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Offline bayonetbrant

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Great Business Advice for New Game Companies
« on: February 10, 2016, 09:19:58 PM »
I wanted to rescue this from BGG before Collins got too pissed off at BGG and nukes his content.  There's too much good info here to lose it
To be absolutely clear:  THIS IS NOT MY CONTENT, it's Byron's.  I just 'relocated' it ;)

Itís broken across multiple posts b/c of our character count limit




This article is intended for board game designers and prospective board game publishers.  When I began my company Collins Epic Wargames in 2006, I was not sure of what I was doing as a publisher (and Iím still learning).  I had no idea what was involved.  I learned by experience, trial and error, and with the help of others I met in the industry.  By reading this, youíll see some of the steps that I had to take in order to get a product out into the market.  Hopefully there is some information in this post that you can use as a prospective designer and/or publisher. If you are serious about developing and selling a finished board game in this competitive industry you should learn what it takes prior to spending any money or time trying.

Rather than seek a publisher for my first game, I decided to become one.  However, that decision is not for everyone.  Hopefully if you are asking that question of yourself this article will help you make that decision.  Publishing and all that is involved is something I am constantly learning more about.  I do not pretend to be an expert but I will gladly pass on what I know.  Becoming a publisher has allowed me to learn what is required in the non-mass market board game industry to be successful.

The article is written from the point of view of a designer/publisher in the United States but many of the points apply internationally. Collins Epic Wargames does not receive any kick-backs for recommending particular sites or products.  If you have specific questions, feel free to get in touch through our website, http://www.frontlinegeneral.com, or via Geekmail.

The article is broken into several sections (with appropriate sub-sections):

Finances & Expenses
Setting up a Business
--Business Plan
--Business License
--Fictitious Name (DBA)
--Federal EIN
--Sales & Use Tax
Game Design
--Design Software
--Help & Talent of Others
--Game Mechanics Help
--Hiring an Artist
--Playtesting
--Late Design Changes
Web Site Development
--Web Hosting
--Traffic Statistics
--Web Design Software
--Professional Web Design
Publishing
--Submitting your design to a publisher
--Self-Publishing
--Advertising & Promotion
--Business Cards
--Newsletter
--Copyright & IP Protection
--Small Print Run
--Preorder System
--Packaging considerations
--GGIC
--Bar coding
--Box Art
--Supplies
--Commercial Printer Selection
--Retail Pricing, Retailer Terms, Distributor Terms
--Support Structure
--Credit Card Processing
--Shipping
--Release & Sale
Resources and Links


This article was first posted just prior to our first convention in 2008 (Gen Con) and after a week of revision, has been updated as of June 18, 2009.

Finances & Expenses

You WILL spend money. Be prepared for that. The amount you spend is dependant on the design and how far you take the design. If you are trying to sell to a publisher, you will spend less than if you are trying to produce a run of games for sale yourself. Structure your business / development finances separate from your personal finances. Use a BUSINESS checking account, not your personal checking account. This is good practice to ensure that you can track all that you have put into your designs financially. When it comes time to file taxes, keeping your business finances separate from your personal finances will benefit you greatly and help you stay organized (and help you claim deductions for expenses). Keep all receipts, purchase orders, and invoices. Track and manage your inventory. 

The more that you can do yourself, the cheaper things will be- but keep in mind, you are not just spending money- you are also spending time, which is even more valuable. Consider the help of others to save time, for instance, if you know nothing about web design or graphic design. Hiring someone may be more cost effective than trying to do it yourself. Carefully consider the things you must do throughout the design and decide with each whether itís best for you to do it- or to pay someone else to do so. Learn and use appropriate software to track your finances and very carefully consider against taking on much debt in any early stage of your business. I highly recommend learning and using Quickbooks Pro or even Quicken Deluxe, etc. for tracking business finances, inventory, purchase orders, invoices, etc.  Otherwise, hire a professional bookkeeper.

Setting up a Business

I recommend that if you sell your game or designs or produce them or pitch them to another company in any way, you have a business structure to sell through including a fictitious name (DBA). If you are in the United States, check your state and local governmentís web sites for helpful information on setting up a business. From the simplest of business structures to the most complex, learn about each and decide what is best for you. Sole Proprietorships are the simplest, but offer less flexibility if you need to raise money for your business. SPs also offer limited protection of your liability compared to other structures. Limited Liability Corporations are more complex and require SCC filings (and annual fees with the state) as well as a Schedule K tax form, but they offer better separation between Personal and Business finances, and better protection due to the limited liability nature of the company. A company such as this exists as its own entity. Incorporated businesses have higher costs, are much more complex, require annual meetings, SCC filings, and more.  Choose an appropriate business structure that meets your needs without becoming a burden.

Business Plan.  Create a Business Plan.  If you skip this step, you might as well guess as what youíre doing.  Business Plans are not only great dynamic documents that define your direction as a company- they are generally required if you are going to seek any outside funding (small business loans, etc.).  Business Plans are only as good as the amount of time you put into them.  Expect to spend at least two weeks of extensive work on your plan.  There are many Ďcookbookí plans out there that may not really apply to you- donít simply adopt one of these plans.  Create it yourself, using a good template, and dedicate your initial time to this step before even applying for a business license.  A link is provided in the resources section to an excellent Business Plan Template that I used personally, available in MS Word .doc format.

