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Good, Fast, Cheap Crowdfunding Fulfillment

kickstarter fulfillment

GOOD, CHEAP, FAST GLOBAL CROWDFUNDING FULFILLMENT

We all know that Kickstarter is global; but there is a huge fault line between US and non-US backers. The name of that fault line, especially when it comes to games, is ‘fulfillment’, and it’s holding everything back; in a huge way.

Kickstarter backers universally want 3 things;

  1. A thing gets made and they get a piece of it.
  2. Value for money
  3. To give creators more money for their thing than they give postage or fulfillment companies.

As the majority of board game kickstarters originate in the US, Non-US backers often choke on that third desire because of excessively high international shipping costs, and for many in the EU; VAT. These two things limit the success of Kickstarter projects everywhere by throttling backer numbers and project momentum.

Yet as any Kickstarter creator will tell you, one of the biggest headaches is how to get your thing to everyone everywhere, and keep them happy, without losing money .. or your sanity. Global fulfillment is a logistical nightmare!

As it happens, there is a way to do good, cheap, fast and simple global kickstarter fulfillment, especially for small to medium weight games under US$23 or$24 in value.  If you do it right you can attract more backers and increase your total backer numbers by 20 – 30%, keep ALL your backers happy AND your sanity intact.  Doesn’t that sound fantastic?

Just  how big is the ‘international’ kickstarter audience? About 40 – 50% of the English speaking table top game market is outside of the US. That is a massive number! By taking a look at Kickstarter projects where the costs for non-US backers are about the same as in the US  we to see that natural global backer / market figures can look something like this:

  • USA                       57%
  • Europe                  26%
    • UK             7.2%
    • Germany   6.7%
    • Others     12.1%
  • Canada                   9%
  • Australia                 3%
  • Others                     5%

Of course, most Kickstarter projects with high international shipping charges get far lower proportions of non-US backers than 50%. Some are in single digit percentages; this means missing out on large numbers of non-US backers, their money and the momentum that larger numbers bring to projects that succeed early. Many creators assume this reflects market realities but this isn’t a reflection of market share, it’s a reflection of market barriers. Ideally you should end up with a spread of backers something close to those above. If you don’t, you might have missed out on backers.

THE RISKS OF NON-US FULFILLMENT

Most creators make a good effort to fulfill as cheaply as possible to their US and non-US audiences. Some US creators simply use USPS to fulfill outside the US, like they do for domestic backers. The problem with this method is that USPS international prices are exceedingly high, and will throttle non-US backing, or kill your project outright if you didn’t account for them. Other creatoros try more affordable fulfillment methods, but some US creators fear these methods because of;

  1. their funding levels being artificially inflated by high postage costs.
  2. the logistical complexity of managing multiple fulfillment processes across different regions
  3. the risk of getting something wrong and losing enough money to threaten the viability of this project, and their next

These issues are all very real and frightening. They represent risks so significant that simply give up on their potential non-US kickstarter audiences, assuming they will ‘pick it up in retail later’, while they double down on the US market. If you want your project to reach its maximum theoretical number of backers, you want to access them wherever they are, at little or no extra cost to everyone.

With the high costs of international postage from the USA, or the complexity of multi-part global fulfillment, that has been hard to achieve. Let’s look at why.

THE SUPPLY CHAIN

The majority of Kickstarter game projects are developed in the US, and the vast majority are, for better or worse, manufactured in China.

The supply chain often looks something like this:

  1. Manufacture in china
  2. Road freight to port (Shenzhen)
  3. Ship on container ships to US port
  4. Freight to one or more places in the US
    1. fulfillment centre
    2. distributor
    3. game company/someones garage or basement
  5. At a US fulfillment centre, or someone’s garage, it is picked and packed and mailed to backers within the US. Then around the planet at great expense to non-US backers,

All of this can take between 2 months for a simple project and 6+ months for large & complex fulfillment job. Then there is extra time and backtracking in that supply chain, some of which leads to high non-US postage costs and delays that can turn your advocates into adversaries.

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SHIPPING

Nobody likes paying for shipping. This psychology is so important that most US backers expect ‘free shipping’ because for some time it’s been common practice for creators to hide their US domestic fulfillment costs in pledge levels and just call it ‘Free shipping’. So ‘free’ delivery becomes a part of the value – whether backers really understand the hidden cost or not. It all makes sense and it works beautifully for Americans who get a cool new game to their door at less than MSRP.

It’s arguably a double-edged sword though, because US backers often undervalue the deal they get on Kickstarter projects. This may be changing as some US creators are starting to separate out postage costs from pledge levels.

However, for the other half of the Kickstarter market, those outside of the US, high international postage charges are a major barrier to backing, one that’s psychologically amplified by the appearance of US backers getting their pledge rewards delivered ‘free’.

Market reach & international fulfillment – perception is everything

From a market reach perspective, the key issue is that from the US, costs to fulfill backer rewards outside the US are high – resulting in shipping costs that often doubles the cost to back the actual product, scaring away potential non-US backers.

US Backers

A prospective backer unconsciously values a project when they first skim it. This is typically a combination of components (number & quality) and creative awesomeness (art and graphic design and cool mechanics or theme). Then the US backer checks to see that the base pledge price fits in with their expectations.

Nice and simple – nothing in this setup itself will turn off a backer except the pledge level seeming too expensive, or perhaps being suspiciously low. If it’s all good the prospective backer proceeds to back / seek more info / remind me.

Non-US backers

When a non-US backer (40 – 50% of your audience) visits a Kickstarter page, they will intensely focus on the shipping cost because they know that all is not always as it seems at first glance.

Looking at the equivalent Kickstarter base pledge levels + international postage, quite often they will find that their cost for the pledge rewards will suddenly be double that of the US Backers. What happens then? International shipping rage quit. And many non-US backers parse Kickstarter pages like this within 5 seconds of arriving. It’s a top tier checklist item.

Of course it’s not always this bad, and non-US backers do have variable thresholds for International shipping costs. There seems to be a sliding scale where the higher the proportion international shipping is to the base pledge level, the fewer non-US backers you get. But when shipping costs are close to or over the core thing’s value, you will hemorrhage international backers.

FLYING UNDER THE VAT RADAR

European gamers face the additional hurdle of having to pay European VAT surcharges (between 15 and 25%), plus handling fees for stuff generally over EU22 / US$24. These can significantly increase cost again. So for a US $30 game with +$15 for international shipping, the total amount paid by you backer including the VAT and handling fees might be US$65 for a game with a true value of US$25. Are you still wondering why your last project got so few EU backers?

To avoid VAT you need to:

  1. fulfill to your Euro backers from inside the EU

or…

  1. Ensure your thing’s basic value, excluding postage, is under the VAT minimum threshold (UK = GBP15 / US$23, most other EU countries = EURO22 / US$24.50, France and Greece no minimum threshold). And have that value clearly marked on the postage label.

The vast majority of such packages sail right under the VAT radar in most countries. Saving your backer a bunch of money and making your thing far more appealing to back. If you want a decent number of backers from Fortress Europe, you must use one of these options.

Stonemaier Games paves the way

The pioneering Jamey Stegmaier of Stonemaier Games has addressed these problems using Amazon’s Multi-Channel fulfillment method in the US and Canada mixed with regional fulfillment services in Europe, Australia and elsewhere. With this method he has been offering almost equal prices to US and non-US backers alike.

This method is most viable and feasible to creators when their projects have one or more of the following attributes;

  • thousands of items to fulfill
  • large or heavy items.
  • a base pledge value over GBP 15 / EU22 or US$23

And it can work for any of them.  However, for small scale game creators this method is somewhat daunting because of;

  1. Logistical complexity; you have to ship to 4 or 5 locations by sea and all that goes with it.
  2. Higher per unit sea shipping costs; you lose economies of scale when splitting sea shipping into 4 or 5 shipments.
  3. Costs still being somewhat variable for backers in different regions
  4. Postage bloat; bundled postage costs into variable backing levels still make it hard to calculate how much money your project is really bringing in compared to how much you will just be handing to shipping and fulfillment companies.
  5. Time; product on ships has to leave port, cross oceans, dock, clear customs, get road freighted to fulfillment companies, get stored, then picked and packed and sent to backers. Think 7 – 10 weeks minimum. And it takes the creator more time to manage multiple fulfillment processes.

This is even more acute for already overwhelmed first time creators who are learning the ropes and yearn for simplicity. Wouldn’t it just be easier if you could just deal with all backer fulfillment through one system in one hit?

GLOBAL FULFILLMENT DIRECT FROM CHINA

Assuming you have manufactured your product in China, it is possible to ship your product to ALL of your backers directly from China by airmail using one of a number of Chinese fulfillment companies. This is particularly cost effective for small to medium box, light weight games. If you can keep the value of your game under EU22 / US$23/$24 then you will also generally fly under the VAT radar set up around Europe too, maximizing the number of backers to build momentum and amplify your success.

