Nov 8, 2011

Metatopia 2011 - Saturday, Part 1

After an excellent Friday, I started off Saturday by attending a couple of panels.

The Nitty-Gritty of Self-Publishing (Brennan Taylor)

This seminar was given by an RPG designer, but some of it was applicable to board game design. My notes are below.

  1. Editing
    Never edit your own work. It can't be someone who has been playtesting; it should be a fresh set of eyes.
    - Copy Editing (spellcheck, etc.)
    - Rules Editing (comprehesibility)
    can people follow the flow?
    Two purposes: learning the game and reference tool during the game. You need to make rules serve both purposes. This requires someone who knows what they're doing. Should budget to hire someone to do that.
    Editors have three things: by word, by page, or by project. For every 100 pages, price for editing will go up by about 33%. $1,000 dollars is an expected price range. Try to make friends with people and get "the friend rate".
  2. Art and Layout
    Have a vision of final product. Look for artists who fit that vision.
    When budgeting for art, you can use stock photography if genre-appropriate to save money.
    Color or black & white? Color is much more expensive. If producing only for PDF, go for color.
    You can do layout deisgn yourself, but don't do it if you don't know what you're doing. Hiring someone is about the same budget as editing. When getting a friend to do this or art, don't expect it to happen quickly. Always pay friends at least something, it ensures quality.
    You can have someone do the design and then you insert the content to save money.
  3. Printing
    PDF route
    Print on Demand: more expensive per-copy
    Short-run: Keep print runs small, unsold inventory ties up capital and gets taxed
    Full-offset printing: 500 or more copies because of setup costs
    Full-bleed costs more than no bleed.
  4. Markets
    If you want to sell through retailers, you need to buy an ISBN. Each costs about $10. Cheaper alternative to UPC code.

    The more channels where you can make money, the better.
    Retail stores are important in building a community; Bits & Mortal is a way to make electronic resources paired with retail sales to not make retailers the enemy.

    Direct Sales: investment, time, and fufillment yourself.
    Fufillment services
    Retailers: have to go through distributors. Retailers take around 40% of cover price; distributors take another 20%.
  5. Profit and Loss
    Need to figure out break-even after up-front and per-copy costs.

The Board & Card Games Roundtable (Stephen Buonocore, Zev Shlasigner, Curt Covert, Justin Brennan)

Zev: hobby market growing; doom and gloom about electronic games not happening

Curt: mobile gaming "is actually a great boon"; is an entry point for dual-sales in either direction; exposes games to more mainstream gamers

Geoff: explosion in volume of games

Stephen: the number of games is so much greater than before; somewhat of a detriment to publishers; market needs to expand to support all the new games

Curt: Online versions of games expanding in US. contract terms are dangerous to publishers.

Curt: social media is affecting publishing by word of mouth about games.

Curt: Retailers are purchasing less copies of most games at launch. They are aware of what games are getting buzz out of conventions. Distributors are the same, keeping low inventories.

Zev: distributors not taking on new companies at the same rate. they're now trying for exclusivity or being a fulfillment service.

Stephen: if you're self-publishing (non-Kickstater), it is very problematic. How do you sell? If direct from website, how to you publicize? It is difficult.

Zev: Probably only 1,000 to 1,500 copies in your run, no more than 2,000.

Stephen: How do you make a small fortune in this industry Start with a large one. Publishers take a large amount of risk.

Curt: There is a game designer inside every game. You can license to publisher or self-publish. If you self-publish, you're going to "eat, sleep, breathe, live that company". If you don't want to do that, find a publisher instead. It is a significant risk. When researching how to publish, advice always heard is:

Step 1: Don't do it.

Stephen: What is your goal? To have your name on a box? To build your own company? To have name on box and make money? (find a publisher). Lots of games don't need to be made. Some are good but just can't be sold in the market.

Zev: Component cost must not exceed level of game.

Zev: Receives 200 submissions a month. Has open submissions policy and will also go after games that get buzz.

Stephen: Doesn't take unsolicited submissions. have to schedule time at a convention. Also goes after games with buzz; but cannot accept email-based submissions.

Curt: Does his own design for all games company has produced. However, can only create one or two new games per year. For company to grow, might have to take some solicited designs.

Q: What is good price in recession?
All: Doesn't matter, if people get excited, they'll pay $100 for it. However, game experience and components have to match price.

Stephen: In hobby-game industry, even Zev does very small print runs. Scale is so different between mass market and hobby. A 5,000 print run is very good. 2,000 is minimum for cost reasons. Even Fantasy Flight is not printing 100,000 copies at a time.

Zev: There is no price point you can't set, but it has to be worth it.

Zev: For Barnes&Noble, publishers have to pay for space, but worth it. Fixture Fee through Publisher Services, Inc. They are different from distributors. They represent to distributors, central point of shipping, handle the sales and orders from distributors.

Curt: Also goes through a consolidator, Impressions. This allows you to tell retailers that you are available through all distributors.

Curt: With first game, printed too many. Had to go door-to-door to retailers. Managed to get Spencers to buy 2,500.

