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Good, Fast, Cheap Crowdfunding 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.

Starting your own Game Publishing Business

STARTING AND GROWING YOUR GAME PUBLISHING BUSINESS

So you’ve decided you would like to publish your own game, and if everything goes well, maybe some others!  Congratulations, you’ve made the choice to become an entrepreneur!

Scared yet?  Starting and running a small business can be both frightening and equally rewarding.  There is a lot to consider and quite a few steps to take before you even get to the sales portion of your business however.

1. STUDY BEFORE YOU START

studyDon’t leave your day job just yet. If you are currently unemployed and wanting to set up as a board game publisher to get an income, I’d advise you to think again as you will need to be able to sustain your efforts for quite a while without any money coming in before you have even a faint hope of earning some money.

There’s a joke among board games publishers (and airlines, and probably a dozen other businesses) that can often hold true:

“How do you make a million dollars in board games publishing ?  You start with two million and know when to quit!”

Of course there is money to be made eventually, but being successful as a board games publisher requires a very good knowledge of the market, and that isn’t something you can learn in school. So you will have to school yourself, and it will take a long time. Give it at the very least a year or two. You can take short cuts, but you will pay them in expensive mistakes. Sometimes very expensive mistakes.

By keeping your job for a while, you’ll be able to study and learn in your free time and think through your business plan thoroughly, vastly increasing your chances of success!

While you’re studying, take the time to build up your experience with board games.  Build your board game culture as it were.  Yes, you’ve been playing board games for some time now; probably since you were a little kid.  Now that you intend to become a professional, you need to build up an extensive knowledge of board games. This will allow you to understand what different kind of games exist, how they work, and enable you to make decisions on whether a game is worth publishingt. It will also help you determine whether a game is original or resembles existing games, and if it covers the problems often present in those existing games. It will also help you become familiar with different game styles, some of which you may not yet be aware of. And the big bonus is that it will be fun!  Don’t limit yourself to your usual games either.  Expose yourself to all different game styles.  This will allow you to better understand what kind of games you want to, or are willing to publish and what you want nothing to do with.  At the same time it will help you better understand the market and player experiences encountered by these games.

If anything, just ask.  Ask questions of anyone and everyone in the gaming industry, and those who play games.  The more questions you ask, the more answers you will get.  The more answers you get the more informed you will be!

Get involved in your local community.  This may go without saying but your local gaming community is a massive wealth of knowledge.  You will need to be able to contact gamers on a regular basis during the learning process and again afterwards for playtesting and polling purposes. Don’t fool yourself in thinking that playing and meeting with people over Internet will do: it won’t. You require face to face contact.

Get involved in the global community. The internet makes the world a much smaller place, and online communities are a huge part of that. These provide a good place to get information about trends, opinions, and the general ‘feel’ of the market.  Players online also post a lot of useful info to understand how they receive games that are put on the market and can be quite vocal about their likes and dislikes. They also post a lot of useful resources such as strategy articles, player aids, erratas, etc. Once you publish your own games, they will get the same kind of treatment, so you should know what to expect.

Learn about the Market.  The board game market is huge.  However, you need to get to know it better as a whole and then have a good look at the different facets of the market.  Board games have a huge Niche factor.  And there are Niches within Niches.  Get to know them and how they relate to the games you’re thinking of publishing and you will better understand the market you’re entering.  Once you step out of the realm of mass market games (think Monopoly), you have entered a Niche.  It may be a big niche, but it’s a niche nonetheless.  It is important to understand these niches as it will affect how you communicate and market your games.  Targeting your communication will be more effective if you understand your niche. once you understand the sub-market you want to address with your products, you can research them and tailor your products to fit within that market.

Keep in mind that the games market is constantly shifting.  Stay updated and adjust your plans accordingly, even if this means dropping an entire product line if its no longer relevant.  You have to constantly research the market.  Adapt or die.

Spend time in retail.  Find out the requirements of different kinds of shops; what they sell, how they sell, how they stock and display their products and what kind of packaging is used for what kind of stores.  What kind of customers do they cater to?  What are the price ranges?  Ask the retailer questions; what makes a game easy or hard to sell, what do they like in a publisher, do they like to deal with publishers or wholesalers, etc.  Ask the customers questions!  What are they looking at, what grabs their attention, etc.

Look at the mass-market retailers (grocery stores for example).  They are probably not your market, but they are worth looking at as a comparison.  Look at the big box chain stores, such as Wal-Mart, Toys’R Us, etc.  These are specialized retailers and carry relatively few game products, but have them in high volume.  Look at your friendly local game shop (FLGS); some sell only games, others sell games along side other products like comics and collectibles, models, etc.  Most are small operations with low quantities but a huge selection of items.