Business License. You will need a business license. This is typically granted through your locality. If you operate out of your home, be prepared to go through a home inspection process, and be prepared for locality restrictions and conditions placed on your ability to conduct business due to having a residential address. Localities typically are very scared of constant delivery trucks and shipments (traffic) from your home which others could complain about. A home-based business, esp. for the prospective game designer, is the cheapest option versus renting office space and is typically best for designers working by themselves or with a small team.  Home based businesses also have the advantage that if you use a certain area (an office) entirely for your business, you can get a great tax deduction based on the footprint of that area as a percentage of your homeís total square footage.  Most localities require you to renew your business license annually (and charge a nominal fee).  Home based businesses can easily expand to a separate site, but remember, youíll be taking on a lease, new utility expenses, etc., and it may not be feasible, even if you are well-established (something has to pay those bills).

Fictitious Name (DBA). Create a good company name and run the name by others prior to setting it in stone.  A fictitious name is also called your DBA name or doing business as.  If you want to operate under a different name other than your own, especially pertinent for publishers, youíll have to file (and pay) for the right to conduct business using a fictitious name through your local court. All that is required is typically a form proving you are in business along with a small fee. You may then legally use your company name on all official correspondence, products, web sites, accounts with others, etc.  When choosing this name, I highly recommend that you search the internet for that same name and make sure that some other company has not already chosen the name.  Come up with something unique that cannot easily be confused with another company.  Think very hard on this name as it will be the brand you are creating.

Federal EIN. Get a federal EIN (Employer Identification Number) in the name of your company even if you will not be immediately employing anyone. Your companyís EIN is requested on many application forms including business checking services, merchant account services (accepting credit cards), tax returns, etc. A link for more information on EINs is provided in the resources section.

Sales & Use Tax. If you plan to sell your game as a retail product to other residents in your state, and even as a retail product for out-of-state sales, you must register with your state to collect sales tax. Rates vary and some require application fees- some donít. Sales tax is always passed on to the consumer by law and is listed separate on all receipts. You will then have to file monthly, semi-annually, or annually (based on the determination of the stateís taxation department) with the state to document your sales (and pay the sales tax on those sales. If you sell and ship items out of state, those who buy them are not subject to the sales tax of your state.

If you go to an out-of-state trade show (such as Gen Con), you must register to collect sales tax in the state the show will be held and report any earnings after the show to that state.  I currently maintain sales tax licenses in three states- one is my home state and the other two are states where we travel for game conventions.

Use Tax is separate from sales tax and is usually a different rate.  States define Use Tax differently- so be sure to check with your stateís taxation department if you have any questions on when Use Tax is to be paid.
« Last Edit: February 10, 2016, 09:22:44 PM by bayonetbrant »
The key to surviving this site is to not say something which ends up as someone's tag line - Steelgrave

"their citizens (all of them counted as such) glorified their mythology of 'rights'...and lost track of their duties. No nation, so constituted, can endure." Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers


Offline bayonetbrant

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Re: Great Business Advice for New Game Companies
« Reply #1 on: February 10, 2016, 09:20:13 PM »

Game Design

You most likely have several game design ideas or even partially or fully completed designs and so I cannot tell you the right way to design a game- the creative drive in us functions in different ways to end up with a final product- an expression of that creativity- a complete and working game that is not Ďbrokení.  Getting to that point is more difficult than it seems.  Whatever your personal level of experience and/or skill with design, Iíve found that innovation goes a long way. Time spent on the rules and mechanics and components is time WELL SPENT. Iíve also found that if something doesnít work, fix it now- donít wait for 10 other people to tell you it doesnít work. Test EVERYTHING. Test it well. And then re-test it again and again.  And if you get stuck, look to the advice of others, donít just give up, and donít let a road block in the design process stop you. Bounce rules or component graphics off of people you trust. Meet graphic designers and ask them for help in critiquing your design for readability and aesthetics. Many will do this for free.

Boardgamegeek.com offers a great mixture of people and resources in the Board Game Design forum and many of us will help you out. There are also other sites specifically dedicated to board game design such as bgdf.com. Donít be afraid to approach a more well-known designer or other users and ask for advice. In fact, the more connections you make now, the better off you are in the long run for questions that will inherently arise. I routinely ask two well-known publishing company owners different industry-related questions. It is extremely helpful to know someone who is already in the industry and can offer industry-specific advice.

Design Software. An investment in graphic design software (if you are planning to design professional-looking components yourself) is money well spent. I purchased the standard version of Adobe Creative Suite CS2 at the time [the current version is CS4] which includes Illustrator CS2, InDesign CS2, and Photoshop CS2, and all of these tools have become indispensable. Seemingly daunting to learn at first, each program includes a good help file and there are plenty of good training books and resources out there including other users in the Adobe community who can help you out if youíre stuck.

If your design goes to press in any form, you will be glad that you invested in professional software. Most printers work with Adobe programs and some other software and are generally pleased to hear it when you say youíre working in Adobe Illustrator, etc. They know the software well and can also help you tailor your component designs during prepress to be ready for printing when the time comes. This software also allows conversion of component sheets, rules, etc., to PDF which is extremely helpful if you plan to sell or offer your game for download via the web. I use Illustrator extensively for Component design and layout, InDesign for Rules and a periodic company newsletter, and Photoshop occasionally for other graphics including interfacing with an artist who prefers Photoshop. Check out Adobeís website for more information on each of these tools (link in resources section). 

There are also a variety of free tools out there that work well for graphic design such as Inkscape.  Check the links in the resources section for additional tools recommended by others.

