Board games by the numbers: what it costs to Kickstart, produce, and ship a new game
Minion Games has just launched a new Kickstarter campaign for their upcoming board game Hegemonic. That’s not very newsworthy. What is impressive is the fact that this is the company’s sixth Kickstarter campaign, and they’ve finished and shipped a board game for each one.
“I wouldn’t say that we made many actual mistakes because we started using Kickstarter early and much wasn’t known about how to approach it as a board game maker,” James Mathe, the owner of Minion Games, told the Penny Arcade Report. Kickstarter allows the company to release games that are profitable right out of the gate. So I had to ask, what were they doing so right?
The lessons learned
Mathe listed a few examples of Kickstarter best practices. Get your social network in place before launch. Make sure you have a realistic plan for stretch goals if funding exceeds your expectations. Don’t overpromise on delivery dates, as it takes three months to create a board game, but that’s only if everything goes smoothly. And sometimes things don’t go smoothly.
Board games are an international business, and Mathe claimed there were no good US manufacturers who can deliver quality production of board games in small batches at an affordable price.
“In Europe you can find some good printers, although still expensive - they are in the right price range,” he explained. “Then you can obviously find many in China but then you’re really rolling the dice with what will actually show up at your door step. They all promise the world and very, very few deliver.” Companies that successfully deal with Chinese manufacturing have a representative located in the actual plant; someone who can maintain standards and understands the business. That comes with its own cost.
So what can go wrong? Mathe described some of the printing mistakes he saw in their early games that came from Chinese plants.
“The cards were not on card stock, just paper stock, which is a typical thing they do to lower the bid. Then our cards and cardboard were not printed straight and many had markings or writings from their quality control people,” he said.
“That’s right, their quality control people screwed up some of our games. Then worst of all they made the games in a non climate controlled building so all the moisture from China’s wet season was in the cardboard and it all molded inside the packaging after 6 months, and that was with silicon packs,” he continued. “The cards also got brittle and literally started to fall apart. Communication is a big nightmare too and they’ll say anything you want to hear”
If you don’t have the resources to maintain quality control in China, you’ll be printing in Europe, which introduces the challenge of shipping games to the United States. Don’t worry about weight, as you pay by volume.
“Then there is a few hundred dollars for customs fees and then a freight company has to train and/or truck the games to the warehouse,” Mathe said, explaining the costs of shipping. “The actual costs very but a typical $50 game of 2000 units will cost us about $3000-$4000 USD to get it to the warehouse from Europe or China. Then most warehouses will charge you a monthly fee per pallet…”
In other words, it’s expensive as hell.
What happens to these games at retail?
Mathe owns three gaming stores, so he gets to see both sides of the business. He told the Penny Arcade Report that hits on Kickstarter will be hits in the store. “Flash Point, for example, continues to sell steady. D-Day Dice sold well when it came out and it had broken a lot of KS sales records. Then there is Alien Frontiers as well which keeps on selling. But these are all hit games,” he explained.
What about his own games?
“As for Minion Games, the Manhattan Project just sold out of of its second print run. So Kickstarter has not hurt sales in game stores,” he said. “Tahiti, our second most recent Kickstarter sold well out of the gate in distribution as well.” The other games are doing well, but “not stellar.”
You also see much more of your profit in games sold via your Kickstarter campaign. “A publisher wants to sell as much as he can through Kickstarter as they will see 3 times as much profit in doing so, but in the end if a game is to be a solid regular seller, it must go through the distribution system,” he said.
Mathe said that his fulfillment company stated that out of 80 new products in 2012, only 22 of them sold over 500 units at retail. That’s a sobering look at the reality of the board game business, and it’s a business with a heavy cost in terms of production and shipping. In contrast, Mathe gets production quotes assuming runs of 1,500 to 2,000 copies of each game. “You’re not going to sell more then that on Kickstarter and through distribution unless you have a real hit of a game,” he explained. “Which is rare, though everyone thinks their game is great.”
Why Kickstarter is great for board games
Minion Games used to ask for small amounts in their campaigns to help defray the cost of production, and early Kickstarters only asked for $5,000 or so. In the early days of the service they could hit their goals without so much as a video. Things have changed, and fans now expect more from Kickstarter campaigns. The good news is that many more people are willing to fund projects and help spread the word. This makes the business of board games much less risky.
“We put up the REAL cost of our games these days and only print if we cover the true cost of printing the game,” Mathe said. This removes much of the risk of releasing new games. Board games are an analog business in a digital world, and Kickstarter allows companies like Minion Games to try new things without risking expensive flops. If there is no interest from players, the game simply won’t be made.
“We let the fans decide if it’s worth of printing! Our last two campaigns both did in the $30,000 range so I’m comfortable that our reputation and Kickstarters maturity are at a level that we can get this amount,” he said when I asked about Hegemonic’s $30,000 goal, which is the company’s largest to date. “We are also experienced with how to market these campaigns now. In fact as I write this we have reached 17% of our goal in only 8 hours, so we’re doing something right.”
You can learn more about, and support, Hegemonic right now. The game looks great, and I’d like to thank Mathe for taking the time to walk us through the specifics of his business.