Here’s the process:

  1. Manufacture your product in China,
  2. Fulfill all or just non-US backer orders by airmail via a Chinese (Shenzhen/Hong Kong) based fulfillment company
  3. Backers receive their items in about 2 weeks.
  4. Send regular distribution shipments from China to the USA, Europe, AU or wherever for regional retail markets for ongoing sales. Try to bundle these with other games going to the same distributor to minimize shipping charges.

The frontrunner for Direct from China fulfillment seems to be sendfromchina.com (SFC). SFC have fluent bilingual customer service and easy to use English software.

More Markets = More Backers

This airmail direct to US backers through a Chinese fulfillment company is competitive with ship by sea, road / rail freight, picking and packing for a send via Amazon to US backers, and it beats all other fulfillment methods on price, speed and simplicity.

As with everything, there are pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Simplicity – 1 fulfillment management point for planet Earth with a useable English interface and fluent bilingual support staff. Just signup and upload backer data.
  • Cost – it’s on par with other options, even for domestic US shipping, and way cheaper than most.
  • Speed – because you skip sea freight and ports, games are delivered between 1 – 4 weeks after they are received at the fulfillment warehouse, compared to 2+ months via regular fulfillment.
  • Low risks
  • Ongoing supply – You can warehouse your product there and continue to fulfill online orders or replace damaged or lost items. Storage is competitive.

Cons:

  • Packaging – bubble wrap envelopes only, unless you have a big box game.
  • Weight – because SFC use discounted Airmail the price differential with US domestic shipping increases with weight. Watch those stretch goals!
  • Pick and pack – it’s still cheap but there is uncertainty over how well SFC can handle large volumes of complex pick and pack requirements.

Recommendations

If you have a light game around or under 500g / 1.25lbs AND you manufacture in China, you should seriously investigate doing full global fulfillment with Send From China or another similar fulfillment company.

If you have a medium box game domestic US fulfillment might be cheaper via USPS or Amazon. It’s worth comparing, but you can still offer significantly reduced non-US shipping via SFC to get more non-US backers.

If you have a large box, heavy game, then Send From China may not be the best global solution for you, but they may help you more affordably fulfill into some regions.

There is a grey area around the lkg / 2.5lb weight range where you could go either way between the Send From China method and the Amazon fulfillment method. As a project gets heavier the Amazon method really comes into its own.

Crowdfunding 101 : Tips to a successful Campaign

success or failure

CROWDFUNDING 101 :
THE KEYS TO A (hopefully) SUCCESSFULL CAMPAIGN

The revolution in games publishing has begun.  In fact, it began some time ago now and the revolution is named Crowdfunding.

Anyone today with an idea and a bit of know how and willingness can launch a crowdfunding campaing.  But will it be successful?  When launching a crowdfunding campaign, the task can seem both easy as pie and totally insurmountable at the same time.

Do you have a great idea and no clue where to start?  Understanding what crowdfunding offers is crucial; and it’s not free money! Crowdfunding allows backers to pledge support for a project they want to see succeed.  Campaign success and business owner responsibility go  hand-in-hand.

First time publishers and long time industry veterans are turning to Kickstarter in droves when releasing a new game or gaming product.  While this platform has opened up opportunities that didn’t exist in the past it also means there is a LOT more competition for the consumers gaming dollars. At any given time there are, litterally, hundreds of active tabletop game Kickstarter campaigns going on. That is a lot of competition and it doesnt even include games that you see distributed through the normal, traditional channels!

crowdfunding

As with any platform, there are good trends, and there are some very bad trends.  If you are looking to run a Kickstarter campaign, obviously you want to avoid those bad trends!  Here are some tips and some advice for running a (hopefully) successful crowdfunding campaign.

THE PROCESS

In short, the process of running a crowdfunding campaing comes down to 5 not-so-simple,  yet simple steps.  We’re not going to go into detail on these at this point, but keep them in mind when you’re preparing to launch your
product.

1) Build your Brand
2) Create your Project
3) Run your campaign
4) Level up your campaign
5) Grow after the project

TIPS TO INCREASE THE SUCCESS OF YOUR CAMPAIGN

1) PLANNING, PLANNING AND MORE PLANNING

decision-makingPlanning your campaign and setting goals are the most important and exhausting first steps. Having everything prepared well before the campaign starts is important!

It is generally a good idea to start planning 6-12 months before you plan to launch your product.  If you’re still not ready, just remember; you don’t NEED to launch today! One of the biggest mistakes is launching too soon.

  • If you’re still looking for feedback; Don’t launch.
  • If you don’t have your stretch goals prepared; don’t launch.
  • If you don’t have a video ready; You probably shouldn’t launch.
  • If your game is not near completion (say 90% or better); You’re not ready to launch .. you’re not even ready to start your Kickstarter homework.

Have all your ducks in a row, then start hyping the product .. THEN launch.

Some things you need to do before you launch;

  •  Start a blog focusing on creating interesting and useful content.  Write 1-3 entries a week for 3 months.
  • Subscribe to at least 20 blogs related to your project.  Read them, every day.  Comment on at least one a day.
  • Read every Kickstarter lesson you can find.
  • Back 10-20 Kickstarter projects and read every update.  Note when you have the desire to unsubscribe from any.
  • Create a spreadsheet of at least 10 successfull Kickstarters that are similare to yours and compare them
  • Create a budget for your project, factoring in different outcomes and what they mean for production and shipping.
  • Figure out NOW how you’re going to ship your product around the world in a way that is time and cost efficient for both you and backers
  • Pay a professional artist to create some attractive art to show on your product page
  • Send out samples of your product to several high-impact bloggers or reviewers.  Don’t send them out of the blue but to people you’ve interacted with in some context.
  • Share you projects preview page to at least 20 people asking for feedback.  Pay close attention to the answers you get.
  • Clear your schedule fo rlaunch day so you can spend all day sending personal invitations to your friends, family and other contacts as well as responding to individual backers as they pledge.

Make sure all of your potential expenses are factored in as well, so that your Kickstarter doesnt end up costing you money.

You will need to plan for and include things such as;

  • Mailing costs
  • Packaging
  • Production (and your factories ability to ramp up production in the event your campaign is a massive success)
  • Artwork
  • .. the list can go on and on!

Ask dumb questions.  Go to people that know what they’re talking about to get the information you need.  Everything from setting up your business to setting up supply chain and finding manufacturers can be done through the internet and by going around asking dumb questions.

If you have not done all these things, you are not ready to launch your campaign!  Even if you already told everyone you’re going to launch today, nothing bad will happen if you don’t.  Just tell them you’re delaying the launch and why.  They’ll understand.

When it comes to preparing your Crowdfunding project page, check out this advice : The Anatomy of a Crowdfunding Page

kickstarter homework

2) MAKE IT EASY TO FIND OUT HOW CONSUMERS CAN BUY THE GAME

easy to findThis should be common sense but there are many campaigns that you have to search to find the backer level that actually gets you the game itself!  Once a potential backer is interested, the main thing they want to know is how to get the product and how much it’s going to cost them.

The number one rule in any ecommerce solution is “have the least amount of barrieres to purchase for the buyer”. This holds true with Crowdfunding as well.  Once a potential buyer shows interest it needs to be as easy as possible for them to get your product.

The product you’re looking to fund is the main reason they are there.  Muddying up the waters with TShirts, prints, mugs and other unrelated items just causes confusion.  The pledge level that provides your audience the product itself should be one of the first couple of options (unless you have REALLY good reasons for other levels).

Keep your backer options simple and clean! Backers need to be able to quickly and easily find what they want. They need to be able to tell the difference between reward levels at a quick glance. If your reward level is more than 8 lines long, you’re doing it wrong (I’m guilty of this too). Reward levels should be clear, concise, and non-repetitive. List the most important/unique aspect at the beginning of each reward level’s description. If every reward level gets the same thing, you don’t need to say it over and over again. Either mention it on the project page or on the first reward level.

3) PHOTOS, IMAGES, ARTWORK

Campaigns that are nothing but a wall of text almost never succeed.  Gaming is visual.  The first thing people do when they come to your Kickstarter is scan the page to see what the game and its components look like.  If you havn’t provided any photos or images, many will simply move on to the next campaign and never return.

Let’s face it; most web visitors don’t have the attention span to read walls of text.  Text is intimidating and requires a time commitment that most people just aren’t willing to put in. Viewers will typically spend an average of 10-20 seconds on a webpage (according to the Nielsen Group).  If you want to play it safe, make the time it takes to convince your potential buyers to stay on your page before leaving half that; 5-10 seconds!  The best way to accomplish this is through high quality pictures and video.

You don’t have to have your game fully illustrated and finished, but you should have it started at the very least.  If you don’t believe in your game enough to have some early artwork done, then why should a potential backer? A picture is worth a 1000 words!

4) CAMPAIGN THUMBNAIL

Sometimes, when people are bored, they will browse through Kickstarter using it’s “discover” option.  They will scroll through the list until something catches their eye.  This would be your campaigns thumbnail picture!