The software you use for design may not be limited to graphic design software.  For example, consider Microsoft Excel for crunching numbers or analyzing statistics in your game.  Others suggest using programs such as Nandeck to customize cards and easily make changes.  Still others use the more complex approach of creating Access databases.  The point is- if you have a design need, there is most likely a program out there to help you with it.

Help and talent of others. Seek the talent of others for resolving game mechanics issues, playability issues, design roadblocks, and/or artwork needs that you may not be able to resolve yourself.  One easy and free way to get help is to simply ask the right people who are willing to help.  Do not be afraid of other people stealing your ideas.  The easiest way to kill a great concept (that may just need a bit of refinement) is by keeping it to yourself and not asking others how it can be improved.  Inflexibility in your own creation is also another design killer.  If people consistently give you the same feedback and advice and you just ignore it, your design suffers and you waste their time.  If you solicit feedback from anyone for anything, you should probably pay attention to the results.

Game Mechanics Help. If you are trying to work out a specific game mechanic, describe the mechanic you are trying to use, the problem youíre having with it, and what you are trying to accomplish (or simply the latter) in a forum post here or on BGDF.com.  A fresh set of eyes is sometimes all it takes to move forward.  In some cases, the mechanic itself may just be the wrong choice.  You are sure to receive a wide range of responses from the more conservative proven concepts to the outlandish and untested.  When in doubt remember "KISS"- Keep It Simple, Stupid.  Any mechanics you use need to be thoroughly tested.  Make sure they are right for the game.  Complex mechanics may unnecessarily slow the game down, generate confusion, and take away from the enjoyment of the game.  The mechanics shouldnít distract players from the theme (in a non-abstract game) or the strategy (in an abstract).  If you are unsure of your mechanics, run them by other designers and gamers first before spending time on art, theme, or further development.

Hiring an Artist. If your final game will include graphics that you are not prepared to do yourself, consider hiring an artist to accomplish the creation of your gameís art based on your sketches, specs, and ideas. I recommend that you ensure the game works in a prototype form before you hire an artist for final artwork. Typically, one-time fees are preferred by artists with half payment up front and half upon delivery. There are plenty of accomplished artists on BGG and even a Graphic Artist Guild. If your search on BGG turns up short of who you are looking for, simply do a Google Image search for "Game Artist", "Sci-Fi Artist", "Graphic Artist", or even something more specific such as "Conceptual Spacecraft art".  Many portfolios and samples are available online.  Review the website of any artist that catches your eye and inquire if they take commissions. Another way to find game artists is to look at who is credited with the graphic design for your favorite existing games. Check the "Artwork By" information on the gameís BGG entry which should list the artist(s) credited with the work. Contact them directly. 

One word of advice on working with artists is to give them some flexibility.  If you over-constrain the work they must produce, youíre limiting their own creative drive.  You want them to enjoy the project as much as you do and rather than spend time defining exactly what each Ďthingí must look like, give a general idea and let the artist do the work.  If things arenít quite right, donít be afraid to say that you have something else in mind.  Ultimately, at this point, you are the customer.

Playtesting. There are many ways to playtest your game and you should explore them all. You can not anticipate every possible situation that may result in a broken aspect of your game. Further, you should approach playtesting knowing that rules clear to you may be mud to someone else. Testing should be performed with a prototype or multiple prototypes. Start extensive playtesting internally by setting up some solo games and conceptual situations well before others see the game. Then, try your game out with friends or family members. Consider expanding to a local game shop for external testing on Ďopen gaming nightsí and have it tested by your local gaming group or even complete strangers. Record all feedback. At first, you may want to just explain concepts to players verbally. In later tests, youíll want to give the game to a player or group who will not have the benefit of your verbal explanations- this tests how well youíve written your rules. You may be surprised to find key concepts are taken the wrong way or missed entirely, resulting in questions and frustration. Donít be frustrated or offended.  This may not be caused by the game itself- but by the way you have failed to communicate how to play.

When testing, ask for brutally honest feedback and be more of an observer than a participant. The most honest feedback will come from complete strangers. They are generally not afraid of offending you by telling you what they really think (unlike typical friends). Internal and brief external testing may reveal inconsistencies and holes that require correction.  Take care of those corrections now rather than later.  As things are more refined, consider a Ďcall for play testersí, screening them based on a list of questions you develop and offering them incentives and credit to test your game. Send it to them for free. Recognition/credit in the rules for playtesters is standard. Be sure to show your appreciation for their hard work. 

Communication between testers in different areas can easily be accomplished via the Internet- either in private (password-protected forums), by e-mail, or within a closed Yahoo! Group set up specifically for the purpose. Consider chat sessions to discuss any issues, teleconferences through Skype, or even use of visual screen-capture tools such as Jing.

Do not use playtesters to proofread. Your rules should be written with proper grammar and have no typos, structure issues, or spelling errors. In other words, youíve already had other people who are not playtesting proofread your rules. Playtesters may then focus on the task at hand- testing the game and its rules- rather than become distracted by poorly written text. After the play test process is complete, or even prior, you may want to consider hiring a professional editor Ďtrimí the areas that need trimming. Keep good notes documenting the entire process and any errors found and make sure to give credit to playtesters where credit is deserved.

Late Design Changes. As you refine your initial design and create a nice looking, well-tested prototype, donít be afraid to change your design after you think you are done. This is just something that must be done in most cases, and is usually required after extensive playtesting by outside groups. My first game went through four complete re-designs over a number of years before I was happy with it enough internally to even conduct external playtesting.  During and after those external tests, I still had to be willing to make any necessary changes, be able to take criticism (and even ask for it), and be engaged completely in the process.