Visit online stores.  These are a category of their own as they have different operating procedures and expenses.  They offer a different shopping experience than your traditional store but they often get their games directly from publishers instead of distributers/wholesalers in order to get a better price.  Competition between online stores (and between online stores and FLGS) is huge and can vast price differences.  Understand the reasons between these price differences.

2. VISIT CLUBS, CONVENTIONS AND TRADE SHOWS

You need to get out and meet the players.  They are your potential customers.  Understand them; their motives, likes and dislikes.

Game groups and local clubs are a good start.  They are small and you can meet everyone, make friends and learn how they play.  Conventions and trade shows then allow you to get a broader view of that community.

Find out how games are recommended, by players, to players.  Most of the time a game is played or purchased based on advice from other players.

3. TALK WITH RETAILERS, AUTHORS, PUBLISHERS AND DISTRIBUTERS

Volunteer to help a retailer for a few days.  Meet authors, publishers and designers at conventions and trade shows.  Ask if t hey have time to talk and hang around at a quieter time after their busy schedule.  Most professionals are willing to share information and give advice.  Ask questions!  They want your games to be better just as much as you do, as they will quite possibly be the ones selling it at some point.  Some publishers are very competitive and secretive, but overall there is a friendly collegiate atmosphere to the industry.  Publishers are colleagues and they’re all in it together.

The game publishing industry is huge, but small at the same time.  There are, relatively, few people professionally active in the publishing business compared to other markets.  Most of them know each other, often by first name, even if only from meeting at conventions.  Most of them realize t hey will never make huge amounts of money but are in it because they have a passion for games and they love the relaxed, friendly environment of the gaming business.  You will need to somehow fit into this small, connected community.  Get in there, get to know them.  You will benefit from their advice and experience, opportunities and contacts.  Games are a people business when it comes down to it.

4. BUILD YOUR CONTACTS

contactsAs you research and learn you will meet a lot of people.  Make sure to use that opportunity to build your contacts database.  Add everyone!  That intern you  met at a publisher that you helped with a question may be the head of marketing or accounts manager a few years later.  He may come to you with a new game he made.  You  never know!

Professionals that should be part of your network, no matter what;

  • Authors
  • Artists
  • Clubs and Playtest groups
  • Printers, factories and agents
  • Distributers
  • Customs brokers and logistics providers (shipping)

5. CONSIDER THE PROFESSIONS REQUIRED

There are all kinds of different skill sets required to work on any one board game.  No one person can be good at all of them.  A publisher should never try to fitll every role, but rather act as a coordinator of these talentsin order to produce a board game.

A (non exhaustive) short list of professions you’ll encounter (from concept to product in retail);

  • Game Designer – the starting point.  The person with a game ready for publication.
  • Designer Agent – acts as a smiddleman between publishers and authors
  • Graphic Artist – fine arts, photography, typography, etc
  • Game Developer – Someone who can analyse the mechanics and balance, take a prototype, remove anything not required and look at ways to expand the game or variants.
  • Accountant – your time is better spent on the games than on the numbers.
  • Lawyer – Yes; you need one.
  • Media – They will get the word out about your game(s)
  • Webmaster – Someone to set up your website, keep it online and secure and make it evolve with the current trends.
  • Community manager – Interacts with the customer base
  • Manufacturer(s)
  • Printer(s)
  • Logistics provider
  • Distributer – the link between your game and the retailer
  • Fulfilment Agency – part logistics, part distrbuter.  They sell and ship your games and handle special needs
  • Retailer – Both FLGS and online. These are your best source of feedback and the public face of the industry
  • Events Organiser – someone to get your game(s) to events and show them off

A good publisher will know what he can and wants to do in-house and what to outsource.

6. THE BUSINESS PLAN

 business planStarting a business from the ground up is a rare and exciting opportunity.  You will need a business plan.  There are plenty of sources of information on how to build a business plan, so we won’t go into too much detail on that here.  Your local business organizations and government agencies are a wealth of help and information on the topic, so be sure to seek their advice!

