PnP Pingpong: A lesson in freebies?

Dead Men Tell No Tales


Recently we created a couple surveys (see data below) to help us understand the value of a print and play version of our games with regard to how people back and purchase our games. But first let’s cover a few basic things:

A print and play (PnP) version of your game is simply a downloadable set of graphics and instructions to allow someone to craft your game at home. This can be used to help spread the word of your game or get it into the hands of people overseas who can’t afford high shipping/import fees, or just people who enjoy the hobby.

The PnP Distributable

When creating your distribution files here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Format: You should make all your files PDF. Using anything else can be computer and printer dependent and change the final sizes of the document when printed out. You need to make sure that everything is the right size and fits together when you distribute your PnP, so you should make use of PDF. Most graphic and even word processing software can output into that format and there are free converters. It is also much easier to work with your files if you provide several files instead of one PDF with many pages. Some items like cards might have a back side, which you could include as the second page.
  • Paper size: It’s best to just use the 8.5 x 11 inch USA format as it fits the A4 Euro paper. You might be tempted to make 11×17 or some other format to allow for larger game boards, but it’s not a good idea as few people have these papers on hand. It’s best to offer large artwork in 2 formats: 1) the original size, 2) a chopped up version that can be printed on 8.5 x 11 and cut and pasted back together.
  • Resolution: For years I’ve been releasing my PnP files as 150 dpi (dots per inch) and no one complained as most printers can’t print anything higher with any real noticeable difference in the outcome. My latest release though we got complaints about using this size, so I think it’s time to start using 300 dpi, but the file sizes really go up when using it.
  • Guidelines: Help make things easier on person crafting your game… give them guidelines in the borders to help cut the right places. A sheet of 9 cards for example should have some guide lines in the margin to help line up a paper cutter. It’s also a good idea to include a readme/help doc in your release to explain what all the files are and how many times you need to print each file.
  • Quality: You can create a PnP with limited artwork or black and white for handing out freely to spread the word of your game. You can also charge for a full art high res version of your PnP files on sites like – Some people also prefer to have a color-lite version of the game in case they are concerned about cost of printing it out. So in most cases it’s wise to provide a low-ink black and white version with your full art/color version.
  • Content: Some companies will release the free version of their game with some elements missing. That could be art but it can also be actual game elements and rules. Unless you’re really sure you can get the full game concept and mechanics across in an abridged version, I recommend you include all the rules & elements to play the full game. The few people that are going to bother to print it out and play it will appreciate it, and most will never go that far anyway, so so them what your game is about in full.

Tips on crafting your own PnP projects:


Survey Says

Usually I just provide a PnP of all our games as a low pledge level in the Kickstarter and then later sell them cheaply on the site. During a recent campaign for our DragonFlame card game we wanted to try to get an idea of how much the PnP influenced the purchase/backing decision as well as attempt to get an idea of who the people actually are that crafted and played PnP games. So, this time around we crafted the PnP files BEFORE the Kickstarter even started and released the full art full version of the game for free to everyone. Well not totally free, you had to provide a valid email address. The mere fact that this helped collect a lot of emails for our mailing list could be considered worth the overal effort, but I’m also interested in if it created actual customers.

To this end, we came up with a survey to ask our backers (people who put money down) and one to ask the 1000 people who downloaded our free PnP. About 630 backers responded to our survey but of the people who got this FREE PnP from us, only about 150 people answered our short survey. This could be because the backers already answered mostly identical questions, it could be that my mailings ended up in junk folders, but it’s still a low % of people. Not an initial favorable sign for good will built by releasing a PnP for free. We needed to ask this group of people (the downloaded email list) because they are the ones who may have decided NOT to back us because of the PnP.

This survey was an attempt to quantify whether people are actually using the PnP and whether that PnP file actually influenced their decision to back our project (or purchase it in the future). One big caveat with this data, we are Minion Games and we have a good reputation and so a certain percentage of our backers already trust us. Thus, my guess is that the PnP will actually be a bit more important to those who are newer to publishing. Also, if your game is more than just cards and game board, less people will bother making it. Anyway, on to the questions and results and my take on them…


Even though we did several mailings to our past backers, made postings to Facebook and Twitter, links on google plus+, and even had the link on the top of the Kickstarter page itself, it appears that nearly 25% of our fans didn’t even know there was a PnP to be had. This may seem a bit shocking, but it’s human nature to gloss over things… A lesson in it’s a good idea to repeat yourself when it’s something important.

Only about another quarter of the people who participated in our surveys actually downloaded the PnP. Several people mentioned that just knowing it was there to download was enough for them to trust us and back us, so they didn’t download it but it still had some effect on them.


