Wednesday, September 30

Publishing is Cyclical

The Summer has been pretty quiet here at Reiver Towers. After the rush of orders for the release of Sumeria, the quiet Summer months have just seen the occasional restock and submission.

With not a huge amount to do, and mixed sales, I've been feeling a little down and hence I've put off a whole bunch of things I should have been doing. Now all of a sudden I've got loads of submissions, a weekly playtesting session and only three weeks to go until Essen. Panic!

Let me explain the mixed sales comment. In a lot of ways my sales look awesome: I've got year-on-year growth of 1000% for the first quarter of this financial year and 150% for the second quarter. My second best month of sales ever was in June. For the first eight months of 2009 my monthly sales were up (and often by a lot) over the corresponding month of last year.

Of course, as with any statistics you can spin them any way you want, and if you're not feeling too chipper you look at the other side: September was the first month where sales were worse than last year. October last year will be a very hard month to beat. Last year with two games coming out in September and November, the vast majority of my sales (85%) were in the last half of the year, so although I've done much better this year so far the real test will be the next six months when I don't have any new games coming out. My sales so far this financial year are half of last year's total, with half the year gone and no new games on the horizon. I'm hoping for a boost from Essen and the holiday season, but how much of a boost will I get?

Anyway, I digress. The last few months haven't been that busy. All of a sudden there's loads going on and I'm struggling to keep up. I've been approached by Grégory of Vassal Factory to do a Vassal module of Sumeria. I've got to finalise everything for Essen (and by everything I mean: flights, getting my games there and any overstock back, stand display), I'm trying to work on two prototype games and trying to get playtest copies for a third made up and sent off to my blind playtesters. In addition I've got to catch up on my books, do a VAT return and calculate and pay my designers their royalties.

This is definitely a business where I go through cycles. When I'm getting a game ready to go to the printer, or getting ready for a big convention like Essen, there's loads to do (and of course a bunch of other stuff just happens to fall at the same time), then there's a lull until the next period of frantic activity. Fun!

Sunday, September 20

The Curse of the Good Prototype

As a publisher, I'm always looking for new games to publish. I'm fortunate to receive a lot of games submissions on a more or less constant basis. Quite a lot of these are types of games I'm not interested in (mass market, trivia, sports), and so can be instantly discounted. Some sound interesting, but have so many components that I have to rule them out on cost. Lots sound interesting at first blush and so I ask for a prototype to play with my playtesting team.

Some of those I try aren't very good when you actually play it and can be quickly discounted. Occasionally, you get an awesome one which is pretty much ready to go (Sumeria was one of these). The vast majority however are 'good'. Which is a bad thing.

There are tens of thousands of board games out there (BoardGameGeek has over 50,000 in its database) and hundreds more get released every year. If you're a big company like Fantasy Flight or Games Workshop, you've got the marketing budget and market presence that means your games will sell well. If, however you're a little guy like me with a tiny marketing budget and very little market presence your games will have to fight tooth-and-nail to sell themselves. For comparison, the third edition of Space Hulk was released two weeks ago. It has 761 ratings on BGG and 1554 people listed as owning it. Sumeria has been out fourteen weeks and has 100 ratings and 116 owners. Very few people rush down to their local games store to buy the latest Reiver Games release when it arrives on the shelves. Instead they might hear about it, add it to their wishlist or want to play list. Maybe wait for a friend to get it so they can try it out, or hope to find it at a convention where they can try it out. Of the much smaller number of people who are interested and who find a copy to play, only people who really like the game will tend to buy it.

If I publish a game because I think it's good, the chances are most of the few people who play it will also think it's good. Nobody rushes out to by a good game. They rush out to buy a great game. The internal conversation goes: ' I know Bob's got Zombie Ninja Pirates in Space, but it's frickin' awesome, I need my own copy', not: 'I know Bob's got Watching Pastel Paint Dry, but it's a pretty good game, I need my own copy'.

I need games that at least I think are great, in the hope that I can find several thousand other people who think the game is great enough to warrant buying.

Still, it's very hard to go back to a designer and reject their game because it's good. There's nothing really wrong with it, it's solid, it works. But it's not great. It doesn't help that great is subjective.

Thursday, September 17

Hello? Hello? Anyone There?

