Tuesday, April 28

Making Progress

After a very busy couple of weeks I'm finally catching up on a few things. I've now received and approved all the proofs and plots for Sumeria and, thanks to a German reader who was paying attention, caught a mistake I made at the proof-reading stage in the German rules. Fortunately, it wasn't too late to get the problem fixed (I'd not yet received and approved the plots) so that didn't cause too much of a problem (though it did cause a bit of a fright!). Sumeria is now all go, all I have to do is approve the corrected German rules and the wooden pieces when I receive them, then sit back and wait for the games to arrive.

Today's first order of business is to meet Brett Gilbert (writer of the Brettspiel blog) in a local café this morning. He's passing through Bedford and wanted to show me one of his prototypes.

This afternoon the reality of running your own business is catching up with me. I've got to do my books for March and then submit a VAT return for the first three months of the year. It's boring, but it's a legal requirement so I've got to get it done.

I've also been going through some of the many submissions I received as a result of my piece for Boardgame News. I've rejected several of them at the second stage (reading the rules) as they were not the sort of games I was interested in, and a couple at the first stage (reading a overview), but a few have made it to the prototype stage, so hopefully I'll be getting a few more prototypes in a couple of weeks. I'm playtesting again tomorrow, so I'll get a chance to play some of the stash of prototypes I've managed to accumulate.

Monday, April 27

A Small Army

I read Seth Godin's blog. I recommend it, he posts most days, short pithy posts that make you think. There's a definite marketing bent to his posts, but lots of the stuff he posts is applicable outside the marketing world.

In one of his recent posts he recommended Chris Guillebeau's '279 Days to Overnight Success' a free manifesto explaining what he had done to make it in the social media arena. I found the manifesto pretty interesting, so I popped over to Chris' site to find out more.

One of the things that Chris recommends is recruiting a 'Small Army' of willing volunteers who will help you achieve your goals.

It struck me that I've (without really trying) started to do that - there's a bunch of people out there who have helped me get Reiver Games off the ground, often for little or no compensation. Much of what I have achieved so far is in no small part due to them, so I thought now would be a good time to thank them (in no particular order):

  • The Wife: For her enthusiasm, support and art direction - I couldn't do it without you.
  • Mal: The website, the last minute proof-reading, Essen, the list is long!
  • Michael: Excellent German translations, often with very little notice, and three hours on the stand at Essen.
  • Dunk and Lucy: Essen - especially the driving and meals :-) and my first convention
  • My designers (Yehuda, Ted and Dirk): For trusting me with your games and choosing me from all the other publishers out there.
  • Paul and Lisa: The enthusiasm, proof-reading and playtesting
  • Tony: Sales repping in the US.
  • Dave: The UK Games Expo in 2007, plus lots of playtesting.
  • Everyone who has submitted a game to me.
  • Everyone who has translated the rules for one of my games into their language
  • All my playtesters and proof-readers, the games wouldn't be possible without you.
  • My true fans who buy all my games - I really appreciate all your support

If I've forgotten you from the list I apologise, say hi in the comments and I'll redress the balance.

Want to join my small army? I'd love the help :-) Things you can do:

  • Play my games
  • Rate my games on BoardGameGeek
  • Become a fan of my games on BGG or Facebook
  • Buy one of my games
  • Ask your local retailer to stock my games
  • Ask any contacts at a distributor to stock my games
  • Review my games on BGG
  • Translate the rules of one of my games into your language
  • Introduce my games to other people - take them to games nights, conventions or demo them at a local retailer

There are things that you can do that cost money, things that cost time, and things that are almost effortless - do as much or as little as you feel like - any help is appreciated.

Sunday, April 26

A Year in the Boardgames Industry

It's been just over a year since I quit my job as started Reiver Games as a full-time job. There have been some ups and some downs as I'm sure you're aware but if I'm to continue the most important thing is the bottom line: I need to make some money or the dream will die!

I've done a GeekList on BoardGameGeek sumarising this first year. The bottom line is the last entry.

