How board game maker The Op got 8 million TikTok views last month

In an industry where selling several thousand copies of a game can often be considered a success, getting eight million people to look at your products is something most publishers would bite your hand off to achieve. Board game media and marketing specialist Ray Billings, who has years of experience under her belt with companies including Czech Games Edition and Resonym, told BoardGameWire how her foray into TikTok since joining The Op Games five months ago has led to eye-watering engagement figures for the company – and explains how other publishers should be following suit.

In January of this year alone, The Op TikTok account received just shy of eight million video views, over 500,000 engagements, and roughly 4,500 new followers. And what’s more, this wasn’t from one lucky video, but from a series of videos each receiving anywhere from 10,000 to 2.5 million views each.

For the past five years, I’ve worked in a variety of board game media and marketing positions, but this is my first time working specifically with short-form content, and I am truly blown away by the reach that TikTok has. On all of last month’s viral videos, 99% of people viewing our content were not following us at the time. This potential to reach new consumers and break out of the traditional board game content niche is something I feel more publishers need to pay attention to. In this article I’ll be going over my experience with TikTok virality from a publisher’s perspective and offering my advice for most effectively utilizing the platform.

@theopgames More playing Hues and Cues NOT by the rules 😅 #huesandcues #fyp #boardgames #partygames #gamenight #gamenightideas ♬ BGM perfect for item description – Mi-on(みおん)

Setting Expectations

First, how much should you focus on TikTok and where should it fit into your overall marketing strategy? Unsurprisingly, this is going to vary based on the type of games you make. If you’re a publisher of mainly “heavy” or “dry” hobby games, your TikToks likely aren’t going to be getting millions of views and the platform isn’t going to be your magic silver bullet. But! You can still achieve success within the hobby game niche on the app— the important thing is to remember that, well, it’s a niche. You should aim to fold TikTok into your broader strategy as you would any other social media, and not focus too much on chasing virality.

If you make mass market or party games, meanwhile, you’re in luck! Games that are visual, simple to understand, or have players easily laughing/arguing are tailor-made for the short attention span of TikTok. I know sometimes the line between “hobby” and “party” can get blurry but the important question is: does your game have inherently engaging or exciting moments? And by that I mean, would those moments be entertaining even to someone who is unfamiliar with your game? If so, then TikTok can be, and arguably should be, your main focus when it comes to social media.

Getting Started

I’ll be honest that when the board game industry started to dip their toes into TikTok around 2020, I was a skeptic. In hindsight, this is because I simply wasn’t a user of the app yet and didn’t understand how it worked. And from a distance, TikTok content can seem rather silly and shallow, lacking any real marketing value. If you want to make successful content on TikTok, you need to understand what successful content looks like. Which brings me to my first horrible piece of news: To understand what successful TikTok content looks like, you need to use the app. As an individual. For fun. Every platform has its own language, and you need to use that platform to learn how to speak it. 

Upon joining TikTok, and beating the algorithm into showing you actual board game content, you’ll start to see some consistent faces in your feed— likely independent board game content creators who have found a great deal of success on the platform. Examples include the hilarious and relatable Dani Standring, or the board game sommelier, Alex Hart.

@dani_standring Paint the Roses sat on my shelf, unplayed for WAY TOO LONG! I’m now obsessed. We’ve won only two of the 15 games and im nust itching for that next W! This copy was given to me by @North Star Games THANK YOU #boardgames #tabletop #tabletopgames #games #gaming #game #gamenight #fun ♬ Bossa Nova Easy Listening(1302379) – yousuke

This leads to my second horrible piece of news: while you can learn a lot about tone and production value from creators like this, you can’t necessarily copy their formats, as many of them center on recommendation lists and review videos. Without the inherent trust and impartiality that independent creators have, this can’t be the backbone of your strategy.

What Should Publisher Content Look Like

So what should you do? Here are some best practices that I’ve learned from my successes on the platform (and my many failures). For publisher content, I like to use the 80/20 rule. This basic marketing principle states that 80% of your content should provide something of value for your viewers, usually entertainment or education. And only 20% percent should be allocated to strictly promotional content. In our context, examples of these types of videos are:

● Entertaining: Engaging gameplay videos, or viral trends adapted for board gamers 

● Educational: Talking about how your games are made, or a video on game design tips

● Promotional: A video explicitly talking about your upcoming game, with an emphasis on the features of the game or how to purchase it

Hobby Games on TikTok

If you are a hobby publisher, the entertaining category is a perfect place to start to draw in newviewers! If you’re following my rule and using TikTok for fun, then you should see new trending memes and joke formats popping up every week. Hop on these trends and adapt them for board gamers. A great example of this is Brain_In_A_Jar’s “we’re board gamers!” video, which was a spin on the “we’re __ ” trend.

