10,000 Feet to Publishing a Board Game

Kickin'

 

So you want to start a board game company? I could go into a page of details of each of these bullet points below (and maybe I will in the future), but for now I wanted to just take the 10,000 foot view of what it takes to make a hobby board game these days. I have done this now for over 14 games. This process can take 1 year to complete. Printers take 60-90 days and overseas shipping takes 21-30 days.

  • Accept or Create a game design
    • Typical contract to a designer is 3-5% of MSRP. 5-6% of Wholesale. 20-25% of Net Profit.
    • Some publishers pay a signing bonus but not many.
    • There should be a clause to get the game to market within 2 years
  • Develop & Streamline that design
    • Get outside help to polish the game
    • Remove excess rules or those that break rules where possible
    • Remove fiddly bits or sub-games
    • Try to attend a Protospiel event to get good feedback from other designers
  • Blind Test the game
    • Have people you don’t know play the game without your help
  • Hire an artist
    • This will only be the raw art, a Layout designer will plug into the game design
    • Box cover $100-500
    • Game board $100-300
    • Cards $25-50 per low detail, $50-100 for larger art.
    • Everything needs to be done in 300dpi & CYMK color.
    • Use resources like Elfwood and Deviant Art to find artists.
  • Hire a manual editor / writer
    • Designers can’t write manuals. Get a professional to help.
    • Manuals are printed any size but in 4 page counts.
    • 100-150 gsm, 4/4 color, CYMK
  • Hire a Layout / Manual designer
    • To make your artwork pop
    • To make icons and rules clear
    • Costs around $500-2000
  • Producer and Project Manager
    • Someone to organize all the staff, manage the logistics, and keep people on task
    • Most likely this will be you. Get some tools to help you.
  • Create components spec sheet
    • Printers will want to know thickness and finishes on all bits
    • Cards are typically 275-300 gsm of CARD STOCK (a multilayer stock)
    • Boards/Tokens are typically 1mm-2mm thick with a Linen finish
    • Wood bits are typically around 8-20mm in size.
  • Get bids from printersdepleted_sheet
    • Every die you make for tokens is going to have a $300 setup cost, try to share 1 die.
    • For a plastic figure you need to pay for a mold which is $3000-5000 setup fee.
    • Custom dice are expensive and unless you’re doing 2000+ ganes, they are usually not worth the costs, try stamped or stickers
    • Card sizes – EURO: 59x91mm, 44x67mm – USA: 63x88mm, 57x87mm
    • Don’t forget extra zip lock bags and the e form to hold stuff from moving.
    • Don’t get talked into printing more than 1500-2500 copies.
    • Player boards will warp if printed on only one side, always worth the extra cost to do both.
    • Watch out for short cuts, humidity problems, just poor quality control from China
    • Ludo Fact in Germany does good work. Here is a video of them.
    • PandaGM.com is out of Canada and overseas a China printer for high quality
    • Do not pay for safety testing from the printer as it’s just a racket to rip you off. Most games do not need this, but if you are targeting under age 13 you may have to.
  • Set your Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price
    • A simple formula is to take your total printing+shipping+fees and divide by the # of games and multiple by 5 or 6 to get the MSRP.
    • Simple 1 deck card game should be $9-19
    • Light family or casual or party games should be around $20-39
    • Typical 3 pound 12”x12” board game has a value of about $50-60
    • Big box or heavy components games can go as high as $99
  • Setup a Kickstarter campaign page with rewards & stretch goalskickstarter-badge-funded
    • As a publisher there is never a reason NOT to run a kickstarter campaign – so do it.
    • Setup your Amazon payment account right away, don’t wait. Even though the KS site says you’ll get your money 1-2 weeks after your campaign, it’s actually delivered the night the campaign ends.
    • Setup 80% of your Kickstarter page and submit it for review. You can update it more later
    • Make sure you have a $20-$30 item to buy as that’s the most popular buy-in
    • Make a video even if it’s just a simple iPhone introduction. Keep it short < 3 min.
    • Run your campaign for about 30 days not much longer. Start and end dates should be chosen based on typical employer pay days.
    • Stretch goals should contain upgrades to bits or special cards but no new rules. They should not be required to play.
    • People will pay $10-20 extra for signed copies. They will pay $25-50 extra for the ability to add content to the game in some form.
    • Good a la carte items are pins and t-shirts.
  • Market & Manage Kickstarter campaign
    • Social networking and having a base readership BEFORE your campaign starts
    • Post updates regularly (1-3 times a week)
    • Run contests to give things away and draw attention to your KS page
    • Add yourself to the KS announcement thread on BoardGameGeek.com.
    • Get interviewed on websites and podcasts
    • Get a review of the game done, if possible by a third party
  • Pay Down Payment of 50% plus setup fees
    • You’ll need to wire the fees to the printer. Your bank with charge you $20-40 for this.
  • Build any 3D objects for the printer
    • Hire a sculptor ($300-500)
    • Create water-tight 3D model
  • Build Mechanical Files for the printerimages
    • Mechanicals are the files with bleed and all items positioned on a die with die lines, etc.
    • Sounds easy but it’s a bit of a pain. Most require 3mm bleed around everything and some tokens will require 5 or 6mm. The box cover and main game board will probably require a 10mm wrap-around bleed.
    • Make sure the back cover has a UPC (you can buy them for cheap online), Age range, Play Time, a choking hazard warning, and NO PRICE. Put an E symbol on the box if you want to sell in Europe. If you make a game for kids under 13, you’ve got a lot of other hassles to deal with from the child protection laws recently passed.
  • Solicit product to distribution & retailers
    • You’ll get 40% of MSRP if you sell direct to a distributor and they will want free shipping
    • You’ll get 34% of MSRP if you sell through a fulfillment house and are listed in many distributors
    • Direct sales to retailers will be at 50% of MSRP and free shipping.
    • Gamesalute.com also offers some solutions for those only wanting to print 1 game.
    • Using a fulfillment company like ImpressionsADV.net or PubServInc.com is highly recommended
  • Get “white box” sample from printer1357271736493
    • Details all components and physical materials so you know what you’re getting
    • Mailing will usually be a Fedex box and cost $100-300 for this. It’s worth it.
  • Pay final printing and shipping bill
    • The printer will not ship until you do.
  • Arrange shipment / customs to warehouse
    • Shipping overseas is by volume and will cost you about $3000-4500
    • Once in the USA you need someone to deliver the product, most printers will help you but it might cost you a few hundred more as could customs fees.
    • Storage at a warehouse can be free or up to $15 a month for a pallet. About 300-600 games fit on a pallet. If you have no warehouse be prepared to fill your garage, hallways, basement, and more.
  • Ship out Kickstarter copies and add -ons
    • This will probably take you a week to get done, be prepared by ordering boxes ahead of time
    • Remember all those add-on a la carte menu things you offered – you’ll regret that now!
  • Sell to Distributors
    • If you don’t have a fulfillment company working for you, you need to contact distributors yourself. ACD, Alliance, GTS are some of the larger US ones. Esdevium Games and Brave New World are big in the EU. Lion Rampant in Canada.
    • http://www.impressionsadv.net/index.php?p=distributorlist
  • Accounting
    • Don’t think the fun is over, you still have to make all the royalty and tax payments
  • Continue marketing and convention support
    • Create a webpage to promote and direct sell the game (only at MSRP).
    • Give out review copies to podcasts and video reviewers
    • Post and run banners on BoardGameGeek.com
    • GAMA Trade Show (Spring – Las Vegas) : Show for meeting retailers
    • Origins (Early Summer – Columbus) : Good show to demo at. Hookup with the CABs there
    • GENCON (Late Summer – Indianapolis) : Biggest US event and great vendor hall
    • Internationale Spieltage (Fall – Essen, Germany) : World’s largest consumer show
    • BGG Con (Fall – Dallas) : Great exposure for demos

