Right, I'm clocking off for the holidays now, so thanks to everyone for reading this year and I hope you all have a great Christmas (or other winter holiday) and a fabulous New Year and I'll see you all in 2010.
Friday, December 18
Sometimes you have a great plan, and things outside your control throw everything into disarray.
For the last couple of weeks I've been spending a decent chunk of my time email shops in the US, trying to get them to stock my games. It's been pretty successful, so I am keen to continue. This week, I was going to be playtesting on Monday and I had a hospital appointment Tuesday morning, but other than that I planned to spend 3.5 days on the email campaign.
Monday I went playtesting, then to my German lesson on Monday night. Tuesday morning I nipped over to the hospital as planned. So far so good. I got back to my computer on Tuesday afternoon and experienced yet more internet problems, which had been a continuing problem over the last couple of weeks. Webpages were timing out when I tried to view them, emails were repeatedly timing out when I tried to send them. Everything was a bit flaky. I'd checked with my ISP and they weren't reporting any problems, so perhaps it was a local problem. I pinged Google. Very slow with up to 75% packet loss. Not good. I pinged my wireless router. Very slow with up to 75% packet loss. WHAT? This is not a good sign. I rebooted my computer in Windows (it's a dual boot machine) and got the same result, so it's either a problem with my computer or the router. Then I set up The Wife's computer in my office and her computer was fine, 0% packet loss to the router and 2ms response time. So it was my computer, and since I was getting the same problem in Windows and Ubuntu it was a hardware problem.
This could have been a real disaster, but since The Wife has less need of her computer now, she'd already offered to swap with me. She's also got a work laptop she brings home too. I'd started to install stuff on her machine in Windows (Vista :( ) a few weeks ago, but it hadn't been a priority. Now it was. Wednesday I spent all day trying to get Ubuntu onto her machine. She had a single large partition on her hard drive, so I needed to re-size that to make room for a ext4 linux partition. Fortunately, Vista comes with partitioning tools. Unfortunately, there are some problems. You can't shrink a partition if there are files at the end of it. You need to move the files first. Which you can do with a defragment and optimise. But not if the files are immovable. So I needed to reduce the number of immovable files. This was well into Yak-shaving territory by now. I turned off hibernation, deleted the hibernation file, turned off paging and deleted the page file, I turned off system restoration, and deleted most of the restore points. Finally I was able to run defrag and optimise (two hours), shrink the partition, turn everything back on and install Ubuntu. I finished at 11pm on Wednesday.
Thursday morning was spent setting up Ubuntu how I wanted and re-installing my data. The Wife had booked Friday as holiday, but decided to take Thursday afternoon and Friday morning off instead, so I took those off with her.
So I've got a working computer again, and I got my playtesting done, but not a lot else this week. It's frustrating when unexpected circumstances take control, but every now and again it can't be helped :(.
Thursday, December 10
As I've mentioned before, there are basically four links in the retail chain: manufacturer (that's me!), distributor, shop and customer. Ideally what you want is to get your product to the customer as quickly as possible.
It's possible to skip steps, either by selling directly to the customer (via your website or at a convention for example), or directly to shops, but you'll never hit the big time doing that unless you have an extremely popular website.
What you want to do is get your game carried by most shops. Most shops won't want to order enough copies of a game to make it worth your while selling to them directly, in addition, they want the convenience of dealing with a single supplier (or two) for all the products they carry, rather than dealing with hundreds of manufacturers. So you want distributors to carry your products.
Distributors will either pay you when you invoice them for an order or when they sell to a shop (if the games are 'on consignment'). If they pay on invoicing, they won't place another order until they've sold the first order to shops, so you want shops to carry your products.
Similarly, shops will only re-order your games if customers buy them, so you need to get customers to want your games.
You will get a little help from one link to the next (distributors will tell the shops that they are carrying your products, shop staff will tell customers that your games are available), but you really need to get your marketing to work on each link in the chain.
I've got a pretty good network of distributors, some of which I've contacted myself, some of which have contacted me and some of which have been asked by their customers (the shops) to carry my games. I've spent some money on online advertising and I occasionally make a fuss on BoardGameGeek to contact customers. In addition, I attend Essen, several UK conventions and I'm currently doing a tour of UK game shops to promote my games to customers.
So the missing link is clearly the shops. I've been thinking for a while about how I can best contact the US shops (there's at least 2,500 of them!), while spending the least amount of money. I've considered paying my distributors to advertise my products to their customers; getting volunteers to demo games in their local stores and now I'm trying something new: email.
Email has the advantage of being free, and simple to do. The downside is that any email I send is going to be to a public email address from a webpage which is likely to be heavily spammed, so my emails might not get through, and if they do they might themselves be considered spam.
I'm currently sending a brief email to every shop I can find out about, introducing myself, my company and my products and asking the shop to consider stocking them. I ask them to let me know if they will start stocking them (or do already), and give them an incentive to reply by offering to list them on my website as a stockist.
In addition to sending the emails, I'm building up a spreadsheet of all the shops I find out about, including their contact details (phone number if I can't find an email address) and whether or not they've replied and are a stockist. I'm using the FLGS of the USA meta-thread on BGG as a starting point to try to find out about the shops.
So how's it going? I've had nine replies so far from about 100 emails. Most of them already carry at least one of my games, two are going to carry them from now on. That seems a pretty good response rate for an email marketing campaign. I'm going to keep it up for a few weeks, and see if it leads to any re-stock orders from my US distributors.
Tuesday, December 1
In my last post I showed you just how scary the figures could be for trying to make games for a living. They weren't actual figures for one of my games, but they were indicative. In the comments Daniel asked what about hobby publishing - how does that compare (I paraphrase!). So here's the answer.
Just over three years ago I decided to make and sell some copies of Border Reivers, a board game I had designed over the preceding five years. With little money to throw at the effort and little faith in my ability to sell a lot of copies I chose to go down the hobby publishing route: I would make a small number of copies, largely by hand to keep costs down.
I worked out that I could make 100 copies for £1,255 plus £376 on overheads (I wasn't paying warehousing costs, or myself any salary, but there were a bunch of tools I needed to make the games. To keep costs down I ordered the wooden and plastic pieces all at once (the more you get the cheaper they are), and did the same with the printing. I got a digital printer to do all the printing for me, just onto SRA3 sheets of paper and thin card. I got them to laminate it all to to make it more durable, but I was going to do all the assembly myself. The total price was £1,631 or £16.31 per copy. To cover my costs (plus the cost of attending various conventions and setting up a website I chose to price the game at £30, less than twice the manufacturing cost. I doubted very much whether anyone would pay more than that for it, especially as the cost of shipping would be on top of that. Obviously I couldn't afford to sell to distributors or shops, so I had to hope that I could win enough people over at conventions and via the internet to cover my costs.
With no fixed overheads (no warehousing, no salary) the time it took me to sell the copies didn't really matter - it just came down to whether or not I could. I needed to sell 55 copies to break even, which considering I had no market presence and no reputation seemed like a lot. If I did sell all 100 copies I would stand to make £3,000, or a £1,369 profit.
In the end I damaged some pieces so I only ended up making 96 out of the 100, and some of those I gave away (or kept), I made £2,600, so just under £1,000 profit. Since all those sales were within the first year I gained 60% on top of my original investment, a far better rate of interest than any other savings investment would have offered!
Thursday, November 26
I get lots of emails from people who are interested in publishing a game of their own design. Some want to start small, like I did with Border Reivers and the limited edition of It's Alive!, others want to jump in at the deep end and get their games manufactured professionally and try to sell to shops.
To do the latter you've got to be prepared to risk a large chunk of money and hence the possibility of failure and the loss of that large chunk (or a proportion of it). I thought I'd give an example here with some numbers, so you can see what I mean. These aren't accurate figures from one of my games, but they are indicative, so not miles out either.
Let's say you're a small publisher (like the now legendary Reiver Games), who want to aim at the smaller, lighter, cheaper end of the market. You've designed a game, and you think it's a winner. You think it would sell well at around £20-25. So the first thing to do is to price up getting it made. The more copies you make the cheaper it will be per copy, but the bigger the risk involved as you will have to invest more money, and sell more copies to break even/make a profit.
To sell to shops and distributors you need to be able to make a profit when selling the games at 40% of retail: i.e. £8-£10. Out of this you need to be able to pay your overheads, wages and marketing, so you really need to be getting the games make for around 20% of retail: £4-5.
You approach a manufacturer and get some manufacturing quotes. Your quotes come back as: £9,000 for 1,000 copies (£9 per copy), £12,000 for 2,000 copies (£6 per copy) or £15,000 for 3,000 copies (£5 per copy).
If you want to only make 1,000 copies you need to either sell it at £45, sell it at £25 with almost no margin, or do something in between. Remember to make a profit you need to sell at least the break even number (if you are selling at £10 to distributors and they cost you £9, you won't break even until you've sold 90%, i.e. 900 copies, and even if you achieve a sell out, you'll only make £1,000 profit, which is probably not enough to cover your overheads, wages and marketing budget). If the market for your game at £25 is only 900 people will buy it then you will at least cover the cost of manufacturing, but you will lose money on overheads, etc.
