Game Design & Publishing FAQ

If you don’t see your question answered among these, please do some further searching the internets on the topic, as there’s LOTS out there. Or, yeah, you could also email us at:

Q: Would Andy be interested in talking to my class/club/troop of kids about how to be a game designer?

A: From Andy himself:

I am flattered and honored by your request, but unfortunately, I generally turn down requests like this. Partly this is for selfish reasons: I am very busy and guard my time carefully, and I know from the few times that I have agreed to such appearances that they will inevitably lead to being asked to repeat the performance the following year, indefinitely. Fairness also leads to the slippery slope of feeling the need to say yes to all the other teachers and school groups who make this request.

I’m also resistant to this type of request because, for legal reasons, I need to avoid being shown unpublished game ideas, even — perhaps especially — from children. Generally speaking, we refuse to look at outside game design submissions without a signed NDA that protects us from being sued if we publish something similar someday. This is standard procedure for publishers, for good reason. I’m sure we could work to limit how much I’m being shown, if anything, but I’d really rather just avoid being in a position where a young person wants to show me their work.

But my biggest reason for reluctance about this has to do with managing expectations. I tend to be very negative when kids ask me about becoming a game designer when they grow up. As someone who actually makes his full-time living designing games, I am keenly aware that I am the extremely rare exception, and that I’ve gotten where I have only because of a unique combination of perseverance, privilege, and repeated strokes of good luck. In other words, I won the lottery. So my message to budding game designers is always to think of that as hobby material only, and to focus their career planning on something actually attainable.

Anyway, that’s the honest (perhaps too honest) truth about the matter. Again, thanks for the opportunity, and I hope you can understand my reasoning.

— Your Friend, Andy Looney

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Q: About how many test games do you run to try and find small bugs and interactions on your games?

A: You can never playtest too much. There is no magic “correct” number of playtest games. You playtest until you no longer find issues, until players are always eager to play again, etc.

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Q: When it comes to product packaging, do you create your own? Or outsource that?

A: “Create” is a vague term. It could mean “design” or it could mean “manufacture.” Manufacture of packaging is done by whoever you get to print the game itself, so, like for the other elements involved, they will give you a template of the packaging layout (like a box laid out flat, or a plastic film packet laid out flat).

Design of the package would be handled by you, whether it means you doing the design work, or you outsourcing the art/design. In many cases, you might have different people doing the art vs. the design, and either one of them might be you.

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Q: Is it better to hire artists for the card artwork? Or do all of it myself?

A: It depends how good you feel your own art ability is as compared to your available funds. We (Andy and Alison) did all art and design in house up until about Zombie Fluxx in 2007. By then we were pretty well established, and could afford professional artists who do all that both better and faster.

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Q: What size and kind of paper do you print on? For example, what is the weight and material?

A: Exactly what we print on* is not necessarily relevant to you. Check with the printer. Any game printer will have an idea of what are the various cardstocks which are appropriate for a game. They should be able to send you samples of printed cards on the different types of paper, and the cost of each one (or how the cost of a given paper will affect their quote to you).

Note that one important question is whether there is a light-barrier layer sandwiched in the middle. This is to ensure that you can’t see through the card if someone is holding it in their hand, and they’re backlit. It costs more than comparable cardstock without it. You’ll have to decide whether your game requires that.

Regarding size of the paper, ask each printer whether they have a certain cardsheet size that is cheaper, perhaps because they print other games with that size deck. That may affect design factors like how many cards you want/need in your game.

For example, when we did the second run of Fluxx, one of the factors in changing the card size was that our printer at the time printed a lot of UNO and MtG decks, which had a certain size card and number of cards in the deck (84). Now we work with a different printer, and the best number of cards is 100, so Andy worked out some new cards. Now he designs new games with that deck size in mind.

* Here is a question about the actual paper used for our US print runs.

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Q: What process does Looney Labs go through to bring a game to market?

A: Keep in mind that this is what we do as an already established company, with partnerships already in place with printers and other manufacturers, distributors, media, and artists we have already worked with. How we bring a game to market as an established company is completely different than how a new inventor/new company would do so today for their first game. Doing things via Kickstarter or a POD (Print-on-Demand) printer would likely have some other steps.