If the campaigns image looks professional and eye catching it can cause someone to pause long enough to check it out further.  You only get one chance to make a first impression and if your thumbnail looks amateurish it will be detrimental to peoples perception of your campaign.

5) INDEPENDANT REVIEW

consumer-trust-online-reviewsNow that someone has gone to your campaign and you’ve lured them in with great looking artwork, they want to know if the game is actually any good.  The best way to tell them this is by having someone to backup your claims!  It doesn’t have to be the most respected or well known reviewers, but it should be someone that is NOT you (or a friend).

There are a ton of great gaming reviewers out there.  Contact some of them early on about doing a preview of your game. By early, we mean months before launching your campaign!  Previews take time and most people have very busy schedules.

Previews or reviews are all about building trust.  Consumers trust online reviews, especially from multiple sources.  Having a few independent people talking about your game and how much they like it provides validation and helps to drive traffic to your campaign from their own review sites as well.

6) GAME PLAY VIDEO

Some people like to read the rulebook.  Others like to be taught how to play.  Even if you’re using prototype components, they want to see a few turns being played.  This provides people with a feel for your game.  If your game is not at the point where you can do a game play video, its not ready to be launched as a Kickstarter campaign, plain and simple.

The other reason you want a gameplay video is because YouTube videos are good for SEO (search engine optimization).  YouTube happens to be the second largest search engine in the world.  Use this to your advantage!

7) RULE BOOK

This should be self explanatory.  People want to read rules.  This is the best way for them to discover the nitty gritty details of how the game plays.

Your rules don’t have to be finalized, but they should at least be close.  If your rules aren’t close to finalized, again, your game is not ready to be launched as a Kickstarter campaign.

Every backer of a game will want to see the rules at some point so you’re best to get it out there right at the start. All the pictures in the world are great, but if the rules arent available in some form people will assume your game is
not close to being done yet and it becomes a risky bet to back it.

8) PRICING

pricingPrice is a major factor when people decide to back a game.  You can have a game that looks amazing, but if it’s $150 to back it that is a difficult choice to make.  It’s a tough choice to make when someone can actually hold the product in their hands, let alone when it’s something that hasn’t even been produced yet and may not be for 6-12 months (or more).

Make sure your game is priced intelligently and your funding goal is realistic.  Know what you need to get your game produced and start with that.  Then, think long and hard about how to price your game.  Make pledges too high and you will price people out of backing.  Make prices too low and you can end up losing your shirt.  Backers don’t know your costs and most likely don’t care.  What they do know is the average price for a similar style of game!  You should be in line with those unless you have a really good reason not to be.

9) DISCOUNTS

Give people a reason to back your game today instead of waiting until its released.  If you are selling the game at MSRP then you run the risk a possible backer will just wait and buy it online later at a discounted price.

There is a lot of competition for consumer dollars and they want the best value for money.  The very least you can do is give your backers a discount.  People who are on the fence about backing can often be swayed by a good discount.  It doesnt even have to be a big discount! 10-20% off retail is enough to sway most people into going for it.

10) EARLY BIRD DISCOUNTS

coinsThink long and hard before doing an early bird discount; a cheaper, but limited quantity backer level.  They may convince some people to back early, but an early bird can also turn away those who missed out on them!

We’re not talking about a small $5 early bird discount on a $100 project, but missing out on a 25-40% discount because you didn’t happen to check Kickstarter on day one of a campaign is a sure way to turn people away.  Not to mention it shows your game really isn’t worth what you’re asking for it and people will feel they are overpaying.  Preception becomes reality and you set a percieved market price with early bird discounts that are too steep.

If you do use an early bird discount, make it a small amount.  5-10% would be enough to give early backers a benefit and not risk greatly upsetting those who didn’t get in early quite so much.

When deciding on whether or not to use an Early Bird, ask yourself; “Who does this benefit?”.  In all fairness, the Early Bird is a marketing ploy designed to benefit the product creator.   If anything, it makes the potential Backer feel rushed and pushed into a corner. More importantly, it’s not fair to the other Backers who didn’t happen to check Kickstarter that day. You’re creating a class system in your Backers; those who got there first and those that did not. Even worse it’s not a well-functioning class system. If any of those first 100 Backers cancels, it opens up their spot. It then becomes a luck draw to see if a Backer can get the game cheaper or not when they arrive.

11) STRETCH GOALS

Are these necessary?  As a backer, they are enjoyable because it gives something to keep an eye on during the campaign and a reason to stay interested. It gives people a reason to toot your horn for you when they want to hit those stretch goals and get more stuff.However, you have to be careful with stretch goals.  People can tell when you’re simply pulling basic parts out of a game and putting them back in as stretch goals.

Stretch goals can be great, but they need to be used to make your product better, not just to make it playable.  Provide upgraded components, alternative pieces or other non-essential items.  THIS is when you throw in those fancy prints or t-shirts or variant cards.

Let’s also keep in mind that, while those non-essential items may be a great draw, it also means extra time for production and packaging, extra expense in shipping, and extra design time.  If you don’t have the time and havn’t factored in the extra expenses, they can add up fast.  Make sure you’ve designed this into your backer pledges or they may end up costing you dearly!

12) EXCLUSIVES

exclusiveKickstarter Exclusives are another risky item.  Backers LOVE exclusives.  Besides a discount this is the one of the best ways to get them to back today instead of waiting.  However, be aware you could alienate some potential retail buyers down the road when they can’t get ahold of those promo items.

Most people are fine with missing out on the Kickstarter version of a game that simply has upgraded components but still plays exactly the same.  Some get annoyed when they find out there are promo cards or other items they can’t get.

This is, however, about the Kickstarter and not retail.  This is a way to get people to back today.  Combined with stretch goals and discounts this may convince fence sitters to jump all in.

13) MONEY GRABS

Be very careful not to turn your campaign into a money grab.  It’s all about the perceived value after all. Half way through a campaign, if you throw in a new component for an extra $10 with no reason why it wasn’t included in the base game it will just feel like you’re trying to milk your backers for all their worth.

You may have reasons for requiring the extra cost.  Additional materials, extra development time, artist fees, etc.  Most backers won’t care. If you’re selling, for example, a card game with 80 cards for $20 and then offer an add-on with 5 extra cards for $10, people will balk at it. Make sure any add-ons make sense why they are an add-on and not part of the base game.  And make the price realistic.  People will back out of your campaign if they feel they can’t trust you.

14) KICKTRAQ

Get yourself on Kicktraq at the start of the campaign.  This site provides extra tools as a publisher and you will get a lot more traffic to your campaign.  Kickstarters own navigation is horrible so many people avoid it and use Kicktraq instead.

15) COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR CUSTOMERS

Feedback and communicating with your backers is an incredibly important aspect of crowdfunding.  Your backers are a valuable source of feedback and critique and you should never ignore them.

Your backers can provide you with a wealth of suggestions and praise, or they can be incredibly critical of your process and campaign.  In either case you need to be present and accountable and communicate with them.  If you’re not communicating with your backers they will lose trust in you.  Once you’ve lost trust, your campaign is doomed.

After winning over a customer base with your crowdfunding campaign it’s important to maintain that relationship. Keep on communicating after the campaign ends to let them know the progress of your production, including any hiccups along the way.  Keeping your backers in the loop provides comfort, especially if there are any issues that arise after the campaign has ended.

Keep in mind, no matter what you do, there are always going to be people who are positive and polite and those who are going to, for lack of a better term, troll.  Kickstarter has a community set up.  You cannot control the trolls.  You can’t remove them.  Its often invevitable. The best you can do is respond to any legitimate concerns and remain positive and professional.  Don’t feed the trolls!

If you take care of the Backers, they’ll take care of your goal. Sometimes you’ll make a promise, later to find out that, if you break that promise, you could benefit from it pretty well or that it might hurt you financially if you follow through. That’s when your brain starts trying to find workarounds, but if you keep firm in your mind, that the Backer is First, then you will always make the right decision. Always design your Kickstarter so that it benefits both you and the Backer.  The big companies can get away with more than you can as a small/individual producer.  When Backers go to those large companies, they’re preordering a game, pure and simple. When they’re backing a small publisher’s game, they’re backing a person. If you treat them like the large companies treat them, you won’t last long.

If you have confidence in your game, that it’s truly a great game that people will love, then you won’t need to use the same marketing centered paths the Big Companies use. Put the Backers first, and they’ll make your game successful. And be sure to thank them!

Now that we’ve given you some tips, you have a beter idea how to take your ideas and realize your dreams!

* Disclaimer : The author of this article has not run a Kickstarter or other crowdfunding campaign.  All of the advice provided in this article is from a backers experience, small business experience and discussing running Kickstarter campaigns with those who have run  them and learned the hard way what does and does not work.  We in no way guarantee that this advice will work for your campaign but it should provide a good basis for a more likely success.  We suggest you read as many other sources as possible before launching your own crowdfunding campaign to learn from as many sources as you can.  Good luck with your product!  We’re cheeringfor you!

