Yesterday I met up with Teale Fristoe of Nothing Sacred Games while he was visiting Portland. I showed him Lagoon, we played a cool bird watching prototype game he brought, and then we played his delightful Kickstarted game Corporate America. All of this was the product of our randomly connecting on Twitter.
By now, this is a pattern I’ve repeated many times. At each of the four game conventions I attended in 2013, I shared a hotel room with one or more fellow game designers I knew through Twitter: Ben Rosset, Jason Tagmire, Kevin Kulp, Seth Jaffee, and Adam McIver. That’s a pretty phenomenal lineup of fun, creative and helpful lads that I wasn’t prepared to have my world rocked by when I reached out to them about sharing a room. I wanted to save money, but the real payoff was the amazing late night conversations, shared inspiration, and resulting friendships. I met dozens and dozens of other Twitter acquaintances at these conventions as well, and these connections have accelerated my learning and game development tremendously. If you’re a game designer, your community is on Twitter.
My primary intention with this blog is to document how I’m spending my many hours a day working towards the Kickstarter launch of Lagoon, so I’ll shift focus to that now. Using recently revised manufacturing quotes from Panda, I started building a financial spreadsheet to help me determine if I can manage to make a profit by publishing Lagoon. My early tinkering suggests that at low print runs, the margins are thin to non-existent. And I don’t even have to pay a designer royalty to someone else! This is where Kickstarter fits in, giving me a chance to earn the support of backers who will springboard me into a higher print run with lower per unit costs.
I’m hoping I can publish Lagoon with an MSRP of about $35, but it would be a lot easier if I could make it $40. Setting a game’s price is tough. On the one hand you want to set the price at a level that makes profit conceivable, while on the other hand you need to set the price at what consumers expect for the size, weight, and components in your game. I haven’t figured this all out yet.
Back to the spreadsheet, my financial model currently uses guesses for the weight of a single copy of the game as well as for the freight shipping of the whole print run from China (awaiting better numbers on these from Panda). The weight of the finished game typically drives your cost to fulfill Kickstarter rewards, since each copy has to be individually mailed to each backer and weight often impacts the postage. Overall, the cost of shipping is just huge. Frankly, it seems getting a handle on shipping alone is probably a bigger job than all the other financial planning I need to do. This is mainly due to the trials presented by getting reward copies of the game to international backers. Fred Hicks of Evil Hat does a brilliant job of laying out why this is so hard. The wildly enterprising Jamey Stegmaier figured out a complex but effective way to reduce international shipping costs, but it requires a mountain of logistical planning that makes my head spin. For a while I was actually considering not offering international shipping at all so I could just stick my head in the sand on this and avoid facing what will be an unpleasant compromise no matter how I slice it. Welcome to business, David!
Another thing I need to get a handle on is how to plan stretch rewards for Lagoon. Michael Mindes of Tasty Minstrel Games is a major Kickstarter innovator, and also very generous and forthcoming in sharing how he runs his publishing business. We played Lagoon twice at the BoardGameGeek Convention (he beat me the second game!), and over dinner he was kind enough to share a lot of tips about how he plans his Kickstarter campaigns. Borrowing from his methodology, I requested two quotes from Panda. The first quote is for the minimum quality version of Lagoon, and the second quote is for a higher end “maximum” quality version of the game including several potential enhancements that could be stretch goals. This was good advice, but now I’m struggling to figure out how I might sequence the stretch rewards and at what funding levels they can pencil out for me financially. In theory, higher funding levels should allow me to do a larger print run, which lowers the cost per unit. Those cost savings are theoretically what pays for stretch rewards. I have a call with my Panda rep tomorrow, and am hoping to get more answers about the relative cost of individual game enhancements.
Another publisher I spent time with at BGG.CON was Chris Kirkman of Dice Hate Me Games. His Kickstarter campaign for Brew Crafters (designed by my wonderful GenCon roommate Ben Rosset) was in its final hours during the convention, and was blowing through all its stretch goals. As a backer, I was amazed at how smoothly Chris managed the campaign, all his timely and polished communications to backers, and especially a steady progression of exciting and achievable stretch goals. That’s a feat I hope to emulate.
The last night of the convention, I holed up for dinner in the hotel bar with Chris, Darrell Louder of Compounded and UnPub fame, my con roommate Adam McIver (shortly thereafter famous for CoinAge), and pro game photographer Scott King. Conventions are intense, and after four nonstop days it was nice to slow down for a spell and relax with these fine gentlemen during the pandemonium of the massive BGG raffle down the hall. Chris shared a lot of really helpful information about his publishing experiences, and said I could follow up with him if I had other questions later on. I just took him up on that, and am hoping to glean a few more insights into how he made the Brew Crafters campaign dance so gracefully. With the help of all the amazing friends I’ve been making in the board game industry, I believe I can teach Lagoon to do the Kickstarter tango!