Our industry is growing, and it also changing at a pace we often cannot control.  It is likely that more new games will be released over the next year than any year prior. That has been the case for the last five years.   A retailer recently described dealing with all of the games releases with this photo.

 

There is a reason why there are so many games coming.  It is a great time to be making games, maybe the best ever.  That does not mean it is easy. In fact, it is also the most challenging time to be making games that I can remember.  The bar to get noticed and have any kind of staying power is higher than it has ever been.

AEG has been doing this for a quarter of a century (sure, 27 years but “Quarter of a Century” sounds more dramatic), and even though it is a great time to be making games we took a look at every part of AEG and we made changes in 2018. We expect the changes to have a big impact on our business, but an even bigger impact on our quality of life.  Things at AEG have been pretty great for the last few years. We have been fortunate to have some best-selling and still growing hits like Mystic Vale, Space Base and Cat Lady, and we have some fantastic core games like Smash-Up, Istanbul, and Thunderstone that continue to lead the way for us.  

Industry people who know me, know that I always want to be up front and transparent about what we do.  So with some big ideas coming to fruition this year we wanted to share our thoughts behind them with our customers, stores, and distribution partners.  

So why make changes if things are going well?  Good question. The simple answer can be distilled down to a single word.  FUN. We love what we do but we realize that we can have even more fun doing it and do an even better job having more fun.  (See my last blog about Larkstone as an example)

I strongly believe that the more fun you have making games, the better the games you will make.  

 

MAKE FEWER NEW GAMES

 

For us it starts with this simple mantra.  It seems simple but it is in fact a scary decision for a company like AEG. There were four major hurdles we had to consider when making this choice.  

  1. FIND A WAY TO SAY NO:  As gamers, it is extremely hard to say NO to a game we like or see some promise in.  That is how most of the games we publish end up on our calendar. We like the game and want to make it so we can play it.  We like the designer and we want to work with them, so we sign a game to work with them. Next thing you know, you have 18 or 20 new releases on your schedule.  You don’t have time to play or support a majority of these releases, and then you are releasing games into the wild hoping they find players. This shotgun release method does work.  And we are fans of companies that seem to be able to juggle the demands of so many new releases, but we have found that when we focus good things happen.
  2. BUILDING A NEW CASH FLOW MODEL:  There is also the cash flow monster in the closet that is always waiting to jump out and bite a small company like AEG.  Making more games might not make you more profitable but often it does keep the cash flow monster in the closet. Anyone who owns a small business understands this.  Our planning and the decisions we are making are centered around how we arm ourselves to win this fight with the cash flow monster while we move to release fewer titles.  
  3. BATTLING THE CULT OF THE NEW:  Lots of people in our industry say that it would be great if there were fewer, better games, but the Cult of the New is real and even if we chose to do fewer games, that is no guarantee that they will do any better than they would have done if they were part of a larger release schedule.  To do this you must make better choices, and if your gut is saying don’t print you must listen. In this part of the battle we take our cues from companies that are succeeding and thriving on fewer titles and focus on our evergreen and expandable titles.
  4. CHANGING THE COMPANY CULTURE:  The stakes are much higher in every part of your company when you make fewer games.  Doing too much stuff is a wonderful excuse for all sorts of shortcomings. A major shift in philosophy like this means everyone at the company must buy into the idea of selling more copies of fewer titles. This means we need to do a better job of helping our partners help us.  

*It should be noted that our cash flow monster is bigger than it should be, and we have had a tough time stuffing him back into the closet. I will be talking about this battle a lot as we move forward

AEG is already fully committed to this plan:

• We had only four key new release games in 2018 (Space Base, Warchest, Scorpius Freighter and Thunderstone Quest), and we are curating our 2019 and 2020 releases like never before.

• We are changing the way we do our Big Game Night.  We were event-focused and now we will be game-focused.  Big Game Night is still a premier and fun event, but games that make the cut for this event will also get a full marketing push.

INVEST IN THE FUTURE

It’s no secret that AEG has in the last few years sold a couple of our premier product lines. And we have also launched Thunderstone Quest and Edge of Darkness on Kickstarter, something we would have never done 7 years ago.  I realize that people have strong opinions on both these topics, so I will be doing a deeper dive into why we made these decisions and our opinion on how companies can become their better selves when the market changes and still take advantage of new opportunities.  

For now we can say that AEG is using the sales of those games to make the goal of doing fewer games a reality.  It would be nearly impossible to make this change without cash reserves. To make this work you must invest more in your games up front and take a bigger risks, all of which are not possible if your product decisions are affected by the cash flow monster we were talking about above.  

We have not set a hard target on the number of games we will publish in a year.  Who knows? Maybe the Holy Grail is ONE NEW GAME. That seems crazy, especially to us since we love games so much, but who knows.  We have gone from as many as 20 new titles down to five or six.

For now we are happy with the idea that every game we decide to publish will be a game that we think has its best chance to succeed.  And rather than looking on to the next product, we are going to give every game its chance to find its place in the sun.

How are we attacking the 4 hurdles:

SAY NO:  We have played more prototypes in the last year than any other year, and we have purchased fewer games.  We are not just saying yes to games we think are good, we are looking for great.

CASH FLOW:  We have invested in our future by selling off part of our past.

CULT OF THE NEW:  We are not looking past the current product to the next one.  Every game is treated like it must succeed and we are fighting for each game to get more than its day in the sun.

COMPANY CULTURE:  We are telling the world what we are doing.  We are playing more than ever, and we are not just focusing on work. We are focusing on FUN.  

Speaking of Fun… Tiny Towns releases this weekend EXCLUSIVELY at your FLGS for the next two weeks. Go play a game.