Making 2,000 copies you need to either sell it at £30, sell it at £25 with a 66% margin, or do something in between. Now the break even number at £25 RRP is a smaller percentage of the print run (60%), but with the bigger print run this means more copies (1,200). If you manage to sell 1,200 you've covered the cost of manufacturing, but not your overheads. If you sell out, you've made £8,000 (minus overheads, wages and marketing budget), but can you sell 2,000 copies? It doesn't sound that many when you consider there are 300 million people in the US and more in Europe, but with your marketing budget what proportion of those people will hear about your games? And what proportion of those who hear about them will be interested? If the market is 900 people you will lose £7,500.
If you go for 3,000 copies then selling at £25 RRP (i.e. £10 to distributors) then you will break even at 1,500 and if you sell out you will make £15,000! Of course, that means selling even more copies. If the market for you game is only 900, then you will lose £10,500.
The million dollar question is how many copies of a game can you sell? It depends on a lot of factors. The quality of the game. The effectiveness of your marketing. The price point you've pitched at (you'll sell more games at £5 than at £50 all other things being equal). When you start out in this business you don't really know what you can achieve, that information comes from experience. If you've never made a game in your life you've no idea how many copies you can sell. If you've sold 20 games, with sales of between 1,200 and 12,000 copies you've got a much better idea of how many copies you can sell of a given game at a given price.
A further spanner in the works comes from the time to sell out. Say you make 2,000 copies and you will sell them all. Great. That's £8,000 in the bank. Minus overheads. Let's say your overheads are £1,500 a month (which includes a modest wage, warehousing and a few other things). If you sell out in a month you've made £20,000, minus the manufacturing cost: £12,000 and one month's overheads: £1,500. So £6,500 of profit. Nice work. But one month seems a little unlikely. Let's say it takes you six months to sell out. Now the overheads are £9,000 and you've lost £1,000. If it takes two years, then you'll lose £28,000!
How on earth can I still be in business I hear you ask? My overheads are extremely low (I'm still not taking a salary), and having multiple games means I've spread the risk. Also the overheads only apply once. My overheads are the same whether I have one game or several, so getting income from multiple games all offset the overheads.
For the record, It's Alive! has been out nearly 15 months and I'm still a good distance away from selling out of it.
Tuesday, November 17
A big thank you to everyone who volunteered to help me test the storytelling card game. In addition to those of my current playtesters who have expressed an interest, I would like to send copies to:
Please could you guys email me with your street addresses so I can get copies in the post to you.
Friday, November 13
I've been enjoying the words of wisdom of Brett J. Gilbert recently. One of the things he said recently made me think, and it is the starting point for this blog post. At first I thought it was something he had said in one of his two recent blog posts, but on re-reading them I think it must of come from an email he sent me and a few other UK games designers.
What Brett said was:
... when game players (hopefully) say “I want to play that game again!” what they mean is that they want to repeat the *experience* of playing the game, something that is more than simply the sum of the game’s mechanics.
This is something I've considered in the past when discussing Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game. BSG:TBG is a fairly simple game when you get down to the mechanisms involved, but the experience (when played with the right group of people) is much better than the sum of the mechanics. It's a game of paranoia, suspicion and table talk. Everyone is trying to uncover the hidden traitor, except the hidden traitor who is trying to frame someone else without being too obvious. It's a game where a lot of the fun comes from accusing everyone around you of being a "frakking toaster" (the TV show's TV-friendly swear word, and epithet for the TV show's robotic bad guys who are all chromed up - like a toaster). It's a huge amount of fun.
Why bring this up now? I've been sent a submission fairly recently that's tickled my fancy. In the two months since I received it I've played it with a bunch of people, who have all been entertained by it. Those of you who stalk me on the internet will probably know I've been enquiring about artists for it, and looking for North American playtesters for it.
It's different from the other games I've done. It's a pure card game (no components other than cards) and it's a very simple game, strategically very simple. But the experience makes it something more than the mechanisms would have you believe. It's a story-telling game, driven by your handful of cards. There's no deep, overarching strategy: you play the cards you've got. What makes it so entertaining is the cards themselves. Some of them are sensible, some of them are funny by themselves, but when you combine them in one of the 260,000 possible combinations even the straight ones often end up in hilarious stories.
Is this game going to wow fans of deep strategic eurogames? Probably not. But I think it might sell very well, especially in America (where most of my business is), if I can just get the marketing right. It's a silly, funny game, that could potentially appeal to the legions of Munchkin fans in addition to anyone else with a sense of humour.
It's still early days - I've been constructing playtesting copies to send to my playtesters. I need more feedback. Is it really funny? Could it be funnier? Is it too simple? Too complex? More information will help inform my publishing decision. But at the moment I think I'm onto a winner...
Tuesday, November 10
It's that time again. I've received a submission that I need to get playtested more widely. In particular I want to find playtesters from North America (the best market for this game, I believe).
The game is a fun, silly, card game for 2-6 players than plays in less than 30 minutes. It's very language dependent (hence I'm not looking for European playtesters, I can't see I'll sell many copies there), since it's a fantasy-themed storytelling game.
If you're up for some light-hearted, simple fun, please post a comment explaining why you'd make an awesome playtester for Reiver Games. I'll pick some people (using my arcane selection criteria) and send them a copy of the game.
All I'm asking from you is that you play the game several times, keeping records of game length, scores, number of players, what everyone thought of the game and any ideas you might have for tweaks to the rules or cards.
Wednesday, November 4
Technically I've been in the business of making and selling games for over three years. That makes me an old hand now, right? Not really. I've only been 'professional' (not just in the sense that this is now my full-time job, but I'm also getting the games manufactured for me, and selling primarily to distributors and shops rather than direct to customers) for eighteen months and I've only had stock for the last thirteen months. I'm still doing a lot of stuff for the first time. And, as with Essen, when I'm doing stuff for the second time it's often under such different circumstances that it's hard to draw any conclusions from the past experience.
The reason I bring this up is that I've started graphing my sales over time, and it's teaching me new stuff all the time. At the beginning I assumed that sales for a new game would peak when it was released and then decline steadily over time. To some degree this statement has been true, but there have been some interesting deviations from what I expected. It's Alive! didn't sell many copies in its first quarter (but it came out in September near the end of the July - September quarter). In its second quarter (the run-up to Christmas) it did exceptionally well, helped by Essen and a few big stocking orders. Carpe Astra did much better than It's Alive! in its first quarter (the run-up to Christmas) and both did well in the first quarter of this year - when I signed the two biggest US distributors. Sumeria got off to a great start (best first quarter sales of any of my games) but then did less well in its second quarter (which for Sumeria corresponded to the Summer: July - September).
If I look at graphs plotting the sales of each game by quarter, with the x-axis corresponding to quarters since release it's hard to draw any conclusions: they are all over the place with dips and peaks that don't correspond at all (note that the last data point in each case is for this quarter which is less than halfway through):
So length of time since release is clearly not the driving factor behind how many games I'll sell in any given quarter. So what is I wonder? People say that the Summer months are often quiet, with the best sales being in the run-up to Christmas. This seems reasonable, so I've drawn the same data on a different x-axis. This time its still in sales per quarter, but the quarters relate to a single instance in time: 1 is last Summer (July - September when It's Alive! was re-released), 2 is last Autumn (October to December, including Essen, the run-up to Christmas and the release of Carpe Astra) and so on. Suddenly things become clearer:
Despite the fact that this quarter (Autumn) is only half done, all three games are showing a clear boost over the preceding Summer months. There's a noticeable decline from Autumn through Winter and Spring into Summer, before a sharp jump into Autumn again. Sumeria, which came out at a fairly quiet time, shows the same pattern, but with higher sales due to the initial stocking orders. I'm expecting a few more re-stocks before Christmas too, so hopefully the climb for this Autumn will become steeper across the board in the next couple of months.
With so little experience to base my decisions on, it's hard to see whether a game is doing well or badly. Are low sales due to the time of release, or something else? As the years go on I'll have more hard data to base my assumptions on, and can make more informed decisions as a result. The important thing is that rather than just waving a finger in the air and using gut feelings I'm collecting the data I've got so I'm more informed for next time.
Friday, October 30
Despite the slight disappointment of Essen, things are still going very well considering how new I am to this. While at Essen I sold my 4,000th game. 4,000! That's way more than I ever expected to make, let alone sell at the beginning. So I'm going to do a brief retrospective about how things have changed in the just over three years since I started Reiver Games.
In October 2006 my company was four months old. I had released Border Reivers only three months ago, and was still manically constructing copies by hand in my spare time. Each copy of Border Reivers took three hours to assemble from the pieces I had ordered - since I had to construct the boxes, tiles and cards from scratch. Things seemed to be going pretty well, I was making good progress through the print run, and the people I met at shows seemed to enjoy it. But giving up my weekends and evenings (and even some holiday from work) to manufacture the copies was hard work. I was already doing slightly better than I had hoped, but never in a million years did I think I would have sold 4,000 games in three years time.
A year later it felt like the company was going somewhere. I'd sold out of the original 100 copies of Border Reivers and made a reasonable profit. I was now a publisher too: Yehuda's It's Alive! was the second game in my catalogue, released five months earlier in June. Loads of people self-publish their own board game design, fewer make the jump to publisher of other peoples' games too. It's Alive! was selling well and proving very popular, I'd decided to make 300 of these, again largely by hand in my spare time around a full-time job, and I was on course to sell out of these too within the year. Could I do this professionally? I was beginning to wonder...