Crowdfunding 102 : The Anatomy of a Great Crowdfunding Page

CROWDFUNDING 102 :
THE ANATOMY OF A GREAT CROWDFUNDING PAGE

TOP PROJECT PAGE MISTAKES

  1. wall of textToo much text. This usually falls into two categories:
    1. The balance between text and images is wrong. For every section of text, there should be an accompanying image to balance it out. People don’t like walls of text!  Break it up.
    2. The text is in big chunks, which is very difficult to read online. Most people encounter a big chunk of text and either skip it or skim it. No paragraph should be longer than 3 lines, and each item of a bulleted list should be no longer than 2 lines.  Again, walls of text are bad.  Break it up.
  2. Bad art and design. People only get one first impression of your project page. If that impression is of bad, placeholder, prototype art and design, they aren’t going to back your project. You’re probably on Kickstarter so you can raise the money to afford good art and design, but you need to spend at least a little something up front to have a few eye-catching, appealing images to give backers an idea of the quality and style of the project.  If all your backers see when they first  hit your project page is amateurish artwork, then they will assume you are an amateur and move on.
  3. Poorly constructed reward levels. As mentioned in Crowdfunding 101, your backers need to be able to quickly and easily find what they want. They need to be able to tell the difference between reward levels at a quick glance. If your reward level is more than 8 lines long, you’re doing it wrong. Reward levels should be clear, concise, and non-repetitive. List the most important/unique aspect at the beginning of each reward level’s description. If every reward level gets the same thing, you don’t need to say it over and over again. Either mention it on the project page or on the first reward level.  Keep it simple, keep it clean.

OVERARCHING PHILOSOPHIES

  1. enthusiasmShare your passion and personality. Your project page should be clear and succinct, but it doesn’t need to be dry. Give your project page a human side by adding small personal touches and flourishes, but don’t try to  tell backers how they should feel about the project. Let them decide on their own.  “This will be the best book you’ll ever read!” or “This is the most fun you’ll ever have playing a game!” are phrases that have no place on a project page and will turn people away. There’s a difference between enthusiasm for your project and projection. Let backers figure out for themselves how they feel about your project through your pictures, videos, reviews/previews and information you have provided them.
  2. Put the best selling points at the top of the page. What is the most effective pitch for your project? Is it a really compelling image? The huge number of components? Something unique among Kickstarter projects (like free shipping or a money-back guarantee)? A great third-party review? A new game mechanic? Whatever it is, it should be at the top of your project page. And then the second best selling point should be next. And so on. You may not even know the best selling point, so make sure to get feedback on this before you launch your project. Your top selling point may change over the course of the project, so feel free to shift things around whenever necessary!
  3. Only put what’s necessary on the main page. Sure, you want all the core questions answered up front on the project page – your potential backers shouldn’t have to hunt around for shipping subtleties, pledge levels and why you’re on Kickstarter in the first place. However, you have several resources at your disposal for linking to ancillary information elsewhere: The FAQ, your blog/website, and your project updates are all great places to link to with extra information for backers to check out.

VISUAL ASPECTS

  1. what-is-an-infographic1Spectacular Project Image. If you’re going to spend money on art before a project (which you should), this is one of the key places where it’s needed. The project image is used at the top of the page–it’s what you see when you’re not watching the video. It’s also used as the project thumbnail. It should be distinctive, iconic, and attractive. You can change it over the course of the project (you might want to use this space for special announcements), but keep the core image the same.
  2. Infographics. Infographics are often much better at explaining concepts than long lists. For example, instead of showing what’s in the box, show it on an infographic (there can be text on the infographic). Or if your project has a concept that would take paragraphs to explain, use an infographic.  You should still enable backers to search the page for certain words by typing out those words (i.e., “shipping”).
  3. Use a mix of real photos and digital renderings. Digital renderings often look sharper than photos of your prototype, but photos of games often look better than their digital counterparts. An actual photo gives a backer a feeling of the tangible aspect of the reward–“That’s something I’ll have in my house someday.”
  4. Landscape your images. If you put an image on your Kickstarter page, it will fill up the entire main column. Image width isn’t an issue, but if an image is too tall, it’ll take up too much precious real estate. Cut down the height in an image editor so it has a maximum of a 3:1 width to height ratio.
  5. Illustrated headers. Custom illustrated headers are much more thematic and visually compelling than standard text images. They’ll take a lot more work, but they’re worth it.
  6. No step-by-step reward level graphic. More often than not, this image is completely redundant. Backers know what it means to get two copies of a game–they don’t need an image to explain that to them.

CORE COMPONENTS EVERY GREAT PROJECT PAGE NEEDS

  1. Description: The three lines under the project video should tell backers exactly what the project is.
  2. What’s in the box: Tell backers what they’re getting. Use an infographic!
  3. Third-party reviews: Tell backers what unbiased professionals think about your project.
  4. What’s unique: 3-5 reasons your project is different from anything anyone has ever seen. If it’s a board game, link to the rules (having the rules ready before the project begins for a board game project is imperative. It’s ok if they will be finalized still and It’s okay if they’re in MSWord. They just need to be written).
  5. Explanatory video: Give backers an in-depth look at your project (much deeper than the 2-minute project video allows).  Link to a YouTube video you make to explain your project and its unique aspects.
  6. Why pledge now: List a few compelling reasons why backers should support you now on Kickstarter, including why you need the funds to make the project a reality, instead of waiting for retail.
  7. Stretch goals: List a few stretch goals to compel people to share your project. You can add more as the project continues to overfund, so don’t go overboard yet.  Give people a reason to continue coming back to your project page.
  8. Add-ons: People need to know how they can add multiple copies to their pledge (among other add-ons, which I recommend limiting to items that can be included in the game box by the manufacturer unless you really want to give people something “extra” that isn’t related to the product itself.  Those should be few and far between however).
  9. Risks and Challenges: Be real in this section. By giving examples of what could go wrong, you show that you’ve done your research and know what you’re talking about.  Review other projects Risks and Challenges to get a good feel for what you need to know and what you need to inform your backers of.

Finally, there are some things you won’t realize about the project page until you actually start to make one or until it’s too late:

  1. The preview link to your project page will automatically forward to your final campaign page when you go live.
  2. You can’t create an FAQ before the campaign begins, so type out questions you anticipate or any you have received from other sources before the project so you can create the FAQ the minute you launch.
  3. You can revise the project page during and after the approval process before you launch, and any time during the campaign.
  4. You cannot revise the project page after the campaign is over.  Once it’s done, it’s done.
  5. The “Risks and Challenges” section is mandatory–it’s part of the project page template. It’s text only.

SELF PUBLISHING 101 : A Tabletop Board Game Self Publishing Guide

self publishing 101

HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN BOARD GAME
– A Self Publishing Guide –

If you are serious about getting your game out into the hands of fellow gamers and officially having it “published”, you’ll need to decide exactly how you want to proceed.

Do you want to go it alone or do you want/need help from the big guys?

There are several approaches to publishing your game and each one has its own unique set of pros and cons to consider;

Traditional Publishing

This is the traditional approach of identifying potential established publishers that are accepting submissions and that might be a good fit for your game, making a pitch, landing a contract, and working with the publisher from there to get the game printed and distributed.

Self-Publish (the focus of this guide)

Essentially, you form your own publishing company, taking on all the issues related to owning a company, accounting, paying taxes, managing artwork and graphic design, finding printers, working with distributors, and marketing – on top of that you need to make sure your game is the best it can be and will sell. It can be a lot of work doing this, and can be risky.

Publishing Partnership

Under this arrangement, a designer works with an established management team that handles most of the logistics, printing and delivering a game, and potentially crowdfunding the game if necessary. Essentially, the publication responsibilities are more evenly shared across the management team and the designer. Examples of these companies include Game Salute and Kickin’ It Games.

Print-on-Demand Publishing / Web Sales

This option is less risky but essentially amounts to finding a print-on-demand service that can produce your game in small batches (or even single unit runs) that are sold direct to end users with you getting a little cut of the revenue. You could choose to provide your game in a paid PnP format. Companies like the Game Crafter, Print-and-Play Productions, Blue Panther, and more provide services like this.

Free PnP / Web Published

This option is simply making Print-and-Play (PnP) files available, free of charge, for interested people to download and assemble their own copies of the game with their own resources. This can be a good way to go when starting out in the design world, but obviously you aren’t going to make any money off of it.  This is an option for those who just love designing games and getting them out there.  The Philanthropist game designer!

Every method of publishing your game will have both up and down sides to them.  This guide will hopefully answer the numerous questions of “how do you do that?” when it comes to self publishing your very own tabletop board game in a step-by-step process.

