Updated: Jan 23
Play testing is valuable in ways that you might not expect. Yes you will learn how well your game mechanics fit together and how well your rules are written. but you will also find out who actually likes your game. I once took my Band Room Blitz prototype to a board game meet up to get some valuable playtesting in. After a few games I found that the response was... disappointing. Nobody who disliked it could find anything wrong with it aside from it just wasn't their taste.
I once heard it said that a good experience cuts like a butter knife, and a negative one cuts like a greatsword. And hearing that people don't like your game but have no meaningful way to steer you in the right direction cuts deep. But I get it, Band Room Blitz is a party game and while it has more depth than apples to apples or cards against humanity it still lacks the depth that hardcore board game nerds can sink their teeth into. And these were the folks showing up to board game meets. Don't get me wrong, some of the feedback I received from other meets (like EPOC in Edmonton) were invaluable and undoubtedly improved the game. But I just wasn't in a room with people that would buy a copy.
So I took a look at who my audience was. People like me. Fans of music and the bands that make it. And then I looked where I would find them. That's when I decided to take Band Room Blitz to a music festival. While it was difficult finding a place that would have me, or finding a place I could afford a table at (without making that money back from game sales) I eventually made contact with Big Winter Classic. A music festival held in Calgary, Alberta on a snowy January weekend.
I was floored by the response I got at Big Winter Classic. Nearly everyone that looked at the game loved it. I especially prided myself on being able to draw out a smile from the most stone faced gentlemen attending the festival. Even just explaining the game got people excited. Some would even drag their friends to the table so they could hear about it. I had finally found my audience. I understand that this won't work for everyone. Its obvious that RISK never did any marketing at national defense conventions. But finding that thematic edge can really make a difference between a lackluster response and an excited one.
So how do you find your target audience? Lets take some notes from the advertisers playbook. First you need a general demographic. Pick a gender and an age group. I know its tempting to try and appeal to as wide an audience as possible, but trust me on this one. Focusing on one group will not only help your marketing but also your game design. For example Band Room Blitz is primarily targeted at males aged 16 to 30. There's no reason why girls or anyone over 35 wouldn't enjoy the game, but nonetheless that's who I'm aiming at. It helps guide my instagram posts, game art, and design choices. Once you have a general demographic try to zoom in to an interest group. For me its music fans, which is pretty broad but has lots of opportunities to create targeted expansions. However you can get pretty obscure with your theme. If the game design is good enough players will find it soon enough. For example this is a comment I found on Wingspan by Stonemaier Games.
The theme in Wingspan (and the incredible art) left a distinct impression on this player and that's the kind of effect you should aim for.