Deckchairs on the Titanic Design Diary 4: The Decision To Self Publish

To self-publish or not self-publish? That is the question. It’s a common topic often seen on BoardGameGeek or Reddit as designers complete a game design and try to figure out how to get it onto shelves. Here we discuss our decision to self-publish.

The first piece of advice you’ll get when asking for opinions about self-publishing vs finding a publisher is what do you want to do? If you want to focus on games design, you are probably best off looking for a publisher. If you feel happy about handling everything like the visual design of the game, marketing and project managing the game through manufacturing and distribution, then self-publishing may be the right option for you.

For us at Silver Birch, the decision to self-publish – and in fact to start a games publishing company, with plans for future games – came down to a number of reasons:

  • Time – Tom was in a job that could go part time, and coronavirus meant that an immediate move to Kickstarter didn’t seem sensible. Looking back it’s been a mixed bag for the industry – events and bricks and mortar shops have suffered, but conversely more board games have been sold, and Kickstarter specifically grew over the year after seeing an initial drop in Spring 2020. However, for a new entrant to the market, without existing large marketing channels, launching without being able to attend real world events and meet new people seemed a big challenge.
  • Previous Experience – Tom and Dan previously ran a company together; Miles has also run a company, including a retail element. Both were successful and we have all learnt a lot about running a company, which we will be able to put into action with Silver Birch Games. 
  • Skills – Tom is an experienced project manager with the skills needed to take a game through manufacturing to distribution. Miles has decades of marketing experience and currently works doing freelance marketing consultancy. Becca is a professional editor and published author. Dan is a professional software developer. All of us are avid board game players. Between us we have the complete package.
  • Capital – Tom has savings, which are going to be used to start the company with a reasonable marketing budget and to cover initial overheads to take us to Kickstarter.
  • Desire – Tom and Dan have been playing board, card, and tabletop games since they were teenagers, and designing games for almost as long. Starting a company to produce new games is a dream, and we look forward to working with other designers to bring their ideas to life. 

With all those elements in place, we believe we have the background to make this a success. Even so, self-publishing is still not a straightforward choice – existing publishers have the advantage of an already captured audience to market to; shared costs for exhibitions and conferences between multiple games; name recognition; existing relationships with manufacturers and distributors, and so on.

Deckchairs on the Titanic game images

To make a final decision, Tom sat down and wrote up a business plan. This would detail the business and sense check things to show up any obvious flaws. Alongside the financial and operational aspects of a business plan (How many games are we going to produce each year? How many people are needed to do that? What costs will that incur? How much can we sell games for, what gross profit do we make? How many games do we need to sell each year, and is that realistic? Et cetera), this also meant working out the niche for the company.

The board game market is growing massively, has been doing so for at least 10-15 years and shows no signs of stopping. Alongside this there has been an even bigger growth in the number of board games coming to market, in no small part because Kickstarter has enabled so many independent designers to bring their designs forward without the need for capital investment upfront. Reduced risk and lower barriers to entry = more supply.

Competing in this marketplace would not be easy and so the company needs a niche. We believe that we have this niche in producing old school Euro / German styled games – games with direct player interaction, no player elimination, short(ish) playtimes and a wood & cardboard aesthetic. This combined with unusual and humorous themes and game elements will help us stand out in the marketplace and hopefully bring us a following of loyal customers like Stonemaier Games or GMT.

Whilst our games will vary considerably, there should always been a degree of familiarity between them. If you like one of our games, you should like the others as well.

As well as Deckchairs On The Titanic, which is our first game, we have a second nearing completion – Sandcastle Scramble! – plus two more to follow (Flyboats and Apex Predator). With a handful of other designs in the early prototype or idea stage, we knew that we had something to run with – not a single game design to be put out in isolation, but a number of games we want to bring to the public.

After some deliberation, it was decided that self-publishing Deckchairs On The Titanic, with a view to creating a new publishing company to produce both our own games and other designers’ creations, would be the best way forward.

With the collective skills, experience and desire to make this work, we believe Silver Birch Games will be a great success and a fixture of your gaming tables for years to come.