It’s very common when you offer something for free that people will just download it and never even open the file. Some will download it and at least take a look through it to see how the final copy of the game might turn out and to assure themselves that they are backing someone who knows what they are doing. So it’s not shocking that a vast amount of the people who downloaded the files never actually printed them out. About 17% of our survey participants actually made (or plan to) use of the files for their intended purpose.


Here we see that at least the majority of the people who bothered to print the game gave it a playtest. But still, about 5% didn’t take it any further then printing it out. Probably within the margin of error for this survey. So we can assume that most all the people who bothered to print it at least got to play it or still plan to do so.


Now we get down to the heart of it… Was the PnP something that effected a person’s purchasing decision. As you can see from the numbers, only around 15%-18% were really influenced by the availability of the PnP.


We asked the question in another form so that we could close in on a true number.  Here we see that the number is closer to the 18% estimate. But what’s even more interesting is that 7% of the people who just downloaded the PnP files chose NOT to back us after seeing what the game was really about. That’s not to say they would have all backed if they didn’t see a PnP but since they bothered to answer in the question that way it’s probably accurate. One could assume based on our reputation as a publisher and the cheap entry cost of this game, that at least 5% of them probably would have taken the chance and backed us. So the release of the PnP might have cost us $200 in $5 PnP pledges.


Still trying to hone in on the true numbers, we ask the same question in another form, but this time only to the people who downloaded the files (not the backers). Again we see about 8% saying they bailed out of backing us cause of the PnP. That’s more or less in line with the above data.  Also the 17% or so that backed it cause of the PnP is in line with the above estimates.

A new data element here, about 35% of the 150 people that responded to the downloader survey said they’d still consider buying the game in the future. That’s good to know, but not overly helpful for seeing if the PnP is useful. It simply affirms that many of the people who grabbed the PnP didn’t really do much with it and it didn’t sway them enough to put money down now.


One argument for providing PnPs is that people outside the USA who don’t like all the shipping and import taxes on Kickstarter games, would be more inclined to print out and play a PnP. This was my thought and anecdotal evidence from past campaigns, but as you can see here, the answers to the survey do NOT support that theory. This is odd to me.


So of the people who said that downloaded the PnP, more of them outside the USA say they actually played it. But they are so close that the margin of error in this survey makes these numbers the same.  So regardless of where you live, the likely-hood of you playing a PnP seems to be the same.


My Take Away

Minion Games usually makes a few hundred bucks off a PnP (10-15% of the backers buy at $5) during a Kickstarter campaign and a few more hundred over the endless life-cylce of the PnP on a download sales site. So to provide this game for free in full resolution up front probably cost us $500 of revenues (at much higher than normal profit margin). So the question then is simple, did we generate enough interest and good will and future sales to pay back that lost profit. In other words, if we consider it an advertising expense, was it worth it in the long run?

Only about 15-18% of our backers were influenced by our releasing the PnP. I’m positive a good percentage of that would have still backed without the PnP being released up front. So if we graciously assume that about 10% of our funding was directly related to having the PnP released up front, that would equate to about $2000 of pledges. We figure we lost $200 in pledges we probably would have gotten if they didn’t see the files first. We lost about $500 in actual PnP sales (we typically see 10-15% sales of $5 PnP copies – which is all profit) earnings that we typically make on a PnP in the Kickstarter. So that means in the end, releasing the PnP netted us about $1300 in gross revenue dollars for the printing of this game than if we had not done so.  Publishers with less of a track record would probably see a greater amount of return on their PnP version being release before/during the campaign.

One thing not addressed by our survey, is the fact that we released a full color and ink-lite version of our game at the same time. It is my educated guess that a majority of the benefit of having a PnP released early and for free would still be there if you ONLY released the ink or art lite version up front and charged $5 for the full art version in the Kickstarter. That is what we plan to do going forward when possible. PnP files are sometimes not ready ahead of time, but I think this survey indicates that we should make more of an effort to provide a playable version of the game during the campaign.

I will say though, that I was disappointed by the small amount of extra publicity and exposure that the PnP files got us. We basically gave a card game away and we expected the campaign to do much better than it did. It could have been timing (running late in the year near the holidays) but it really didn’t get the buzz we hoped for. Releasing the PnP a month before the KS campaign didn’t seem to help us any – though it didn’t seem to hurt.

Dragon Flame


  1. As always, good research and commentary. Making your best files a paid pledge level along with giving everyone a free black-and-white and/or low-res PnP file (for marketing/advertising purposes) seems like a good balance of bringing people in to look at your campaign while still not cutting yourself out of potential profit from hardcore PnP folks.

  2. I don’t seem to see anything in the article about people who are convinced to buy/back your game because of playing somebody else’s PnP game.