Some Advantages of Self Production:

  1. Some products have great potential for marketing, but are inappropriate for licensing
  2.  You “run your own ship”
  3.  You can make a lot of money (in comparison to contracting your game to a publisher). An item that you are wholesaling for $7.00 will likely provide you $3.50 per unit– that’s 10 times as much as most licenses
  4.  Niche opportunities can be lucrative and are typically avoided by major manufacturers

Some Disadvantages of Self Production:

  1. You get to pay for everything- or use O.P.M. (other peoples’ money)
  2.  If your using O.P.M.- you’ll have people to report to
  3. There’s a lot of money to risk!
  4. You’ll have a lot of responsibilities including: product development, engineering, manufacturing, importing, graphics, packaging, selling, marketing, warehousing & shipping
  5. It requires a lot of work and coordination
  6. You get to protect your own product
  7. Don’t forget about liability insurance!

So which is better; Licensing or Manufacturing your own product?

The answer might vary. It all depends on your product and you.

Some products lend themselves to both. You might produce and distribute your own product in the United States, for example, and license the rights to your product outside the US.

Another strategy is to first produce and sell your own product in an effort to “raise public awareness” hoping to later license this game at a higher than usual royalty rate to a major manufacturer.

How do you make and publish a board game?

Being the publisher of a board game is simple and straightforward.  But do not let the simplicity confuse you into thinking that it is easy.  Doing it right is a difficult task indeed.  The general workflow for publishing a board game goes something like this;

Disclaimer: This does not attempt to address any of the legal or tax ramifications of publishing board games.  Please consult the appropriate tax and legal professionals for assistance.  This is not tax or legal advice.

You’re not interested in Self Publishing?  Ok ..

Check out the article on How To Approach a Manufacturer (traditional publishing) with your Game instead!

 

SELF PUBLISHING 106: Board Game Fullfillment

self publishing 106

FULLFILLING BOARD GAME ORDERS

After your board games are manufactured, they have to be shipped to somewhere.  If you are starting as a publisher, I don’t recommend your garage or basement.   Other than the obvious household tensions that this could cause, there are other factors to consider:

  • How will you ensure prompt delivery of games out of your warehouse all year long?
  • Will you integrate the shipping systems of FedEx, UPS, or USPS to automatically produce labels, pay for shipping, and so forth?
  • Will you have a sufficient discount from retail shipping charges when sending out a handful of packages from your garage every week?
  • Do you have existing relationships with retailers or distributors?  (Fulfillment companies do)
  • Are you prepared to send out invoices and perform collections?
  • Can you order shipping supplies in large enough quantities that you get competitive discounts?
  • Is your storage area secure?

Fulfillment is a business in and of itself.  There are large commercial operations that solely perform fulfillment services for other companies.  When done at its best it is logistically complicated and technologically intense.  It is highly recommended that any and all board game publishers utilize fulfillment services of some variety.  For example, Amazon now sells their fulfillment services to other companies on a self-serve basis.

Days of Wonder has an exclusive relationship with Alliance distribution in which Alliance handles their warehousing and fulfillment.  Steve Jackson Games has relationships where other companies ladle their fulfillment, at least one of which is PSI.  These companies sell large numbers of games, and they are not interested in performing their own fulfillment, why should you?

BACK to Self Publishing 105 : Manufacturing a Board Game

FORWARD to Self Publishing 107 : Marketing

SELF PUBLISHING 107: Marketing your Board Game

self publishing 107

THE BOARD GAME MARKET

Who buys board games? Well it depends on the kind of game of course but generally you find that they appeal more to people who are well educated and family oriented. They could be any age but most likely, they be aged between 25-44.

The market has a heavy seasonal bias towards Christmas in terms of consumer purchasing patterns. And particularly with family board games it is most likely that the housewife (if there is one in the family) will be the purchaser.

The market size for board games is tough to quantify exactly but in the US the board games and puzzles market was worth around $381 million, according to figures released in early 2001.  Since then, each and every year from 2002 to 2014 sales of board games increased between 10 and 20 percent.  We are in the Golden Age of Board Games.  A Rennaissance if you will.

Market size is often something that board games designers often dwell on, usually with optimistic hopes of taking ‘just one percent of the market’. One percent is actually extremely ambitious and it is much better to begin with the question “how much money will I be happy to make from this project” and then decide whether the market can provide you with that sort of return. If everything exceeds your expectations then so much the better, but one should not aim too high to start with.

In both the US and the UK, the majority of board games are sold via the large retail group, however a large number of the non-mainstream (ie: monopoly and scrabble type games) are available primarily through smaller Board Game and Toy or Hobby shops.

Smaller board games companies find it difficult to provide the range, margins and product support demanded by the large retailers and therefore if you are considering launching your own board game, take care to establish which retailers you will be able to distribute your board games to and whether or not they are likely to sell sufficient volume to make your enterprise profitable.  Of course, you could also go it alone, but that’s for another article.

HOW DO I MARKET MY BOARD GAME?

First of all, start by telling everyone you know about it. Tell them what it is, play it with them, and tell them where they can buy it. Start with friends, family, classmates, co-workers, and so on, as they will most likely be instantly interested your game, because they are interested in you.

Publish your game information on Board Game Geek. They have millions of users, and if you’re not already using that site, you should. You should be reviewing other games on the site, talking in their community, and maybe even purchasing ad space on their site to promote the sale of your game.

Create a page on Wikipedia.com for your business and games. Click here to see a good example of how a popular game company uses Wikipedia to their advantage! Note that Wikipedia admins often delete articles that are “not important enough”; having your article well-cited will help.

Your local game store is your friend. Most game stores will have a board game night where you can pitch your game. This works a lot like setting up in the game area at a convention, but on a smaller more intimate level. If you work with the game store in advance they may even promote you on their web site letting people know in advance to come check you out. In addition, some game stores will either buy copies of your game to sell in their store, or sell your games on consignment. They’ll do this because you’re local, so when you go in, explain that you are local.

Before beginning any marketing campaign, it is important to have specific business goals and branding desires, even if they are not easily measured.  Some example goals would be;

  • To reduce the risk of publishing by having a fan base that you can reach and count on to buy your games.
  • To have your company associated as a brand that produces great games.
  • To appeal to early adopter gamers that will jump start word of mouth marketing.

Knowing your goals, the majority of what has to be done as a marketing effort is to accomplish these goals.  It helps to shape the what, when, where, and how of the message. There are generally 3 main channels to which you want to market your games :

  • Hobby Retailers
  • Distributors
  • Consumers

MARKETING BOARD GAMES TO HOBBY RETAILERS

Retailers love:

  • Higher gross profit margins
  • No competition from online discounters
  • Promotional items
  • Advanced release
  • Demo copies

MARKETING BOARD GAMES TO DISTRIBUTERS

At least in the United States and Canada, and with the larger board game distributors, you should not count on them actively promoting or stocking your product.  If you are a new board game publisher, then you need a fulfillment company with existing distributor relationships that can get you in the door (or a really good Kickstarter project).  After that, you will need to market heavily to individuals and retailers to get them to pull your games through the distribution system.

The advantage of getting into distribution is that they have thousands of existing retailers as customers.  A certain portion of which will order your games and put them on their shelves.  Just do not count on distribution sales continuing at a good pace.  By the time your games have been flipped by the distributors, they will be moving on to the next new release.

MARKETING BOARD GAMES TO CONSUMERS

There are numerous ways to accomplish this, but there are methods that are often found to be the most valuable per unit of time.  It is suggested you should concentrate on:

  • Social Media Marketing
  • Reviews
  • Conventions

SOCIAL MEDIA

For most small or one-off publishers of games you should extensively use Board Game Geek for the marketing of your games, increasing your fan base, and so forth.  Your next most important place for social media marketing is a blog and then Twitter and Facebook.  The goal of these efforts is to build your brand, get people interacting, and a slow build of additional fans.  Don’t expect immediate results.  As with any marketing it takes time for people to get involved.

REVIEWS

There are popular board game reviewers with large audiences that can drive sales for your board games.  If you have produced an exceptional product, then there is absolutely no fear in providing review copies to some of these reviewers, free of charge to them.  If your game is good they’ll review it in their magazine, blog, newsletter, etc and drive buyers directly to your game

This is not a new or novel concept.  You should integrate this into your Social Media Marketing.  Even if people do not watch or read the review in question, they can see that it has been reviewed by a known authority on what a good game is.  That alone is worth it.

It is also important to build a good relationship with the reviewers.  Not so that their reviews of your games will be better, but rather so that they will be interested in reviewing your games at all!

CONVENTIONS

Attend local and nearby conventions.  Some ways to market your game at conventions are to :

  • Support small or regional conventions including providing game library copies and some prize table copies.
  • Exhibiting at large conventions is expensive and you will benefit from being an existing brand and having several products.  Without this, your booth will probably look empty which will give people an excuse to avoid your booth.
  • Demonstrating your new game at conventions is a far less expensive way to get people to see your game in action and build interest.  You don’t need a booth; Just register and demo your games in the board game area.
  • Bring extra copies of your game with you if you’re demoing so that you can sell them on the spot.  That way people will take the game home with them, and the word will spread even further.