• Andy designs a game. Once it seems good enough, Kristin decides whether and when it will be published
• We get quotes from our printer about the cost to produce
• If it takes more than just cards, we work on sourcing other parts (dice, game pieces, boards)
• We announce it to the industry and fans, to start building buzz, and letting our distributors know in time to pitch it to retailers
• We start ongoing marketing which will continue throughout the process: ads, articles, social media
• We figure out who will do the art and design and start working with them to produce the art assets
• We talk to our distributors to assess interest to decide how many to print
• When the art is ready we lay it all up on the templates given to us by our printer and send it off
• We contact our distributors and any retailers who buy direct to get preorders from them, and start taking consumer preorders on our website.
• We receive product and ship it out to everyone in time for the release date.
• Follow up marketing

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Q: What are the advantages and pitfalls of self-publishing my game?

A: Advantage to self-publishing? Your game gets published at all… maybe.

Pitfalls to self-publishing? Owning any business yourself is a challenge, especially if you don’t know much about that kind of business or that industry. Chances of success are slim. Your game could be poorly designed; it could have poor graphic design; your rules might be poorly written; you might not be able to secure the funding you need; you might have trouble finding a good manufacturer; marketing ANYTHING is a colossal challenge: getting people to try and buy whatever product you’re making.

Maybe the biggest pitfall is at the first step: being able to assess whether you actually have a game that’s worth sinking huge amounts of time and money into making.

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Q: Do you have any advice about how to become a game designer?

A: For this question, we asked our good friend Dave Chalker to give us some answers on this. Please absolutely click that link to read more about him, his blog, and his many works and published games.

Game designers come from a number of fields, though I’ve found depending on their style they tend to cluster around one of three areas: graphic design, writing, and computer programming. No matter what, it’s important to get experience in a lot of different areas, since game design combines all of the above in some way, plus often elements of marketing, web design, and much more. Game designers no matter what have to wear a bunch of hats. It’s up to you which of those you decide to focus on.

Several schools are starting game design programs, including the University of Baltimore where I went to grad school. You can also look at interdisciplinary programs that let you customize your own major, which is what I did for undergrad.

I got my first foot in the door in the industry by being an intern at Looney Labs many years ago, and while they don’t have that program anymore, it’s the kind of thing you just have to look for by following companies you would like to contribute to. If you’re looking to freelance, this also means showing up at conventions, scouring sites for companies that are looking for submissions, that kind of thing. Conventions are very important for looking for opportunities, working on your own games with people who can give you good feedback, and just in general networking. Events like Unpub hit a lot of those at once. The important bit is to keep doing it, and keep an eye out for opportunities

Getting a job in the game design world is harder. There are a lot more freelancers (like me) that have other day jobs, and work in our spare time on games. Eventually, that can lead to more paying work. I know of multiple companies (like Wizards of the Coast and Fantasy Flight Games) that have entry level jobs, which then can lead to bigger opportunities. Going straight into game design is difficult though, and can take years of working freelance and on your own projects before it leads to an actual full-time job.

I highly recommend learning about a number of different areas if you can. While game design can be very tough to break into, you can still pick up other skills useful to game design/publishing that employers not in the game business desire. As mentioned above, picking up elements of graphic design, writing, and technology can all help for other jobs, and then you get practice with those skills while you wait for your “big break” into the game biz.

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Q: Can I call you guys or arrange a meeting to discuss my game and get advice?

A: Unfortunately, we’re really way too busy for a real-time discussion. If you happen to bump into us at an informal event where one might chat over a game or two, feel free to ask questions, but please keep in mind that since we don’t publish outside games, we prefer not to look at any other designers games in development.

Where Can I Meet Andy Looney?
Note that the real answer to this question is on our FB event page for the company, but Andy’s page has some nice tidbits about what kinds of activities he likes to do when hanging out with fans.

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Q: What did you do to get your games first published?

A: Admit it: what you really want to know is “How do I get my game published?”

Well, what we did to grow ourselves back in the day is very different from what people do to grow today, and what we do on a day-to-day basis as an established company is also different from what you’d be doing as a start-up, so it’s difficult for us to give advice to fledgling game-designers at this point.

