The P500 Program is a core aspect of how we run our business, allowing you guys – our customers – to tell us what you want us to produce. P500 also helps us fund that production upfront, so that cash flow, a notorious killer of companies, is almost never an issue for us. When a new game is added to our P500 list, if it is a series game or a game that was designed by a designer who has a track record of doing successful games for us, that game tends to rise up the list fairly rapidly. But a game that is not part of a current popular series by a designer who is new to you guys, well THAT game may have some trouble gaining traction on P500.
Andy Lewis and I have been working with Hermann Luttmann for about a year now, planning a couple of game lines from him that we think are going to be really well-liked by our customers. Although Hermann is not a rookie designer (One of his designs is what is so far my favorite of all the State of Siege games for VPG) he was mostly an unknown quantity to GMT customers when we added two of his games – At Any Cost: Metz 1870 and Hammerin’ Sickles: Longstreet Attacks at Gettysburg – to the P500 list in May. Since then, Hermann has been very active in creating interest and supporting his games among online gaming communities, especially Consimworld and BGG. And his games ARE getting notice and orders, with orders at 350 and 320 for At Any Cost and Hammerin’ Sickles, respectively. But like virtually all designers with games new to the P500 list, Hermann has learned that the process is not automatic and that getting one’s game noticed amidst of sea of well-known and popular designs in a fundamentally difficult undertaking. So when we talked about Hermann’s first contribution to our InsideGMT blog, we thought an article about his insights into the process might be interesting.
One of our goals with InsideGMT is to provide a vehicle where you guys can, over time, really get to know our designers and the process. I’m really looking forward to you guys getting to know Hermann, as he is what Andy calls “one of our kind of guys” – talented and interesting, committed to his craft and to making his games both historically accurate and accessible to gamers. He is also a guy who has that winning mix of a designer who pays immense attention to detail yet is very easy to work with, a real positive addition to any team. So I’m thrilled that Hermann is creating designs for us, and can’t wait for the day when we produce his first two GMT games. Here’s Hermann. Enjoy! – Gene
At the age of 58, there aren’t very many virgin territories left for me to explore. Let’s see … I’ve never jumped from an airplane, seen the Grand Canyon, or caught a foul ball at a baseball game. So there are a few things remaining, but none could possibly cause me as much simultaneously-evoked thrill and anxiety as seeing two of my game designs appear on the GMT P500 list. The moment those two entries were posted and shone from my computer monitor, I thought, “My God, what have I done?” There they were in all their glory – At Any Cost: Metz 1870 and Hammerin’ Sickles: Longstreet Attacks at Gettysburg – in stunningly precise detail and brought to colorful life with the addition of Rodger McGowan’s wonderful banners. This was it – the Big Leagues! Now instead of sitting in the stands, waiting for a foul ball, I had my turn at the plate and I had to make it count.
I thought that after over three years of designing games, I had become acclimated to the world of game design and the requisite discussion, dissection, ridicule, and praise of my creations. So much so that I thought nothing could phase me anymore. Ha! The stomach churns away everyday as I watch those P500 numbers ascend slowly some days, rise faster on others and then … there are those awful days when they don’t move at all. Ugh – I’m a failure. What did I do wrong? Should I add more content? Did my last answer on the forum encourage a preorder or scare one away? Is the game the right one for the GMT customer? On and on the doubts roll forward – anxiety abounds. But despite all that “sturm und drang”, I think I’ve learned some tricks during my brief three-month dance through the P500 minefield. What can I pass on to other rookie designers? Let’s see …
First of all, you need to be part salesman, part carnival barker, and part diplomat – one big loud marketing megaphone of information and inspiration. Let gamers know that you are on the P500 list and that they have the chance to get your wonderful design at a discount price. Post wherever you can and even be sneaky about it. I post all over Consimworld now, even on forums in which I have little interest, just on the off chance that someone will see my header announcing that I have two games on P500 and check them out.
Secondly, offer “shiny objects” at routine, but liberally spaced, intervals. The more content you post – examples of play, counter graphics, a map preview, after action reports, etc. – the more “eyes” are drawn. Great playtest components won’t necessarily get you a preorder by themselves, but they certainly can’t hurt. There are simple and clever ways to get more graphic bang for the buck in the digital age, so don’t be afraid to use every available trick you can find. But don’t post it all at once – feed the eye candy in slowly but surely. I always get a bump in orders after posting some more details about the game. You never know when that one new aspect of the game, however minor, might kick a “maybe” to a “definitely”. There are many fence-sitters out there – push them over!
Thirdly, don’t be ashamed to check your game’s status. I could tell you not to check the P500 numbers everyday as you’ll drive yourself crazy, but you know what? It would be pointless for me to do so. You’re going to do it anyway! Trying to avoid staring at those numbers is a ridiculous and impossible task. So check them out as often as you like! It will give you good insight into what is working for you and what is not. Keep doing what bumps the numbers and drop what doesn’t. Very simple.
Next, don’t be afraid to “stir the pot.” That means if you have something unique or controversial about your design, flaunt it. Even things that on the surface look bad can increase your preorders. Case in point – I was somewhat horrified to see that Hammerin’ Sickles was mentioned on the “Wargames with Stupid Names” Geeklist on Boardgamegeek. But then I thought, what did I expect? The game is named as it is to draw attention to it. So I posted that I appreciated having my game mentioned and that the title, despite its silliness, makes perfect sense in the context of its subject. And by the way, you should check it out because it’s a really cool game. Sure enough, I’ve received about a dozen new pre-orders over the couple of days that the Geeklist was active.
Finally, don’t get held back by “arrested development”. Find yourself a developer who will act as the Devil’s Advocate to your design. Don’t get a “yes man” – get someone who will challenge you and try to break your design. I am lucky enough to have Fred Manzo as my developer and he is the ultimate Spanish Inquisitor and “breaker of games.” Both designs have been made infinitely better for his efforts and that layered, critical analysis. The reason I bring up the developer at all is that once you post your rules on the P500 website, they will be torn asunder by hungry gamers like raw meat tossed at a lion! The more you’ve prepared for those third-parties to bend, stretch, fold, spindle, and mutilate your design, the better in the end for your prospects of impressing the doubters. And a good developer will help get your design to the point where it will sell itself.
So that is what I’ve learned during my brief ride on the P500 bandwagon. I do joke somewhat about all this angst – doing the P500 experience is a tough assignment and elicits a higher degree of difficulty than other avenues of publication. But in the end, it is a rewarding experience and a wonderful opportunity. I am indeed very thankful for the chance to be published by GMT.
I don’t know how this will all turn out, but I do hear the umpire yelling, “Hey rookie – batter up!”