Some points to consider;

  • Location, location, location – Where you operate from will have an impact on your business, from ease of access to outsourcing, cost of rent, and more.
  • Study Business laws and taxes – Find out everything you can about business laws and taxes in your location.  If you plan on operating globaly, you may want to get an idea on how the laws interact.
  • Office and Warehousing – Compare prices and locations.  Compare the space available and the amenities nearby.  Do you need your own warehouse?  In any case, you will want some professional space to operate out of if you plan on being a legitimate publisher; and no your garage will not cut it.
  • Logistics – consider the costs of logistics.  Shipping from factory, to warehouse, from warehouse to distributer/consumers.  Truck, train, ship, air?  Where are you going to store the product before shipping?
  • Local community – You need to stay in touch with gamers while developing games.  You will need playtesting and feedback.  The bigger the community, the greater the options.
  • Growth – Consider growth options when considering everything else.  If you set up as a small business with no options for growth (for example, in a small 10×10 office) and suddenly your business grows you will have to relocate, which will cost money.  Know what your plan is when you reach 2, 5, 10 and 20 employees.  Plan for when your storage needs grow from 2 pallets of games to 200 and when that time comes you will not need to scramble.
  • Define your production and logistics – How will you produce your games and get them into your customers hands?  Will everything be in-house?  Will you outsource as much as possible? Plan to reassess this on a regular basis.
  • Define your business identity – What will your business be to the public? What kind of games will you publish?  What is your target audience? Where will your games be sold?  Will you produce in only one country or are you willing to outsource? Do you want to be eco friendly? Do you want all of your games to be specialized?
  • Name and Brand – Your business needs a name.  Make sure it’s available.  Copyright and Trademark your name and logo, but don’t be paranoid about it.  Make sure your name works internationally and is not rude or offensive in other languages and cultures.  You need a good logo that works in both color and black and white and can be blown up or shrunk to any size as required.  You should have a company motto that sums up your identity.
  • Editorial line – What your company will publish and what it stands for.  This can be as simple as “We only publish space themed games” or it can be more complex.
  • Short and Long Description – Even if it is not public, you need to write up a short and long description of your company, its business plan and its editorial line to give you a baseline to compare your results to over time and to help communicate about your business identity and values.

Now, go and take a good hard look at your business plan and challenge it.  Do some basic research.  Start off with a SWOT analysis (Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats).  There are a number of market analysis tools.  Investigate them and check out some marketing books.

Show your business plan to other professionals and ask for feedback.  Talk about it with your banker and investors.  Make sure your numbers are realistic.  Do NOT use your friends, family and anyone not familiar with the board game business for this!  You need relevant, professional experience here.

Setting up as a board game publisher and making it your source of income requires dedication and commitment.  Once you start to grow, so will your customers and business partners’ expectations.  You will need to run your business professionally.  This is first, and foremost, a business venture, not a hobby.  You will probably end up having much less tim to play games than you ever did once you start your business.

You need to be a legitimate business as well.  If you intend to sell games, make sure you’re legit.  Follow all the rules of law for businesses in your jurisdiction.  Register with the appropriate government agencies and pay your taxes.  Once you’re on the right side of things here a lot of other things become easier, such as creating contracts with authors, artists, distributers and manufacturers as a company instead of as a person.  It can also provide you with some amount of personal protection in legal actions (which of course you hope never happens, but it’s always a possibility).  Get LOCAL advice as each country, and each jurisdiction will have its own complex set of laws and regulations.

7. CONGRATULATIONS, YOU’RE AN ENTREPRENEUR!

Congratulations.  You’ve followed everything above and you now have a registered, legitimate business.  Now what?

This is something you will be asking yourself regularly.  Your job will change as your business grows.  Ultimately, your job is to work on your business, making it grow and evolve, fixing shortcomings and improving efficiency.  This is in addition to working the business (doing the day to day work, taking orders, following up on production, advertising, etc).

At first, you will have to do everything yourself with little time to actually work on your business.  This is where all of your prep work pays off since you will have already spent time working on  your business before you even started!  Once things get going and start to grow  you can delegate some of the tasks to staff and you can work more on your real job; working ON the business. Don’t get caught up in daily operations so much that you are no longer managing the business.  This is a real trap and can cost a lot of money in the long run from lack of analysis, lost opportunities, etc.

You will need some sort of funding. The best source of funding is your own money.  You will then not owe anyone and have full freedom running your business.  Perhaps you can get some funding from family and friends.  Be sure to manage the risk you take by committing that money to the business.  Only use money you can afford to lose.  Never, ever use a mortgage on your personal property or other important personal assets.  If your business fails you will be devastated!

If you are using money from a third party make sure to have a contract stating exactly what they can expect and what you are liable for.  This is where a lawyer comes in handy. A good contract defines your level of liability and the funders level of implication in your business.

Remember, you fund a company, not a game.  Crowdfunding platforms are all the rage right now, opening up new avenues of funding.  However, these are best suited to specific projects and not to fun da company start up!

Hiring staff once you’ve grown to that point is another consideration.  Wages are a recurring expense.  Only hire when you must and make sure you can support these wages.  Never hire on a permanent basis until you are profitable.  During a start-up you should be able to do most of the work yourself or by managing freelancers and temporary work for specific tasks. Fire if you must.  If someone is not doing the job or is  not the right person for the job, let them go as soon as you can.  This is a tough thing to do, but you can not afford to keep someone unfit for the job.

Plan for the long term in growth.  Keep your plan current and updated, evolving over time to adapt to changes in your market and in your staff size.

Set goals and deadlines for evaluation.  You need these to allow you to assess your success (or failure) and provide new baselines to use as a guide along the way.  Have some short term goals (publish game X) and some long term goals (grow to 5 employees) so you can see your progress as you move along.

Have a plan.
Continually reevaluate your business practices and goals.
Always stay on top of market trends. Always be learning.
Be fair and reasonable.
Make friends.
Have fun!
Know when to quit.  If it’s not fun and it’s affecting your personal life, you should reconsider your approach or even the business.

 Some helpful resources for Publishers;

The Game Publishers Association – A forum for publishers in the game industry, providing assistance and a network of other publishers to share knowledge, experience and resources.

GAMA (The Game Manufacturers Association) – Non profit trade organization serving the game industry.  Promotes the interests of all involved in the game industry.

Crowdfunding 101 : Tips to a successful Campaign

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

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

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 103: Licensing your Board Game Designs

LICENCING

The next thing do is license and protect the intellectual property of the game design.  This will protect your rights to the design of the game and any unique aspects of that game.  Of course, this really only applies if you have someone else doing development or production and retailing of your game.  If you’re doing everything yourself, licensing isn’t required.

There are (basically) three kinds of licensing to understand;

1. Character / image property– typically thought of as cartoons, but any image or illustration could apply. Royalty rates will vary widely, based upon demand. Toy companies often pay for exclusive rights to utilize a popular image. The dollar amount paid for the top properties can be staggering, plus, there may be many demands placed upon a licensee for performance, advertising, etc. Licensee are limited to a very narrow and specific product or product category.

2. Trademark property such as: Royalty for the top “brands”, trademarks and properties can be a staggering dollar amount for a licensee. Companies seek brand identities as they do character or images for their ability to have immediate public awareness and appeal. Companies often add a popular identity to their product instead of expending money advertising. Therefor, they need that broad consumer “reach”.

3. Product or patent properties: This probably includes any product that you have invented. These are traditionally unproven and “risky” propositions for the toy companies. Product / patent licensing is where most toy inventors are likely to be. Payment is typically based on the wholesale selling price of your item. The typical royalty percentage is 5%.

Some Advantages of Licensing:

  1. Low to no initial investment (the cost of your time and prototype)
  2. If you work with an agent, licensing usually requires no further effort on your part
  3. You can make a lot of money each quarter without doing anything
  4. You benefit from the financial backing, marketing and development efforts, and more from your licensee
  5. Spin-offs or line extensions of your product are possible- giving you a broader royalty base
  6. Toy company licensees will be aggressive in protecting your concept
  7. Worldwide opportunity without complex distribution

Some Disadvantages of Licensing:

  1. High demand for innovation- few products will be appropriate for most manufacturers
  2. Your product will likely need to be shown to numerous companies
  3. It can take a while to get a license. Eighteen months or more is not uncommon.
  4. It is also not uncommon to enter into a licensing agreement with a company to find that your concept never “goes anywhere”
  5. Auditing may be necessary to assure proper royalty payments
  6. Sometimes smaller companies “forget to pay”
  7. 5% of the wholesale price isn’t anywhere near what you can make if you self produce and market your item. An item that wholesales for say $7.00, will give you $0.35 cents per unit.
  8. Licensees may expect royalty free accounting for returns, samples, defects, shipping allowance, discounts and much more
  9. You are at the mercy of your Licensee for performance
  10. Licensee will likely change your product- a lot

CONTRACTS

Once you’ve convinced a game company to produce your game, they’re going to offer you a contract.  In this case you will probably need to get the licensing contract in place before working on the development.  A deal is a deal and there are no “standard” industry contracts.  Every licensing contract is unique.  Read contracts carefully. Look for loopholes. It never hurts to have a contract lawyer review it for you (except, of course, for the cost of the contract lawyer). Reputable companies are usually quite good about dealing with changes or clarifications that you ask for, if you explain your concerns well.

This usually means covering the following and more:

  • Royalties to be paid, often by percentage of a pool of funds.
  • Length of time of the contract.
  • That the design is indeed the original design of the designer.
  • Scope of the agreement.  Does it cover digital rights, spin-offs, expansions, different languages, and more.
  • Advances
  • Royalties
  • Royalties to be paid on sub-licensing.
  • Transferability of the rights.
  • Laws under which the contract should be held.
  • Non-disclosure
  • AND MORE!

A good contract should be designed to protect both parties in the known cases that are important to them.  While each designer is different, I know that I want:

  • Sub-license rights
  • Transfer rights
  • Ability to publish into perpetuity without contract renegotiation as long as the game is continuously in print.
  • Global rights for all languages
  • Digital rights
  • Rights to all expansions and spin-offs

Copyrights apply to the actual wording and language as written on your components and the rules, as well as the actual artwork assets and specific graphic design. Copyrights do not apply to the actual mechanics or what your game “does”, just what the actual components are from a written and artwork standpoint. Copyrights are established automatically upon creation of the work – so you don’t need to file official paper work, hire a lawyer, or mail yourself copies of your rules to be covered.

Patents apply to unique devices/products or processes but that are non-derivative – in other words they need to be purely original. Generally speaking, patents are not used by boardgame designers. They are VERY expensive and time consuming to secure and require extensive legal resources to enforce and protect. Forget about patents.

Trademarks are used to secure a brand identity for something. Publishers will generally trademark the name of their game, and depending on the intellectual properties used in the game other references might be trademarked as well. In general, designer’s don’t need to deal with this either.

Basically, if you starting out in design and you aren’t a publisher – you can more or less ignore all of the above issues. One exception to this is the use of other people’s potentially copyrighted materials in your physical prototypes. If you are using clipart or placeholder graphics, it’s best to use public domain or other assets where you have permission to use them.

ADVANCES AND ROYALTIES

Generally, you want to get some sort of non-refundable cash advance paid to you upon signing the contract. Based on who you’re dealing with, this can be anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $5000 or more.

The reason you want this is that, in many cases, the manufacturer never actually publishes the game, but sits on it until the contract expires. Without the advance, your game would have been tied up for a couple of years, with nothing to show for it.

Your advance is always taken out of your eventual royalties, so even if the company sells 1000 copies, you aren’t likely to see any money from it until you’ve earned more royalties than your advance was worth.

The royalty is best calculated as part of net sales; what is actually collected in cash, rather than the retail price. This way they can give away samples, give discounts, or sell at full retail at cons and you get a cut of the actual net sales. This is fairly standard. Most contracts are anywhere from 5-8% of net, though some have been as low as 2% and as high as 10%. How much of a royalty you are offered completely depends on the manufacturer; if they expect to market a million copies expect a lower royalty. Royalties are generally paid quarterly or semiannually.

TERMINATION DATE

Expect the contract to die at some point so that the rights revert back to you if the company isn’t continuing production.

A good idea when it comes to termination dates and renewals is to stipulate a minimum number of copies for the termination period to renew, or have a fixed termination date regardless of the number of copies sold with renewal negotiable. Some contracts will state, “if we sell XX number of copies during the period, then the contract automatically renews for X years”. Sometimes the company will just have a fixed duration contract, then contact you to renew it if the game is still selling well for them.  egardless of how it’s done, you want a termination date. One allowance you’ll often see in a contract is that if the contract is terminated, they’ll be allowed some time period to sell their existing stock.

SELLING OUT

You can, of course, opt to outright sell the rights to your game at a fixed price. There’s nothing wrong with this, but if the game does fabulously well, you’ll never see a penny of royalties. On the other hand, for an outright sale, you should expect more money than a simple advance would get you; at least double.

SUBLICENSING

Here is where a lot of weirdness can happen.

Sublicensing usually consists of one company selling the rights to print a game to another company for a fixed price, for which you get a much larger percentage, as the licenser (the company you sold your game to) isn’t actually doing any of the labor except for selling it to someone else. They’re acting as a middle-man. It’s reasonable in this case to ask for 20-40% of the sublicensing fee that they get from the licensee. Alternately, you can stipulate that in the case of sublicensing, the licensee also pays you a royalty on each copy sold, and you don’t get any of the sublicense fee at all.

BACK to Self Publishing 102: Board Game Discovery, Design and Development

FORWARD to Self Publishing 104 : Funding your Board Game

SELF PUBLISHING 107: Marketing your Board Game

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