  3. I mentioned this on FB, but I think it got lost in the thread…

    “But what’s even more interesting is that 7% of the people who just downloaded the PnP files chose NOT to back us after seeing what the game was really about.” is actually directly contradictory to the graph above it (I’m assuming that’s what it’s meant to refer to), which says that 7% of people would NOT have backed WITHOUT the PnP.

  4. I love statistics and demographics, so thanks for sharing this overview from your survey. We can learn a lot as an industry from information like this.

    You state the PnP did not generate a lot of extra publicity. I am curious. Did the PnP get much buzz on BGG when you released it? How about in your own forums? Did you have fans running PnP game sessions at local game stores or conventions?

    Personally, I have not found PnP as useful in the past because most publishers and kickstarters have required the PnP to be purchased. I was not interested in purchasing the PnP to see if I like the game, then spending more to purchase the official game. The idea of a free low resolution PnP to introduce the game then the option of purchasing the official game or a higher resolution PnP seems very useful. Even if I didn’t print the PnP, having the ability to read all the rules, visualize the game, and get a concept of its components would be very helpful.

    • Nope, there was little or no mention/buzz about the PnP on BGG – we posted to the DIY forum and our own forum for the game there. While a few tweeters and bloggers did mention it, I guess I expected more engagement and posted images of people playing. So it got reasonable exposure, just not lots of buzz.

  5. Ben O'Steen on

    Maybe worth pointing out that DragonFlame consisted of over 100 cards. That’s quite an investment to put in for a DIY version or an expense if they get it custom printed.

    A board, some tokens and a few cards or chits is entry-level and within the grasp of many. Making over 100 cards… well, that takes some time!

    • Yes and no… cards are pretty simple to assemble esp if you just put them in a sleeve with MTG card behind it. They are simple to cut out being that they are just 9 cards with 4 straight cuts to make per page. I guess it was 13 pages of paper but we had a lite-ink version and backs are optional.

  6. Daniel Rodriguez on

    I found the stats to be fascinating. I remember the campaign for this game, I did download the files but didn’t do anything with them as the game wasn’t truly to my fancy. Everything was very well done, especially the art, which was quite impressive. But not my type of game so I passed.

    With that said, I have found a PnP to be pretty valuable for assessing whether to back a game. There have been a couple of games recently where I was on the fence and the PnP pushed me to back. It also builds confidence in a publisher. I have purchased PnP versions of Kingdom of Solomon and Nile Deluxor from Minion Games with no hesitation because of the quality of the files I’ve seen.

    Lastly, for a gamer on a budget, a PnP is a great way to get exposure to a great game without a significant layout. I’m always appreciative of those publishers that offer free or reasonably priced access to their games. It helps that I enjoy the crafting part of it and I do enjoy playtesting (for files that aren’t quite done) and I understand that I am in the minority here. A big thanks to Minion Games for access to their great games!

  7. simpsonps121 on

    I am going to agree with Daniel here… I enjoy playtesting, I enjoy crafting my own game, and PnP gives me a way to try a game before investing in it… It does help to have access to a work copier/printer… so maybe my take is slightly off from most.

    Another point of mention – BGG – I wonder if the going cardboard, playtesting forum, or the Kickstarting /w PnP geeklist would have gained you more exposure. Facebook is another way to get the PnP out. You may have done all of them… what do I know. 🙂

    Minion makes great games though. And you personally have been a great help recommending games!!


  8. Seth Hiatt on

    This entire analysis makes no sense to me. Let me see if I can explain why. You ask your backers for data about whether their pledge was influenced by a PnP. My entire argument is this: WHO CARES! Even if 100% of them were “influenced” by the PnP that still doesn’t prove it was a good decision. And you are suggesting 18% of them admitted it was a deciding factor. But why does that matter?

    Your conclusion is that having the PnP helps your campaign, but you have NO data to support that. The only true data you have is that 4.5% of your backers chose the $1 pledge (32 of 704 backers). That is $32 in revenue when your next highest pledge reward was for $25. Imagine for just a minute that if you had NO PnP offering that say 10% of your $1 backers would have just decided to pledge $25 and get the full version game instead. Boom, $75 in revenue rather than $32, and NO expense or hassle in making a PnP.

    You are asking these backers if they knew there was a PnP, if they printed it out, if they got a chance to play, and then make the leap that you gained +$1,300 in backers by having the PnP. Hogwash. I say you lost the opportunity to collect at least $25 from 32 backers by offering it. I would say you spent $500 in graphic design costs to create a print and play and lost (32 X $25 each) $800 in revenue by offering it. I also argue that because 15% of people did download and play a version of the game that was incomplete and inferior that you actually had people walk away from the game because you can’t control the full presentation of the game when it is PnP. … and there is NO way to quantify how many of those you might have lost during the KS, or forever as long as you offer a cheap ugly sister version of your Princess. You are in the business of publishing games, so publish them, don’t offer an inferior product for $1, that will all but guarantee people get the wrong idea about the game.

