Wednesday, November 4

You Never Stop Learning

Technically I've been in the business of making and selling games for over three years. That makes me an old hand now, right? Not really. I've only been 'professional' (not just in the sense that this is now my full-time job, but I'm also getting the games manufactured for me, and selling primarily to distributors and shops rather than direct to customers) for eighteen months and I've only had stock for the last thirteen months. I'm still doing a lot of stuff for the first time. And, as with Essen, when I'm doing stuff for the second time it's often under such different circumstances that it's hard to draw any conclusions from the past experience.

The reason I bring this up is that I've started graphing my sales over time, and it's teaching me new stuff all the time. At the beginning I assumed that sales for a new game would peak when it was released and then decline steadily over time. To some degree this statement has been true, but there have been some interesting deviations from what I expected. It's Alive! didn't sell many copies in its first quarter (but it came out in September near the end of the July - September quarter). In its second quarter (the run-up to Christmas) it did exceptionally well, helped by Essen and a few big stocking orders. Carpe Astra did much better than It's Alive! in its first quarter (the run-up to Christmas) and both did well in the first quarter of this year - when I signed the two biggest US distributors. Sumeria got off to a great start (best first quarter sales of any of my games) but then did less well in its second quarter (which for Sumeria corresponded to the Summer: July - September).

If I look at graphs plotting the sales of each game by quarter, with the x-axis corresponding to quarters since release it's hard to draw any conclusions: they are all over the place with dips and peaks that don't correspond at all (note that the last data point in each case is for this quarter which is less than halfway through):

So length of time since release is clearly not the driving factor behind how many games I'll sell in any given quarter. So what is I wonder? People say that the Summer months are often quiet, with the best sales being in the run-up to Christmas. This seems reasonable, so I've drawn the same data on a different x-axis. This time its still in sales per quarter, but the quarters relate to a single instance in time: 1 is last Summer (July - September when It's Alive! was re-released), 2 is last Autumn (October to December, including Essen, the run-up to Christmas and the release of Carpe Astra) and so on. Suddenly things become clearer:

Despite the fact that this quarter (Autumn) is only half done, all three games are showing a clear boost over the preceding Summer months. There's a noticeable decline from Autumn through Winter and Spring into Summer, before a sharp jump into Autumn again. Sumeria, which came out at a fairly quiet time, shows the same pattern, but with higher sales due to the initial stocking orders. I'm expecting a few more re-stocks before Christmas too, so hopefully the climb for this Autumn will become steeper across the board in the next couple of months.

With so little experience to base my decisions on, it's hard to see whether a game is doing well or badly. Are low sales due to the time of release, or something else? As the years go on I'll have more hard data to base my assumptions on, and can make more informed decisions as a result. The important thing is that rather than just waving a finger in the air and using gut feelings I'm collecting the data I've got so I'm more informed for next time.

15 comments:

Rob Bartel said...

That's interesting (and somewhat counter-intuitive) that summer represents your high season. In most retail environments, the Oct-Dec quarter is the big selling season.

On the bright side, that may mean that you have some missed opportunities to explore there (such as getting your games onto Christmas Gift Lists in the media, working with retailers to arrange for a seasonal display of your products, running a Christmas charity program where you donate a portion of any sales made within that quarter, donating copies of your games to youth shelters and kids in need, etc).

As always, the key with any of these is to back them up with a quality press release and other communications so you can generate press coverage and introduce your games to an ever-broader audience.

Jack said...

Hiya Rob,

Summer (July-September) was my low season, with Autumn (October-December) being my high-season, less counter-intuitive, but probably badly explained!

Cheers,

Jack

Hulken said...

You can almost never have to mutch data. It looks to me that in maby a year or so you will have enough data on youre sales so that you can plan youre new releces. Caus it looks to me that youre sales go in a cylkle. And as you have stated new games tend to sell most in the begining caus every one is stocking up on them. Then it seams to me that you can compensate the bad months by planing new releses there. that way in a sens evening out youre overal sales.

/Daniel

Jack said...

