Monday, February 26

Secret Sauce

The title sounds much raunchier than this blog post actually is!

I was asked on Friday evening on twitter if I could share some of my ‘Hand-crafting secret sauce’ by a fellow game designer and Zombology customer. His question was specifically around three things: tools, costs and time.

The tools question is pretty easy to answer as I did a post on this years ago, but I’m still using the same tools. The corner rounding tool has halved in price since I bought it in 2006, so it’s not quite so expensive any more.

In terms of costs, Zombology is pretty straightforward. Shipping is the cost of the padded envelope (I bought them in bulk so they were only 30p each) plus Royal Mail 1st class postage to the UK (£3.40) or standard parcel elsewhere (£4.10 to Europe, £5.65 to Australia and New Zealand or £5.15 to everywhere else). For those copies I sell via my website PayPal fees vary between 67p and just over a pound.

The cost of manufacture for Zombology comes down to printing alone. I bought box card (750 micron thick greyboard), box labels, rules sheet and card sheets from a local digital printer. Printing is one of those things where there are real economies of scale. The first copy is really expensive, but the more you do the cheaper it gets. I wanted to sell Zombology (which is 108 cards and a rules sheet in a two deck card box like No Thanks! or 6 Nimmt! comes in) for £10, which is more or less the retail price of a game that size in the UK. I also wanted to do it at a profit so that I had some money to pay for advertising, a website, trips to conventions, making prototypes of new games and to grow the company so I can make bigger print runs or more complex games in future.

When I was pricing it up the cost for 100 copies was £585, so £5.85 per game. If I sold all 100 copies at full price (I’ve already given away four for reviews, my copy, etc. so that's not going to happen!) then I could make at most £415 minus PayPal fees. Which doesn’t leave a lot for all the other things I’ve mentioned above.

150 copies was £630 (£4.20 per copy) with an absolute maximum profit of £870, and 200 was £790 (£3.95 per copy minus PayPal fees) with a maximum profit of £1,210. Could I sell 200 copies? That’s the £790 question. Sales are on track at the moment, but without any marketing budget or any real marketing skills it’s hard work, especially with the constant stream of amazing looking Kickstarters with their stretch goals and hundreds of minis. We will have to wait and see.

I could have made the game much cheaper than that, but I made a couple of decisions which push up the costs and the quality. It's squeezing my margins and forcing me to do larger runs, but it's a decision I still stand by. I craft games to a very high standard. I do it in my spare time around a young family, after the girls go to bed. And seeing as I’m usually up around 5am, I don’t go to bed late myself, so time is very limited.

Decision one was to use vinyl stickers for the box labels. When I did Border Reivers and It’s Alive! I printed the box labels on paper and then hand glued them onto the box blanks using watered down PVA glue. It took ages and was really awkward. With less time available I’m all about saving time and effort where possible. The vinyl stickers are very expensive, but they are very quick and easy to stick on.

Decision two was to keep laminating the cards and box labels. The printer applies a very thin coat of plastic over the artwork and then melts it into the paper. It makes the cards and box more hardwearing, slightly water resistant and it feels really nice in your hands. Again it’s totally worth it. I want people to be amazed that I’ve made the games by hand, not think they look and feel shoddy.
A Zombology before I start crafting

The final question was about time. I make the games in batches of six (the number of boxes I get out of a single sheet of SRA2 greyboard. Each batch takes about four hours (it was 4.5, but I’ve honed it over the twelve batches I’ve made so far), so it’s about 40 mins per game. The boxes take about 15 minutes each including cutting out, folding, taping, cutting out the labels and then labelling. Folding the rules is about 2 minutes and then cutting out all 108 cards takes 20 mins. Rounding all the corners using the aforementioned tool takes the final three minutes!

I submitted a seminar idea for the UK Games Expo this year where I hand-craft a game in front of a live audience, explaining how and why I’m doing what I’m doing, along with sharing some tips and tricks on what I’ve found works and what doesn’t. I should find out today whether or not I’ve been accepted...

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