Ever wanted to design games for a living? Travis Hancock does just that. He’s the founder of Facade Games, a board game company. He found a way to turn is passion for games into a business by creating his own game, Salem, which became a big hit on Kickstarter. He has just released his second game, Tortuga 1667, and has plans to release a new game each year. He shares how he created Salem, the nitty gritty of profits in the industry, and his advice for other entrepreneurs.
Take us back to the very beginning. What made you interested in creating your own games?
I’ve always loved playing games with my family. One game in particular, the party game “Mafia” was always a particular favorite. I loved how theatrical everything was and how the game required you to be someone else and take you into a new world. One summer I started tweaking Mafia to improve it in ways that I thought it needed some work. Over a 3-year process that game eventually became our first game, Salem! I put it on Kickstarter just for fun, but wasn’t really expecting much out of it.
When did you decide to go all-in and quit your day job?
Salem took off! We raised $100K in that campaign, and that gave me the incentive and the financial cushion to make the leap and work for myself.
How do you take a board game from idea to production?
A lot involved! Here is the basic roadmap I follow:
- Get a basic idea on paper/cards and print it out.
- Test, test, test. Constantly evolve the game until it works. Test as much as possible to work out all the kinks.
- Attach a really strong theme to the game.
- Work with an illustrator to get all the illustrations you’ll need.
- Work with a graphic designer (in my case, my wife) to get all the cards looking great and the overall feel of the game to work.
- Get prototypes to test with and take pictures of.
- Launch Kickstarter with pictures of prototypes.
- Place manufacturing order and work with them.
- Work with freight company to get games to fulfillment centers.
- Fulfill Kickstarter orders.
- Put game for sale on website, Amazon, and send to distributors.
How do you decide which freelancers to use on your projects?
For our illustrator, we had several illustrators send mock-ups of their vision for the project. We also looked at their portfolios. Once we found the look we were going for, we hired! Our illustrator, Sarah Keele, has done a really great job.
What is the hardest part about designing your own games?
Hard to say- because I enjoy all of it! I guess just finding the right balance and discoving the “it” factor for the game to be really fun.
On the business side, what are profit margins like in the board game business and how does going through middlemen, like selling through Amazon, affect your profits?
Profit margins can be around 40-50% of sale price. Amazon takes a cut for sure, but they make up for it in the traffic and ease they bring to people buying the product.
You’ve run two tremendously successful Kickstarters. How did you pull it off and what are your tips for others who want to do a Kickstarter?
My advice: focus on the product! We actually don’t do a lot in terms of pre-Kickstarter marketing. We make sure our product looks and plays AMAZING and launch it. If you put an average game out there, it won’t do well unless you put thousands of marketing dollars behind it. If you put a great game out there, it’ll naturally be shared and will sell itself.
How do you go about designing and balancing a board game? How can you be sure the game is balanced and playable?
Test test test. Test as much as you can. Don’t be afraid of putting out a garbage game at first, just be ready to take criticism, learn from it, really listen to the testers, and make the changes to make it better. Keep the things that are fun and working, and throw away the stuff that is clogging up the game.
What are your favorite board games?
Classics are classics for a reason: Pandemic, Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, Mafia, Werewolves, Bang, Code Names, Risk
What’s next for Travis Hancock and Facade Games?
Tortuga 1667 is the first game in our recently announced “Dark Cities Series”, with each game in the series focusing on a city and a year. We’re hoping to launch our next game in this series one year from now!