Wednesday, June 9

Rollcoaster Finally Falls Off Tracks

So I hinted that there might be some exciting news coming soon on my blog. Sadly this isn't it.

After I announced that I was closing the company I had several enquiries from people interested in acquiring either some or all my stock or even a share in the company. Despite being obviously very disappointed to be closing down the company after three and a half years, this interest in buying bits from me was a silver lining as it meant I might be able to pay off my debts and even possibly re-coup a small chunk of my initial investment.

Then, just over a week ago I went to a meeting with another UK publisher: Spiral Galaxy Games to discuss the possibility of a co-publishing deal for Braggart, the fun card game I've been alluding to on my blog for many, many months. It was a productive meeting, we came up with an agreement we were both happy with and it looked like Reiver Games was going to rise from the ashes and continue publishing games. I contacted the designer and the artist I had lined up, everything looked good, everything was go. We were going to try to get everything ready for Essen in the hope I could get a stand booked at the last minute (it was already past the booking deadline).

The designer had already seen the contract (though not yet signed it) and was up for it, but he wanted to finalise the game before signing the contract. The artist needed to get working immediately, and wanted me to sign a contract with her. I was a little wary about signing the artist's contract before the designer's one was signed as I didn't want to be left carrying the can if the designer dropped out.

After a chance meeting with the designer at the UK Games Expo it became clear to me that the designer wanted to finalise the game before signing the contract so that he could negotiate a new contract where I didn't have the right to change anything - he wanted complete control over the game design (which I can understand - it is after all his baby). Sadly, that meant that he was not interested in signing my standard contract (which give me the right as the publisher to make changes to the game as necessary after seeking input from him). With the designer pulling out, I'm left owing the artist a couple of hundred quid for the early artwork she's done (which was fantastic).

With no hope of publishing that game, and nowhere near enough cash in the company to publish anything else any time soon I'm back to shutting the company down. I've sold a bunch of stock to a UK distributor and now I'm trying to close a deal to get rid of the rest of the stock to a publisher in the US.

The last couple of weeks have been very intense. First very down, then very up then down again. Fortunately, on another front things are looking up as I've got a chance to work with a former employer in Newcastle on a short-term contract. It'll give me a chance to refresh my IT skills and add some recent experience and a recent reference to my CV.

Saturday, May 8

An Update

Just a quick update to let you all know where things stand with Reiver Games.

Firstly, I'd like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has got in contact to commiserate or show their support - thanks also to everyone who has ordered games from me since the announcement :)

So, where do things stand? At the moment Reiver Games is continuing as it always has, shipping direct orders and dealing with distributors as before. I've received several enquiries from people or companies interested in helping me close out. I've no firm offers yet, but one indicative offer and several expressions of interest.

As far as I can tell from the early information I've received these range from 'I would like to buy all you stock' to 'I would like to buy Reiver Games as a going concern complete with website, licences and possibly even your continued involvement'. I've also had some interest in re-printing my games in other languages.

Obviously, there's many a slip betwixt cup and lip, so none of these may materialise into a confirmed offer. But at this point I'm quietly hopeful.

Thursday, April 29

Au Revoir

As you will all know I've been finding things hard the last few months. Privately I've been agonising about what to do with the company. I had a game that was very nearly ready to go, but to go with it I would have needed another £15,000 or so in the company (in liquid asset form - i.e. cash). I've been leaning towards going back into IT work (full-time or part-time, contract or permanent) to earn some money not only to fund my personal life, but also to generate enough cash to fund my next game.

The other option that was floating round in my head was just to jack it all in and shut Reiver Games down. I've invested £13,290 of my own money in Reiver Games, and as things stand although my stock is worth more than that (at the price I paid, let alone an 'average' sale price), with all my money tied up in stock the company is not going anywhere. I've tried a whole bunch of things to try to drive sales but without cash to advertise heavily the sales have been pretty slow. Is it really worth throwing another huge wad of cash at the company and hoping I do things better with my next game?

I've decided: No, it's not. So I'm now officially winding Reiver Games down. As you can imagine I'm pretty gutted about this, but it's a hard market to succeed in, it's been a lousy couple of years economy-wise and I have to accept some responsibility and admit I'm not the guy who can make this happen.