Sorry it's been such a quiet week here at Creation and Play. Mainly due to a very busy week in the real world. Why so busy? A number of things, all conspiring together to rob you of my virtual company!

First up, I've received a promising prototype which I'm sending out for blind playtesting to a bunch of gamers from around the world. I've only been sent a single prototype, so this means I've got to knock up a bunch of copies to send out. To do this I've had to do several steps, to ensure that the copies I send out at least meet my submission guidelines for prototypes. I've ordered some greyboard (I think it's called chipboard in the US), and made some simple tray and lid boxes out of it. I've not bothered labelling them, but they are the right size - i,e. the size the game would be if I published it. I've ordered the wooden pieces from, then counted them up and bagged them ready to go, I've been to the local toy shop to buy a metric ton of dice (my usual dice supplier Plastics for Games have a £50 minimum order. There's still a bunch of stuff left to do: I need to do the art for the board and the cards, and run my take on the rules by the designer (once I've added some of the prototype art into them for diagram purposes. This is a fairly expensive process (it'll end up costing over £100 once you include the materials and postage), but I need to do this for games before I sign them. I did it a bit late for Sumeria, I'd already signed the design, and had the feedback from blind playtesting been terrible (it wasn't fortunately!), I'd have been stuffed since the art and manufacturing was already in train. The advantage of doing it earlier is that you get longer for the feedback, and more time to respond it, plus if the game tanks, you're not signed up to anything and can cut your losses. The disadvantage is that you end up spending this money for more games, some of which you'll end up dropping and hence will never get a chance to recoup the cost of playtesting. With any luck I'll get the prototypes finished by the middle of next week, and then I can get them in the post.

One of the advantages of re-doing the prototypes is it gives me a chance to check out a few ideas. I get to put the game in a box that is the size I'm intending to use (the same size as Carpe Astra and Sumeria for the moment). I get to re-size components (e.g. boards, cards) to sizes that fit the box or that are ideal for production. In addition, I can to try some layout ideas: what happens if I put that here, or use that iconography? The art will be pretty rough, but you can still get an idea about things from a rough draft.

This time, I can pimp the prototypes a little, since I was sent a box of spares by the Sumeria manufacturers. They were limited in what they could assemble due to a shortfall in the wooden pieces. As a result they had spare punchboards, cloth bags, boards and inserts. As a result I've given each of the prototypes an insert and I'll use the spare Sumeria boards as a substrate for the prototype boards (I'll just glue the prototype art on top).

In addition to the prototypes, I've also been working on some stuff (and the furniture) for my Essen stand. And to top it all, it's a busy week for gaming :-)

Yesterday, Tim, one of my oldest friends (and co-incidently one half of the Best Man double act at my wedding), came round for a day of gaming. We christened my copy of the new version of Space Hulk, and played a few Eurogames, including Sumeria. I had a terrible day (I'm blaming waking up at 5:50am), winning only 2 games of Space Hulk out of eleven games in total. He even beat me twice at Sumeria (a rare event :-) ). The new Space Hulk is lavishly produced (if ever there was a good advert for the economies of scale -Space Hulk is rumoured to be a print run of 70,000+ copies), the board sections are embossed with details, the counters are prolific and on very thick stock (3mm?) and the minis are extremely detailed - if overdone in the posture department. Tim loved Sumeria too, which was cool. Tomorrow (and hopefully Monday) are playtesting days, and I'm at an all day games day on Saturday.

It feels great to be really busy again (the Summer was pretty quiet), but there's so much to do!

Wednesday, September 9

Demo Days In America

As I mentioned last time, I've been doing a few demo days, where I go and spend the day in a games shop with demo copies of each of my games teaching them to regulars and random punters. The idea is that I introduce my games to a bunch of people who haven't played them, raising awareness of the games and hopefully boosting sales (both for me and the shop). In addition, I get to improve my relationship with the shop owners.

I've recently done demo days at Inner Sanctum Collectibles in Cambridge and Eclectic Games in Reading. I've also lined up two more: Patriot Games in Sheffield on 31st October and Spirit Games in Burton-on-Trent on 7th November. There are a couple more in the pipeline that I hope to arrange before the end of the year.