Several things went right this year, but also several things went wrong. I'm really proud of the distribution network I've achieved in this first year, from nothing. Essen was a fantastic show for me, a huge success. But when push comes to shove, the company has had a mediocre first full-time year. With the delays getting It's Alive! manufactured I spent the first five months with only a handful of hand-made copies of It's Alive! to sell, which disappeared pretty quickly. From mid-May to the beginning of September I had absolutely nothing to sell. That I made any money at all those months is due to doing some contracting work for my previous employer. When the games did finally turn up it took me some time to get the distributors on board (several didn't sign up until January - five months after It's Alive! arrive in my warehouse). As a result my sales were a bit disappointing - especially in the last few months of the year.

I had to pay out for the games at (or before) the point of manufacture, so my expenditure has been pretty high. I still hope that I'll make a profit on those runs, but to do so I need to sell a large proportion of them, and that takes time. More time than I had between It's Alive! arriving in September and the end of the tax year in April. As such Reiver Games has made it's first loss this year after two years with a very small profit. Sales were up hugely, selling to distributors and shops rather than individual customers, but the bottom line is that this year I didn't make any money, and I'm going to have to start making some money soon if I'm to carry this on.

With Sumeria arriving shortly I'll have another opportunity to boost sales, but with it comes another huge expenditure on manufacturing. This year I'll have stock all year round, and with more games in my portfolio I'll hopefully be a more attractive prospect for other distributors as I'll look a little more professional. The three distributors who contacted me during the BGG competition will hopefully start stocking my games. I hope the BGG competition will boost awareness enough to lead to a bunch more sales. The bottom line is that I need to be selling more games, more quickly, I'm still not sure how to achieve that.

Friday, April 24

Case Study: Getting Sumeria to the Printers

I thought it might be interesting/useful to see what is involved when sending a game to the printers.

I'm getting Sumeria manufactured in Germany by Ludo Fact, the same company that did such an excellent job on Carpe Astra. So what is the process?

The process begins many months before the game is ready, by requesting a quote from the manufacturers. I tend to ask for quotes for a few different sized runs so I can see how much cheaper per game a larger run would be, and how much more expensive in total it would be. For example I asked for quotes for 2,000, 3,000 and 4,000 copies of Sumeria. The quote comes back and Ludo Fact show a breakdown of where all the costs come from (e.g. the cost of the box, the board, the punchboards, the wooden pieces, etc.) so you can make a few changes if necessary in an attempt to reduce the price or improve the component quality. Ludo Fact show their quotes with the cost per 1,000 games so you can easily compare the prices, but they don't include the cost of proofs and tooling costs and obviously you need to consider additional costs such as bank charges, prototyping costs, art costs, etc.

Ludo Fact take about 8-10 weeks to manufacture a small run like one of mine, and they don't require everything up front. The first time you order they do want half payment up front, but for later runs they will accept payment on delivery. The 8-10 weeks is due to the time required to manufacture the wooden pieces, so in the first instance all they need is a signed order so they can go ahead and place the order for the wooden pieces from their supplier. They will send out a 'white sample' of the box and boards to show you how the various bits will fit together inside the box. The white sample is made from all the correct materials, just not printed, so it can be used to check the weight of the finished item as well.

The next stage for Sumeria was to FTP the artwork for the punchboards and the gameboard, and that wasn't required until two weeks after the order was placed. The artwork is checked over by their data quality department (who are very thorough and found several problems with the Carpe Astra art - but none with Sumeria :-) ), and if necessary new art is requested. Once the art has been approved you are sent a proof and a plot for each component. The proof is colour-accurate showing what the components will look like. If you've ever tried printing colour files you'll notice that each printer prints slightly different colours, which in turn are slightly different from how they appear on the screen - the proofs are guaranteed to be the same as the finished items. Since you pay extra from the proofs you can choose which components to have proofs of, and you can choose to have proofs that are slightly smaller than the finished item, or only cover some of them (e.g. a selection of cards from the deck - not all of them). Plots on the other hand are not colour accurate (and in fact are often hideously garish!), but they show all the components and any cut lines for you to check that things line up correctly. These need to be checked and approved in writing to the manufacture to allow them to proceed.

The last of the artwork for Sumeria (the box and rules art) was required a further two weeks after the boards art. Again, it gets FTPed to their server, their data quality department check it over and send out the proofs and plots for approval.

The final piece of the puzzle will be a production run sample of the wooden pieces (complete with a zip-loc bag which they'll send on to me when the wooden pieces arrive at their factory from the suppliers.

Once everything is ready at their factory they will assemble the games, box them, shrink-wrap them, put them in cases, put the cases on pallets and shrink-wrap the pallets. About a week later those will arrive at my warehouse, and I'll get an invoice to pay for the manufacturing.