Six months earlier I'd made the jump to full-time publisher, quitting my fairly well-paid job in IT Project Management for a life of playing board games and begging for food. The first five months of full-time work had been disappointing, I'd decided to re-print It's Alive! professionally after selling out of the 300 copies limited edition in May. The reprint had taken a lot longer to manufacture than I had hoped, and I had spent many months without any products at all. Still It's Alive! had finally arrived in September, and I'd just got back from my first Essen. Essen had been a huge success and I was on a real high. I'd take 840 copies (a full pallet) of It's Alive! to Essen. Sales to punters hadn't been huge (I'd not really advertised at all) but I'd got rid of the rest of my stock to a couple of distributors and picked up four distributors in total. I was ready to conquer the world!
In the year since last Essen things have gone extremely well. I've picked up six distributors in North America, seven in Europe and two in the far East. I've released another two games: Carpe Astra and Sumeria and sales look promising. I've still not broken even on any of my games, but they continue to sell well (after a Summer dip) so I'm hopefully that I'll reach that point on at least one of them fairly soon. Essen this year was slightly disappointing, I'd hoped my advertising spend would have led to more sales to customers, and the freight prices for carting my games to and from the show meant that I didn't make a boat-load of cash (like I did last year). But with no brand new games and good distribution in Europe, there were more people there who owned my games, rather than had never heard of them. Still, I've got interest from a whole bunch of new distributors and the Christmas season is approaching, so I'm hopeful of better things to come.
I'm now beginning to feel like a proper publisher - I've several games in stock, pretty good distribution and people are beginning to know who I am. Onwards and upwards!
Thursday, October 29
I finally returned from my second Essen at midnight on Monday. It's been a pretty busy few days since I got back too, so this is the first chance I've had to really take stock.
First a big thank you to all of you who swung by and introduced yourselves - it was nice to meet you all and to know that somebody out there reads these musings!
The run-up to Essen as I've already mentioned was pretty stressful, in particular the travel arrangements. When I finally found out I could get the games freighted to Essen for £160 (as opposed to £1000 for the van hire and freight rate on the ferry) I felt much better about that, but the banners didn't arrive until lunchtime on the day I left - thankfully they were ok!
Just to make things more exciting on the shipping front, I heard from the freight company (after they'd already collected the stock) that there would be a couple of extra charges. I wanted the games delivered on Wednesday (so I could unload them myself to save money) which was an extra £40, and then when they realised it was going straight to the fair there was an additional charge for unloading delays which I still don't have a final amount for. As it turns out they didn't deliver on Wednesday, but Tuesday instead. This was good in the sense that I knew that the games had arrived safely, but bad in that it incurred extra costs (warehousing at the fair and delivery to my stand by fork-lift - £140€ in total). The freight company did waive the delivery on Wednesday surcharge though.
A pretty good day. It took a little longer to get to the fair than I expected, we'd got up at 4:50am, caught a 6:50am plane to Dortmund and arrived in Dortmund at 9:05. Then we managed to miss every connection to Essen, so we didn't arrive at the fair until lunchtime. We set up the furniture, hung the banners (which looked great - much more professional than last year's posters) and waited for the games to arrive. A fork-lift dumped the two pallets and then we set up the rest of the stand and went about adding the errata sheets to all 630 copies of the expansion I'd taken. That took Andrew and I three hours, it would have been a bit quicker but I kept having to stop to speak to people :) There were even a few sales of Sumeria and the expansion too :).
Sans crowds the fair was easy enough to negotiate so I took advantage of the space to chat with my Taiwanese and one of my German distributors. My Taiwanese distributor said It's Alive! was selling well for them, and stock was running low. Since the cost of shipping to Taiwan is so exhorbitant, he was keen to collect stock from me at the show. I delivered four cases to him that day, and he said he might want some more, depending on how much space they had left at the end of the show. The German distributor hadn't yet collected any Sumeria, and assured me that he wanted to, it had just got lost in the run up to the show chaos. He asked me to come back to him at the end of the show - he'd take some of my left over stock if I had any - maybe 60 copies of each?
Feeling pretty chipper about things and with the stand ready to go by early evening, Andrew and I headed off to the apartment and a welcome Chinese takeaway (we'd eaten at about 5:30am in the airport, and then not until 8:30pm at night. Mmm. Hungry! That evening Dunk and Lucy arrived from Duesseldorf and the team was complete.
Thursday was the first day of the fair proper, and since Dunk and Lucy had arrived late the previous night, and Dirk (the Sumeria designer) was going to be helping out on the stand Thursday morning, I gave them the morning off - so it was just Dirk, Andrew and I until lunchtime. It got off to a fairly slow start - it takes a while for people to percolate through the halls to Hall 4, which is right at the back. Sales were pretty good though, lots of Sumeria and the expansion alone, plus more It's Alive! and Carpe Astra than I was expecting. The hardcore geeks tend to come on Thursday and Friday in an attempt to miss the weekend crush, and to get what is on their lists before they sell out. There was also some interest from new distributors in Finland, Japan and Singapore and my Belgian distributor collected some Sumeria too.
Friday was slower than Thursday, but not a bad day at all. I sold a box of each game to a shop in Switzerland (my first confirmed Swiss stockist) and sales were not too bad. It's Alive! and Carpe Astra continued to do better than I had expected, but it was definitely looking like my 50 copies a day target for Sumeria was optimistic. I gave Andrew the afternoon off - he'd earned it!
I wasn't expecting much from Saturday - the crowd is usually more family-oriented, tends to stick to the front halls and is less free with their money. Still nothing prepared me for just how bad it was. Sales were just over half the previous day's and it felt like we weren't selling anything at all. People seemed to enjoy the games though, and a couple of distributors swung by after apparently hearing good buzz about Sumeria. Alliance, my biggest US distributor sent a couple of guys over from their sales team. Previously I'd only dealt with their purchasing team so it was nice to meet them. They said that they'd heard good things about Sumeria and wanted to push it on their return to the States as a game with good Essen buzz. Plus a potential new French distributor had also been told about Sumeria and was interested in ordering 120 copies (a larger order than any I'd had outside America). Sales were very disappointing, but the buzz and distributor discussions left me feeling better about things.
Sunday was a real roller-coaster. Sales were going really well, my second best day of the show. Several people who'd played the games on Saturday came back and bought them and I picked up another Finnish distributor. I still had a bunch of stock left, but I hoped after the German distributor took some it would be a manageable amount to possibly send back in another UK publisher's van.
Then disaster struck. The boss of my contact at the German distributor came round, and seeing that my games were also distributed in Germany by someone else decided it would just be easier to buy from them rather than me. NO! Now I had a lot of stock to somehow get home. Time to panic! I went back to my Taiwanese distributor who took a bunch more It's Alive! and one of my UK distributors offered to take some of my stock to an Italian fair they were visiting the following week. I tried to see my contact at the other German distributor to see if they wanted some stock, but I couldn't get to see him - he was way too busy.
My last option was to buy a pallet, put the games on it, shrink-wrap them and then get the fair freight handlers to warehouse it for the night and ship it back to me in the UK. 460€. We finally left the fair at 9pm after a very stressful final few hours.
The next day Andrew and I pootled round Essen before heading over to Dortmund airport for our 4:15pm flight. Which eventually took off at 9:30pm, 7.5 hours after we arrived at the airport. I finally got home at midnight, tired and emotionally exhausted.
On Tuesday I paid my take into my bank in the UK, although I brought home fewer Euros than last year, even with the huge cut the bank took, the weaker pound meant I paid more pounds into my account than last year. Of course with the sweaters, banners and the freight costs my expenses were much higher than last year, it was still a profitable week, but not by much.
Since then I've been busy on personal things and following up on all the distributor contacts I made - trying to expand my market presence further round the world. Next year things will be cheaper (the sweaters have a one off cost I've already paid and the banners are re-usable) and I really need to find a more affordable way to get my games to and from the fair.
I'm off to Patriot Games in Sheffield on Saturday for another demo day, and things on the home front will quieten down on Monday. Then sleep. Lots of sleep.
Tuesday, October 20
This evening my journey to my second Spiel convention in Essen begins. Despite my best intentions it's been a largely last minute panic yet again, but now most of the panic is over. I've just been told my games have arrived at the convention centre, and I've collected my float (a whole bunch of five Euro notes for change at the booth), so the only thing I'm waiting on now is the banners which will hopefully be delivered shortly.
As I've mentioned before, last year's Spiel was a huge success for me and I'm hoping to repeat that this week. Several things are different though, and since this is only my second Spiel I don't have enough previous information to judge how that will affect things.
Last year I had rented out a third of my stand to Peter Struijf of Geode Games, and I only had one game of my own (though I had posters for Carpe Astra and a homemade prototype, the finished product was still a month away). My games weren't available in Germany yet (I picked up my first German distributor at the show, with my second signing on shortly afterwards) and It's Alive! had only been out for about five weeks - so it was pretty new.