In the comments to the last post Todd suggested that I could get some reps to do demo days for me further afield, e.g. the US. It's an interesting idea, but one with some logistical issues.


When I do a demo day in the UK I take a bunch of stock along with me. If the demo day goes well and the shops sells a lot of games they can get those from me on the day, rather than having to order a lot in from a distributor in advance and having to pay for them whether they sell or not. Any stock they don't want I take home with me, so they are not left out of pocket.


In addition, I know that when I turn up I'm presentable, reliable, on-time, I know the rules to each game correctly and I can demo the games enthusiastically.


I can also cover pretty much the whole of the UK by myself. Ok, Northern Scotland or Northern Ireland is a bit of a trek, but it's possible.


This is my job, if I want it to continue to be my job I need to do everything in my power to make the company work. I'm perfectly willing to give up my weekends to achieve that.

America is the biggest market for my games, it has five times the population of UK, is an English-speaking country and as a result 50% of all my sales to distributors have gone to the US. Plus, some to Canada too.

Once the games arrive in the US, things get a little more difficult. My games arrive on the shelves of the store, but my 'small box, big game' strategy hurts me, because by comparison to the other games my games look very expensive (of course shipping the games to the US makes my games more expensive too!). A small, expensive-looking game tucked away on a shelf is unlikely to sell particularly well, especially when no-one locally has played it.

Demo days would really help me here. If I could do a demo day in the biggest store in every state (52 stores), that would significantly boost the sales of my games. I know that there are at least 2,500 hobby stores in the US, so I could really boost my sales if I got my games into a reasonable proportion of those, and then introduced the games to the clientele.


The aim of a demo day is two-fold, to raise awareness of my games and to sell some games. What would be ideal for the store is that on a demo day the store can get some games on sale-or-return. They can get plenty of stock in to ensure that they don't run out and hence miss sales due to running out of stock, but they don't have to invest a chunk of their capital on games that might take months to sell. How would I get around this in the US? I've got stock here, but it would be expensive to ship to the US. My US distributors have stock in the US, but won't lend it back to me.


Reps demoing my games in a store are representing my company (hence 'rep'). When I do it, I know that I'll do a good job, because it's my livelihood that's on the line. I know I'm presentable: smart, polite, knowledgeable about the games and fragrant (in a good way!). How do I pick people that will do a good job and represent my company in a way I'd be delighted with, when those people live at least 3,500 miles away and I've never met them?


America is huge. Really huge. There's no way someone could cover the whole of it unless it was their job (and possibly their life!). Which means multiple reps. Which means multiplying the presentation and recompense problems by the number of reps.


It's still early days for Reiver Games. It seems to be going ok, but I don't have much cash on hand and when I do I want to invest that in more games. How do I make it worth a rep's while to give up their time demoing my games? Do I give them free games? Free T-shirts? Travel expenses? A wage? What are reasonable amounts for each of those things? What about US employment law? How do I prove that I got return on investment?

While it's a nice idea, I don't know how I'd go about solving these problems well enough to make it work for all involved. Any suggestions?

Sunday, September 6

Demo Days

Back in June, just after Sumeria came out, I did a demo day at Inner Sanctum Collectibles in Cambridge. I turned up with my demo copies of each game and a couple of cases of each game and sat and played my games throughout the day in the store. As I said at the time, the day was a great success, and I was definitely interested in doing more of these events.

What with moving house and starting a new treatment, things have been pretty hectic for the last couple of months, so I didn't get to do a second Demo Day until yesterday at Eclectic Games in Reading.

This time, I put a bit more effort into publicising my visit, mentioning it on Twitter and BoardGameGeek.

Although Eclectic Games have a massive games room at the back of the store with loads of tables for playing games, they had kindly set me up on a table in the main store, just behind the till, so I was much more prominent as a result. There was less interest than last time (at ISC a whole bunch of customers had come in specifically to see me and my games, whereas yesterday I think all the interest was from people who just happened to come in). I think next time I should get the store to publicise it as much as possible among their regular board games customers to help boost interest.

I still think the demo days are a good use of my time, and I've just contacted six games shop owners I know to see if they are interested in hosting a games day. I've also asked on BGG for recommendations for other stores that might be interested.