    Let me state some other hard data from another project that chose NOT to offer a PnP. Consider Viceroy, it had no PnP pledge level though anyone CAN pledge $1 and just follow the campaign as a backer even without a $1 pledge level. Out of our 5,887 backers how many do you think pledged $1? Dragonflame was 4.5% of backers but that project actually tried to induce people to pledge at $1. I say Dragonflame actually completed with itself during the campaign to draw backers away from pledging for the game, and at least 4.5% of the time, it succeeded.
    But back to Viceroy, it must have been a little less right? Yep, a little less. Not a single backer pledged less than the $22 (+$5 shipping = $27) pledge level. Not a single one of those 5,887 backers. Every single backer pledged for a copy of the game. To me THAT is all the data you need. 100% of backers pledged for the game that we, as a game publisher, are offering on our KS. I just don’t see why you would try to motivate anyone to pledge $1 when they are already interested in your game. Let them back or not back based on the merits of the product.

    As an accountant and former auditor let me just bring up the concept of COMPLETENESS versus EXISTENCE. If you are checking someone’s bank balance to confirm the cash is really there, are you more concerned with the completeness or the existence of the assets? What is more likely to be misstated? Think about this for a moment. Is it more likely that someone is going to overstate their cash to show more profits for their Board of Directors (existence) or is it more likely that they are going to tell you they have less cash in the bank (Existence). In Financial audits the existence of an asset is much more in question (who is going to leave off some inventory or assets from the books) while the completeness of liabilities is much more in question. People do not want to include all the debt they owe on their balance sheet if they can help it because they don’t want to show they are losing money.

    In the end James’ write up on the PnP is a survey of existence. It is asking the people who pledged if they LIKE the PnP and value it. Of course you are going to get a number above zero for that. You have proven existence beyond any doubt. Yes people like it. But you are NOT proving COMPLETENESS. How about people who may have backed the game but didn’t, was the PnP something that tempted them to back it? Did it really convert anyone from uninterested to interested to a $1 backer to a full copy backer during the course of the project? I don’t even argue that this isn’t the case, I’m only saying that the data does NOT even talk to those people and certainly doesn’t ask that question.

    I value your efforts and opinion about a lot of stuff James and I don’t doubt your sincerity about your data and analysis, I just think you’re painting a picture of “everyone should do a PnP” when I see your data saying something totally opposite.

  9. Guy Riessen on

    I’m not entirely sure the questions were capturing the data that might be there, and as you say it’s probably skewed by being an established publisher with a good track record.

    For new publishers, the mere existence of a free PnP version tell me that they have confidence in their product, which makes me more likely to back. It’s not because I printed it (I won’t and never have), or played it (I won’t play it until I have the finished game in-hand). The quality or the play within the PnP version does not influence my backing. Only its existence does.

    Similarly, a $5 purchasable PnP makes me suspicious. I won’t print it, I don’t want to pay for it…and why is the publisher asking for ANY money when it would requires hours of work on my part. That $5 makes me think the publisher doesn’t have confidence that the game is good enough to garner sales from someone who PnP’d it–in other words it might be worth $5 and sweat equity, but not worth $30. So they’re out to get at least $5 toward their campaign before the backer realizes they’ve backed a meh game.

    On the other hand, someone who offers a free PnP version is telling me, “this game is SO good, even if I give you a playable free version, you’re gonna want to own the final retail version.”

    Let me reiterate–I will not download a PnP, I will never print and play a PnP, but it does give me confidence, along with KS art samples, play-throughs and reviews by established BGG reviewers, that the game is worth backing. All four of those points get approximately equal weight in my backing decision. Now, of course, I may be the lone anomaly and no other KS backer would ever make the same consideration, but I highly doubt I am so unique 🙂

  10. One other element to consider – social proof. For my campaign (Lost Woods), I found that people who had made the PNP often left comments on BGG and KS. They said that the game was fun, and that they enjoyed playing it with their families. One guy even made a preview video on YouTube at no cost to me to promote the game because he liked it. Backers listen to other backers who have actually played the game, and the PNP enables a few people who like the PNP experience to provide evidence of a good game. This was huge for me, since it was my first game.

    The PNP also helped me gain awareness. It was featured in the monthly PNP geeklist on BGG a couple months before the KS went up. That gave me 80+ BGG usernames to message once my KS went up. I’m sure I converted some of those to full game sales.

    I offered the working full color PNP version during development to anyone who asked me for it. I only offered the B&W version on the KS page, and sold $470 worth of full 300 dpi color PNP’s during the campaign. Those included stretch goals, and all the extra art that was created during and after the campaign.

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