Earlier this year I set a goal to create my own physical product. And the first few months were really fun.
I was logging a ton of product ideas and I was making quick and dirty prototypes.
- I hand wrote rules on cards
- I attended prototyping events
- I outsourced the design work
- I discovered a professional prototyping service
I moved at lightning pace. After 4 months in development one of the people I played with had no idea this wasn't a professionally made game.
And this where everything slowed down. Just like building a website for someone. The first 80% is easy because it's the stuff you know how to do. I've played enough games and I had a pretty good idea for a game so making the rules for the game was easy. But then I had to venture into a world that I didn't know.
The first thing I had to do was figure out a potential price for the game. This meant doing a bunch of research on Kickstarter and other sites to see what similar games are going for.
My game has 16 cards and 12 tokens and a cute box. So I was looking for games similar to that.
- Sprawlopolis, an 18 card game, sells for $10 on Kickstarter with an MSRP of $12 after Kickstarter.
- That's Not Lemonade, 18 cards, 6 reference cards, & 6 mini lemonade cups sells for $10 on Kickstarter
- Cat Rescue, 26 cards, cardboard tokens, and a velvet pouch sells for $12 on Kickstarter
- Micronomicon, 14 cards, custom tokens, 2 dice, and a cool box for $20
So if I go for pure cards I can charge $10 on Kickstarter and maybe $12 MSRP afterwards. If I have custom tokens or something else cool I can probably get $12-20.
But for a first time creator I don't know if I want go into the unknown waters of creating custom components like Micronomicon did.
Sprawlopolis ($10) raised $107,749 and Micronomicon raised $3,502. Micronomicon just funded and I don't want to cut my project that close.
For the Kickstarter I'll set my price to $10. I'll set an MSRP of $12 after the Kickstarter.
My Introduction Into Manufacturing
Now that I knew what was going into my game and how much it costs I have to figure out the logistics to actually make the game.
There are a few well known companies in the board game world like Panda which specialize in board game manufacturing. What's great about these games is that they're one-stop-shops. They'll create or source all of components for you, assemble the product, shrink wrap it, and ship it to you.
The downside is virtually all of these companies are in China. And you have to deal with challenging communication or work with a company like Panda that hires native English speakers as project managers but charges more.
For a fist time creator I don't know what I don't know and god forbid I order $5,000 of games and there's a misunderstanding. So I want to go with a company that I know will help me out.
I was able to get two quotes from Panda.
- 1,500 units for $4,661.00 or $3.11 per unit
- 3,000 units for $5,831.00 or $1.94 per unit
You may have noticed that the lowest quote was for 1,500 units. In the manufacturing world there's always order minimums. And 1,500 is actually quite low. In other industries it's common to see order minimums of 10,000 or 25,000.
If you look at the Kickstarters I referenced earlier they aren't selling 10,000 units.
- Sprawlopolis – 5,538 units
- That's Not Lemonade – 778 units
- Cat Rescue – 728 units
- Micronomicon – 151 units
To give you a bit more context Sprawlopolis is the 30th and by far the biggest campaign by Button Shy, a company that specializes in these microgames. I don't have 30 campaigns under my belt and I don't have their audience.
If I sold 1,000 units that would be a grand slam. Realistically with some luck I'll sell between 100-500 units.
This becomes awkward now right? Do I order 1,500 units with my own money and hope to sell them on my website or at conventions?
If I wanted to make this my full time job the answer would be yes. I'd order as big of a print run as possible and keep selling the game as I make more and more games.
Eventually I'd get to the point where Button Shy is today where I can offer copies of previous games on new Kickstarters in bundles to boost all future Kickstarters & bring in revenue. One of the great things about my game is that for $10 it's an impulse buy.
I don't want to have an extra 1,000 copies in my closet for the next 10 years. I'd be happy to have an extra 100-200 copies to sell to people but that's it. So that means my target is 250+ games.
Time to find a new manufacturer.
To make 250 copies of a game there aren't any companies that will do all of the sourcing printing themselves. I'll have to source all of the components and assemble them myself.
Cards will cost me $575.00
Tokens will cost $52.00
Rulebooks will cost $79.00
The box / packaging (technically a vinyl wallet) will cost $442.28
Everything together adds up to: $1,148.28 for 250 units (4.59 per unit).
That's a much more reasonable goal. But you can see economies of scale are working against me. Sourcing these supplies from all over and ordering in such small quantities costs a lot and if you want to do this as a business you really want to do everything you can to order in huge quantities.
But the nice thing is if I raise $1,200 I can actually bring this project to life. All things considered that's a pretty small goal for a game project – but with no pre-built audience it will still be hard to hit. With some luck (and you know hard work) I can hit it.
Balancing Quality & Price
You may have noticed in the images above with the tokens that I have two different sizes quoted.
Playing with different sized tokens today. #FryThief
In the center is card stock
Left are standard tokens
Top are standard discs and 1/2 length sticks (roads) pic.twitter.com/R2E5mFQZyL
— Patrick Rauland (@BFTrick) August 29, 2018
I really like the larger size but it adds and extra $0.04 per token and there are 12 of those ($0.48) per game. That's a huge cost and there's already only a tiny margin.
Anyone can save a bit of money by cutting corners. The trick is to balance quality and price. Think IKEA. Part of their success is their scale but another part is how they are great at what they do for the low price. That's what you want to hit and I don't know what the right call is yet when it comes to the components.
Similarly I asked my audience what wallet design they liked:
Working on some packaging design for my game #FryThief. These are vinyl wallets that hold all of the components (16 cards + tokens) in plastic sleeves inside the wallet.
— Patrick Rauland (@BFTrick) September 4, 2018
And the overwhelming response was the red wallet. Unfortunately my manufacturer only has a flat red, flat white, or textured white. They don't have the textured red that I mocked up. Do I spend another dozen hours looking for a manufacturer who has the exact material I want or do I go with the 2nd place choice which people liked – it just wasn't their first choice.
Doing What You Don't Know
Doing what you know is easy. I made huge strides the first 4 months because coming up with game rules is something I know how to do.
But now that I'm doing something that I'm not proficient at I'm really dragging. Everything is taking more time than I thought and I'm not happy with the prices and margins.
Still the secret to anything in life is getting through that dip. Most people can't get through the dip. If you can make it through you'll be in that small group of people that can really make things happen. So that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to do as much research as possible and then take my best guess and keep moving.
If you're building your own product keep going. It doesn't matter how big the step is as long as it's in the right direction.