HOW DO I GET A UPC FOR MY GAME?

Many game publishers wish to sell their games in retail shops, but to do so they must have a bar code on the packaging. This is actually a relatively easy process, but if you haven’t done it before, it can feel daunting.

The first step is to determine if you need a UPC (universal product code). The only reason to have it is if you plan to sell it at retailers. If you’re selling your game exclusively from our web site, your web site, or at trade shows, then don’t bother.

Second, find a provider of bar codes. You could go direct to GS1 (the administrators of UPC bar codes) and buy your bar codes, but that will cost you $750 up front and $250 per year. Instead, there are lots of internet retailers that buy bulk codes from GS1 and then resell them to you one at a time for as little as $10. Search “UPC bar code” on your favorite search engine and you’ll find plenty. Beware though, you want to make sure that the bar codes are GS1 certified, and also that they’re approved for use at major retailers.

Once you’ve purchased a bar code from a reputable seller, they will provide you with high resolution bar code images. The good places will provide you with both bitmap images (JPEG/PNG) and vector (EPS/SVG).  Download those images and keep them in a safe place that is backed up. Also make sure that you keep track of which bar code goes with which product, as you cannot reuse a bar code. Even if you have a variant of the same product (like a deluxe edition) it needs it’s own unique bar code.

Now you need to create a white space on your packaging and place the bar code in it.  Be sure to leave a white margin all the way around the bar code. Ideally that margin should be at least 0.125 inches (38 pixels). The bar code itself should not be warped in any way, and should ideally be 1.469 inches (441 pixels) wide and 1.02 inches (306 pixels) tall.

Congratulations! You now have a UPC printed on every package that is compatible with any retailer in the United States or Canada.

BACK to Self Publishing 106: Board Game Fulfillment

SELF PUBLISHING 105 : Manufacturing a Board Game

self publishing 105

MANUFACTURING A BOARD GAME

Manufacturing is probably the biggest place that a board game self publisher can get themselves into trouble.  There are so many nuanced factors that can go wrong with the process on top of the task of finding the right manufacturer to work with!

Many game designers and small self publishers have had nightmares with their initial efforts to manufacture their games.  You could choose manufacture within the United States but have a hard time finding the right balance of quality combined with affordability.  There’s nothing worse than an absolutely stunning game with the most exquisite components being utterly unaffordable to the masses because of high production costs.  Alternatively you could try to work directly with a manufacturer in China and get great results; sometimes!  You may get a fantastic price per unit overseas but without a representative actually in the country to show a presence at the manufacturing facilities you will be plagued with unpleasant problems; from language barriers and communicating your needs to quality control and making sure everything is up to your required specifications.

If you are not doing the manufacturing yourself (which on a bulk basis would be a daunting task without the facilities to do so) you may be better off to use an existing company that works directly with the factory.

Some of the better known manufacturers that people report to have had great results with:

  • Panda Game Manufacturing
  • Grand Prix International
  • Ludo Fact
  • QPC Games
  • Whatz Games
  • WinGo Industry Ltd
  • AdMagic

To better help you understand the manufacturing process of a tabletop board game and to help you make the right choices as a self publisher (with the least amount of trouble), read on!

There are 6 main steps that you must go through to getting your board game manufactured:

  • Consultation
  • Getting Quotes
  • Choosing a Manufacturer
  • Pre-Press & Materials Checkpoint
  • Production
  • Shipping

Manufacturing Consultation

As a self-publisher, you will want to contact a manufacturer fairly early to get an idea of the viability of manufacturing your game. This should be done while still developing your board game so that you can be certain the components you have designed for the game can be properly produced. If you envision your game to contain a large number of bits or if you wish to include fancy custom components, you would be wise to check on the production costs early so you can steer game development in the appropriate direction if you need to make significant changes to the components.

The consultation phase is also a good time to get a general estimate of how long it will take to manufacture and ship your game. For a typical euro-style game with wooden and cardboard components, it takes 4-5 months from the point when you provide your files to the manufacturer until the games are physically in your warehouse.

Of course, the complexity of your game’s components as well as the “print-readiness” of your graphic files will have a huge impact on the schedule. A simple game with minimal components can be completed in under a month whereas huge monster projects may take many months to manufacture. Do not under estimate your own influence on the schedule as well. Many first time publishers will understandably make numerous late changes and revisions as they fine-tune their game.  Make sure you know exactly what you want and have it finalized before your factory starts work to keep costs and delays to a minimum.

As a general rule of thumb, it is advised new companies to try to keep their game components fairly simple for their first production. This will keep costs down and result in a faster schedule.

Getting Quotes For Game Production

After some preliminary information sharing, you will eventually be ready to get an official quote for your game. This should be done before you raise funds to ensure you raise enough capital to produce and ship your game. At the same time, this is a good step for you to ask yourself which components in the game are going to give you the best bang for your buck and which ones you could do without (or make with in a lower quality material).

Many traditional Euro games are produced with very basic components (cardboard and wooden cubes) because their main selling point is their gameplay. In the past two years (and with the success of Kickstarter-backed projects), there are more and more requests for special and custom components which can really help to make your game stand out.  Of course, with every additional and special custom component you add to your game, the cost will rise accordingly so it is up to you to determine what is the ideal mix of components to put in your game.

One factor that will have a huge impact on pricing is the total quantity of games you are looking to produce. The more games you make, the more feasible it will be to add fancier components to the box. This is because every component adds a production step to the manufacturing process. Every production step has a certain setup cost in addition to the material and labor cost. Certain components have especially high setup costs such as custom plastic components. Wooden and printed components are much cheaper than plastic and it is for this reason that most Euro games are made with only wood and printed materials. Common advise to a new game company is to print 1500 to 3000 games initially. With quantities less than this, it will be very difficult to turn a profit. If you produce too many, the games might take too long to sell.

Another important factor to consider is your target market. Understand your customers and have a marketing plan! Every game needs at least one main selling point – a fascinating theme, mesmerizing artwork, addictive gameplay, or awesome components that can capture the attention of gamers. Understanding where your game lies on the spectrum of these various measuring sticks can help you determine how much to invest in your game’s components. Some games work well as simple card games with minimal components and other have had their success multiplied by including gorgeous and thematic bits.

Lastly, create a strong company brand. Some companies are known for over-produced games whereas others may be known to release more traditional and component-light games (cardboard bits and wooden cubes). Success is found at both ends of the spectrum. It isn’t realistic for every publisher to attempt to become the next Fantasy Flight Games. Having a clear vision of what your strengths are as well as understanding your customers will steer your component decisions in the right direction.

That said, regardless of the number or complexity of components in your game, the most important issue that can derail your dream of becoming a successful publisher is ending up with a game that has quality problems. This is why the next step of choosing an appropriate manufacturer is perhaps the most important decision you can make as a new publisher.

Choosing A Game Manufacturer

There are two main places in the world to produce your game:

  • Germany
  • China

Some companies have tried to print games in other countries such as the USA with varying degrees of success but the vast majority of all board games are produced in Germany and China because they offer the best value. Way back in 2007, the landscape for board game printing was extremely polarized:

German printing was high quality but expensive whereas Chinese printing was low quality but cheap.

Since then there has been a lot of progress in improving the perception of Chinese manufacturing in gamers’ minds. If you have someone there to oversee operations on your behalf (and there are companies that will do this with your best interests in mind, for a nominal fee) then you can get high quality products at low Chinese manufacturing prices.

And you really do need high quality in all aspects of your games components.  The reality is that in today’s gaming world, low quality products are simply not accepted and news of poor quality WILL spread around the internet and damage your company brand. There are only a handful of specialized game manufacturers in the industry.

My recommendation is to do your own research, ask other publishers for their recommendations, and choose the right fit for you.

Pre-Press & Materials Checkpoint

Alright! So you’ve finally decided on signing a contract with a manufacturer who you think will be a trustworthy partner to produce your games for you.  You will be sent a payment invoice (usually 50% up front) as well as instructions on how to send your graphics files to them.

We now enter what we call the Pre-Press, Proofs & Materials Checkpoint Stage.

The pre-press team will now analyze your files to ensure that they are print-ready. Make sure you have followed the manufacturers list of file requirements to the letter to avoid any delays or extra charges.

Publishers who work with experienced board game graphic designers have very few file adjustments required before considering the files print-ready. If you are using a designer with very little experience (or if you are making the files yourself), be prepared for the possibility of a long and tedious pre-press phase that would involve multiple rounds of file revisions.

If time is a concern for you, I strongly advise you to use an experienced graphic designer.

During the pre-press phase the manufacturer will typically initiate the production of sample components. Wood and pre-made components can be ordered quickly whereas plastic components will take longer (4 – 5 weeks just to make a mould).

