Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Timing Expansions

I think I've mentioned several times that it's a good thing I don't run a publishing company.

This week, I discovered another reason why that is: Timing expansions.

Over the last decade or so, expansions have become a more and more common an expected aspect of gaming, but each one comes with questions unrelated to game balance.

Claustrophobia is an excellent game. I have a hunch CROC has one or more expansions ready to go, but they wanted to make sure sales justified the expense of an expansion before they started work on it. Here in the US, it was a slow starter sales-wise, but those sales have started to pick up. Has it earned an expansion, yet? At what point has it earned that expansion? Is it too late to publish one? Too early?

Keep in mind: I don't have inside information on sales here. All I have is what CROC and others have said on BoardGameGeek and elsewhere.

If you release an expansion too soon, you run the risk of publishing an expansion for an unpopular game. You also run the risk of repulsing late buyers - "Am I going to have to buy expansions to play this, too?" Or of alienating completists who see it as just a money grab.

On the other hand, if you wait too long you run the risk of people moving on to other games. Three Dragon Ante went five years before its standalone expansion made it to market. I have personally seen people pick it up, see the word 'expansion,' and then put it down because they can't find the base game anywhere (it's out of print). Wizards of the Coast cost themselves sales by doing that - I had to find my copy of the base game before I was willing to spend money on the expansion (even though I could see that it was a standalone).

The best counter-example to this is, Nuclear War has been around since 1965. Nuclear Escalation hit nearly twenty years later, and did well enough that Nuclear Proliferation hit a decade after that ...

Dungeon Twister had a lot of expansions in a short time - and it was good at first, but sales apparently trailed off over time. Because putting out more and more expansions means people will start to get pickier about which expansion(s) they pick up and you'll start to see "recommend an expansion" threads on Boardgamegeek (and elsewhere).

You also need to keep in mind the designer's timing - Christophe Boelinger put out Dungeon Twister: Prison, and then moved on to other projects with Ludically (including the upcoming Earth Reborn). Has he abandoned Dungeon Twister? Has he forgotton about us? No. He'll get there.

While I'm briefly on the subject of DT, there is a poll on BoardGameGeek that I'd like you to take (if you haven't already).

It's a tricky juggling act, publishing games. It's a bit like running a store - you need to be passionate about gaming. You need to love games and gamers. But you can't lose sight of the fact that it's a business. You need to make money.

And that, my friends, is where I would fail.


  1. And then there's Dominion. Because of the card drafting, expansions are practically expected. If a year went by without an expansion, I think people would begin wondering if the game line had wound down.

  2. Dominion is an interesting one. The fact that the first expansion was also stand alone helped things. People in groups could buy the second expansion and play it, but also use the cards with the main game.
    Subsequent expansions have broken that but added enough to the game. Now that Prosperity is comming getting into the game is going to be expensive but you don't have to buy the expansions.
    Unlike say Memoir 44 which I have recently picked up. I am interested in some of the other expansions, but having to get previous expansions and boards to get the most out of it is a pain.
    But your right, timing is everything and monitoring sales and the buzz on the geek must play a big part of things.