Be CONFIDENT and DEDICATED in your design work. If you have a passion for game design, it will be apparent in your finished products. Your designs are a reflection of your dedication, drive, and talent in putting it all together.
The key to surviving this site is to not say something which ends up as someone's tag line - Steelgrave

"their citizens (all of them counted as such) glorified their mythology of 'rights'...and lost track of their duties. No nation, so constituted, can endure." Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers

Offline bayonetbrant

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Re: Great Business Advice for New Game Companies
« Reply #2 on: February 10, 2016, 09:20:30 PM »
Web Site Development

Web sites level the playing field. What I mean by this is that YOUR website can be as elaborate as Ďthe big guysí if you so choose. You can spend a lot or a little money on web site development. You can do it yourself or hire someone to do it for you. Rather than starting with the design or design software, start with finding a host. Consider a variety of companies for business web site hosting and go with the one that suits your needs the best. Go with a host that offers free trials, free website statistics, and/or free domain name registration or search engine listings, etc. As you increase features, cost per month also increases.

Web Hosting. Iíd caution you to figure out what your needs are up front- and also- go with a business hosting solution- not free "personal" hosting. In fact, most personal hosting sites will not allow business websites to be placed on their servers. Often, free personal and free business hosting services are plagued with limitations (such as lack of PHP support) and advertisements that you really donít want appearing on your front page. ALWAYS read the fine print before choosing a host. Ensure that you know all costs and limitations up front (such as bandwidth limitations) and that you are ready to launch a site. In my companyís particular case, I used the website that I developed for about 2 years without a shopping cart or other features that I didnít need at the time.  Later, I was able to add on, including the addition of e-commerce features and greater bandwidth for increasing traffic.

Traffic Statistics. Statistics are very important. As traffic flows to your site youíll want to see where it is coming from, what pages are being viewed, and what pages are not being viewed. Statistics play an important role to give you a good indication of how many people are really interested in your designs. Pay attention to the numbers and use them to your advantage.  Change or delete weak pages that donít generate hits, and remember, it has been proven that most people spend less than 30 seconds on any given website.  You have about 10 seconds to grab their interest.

Web Design Software. Often, business web hosts will provide you with straightforward, mostly-visual, web design software (such as NetObjects Fusion, for example) for free or very little cost. There is little need to be familiar with raw code if you use a visual website editor. 

Professional Web Design. If you want a professional to tackle your site, there are many sources on the web that offer website design services.  Be prepared to pay for their expertise and consider the cost to do it yourself, weighing the benefits and drawbacks.  Paying someone to develop your site may be in your best interests to save time, but depending on what you want, the expense may be cost prohibitive.  If you decide to proceed yourself, consider starting with a template included with the design software you select.
The key to surviving this site is to not say something which ends up as someone's tag line - Steelgrave

"their citizens (all of them counted as such) glorified their mythology of 'rights'...and lost track of their duties. No nation, so constituted, can endure." Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers

Offline bayonetbrant

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Re: Great Business Advice for New Game Companies
« Reply #3 on: February 10, 2016, 09:20:52 PM »

Publishing

You have created a great, extensively tested game unlike anything else out there.  Now what?  Publishing is the act that presents the game to a wide audience, usually for sale at a profit.  Publishing is an entirely different animal from design.  Youíre probably asking yourself whether you should attempt to approach an existing, established publisher with your design or ďself-publishĒ.  If you choose to publish it yourself, you should understand the work involved, the risks involved, and the methods youíll need to use to make your game(s) a success, understanding that you will most likely not ďbreak evenĒ as a publisher for at least 3 years, travel will most likely be required for promotions throughout the year, and you must understand many more aspects of running and managing a business, all of which require a significant time investment and/or the help of other people.

Submitting your design to a publisher.  Many designers get their games published by an external publisher.  However, competition is fierce.  You are among thousands of designers all competing for the attention of perhaps hundreds of publishers- a handful of which may produce games "like" yours.  An even smaller pool of publishers of your Ďtypeí of game may be accepting submissions.  I am no expert at this as I chose the latter route and created a publishing company to start publishing my own games.  Any information here is summarized from the comments of others and from my own reasons of not taking this path (though it is certainly a valid path to pursue).  If you plan to approach a publisher, you should first make sure that they are accepting submissions.  Do your homework and learn what that company publishes- donít assume theyíll be interested in your game- and donít assume you have a valuable ready-for-release product.  You donít.  The end of the game design is likely the beginning of the work cycle for a publisher- and publishers do not simply take your design and push it out to the public- itís much more complex and involved. 

As a designer submitting your product to a publisher, I recommend creating one or two nice prototypes.  Pay the extra amount to get it as professionally-printed as you can.  Double check all of your work and components.  Create a package that the publisher can easily review including your game, playtest reports, after action / session reports, compliments you received regarding the game from actual players, comparisons to existing similar games, a projected target audience, and a letter written and signed by you that briefly summarizes the game, its gameplay, results of testing, and any research youíve performed indicating a need or want for this type of game.  Above anyone, you as the designer should know who your game will appeal to.  If you do not, you should figure this out before submitting anything as it may help guide you to the right company for your game.