This year I've a whole stand to myself and three games (the latest of which came out four months ago) which are all already available in Germany. I've spent more money on advertising this time (Boardgame News with their excellent English-language Spiel preview and SpielBox which is apparently the place to go for German-language Essen information), and signed up for a couple of deals with other people too (I'm in the Spiel fuer Spiel magazine again and I'm doing a deal with the Spielerei German-language magazine which will hopefully lead a few more people to my stand. Plus I'm doing the 'free 2 player expansion with every Sumeria sale' deal too.
How much will any of these factors affect my sales at the show? With so little information to go on I have no idea. The show will have cost me a lot more this year, hopefully that will pay off, but I can't be sure until next week, when I get home and work it all out.
Last year I sold 140 copies of It's Alive! to punters and another 96 or so to shops and distributors before finally getting rid of the remaining stock to a couple of big distributors. Those big distributors are unlikely to take any stock from me this time, but I'm hoping to get some orders from the smaller European distributors and betters sales to punters, due to the advertising and deals.
I'm taking a full pallet of Sumeria (504 copies), plus 192 It's Alive! and 96 Carpe Astra. My limited experience as a paid salesman back in my late teens seemed to focus entirely on targets. So I feel I should set myself some. I'm thinking 50 Sumeria, 5 Carpe Astra and 10 It's Alive! sales to punters per day. Is that achievable? I have no idea. Only one way to find out.
Wish me luck...
Wednesday, October 14
Off topic: 600th post - w00t!
Last Tuesday I posted about how unprepared I was for Essen next week, and how my travel plans had been through several iterations in an effort to avoid paying ridiculous shipping costs.
Things are finally sorting themselves out now. I've ordered the sweatshirts and seen the proofs, this morning I booked the pallets to Germany and I've got to get the banner art to the printers this afternoon/evening.
Even though the pallets to Essen are booked I've still got a bunch of stuff to do for that. I'm taking a full pallet of Sumeria (504 copies) plus a mixed half-pallet of It's Alive!, Carpe Astra and the Sumeria 2 Player Expansion. Tomorrow I'm going up to York to pick and package the mixed pallet, and also to bring a car-full of Sumeria back home (I'm down to 8 copies at home, from where I fulfil almost all my orders). It'll be a fairly early start as the shipping company want to collect the pallet that afternoon, so I've got to get up there (3 hour drive) and sort out the pallet before they arrive.
We're in York again on Friday, since The Wife has a meeting there. Having sorted out the pallets on Thursday, I now get to spent Friday afternoon hanging out with my friend Paul and doing some playtesting.
That leaves me the weekend and Monday to catch up with my books (I've got a VAT return to do by the end of the month and I'll have a lot to do the week after Essen if last year was anything to go by, so it's better to get it out of the way before I go. If last week was very stressful, this week is still busy, but a bit calmer.
When I get back, as well as sorting out all the paperwork from Essen there's a couple of prototypes I need to get made up and distributed to my playtesters. No peace for the wicked!
Sunday, October 11
As I've mentioned before, when Sumeria was initially submitted to me it was for 2-4 players. During playtesting one of my playtesters spotted a problem with the scoring in the two player game. I was at this point sailing fairly close to the wind (sounds familiar!) and so Dirk and I made the decision to take the two player game out of the mix.
At a later stage we came up with a solution to the two player scoring conundrum, but by that point it was too late to add it back into the game.
Last year at Essen I had one game that had been out just over a month. I had very few distributors, so very few people owned a copy of it. It was to all intents and purposes a new release for Essen. This year I've a game that came out last September, and was at Essen last year, a game that came out last November (so hasn't been to Essen yet) and a game that came out in June. While most of my European distributors haven't picked up Sumeria, I can't really describe it as an Essen release - it's been out for three months.
There had been interest in the two player game and I had considered making an expansion at some point. When it became clear to me that sales over the Summer wouldn't be good enough to fund a new release for Essen (and in fact I've not received a submission that was ready to go in time anyway), I started thinking of ways to entice people to my stand. Since all three of the games I've got are theoretically available in stores - why come to my stand at Essen to get them when there's so many shiny new things coming out?
So I went back to the 2 player expansion idea. I wanted to make the expansion as cheap as possible for the buying public to make it more of a impulse purchase, and also to allow me to provide it as an Essen promo freebie - buy Sumeria at my Essen stand and you get this limited expansion for free!
That lead me down a particular route. If I sell a game to shops via distributors the retail price should be 5 times the manufacturing cost - i.e. if it costs me £2 to make it, it should retail for £10 (it doesn't work out quite like this - my margins are tighter). If however I only sell to people directly (at cons and via my website) then I can price it at 2 times the manufacturing cost (e.g. a £1 per copy manufacturing cost leads to a £2 retail price). I choose the latter route. The next decision was packaging. If you're selling to shops you want a nice pretty box that will look good on the shelf and attract peoples' eye. If you're selling directly you don't need that. The expansion can come in a baggie and the customer can store it inside the original box. This further cuts manufacturing costs (no box art needed and a baggie is much cheaper than a small box), and fits with my "small box, no wasted space" ethos. Again that cheaper option is the route I chose.
The expansion arrived at my house last Monday. I'd chosen to have it delivered to my house instead of the warehouse since it would be quite small and I was expecting it to be delivered by a courier. Instead a 7.5ton lorry turned up with the expansion on a pallet. It was five medium-sized boxes, which failed to even fill the bottom of a pallet - seemed like overkill! The lorry driver helped me cut the shrink-wrapping off the pallet and lift the five boxes off the pallet, which I then carried into my office. Opening the first box the expansions looked like exactly what I was expecting - no surprises there.
It's not been a completely smooth ride though. On top of the mental week of Essen travel disasters, there was a small problem with the expansion. In the two player game each player takes four turns per round, whereas in the three and four player games you only get three. The sticker in the expansion is designed to cover the three space turn track with a new four space turn track.
Unfortunately the sticker is a bit too transparent, so if you put it over the turn track as designed you can see the old turn track underneath. It looks rubbish.
Fortunately there is a solution: Cut the sticker in half between the three and four spaces and throw away the 1-3 bit. Add the 4 bit to the board just below and to the right of the three space printed on the board.
Works fine :) But it's a bit inconvenient and doesn't reflect especially well on my production values. I think I'll include a slip of paper in each bag at Essen explaining this fix.
Tuesday, October 6
It's that time of year again, we're just over two weeks away from Spiel '09 (or International Spieletage '09 to give it its full name). Spiel is the largest event on the board gaming calendar, a chance to demo and sell you games to over 150,000 (predominantly German) board game fans.
Last year my preparation for Essen was all a bit last minute and I vowed to be more organised this year. I've not succeeded in any significant way :-(. I did manage to book my accomodation in March, and I obviously got my booth organised in time for the May deadline, but I only booked my booth furniture a couple of weeks ago, and the saga of how I'm getting my crew of awesome volunteers and my games to Essen is ongoing!
Last year I took three volunteers: Mal, Dunk and Lucy. They were awesome, they worked extremely hard, were knackered like I was and they were doing it as a favour to me, not for personal financial gain. We all shared a car, (which Dunk and Lucy drove - again with the awesome), got the ferry from Hull to Rotterdam and stayed in a couple of self-catering apartments. Dean from Ludorum Games, took my games for me in his van (we're racking up a lot of awesome here), I just paid £35 to ship a pallet of games from my warehouse to his house and then him some petrol money.
It all worked out ok. I liked the self-catering apartments (only 10 minutes walk from the venue, fairly affordable and they allowed us to cook for ourselves and hence eat cheaply). I booked the same place again this year. The ferry cost about £400, and was fun in a roadtrip kind of way.
Yet again I left several important things to the last minute. Who I was taking was up in the air until last week. Dunk and Lucy had volunteered again (gluttons for punishment!) and I was hoping to take The Wife. Sadly work commitments had ruled out The Wife a couple of weeks ago, and Lucy was unsure too. It might just have been Dunk and I. Four people on the stand takes some of the pressure off, you can take a break, wander round or come in late/sneak off early. Just the two of us would have been very hard work. So I started looking around for replacements. In the end Lucy was able to make it (yeay!) and I found a fourth in Andrew - one of my playtesters. Excellent. People sorted. Now I can sort out travel.
Games first. I'd phoned around last week and none of the other UK publishers I know had any space in their vans. Not a problem. I could hire a van and drive it over full of games like Dean had done last year. I phoned a few van companies and got a quote of £192. The Wife sensibly pointed out that since I haven't driven on the continent before (on the wrong side of the road!) and I have a medical condition, I should probably have a co-pilot who can share the driving. £66 for a 2nd driver. Then I phone the ferry company. Last year I'd paid £400 for a return ferry ticket for four people, a four-berth cabin and a car. This year I was looking for two people, a two-berth cabin and a small van (Citroen Berlingo about the size of a car). I'm chatting to the woman on the phone and she asks what the vehicle registration is.
"I don't know - it's a hired van." I reply.
"Van?" she asks, "What are you taking?"
"Some board games to a trade show."
"Oh, you'll need to speak to our freight department." They quote me £755. It's going to cost me over a grand to get my games there. A grand! A GRAND! Ok, that plan goes out of the window. After examining the options for just getting a freight company to ship the games there, I think I can go down that route, but it's not booked yet and nor are the flights for the four of us.