Zev: Large retail buyers don't play games; they hear soem things, but don't really know what the game is like at all when they buy.

Zev: Traditional advertising doesn't really work. Best marketing is to go to every convention. Went to 50-person shows everywhere. Success came partly from being willing to show up in those places. Going to Essen was a gamble. For first hour, no one came to table, but then people started coming and was best show he had. With advertising in magazine, you don't know how effective it was. With face-to-face sales at conventions, you know exactly what ROI was.

Curt: Marketing is changing. Previously was about awareness. Now it is changing to relationship marketing. Being at a show is huge. The people you make contact with there become evangelists if you create a memorable experience. Also, same people will come back at later conventions because you have established a relationship. Using BoardGameGeek contest also got people excited by making them feel part of the specialness of the brand.

Stephen: This is a social industry. The panelists are social people. If you don't like people and associating with them and pressing the flesh, then you are not in the right industry.

Curt: Choose a show based on who you want to be talking to. GenCon is where I live and grow. Toy Fair is for different ideas than that. It is more about networking. ChiTag is a mainstream game show for game enthusiasts. ChiTag is for players but also to find retailers and bigger box retailers.

Justin: First two days are industry-only. Next two are consumer days.

Curt: First two days opportunity to get 10 minutes with large companies like Hasbro. Weekend is like GenCon for mainstream.

Zev: Also has demo program, Z-Force, that has people who go to retailers. Zev can only personally do ones in the region. Other companies do the road trip. People like meeting you at shows. When he went to Australia, people were so happy he came so far that they still talk about it now. Develpoed comraderie. That he actually came down was a big thing.

Curt: You don't have to sell a game, you have to share it and show your passion. Then they sell themselves.

Curt: Another marketing outlet is podcasts and reviewers; will send out review copy in a heartbeat to serious-minded people.

Zev: They have to be established reviewer before you do that. So many reviewers request, half the print run would be going to reviewers if said yes to all of them.

Zev: Going to a show is a marketing expense. Don't expect to make your money back. The main purpose is to generate future sales. Making money is just bonus.

Stephen: Last Essen, did not make money from trip. But had to be there to be somebody. The following year, did make money.

Zev: Eventually you become a destination that people mark down to see at a convention.

Stephen: Essen is definitely worth for everyone to go for fun; but for publishers, it is a lot of work.

Zev: Has types of games he doesn't want to be sent for either personal dislike or for marketing reasons. Ie. trivia, sports simulation, word games (Prolix excepted). Is occassionally willing to take a risk. Some worked, some burned him, but that's okay.

Curt: His company planted a flag around games he liked to make. Now any game that he might publish has to fit his banner of "screw your neighbor"

Stephen: Will print any good game; not restricted.

Zev: When moved from B-Movie to do Ideology, people expected it to be funny even though Zev didn't explicitly brand himself that way.

Stephen: reprint well drying up; moving into new designs

Curt: There's a market for about any game that can be created. There will be some small niche who feel it is the best game ever. Others would rather watch paint dry.

Zev: He doesn't try to make everyone happy with every game. He makes a lot of games so that any person will find some game in his catalog that they will enjoy.

Q: What was biggest mistake in publishing?

Stephen (with smile): No comment.

Curt: Not having distribution for first game. Also came up with watch for life counters. Unfortunately, couldn't sell them because people who were his customers couldn't use it with his games. Ate a lot of money on the watch. Sutakku is also a risk because it doesn't necessarily connect with people who like his backstab games. Aiming at a broader audience.

Zev: Shazaam; thought it was a no-brainer and was definitely going to sell. Instead, heard crickets on it. Still doesn't know why it failed. No game that he took a big chance on until recently, but games like Road Rally didn't sell as well as expected. Should have done a smaller print run. You need to temper your amount of risk. Has some advantage; because he is established he knows he can sell a minimal amount. Eventually also got to a point where he can survive a bombed game or two. This allows him to increase his risk.

Zev: In this industry, initial sales are 60 days, after 90 days it will fall or even freeze. A couple of titles will be evergreen and sell small consistently every month.

Curt: It doesn't matter when people start to like it, as long as bad reputation hasn't been previously established.

Zev: Has not seen movie or other exogenous effect that boosts game sales through related theme.

Justin: Told by Hasbro that if Monopoly was brand new today, it could never sell. But because it has been around so long, it has slowly built itself up. This overcomes all of its negative points.

Zev: Plays Monopoly with house rule: if player was low on money, others would pay him to roll dice and move token for them.

Curt: If a game doesn't move within two months, Walmart will remove it from shelves.

Stephen: Biggest mistake is going legally against Hasbro. Biggest risk taken was to print over 10,000 copies of Survive! It hit retail shelves in February. After 7 months, completely out of stock. Has done tremendous sales, but could have sunk the company. Did a little research with consolidator and distributors on demand, but relied more on buzz on BoardGameGeek. Things like how many have it on "Wants" or "Wishlist" is very indicative of demand.

Curt: Mitigating that, on the Geek, not indicative of sales potential of beer and pretzel games.

Zev: Muchkin and B-Movie sales are much higher than BGG's ratings would indicate.

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