Friday, September 28

A Dichotomy

This has been a weird week. I've been in Paris Sunday, Monday and Tuesday for work, and then on Wednesday I got a day off to compensate me for travelling all day Sunday. I was in London today, and I'm down there again tomorrow and Sunday visiting my sister (who's made me an Uncle). Monday I'm off to Oslo for a few days. As a result I've only made six copies of It's Alive! this week, and I'll probably manage less next week.

This week I've experienced a strange duality in sales. I've actually sold thirteen copies (twelve to a shop in the UK) but only one of those is a new order. Last week I only had three new orders. It's all going a bit quiet. I need to boost my exposure or I'm never going to get through the first hand-made run. If that happens, there won't be a second run.

I tried sending out a press release to my local news contacts, but I've only had one response, so that's not worked very well either. Still, with any luck that one response will lead to some coverage to 86,000 households - so it may yet led to some sales.

Thursday, September 20

A Busy Few Days

With The Wife out every night for her conference I've had plenty of time to make games. I've now made fourteen this week which is pretty good going, but I'm out tomorrow night (see - I do have a bit of a life) and all day Sunday I'm travelling to Paris for work. So I'm probably done for the week. Still fourteen is not bad. I've got eighteen stock which is great, but twelve of those are for a stocking order which I have to fulfill next week. Next week I hope to have a pretty good week for construction too. I've got a day off on Wednesday in lieu of working Sunday, so I'm going to try to make a ton of games that day. What I need to do is build up a decent stock of games as I'm getting towards the end of the professionally made boxes and I don't want to be scrabbling to make ordered copies once I've got to take longer making the boxes myself.

My geeklist hasn't been as popular as the last one. The last one has nearly two hundred recommendations, and earnt those very quickly. This one is languishing under fifty. I'm not sure what I did wrong. I think the title is not as snappy, and the content is more of a history than advice for those in a similar situation. It's been out two days and is already starting to drop off, I think it's done. Still it's attracted some attention, and made a couple of sales, so it's not all bad. I think where I went wrong may have been talking about a professional run too soon. Some potential customers (especially in the US where the exchange rate makes it quite expensive) are holding out for the professional edition in the hope they can get it cheaper. It probably will be available cheaper - online retailers discount - but it won't happen if I don't sell out of the hand-made edition. I think I need to do some more publicity in the UK where the price is very reasonable. Perhaps another newspaper/radio feature or try to get on the tele. What I need is a press release.

In other news, on the bus to work this morning I had some ideas about Codename: Jorvik. When Dave and I played the latest version the other night we considered a new endgame, and worried that the scoring was too maths-intensive. I thought of a new scoring method that simplfies things a lot. I've also cut out and lined a new set of cards. I'll finish them during my six hour train journey to Paris on Sunday and then I can try them out in my hotel room. I'll play around with the scoring too.

Tuesday, September 18

I'm Famous!

I got an email today from one of last year's Border Reivers customers approaching me to see if I'd be interested in speaking about game design at a convention in the UK next year. I used to do a fair bit of public speaking, presenting research papers at computer science conferences, and I used to really enjoy it - so I'm definitely up for that. I've replied to the guy suggesting a talk on 'So You Want To Be A Game Designer? : From pipe-dream to shop shelves'. It's obviously very early days at the moment, but it will be really cool if it does happen.

In other news, The Wife is hosting a conference in York this week, so she's going to be out entertaining visitors this week. I'm going to make use of this time alone at home to make a metric ton of games, build up some decent stock. In an attempt to get rid of some of that stock I've done another Geeklist on BoardGameGeek describing my efforts publishing Yehuda's game. I did one last year on self-publishing Border Reivers which was very well received. It also led to Border Reivers appearing on the Hot Games list, and several sales, so it's not an entirely selfish act :-) Here's hoping the publicity drums up some interest and sales.

Monday, September 17

Week Off

Last week I had a week off. Not off real work, but making games. The last ten weeks I've been frantically making games in my spare time. I've still managed something that resembles a social life, but the vast majority of my free time has been construction. Because I've been trying to clear my backlog of orders and I've got customers waiting, I've felt guilty when I've not been making games.

A couple of weeks ago I contacted the last people on my waiting list and since then I've been responding to new orders as soon as I get them from the stock in my flat. Having stock means the pressure is off a bit so I can take a break. As a result I made one copy last week. One! The previous weeks I'd done a little better (16, 10, 12, 14 and 26). This week I'm back in the saddle, and with one day down I've already made a couple, and I expect to get at least twelve made this week, possibly more.

