Getting a Game on Tabletop Simulator

Wizard’s Academy is live on Tabletop Simulator. I thought that it might be nice to take a moment to talk about the process of making that happen in the hopes of helping other designers who might be inclined to do the same thing. In summary though, the process wasn’t bad and Berserk are wonderful partners and do great work. Look how well it turned out:

TTS

The process got started when they got in touch with me after the Kickstarter to discuss a digital version. They don’t invite many games to the platform, so they’re fairly selective and they look for ones that are visually engaging and have decent gameplay reviews.

Their initial contact was very informative and they were receptive to the issues that I raised. The first among them being the concern that due to the lack of a shipping requirement the digital version might be released before backers got their games, which risked causing some resentment if not handled carefully. The solution that we arrived at was to provide the DLC free to our existing backers and only charge new customers and true to their word they provided the keys to do this on the day that it launched so our Kickstarter backers are happily enjoying their unexpected free computer game.

So I guess my first piece of advice is to think about ways that creating a digital version of your game might mess you up and to be honest and forthright about those problems. I’m confident that our solution has benefited everyone: Berserk got some TTS purchases from backers who wanted to play the DLC, we got an early user base and some reviews to drive larger numbers towards the game and the backers all got a bonus thing that they weren’t expecting.

The next step was to send them the files so that they could generate the game, here I made the mistake of not allocating any time to this – I assumed that they could work from the same files that the manufacturer used to make the game. It turned out that this wasn’t quite true, as manufacturers produce something like this:

 

WAgame

Can you spot the difference?

In a word: Punchboards! The file for the manufactuer is a few large pages, with lots of counters on each (including duplicates) and a separate file that contains the cut lines that need to be applied to the first in order to generate the punchboard. By contrast, a digital implementation is better off with a small file for each type of counter, no need for duplicates.

It wasn’t a hard job to get from one to the other, but I could’ve saved some time by anticipating the need before it came up. So that’s the second thing: Any component of the game that requires some punching/assembly/interaction with the user before being used will be supplied different to a digital games maker than it will to a manufacturer. It’s worth preparing the separate version.

They also asked for a few other bits and pieces, such as the font pack used to generate the cards and colour values for certain components. At the time some people in the office were concerned about what that meant, since it implied a goal of modifying content rather than supplying the game in its original form. We need not have worried – if you glance back at the first picture you can see why they were needed.

There are components that make sense in a digital version that’d have no place in a tabletop one. Limited by our finite human arms we can only interact with so much stuff so extra boards for holding cards can get in the way and make the game take up too much space as much as they help. By contrast in a digital version they provide benefits with no side effects – so Berserk added a couple of components that took advantage of the digital environment. Particularly helpful is a spell board that randomises a partial setup to reduce the time needed to get the game going.

hourglass

Having provided the files we proceeded to do very little with the digital version over the following months, instead focusing on getting the physical game made and out to backers. Berserk on the other hand were working hard, generating new components and drawing a background that created a suitable environment for the game (Each official game on there has a custom room and table which is a nice touch). They got in touch a couple of times to query rules in order to work out the best way to do setup, but overall everything was quiet.

Then they got in touch to show a nearly completed version of the game, which blew me away! I was very impressed by how it looked, though a little sad not to get a chance to play with it before release. I was worried that something might be missing or not suitable for its intended use in play. Again I need not have worried, aside from a very minor bug everything is wonderful. They clearly enjoy their games and were happy to get an understanding of it as a board game before implementing it as a physics object.

So another snippet: Don’t worry if things are quiet for a while and trust that they know what they’re doing. They certainly seem to!

There was some requirements quite late in the day that surprised us. This was entirely our fault as we’d been warned about it riiiight back at the start of the project, almost a year earlier. The DLC was going to go onto steam, which means it has a steam store page, which looks like this:

steampage

What do you see there?

Several images of the game, only some of which are screenshots.

A banner ad of a specific size for the game (in fact three of these are needed in various places).

A video that autoplays when the store page is visited.

Review quotes, with links to those reviews.

If you could scroll down you’d also find a description of the game.

Finally, a price and an initial discount.

 

There’s a surprising amount that goes into a steam store page. Almost all of which needed to be created (or decided) by us before launch. We didn’t leave ourselves as long as we should’ve, given that we’d known about the task for months. A lot of Kickstarter resources could be reserviced or rescaled so that they could be reused in this context, as the job of the image is basically the same. Still, it was worth the trouble to generate several images for the games main steam image and to pick the best – the one that we ultimately went with is a vast improvement on the first one that we generated.

So I’d leave you with a final piece of advice, that applies not just to a TTS version of your game, but to pretty much any project involved in game design at any level: If you have months to do a two hour task, do it today rather than in a few months 😉

With that, I’d better get back to design work for the next game, I hope you’ve found it interesting to get an insight into how the TTS version came about and exactly what was expected of everyone involved. If you get the chance to play it I hope you have a fantastic time of it 🙂

9 thoughts on “Getting a Game on Tabletop Simulator

  1. An interesting read, as this was one of the games Berserk assigned to me for Digital conversion, so its nice to hear you were pleased with the finished product.

    The Quality of the materials supplied by a publisher is directly proportional to the quality of the finished DLC and this was an absolute pleasure to work on.

    Out of Interest what was the bug you picked up on ?

    • Ah well, excellent work, I’m glad that you enjoyed working on it too 🙂

      I think it was something like I thought that when you moused over the character card and hit a number you should get that number’s character (Assuming they’re numbered left to right) and two of them were transposed. As I said, a very minor thing.

      • Ah…yes that one was spotted and fixed a couple of days after the initial release. 🙂
        I know some other publishers can be a bit leery about digital versions of their games as there’s this nagging feeling that you’re some how cannibalizing real world sales by doing so.

        But I believe its the complete opposite. If someone buys the digital version of your game and likes it they’ll hunt it out and buy it again in the real world just to play with their mates round the dinning room table.
        These types of releases compliment rather than compete with each other. As your gaining exposure to a whole new market segment who wouldn’t normally get to see any of these great games.

        • That seems like a fair comment to me, I’ve had at least three people send me the message “I played this on TTS and want to buy a physical copy” and I imagine there are more who don’t send that message.

          Conversely, I imagine the free DLC keys you guys gave us to hand out to our KS backers lead to some extra sales of TTS itself 😉

  2. I had the opportunity to purchase to DLC on release – and admit that I did not hear of your game beforehand. It was a pleasant surprise and quickly became the new favourite coop game for my significant other and I.

    So I am glad you followed through with this! We are planning on picking up a physical copy soon. Thanks for the writeup, it was good to see the process outlined.

    • No problem, I’m glad to hear that you liked the game 🙂

      We’ve not done brilliantly at advertising, it’s a shame because I think it’s let the game down a little.

  3. Nice write up, Greg! Has this inspired you to look at putting together digital implementations of other/future games? I mean, other than Escape the Nightmare… I don’t think you could get that to work in TTS but imagine the VR implementation! :p

    • I’d happily see 404: Law Not Found get the TTS treatment if they wanted to do it, but I suspect that it doesn’t have enough chrome to be worth the money from their end. If it turns out that WA does well on the platform we could consider it.

      A VR Escape the Nightmare could be outstanding, but really if I had that opportunity I’d want to tweak a bunch of game bits to suit the card environment. There are ideas that just aren’t practical for the physical card game that would be absolutely phenomenal if we could tweak what a player is seeing and hearing!

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