Most publishers have websites.  Screen them first by checking their site.  Make sure they pass the following tests (answer yes to all of the following questions):

  ē The publisher is active (currently publishing games).
  ē The publisher is currently seeking submissions.
  ē The publisher has all necessary contact information on their site and is a legitimate business (from all indications)
  ē The publisher lists a point of contact for submissions.
  ē The publisher is engaged in publishing games similar to yours- or at least in the same genre (Euros, Wargames, Abstracts, Childrenís Games, etc.).

Be smart about screening and donít just contact any company.  Contact a company that appears promising, passes the above tests, and above all, you feel comfortable with.  Once you have found some potential publishing candidates, CALL them (donít e-mail), and ask about their submission process.  If you talk to someone responsible for submissions, give them your contact information, a brief summary of your game (executive summary), and let them know youíre considering submitting your design to them and WHY.  Follow any conversions up with e-mails and follow any agreements up with formal letters.  If in doubt, especially about a particular company, find other designers who have games published by the company in question and simply ask for their honest experience with them.  Youíre essentially Ďchecking their referencesí before they even know youíre interested in submitting your game.  Ask for tips from those designers.  You can find many of them on BGG.

If you get the cold shoulder after submission of your prototype, donít be discouraged.  Rejection is more common than acceptance- and it may have absolutely nothing to do with your game.  Talk to other publishers, but I recommend doing so one at a time.  Give each one a timeline to get back to you with a response- and if they donít meet it, how good will they be to work with?  How interested are they?  If at all possible, pitch your game in person.  Show the publisher how to play rather than give them a box with components and rules.  Show them how fun the game is and what makes it unique.  Sell it to them, donít explain it to them.  If you cannot do so in person, consider creating a video of a play session, possibly narrated by you.  Maybe the video is your pitch.  Be creative and passionate and stay confident in your design.  Answer any questions, ask any that you may have, and go forward only if you are completely comfortable with any terms discussed- including payment to you.

The main advantages of submitting your design to a publisher are: you transfer the financial risk to the publisher, entrust them with your design, and wipe your hands clean of a lot of additional work, freeing yourself up for additional game designs.  The main disadvantage is: you sign terms to release the design to the publisher, which means you canít take it elsewhere and they can do whatever they want with it- which may include nothing.  Another disadvantage is that your game may be changed substantially from what you originally designed.  Publishers may want to put their own brand on your game- you may or may not agree with it- but you most likely donít have a choice. 

If a publisher picks up your game and you are paid for your talents, congratulations!  Offer to help support your game with FAQs, player aids, articles, expansion designs, etc., and stay involved as much as you can.  If picked up, you must now work on building a good business relationship with the publisher who is taking a risk to publish your game.  If all goes well, they will be interested in future titles from you.
The key to surviving this site is to not say something which ends up as someone's tag line - Steelgrave

"their citizens (all of them counted as such) glorified their mythology of 'rights'...and lost track of their duties. No nation, so constituted, can endure." Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers

Offline bayonetbrant

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Re: Great Business Advice for New Game Companies
« Reply #4 on: February 10, 2016, 09:21:08 PM »

Self-Publishing.  All publishers started somewhere.  So how hard is publishing?  The bulk of the work is in game design, right?  Not necessarily.  Self-publishing takes a serious amount of work, drive, money, and time.  The time commitment alone is enormous.  Financially, the commitment for even a small print run will likely exceed $20,000- and that investment may not be recovered.  The drive, the passion, must be there- even with the potential for no gain.  The work shifts from a design focus to a focus on marketing, promotion, and sales.  Not unlike any business, breaking even will take several years.  As you build exposure for your designs, you may move into the realm of profitability, but do not expect that profit to be large.  Expect to struggle at first with what you are taking on.  Expect frustration, roadblocks you need help with, production issues, and many questions.  Many of the answers require a business sense and it helps to have some sort of business or sales background.  The hardest thing for me to do was not the production run, but to shift from designer to salesman- if you canít sell your game, you will not remain in business very long- and youíll end up with a stack of games in your garage.  Make sound financial decisions up front, understand what youíre getting into, and donít overproduce your game. 

The rest of this post is geared toward the concerns of a self-publisher.

Advertising & Promotion.  Advertising is everything if you intend to sell your game yourself.  If you are taking the self-publishing route, be prepared to face your biggest challenge- getting the word out about your game.  This is particularly difficult if you are not established and requires time, money, and dedication. One of the best avenues to do this is through your game or companyís website, through ON-TOPIC forums on general gaming sites (BGG, for example), through gaming news websites using press releases (see resources), and through banner ads on gaming-related sites or ads in printed magazines, e-zines, etc.  Form a budget for advertising up front and use free-routes initially and then just prior to release, purchase ad space that you can afford, and even consider attending conventions such as Gen Con, Historicon, Origins, WBC, etc. Announce your attendance at these conventions and be prepared to be engaging. Consider offering an ad-exchange on your own site. Word of mouth and in-person promotions such as at a local game shop or trade show are great for making contacts and for getting feedback. The contacts you make may be future customers, future play testers, or future retailers of your game. Be prepared to answer questions and be prepared if people do not like your game. Smile and acknowledge their gaming preferences and then politely move on.

Business Cards. This sounds simple, but business cards are important at trade shows and useful at local game stores as well. You may print your own or you may want to have them professionally printed. There are a variety of websites that specifically provide this service and produce incredible results- typically better than you can produce at home and on higher quality paper. Iíve listed a few in the resources section. Use a two-sided business card design. The front is fairly typical with contact information, web address, etc., but the back is an advertisement. When recipients flip the card over, they should see some quick concise text and/or graphics that promote your games. For more information on two-sided business card design, visit the GreatFX website listed in the resources section.