Thursday, September 3


Newsletters, when done right, are what Seth Godin calls permission marketing:

Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.

I've asked everyone on my mailing list for their permission to send them a newsletter every quarter, and in every case they have signed up, saying they want to receive this information.

I offer people who meet me at conventions the chance to sign up and I offer people who email me the chance to sign up. Only those that want to get the emails. It's not spam.

In the newsletter, I always list the conventions I'll be attending over the next few months, how each of my games are doing and any information about new games in the pipeline. After Tuesday's discussion about a sale, I decided to offer the sale only to those people on my mailing list.


Only offering the sale prices to those people on my mailing list is a way of giving them something back for giving me permission to send them marketing information. It says that I appreciate their permission.

Although I am undercutting some retailers with my sale prices, it's a limited time offer, to a select group of people, so it shouldn't annoy my distributors and retailers.


Because it's going out to a limited number of people, lots of whom will already own my games, it won't boost my sales that much.

Because it's only mentioned to people on my mailing list, although it is a reward for being on my mailing list, it doesn't act as an incentive to join my mailing list as those people who aren't on it will never hear about it.

It's led to a few sales so far, not sure how many more to expect.

Tuesday, September 1

September Could Be Slow

I'm expecting September sales to be fairly low, since I've no new games coming out, and I hope lots of people will be waiting to buy from me at Essen next month (and get the Sumeria 2-player expansion free with a purchase of Sumeria!).

So far, every month's sales this year has been better (sometimes a lot better) than the corresponding month last year. So far so good. But in fairness, last year I had a few hand-made copies of It's Alive! in April and May, then nothing until September when the professional re-print of It's Alive! arrived.

Last year's September was at the time my best month ever, more than twice the turnover than the previous June (which was the best I'd had so far). Of course it didn't keep the record long as October was when I went to Essen for the first time, and last October's sales were nearly five times September's, which remains my current record.

The It's Alive! re-print will have been out one year on Friday. Last September's figures were the result of the pre-orders and the initial stocking orders for It's Alive! With no corresponding new game launch this year I'm going to struggle to match last year's September figures this year. I've been considering doing a September sale to try to boost sales this month.

To make it worthwhile, the sale price has to be low enough to entice people to buy from me (not a local internet retailer), while still making me some money after I've paid the shipping and VAT. I figure I've got three options: free shipping, discounted games with full price shipping and discounted total (shipping and games). I'll consider these against example UK and US online pricing (I've used Games Lore and Board and Bits respectively as examples). I've used Carpe Astra as the example (it's in the middle of my game price range) and the middle price for Boards and Bits shipping ($8.50). Note that both online retailers offer discounted (or free) shipping if you place a large order, so me considering a purchase of just Carpe Astra is a little disingenuous.

Free shipping. My price for Carpe Astra: £22 (approx $36.30). Games Lore Price: £20.20. Boards and Bits price: $34.10. Makes the game more affordable for US customers (but still more expensive than buying from an online retailer in the US), and doesn't help UK customers at all (they can get it cheaper from a UK online store, or from a shop). I'd make a decent amount money on a UK sale (£22 - £3.14 shipping = 18.86 which is £16.40 ex VAT), less on a US sale (£22 - £8.30 shipping = £13.70 which is £11.91 ex VAT).

Discounted games, full price shipping. If I did 30% off: My UK price: £15.60 + £3.14 shipping = £18.74, My US price: £15.60 + £8.30 = £23.90 (approx $39.50 - almost full retail price!). Helps the UK customer, but doesn't help the US customer at all (since the shipping is not discounted and very expensive). I'd make a reasonably amount of money each sale (£13.56 ex VAT).

Discounted total. Say 40% off the total game and shipping price: My UK price: £25.14 * .6 = £15.08, my US price: £30.30 * .6 = £18.18 (approx $30). This would be a great deal for the UK customer, and a reasonable deal for the US customer. My ex Vat pricing would be £10.38 for a UK sale (more than a distributor sale, less than a shop sale), £8.59 for a US sale (in the same range).

So, I wonder. Would this work? Would I sell any copies as a result? Would I look desperate? If I decide to do it, then I can advertise it in my quarterly newsletter which is due soon, and on BoardGameGeek and Boardgame News.