Once the pre-press phase is completed, your manufacturer will (or should) send you a Proofs & Materials Package which will typically contain the following:

  • Full Color Proofs – used for you to approve the colors. The colors in these proofs will be closest to the appearance of colors in the final retail product. However, certain finishes such as matte finishes and linen embossing can affect the way colors show up (based on the way light reflects off the surface).
  • Blueline / Digital Proofs – These proofs are printed for you to do one last check of the text, icons, and any other content in your games. These are made in addition to the full colors proofs because they sometimes don’t make a full color proof of every single component. Redundant card backs, text pages in rulebooks, and other components that don’t require accurate color matching don’t require full color proofs so they will often create blueline/digital proofs instead.
  • Mock Up of Printed Components – This will be a game that is created either without any printing at all, or with draft-quality printed components. The purpose of this is for you to see and feel the game materials. At this point, hopefully you can confirm that all the components fit nicely in the box and that you also approve of the thickness and feel of all the materials in the game (cards, punchboards, game boards, player mats, and so on).
  • Sample Components – Any components that you ordered will be included with this package so you should see an exact sample of any wood, dice, plastic, or pre-made bits.

After receiving the package, this is your last chance to make any changes to your game before they start the machines. Once they get your approval, the full production process is started and there is no turning back.

Board Game Production

From the perspective of a publisher, the production phase is the most “hands off” phase. Once the manufacturers are given the green light, it is usually just a matter of waiting (approximately) 45 – 60 days until the games are completed.

Of course, from the perspective of a manufacturer, this is where most of the work gets done as they begin the process of turning digital files and component specifications into playable games!

Every game is different and the manufacturing process involves many detailed steps but here is an overview of the production of a typical Euro-style game with printed components, wooden bits, and custom dice:

  • All art files are converted to physical printing plates. Each image is broken down into 4 distinct colors: CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) and a separate plate is actually made for each of these 4 color processes.
  • Components are printed one type at a time. Usually, components that require the most labor will be printed first and simpler components will be printed later so that work can be done on some components while other components are still in the printing stage.
  • Die cutting templates are set up for all printed components by a computer-aided machine
  • Cardboard used for the game board and punch boards are machine-pressed to achieve a very flat result.
  • Game boards, punchboards, and boxes are constructed using printed materials and cardboard. Afterwards, various types of finishes are applied to the components based on customer specifications.
  • The moisture content of all printed components is then measured before placed in a climate control room where components are dried to appropriate levels so that they will not warp after purchase.
  • Wooden components such as meeples are carved out of larger pieces of wood which are specially conditioned to be used in board games (to avoid mould). Then, these meeples are put into a painting machine before a final finish is applied. The wooden components are then dried and slowly tumbled (so the paint does not stick together) before being packaged and sent to our final assembly factory.
  • Dice moulds are created for custom engraved dice. Acrylic or resin material (essentially hard plastic-like substances) are injected into the moulds to create the dice. The dice faces are then painted in the appropriate colors, finished, then polished.
  • All incoming components are required to be put through quality control tests at the source factory and a test report is provided to us. Once we receive the components, we do a spot check to verify the test results. If the components pass the check, we continue with the production process. If not, the components are sent back to the original factory for reworking.
  • On the final assembly line, all of the components are sorted and put into the games in the specific order that has been instructed. Games are then shrink wrapped, placed into master cartons, and loaded onto shipping pallets.

The very first game that is assembled will often be express air shipped to you for your approval.  This is called an advance copy and some publishers ask for multiple advance copies so they can forward them to reviewers and other industry folks.

This is essentially the moment of truth and it carries some emotional significance as you might imagine. The day a client receives the advance copies is almost always the happiest day of the entire process. After getting final approval, the manufacturer will continue to finish the assembly phase and begin to proceed with the final shipping arrangements.

Shipping Board Games

The standard method of shipping from China to the USA or Canada is by ocean shipped containers. The most cost-effective way to ship a game is to book an entire container. For customers who will not order enough games to fill an entire container, it is recommended that they produce a quantity of games that will take up exactly half a container. This way, there is a chance that shipments can be combined with other customers who happen to have their orders completed at the same time and are shipping to the same country.

Ocean shipping from port to port takes 3 weeks on average. In addition, you need to factor in potentially another 2 weeks to clear customs and truck the games from port to your warehouse. In the event that your order gets flagged for a random customs inspection, it can add another week or so of waiting.

There can be a number of surprises regarding ocean freight that travels from China to the United States.  Here are the important things to consider:

  • Get somebody experienced (start with your manufacturer) to deal with booking the shipments and customs.
  • Customs delays can easily be 2-4 weeks.
  • You should budget a cost of at least $1 additional per game for transportation to your warehouse.
  • Shipping will take at least 1 month, sometimes more, rarely less.

Fuel prices, exchange rates, and demand can heavily influence shipping rates.

After the games arrive in your warehouse (or garage or basement .. or living room (lord help you with your spouse) in some cases), the manufacturers obligation is complete and now it is up to you to sell your games.  Hopefully their hard work plays a big part in the success of your game and you will have many more reprints and future projects to discuss!

Manufacturing Board Games – In Closing

The tabletop board gaming industry is going through a very exciting transformation. Small startup publishers now have incredible tools and resources to fund (Kickstarter/IndieGoGo), manufacture and market (Board Game Geek, Social Media, etc) their own games.

With the barriers to self-publishing at an all-time low, a growing number of board game entrepreneurs are taking the plunge into the industry. Collectively, this injection of creativity and talent has the potential to take the tabletop gaming industry to new heights.  There is truly a feeling of togetherness amongst publishers, designers, and even manufacturers in this industry as it seems quite clear that their survival and success is linked in many ways.

If you were ever on the cusp of launching a new game company or releasing your cherished new game design, there has never been a better time than now.

BACK to Self Publishing 104 : Funding your Board Game

FORWARD to Self Publishing 106 : Board Game Fulfillment

How to Approach a Publisher to Publish your Game

approachvendor

HOW TO APPROACH PUBLISHERS WITH YOUR GAME DESIGN

So you have created a board game and want to get it out to the growing masses of tabletop gamers out in the wild.  How the heck do you do it?

There are several ways you can choose from to go about getting your game to print. One of those ways is to make it yoursel/self publishing. This, of course, involves high financial risk, potential disappointment, and a huge investment in your time to advertise, promote, manufacture, package and distribute your game.   This path is great if you want to start a business and be a successful entrepreneur, because a successful game can make you a lot of money.  However, it can also lead to you burning out and ending up with a massive debt if things don’t go right.  Self publishing obviously is not for everyone!

Another, potentially simpler and less risky way you can get your game out there is to have someone else do all the work, take all the risk, pay you royalties, and free up your time for the next design, playing game prototypes while drinking beer with your friends!  Oh, to dream, right?  But wait; it’s possible!  Which path you choose, of course, comes down to how much work you are willing or able to put into it and what risks you are willing to take in the realization of your game.

This article will delve into that second method.

So, you’ve decided that you want to drop the risk and financial outlay and try to get your game produced by a publisher-manufacturer. How do you proceed?

There are a lot of do’s and don’ts, so let’s get down to it.

When to pitch your ideas and how to go about it

Deciding when to start pitching your game is always tricky. First, you must realize that a game design can be endlessly tweaked, and from a certain standpoint the design is “never done.” Recognize as well that even if you think the design is “perfect” a publisher may not see it that way and will almost certainly make changes to the design of the game during their development process.

That having been said, your design is ready to begin pitching when it has gone through extensive blind playtesting and has been revised and developed to the point that you feel the game is the best it can be. In the end, it’s your call and there is no right or wrong answer.

Be prepared for rejection!

First and foremost, be prepared for rejection. Some games get rejected several times over before they end up being published. It happens. You need to have a thick skin, and pay close attention to comments made by the rejecters. They usually know their business; if they didn’t they wouldn’t be in business still!

Contact through email

One way to get in touch with a publisher is to contact them electronically.  Find publishers that accept design submissions electronically (search publisher websites or e-mail them if you must), fill out their submission requirements (usually a brief synopsis of the game, why it is unique, and list of components) and then wait for a response. If you get a positive response, they will likely ask for a prototype to test.

It can be quite difficult to properly pitch a game to a company via email, especially if you have no name in the industry. There’s a standard list of things NOT to do. Here are a few of them;

  • Don’t tell them how great your game is – They will decide this on their own when they play it.
  • Don’t state how all your relatives and friends love your game.  This is completely irrelevant. Relatives and friends are notoriously bad about giving you honest feedback.
  • Don’t be secretive about the game for fear of “theft”.  Lack of details about your game will send red flags up; it indicates you’re going to be hard to deal with, and it doesn’t get them interested.
  • Don’t bring up money.  If they are interested (after they play your prototype), they’ll typicall offer you an advance and royalty (or try to buy it outright) using their own judgement.
  • Don’t insist on an NDA (NDA = non-disclosure agreement). If you’re trying to convince a manufacturer to look at your game, you want to make it easy for them.
  • Don’t send your rules or a PDF of your game unless they ask for it.
  • Don’t discuss packaging, distribution, manufacturing or anything else.  Stick to the game itself.