There's a couple of other things I want to get sorted too. Last year my Point of Sale consisted of a few posters I'd got printed at York University, which then fitted in simple top and bottom frames (don't ask how long that took - they were a nightmare!). I wanted something a bit more professional looking this year, so I've been looking at getting some vinyl banners done. Time's getting a little tight (especially considering I haven't designed them yet), but I've found a company online today that have a 48 hour turnaround, so that can be put off for a day or two.
The other thing was some kind of uniform (no, not french maids and firemen!). Last year we were all in civvies, so it was hard for passing people to work out who to speak to. I'm getting some sweatshirts done with the Reiver Games logo, so it will be clear who's working the stand and who's visiting it. At first I thought of T-shirts, but I seem to remember wearing a jumper all the time last year due to the temperature, so a sweatshirt seems like a better idea. They have a 7-14 working day turnaround (I found out today with 9 working days left), but I spoke to them on the phone today and for such a small order it shouldn't be a problem.
I found out about the ferry price this morning. I've spent the day trying to sort out getting the games to Essen, getting us to Essen, and sorting out the sweatshirts and banners. Numerous phonecalls to various companies (several in Germany) and not a small amount of stress. I'll be glad when I get there.
Wednesday, September 30
The Summer has been pretty quiet here at Reiver Towers. After the rush of orders for the release of Sumeria, the quiet Summer months have just seen the occasional restock and submission.
With not a huge amount to do, and mixed sales, I've been feeling a little down and hence I've put off a whole bunch of things I should have been doing. Now all of a sudden I've got loads of submissions, a weekly playtesting session and only three weeks to go until Essen. Panic!
Let me explain the mixed sales comment. In a lot of ways my sales look awesome: I've got year-on-year growth of 1000% for the first quarter of this financial year and 150% for the second quarter. My second best month of sales ever was in June. For the first eight months of 2009 my monthly sales were up (and often by a lot) over the corresponding month of last year.
Of course, as with any statistics you can spin them any way you want, and if you're not feeling too chipper you look at the other side: September was the first month where sales were worse than last year. October last year will be a very hard month to beat. Last year with two games coming out in September and November, the vast majority of my sales (85%) were in the last half of the year, so although I've done much better this year so far the real test will be the next six months when I don't have any new games coming out. My sales so far this financial year are half of last year's total, with half the year gone and no new games on the horizon. I'm hoping for a boost from Essen and the holiday season, but how much of a boost will I get?
Anyway, I digress. The last few months haven't been that busy. All of a sudden there's loads going on and I'm struggling to keep up. I've been approached by Grégory of Vassal Factory to do a Vassal module of Sumeria. I've got to finalise everything for Essen (and by everything I mean: flights, getting my games there and any overstock back, stand display), I'm trying to work on two prototype games and trying to get playtest copies for a third made up and sent off to my blind playtesters. In addition I've got to catch up on my books, do a VAT return and calculate and pay my designers their royalties.
This is definitely a business where I go through cycles. When I'm getting a game ready to go to the printer, or getting ready for a big convention like Essen, there's loads to do (and of course a bunch of other stuff just happens to fall at the same time), then there's a lull until the next period of frantic activity. Fun!
Sunday, September 20
As a publisher, I'm always looking for new games to publish. I'm fortunate to receive a lot of games submissions on a more or less constant basis. Quite a lot of these are types of games I'm not interested in (mass market, trivia, sports), and so can be instantly discounted. Some sound interesting, but have so many components that I have to rule them out on cost. Lots sound interesting at first blush and so I ask for a prototype to play with my playtesting team.
Some of those I try aren't very good when you actually play it and can be quickly discounted. Occasionally, you get an awesome one which is pretty much ready to go (Sumeria was one of these). The vast majority however are 'good'. Which is a bad thing.
There are tens of thousands of board games out there (BoardGameGeek has over 50,000 in its database) and hundreds more get released every year. If you're a big company like Fantasy Flight or Games Workshop, you've got the marketing budget and market presence that means your games will sell well. If, however you're a little guy like me with a tiny marketing budget and very little market presence your games will have to fight tooth-and-nail to sell themselves. For comparison, the third edition of Space Hulk was released two weeks ago. It has 761 ratings on BGG and 1554 people listed as owning it. Sumeria has been out fourteen weeks and has 100 ratings and 116 owners. Very few people rush down to their local games store to buy the latest Reiver Games release when it arrives on the shelves. Instead they might hear about it, add it to their wishlist or want to play list. Maybe wait for a friend to get it so they can try it out, or hope to find it at a convention where they can try it out. Of the much smaller number of people who are interested and who find a copy to play, only people who really like the game will tend to buy it.
If I publish a game because I think it's good, the chances are most of the few people who play it will also think it's good. Nobody rushes out to by a good game. They rush out to buy a great game. The internal conversation goes: ' I know Bob's got Zombie Ninja Pirates in Space, but it's frickin' awesome, I need my own copy', not: 'I know Bob's got Watching Pastel Paint Dry, but it's a pretty good game, I need my own copy'.
I need games that at least I think are great, in the hope that I can find several thousand other people who think the game is great enough to warrant buying.
Still, it's very hard to go back to a designer and reject their game because it's good. There's nothing really wrong with it, it's solid, it works. But it's not great. It doesn't help that great is subjective.
Thursday, September 17
Sorry it's been such a quiet week here at Creation and Play. Mainly due to a very busy week in the real world. Why so busy? A number of things, all conspiring together to rob you of my virtual company!
First up, I've received a promising prototype which I'm sending out for blind playtesting to a bunch of gamers from around the world. I've only been sent a single prototype, so this means I've got to knock up a bunch of copies to send out. To do this I've had to do several steps, to ensure that the copies I send out at least meet my submission guidelines for prototypes. I've ordered some greyboard (I think it's called chipboard in the US), and made some simple tray and lid boxes out of it. I've not bothered labelling them, but they are the right size - i,e. the size the game would be if I published it. I've ordered the wooden pieces from SpielMaterial.de, then counted them up and bagged them ready to go, I've been to the local toy shop to buy a metric ton of dice (my usual dice supplier Plastics for Games have a £50 minimum order. There's still a bunch of stuff left to do: I need to do the art for the board and the cards, and run my take on the rules by the designer (once I've added some of the prototype art into them for diagram purposes. This is a fairly expensive process (it'll end up costing over £100 once you include the materials and postage), but I need to do this for games before I sign them. I did it a bit late for Sumeria, I'd already signed the design, and had the feedback from blind playtesting been terrible (it wasn't fortunately!), I'd have been stuffed since the art and manufacturing was already in train. The advantage of doing it earlier is that you get longer for the feedback, and more time to respond it, plus if the game tanks, you're not signed up to anything and can cut your losses. The disadvantage is that you end up spending this money for more games, some of which you'll end up dropping and hence will never get a chance to recoup the cost of playtesting. With any luck I'll get the prototypes finished by the middle of next week, and then I can get them in the post.
One of the advantages of re-doing the prototypes is it gives me a chance to check out a few ideas. I get to put the game in a box that is the size I'm intending to use (the same size as Carpe Astra and Sumeria for the moment). I get to re-size components (e.g. boards, cards) to sizes that fit the box or that are ideal for production. In addition, I can to try some layout ideas: what happens if I put that here, or use that iconography? The art will be pretty rough, but you can still get an idea about things from a rough draft.
This time, I can pimp the prototypes a little, since I was sent a box of spares by the Sumeria manufacturers. They were limited in what they could assemble due to a shortfall in the wooden pieces. As a result they had spare punchboards, cloth bags, boards and inserts. As a result I've given each of the prototypes an insert and I'll use the spare Sumeria boards as a substrate for the prototype boards (I'll just glue the prototype art on top).
In addition to the prototypes, I've also been working on some stuff (and the furniture) for my Essen stand. And to top it all, it's a busy week for gaming :-)
Yesterday, Tim, one of my oldest friends (and co-incidently one half of the Best Man double act at my wedding), came round for a day of gaming. We christened my copy of the new version of Space Hulk, and played a few Eurogames, including Sumeria. I had a terrible day (I'm blaming waking up at 5:50am), winning only 2 games of Space Hulk out of eleven games in total. He even beat me twice at Sumeria (a rare event :-) ). The new Space Hulk is lavishly produced (if ever there was a good advert for the economies of scale -Space Hulk is rumoured to be a print run of 70,000+ copies), the board sections are embossed with details, the counters are prolific and on very thick stock (3mm?) and the minis are extremely detailed - if overdone in the posture department. Tim loved Sumeria too, which was cool. Tomorrow (and hopefully Monday) are playtesting days, and I'm at an all day games day on Saturday.
It feels great to be really busy again (the Summer was pretty quiet), but there's so much to do!
Wednesday, September 9
As I mentioned last time, I've been doing a few demo days, where I go and spend the day in a games shop with demo copies of each of my games teaching them to regulars and random punters. The idea is that I introduce my games to a bunch of people who haven't played them, raising awareness of the games and hopefully boosting sales (both for me and the shop). In addition, I get to improve my relationship with the shop owners.
I've recently done demo days at Inner Sanctum Collectibles in Cambridge and Eclectic Games in Reading. I've also lined up two more: Patriot Games in Sheffield on 31st October and Spirit Games in Burton-on-Trent on 7th November. There are a couple more in the pipeline that I hope to arrange before the end of the year.