What's next? I'm not sure. I've a lot of stock left (which I'm still paying to warehouse), and a bank loan to service. Some options are:

  • Sell the company on to someone with more business nous and a bigger wad of cash who can afford to advertise the games to drive sales and fund more products. I can't see this being that likely.
  • Sell a large amount of stock to a distributor/competitor and dispose of the rest.
  • Sell off what I can and bin the rest
  • Fire-sell what I've got

What to do? I really don't want to fire-sell the stock - the designers have entrusted me with their games and I want to them earn the rewards they deserve for their brilliant designs. Also, I really don't want to hurt those distributors and retailers who took a chance on buying my stock and have done a huge amount to support me. Undercutting them just to turn a quick buck feels like a really crappy thing to do. I'm going to be speaking to a few people in coming weeks to explore the options I have.

On a personal note I'm spending most of my time looking for paid work now, but I hope to post a few retrospective posts about what I feel went right and what went wrong. Consider them cautionary tales for those of you who would love to get into the gaming business.

I'd just like to take this moment to thank everyone who has supported Reiver Games over the last three and a half years - I definitely couldn't have done what I did without you. Thanks. Also, special thanks to my designers: Yehuda, Ted and Dirk. Thanks you trusting me with your designs - I'm sorry I couldn't make them as successful as they deserve to be.

On a final note, if you'd like to commiserate in person (or point and laugh) I'll be attending Beer and Pretzels in Burton on Trent in a few weeks.

Monday, April 19

Crowdsourcing Support

Since I announced the sad news that I'm going to have to go back into IT to pay the bills (Reiver Games hasn't reached that point yet, and doesn't look like it will any time soon), I've had lots of contact from gamers, friends and customers wishing me well and even offering support/help.

This got me thinking. If there's people out there who are interested in helping what could they do that would actually help Reiver Games get off the ground? The obvious answer is to buy one of my games, either from a local or web retailer (which will probably be cheaper for you and encourage them to buy more stock from their distributor) or take advantage of free shipping and a bundle deal when buying from my website. However, money is tight in the current economic climate, and many of the people offering support already own my games, so here are a few more ideas I came up with:

Already got my games and want to help?

  • Play them with friends you think might like them
  • Take them to conventions/games nights and get them to the table
  • Offer to demo them in a local shop
  • Get one as a Christmas/birthday present for a friend or family member you think would like it
  • Write a review or a session report of one of my games on BoardGameGeek

Don't yet have any of my games?

  • Ask a friend to bring a copy to games night/a convention
  • Ask your local store to carry my games
  • Read the rules to It's Alive!, Carpe Astra or Sumeria on my website - anything take your fancy?
  • Recommend one of my games to a friend who you think might like it

Once again, thanks to everyone who has supported Reiver Games over the last three and a half years, and for your recent messages of support - they help!

If you've got any more ideas please let me know in the comments.

Friday, March 26

The Goodwill Of Others

Yesterday I posted a Geeklist on BoardGameGeek describing my two years trying to get Reiver Games to the the point where it could support me as a full-time employee who draws a reasonable salary.

I've had to admit in the last couple of weeks that Reiver Games is still a long way from that point and that I need to bring in some money way before Reiver Games reaches that point. So I need to take some form of gainful employment and run Reiver Games in the background. I've really enjoyed running Reiver Games and I want to continue to do so.

What stood out on the Geeklist was the goodwill of several of the commenters. Several people were disappointed that it hadn't worked out for me, several offered their sympathy.

A couple of guys who had visited my stand at Essen felt bad for not buying a copy of Sumeria, despite it not being their sort of game! While that sentiment is nice, I don't want to do well because people feel sorry for me, or because they want me to live my dream. I want people to buy my games of course. But I want them to buy my games because they think the game will provide enough enjoyment to make it worth the cost. I want them to be bought and played until they fall apart, not sit on a collector's shelf as another unplayed game in their collection.