Hiya Hulken,

I also want to time releases to meet major calendar events (UK Games Expo, Essen), but yes, I can take all of this into account once I've got more data.

Cheers,

Jack

Hulken said...

How important is it to have the releases coinside with major events like essen or the uk game expo?
The games will still be "new" to the publik even if the game is reliced a couple of monts befor. Or am I wrong in that asumtion?
You released sumeria at the uk game expo, do you think that decreased youre sales at the essen gamefair?
I think the ordinary people that bought the game at essen or uk game expo would have dun so ither way. the onley thing i think might come into play is the companys that stocks youre game. But I think they tend to buy the game with paying as litle as posible in mind. This usualy coinside with them going to big expos and bying a lot of games and shipping them back al at once.
You said it youre self, you had a lor of german distibuturs that did not stock youre game before essen. But did after (or at least where going to).
Or do you think I am wrong in my asuptions?

Hulken said...

By the way, if youre still looking for an artist this might be intresting.

http://www.fantasyinc.se/

It is my uncle if you think it might sute youre game let me know and I will talk to him.

Sound Strategy said...

A good indicator that you are achieving greater success will be when the first quarter of each calendar year begins to rival the last, as that will tell you that the distributors and retailers who stocked up on your games in the autumn are selling out over the winter season.

More generally, when you are able to consistently generate sales somewhat independently of the observed cycle, that's when you know you've "made it." Not that you can rest on your laurels at that point...

Jack said...

Hulken,

I think I would have sold more copies at of Sumeria at Essen if it was released at Essen - a lot of the really keen gamers already had it (as evidenced by the number of people who bought the expansion from me on the first couple of days). I think it's also nice to be able to make a splash saying - 'released today'.

I'll also take a look at your Uncle's site.

Sound Strategy:
That's an interesting indicator - one I hadn't previously considered. I'll be watching for that in the new year...

Cheers,

Jack

Darren, London said...

Hey, Jack. Sorry, yeah, it was great meeting you too at Essen :) I wished I could have come back and played some of your games for a while, but I decided to spend the remaining time with my two nieces, as I don't get to see them more than once every few years. They're both ten, so we were playing the kid stuff for the remaining days, although they were into Uno and Scrabble and surprising other games. My game is inspired by (stolen from) Blokus, and that was their favourite game. Hmmm!

Anyway, I have looked up and down boardgamegeek and can't find much about artwork. How much does a pro cost? Do they do the front and back? I was going to go to my university today but I have so little information to go on. Heavens knows I don't wish to look unprofessional :)

Jack said...

Hiya Darren,

I'm not sure how much a professional artist costs generally - to a large degree it depends on how much art you want. For a fairly abstract game you might be able to get an abstract box design done quite cheaply, if you want a very detailed box painting then it will cost more.

Cheers,

Jack

Darren, London said...

Just back from Greenwich Uni. They don't have an art department. I wore a suit for nothing.

Screw it. I'm emailing lots of Unis. I'm even considering unleashing the artist inside me and trying it myself, at this point.

Jack said...

Hiya Darren,

Good luck finding someone. You can also try art colleges and finding people whose style you like on BGG.

Cheers,

Jack

Darren, London said...

In case you're interested, I got a quote back from the manufacturer Toytech this morning, who were at Essen Spiel. Their minimum order is 2,000 units (or so they say). They quoted me $3.18 for 2,000 units, $2.74 for 3,000.

Here's the bang I get for my buck:
- box with colour lid and bottom
- 10x10" board with b/w picture
- 88 tiles
- A4 colour rules.

I think they screwed up. The board is 10x10 and the box 10.5x10.5", but if quad-folded the board and therefore box size could be halved.

I will start by hand making units, as small production runs seem like poor value for money. I would still like to buy blank boxes though, as these seem like the big time consumers.

Jack said...

Hiya Darren,

There's a company in London that will make small runs of boxes for you, and if you send them the printed artwork, they'll even glue that on professionally too.

The company is called W MacCarthy and Sons:
http://www.maccarthyandsons.com/

Cheers,

Jack

Dan Smith said...
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