Things we did then that you might still do now, if you choose to self-publish:
•Made the smallest print run that was monetarily feasible.
•Brought it to local game stores to see if they would sell it on consignment; did local events at those stores to promote sales.
•Brought it to conventions and demo’d the heck out of it to make direct sales, and prove to larger buyers (i.e. distributors) that the game was good.

Things you might do today in addition to this:
• Hype the heck out of it on social media. We didn’t it have then, but we certainly use it plenty now. Gotta keep up with the times!
• Kickstarter is increasingly becoming the way new games make their way into the world. There is plenty of advice on how to do it right… and wrong. That said, a lot of retail game businesses are not fond of Kickstarter, so take that into consideration. James Mathe and Stonemaier Games have some collected advice columns on Kickstarter publishing. An internet search will turn up lots more.
•You have printing options which we did not have then, for smaller runs, like Print-On-Demand (POD) options.

see also:
What printers does Looney Labs use?

Also check out James Mathe’s collection of writings on game publishing

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Q: How do you design a game?

A: Such a short question for such a complicated topic!
Thank goodness so many other people have written on this, as it can be quite hard to explain, and there’s just so much that can be said:

• Let’s start off with some game design tips from Andy Looney himself, since here you are at Looney Labs asking us this question. And here’s Andrew Looney’s Eleven Principles of Game Design. And check out his groovy How I Design A Game flowchart.

And now some of the copious excellent resources available to game designers these days:

• Vast resources from Stonemaier Games on How to Design a Tabletop Game. (Looks like they’ve gotten a lot of questions on this topic themselves!)

• James Mathe’s excellent collection of blogs is curated into different categories, one of which is Game Design, so check it out!

• There’s even an entire online course, called Game Design Concepts. Though it was originally taught in 2009, a lot of the information is still quite valuable.

• If you want something a little more recent, the book Game Design Workshop just came out in its fourth edition as of 2018.

• Here’s a page with reviews of 11 books about game design.

Finally, some people ask: “What makes a game FUN?” If we knew the magic formula that made everyone like a game, we’d be a lot richer. That’s why you playtest your game – with your target audience. Is it for kids? Families? Role-Players? Strategy board gamers? Partygoers? Collectible Card gamers? There are many different types and aspects of games. Some people like some things and hate others, so there’s no way to please everyone. If you’re trying to get somewhere, it helps to know where you’re trying to go.

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Q: Do you have any general advice for would-be game designers?

A: Don’t expect to get rich. Don’t even expect to break even. Also, playtest with people who are strangers, who will give you the hard cold truth about whether your game sucks or not. If necessary, give out anonymous response cards and don’t hang around while people play. We’ve seen some really awful games out there, thousands of boxes of which are probably still clogging up their designers’ garage space.

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Q: Who prints your promo cards, and is it done in the US?

A: Our US printer, DeLano, who prints our larger runs of card games also does most of the packets and expansions. If there are very old packets and expansions in our stock, they might have been done by our previous printer, Carta Mundi. They’re a Belgian company, but they have printing facilities here in the US.

For loose promo cards, smaller runs of packs, and Custom Loonacy, we use a print-on-demand printer called The Game Crafter. In the “olden days” we used a very local printer for the b&w art cards, and I’m sure some of those are still in inventory and being sold in the webstore. They’re almost literally down the street from us.

The peel-off promo-postcards were done by a company called Membership Cards Only. (I know, I know, “But those aren’t membership cards!” Hahahahah!). We no longer make those kinds of promo cards, though they were an interesting way to get out the word about new games.

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Q: I recently published a game, and I’m wondering how to figure out what I should charge for it.

I recently created a card game and am looking to start working with small re-sellers and shops in my area, but coming from an art background, I do not know how what to charge for orders. Since your company works with retail stores, I was hoping to get some insight on how to proceed. I know what it costs to make my games, and I have a price that I have been selling it at to customers directly. My question is: when selling to a retail store, what is the typical percentage you discount each unit, or does it change depending on the game? And is that discount a percentage of the total MSRP [Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price], or a percentage of the remaining profit after the cost of manufacturing is deducted? I have done some research online but have not come across a clear answer. Any information you could provide would be a great help.