In the comments to the last post Todd suggested that I could get some reps to do demo days for me further afield, e.g. the US. It's an interesting idea, but one with some logistical issues.
When I do a demo day in the UK I take a bunch of stock along with me. If the demo day goes well and the shops sells a lot of games they can get those from me on the day, rather than having to order a lot in from a distributor in advance and having to pay for them whether they sell or not. Any stock they don't want I take home with me, so they are not left out of pocket.
In addition, I know that when I turn up I'm presentable, reliable, on-time, I know the rules to each game correctly and I can demo the games enthusiastically.
I can also cover pretty much the whole of the UK by myself. Ok, Northern Scotland or Northern Ireland is a bit of a trek, but it's possible.
This is my job, if I want it to continue to be my job I need to do everything in my power to make the company work. I'm perfectly willing to give up my weekends to achieve that.
America is the biggest market for my games, it has five times the population of UK, is an English-speaking country and as a result 50% of all my sales to distributors have gone to the US. Plus, some to Canada too.
Once the games arrive in the US, things get a little more difficult. My games arrive on the shelves of the store, but my 'small box, big game' strategy hurts me, because by comparison to the other games my games look very expensive (of course shipping the games to the US makes my games more expensive too!). A small, expensive-looking game tucked away on a shelf is unlikely to sell particularly well, especially when no-one locally has played it.
Demo days would really help me here. If I could do a demo day in the biggest store in every state (52 stores), that would significantly boost the sales of my games. I know that there are at least 2,500 hobby stores in the US, so I could really boost my sales if I got my games into a reasonable proportion of those, and then introduced the games to the clientele.
The aim of a demo day is two-fold, to raise awareness of my games and to sell some games. What would be ideal for the store is that on a demo day the store can get some games on sale-or-return. They can get plenty of stock in to ensure that they don't run out and hence miss sales due to running out of stock, but they don't have to invest a chunk of their capital on games that might take months to sell. How would I get around this in the US? I've got stock here, but it would be expensive to ship to the US. My US distributors have stock in the US, but won't lend it back to me.
Reps demoing my games in a store are representing my company (hence 'rep'). When I do it, I know that I'll do a good job, because it's my livelihood that's on the line. I know I'm presentable: smart, polite, knowledgeable about the games and fragrant (in a good way!). How do I pick people that will do a good job and represent my company in a way I'd be delighted with, when those people live at least 3,500 miles away and I've never met them?
America is huge. Really huge. There's no way someone could cover the whole of it unless it was their job (and possibly their life!). Which means multiple reps. Which means multiplying the presentation and recompense problems by the number of reps.
It's still early days for Reiver Games. It seems to be going ok, but I don't have much cash on hand and when I do I want to invest that in more games. How do I make it worth a rep's while to give up their time demoing my games? Do I give them free games? Free T-shirts? Travel expenses? A wage? What are reasonable amounts for each of those things? What about US employment law? How do I prove that I got return on investment?
While it's a nice idea, I don't know how I'd go about solving these problems well enough to make it work for all involved. Any suggestions?
Sunday, September 6
Back in June, just after Sumeria came out, I did a demo day at Inner Sanctum Collectibles in Cambridge. I turned up with my demo copies of each game and a couple of cases of each game and sat and played my games throughout the day in the store. As I said at the time, the day was a great success, and I was definitely interested in doing more of these events.
What with moving house and starting a new treatment, things have been pretty hectic for the last couple of months, so I didn't get to do a second Demo Day until yesterday at Eclectic Games in Reading.
Although Eclectic Games have a massive games room at the back of the store with loads of tables for playing games, they had kindly set me up on a table in the main store, just behind the till, so I was much more prominent as a result. There was less interest than last time (at ISC a whole bunch of customers had come in specifically to see me and my games, whereas yesterday I think all the interest was from people who just happened to come in). I think next time I should get the store to publicise it as much as possible among their regular board games customers to help boost interest.
I still think the demo days are a good use of my time, and I've just contacted six games shop owners I know to see if they are interested in hosting a games day. I've also asked on BGG for recommendations for other stores that might be interested.
Thursday, September 3
Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.
I've asked everyone on my mailing list for their permission to send them a newsletter every quarter, and in every case they have signed up, saying they want to receive this information.
I offer people who meet me at conventions the chance to sign up and I offer people who email me the chance to sign up. Only those that want to get the emails. It's not spam.
In the newsletter, I always list the conventions I'll be attending over the next few months, how each of my games are doing and any information about new games in the pipeline. After Tuesday's discussion about a sale, I decided to offer the sale only to those people on my mailing list.
Only offering the sale prices to those people on my mailing list is a way of giving them something back for giving me permission to send them marketing information. It says that I appreciate their permission.
Although I am undercutting some retailers with my sale prices, it's a limited time offer, to a select group of people, so it shouldn't annoy my distributors and retailers.
Because it's going out to a limited number of people, lots of whom will already own my games, it won't boost my sales that much.
Because it's only mentioned to people on my mailing list, although it is a reward for being on my mailing list, it doesn't act as an incentive to join my mailing list as those people who aren't on it will never hear about it.
It's led to a few sales so far, not sure how many more to expect.
Tuesday, September 1
I'm expecting September sales to be fairly low, since I've no new games coming out, and I hope lots of people will be waiting to buy from me at Essen next month (and get the Sumeria 2-player expansion free with a purchase of Sumeria!).
So far, every month's sales this year has been better (sometimes a lot better) than the corresponding month last year. So far so good. But in fairness, last year I had a few hand-made copies of It's Alive! in April and May, then nothing until September when the professional re-print of It's Alive! arrived.
Last year's September was at the time my best month ever, more than twice the turnover than the previous June (which was the best I'd had so far). Of course it didn't keep the record long as October was when I went to Essen for the first time, and last October's sales were nearly five times September's, which remains my current record.
The It's Alive! re-print will have been out one year on Friday. Last September's figures were the result of the pre-orders and the initial stocking orders for It's Alive! With no corresponding new game launch this year I'm going to struggle to match last year's September figures this year. I've been considering doing a September sale to try to boost sales this month.
To make it worthwhile, the sale price has to be low enough to entice people to buy from me (not a local internet retailer), while still making me some money after I've paid the shipping and VAT. I figure I've got three options: free shipping, discounted games with full price shipping and discounted total (shipping and games). I'll consider these against example UK and US online pricing (I've used Games Lore and Board and Bits respectively as examples). I've used Carpe Astra as the example (it's in the middle of my game price range) and the middle price for Boards and Bits shipping ($8.50). Note that both online retailers offer discounted (or free) shipping if you place a large order, so me considering a purchase of just Carpe Astra is a little disingenuous.
Free shipping. My price for Carpe Astra: £22 (approx $36.30). Games Lore Price: £20.20. Boards and Bits price: $34.10. Makes the game more affordable for US customers (but still more expensive than buying from an online retailer in the US), and doesn't help UK customers at all (they can get it cheaper from a UK online store, or from a shop). I'd make a decent amount money on a UK sale (£22 - £3.14 shipping = 18.86 which is £16.40 ex VAT), less on a US sale (£22 - £8.30 shipping = £13.70 which is £11.91 ex VAT).
Discounted games, full price shipping. If I did 30% off: My UK price: £15.60 + £3.14 shipping = £18.74, My US price: £15.60 + £8.30 = £23.90 (approx $39.50 - almost full retail price!). Helps the UK customer, but doesn't help the US customer at all (since the shipping is not discounted and very expensive). I'd make a reasonably amount of money each sale (£13.56 ex VAT).
Discounted total. Say 40% off the total game and shipping price: My UK price: £25.14 * .6 = £15.08, my US price: £30.30 * .6 = £18.18 (approx $30). This would be a great deal for the UK customer, and a reasonable deal for the US customer. My ex Vat pricing would be £10.38 for a UK sale (more than a distributor sale, less than a shop sale), £8.59 for a US sale (in the same range).
So, I wonder. Would this work? Would I sell any copies as a result? Would I look desperate? If I decide to do it, then I can advertise it in my quarterly newsletter which is due soon, and on BoardGameGeek and Boardgame News.
Thursday, August 27
I've received over 150 submissions in the three years I've been running Reiver Games. I've published four games. Not many make the cut! But I'm on the lookout for more games all the time. I'd love to have a full pipeline, where I know the next 15 games I'm going to publish. I'm nowhere near that point yet.
I'm most interested in light- to medium-weight strategy, ideally language-independent games with a fun theme that play in an hour or less, like the games I've already published. In this post I give some advice to aspiring game designers on how to submit a game to me.
Obviously this information only applies to submitting a game to Reiver Games - other companies will have different procedures and preferences. But I would imagine a lot of the information is similar across the board among those publishers who accept submissions.
I run a three stage submissions procedure, with the first two stages designed to weed out things I'm really not interested in and the third being the real test of the games.
Stage 1: Overview
In the first instance I ask for a couple of paragraphs via email describing the components, theme and major mechanics. This stage is designed to quickly weed out broad categories of games I'm not interested in: trivia games, mass-market games, sports games and card games playable with a standard deck of cards. I can also rule out a few games based on other criteria: if I find the theme offensive or games featuring very expensive components (if it's got 1,200 plastic space ships I'm not going to be able to make a small print run affordably). I also like a brief description of the number of players, game length and age category.