@brain_in_a_jar Don’t you wanna play a game with me? #boardgametiktok #boardgames #gamer ♬ original sound – Kasey Girven

Engaging in general hobby discourse and humor will help get your videos to the “board game side” of TikTok. My advice is to keep the humor relevant to the hobby in general, as opposed to your games specifically, at least until you’ve built up a community on the app. This style of content is supposed to be relatable. And if people don’t know your products yet, they can’t relate.

Another great way to grab new people is by showing gameplay footage. The key here is to focus more on how the game makes people feel rather than its technical gameplay. If your game has exciting moments (big reveals, betrayals, etc), try to capture those! And if your game is more meditative, take the time to make your filming space feel cozy. 

With a hobby audience, you can lean a bit more into the educational strategy. Many hobbyists are curious about what goes into making the products they love. Try pulling back the curtain on your business, giving some advice for aspiring designers, or even vlogging a day in your life. All of these things can help build a relatable brand for you as a publisher.

And lastly, even when it comes to promotional content, stay away from overly technical explanations of your game. Even within the hobbyist niche, attention spans are short on TikTok. Instead, try showing off a single unique feature about your game. For example, see the video I made on Mountains Out Of Molehills where I showed off how the box is used as part of the game board, a video that received 11,000 views. Or the video by Bezier that got 16,000 views demonstrating the Silver box design that allows you to access the game without taking it off the shelf.

Mass Market & Party Games on TikTok

With mass market games, the 80/20 rule still applies. And while other types of content still have value, I’ll cut to the chase on what most of that 80% should be: gameplay.  Most of TikTok’s users have never played a modern board game. With party game content, you have the chance to show people how simple and hilarious games can be— that’s where the viral potential comes from! And with lighter games you can really harness the power of showing rather than telling, as you can often jump straight into gameplay without any explanation. I’ve seen this strategy used in two main ways.

One is to structure your video such that the goal is immediately apparent, and the viewer can play along with you. This has worked well in my Hues and Cues gameplay videos and you can also see this strategy being used extremely effectively on the Big Potato Games account. The other option is to hook your viewer with a bit of upfront confusion. The creators of Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza do this brilliantly. They consistently go viral by posting gameplay of their chaotic slapping game with absolutely zero context. This confusion is enough to get people to either watch the whole video to try and decipher the rules, or to check the comments for an explanation.

@dolphinhatgames Let's play! 🌮 🐱 🐐 🧀 🍕 #PlayWithMe #TacoCatGoatCheesePizza #CardGame#FamilyFun #GameNight #SmallBusiness ♬ original sound – Dolphin Hat Games

Both of these things are incredibly important for pushing your video into the algorithm. Regardless of the type of gameplay video you make, you want to focus on creating an organic, comfortable and non-corporate feeling. Initially I struggled to come to terms with just how much the mass-market TikTok audience prefers lower quality videos. But trust me, these viewers want something that feels like it was filmed by consumers, not a company.

Those eight million views I mentioned at the beginning of this article largely came from Hues and Cues gameplay videos. The videos weren’t high quality (filmed on my iphone in low lighting), didn’t show anyone’s faces, and half of them didn’t even follow the rules of the game!

General Tips

Below I’ve listed some general best practices to help you avoid some mistakes that I fell into when starting out. Best of luck on your TikTok content creation journey, and I hope to see more viral videos from publishers in my feed!

  • Include captions. Besides obvious accessibility for folks who are hard of hearing,
    people also scroll through TikTok at work and in public places with their phones on mute.

  • Do what you’re comfortable with. No one will enjoy watching you try to recreate a
    goofy trend if you’re clearly uncomfortable being goofy on camera.

  • Don’t freak out if something doesn’t perform well. The algorithm is wild! It’s much
    easier to reverse-engineer why something did well after the fact than to always predict
    what will do well.

  • Reels and TikTok prefer different kinds of content. Just because something has high
    production value doesn’t mean it will perform well. That may be true for Reels but it
    actually often means the opposite on TikTok.

  • Avoid long intros. People need to be engaged within the first three seconds of your video.
    So try skipping the formal introduction of yourself, your publisher, or, hell, even your
    game. It feels VERY unnatural to do this, but trust me. Swap out the formality for an
    engaging question or “hook”.

  • And finally: make some stuff that YOU enjoy! For example, I like making lifestyle
    content— even if it doesn’t do incredibly well, it keeps me excited about making content
    and staves off that ever-looming creative burnout.

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