Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Getting Your Game Manufactured (Self-Publishing)

Ben Clark of Imagigrafx gave a seminar about game production costs at GenCon this year. I'll try to summarize much of what he said. While Ben represents a particular printer (which evidently prints some or all of Mayfair's games), he tried to give us some idea of what costs would be in other circumstances. Because there were many questions-and-answers, there’s not a strong narrative-line here, rather it’s an assemblage of information bits. I did not record the session, this is derived from notes I typed as Ben talked. Hence there’s likely to be an error somewhere, blame me, not Ben. Ben has blog on their Website (evidently: http://www.imagigrafx.com/gameprinter/). His August 31 post is about cards. He is happy to talk to people who want their games printed, that’s his business. Ben also has a podcast site, click on the title of this post.

Never say what your retail price is before you know the manufacturing price. The "magic number” for production costs is 15-20% of retail cost (so a $50 game would cost $10 or less to produce). In America, small print runs are going to be at 25%, more likely. So you print for no more than 20% of retail, sell to a distributor for 40%, the retailer buys from distributor at 50%, online retailers discount heavily, brick&mortar shops can’t afford to, generally, so sell at 100% of list price.

Costs can be reduced by batching several games (e.g. printing play money for several games at one time). Much of the cost in printing comes from the setup rather than from the individual copies, so unit cost goes down as number printed goes up.

He was more interested in game than text costs, but gave as an example a 128 page full color document costs just under $5 each (1000 units?). Printing text is going to be much cheaper overseas. I’ll interject that many people doing small runs of games that are purely text and art (such as RPGs) often use LuLu or another POD site that prints copies on demand.

Ben was talking about a two piece box, game board, platform (insert), rulebook, cards, parts. There’s an assembly price unless you assemble yourself, and a shipping carton for shipping to retailer/distributor, 20-30 cents per game for the carton. (As I have noticed, Fantasy Flight, for example, has a standard carton that holds six of their standard boxes.)

He recommended doing a square box, others cost too much and retailers hate it. So no Monopoly-shaped boxes (even though Monopoly still does it). The standard is about 10.5 inches on a side--Wal-mart’s desire– about3 inches deep. (I’ll interject that many boxes and boards seem to be made on an 11 by 11 inch square standard, near enough. For example, the FFG Britannia board is six 11 by 11 sections.)

Print together with someone else, if you can, to reduce costs.

You need a box. Plastic bags shelved edge on (as for DeskTopPublished games), don't do it. Use a hang tag on a tuck box (box for a deck of cards). Boxes, 1000, about 2.20/box. 2,500 boxes, maybe less than $1.80 maybe even $1.50 each.

You won't save money by not printing a box bottom. The back/bottom sells the game. Always use full color.

Price has an influence on size and weight of box. Mayfair had a standard small box for $20 games, crammed a lot into same box for $25, and it didn't sell. People don’t want to pay a lot for a small or light box, they want to feel they’re getting something substantial. (Yet the heavier the box, the more it costs to ship to the distributor. You’re trying to find a good middle ground in many of these decisions.)

Many games use a sheet (sometimes even diecut sheets of card-stock) instead of a mounted game board, to save money. Traditional mounted board 20" by 20" $1.80-2.40 for 1000 pieces. There’s a 23 by 33 inch limitation on the machines that make the boards, don’t make yours larger if you want it mounted. American style boards with the “valley” are cheaper than the “Euro” style.

The platform or insert avoids shifting of contents during shipping, such as forklift movement. Molded plastic is $3,000-5,000 just for the mold, so can cost over a buck each. Cardboard 35-50 cents.

Cards are the most expensive component pound for pound. Bridge size cards: 110 is the magic number on one piece of equipment (and this could be two identical decks of 55, for example). But it varies, with another machine the number might be 60. If the number is, say, 85 for a machine, then 85 card decks might be cheaper than 83 card decks. If 5-10K units, below that it “gets wonky.” (That’s what my notes say!) (thegamecrafter.com prints cards in sets of 16, for example.)

Magic”the Gathering card stock is 11.5-12 pt. Wargame cardboard counters 40-66 pt.
Board 75-80 pt. (A point is a hundreth of an inch?)

Cheapest printing: square corner, common white border or black, saves several cents per deck. Round corners are better for shuffling and holding in hand. Round corners can add as much as a quarter to the cost of a deck. Proper playing card stock is a laminate, "insanely expensive"--1000 sheets $660; 12 pt not laminate $250-280.
Linen is very expensive, more common in Europe.

Ballpark for art $3-5000. Make sure your art is good. Don't forget you have to sell the game before people will play it. (Lew: the old guide for novels was, a good novel with a bad color won’t sell, a bad novel with a good cover will. Presumably the same still applies, and to games as well.) Art should be at least 300 dpi.

Use high-end graphics programs, not Word for rules. Your rules are art, high quality PDF or Adobe Illustrator etc. file (InDesign). Printers use CMYK color. RGB won't convert well, blacks will be 90% gray. Bleeds are one eighth inch or three, gameboards 5/8 bleed. Purples and oranges a problem. Purple changes. Oranges hard to match. Avoid.

Set type in Illustrator, not Photoshop. (Lew: Photoshop is a bitmap program, keeping track of the location of every pixel (dot). Illustrator is vector graphics, keeping track of the formulas that define the objects. This makes for smaller files, but especially good because it scales easily, the program just recalculates the formula.)

US vs. China. Print your first game in US, then look to China. China cheaper. You can sue someone in the US if things go drastically wrong. China varies a lot, not much recourse. Catalyst recently had Chinese manufacturer vanish on them.

For a million units he got within a quarter per unit for Mattel vs. China cost. (Lew: Hasbro has a million square foot factory with injection molding equipment in New England. So they can do their own manufacturing.)

US you get your stuff in 4-6 weeks, China 90-120 days.

Make sure you get a “landed” price from China. $2,500 for a half container, $5K full container.

Rulebook 22 to 48 cents (per sheet). 60 pound paper. B&W. "Color is about five times more expensive 20 times more impact". 4 pages to a sheet.

Assembly. Can do it yourself. Shrink-wrapper expensive.

Custom plastics, go to China. Mold costs $20K in US vs $3,500 in China. Small run in pewter may be cheaper. Find someone with a mold that fits your requirements.

Wood pieces don’t use molds. (Lew: I understand wood pieces often come for Eastern Europe.)

Piece sources: Plastics for Games UK. Mr Chips US.

And a bit related to publicity: a GenCon 10 by 10 booth cost $1,300. I’ll interject here that every year at Origins, and probably GenCon as well (I’ve only been there once), you see little companies selling one or two games. The next year and following they’re not there, because it in’t worth the costs of booth and personnel and travel to do it again (if it was the first time...).

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