Newsletter. Consider releasing a monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly newsletter or e-zine with previews of your games. With my first game, as part of its promotion, I spent a lot of time writing historical articles, tying those articles to my game, and then offering the newsletter for free. I also provided content such as interviews with veterans, game combat examples, rules previews, component previews, and more. This was VERY time consuming but worth the effort. I provide newsletter subscribers the new editions first, via e-mail, before wide release on the web. After about a week or so, I send out a press release to various game news sites with a link to the PDF. This has proven highly successful. Iíve released over a dozen issues and dropped the frequency from monthly to quarterly due to time constraints.  Overall, my newsletter has driven hundreds of thousands of visitors to my site and helped me get the word out about my game.  Writing the newsletter and receiving so much positive feedback is also a huge motivational factor that not only drives up interest but also drives the completion of the design.

Copyright & IP Protection. Though itís not very easy to protect a game design, most publishers out there are not in the business of stealing designs- their reputation is on the line. If you are self-publishing, consider registering the copyright on your rules and game components. You have copyright on your intellectual property upon the moment of creation, but registering that copyright allows you greater protection in a court of law in cases of infringement. Typically registration requires 1 copy of the game to be sent to the Library of Congress if published, along with an application fee. This has inherent advantages and does not cost an unreasonable amount- just the fee and the cost of sending off a single game. For more information, read about copyrighting games in the US on the official government copyright office website.  Donít bother with seeking a patent.  The short answer is that game designs cannot be patented.

If you want to tell the world that youíre using a particular logo or title, and itís not something common, consider using the trademark TM symbol next to the logo or title.  This offers some protection of any logos you may come up with.  To further protect your logos or titles, you can register trademarks officially with the US government and display an R in a circle- but this is costly.

Small Print Run. If you want to produce a small run, you will most likely have a hard time finding commercial printers who are willing to work in small quantities (without astronomical charges). Printing is expensive. But in the modern world of desktop publishing and cheap home office printers with excellent quality, you may consider doing a home-based print run of, say, 100 games or so. This can be just right for trade shows where you want to demo the game and offer some for sale as well. My advice- choose a home office printer wisely. Look at total ownership cost, cost of ink, cost of maintenance, cost of paper, and buy in bulk whenever possible. This goes not just for paper, but for dice, storage bags, etc. Everything that you include in your game- buy bulk and save money whenever possible. For supplied items like dice, shop around and consider several suppliers. The web is the best resource for this- you can find virtually anything you need by doing a little research. Iíve provided a couple links for dice and bags.

Preorder System. If things go well, offer the Ďproduction versioní for sale as a preorder at a slightly discounted rate over full retail price (this will encourage preorders). Take enough preorders to cover the cost of a print run (some companies typically set this mark at 500 preorders). Once the preorders are at the mark you set, you should have enough money to execute the print run. Sub out the printing to an experienced printer who will meet your needs and requirements (determine all of this up front). Youíve now sold 500 games and made enough money to afford printing of 1000 or more depending on your preorder price and production costs, without going into substantial (if any) business debt. Now promote and sell the remaining 500 games. If you adopt a preorder system, be sure that you follow applicable laws for sales and product delivery timing. Generally, itís best to only take payment on an order once the order ships. In other words, donít take anyoneís money until you are sure you can deliver a product to them within six weeks. After the initial run, if another run is warranted based on demand, go for it.  To fund additional production, you can do a reprint and place it back on P500 to gather another batch of necessary orders, or you can pay for it with any profit from the first run.  The latter may be required to maintain any momentum you may have from the initial run.

Packaging considerations. Think about everything youíre going to include in the game and find sources for it all. Youíll most likely need: Components, a board, dice, a box, box art, storage such as plastic bags or inserts, and whatever else your design calls for. Find a box manufacturer who can meet your needs. Since this is a game and considered a toy, be sure that you meet all government safety requirements- esp. if it is intended for children. Label as such if you have small parts, and list a suggested age on the box.

GGIC. The Greater Games Industry Catalog is the standard list of game products available on the market today. This catalog is sent to distributors and retailers who are looking to stock their shelves. It is full of advertisements for new and existing games and contains a wealth of listings and retail prices for just about everything currently available thatís gaming related. The GGIC also maintains a standard list of manufacturers. To get a manufacturerís code, make sure you have a product that youíre actually making, and request a code be assigned by them for your company. This, in addition to some non-descriptive digits after the code, can become your gameís Ďpart numberí. You can list your game(s) in the GGIC for free I believe, though for better exposure for a new game, you may wish to purchase a full or half-page ad to get noticed.

Bar coding. Ever wonder how to obtain a bar code for your products? Standard international GS1 bar codes are most often required by distributors if you will be selling through distribution (and not just direct selling on your site). The link to the organization that controls all GS1 barcodes is provided in the resources section below. This carries an expensive initial cost and a renewal cost each year. Just to set up and be assigned a company code costs over $700- and thatís just for 1-100 bar codes. Creating the bar code after registration is accomplished using the software tools they provide. Digital versions which can be placed on your individual products are then most-easily created by third party companies who specialize in this work and cost around $10 each. Make SURE that you need bar-coding before you go this route. If you are selling your games by yourself, or just via the web, you may not need a bar code for your products. If you are self publishing and selling through distribution, you will most likely need bar-coding capability. However, if you sell your game to a publisher, they will most likely apply their own barcode to your product- do not invest in this as a designer.