 

Additional Reading:

The Cost of a Board Game in Time:
http://nothingsacredgames.com/the-cost-of-a-board-game-time/

Jolly Games has some DYI tips:
http://www.silcom.com/~tomjolly/design.htm
To share ideas and help other designers, join our Facebook Card & Game Designer Guild

We’d love to see you at our Designers event in March: http://www.Protospiel-Milwaukee.org

23 thoughts on “10,000 Feet to Publishing a Board Game

  1. Peter T on

    Superb information! I’m infinitely grateful for people like yourself who share this kind if insight into the process and industry. Thank you for your time and effort.

  2. Don Lloyd on

    Thumbs up! I studied this list backwards and forwards and James hit the nail on the head. It is amazing that designers continue to jump into the ring not knowing even a fourth of what James has mentioned above. I felt comfortable that I knew two thirds of that information and still had troubles.

  3. Love the breakdown of each step! Made me feel more confident about steps that I already knew and gave me new direction in steps that I thought I knew, definitely going to reference this as much as I can and use it when I move to a different step.

    James, what are your thoughts on the Chicago Toy Fair? Decent place to demo?

  4. James Mathe on

    Chicago Toy Fair is really main stream so unless you have game that is main stream (party game, simple card game, gateway game) I wouldn’t bother with it. I haven’t gone and I am only 90 minutes away from it.

  5. I’m not sure what kind of card you could get and artist to make for $5 – $25, but it would likely have to be very simple. Good art takes time. This point sets the expectation unreasonably low, coming from an artist’s point of view.

  6. Well I was talking about what we typically use which is mini-EURO/mini-US size cards and 20+ cards … so the detail is not high and there are many to get done and we’re a small company and find unknown artists to do them. So yeah $5 is probably not very realistic, but $25 sure is.