I've also been thinking seriously about which game to do next. I'd love to do Jorvik if I can get it ready in time, and to that end I've had another idea. It builds on Dave's brilliant idea, taking it one step further. Of course it may make things worse rather than better, but there's only one way to find out. I'm going to make a prototype (and probably take it to Paris with me next week) and give it a shot.

Saturday, September 15

Boardgame News Reviews It's Alive!

Larry Levy has just published a very complimentary review on Boardgame News. It's nice to be getting some positive reviews, especially considering I didn't send him a free review copy. It's already led to one sale :-)

Friday, September 14

Run Sizes

I've been thinking about the size of runs that I've been doing. I did one hundred copies of Border Reivers and three hundred of It's Alive! When I made Border Reivers I was fairly happy that I could sell fifty copies, but one hundred was a push - I had no idea whether I could sell that many. I did, in less than a year, but the construction was punishing. I spent three hundred hours making the games, plus probably another hundred or more on the artwork. It's Alive! was an easier game to sell and manufacture. Having to pay a designer royalties and an artist for the artwork, I needed to make more copies to amortise the cost across them. Due to the quicker construction time I felt that I could make more copies in a reasonable time, though until I got some of the boxes professionally made it was very slow going.

In terms of raw sale potential (if I sold every copy at full price), the Border Reivers run was £30 * 100 = £3,000. It turned out being considerably less than that once I'd paid PayPal fees, convention fees, given a few copies away, wasted a few copies through cocking up construction, and given play-testers a discount. Still, theoretically £3,000. It's Alive! has a raw sales potential of £4,500 (£15 * 300). I'm thinking that aiming for a run size of £5,000 for hand-made runs is a reasonable target. The bigger, more expensive games will have shorter runs, which is good due to the higher cost in terms of construction time. The small, cheaper games (which take a lot less time to manufacture) I can do more copies of. Until now I won't have had enough cash to fund a run of this size, but It's Alive! should leave me with enough funds to do it.

I'm seriously considering a professional run of It's Alive! for after I've sold out of the hand-made run of It's Alive! It's proved itself as a popular game (inside the top 1100 on BoardGameGeek now) so I'm more confident about investing a large sum of money in it. I'm thinking of a run of 3,000 copies (which I will mostly sell through shops and distributors with possibly a few more at Essen and BGGCon next year if all goes to plan). That would have a sales potential of £45,000, but I would only see a fraction of it as I'd have to sell at a significant discount to shops and distributors. It will cost me a lot of money to pay for up front though, and I'll have to work out ways to contact shops and distributors and interest them in the game, otherwise I'll be significantly out of pocket.

Wednesday, September 12

More Submissions

I'm still trying to work out which game to publish next. I reckon it's going to take me until at least Christmas to finish making this run of It's Alive!, so next year I'm going to need to come up with another game to publish.

I've several designs of my own in one state or another, but only two of them are anywhere near ready. One is a simple card game for two-players (Codename: Jorvik). It would be really easy to make (which is a big win when you're constructing games by hand in your spare time) and the low weight would mean that the cost and shipping would be lower than It's Alive! which would hopefully make it more appealing abroad, where the strong pound leads to exhorbitant prices for everyone else. The other is an abstract strategy game, which would require a bit more construction effort (Codename: Artist). Abstract games are a huge market, which I haven't tapped into at all up until now, so that's appealing too. I'm not sure either is ready yet though. Dave and I played Jorvik last night, and we had some more ideas which I think will add to the endgame, but the scoring is still a bit too complicated. I need to think on it more.

I've received another submission too. Excitingly the designer came to me out of the blue, so Reiver Games must be slowly making a name for itself. I need to read the rules for this new game to see whether it is something I might want to playtest.

Monday, September 10

Pre-numbered Orders

With both Border Reivers and It's Alive! I had a spreadsheet which tracked what the status of each numbered copy is: ordered, sold, shipped, etc. I've numbered the copies in the hope that it will make the games more appealing to collectors, though I don't know whether this is actually true.

Anyway, with Border Reivers I had only one hundred copies, and only ten pre-orders before the game was released at last year's The Cast Are Dice. Most of those were from friends and family who I knew would come through. As the game progressed if people enquired then I would offer to hold a numbered copy for them, e.g. I'll put number 37 aside for you. In some cases it took a couple of months for them to pay for the game, but that was no problem. However, in one case the customer hadn't realised just how shockingly bad the UK/US exchange rate was, and when he did he couldn't afford it. I was now left with a copy with a lower number that I had to allocate to someone else. No biggie.