What also stood out was the comment by my friend and playtester Paul:

I'll keep supporting you and sending good wishes your way whatever shape Reiver Games takes - I still believe that if anyone can make it in this industry it's you! And I promise, in public, that I will purchase at least one copy of every Reiver Games publication to do my part to keep you in biccies! Maybe others could do the same ?!? If your next project is the one we've playtested then I AM OFFICIALLY VERY EXCITED!!!! It is an awesome game of much awsomeness! With extra awesome on the side! It will be perfect present material for friends (both gamers and non I think) and has been enjoyed by all the York fraternity who have tried it so far. Good luck! Don't give up!

Paul's pledge is incredibly generous. It's in no small part due to his generosity, his compulsive collecting of games and his friendship and wish for me to succeed. But I like to think it's also because we have a similar taste in games and he figures anything I publish will be to his tastes. Paul is a True Fan.

With 3,000 true fans I'd have sold out of all my games. But that's one in every 2,200,000 people in the world population. Considering most of the world population will never hear of me or my company, and of the proportion that might have a slight chance of stumbling across me most have no interest in board games it's a pretty tall order.

What I need to work out is how to reach those potential true fans and convert them. The games I like are pretty popular - there must be more people out there who would like It's Alive!, Carpe Astra and Sumeria if they played them. How do I get the games in front of them?

Monday, March 15

Sumeria Computer Game v0.2

As promised last week, there's a new version of the Sumeria computer game available for download and testing.

This version is a big step up from the last version in that you can actually play the game! However, there's still some functionality missing: noticeably, there's no AI (all human players) and you have to play on a single machine (no play by email/online functionality).

The setup file will run on a windows computer, and requires version 3.5 of the .Net Framework. Please feel free to download and play it and post any feature requests, feedback or bug reports in the comments below.

Friday, March 12

Comes a Time

I've been running Reiver Games for three and a half years now. For the first year and a half I was running it as a hobby - making the games by hand in my spare time around a full time job in IT. Two years ago, I decided to give it a go running Reiver Games as a full-time career.

After two years I'm now in a position to determine whether or not I've been successful. For the first three years Reiver Games was both profitable and growing (both turnover and profit growing). This year the turnover will be slightly down on last year and I probably won't be profitable. It's clear that even in the good years I'm earning nowhere near enough money to invest in new games and make a living. My games just aren't selling quickly enough.

I've been in the enviable position of not needing to earn a decent wage for a couple of years, but sooner or later I need to start bringing home the bacon. It's clear the Reiver Games is a long way from doing that at the moment.

So now what? I've got a few options, thanks to my IT training, which can earn a decent wage, and the fact that Reiver Games is not really enough work to keep me busy full-time. My options in preference order are:

  1. Do some part-time work as an IT consultant through Reiver Games. I keep the company running, continue making games and yet still earn a decent wad of cash.
  2. Get a full-time job in IT, working for a company that will let me continue Reiver Games in my spare time. Games production will probably decrease but at least it's still going.
  3. Find a business angel who will invest enough cash in Reiver Games that I can draw a salary from the company.
  4. Shut Reiver Games down, fire-sell the remaining inventory and get a proper job.

I really want to continue running Reiver Games, so Option 4 is a last ditch that I really don't want to do. Furthermore, to get an IT job I'd need more recent programming experience which I don't have.

Interestingly, I've recently been approached by a former employer to see if I want to do Option 1 with them; and a very famous, very successful web company who were wondering whether I'd like to work with them (Option 2 or 4 - not sure which yet). This company is notoriously difficult to get a job with, so I was flattered to be approached by them, and now have a second interview next week.

To get back into the swing of things I've been doing some online coding exercises at TopCoder and making some progress on the Sumeria computer game. It's almost at the point that you can play it on a single computer (only against human opponents). I'll post when the next version is ready.

Which option will I choose? That depends largely on what opportunities I'm provided with - I'm hoping that one of these two developments comes to fruition, and I can choose Option 1 or 2. Either way I'm going to have to sort something out fairly soon.

If you're disappointed that this sounds like the end of Reiver Games, I certainly hope it won't be - and I hope to be announcing my next game within a month or so.

Tuesday, March 2

Promotion Response

Three weeks ago I mentioned that I was trying to set up a promotion to encourage US shops to stock my games, and to help those that already stock my games to sell more.

