Tuesday, December 1

Hobby Publishing: Less Risky

In my last post I showed you just how scary the figures could be for trying to make games for a living. They weren't actual figures for one of my games, but they were indicative. In the comments Daniel asked what about hobby publishing - how does that compare (I paraphrase!). So here's the answer.

Just over three years ago I decided to make and sell some copies of Border Reivers, a board game I had designed over the preceding five years. With little money to throw at the effort and little faith in my ability to sell a lot of copies I chose to go down the hobby publishing route: I would make a small number of copies, largely by hand to keep costs down.

I worked out that I could make 100 copies for £1,255 plus £376 on overheads (I wasn't paying warehousing costs, or myself any salary, but there were a bunch of tools I needed to make the games. To keep costs down I ordered the wooden and plastic pieces all at once (the more you get the cheaper they are), and did the same with the printing. I got a digital printer to do all the printing for me, just onto SRA3 sheets of paper and thin card. I got them to laminate it all to to make it more durable, but I was going to do all the assembly myself. The total price was £1,631 or £16.31 per copy. To cover my costs (plus the cost of attending various conventions and setting up a website I chose to price the game at £30, less than twice the manufacturing cost. I doubted very much whether anyone would pay more than that for it, especially as the cost of shipping would be on top of that. Obviously I couldn't afford to sell to distributors or shops, so I had to hope that I could win enough people over at conventions and via the internet to cover my costs.

With no fixed overheads (no warehousing, no salary) the time it took me to sell the copies didn't really matter - it just came down to whether or not I could. I needed to sell 55 copies to break even, which considering I had no market presence and no reputation seemed like a lot. If I did sell all 100 copies I would stand to make £3,000, or a £1,369 profit.

In the end I damaged some pieces so I only ended up making 96 out of the 100, and some of those I gave away (or kept), I made £2,600, so just under £1,000 profit. Since all those sales were within the first year I gained 60% on top of my original investment, a far better rate of interest than any other savings investment would have offered!


Hulken said...

Yea!!! I was menchend =)

I´m wondering, timewise, how do both options compair. Making youre own games took quit som time if I remember. How manny hours per week did you spend in average do you think?

How does that compair to now, do you work "full" time or is it more or less now that you have gone "pro". =)

Hulken said...

Another thing I was pondering, maby you know or atleast can give me youre opinion on it.

I was walking in a bookstor the otherday and was looking at the games they offered. They had som big box games and som smal boxed games (like carpe astra) and they also had some cardgames.

My wondering is about cardgames.
When I was looking throu the games a thought hitt me. Hum the cardgames in there very smal boxex, normal poker cards boxex, was extremly hard to se. So if I was looking for a game to bye I would almost sertanly not look at them I would look at the big and smal boxes. (the price for the smal boxed games and the cardgames are almost the same usualy 5-7 euros cheaper so not that big of a difrens)

If youre publishing a cardgame is it worth the extra production cost, going with a "smal box" instead of the normal playingcard one, to get the better exposiur in the shops?
What do you think it would cost to get the game in a smal box compaired to the normal, would it increas the cost per unit mutch?
I´m guessing the increas in cost is about 1-3 euros henc the 5-7 euros higer price.

I think the smal box is worth it caus of the extra exposiur the game gets in the shop. But maby this is not the normal case with mor game oriented shops. Maby this just is the case with "normal" stors selling games. But there is som games that have bin soled in a way to big box, the first thing that comes to my mind is Race fore the galaxy and its expansions. Shur I get it you can put al cards in one box, but then why are the expansion boxes so big?

Pinebars said...


Sounds like a pretty good case for starting off as a hobbyist. I assume you used the profits from the 96 Border Reivers to finance your first run of It's Alive? Also, do you have any comment about the typical cost of warehousing overhead?


Jack said...

I was probably spending about 10 hours a week on the company when I made the game by hand (Border Reivers took 3 hours/copy to assemble, It's Alive! 1.5 hours/copy, plus there was marketing and graphic design and other stuff to do). Now I work full-time.

Bigger boxes might well sell better (despite the higher price), but I really don't like the wastefulness of the bigger boxes - I'd rather had small, full boxes and bigger largely empty ones.

Yes, I used the £2,600 to finance 300 copies of It's Alive! at approximately £7.50/copy = £2,250).

Warehousing varies a lot. In York I was paying £1/pallet/week, minimum £10. When I moved down South I looked at prices round here and was quoted £2.75/pallet/week. Needless to say my games are still in York!



Hulken said...

I think you missunderstod me, the boxes that carpe astra is in is the box I think is good. What oposits it is normal boxes you bye card games in, not realy boxes but the standard packeges that normal poker cards come in.
Whot I was woondering was do you think it is a good idea to put a "normal" cardgame, 55-110 cards, in the bigger box. The one carpe astra is in or should you go with the pakeging the card come in?
Do the bennefit of the bigger box outway that of the normal pokercard one.

Hulken said...

Also I know you work full time now, but do that amount to 40h a week or do you put down more or less time. Also it would be intresting, atleast I think so =), to se you break down a week or a month into what you do and how mutch time you spend on it.

Cheers. =)

(hope I´m not being to mutch of a pain in youre butt) =)

Jack said...


I think the small/box big box thing is the same, whether you're publishing card games in CA-sized boxes, or box games in massive boxes.

There's a good chance I'm doing a card game next, and if I do it will be in a small box (6 Nimmt! sized).

I reckon I work 40-50 hours most weeks, but I don't keep any records!



Hulken said...

Hi again =)

I hope the dinner was nice. I have a question regarding It´s alive. _You use scuared cards there instead of the normal once, for obvious reasons. Did the scuared cards increas the production cost or is it the same (or maby cheaper?).


Have fun at the wedding, I just recived the onors to be best man at a friends wedding this coming summer anny tips on good batchler partys? =)

Darren, London said...

Yo, Jack. Is there any reason why board games have drawings on the box, instead of photos? The back of Blokus has a photo, as well as Ingenious, off the top of my head. Are photos more costly than drawings in terms of printing, or does 4C cover them all?

I have an illustrator friend who can do the box, but I would prefer photos of people playing it on the front and back than a drawing of an abstract strategy game. I think Stratego also has a photo of the game on the front. Is it just a genre thing? A drawing lets you know it's German style, a photo indicates it's mass market or abstract strategy?

Jack said...


The squared cards were more expensive (non-standard size) but they meant that I could make everything else smaller, so cheaper overall.


Mass market games often have photographs on the box front, euro-graph often use illustrations. Sumeria has a photo on the back :)



Darren, London said...

Bah! I knew I'd seen a photo smewhere. Which sea port do you use, Jack?

Jack said...

Hiya Darren,

What do you mean 'Sea Port'?



rob_vz said...

Nice, simple pragmatic solution, and great to see that it is not only possible to make small print runs cost effectively, but you were able to sell them with little marketing spend.
On that point, how many of your sales were through convention attendance (did you have a booth etc?) and how many directly through your website?