It's Alive! is on a different scale however. I'm making three hundred copies, and I had fifty pre-orders before the game was released. Again I offered people numbered copies. This has been more troublesome. I've had difficulty contacting some of the customers to let them know their copies are ready, some people take longer to pay than others, and a few people have pulled out. I have to sort through the rulebooks (where the numbers are recorded) to find the right one when I make a sale, and I've a few low numbered copies that I'm holding for customers who might not come back.

There's a couple of things I don't like about this. Getting a low numbered copy is supposed to be the reward for ordering the game early, not the reward for being the first person to buy a copy after someone who ordered early pulls out. Also, even though the rulebooks are in numerical order and grouped in sensibly sized groups with a post-it note describing their range, it take time to find the right one. Not a long time, but probably getting on for a minute. And I've got to do this three hundred times. That's getting on for five hours hunting for the rulebook I promised someone. Life's too short. And I'm too busy.

For my next game I think I'll change the plan somewhat. As people pre-order the game they'll be added to a waiting list. When the games are ready I'll contact people on the waiting list in the order they contacted me, so early adopters have the chance to get low numbered copies. However, what I'll do is assign copies in the order that people pay me. That way the rulebook I'm looking for will always be the top one.

Sunday, September 9

Not Such A Good Name After All

I was quite pleased when I came up with the name 'It's Alive!', it has been one of my catchphrases for ages, and it led to the theme for the game. Generally the theme, the name and getting to cry out 'It's Alive!' at the end have been well received. However, it's not been without its problems.

I've been working my way through my backlist of pre-orders, emailing the customers to let them know that their copies are ready and how they can pay for the copies. Fourteen of the customers I had notified had yet to respond, either paying me, or letting me know they no longer wanted their copies. Over the last week or two I've found out that several of my emails have been falling foul of spam traps. Even my follow-up emails have been disappearing.

I've been trying to work out how to contact those people to work out whether they have received my emails and whether they still want the copy they have ordered. I've managed to get in contact with a couple through BoardGameGeek, which has no spam filter, but I don't know the username for most of them.

The other day The Wife suggested the problem may be the use of 'It's Alive!' or the exclamation mark in the subject which is causing the problem. It seemed like a very good point (I get lots of similarly titled emails suggesting I invest in one stock or another). As a result, today I sent an email to everyone who I had yet to hear from with 'Your Boardgame Pre-order' as the subject. Three of them have paid already, none had received my earlier emails. I think I've finally got to the bottom of that.

Saturday, September 8

Giving It Away

This time round I've given away a few copies of It's Alive! to reviewers in the hope it will lead to some positive buzz and extra sales.

I gave away a few copies of Border Reivers to people who had helped me in some way. I got one (obviously), I gave one to my Dad in return for the box illustration and Mal got one for doing the Reiver Games website. But I didn't give away any review copies. The combination of the high ticket price and the small run meant I stood to lose too high a percentage of the maximum total income for the run.

It's Alive! however is a cheaper game, with cheaper postage and the larger run means that giving away a few copies will hopefully be both affordable, and worthwhile in terms of greater sales. In addition to free copies for myself, two for Yehuda and one for the artist, I've given three copies away to three of the big name reviewers: Tom Vasel, Greg Schloesser and Skip Maloney. Tom has the most reviews on BoardGameGeek as well as posting on The Dice Tower. Greg writes for both Counter and Knucklebones, and Skip also writes for Knucklebones. Skip in particular comes highly recommended by Dean of Ludorum Games.

I've got some press already, and now that I've contacted everyone on the waiting list telling them that their copies are ready I can start making a small but concerted effort to attract attention. Eric Martin of Boardgame News did a short story which lead to three sales (so far), and Luke (sometime blogger here) apparently plugged it enough to lead to at least one sale.

I've just got back from a few days in Copenhagen for work, so there'll be no more pimping until I have bolstered my dwindling stock.

Archaeology - The Card Game released!

Well my second game is finally out!

Thread about it on BGG:

Order page on my website:

I am happy with this version of the game, and it has been excellent not having to work super hard just to produce a single copy! I have already got some sales happening which is great. Hopefully some feedback will start coming in soon.

Oh and Jack if you are still thinking about a solution for scoring card to make folds, I am using a butter knife to score the tuckboxes for the card game. It takes a bit of pressure and a few runs back and forth to get a deep enough groove, but it seems to be working ok.