Of course, there are also a list of things you absolutely must DO;

  • Be clear and precise about your concept.  Do not write a letter that tries to keep all options open (“You can change and develop this as much as you like!”)
  • Give a brief overview right away highlighting the one or two most important points that (in your opinion) set your game apart from others.
  • Explain the game in a way that they can make an informed decision.  Do this is less than a page.  Give them enough of the rules that they can imagine game play and tell them about anything unique that will sell the game.
  • Be professional. Have someone proof read your email or letter. Obey the rules of punctuation and grammar. Why do this? So the company doesn’t think they’re dealing with a moron. Include one or two pics if relevant.
  • Make your email uncluttered and accessible.  A good clean letter gives a positive first impression and keeps the readers attention.  KEEP TO THE POINT!
  • Enclose an envelope. If you send a letter (you know, those things that are on paper and go into these fancy boxes and then get delivered by someone carrying a bag!), enclose a self-addressed-stamped-envelope for a reply.
  • Include a Return Box.  If you end up sending the game to a company, include a self-addressed return box.  If you don’t it’s quite possible they won’t return your prototype to you!

Remember that when a game company makes the decision to look at your game, they’re going to read the rules and playtest it at least (maybe ONLY) once. It’s going to cost them a few hundred dollars in labor costs, if not more, just to look at your game. Obviously then, it’s not a decision they make lightly when they read your email and decide to look at your project.  Because of the costs and risks involved on the publishers side, expect rejection; game companies get a lot of submissions in a year, and unless yours really stands out somehow, it won’t make the grade.

Of course, once you’re already on a talking basis with the company, and they know you in the industry, you can email all your pitches with a high degree of trust between parties.

Direct Contact at Conventions

The direct, “in person” pitch relies on contacting publishers (after finding out if they are even accepting submissions) to arrange a face-to-face meeting at a gaming convention where you can show off your prototype and talk directly with them about your design and its merits. If they like what they see, they may ask for the prototype on the spot, or for you to send them one at a later date.

  • Timing is everything!  Don’t approach a manufacturer’s booth with your prototype when they’re busy. When they aren’t busy, ask if there’s someone you can talk to about pitching your game. Make an appointment. They might ask what the game is about before committing to this; be prepared to give a 1 minute explanation that’s interesting, otherwise they might not give you that appointment.
  • Be Prepared to Demo your game for them.  They might decide they want to play it on the spot; be ready for that. Likely they won’t play it all the way through, but they might like it enough to say, “Yeah, send that to us. We’ll look at it in more detail and if we like it, we’ll send you a contract.”
  • This is a good time to ask about what terms they generally offer. Advance plus royalties? Some companies may not pay an advance; this, unfortunately, often leads to situations where the company can sit on your game for years, then decide they don’t want to make the game after all. You get nothing, and they hold up your design for years.
  • Discuss Intellectual Property, if you must.  If you insist on having an NDA, you could mention it in your meeting. They might say they don’t do that. It’s your choice if you want to back out at that time or not. Keep in mind that they can choose to do the same.
  • Make sure your prototype looks good!  Spend a decent amount of time on your artwork; it doesn’t have to be professional, but at least make the tokens and board and cards pretty. Decent graphics add a lot to how the manufacturer views the game.

Conventions are one of the best ways to get a larger publisher interested in looking at your game. You get to meet the people you may be dealing with in person and make an impression.  It works. It’s a good way to deal with companies and get fast feedback on whether your game is publishable or not. At the same time you get to see exactly what’s selling well in the industry.

Regardless of which pitch approach you use, it can be very useful to put together a “sell sheet” for your game. This should be a brief 1-page (single side) overview of your game. The sell sheet should list the game’s vital statistics (number of players, playtime, theme, primary mechanics, etc.), a BRIEF narrative of what makes the game unique, a list of the components, a photo or two of the game, and a note about the amount of blind testing or other special feedback you’ve received.

Should I contact multiple publishers!?

Discussing your game with multiple publishers at the same time can be a messy matter; and the best practice is to be honest and upfront with your efforts at publication.

Basically, it “may” be okay to contact multiple publishers with a general letter of interest or meet with multiple publishers at a convention. However, once a single publisher has requested a prototype and they are more interested it is polite and professional let any other publishers you may be in contact with know about it and to not have multiple prototypes in review with multiple publishers. That’s a BIG no no. Publishers spend a lot of energy evaluating a game and it’s completely unprofessional to have them spend their energy looking on your design just to pull the rug out from under them and go with another publisher. Don’t do it. Ever.

How long do I wait for a response?

Publishers are busy and response times can vary enormously. If after submitting your idea initially you haven’t heard back in month or so it is usually pretty safe to follow up with an inquiry about whether they have had a chance to look at your idea, and if not what their approximate timeframe is.

If a publisher has requested a prototype, it is usually good to ask them what their timeframe for reviewing it is up front. They may say that they need a few months to review it. They may in reality need even longer. Regardless, after any specified timeframe has passed (or after a few months if no timeframe was specified) sending a courteous follow-up e-mail is perfectly acceptable to see what the status of their review is.

In any situation reviewing your design is usually not a top priority, so be patient. If you decide after an extensive period of time with no reply from a publisher to try your luck elsewhere, BE SURE to contact that publisher and let them know, preferably giving them a window of time to respond, otherwise you risk running into the situation described above where two publishers are both looking at a design and one of them is going to come away upset or insulted, quite possibly ruining your chances of ever getting a game published.  Publishers and designers talk to each other and word gets around.  Be polite!

Pitching your Design

There are some key things that publishers are looking for when evaluating a design concept. Whether you are pitching a design in person or via email, these things are important to highlight in your pirtch.

Marketability+ Audience Alignment : What is unique about your game that will make it stand out in the market? This is intrinsically woven into the need to understand the target demographic for the game and what that audience might be looking for next. You need to be able to build a case for why someone would buy your game (from an unknown designer) over a comparable established game from a successful designer. Know your market and your competition and be able to speak to it, highlighting why your game is unique and worth looking at.

Compatibility : Does your game fit in the publishers catalogue? Don’t try and pitch a cutesy abstract kids’s game to Fantasy Flight Games. Know the publisher, and the types of audiences they focus their marketing around.

Profitability : Publishing games is expensive and risky business.  A publisher may totally love your game concept and everything about it but they might decide they are not going to be able to make a profit or even break-even producing it because of component costs. Different weights/classes of games have typical selling points that the market will bear, and your components need to align with that bottom line reality. Be aware of how components are used in your game and make efforts to minimize the amount of components, particularly complex ones, that your game requires.

General Interest and Pre-Publicity : If you can point out non-biased instances where your game has already shown potential market interest or publicity that may be worth mentioning as part of your pitch. If you have feedback from designer conventions, other publishers, or known boardgame reviewers/personalities, that can be helpful for demonstrating interest. If you have made the game available as a PnP or Print-on-Demand and there are sales from that it may be worth mentioning. Keep in mind that some publishers prefer things to be kept quiet and in-house when it comes to accepting games. In those cases, an established public presence for your game may turn some publishers away, but at the same time it may make others take notice and be interested!

Almost there!

Once you have enticed a publisher with your game, pitched the design to them, sent them a prototype and they’ve decided to sign on, then you get into the fun world of contracts and negotiations.

publisher will continue to test and change the game before going to printing, maybe even things such as re-theming or changing major mechanics in the game. From their point of view they need to make a product that will sell enough that they won’t lose money. This is a fact of the business. How much or how little  you, as the designer, continue to be involved in the development process has to do with how the publisher prefers to operate and your ability to be constructively involved in the process and willingness to let go of control over your game.  Some publishers may not want the designer involved at all and others may be happy to have the designer involved provided they make meaningful contributions and don’t throw up roadblocks. Regardless of the specifics, most contracts will stipulate that the publisher has the final word on desig. If you aren’t comfortable with that, don’t sign the contract. You need to realize that in doing so you are not likely to get a different result with any other publisher. If you have faith in the publisher you are working with let go of your feelings, sign the contact and be helpful.

There are a lot of other details to contracts that need to be considered. A few things to keep in mind when negotiating a contract include:

  • How long does the publisher have to bring the game to market before the rights revert back to the designer?
  • How are rights to expansions, foreign language editions, or licenses to other publishers stipulated in the contact?
  • What about rights to spin-off products?
  • Does the designer gain any special rights or benefits (i.e. have your name on the box, be able to purchase discounted copies to gift to people, initial copies, signing bonuses/advances, etc.).

At this point it would probably be a good idea to involve a contract lawyer.  It’s going to cost you money, but you can be sure you’ll get the best contract you can and not walk away feeling you got ripped off.

** Compiled and edited from multiple sources with some original content.  This guide is not meant to provide any legal or professional advice.