Stage 2: Rules
The next thing I ask for is a copy of the rules. To be honest very few games fail at this stage, only those that I realise have too many components or actually sound more mass-market after reading the rules that they did during reading the overview.
For the rulebook, the following can definitely help:
- Get it proof-read by someone with excellent English - the more readable it is, the easier it is to understand how the game works.
- Get the game blind-playtested: get someone who hasn't playtested it yet to learn it from the rules. This is a great way to find out what is missing or unclear in the rulebook.
- Add diagrams. They don't need to be works of art but they can help to clarify the more complicated bits of the game.
- Read the rulebooks of a few of your favourite games. Try to copy the style and structure of a well-written rulebook for a published game.
Stage 3: Prototype
If I still like the sound of your game I'll ask you to send me a prototype to try out with my playtesters. This will ideally take several months but with some of the submissions I've received it's taken a lot longer than that. Here's what I look for in a prototype:
- A box. Seriously. It doesn't have to be a nice tray-and-lid style board game box, a corrugated mailing box is fine, but it makes it easier to store, easier to cart around and easier to send back.
- Include the rules. Again it sounds obvious, and I know you've already sent them to me via email, but if you don't I won't always check the box before I take it to a playtesting session and not having the rules in the box is very frustrating if I've just got all the bits out to play with.
- Include all the bits required. They don't need to be wazzy plastic miniatures, custom wooden figures or little FIMO sculptures, generic wooden pieces is fine. Sure, I've got a spares box, but there's no guarantee I've got the three different sizes of pieces in eight different colours that you need.
- Ensure cards are shufflable. If you can't print onto thick card, you can print onto paper and put them in card-sleeves with Magic: The Gathering commons for added rigidity.
- If your game includes cardboard counters with labels attached use a decent glue. Label paper is good. Permanent spray adhesive is good. It's worth knowing that glues can fail as they age. It may seem fine at the beginning, but after a couple of weeks it might fall apart. Test it at home first.
- Good art is not required. I'll be redoing the art anyway to ensure it fits with my company style. It's not worth paying a designer to do the art for you, or spending hours on it. I'll probably want to change a few things, and it's easier to do that on a simple home-made prototype than a professional-looking product. Prototype art doesn't affect my decision, it's the gameplay I'm testing not the aesthetics.
- If your game has a board make sure it fits in the box. Making a quad- or six-folding board isn't straightforward, but it is possible to do at home (I've made a few, and several submissions I've received have got them). If it fits in the box it's easier to cart around and send back to you if necessary. I'll not necessarily keep the box you shipped it in for all of the (potentially several months of) time I'm testing it.
If at the end of all that I don't want to publish your game (the most likely outcome!) I'm happy to return the prototype at your expense, or I can dispose of it - your call.
Wednesday, August 26
It's just as well that I mostly publish other peoples' games designs because since I've started working on Reiver Games full time I've struggled to make progress on my own designs. I've had a few ideas for games, usually theme first, and then I've struggled to get anywhere thinking up mechanisms that mesh with the theme and yet sound even vaguely interesting.
Fortunately, I've received a lot of submissions, so my lack of inspiration isn't getting in the way too much.
When I receive a submission I have three possible outcomes in mind:
- If I really like it then I want to publish it. This is the ideal outcome, I'd love to be in the position where I know what the next ten games I'm going to publish are.
- If I'm not wowed by the game, then I want to reject it. I get lots of submissions that work fine, but I'm just not feeling the love for them. It's hard to give the designer a good reason why I turned these down, but at the end of the day I only want to publish games that I think are awesome. If I think it's pretty good, that's sadly not good enough.
- The third outcome, is a trickier call. When I receive a submission that I think has the potential to be an excellent game but needs a lot of work in my view, then I offer to co-design it with the designer. This is what I did with Carpe Astra and Ted Cheatham.
The third option is not optimal for the same reason that I find it easier to publish someone else's game - a lack of perspective.
When you're designing a game it's hard to draw a line under it. You make a first version. It's awful. You tweak it. The second version is better. You tweak it again. That version is worse! You tweak it again. This process continues for months or years and you lose all perspective. It becomes your baby. You're desperate for it to succeed and as the game approaches complete it gets harder and harder to tell if your fine tweaks are making things better or worse. When is good enough? When is awesome? When do you stop fiddling with it?
When I receive a submission I miss out on all this, I get a game - I try the game. Either I love it and want to publish it or I don't. There's no attachment - it's just another prototype, probably from someone I've never met or never even heard of. I can be completely objective. Is it worth me risking thousands of pounds of my own money to playtest, manufacture and sell this game? Will it make me any money or will I be left holding lots of stock and a sizable debt?
Despite the disadvantages I still sometimes consider this. Only if I get a game that I think could become one I think is awesome, but that needs a whole bunch of work to get there. Is it a bad game as it stands? Not necessarily. It could have an awesome theme, or a brilliant mechanism, but it's just not a game that excites me or that I think would sell well as it stands.
In these circumstances I'm willing to work with the designer to make significant changes. I make the changes I think of and send it back to the designer for comments and more suggestions. The designer makes a bunch of changes of their own and sends them to me. I try them out, and so on. This process carries on until we're both happy with it.
Last week I received a prototype that sounded interesting. It was a sci-fi themed game and I got to try it out last Friday. As it stood I found the game too long and lacking interesting choices in a couple of areas. But I could see the potential and I had a bunch of ideas about how to move it towards the sort of game I want to publish. I approached the designer about co-designing and he's up for it.
I woke up at 4am this morning, my head buzzing with ideas about the game. I couldn't get back to sleep and at 6:30am I finally got up and went and started making a prototype with the ideas I'd been thinking about. I've just tried it out and it doesn't work. But I'm still excited about it, and I've a few ideas that might improve things. I'd like to get some changes that at least sort of work before sending them to the designer - I don't want to look like a total chump!
Monday, August 24
I've moved house twice this year. Once from York to Bedfordshire (160 miles / 270 km) in January for The Wife's new job. Then again in June from the rented house in Bedfordshire to our own place in Northamptonshire (8 miles / 13 km).
While lots of things about the move have been awesome (nice new home, a garden, more space, meeting new people, swanky new office) one of the things I've really struggled with is getting gaming in. In York I used to go to Paul's games nights twice a week (about a mile away), and I tried to get to the Beyond Monopoly! club whenever I could (it was on twice a month so I missed lots but there were plenty of options). In addition, I held a playtesting night at mine once a week too.
Since moving down here I've found a group through BoardGameGeek that I play with on Tuesday evenings, and I've even managed to get along to one of their Sunday sessions yesterday. They're a great bunch of guys, but the 15 mile trek is a lot less convenient than Paul's games night was in York :-( In particular, if I can't drive due to MS there's no gaming for me :-(
I found a club on Thursday nights in Newport Pagnell, but since we moved the second time the 25 mile trip has got in the way of me actually attending. Last month I went along to another club in Leighton Buzzard, which was about 40 miles, but for a full day of Saturday gaming it was worth it :-)
Playtesting is even harder to arrange. There's no guarantee of the quality of a prototype (in terms of game play - the build quality doesn't bother me), so I feel uncomfortable asking people to potentially waste a good chunk of what might be their only games night for several weeks on a game that might be rubbish. So I'd much rather do a playtesting session, where everyone knows what they are letting themselves in for. I don't know anyone who lives locally, so I'm limited to people I find through my games nights, games clubs and BGG. Since all these people live at least 15 miles away (often significantly more than that), it's not so easy to arrange. I've started having sessions at Terry's house (again about 15 miles away - I've officially moved to the arse-end of nowhere!), and ideally I'd like to do them around once a week - I'll have to see how much I can impose on Terry's generosity!
Despite all the problems I had a really good week's gaming last week. I went along on Tuesday to Tony's, then with Tony off work I went over to his again on Thursday during the day for some proper games and a playtest. Friday was more playtesting at Terry's (six plays of four different games), and then on Sunday I got over to CJ's for another afternoon of gaming (including another playtest). This week is looking good too - Tuesday evening at Tony's, playtesting during the day on Wednesday or Thursday, I'm seeing Paul in York on Friday and then hopefully CJ's again on Sunday. Hopefully I'm getting things sorted down here now.
Wednesday, August 19
I'm starting to sort out my Essen visit for this year. Last year I went to Essen for the first time, as an exhibitor and as an attendee.
Having never been before I had no idea what to expect, nor really how to prepare. I had released It's Alive! in September (about six weeks before Essen), but I had very little in the way of distribution and very little buzz about me. Carpe Astra, which I had hoped to release at Essen had been delayed and so I was just toting It's Alive! and a hand-made prototype of Carpe Astra.
I'd been approached by Peter Struijf of Geode Games to see if I'd be willing to share my stand with him and I was. Turns out it was a great idea, not only did Peter's Krakow 1325AD game draw lots of extra people to my stand, but Peter was a great guy and we had a lot of fun hanging out on the stand over the five days. Peter's boundless enthusiasm was infectious :-)
This year, with a year's experience of Essen and three games to sell (plus the Sumeria 2-player expansion promo) I hope to be able to build upon last year's experience and have an even more successful show.