Sumeria is about half-way through the process at the moment - I sent them the last of the artwork on Monday, and I've received the proofs and plots of the boards, with the box and rules due early next week. I'm due to receive the games in week 21, a week before the UK Games Expo where Sumeria is due to be launched.

Thursday, April 23

Site Repping

That's what my last two days effort is called according to The Wife.

Yesterday I was going into London to meet Philip duBarry (of Revolution fame) for dinner. Seeing as I was spending £25 on the train fair into London I figured I might as well make a day of it and visit a few board game shops hawking my wares. Today I've done something very similar in St. Neots and Cambridge - a bit nearer to home.

In preparation for my visits I first rang the shops to arrange a rough time for my visit and to make sure that they were interested in seeing me. With one exception they all seemed quite keen - I didn't feel too much like a cold-calling salesman, which was effectively what I was. I also got together a small pack of information for each store: a business card, and 'sellsheets' for each of my games (a sheet of A4 with information about the price, some art and the blurb from the back of the box). I stapled this information together so that I wouldn't have to be faffing around when I got there.

For each visit I got the name of the person I spoke to (or should speak to on the day) so that I could ask for them when I reached the shop. I hit five shops in London on Wednesday and three today. On arrival I went up to the desk, introduced myself and asked to speak to the person whose name I had got on the phone. I then handed over the information pack (so they've got something to check after I've left and remind them of the salient points) and then spent 15-20 minutes giving a brief overview of my three games: It's Alive!, Carpe Astra and Sumeria.

About half of the shops I visited already stocked one or more of my games, the others generally had never heard of them. As a result of the trips all of them were interested in stocking them, though admittedly some only if I acquiesced to their conditions (in some cases ridiculous). Three of the shops are going to pick them up as a result.

Even in the cases where they already carried my games it was often only one of the two (so it was worth it from an awareness raising point of view) and in most cases the staff had only seen the game box, never the contents and knew nothing about how to play the game that wasn't written on the box. Hopefully in these cases the extra information will lead to the staff recommending my games to some of their customers.

In addition, a couple of the shops wanted me to come in one Saturday and demo my games to their customers. This sounds like a great idea, so I'm going to be visiting them for the day to demo my games - like a mini-convention. The shops will advertise it in advance and get some stock in so that interested customers can buy the game there and then.

I consider these visits to be a great success and I'm now trying to work out which other shops are within range of another day trip.

Monday, April 20

The Saga of the Box Design

When you get your copy of Sumeria (you are all going to buy one, aren't you?), take a minute to look at the back of the box, and consider briefly just how much of a bitch it was for me to do.

The saga begins on Friday with me (your sheepskin-clad, over-muscled hero - though I like to think with slightly more intelligence than your standard-issue barbarian hero) trying to get the box and rules artwork to the printers in Germany by the end of the day. I decided fairly early on that I wouldn't have time on Friday to get the box tray art done, so I checked that the box art could wait until Monday without delaying things too much. With that out of the way my plan was to finish the rest of the art, get it FTP-ed to the printers and then go to a local print shop to get a printout of the board done. I had two print-outs of the board with me, my home-made quad folded board with the final artwork but a bunch of printing errors from my printer and the colour-correct proof from the German manufacturers which they had folded in quarters to fit in an envelope - so I couldn't use either of those.

The trials began sending the rest of the artwork to the printers. My computer decided to inexplicably go very slow on-and-off during the afternoon (at one point it took half an hour to shutdown) so by the time I finally got everything sent off it was 4:30pm. Running a bit late. I thought I'd better check what time the print shop shut and they shut at 4:45pm. Damn, I'd missed them and would have to go Saturday morning.

Saturday morning, with visiting parents in tow, I went to the print shop and got the print out of the board done. We spent the rest of the day hanging out with my folks, and the next morning I got Dad to help me with setting up a photo of the game. When it came to make the mock-up board for the photo I realised the print shop had somehow managed to print it out 80% of the correct size, so it would no longer fit with all the other components. Grrrr. Still, I got Dad to help me set up the home-made board, and show me how to get a good photo of it. We could do the layout and tweaking with the photo of the home-made board and I could get a correct print out on Monday and drop that in instead. We took the photos, picked one, did the layout and then in the evening I did the associated stuff (barcodes, logos, descriptive text, etc.). I then got Michael (thanks!) to do a German translation of the box text and in the meantime I went back to the print shop, got a correct size print-out, came home, glued it onto some board (I just made a full-size open board, rather than faff around making a quad folding board that I can't do tidily) set the picture back up, took some more photos stripped out the background in the photos and added the new photo to the box.