Another option for bar coding is to purchase a single bar code, verified unique by the seller.  Several companies specialize in this service and are legit.  For less than $100, you receive a bar code graphic that can be used on a single product.  This is cost prohibitive for a large volume of products, but may work fine for one or two games per year.

Box Art. Your packaging will make or break sales. A game presented in a zip lock bag with no box or box art is not going to sell as well as a game in a nice box that can be reused for storage. Work with the box manufacturer for templates for the lid and bottom of the box wraps. Typically, these templates are provided compatible with the software you use, such as Illustrator. Simply create your box art within the template (or pay an artist to do so), send to the manufacturer, and they will use specialized machinery to glue/fuse the wraps to the lid or box bottom. Very cool stuff. You receive the finished boxes which you may then package your game components in. Consider shrink-wrapping after all packaging is complete for a finished look.

Supplies. Check the resources section for some links to suppliers of bags, dice, boxes, etc. I do not list printers- there are too many out there who provide commercial printing services.  Also, check the other pinned thread in the Board Game Design forum on BGG for more supplies resources.  Read below for tips on selecting a commercial printer.

Commercial Printer Selection.  After perhaps a small initial in-house print run, youíll probably realize that itís a lot of effort to print, kit, store, and manage your game/supplies inventory.  You may also realize that a commercial printer can do it better and cheaper- in the right quantity.  You should not consider a commercial printer until you are ready for a run of at least 1000 games.  Do a search in your local area first.  Check out all of the printers you can in person.  Visit their facility if possible and ask for a tour.  Check out their equipment, samples of their product, and ask as many questions as you can think of.  You are the customer- they need to sell their services to you.  Keep that in mind as you discuss options with them.  Press time is everything and itís very expensive.

Printers can offer a variety of services beyond just printing.  Check and see if they offer kitting, storage/inventory control, and shipping direct to distributors/retailers.  If you cut out shipping from the printer to you and ship from the printer direct to your distributors, you halve your shipping cost.  Options such as sorting and kitting components, wrapping each deck of cards in cellophane, randomization of collectible components, weight of shrink-wrapping, box inserts, packaging, etc., will all be items of discussion.

Solicit multiple quotes for a print run in several different quantities- 1000, 1500, 2000 qty, etc., so that you can see exactly how increasing quantity affects the gameís unit price.  Higher quantity runs mean more affordable games, lower unit costs, and better retail pricing.
The key to surviving this site is to not say something which ends up as someone's tag line - Steelgrave

"their citizens (all of them counted as such) glorified their mythology of 'rights'...and lost track of their duties. No nation, so constituted, can endure." Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers

Offline bayonetbrant

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Re: Great Business Advice for New Game Companies
« Reply #5 on: February 10, 2016, 09:21:17 PM »

Retail Pricing, Retailer Terms, Distributor Terms.  Each plastic bag, die, counter, card, block, cardboard insert, player-aid, rulebook page, etc., costs something.  It may be a penny or a fraction of a penny, but you must account for it.  Every item from dice to shrink-wrapping should be accounted for- and donít forget costs of design (such as artwork) and costs of tooling imposed by the commercial printer- which can be several hundred to several thousand dollars. 

At conventions, by e-mail, or over the phone, you may be asked "what are your retailer terms?"  If you contact a distributor, you need to ask them, "what your distributor terms?"  Distribution is the key to getting your games in stores and retailers generally prefer to order from distribution rather than direct from publishers, though this is not always the case.  For a large retailer managing a lot of inventory, placing a single order with a distributor for everything they need is much easier than placing multiple orders with individual publishers.  Some publishers donít even sell to retailers.  Itís up to you as a publisher to set your terms- but they must be competitive.  Retailers typically require 40% off retail price in order to pay for their expenses in selling your game and to make a bit of profit.  Distributors generally require 55-60% off retail price plus free shipping to their warehouses.  Keep this in mind when you set your retail price.  A good rule of thumb is to set retail price at COGS (cost of goods sold- your total unit cost) X 4 or 5.  COGS X 2 may sound great at the time, but you will not be able to get your game to distributors unless you intend to lose money on each sale (which is generally a bad idea).  If the unit price is too high, you are pricing yourself out of sales.  If it is too low, you canít afford distribution terms.  Cut costs if necessary- reduce components but only if the design will not suffer- and only include whatís necessary in each game box to play.  Remember, every penny counts.

Support Structure.  Once your game is available in any form and people are playing it- make sure that you have an adequate support structure in place for the inevitable rules questions and general inquiries. A web forum for your game is a great place to start. Free forum software is available from a variety of software designers and companies, and then thereís the professional software, with many more features. I personally went with professional software by vBulletin and have been very pleased in all respects with their product. Others exist- so shop around. A game entry on Boardgamegeek includes forums, the ability to upload and host files, and more.

Installing commercial forum software can be challenging but once itís up and running, itís fairly easy to manage. Forums can be a great way to support the community playing your game(s). Otherwise, e-mail support and posting of FAQís are quite useful as well. Bottom line- if you release a game but donít support it- what does that say about your dedication to your designs? Create the support structure up front and follow through with regular updates and answers to questions.

