Q&A with Debbie Moynihan

This is an archive of the live Q&A with Debbie Moynihan hosted on the Tabletop Mentorship Program Discord channel after the re-release of Debbie's talk, "How To Build An Audience For Your Game." It has been edited for clarity.

Mike Belsole: Hey everyone! We've got Debbie Moynihan here for about an hour to answer your questions. There's no queue or anything so feel free to ask away. To get the ball rolling, Debbie, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?

Debbie Moynihan: Hi everyone, I’m Debbie Moynihan the COO of White Wizard Games, our most popular title is Star Realms. I have experience running a board game company, and have experience in everything outside of game design and development. We’ve run 11 Kickstarters. Our product strategy is to create evergreen lines with high value and replayability in the base game and exciting ongoing expansions for our players. Feel free to ask me anything whether it was covered in the presentation or not!

Mike Belsole: Hi Debbie! Thanks for being here. You talked a bit about conventions in your video. I'm curious, with online cons being the new normal for the time being, are there unique ways to take advantage of that space? And do you see them as a worthwhile option for publishers to participate in?

Debbie Moynihan: The online convention scene has been very challenging for publishers. Most conventions have tried to run virtual events but none have succeeded in achieving what feels like a traditional convention experience.

I look at virtual conventions as a new opportunity not as a replacement for conventional conventions. There have been some positive outcomes out of the, but they certainly don't provide the same benefits of traditional conventions.

I think virtual conventions have a long way to go and will evolve over time. The benefit of a large convention is that you can reach a lot of people in one place and connect in person. In the virtual conventions most publishers have only interacted with a fraction of the number of people.

Pros: More publishers are getting familiar with discord and online meeting technologies. This means that things like TTS and Tabletopia are being used much more, so if you are using those platforms for playtesting and promoting your game you will have a larger potential audience.

It also means you can schedule virtual meetings with publishers to pitch your game, which means you can reach any publisher at any time in the year, rather than having to bring whatever is ready to whichever convention you are able to go to and hopefully get a meeting in a very tight schedule. New events have popped up like The Pitch Project which have used tech to allow many designers to pitch to many publishers at the same time.

Demos using TTS and Tabletopia are not the same and are time consuming. Many of our players are still reticent to try out those platforms. I'm not that good at them myself.

We usually do a lot of sales at conventions, our products have a high demo to sale rate, so we have lost many sales due to COVID. At least, we haven't had the cost of conventions, which are very high. From a business perspective, revenue is pretty minimal at virtual conventions, so I've used them as a reason and forcing function to get our products online virtually and to better understand discord and use it as a way to expand our community.

I very rarely used discord until a few months ago, now we have 1200 people in our WWG discord server, and I've made quite a few new friends that have reached out to me one on one.

Mike Belsole: That's fascinating. I love your glass half-full perspective.

Debbie Moynihan: With everyone at home, I think it's a great time to build your audience using online tools as a designer. I see lots of people ramping up their livestreaming, podcasting, etc. I personally have watched way more online content myself too.

Matty Moynihan: Hey Debbie! I'm curious about where your work with marketing overlaps with game development. You mentioned you don't have experience in design and development, but I'd love to know what market considerations WWG might use when developing new games or expansions of games.

Debbie Moynihan: In an ideal world, the marketer, or a marketing mindset (since many designers don't have a marketing person), should be there at the beginning, when you are thinking about the concept of your game. will there be a market? how much could we sell this type of game for (which will affect component choices), etc.

Right now we are running a Kickstarter for a PVP dueling game and the game didn't have solo or coop mode in it. I requested solo and coop mode because we get asked for these all time from our community, and the team is working on it. I have no idea how to design solo or coop, as the marketer, I provide data on the demand.

For example, for our last Sorcerer Kickstarter, we had solo and cooperative in it, and we got pledges that I could tie directly to marketing the solo part of the game.

Matt Fantastic: Seeing as you picked up Kapow as an already existing game that did its own modestly successful Kickstarter, I imagine a lot of people here would love to hear what led you to sign a game that has a history like that? (Besides it being awesome)!)

Debbie Moynihan: I had seen KAPOW! on Kickstarter and it looked very cool. My longer history includes working in manufacturing plants and being a mechanical engineer and I honestly wasn't sure a first time publisher could make the customizable dice - the faces snap on and off,

I didn't back and then we later saw them at Boston Festival of Indie Games and the game looked awesome. We invited them over and played it and loved it. We knew right away as we were playing it that if we could strike a deal we would be making the game. Literally over our kitchen table, without even discussing it yet.

What was attractive about it? It fit well in our portfolio. We make games that you can learn very quickly and most people can play, but they also are honed for advanced competitive players. Kapow! is even faster to demo than Star Realms. We make games that are relatively quick to play (for strategy games) this game takes 20 minutes. We wanted to play again as soon as our match was over.

It was also ready to go, they had a fantastic product from a quality perspective both components and art. We are making some changes but, for example, we took their remaining inventory and sold through it at the next couple of conventions.

We normally don't look at games that have already funded on Kickstarter, because we want to run the Kickstarter for our games. In this case, we felt we could do a relaunch and add a new set with new heroes and villains, I also expect we will be adding solo and coop play (it's a stretch goal but it's the first one because I really want it :))

The KAPOW! design team is fantastic and they also designed the Volume 2, so we could add a new product line with much less resources required from our team.

I guess the biggest thing is are people asking you to play your game over and over, I think that is the most important part, as you said Matt, the game being awesome. We don't generally require a finished product for game submissions.

Konstantinos Karagiannis: Hello Debbie. thank you for being here with us! You said earlier that you want to publish evergreen titles. How do you know that a game can become Evergreen? Isn't this something that may happen to any game? Do you feel evergreen titles have a "recipe?" If yes, what do you think are the "ingredients" for it?

Debbie Moynihan: When looking at a game submission, we consider how we would build out a revenue model for that game, what expansions would look like, how they would be priced, if they would make sense. Some games are well-suited for expansions, some are really designed and marketed to be one and done.

I think this goes back to Rob's history in Magic: the Gathering and as an owner of multiple game stores. Rob Dougherty is the CEO of WWG and a Mtg Hall of Famer, and former game store owner (and he also happens to be my husband) I got roped into the board game industry when he needed help doing demos at a convention when we were dating.

What makes a good evergreen game: Addictive gameplay, the ability to add meaningful content over time that improves and freshens the play experience

Rob wanted to offer a game that was more affordable but just as fun as Magic when he started White Wizard Games. He is also the co-designer of Ascension and was partners with Justin Gary and that company had a similar model of expandability. Star Realms came out with a super small and very inexpensive deckbuilder which was a huge differentiator and it took off.

For those who don't play Magic, I would say they are the king of evergreen and expandability. For an evergreen to succeed you need a high level of success because stores will only stock expansions for games that are successful and popular. This makes partnering with a bigger publisher attractive because the fact they are already carried by all the major distributors and generally have successful Kickstarters or other marketing programs gives your game a better chance at success.

Konstantinos Karagiannis: Thank you for your answer :)