’t exactly agree when it comes to many issues. Thankfully, I found that Tom was able to overlook any disagreements and appreciate the gameplay, which he seemed to genuinely enjoy. He even had a laugh or two at the jokes in the game, though possibly more at their expense.
When Corporate America finally came out (it took a while), I was really excited to spread the word about the game. Game Salute asked me if I’d like Game Paradise to review the game. I checked their website and gave my go-ahead.
Game Paradise did a good write up of the game. It’s very animated, with a tone that matches the game’s really well. Even though the writing and rating are a little mismatched, the rating is extremely high… I felt really good about it!
What I realized after it went up, though, is that very few people read Game Paradise. The review probably did bring the game to the attention of some people, and in a positive light, but probably not very many people. While reviews aren’t extremely expensive, they do cost you a game you could have sold and the price of shipping, not to mention your time. So, even though I’m happy with the review, it taught me to be more picky about the reach a review will give.
Seeking more reviews for the game, I talked to the guys at 2D6.org. A lot of reviewers I like are associated with them, so I just asked them on facebook if anyone would be interested in looking at the game. They said Enrico Viglino, better known by his Board Game Geek alias calandale, would take a look.
I didn’t look at any of calandale’s other reviews before, which was a mistake. I think calandale did a good job with his multi-part video review… he gave the game a lot of careful thought, spent a long time on the review, and posted the videos promptly. But had I checked out his other videos, I would have known that his review style and the game’s play style are not a great match.
Calandale, who is very popular on Board Game Geek, plays games he reviews solo to make his judgement. That works great for his usual genre, war games, but is not a good match for Corporate America, where much of the fun comes from interacting with other players. It’s a game where individual personalities shine. Playing it solo, you’ll miss that aspect of the game, even if you understand its nuts and bolts. This experience really taught me the importance of making sure your game and the reviewer are a good match. Here is his conclusion:
Jim Hansen doesn’t write many reviews. In fact, Corporate America was his first. He supported the game on Kickstarter, shared it with many friends, and enjoyed it so much that he decided to write about it to try to encourage others to check it out.
You can’t ask someone to write a more genuine review of a game. I can’t say what impact Jim’s review had on game sales, but it had a huge positive impact on me. Designing games, your big hope is to connect with people, to really help them enjoy time spent with others. Jim’s review showed me that I’d done that.
Bower’s Game Corner
When I first checked out Forrest Bower’s videos, I knew he would love Corporate America. So when the opportunity arose to get him a copy of the game, I jumped at the chance.
And I wasn’t wrong! He absolutely loved it, to the point that it’s one of his top 20 games of all time! (Right between Kingsburg and Battlestar Galactica… not bad!) His review is energetic and enthusiastic. He can’t even contain his excitement sometimes.
Forrest did an outstanding job with the review, and is exactly the sort of player I hope to engage with Corporate America. He’s a good reviewer, and approaches games from a different perspective from many other reviewers (for example, Cards Against Humanity is one of his favorite games, pretty much blasphemy on Board Game Geek). I encourage you to check out his work!
Dice Tower: Game Boy Geek
Dan did a fantastic job reviewing Corporate America. He interacted with me and other Board Game Geek users to clarify questions he had and strategize before playing. He even created a document laying out the average return on investment for the different industries in the game! His review was energetic and positive, but still balanced. Dan enjoyed the game so much that he put it in his top 10 games of 2013, a great honor given how many games Dan plays and reviews!
In my mind, Dan’s review is the perfect storm for Corporate America. The game is a great match for Dan’s style, Dan did a great job of explaining the game, and he has good reach.
In my push to get more visibility for Corporate America approaching the holidays, I asked a couple more reviewers to take a look at the game, including Tox from Crits Happen.
Tox ended up reviewing Corporate America along with two other games, Romance of the Nine Empires and World of Tanks Rush, which was a surprise to me. It was actually a nice surprise, though, because Tox’s review of Corporate America seemed even more positive when contrasted with the other two games! He seemed to enjoy the game quite a bit and gave it a good rating.
While Tox was supportive of Corporate America, it was hard to tell if his audience was. Very few fans responded to the review, and those who did largely ignored Corporate America. Crits Happen has a lot of fans, so it’s likely the review reached some people who will enjoy the game, but the most vocal fans seemed to disregard it.
San Francisco Chronicle
When you put yourself out there, you never know who will take notice. I was fortunate enough to catch Joshua Kosman’s attention. Joshua writes an annual review of new board games for the San Francisco Chronicle, and I was very lucky that he enjoyed Corporate America enough to write some kind words about the game this year.
Joshua’s praise was not only flattering, it also reached a potentially huge audience. Even the most popular online board game reviewers have very small viewerships by major newspaper standards. The San Francisco Chronicle in particular reaches many non-hardcore gamers in Corporate America‘s target audience who never would have heard of it otherwise. Plus, the review actually came out in print! How vintage!
I’m not sure how much of an impact this review had on sales, but the potential was huge. I wish I had more lessons from this review, but I think my only take away is: sometimes you get lucky, so take the opportunity when you do.
At the same time I contacted Tox from Crits Happen, I also contacted Lance Myxter, better known by his pseudonym Undead Viking. His video just went up, which you can watch below. I also recently learned that Lance put Corporate America on his top 30 games of 2013 at 23rd-ish. Like many other reviewers who looked at Corporate America, Lance plays MANY games over the course of a year, so the fact that Corporate America stood out to him is a great honor.
When I sent Lance the game, I was really hoping to have a review up in time for the Christmas shopping season. Obviously, that didn’t work out. Lance is a busy guy… he releases long and thoughtful reviews frequently, he’s very active in the board game community, and he has a family and personal life as well. So I have two lessons from this review.
First, things don’t always work out as planned, but you can’t let that get to you. Reviews are always a risk, and sometimes they don’t pay off. You just have to roll with the punches. Thankfully, things ended up working out in this case, but for a couple of months there I wasn’t sure if they would.
Second, the board game community is full of really cool, genuine people. It’s been a great experience getting to know some of them.
5 Star Blog Post
I hope you’ve enjoyed looking over the reviews of Corporate America today. It was a real treat for me. Public reviews are not only essential for spreading the word about your game; short of releasing a game, they’re one of the most exciting things to happen as a game designer. Looking over the generous reviews Corporate America has received over the past year and a half revitalized a lot of warm memories for me. And I didn’t even mention the responses Corporate America has received from gamers around the world on Board Game Geek! (By the way, if you’re on Board Game Geek and haven’t yet rated Corporate America, please do so!)
Before I wrap up today, I want to again thank everyone who’s taken the time and energy to give Corporate America a shot. The game is a little whacky and made by a first time designer and first time publisher, so even considering the game is risking your precious time. It means a lot, especially when you help the game reach the players who will love it.