Getting it done was far more complicated than it needed to be, but I'm very pleased with the end result:

Friday, April 17

You Know You've Been Neglecting Your Blog When...

You get emails asking if you've died.

I've been busy. And not busy. Last weekend The Wife and I went to Newcastle for a couple of days break. It was great, we got to hang out with our friends up there and just chill out for a couple of days. On our return we've been busy sorting out stuff for the house we're buying and I had to make an unscheduled trip to York.

Wednesday I had to go to York to collect the white sample of Sumeria which had been sent to my old address (I'd forgotten to inform the German manufacturers that I'd moved house). The white sample is a box, insert, punchboards and gameboard all covered with the correct paper. The punchboards aren't punched and there's no printing done, but it gives you an example of the size, weight and finish of things. Sumeria will be in the same size box as Carpe Astra and the board and tiles will be on the same 2mm thick, linen-finished card as the Carpe Astra pieces. I was really impressed by how professional Carpe Astra felt - the Germans really do a great job.

To make the trip up to York worth the effort, (there's six hours driving involved) I spent the night at Paul's, got to hang out with him and Lisa, play some prototypes and then the next morning I popped in to Travelling Man (the comics and games shop in York) and went to their Leeds head office. I used the trip as a sales trip - introducing Carpe Astra (which neither store had picked up yet) and Sumeria and enquiring how It's Alive! was doing. In the York branch, It's Alive! is apparently a regular seller - they always re-order it if it's sold out and it sells out fairly often. Since moving from selling copies personally at conventions and through my website to selling to distributors I've no idea how well things are doing - so it was nice to get some positive feedback from the shop floor. It was also good to be able to tell them that Carpe Astra had spent most of the last two weeks at the top of the BoardGameGeek Hot Games list.

On my return an email from Ted informed me that Carpe Astra has been added to Bruno Faidutti's Ideal Game Library and got an honourable mention in Mike Siggin's Sumo Awards. Two more pieces of information that would have been good to be able to mention had I known about them one day earlier! Still, I'm planning to do some more sales trips early next week and I'll be able to use that information then.

Things are now very busy - I've got to send the box art and the rules for Sumeria to the printers today (though I'm not going to be able to send them all today - the box bottom will have to wait until Monday :-( ) and my parents are coming to stay for the weekend this evening - so I've some preparation to do for their visit too. My dad used to be an art teacher, so I'll be able to rope him into helping with the box bottom design and the photo of the game over the next couple of days.

Wednesday, April 8

Take The Blue Pill

God alone know what the title's going to do to the Goggle ads. I've been receiving emails for some time with that advice and I've finally taken them up on it.

Yesterday morning I went over to the hospital at Cambridge about my gammy eye. Unlike the hospital in York (3 miles from our flat there), the Cambridge hospital is 45 miles away, so The Wife had to take the morning off work too to give me a lift there (since my gammy eye is stopping me from driving at the moment)- thanks! I was expecting them to say: 'You've had too many treatments recently to receive any more steroids', but they prescribed me some again. Yeay! Unfortunately, they've given me some little blue pills to take instead of the IV treatment I usually get. These pills taste foul, by some length the worst thing I've ever tasted, and I've got to have five a day for five days :-( Still, my vision is improving already, so it's not all bad.

Today I'll be making the final corrections to the Carpe Astra and Sumeria German rules and getting them both up on my website. The competition seems to be continuing well, I'm not yet sure whether it's having any affect on sales, but by the end of the month (even if I've not had any re-orders from my stocking distributors) the consignment returns should indicate whether there's been a spike in sales or not.

My games have gone off the boil on BoardGameGeek a bit, with Carpe Astra dropping to fourth in The Hotness list, Sumeria is still in seventh and It's Alive! now way down the list. Also, my company has dropped from first to second. I've been surprised how much higher Carpe Astra has been in the list than It's Alive! throughout the competition, I guess fewer people had heard of Carpe Astra, so it got more click-throughs.