To determine if the show is 'successful', I need some benchmarks, to gauge its success.
The simplest and most honest success criteria will be do I turn over more at this year's show than I did at last year's? This is easy to work out since I already know what last year's turnover was, and I have to work out what this year's is in order to pay it in to the bank :-). Cash sales are also good for my business, as the mark-up I get on each sale is much higher than I would get selling to a distributor. This boosts the average value of my sales, and reduces the number of games I need to sell to break even on a particular game (none of my games have broken even yet).
On top of the simple cash turnover, there's a more involved, but still financial criteria: October's turnover. This includes not just the cash turnover at the event, but invoiced sales to shops and distributors at the show. Last year's October turnover was awesome - it's still my best month ever by quite some way, since as well as the cash sales on the trade show floor I also sold a lot of games to new distributors. This year things will be very different, since most of my distributors already have stock (though I'm still waiting for most of my European distributors to pick up Sumeria).
Then there are the other less tangible criteria: raising awareness of my games and my company, attracting new distributors, finding new artists and designers, projecting a good image of my company, etc. How to judge success on those criteria is much harder.
Last year at Essen, I did very little in the way of preparation. I spent £50 on some glossy posters, which I hung from the back of my stand with simple poster frames. I bought some material to use as table-clothes and just piled my games along the back of my stand in their cartons - a warehouse-like wall of brown cardboard. I also got It's Alive! listed in the 'Spiel fuer Spiel 2009' handbook, a full colour handbook printed by Dagmar de Cassan of Spielen in Osterreich.
This year, I'd like to improve the pre-fair awareness of my company and my games to draw more people to my booth. I'll be listing in Spiel fuer Spiel 2010 again, and I'll be spending 100 Euro on an improved listing in the SpielBox preview which includes not just the basic info (number of players, title, designer, etc.) but photos and descriptions of the games.
I'd also like to put some more thought into the stand design to make it look a little more professional (without adding hugely to the cost).
If you've got any ideas or advice I'd be very glad to hear them :-)
Monday, August 17
Well, I've had a week off, mostly spent lying in bed and I have to tell you I'm exhausted!
The treatment I was receiving last week was five days of intravenous infusion with an experimental drug. The drug (originally used for treating Leukaemia) works by intentionally destroying your immune system. Since in MS your own immune system starts attacking the myelin sheaths that insulate your nerves in your brain and spinal cord, the study doctors figure that killing off your immune system and letting it regrow might fix the problem. The results of previous clinical trials have been very encouraging.
Of course, the downside is I've just spent a week being pumped full of very toxic chemicals and now I have no immune system, so I'm very vulnerable to infection and food poisoning. Also, I'm completely knackered, despite not having done anything for a week. I'm under Doctor's orders to take things very easy for a couple of weeks.
Much as I'd like to continue lying on the sofa watching telly (it was pretty much all I was capable of this weekend), I've got a swollen inbox now after a week off, and I need to get the art for the Sumeria 2-player expansion to the manufacturers by Friday, so I can't just totally slack off.
I'm also keen to make some progress on the Sumeria computer game which has been on hold for a few weeks. I'll have to see what I've got the energy for...
Friday, August 7
As many of you will know, I have MS.
Next week I'm starting treatment with a new drug and will be in hospital all week. As a result there won't be any posts here and any Tweets I make will be few and far between.
This means that the next version of the Sumeria computer game will be at least a few weeks away. When I get back I'll also have to finish off the Sumeria 2-player expansion, as that will need to go to the printers fairly quickly.
See you all on the flip-side :-)
Wednesday, August 5
Sumeria was originally submitted to me as a 2-4 player game. I played the 2-player version several times and really liked it.
During play-testing, one of my blind playtesters found a weakness in the two-player game that made the second city-state worth less than the third (and the choice of influence counters pretty meaningless). Since the 2-player version also added to the cost of the game (since it needed extra wooden pieces), Dirk and I decided to drop it so the game was only 3-4 player. Later in play-testing a slight change to the 2-player rules fixed these problems, but it stayed out of the game as released.
Until now! I've decided to release the 2-player version of Sumeria as a promo expansion at Essen. What's the deal? Buy Sumeria from me at Essen and you'll get the limited edition promo expansion free! It includes 6 extra trader pieces in each of the four player colours, a sticker to add to the board to show a fourth player turn per round and a rulesheet (in English and German again). All wrapped up in a plastic baggie.
If you've already got a copy of Sumeria (well done :-) ), the expansion will be available to pre-order from my website shortly, and if I have any left after Essen they will continue to be available there. To keep the cost to a minimum, I've decided on baggie packaging rather than a small box, this means it probably won't be available in shops ever, but I hope it will only cost £2 plus postage and packaging from my website.
This is my first time making both an expansion and a convention promo, it will be interesting to see how it goes...
Friday, July 31
A while ago I mentioned how I had created translation grids for the rules for all my games to make it easier for volunteers to translate the rules of my games into other languages. It seems to have worked. I've had a lot of translations done of my rules and this week I've received a couple more (Sumeria into Hungarian and Carpe Astra into Spanish).
So far all well and good. The translation grids work a treat, and make the layout of a new version pretty straightforward. Until everything goes wrong!
Several weeks ago I received a translation of Carpe Astra into Russian. Great! The same guy (thanks Yegor!) had done the other games too, and I'd already done Sumeria, so I started on Carpe Astra.
The translation grids make it really easy to just drop the translated text into the original Adobe InDesign document, using the same images and fonts. At least they do until you pick a stupid font. I'd used Agency FB Condensed, a narrow font that looked vaguely sci-fi, for the Carpe Astra rulebook and cards. Sadly this font did not support the cyrillic alphabet - when I pasted the translated text into the document all I got was little empty rectangular boxes where each character should have been. So I switched to Arial (it's not that important that the font is correct after all).
While this fixed the initial problem (Arial supports the cyrillic alphabet) it's a much wider font than Agency FB Condensed and the Russian translation was normally longer than the corresponding English text - so the translation no longer fits in the same number of pages. My first attempt at fixing this was to drop the font size from 12 point down to 11 (and fix all the layout problems this caused). But after a bit more cut-and-paste it was clear that 11pt wasn't small enough so I went down to 10pt (and fixed all the layout problems again). Guess what? Still not small enough. Running out of patience I shelved the translation and I admit it has been a few weeks since I last made any progress.
The arrival of the new translation grids forced me to go back to it however, and today I finally nailed it. The solution was finding out that InDesign allows you to change the width of a font - effectively allowing me to create an 'Arial Condensed' - a narrower version of Arial. This meant I could change the font size back to 11pt and nail it. It still took a bunch of work and a lot of fiddling to get the diagrams and their captions laid out correctly but the job is finished and off to the translator for proof-reading. This means I can concentrate on the other two translations over the weekend.
The moral of this tale? I'm not really sure, other than learn the abilities of InDesign so that I can fix this problem the right way first time!
Wednesday, July 29
Well, the whole trying to run this through BoardGameGeek thing didn't work very well - it's down at the moment :-(
So I'll do it here instead. The first version of the Sumeria computer game is now available (ish!) on my website: Sumeria computer game with any luck if you download that MSI file and then run it, it will install Sumeria on your computer.
First a few provisos. This is a very early version to get some feedback about the user interface - very little actually works yet. What does work:
- You can install it
- You can start a new game from the Game menu
- You can choose the number of players, their names and the colours they play.
- You can highlight a state by moving the mouse over its tile
- You can set up the game by seeding the board with the appropriate number of traders.
What doesn't work? Anything else! Most notably you can't play the game. There's no AI and you can't get the game to work across the internet with remote players - it's three or four humans around the one computer.
The next release will incorporate feedback on this one and allow you to play the game on a single machine with no AI.
I'd really appreciate any feedback you have on what I've done so far - in the comments here for until BGG is back up.
Monday, July 27
The first bit of work I did on the Sumeria computer game was a bottom up approach, write the code which kept track of the game mechanics and state. Though it was great to get it working there was very little to show for it, apart from a test suite that told me all my tests were passing - there was no UI at all.
The last couple of days I've been concentrating on getting some UI written so there's something to show for my efforts. There's not much, but enough to show you what I've achieved so far. Initially I've been working on getting the beginning of the game set up and displayed and the basic UI coded. The next step will be to get the game playable, but at least it visibly does something now!
Initially, the game shows an empty window (I'll put a splash screen there eventually), and allows you to read the rules (from the Help menu) and start a new game (from the Game menu):
Starting a game creates a game and shows the players position and the board and tiles as at the start of the game:
Although you can't do anything yet, I've included a couple of UI feedback mechanisms. When you move the mouse over one of the state tiles at the bottom of the board, that tile and state tile it corresponds to are highlighted:
Similarly, when you move the mouse over a settlement, that settlement, its state and state tile are all highlighted:
It's not much, but you can already see where I'm hoping to go with this.
I'm intending to run this as a semi-Agile development effort. I'll be releasing early versions for feedback from members of the game-playing public. I hope to post the first version (with basic UI but nothing working game-wise) on Wednesday. If you'd like to take part in the testing, or just look at what I've done, please subscribe to this BGG thread where I'll post release announcements and download instructions.