A: When we were trying to figure this out, we got various recommendations about what ratio you should set for the price relative to your cost.

What I recall is that a 7:1 price:cost ratio is good, but 10:1 is what you want to aim for. So, for example, if your game cost $1 to make, then to get a 7:1 ratio, you’d decide that the lowest cost you were comfortable selling it for would be $7.

So, moving on to discuss the difference between the MSRP and the price per unit to stores, a 50% markup is pretty standard, which is the same thing as saying that retailers get a 50% discount off of MSRP. So if $7 is the least you want to sell for, then that’s your retailer price, so your MSRP would be $14. Note that if you plan on eventually selling to distributors, they require an even greater discount off of MSRP, so that they can sell at rates comparable to your retailer rates, and still have a profit margin themselves. Distributors typically demand at least a 60% discount off MSRP, so you might want to plan your MSRP with that eventuality in mind.

That said, many small hobby retailers get discounts less than that from distributors (obviously, this is to increase the margin for the distributor) so they might get only a 40% discount off MSRP, or 45%, so you could ask the retailer to take a smaller markup.

You probably also want to look around at comparable games on the market: games of a similar box size, perceived quality, and complexity – the other games that are going to sit next to it on the shelf at your local hobby retailer (don’t try to compare with the big box stores, they’re selling things hella cheap – hobby stores can’t manage that, and you can’t either at this point).

Unfortunately, I’m willing to bet that for a first (probably small) print run, your costs were more than my example of $1 per unit. So, between your probably higher cost, and the likelihood that you’re going to have trouble adhering to these ratios while keeping the price in line with comparable games…

You might decide that you’re willing to accept a lower ratio, since you have lower overhead to run your company – but don’t discount the cost of your time and effort. Also, you might be able to get by with a lower ratio for now, and hope to get your cost down if the game is a success, and subsequent print runs are bigger.

Don’t forget to get out there and pimp your game to anyone who will play. Go to game/comic/sci-fi conventions, and if you get local stores to carry your game, ask if you can come in and offer free demos to customers.

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Q: I have an idea for a game, and I was wondering whether Looney Labs could make it for me.

A: No.

1) If you’re looking for someone to print your game so that you can sell it, then you are looking to self-publish, and the kind of company you need is a printer. Looney Labs is a publisher. If you’re looking for info on printers, check out:
How can I get my game printed? What printers does Looney Labs use?

2) If you have an idea for a game, and you’re looking for a publisher, understand that publishing is a lot of work, involving a lot more than just an idea and a printer: it takes immense amounts of coordination: design, testing, sourcing materials, sales, and of course marketing efforts to get consumers to want to buy your game, not to mention convincing stores to even make it available to the consumer. This is my favorite essay on that topic.

3) Looney Labs does not accept outside game submissions. We are formed primarily for the purpose of publishing the works of Andy Looney, our sole game designer.

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Q: How can I get my game printed & packaged? What printers does Looney Labs use?

A: Look around for card printers, and they will have various packaging options included. If you care whether the work is actually done in the USA, make sure you ask that, since many people offering quotes will be brokers working with overseas printers in China or other countries.

Ask for quotes from more than one company, pay attention to delivery lead times, and check the price for different sized print-runs. Here are some of the companies we have worked with or know of:

Print on Demand:

We work with:
Gamecrafter (also does board games)

Others include:
DriveThruCards, DriveThruRPG

US Card Printers:
(Though they may be able to do runs as small as 100-500 in some cases, you’ll find that it’s not economical to do a run smaller than 5,000-10,000 in most cases. Contact them for a quote)

We work with:
DeLano Service (also does board games, or can at least source parts)
(please mention Looney Labs sent you!)

Others in the US include (not sure if they also do board games, check with them and ask!):
Carta Mundi
US Playing Cards


Our pyramid games are made by a Chinese company:
Grand Prix International

For smaller print-runs, we work with a Chinese printer:
Long Pack

Others include:

I found much of that info by Googling “card game printers” so go to town on that Internet thing! Also try “card game print on demand” or “board game print on demand” or whatever.

Best of luck!

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