In other news, when I asked about free publicity, W. Eric Martin from Boardgame News gave me a chance to write a piece for BGN about game submissions to publishers. That's going to run tomorrow, so I'd imagine I'll be getting a few submissions fairly soon.

Sunday, April 5

Competition Collateral

The competition is running as I've already mentioned. I was hoping that the competition would raise awareness of my games, and based on feedback in the announcement thread and the position of my games and company in BoardGameGeek's 'The Hotness' list of most viewed games and companies that is working pretty well.

There have also been a few other developments which I wasn't expecting. I got an email on Friday from a Canadian distributor asking for my distributor terms. I don't know whether anything will come of it, but the company serves over 300 games stores in Canada and I don't have a Canadian distributor as yet, so if they do sign up that will be awesome. I'm still hoping to get Australian distribution at some point, though when (if) that will happen is anyone's guess. I guess some Canadian's must have asked their local shop to order one of my games, and they asked the distributor, either that or the distributor is busy on BGG. Either way, I should hear their decision this week. Finger's crossed.

I've also received an Italian translation of the rules of Sumeria, two months before it is released. Usually the translations come through my distributors after there receive a game or from fans who have been playing the game with their friends. Admittedly, I've got the English rules and a translation grid up on my website, but I didn't expect any interest for quite a while yet.

This means I'll be pretty busy next week on Translation stuff. I've received the German translation of the Sumeria and Carpe Astra rules (thanks Michael!) and now the Italian Sumeria rules too. I've also got to get the Sumeria rules and box art layout finished and off to the manufacturer by the end of next week. I had to send off the board and punchboard art last week (it takes slightly longer to manufacture) so once that's done all I have to do is sit back and await the proofs and white samples. The white samples are important as they'll allow me to calculate the weight of a finished copy, and hence the postage for the pre-orders. The proofs are mainly for checking the colour balance, I've proof-read things several times before sending them off, so hopefully the manufacturer's data quality department will find fewer faults than they did with Carpe Astra.

I've also got a few more submissions this week. All in all, pretty busy.

Friday, April 3

Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot!

Which was the jingle for an advert in the UK. No idea what it was an advert for though.

So the BoardGameGeek competition seems to be working. Yesterday several people commented how my games were near the top of the BGG Hot Games list, and Reiver Games was the hottest company. Today it's even better. Carpe Astra is the hottest game (with It's Alive! at number 3 and Sumeria at number 7), Yehuda, Dirk, R. H. Aidley and I are in the Hottest people list (though fairly near the bottom!) and Reiver Games is still the hottest games company (just ahead of Fantasy Flight!). As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I've been keeping track of the BGG statistics in the run-up to this competition, so I could see what a difference the competition makes. Probably the two most interesting statistics are Owners (i.e. people who have bought the game and can be bothered to record the fact on BGG) and Num. Views (the number of people who have looked at a game). Here's the average increases before and during the competition (though I've only got two days data for during!):

It's Alive! Carpe Astra Sumeria
Owners Num. Views Owners Num. Views Owners Num. Views
Before 0.69 42.67 0.23 38.00 0.00 28.83
During 0.50 1167.00 2.00 2395.50 0.00 558.50

The number of daily views for each game has increased by between 19 and 63 times (1900% and 6300%). I wouldn't expect a spike in owners buying each day yet, as I imagine people will wait to see if they've won the competition first. Fingers crossed I'll notice a boost in sales within a month though.

Thursday, April 2

A Spanner in the Works

Things seemed to be going pretty well. The BoardGameGeek competition is finally up, the art for Sumeria is nearly done. I'm getting some good feedback on Sumeria and the other games I'm testing at the moment. This weekend I was going to a local(ish) convention to demo It's Alive!, Carpe Astra and Sumeria and get some more playtesting done.

Then the proverbial spanner. I'm having another MS attack. This time it doesn't affect my ability to walk (good) instead it affects my eyesight, and hence my ability to drive (bad!).

I've been going to a game group on Tuesdays (25 miles away), and a games club on Thursdays (15 miles away). I was hoping to go to convention on Saturday (45 miles away) and to go to a games shop in St. Neots (22 miles away) to show them my games. Obviously, until my eyesight is restored to a reasonable level I'm going to have to shelve all these plans. It could be several weeks.

Living in a small rural village sucks when you can't get out of it.