Credit Card Processing. If you are direct selling in any form or even selling to distributors or retailers and do not process credit cards or accept PayPal, think of how much business you will be losing. This is perhaps the most convenient way for your customers to pay you- so I highly recommend at least accepting PayPal and considering the capability to process cards outside of PayPal using a terminal with your own merchant account. Look into credit card processing and all associated expenses of a merchant account and/or internet gateway prior to wide release of your product. Services abound and they typically carry monthly charges, transaction charges, and fees to purchase a terminal (though some provide a terminal for free). Consider a wireless terminal that may be taken to trade shows and conventions- the up front cost may be worth the convenience. Once you choose to process cards, make sure that you do it securely. Web Stores (shopping carts, etc.) can provide this service built in but youíll generally have to purchase an SSL (secure socket layer) certificate to handle encryption. Check with different service providers up front and read the fine print to get a true sense of the total cost. If you donít want to open a merchant services account, you may want to consider other routes such as PayPal or even E-bay auctions or stores to help generate sales. A lot of this will depend on the volume of sales you expect to generate, the fees you are willing to accept, and your individual needs.

Shipping. Commercial carriers like UPS and FedEx offer convenience for shipping. In fact, if you use the business software that I mentioned, printing out labels and tracking shipping is integrated right in the software through your choice of either carrier. USPS also offers Click-N-Ship online label creation and payment, free priority mailing boxes, and discounted rates for using their online services.  USPS is my first choice for shipping- they are cheaper, offer free shipping supplies, and are the cheapest international carrier.  Consider your location, the supplies youíll need to package and ship your products (peanuts, bubble-wrap, etc.), and the cost associated with shipping. Typically, shipping costs are passed on to the customer and vary greatly with their location. Web Store shopping carts will generally calculate all of this for you before accepting payment from a customer.  Include a business card and/or letter in each box you ship with your full contact information, website, and any pertinent details about the products youíve just shipped.

Release & Sale.  You may be selling through a web store, through distribution, through a retail store, through face-to-face sales at conventions, or all of the above.  Whatever the sales method, remember that advertising is the backbone of exposure.  If you donít invest money in ads, you will not be successful.  Advertise that your game is about to hit the market.  Stand behind it and back it up on all levels and answer any questions that you are asked- especially from potential customers and players.  When itís finally available, take a deep breath, send out the press release, and be prepared for anything.  Release can be daunting but it is the culmination of your dedicated efforts to publish a game.  Itís an exciting time full of work and uncertainties.  But if youíve done your homework, prepared adequately, and taken some of this advice, youíre well on your way to success.
The key to surviving this site is to not say something which ends up as someone's tag line - Steelgrave

"their citizens (all of them counted as such) glorified their mythology of 'rights'...and lost track of their duties. No nation, so constituted, can endure." Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers

Offline bayonetbrant

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Re: Great Business Advice for New Game Companies
« Reply #6 on: February 10, 2016, 09:21:25 PM »

Congratulations!  Youíve brought your game into a competitive market!
Above all, pass on what youíve learned to others. This not only helps the board game industry in general, it helps ensure that future designers are taking on the above challenges and risks- creating games and following through with their goals to get their designs published- growing our great hobby- and continuing the drive to "game unplugged" in a digital age. 

Good luck!


Resources and links

Financial software - Quickbooks Pro
http://www.quickbooks.com

Business Structures
http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/article/0,,id=98359,00.h...

Business Plan Template- Created by Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE)
http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/templates/TC010175201033.aspx

Federal EIN
http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/article/0,,id=98350,00.h...

Board Game Design Forum
http://bgdf.com/tiki-custom_home.php

Professional Graphics and document creation - Adobe Creative Suite
http://www.adobe.com/products/creativesuite/

Free Vector Graphic Design Software
http://www.inkscape.org/

Graphic Design & Artwork
Artist Guild on BGG http://boardgamegeek.com/guild/265
Mark Mahaffey http://www.west2productions.com/Mapology/_NEW/index.htm

Business Web Hosting
http://www.earthlink.net/hosting/index.faces
http://smallbusiness.yahoo.com/webhosting/
*Do a search for 'Business Web Hosting' in any search engine for more

Web Traffic Statistics
http://www.google.com/urchin/index.html

Website Design Software
Netobjects Fusion http://www.netobjects.com
Dreamweaver CS4 by Adobe http://www.adobe.com/products/dreamweaver/?promoid=BONSG

Business Cards
http://www.greatfxbusinesscards.com/
http://www.vistaprint.com/

Copyright and IP protection
US Copyright Office http://www.copyright.gov/
Fact sheet on Games http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl108.html

Bar Coding
http://www.gs1.org/

Game Manufacturerís Association
http://www.gama.org/resources-and-aid

Supplies - Boxes, shipping supplies, bags, packaging
http://www.uline.com/
http://www.prestarpackaging.com (Custom boxes)

Supplies - Dice
http://koplowgames.com/
http://chessex.com/

Credit Card Processing
http://www.quickbooksmerchantservice.com/
http://www.paypal.com

Game News Sites
www.consimworld.com
www.wargamer.com
www.tabletopgamingnews.com
www.purplepawn.com
www.gamingreport.com
www.boardgamenews.com

Trade Shows and Conventions
http://www.originsgamefair.com/
http://www.gencon.com
http://www.historicon.org/
http://www.fall-in.org

Games from Collins Epic Wargames
http://www.frontlinegeneral.com
The key to surviving this site is to not say something which ends up as someone's tag line - Steelgrave

"their citizens (all of them counted as such) glorified their mythology of 'rights'...and lost track of their duties. No nation, so constituted, can endure." Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers