Tag Archives: publishing

Designer Blog – Space Pirate Reputation!

Designer Blog – #IntoTheBlack

Earning and Expending your Reputation!

A space pirates reputation is ever so important. It must be earned, and it can be used to influence the outcome of any number of situations the pirate may find himself in.

In Into the Black, each player character has reputation that they may earn and spend.

Through continued play testing, it has been found that the current reputation system is overpowered. Having a maximum of 6 reputation points (4 to begin the game) and the ability to earn 1 for each successful combat situation and expend 1 or 2 for any variety of outcomes without limits (beyond the amount of reputation available) is too much and the pool of reputation available has been near endless.

We’re going to test out a new reputation system that will go something like this;

  • Each player begins with 2 reputation points out of a maximum of 5.
  • Players earn 1 reputation (to a maximum of +1 per round) for every 5 enemies they defeat and return to the bag (this has the added bonus/penalty of returning more enemies to the pool)
  • Bonus reputation may be earned based on special event cards
  • Players may spend reputation a maximum of once per turn and each benefit may only be used once until reset
  • Benefits are reset after all benefits have been used

reputationBenefits of spending reputation;

  •  Heal one damage
  •  Keep one additional loot card during a search
  •  Re-roll a single die (at any time, including out of turn)
  •  Re-draw loot cards (place initial draw back to the top of the pile)
  •  Immediately retreat from combat with no penalty
  •  Exit a room before applying the immediate effects from an event

In order to track what benefits have been utilized, reputation cubes will shift from the reputation track on your player board to the benefit track on your player board. This has the added bonus of providing a visual reminder of what each reputation benefit is as well, rather than referencing the rules or a quick reference card.

We’ll see how this works! As always, any comments and suggestions are welcome!

James J Campbell is the Lead Game Designer at I Will Never Grow Up Gaming and the creator of
several projects such as TechMage Sci-Fantasy RPG, Into the Black: A Game of Space Piracy and Conflict & Chaos: Vietnam 1965.

Designer Blog – Continuing the Saga!

Designer Blog – #IntoTheBlack

Continuing the Saga!

Added development and updates to the game Post-Kickstarter

 

Though the Kickstarter may have flopped, I got a lot of fantastic feedback from backers and play testers than has been going into the updated design of #IntoTheBlack. The core of the game remains the same, but the evolution has brought us into territory that I never would have imagined when I first started building this little universe.

A year in the making and still going; Expect the relaunch of the Kickstarter in the new year!

Additional Scenarios and Primary Objectives!

 

One of the little nagging things that bothered me all along, starting with day one, was the single, lonely primary objective. While it certainly made the game easier to balance and quicker to learn it left something to be desired. With backer feedback and a little help from some friends several new scenarios have been added to the game and are currently going through play testing!

What does this mean for players? Instead of a simple “Find and take over the bridge” scenario to win you will now have to select (at random) a scenario from a deck of cards for the game. Some are easy, some .. well not so easy (heck, downright nightmarish in some cases). Along with your personal objectives to complete there is now a whole lot more to deal with than ever.

Custom Dice!

Dice are great, but custom dice are better! Moving on from a simple x+ roll system the games dice system has evolved into one involving several custom dice. Each players’ character has a different set of dice to use for their actions; some better than others! Of course, you still get the opportunity to manipulate the rolls throughout the game via special abilities, upgrade loot cards and special events.

Upgraded Artwork!

All of the rooms and corridors, loot cards, events cards, objectives and player boards have gone through artwork revisions. While I originally thought “Hey, these look good”, upon further reflection the old art was mediocre at best. The updates are light years ahead of what we had before! Take a look for yourself at a couple of samples here;

Into the Black - Boarding Party - Room Tile Upgrade Example Into the Black - Boarding Party - Corridor Tile Upgrade Example

 

Name Change!

While not necessary, there has been a slight name change. This will help bring Into the Black into the universe that is being created in a better manner.

“Into the Black: Boarding Party (A Game of Space Piracy)” – a little long, but the game of space piracy is the common theme throughout the series. Yes, that’s right; this is a series of games, not a single one-off! More on that another time, I promise!

James J Campbell is the Lead Game Designer at I Will Never Grow Up Gaming and the creator of
several projects such as TechMage Sci-Fantasy RPG, Into the Black: A Game of Space Piracy and Conflict & Chaos: Vietnam 1965.

Designer Blog – Into the Black – Artwork updates incoming!

Designer Blog – Into the Black

Card Art Updates Incoming!

Card Art .. Card art .. who doesn’t love a nice looking card in a game?

Well .. our preview copies of the game went out to reviewers and they had some pretty boring cards. Black text on a white background. /YAWN!

NO MORE! Before we launch on Kickstarter we have been working our butts off to get everything all spiffed up and fancy-like for you folks. And card art is on the agenda.

We decided that having the card backs more intuitive would be a good thing.

So, no more is it just a title of what deck you’re looking at; iconography has been added to go along with the room tiles that show you what you’re supposed to be flipping over!

Into the Black - Objectives Card - BACK 600x825 Into the Black - Loot Card - BACK Into the Black - Event Card - BACK

Into the Black - Loot Card - body armorNow when you flip up a room and see the loot and events icons, you know which cards to grab without even reading. Easy, yes?

And then there’s the front of the cards. Black on White .. Dull. No more! Spruced up loot cards ahead! With the parchment background (think pirate treasure maps), clear text, grunged up border and a moderately faded out image of the loot you are dealing with to give you a visual representation of the object, these cards have come a long way baby!

Next up, we’re working on the Events cards fronts. Perhaps some kind of “explosive” look to them is in order?

Then of course we continue work on the Character boards. Our illustrator is working diligently to provide all of the characters before the end of the Kickstarter. This way, once funded we will be ready to go a lot faster and maybe, just maybe, beat our shipping estimate. Wouldn’t that be marvelous and different?

Along with all of this we’re updating the Rulebook (layout and design as well as a few rules updates and additions being tested out) AND working on a project video for the Kickstarter!

Exciting times indeed!

 

James J Campbell is the Lead Game Designer at I Will Never Grow Up Gaming and the creator of
several projects such as TechMage Sci-Fantasy RPG, Into the Black: A Game of Space Piracy and Conflict & Chaos: Vietnam 1965.

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.

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 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

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