  7. Thanks for the response! I would clarify that in the post itself; artists have a hard enough time making a living without developers thinking we can do paintings for $5 a pop! :P

  8. In response to Don’s inquiry and James’ response on ChiTAG: yes, its a worthwhile place to demo. Any game designer/manufacturer wants to get their product in front of as many customers as possible. Some games are more complicated (either by intent or by lack of refinement) and best left to the niche gamers and demonstrated at events that cater specifically to that audience. Other games are more accessible to the general public, and these are the titles we see showing up increasingly in mass market outlets (Barnes & Noble, Target) and selling in larger volumes.

    If you’re coming to ChiTAG to demo, its because you have a product that you are either designing for the general public, or want to see how it fares with a general public audience. James may not have an interest in pursuing a larger customer audience with his titles, and that’s totally fair. If you think you are on the cusp of the next Settlers or Carcassonne, you might want to take advantage of our audience to get feedback on how you might best adjust your approach for mass market and broader retail/consumer appeal.

  9. As far as safety testing goes, would it be wise to target the game at ages 13+ to avoid the possibility of having to pay for this? I have a hobby game that works for ages 10+, and I’m looking to set my Kickstarter goal. At the goal level I’m considering, safety testing would make the difference between profitability and unprofitability.

  10. Kim Brebach on

    Wow – such a great article thanks James for all the depth and sharing.

    And congrats on your latest success with Hegemonic. I think i kicked it over 85K line! very cool looking game.

    Question: When you kickstart games do you usually offer the profit share contract option to your designers? In your experience does that work out better for all as presumable you make a higher % of total profit while kickstarting? This is becoming a more critical question for designers looking to go the KS route with a KS friendly publisher like yourself vs the solo designer becomes a publisher via KS route or the standard publishing deal route.

    I assume the ‘designer goes with KS friendly publisher and a profit share’ will end up with a higher earning for designers than an industry standard publishing deal… but with a little more risk… Whilst not the all or nothing risk and stress of the total independent designer / publisher KS route. How has it played out for designers with your games so far? Do you think this will impact on the standard designer contracts and shake things up some?

    • Yes we offer their % off of the money we bring in as profit. While most companies only offer 5% or something off MSRP for any sold. In our case the designer gets much more money from each sale just like we do. In the later (much more standard) case the publisher would reap all the extra profits from the direct sale like Kickstarter. But like I said, there are very few that do contracts like I do.

  11. Very good resource for anyone wanting to know the process. For people looking to do the back end process (and not the design work), always be sure to be very specific with your details. Some manufacturers will not ask questions and will go off exactly what you have asked. Want glossy, but they offer matte as standard. Tell them, otherwise you are getting matte.

    Also, check every price. Then check it again. Then check it 10 more times to make sure you missed nothing. Keep in mind that a unit cost of $7.80 probably doesn’t include the $3,000 in developing fee’s you need to cover or the shipping to the docks or the shipping to your local port. Generally you won’t get a shipping quote until they know exactly the size box you are using and the total weight of a unit.

    Excellent guide. Thank you for posting.

  12. Omega2064 on

    A bit to add to the above.
    While DA and other artists can be had cheap. The drawback is that these are amature artists and absolutely cannot be relied on to hit deadlines and some cannot do quantity art and ever hope to hit a headline.

    Give yourself A-LOT of lead time just to be sure. The more complex the piece, the longer the time.

    Also do not hire artists who quote “per hour” prices. No.
    Art is a per piece fee. Based on size, complexity, number of figures, theme, composition, etc, as well as the artists skill level.

  13. Mike V. on

    Excellent article!! Many thanks! Do you know if by any chance the prices of smaller sized cards (mini american or mini european) actually are cheaper to produce? Or is their odd size not so convenient budgeting wise? I suppose they use them cause it is easier to ship more this way inside the final box. But I´m surprised that I don´t see them used that much often. The same for modular boards. What happens if the amount of tiles in a modular game is more than what they would end up being together in a standard sized board? Does the cost increase that much? What extra costs when designing the components are in your experience the ones that are the most worthy? Negligible costs that would give you back more than their actual cost. (Like printing both sides of the board as you stated for example)

    • The mini-Euro and mini-American are actually cheaper to produce. We use them just because of that reason when we can. It’s not a lot but it can help you reduce your MSRP by a couple bucks. The cost for tiles is the die cost plus the cardboard and wasted bleed space. It’s always going to be more costly than a standard board of the same size. Reducing your chipboard (tokens and boards) from 2mm to 1.5mm is acceptable to most people and can help you trim a few more bucks off your retail price. Switching from 14mm wooden cubes to 12mm or 10mm can really save you money and is acceptable by the players. I’ve done 8mm in several games. Printing both sides of a board will cost you more but it’s not that much more, so if you can use it it’s a nice thing to do. Dice and Minis are the real killers for pricing games though.

  14. Jessica, Galvanized Studios on

    What an amazing resource! Thank you so much for sharing your wealth of knowledge. We’ll definitely be studying this and updating our to do lists!

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