The deal was that Alliance one of my US distributors, who have my games on consignment would offer my games at a discount price to their retailers. The games would be offered at 25% of US MSRP to shops that buy from Alliance. The restriction was that each shop could only buy at most one copy of each game, for demo purposes only - this wasn't a way for the shops to get cheap copies for resale.

The way my consignment deal works with Alliance is that at the beginning of each month they email me purchase orders for all the copies they've sold during the previous month, and then I invoice them for those sales.

This means I've got a very good idea of how well the deal is going, since I'm told at the end of the month how many copies they've sold. Sales last month were up on January's sales, and I know that in the first two and a half weeks of the deal they've sold 28 copies of It's Alive!, 32 copies of Carpe Astra and 25 copies of Sumeria through the deal. Since I know that each shop can only buy a single copy of each game I know that at least 32 shops have taken advantage of the offer already.

I arranged to offer the promotion for a month, and then we'd check how it was going and work out whether it was worth continuing it. I'll be checking in with my buyer at Alliance in a week or so to work out whether it's worth continuing the promotion.

In the meantime, I'll be able to track over the coming months whether sales seem to have increased (remembering the seasonal dip in sales at this time of year).

One thing I'm still not sure about. Why the differences in sales of the promotional copies? Why has Carpe Astra sold more than the others (considering it's my slowest selling game overall). I'm also wondering whether the total is more than 32 (i.e. did every retailer than bought a cheap copy of It's Alive! and Sumeria also buy Carpe Astra, or are there more than 32 takers?

Thursday, February 25

New Website Feedback

My friend Dunk is trying to get into web design, and as a portfolio project he's giving my website an overhaul. If you've got some spare time I'd appreciate it if you could compare the current website with this version of a new homepage (with no working links) and let me know in the comments what you think.

I'm also interested in what you think the current website is missing, or what cool new stuff you'd like to see.

Friday, February 19

Hit-Driven Industry

Recently I had some friends round for a day's gaming, and one of them happened to mention that board games must be a hit driven industry, like computer games (one of them works in computer games). He mentioned that most games probably don't make much money, or even make a loss, but this is covered by the hit, which is so wildly successful, that it pays the bills for years to come, and provides plenty of income which can then be risked on another batch of contenders, one of which may also be a hit (but most of which won't).

In the three and a half years that I've been publishing board games, I've read a bunch of things that make me think my friend was correct in his description of the market:

  • Wired report that over 15M copies of Settlers of Catan have been sold.
  • In 2008, 75% of Steve Jackson Games' nearly $3M turnover came from Munchkin products (7 years after the original Munchkin release).
  • Bruno Faidutti, designer of over 50 games was making more money from Citadels than the rest put together in 2004 (several years after Citadels first came out).

If you're going to start a company publishing original games there's two likely ways to succeed doing it:

  1. Start with a massive hit, that funds the rest of your product line for a while, until you're established.
  2. Start with a massive wad of cash, that allows you to establish yourself with a reasonable product line and gives you time to find your first hit.

Success or failure will rely on a few things: ability to manage your finances, ability to market your games, ability to keep costs down and not least ability to choose successful games.

There's no way to guarantee a game will be a hit. Playtesting helps, but that's not the be all and end all - your playtesters might love it, but be unrepresentative of the market. Gut feel combined with a good knowledge of the market and what's successful helps, so does excellent marketing that makes everyone want a copy before it's released.

It is at least six months since the release of all my games, with none of them selling like hot cakes I realise they are not going to become massive hits. I still hold out hope for them being successful (i.e. profitable), but it's not going to happen overnight. I need a real breakout hit, something that is hugely popular and sells extremely quickly. But how do I convince the designer of such a game to bring it to me rather than the established publishing companies, and will I recognise it if I see it?

Friday, February 12

Liquid Assets

In the publishing business you want to do two things: make stuff (in my case board games) and make money. If you're honest you're doing thing A to do thing B.

But the whole process is cyclical. You can't make games without some money to buy them (and pay for the artwork and marketing), and you can't make money without games to sell.

Publishing is one of those businesses where you have to shell out a lot of cash up front. I pay my artists before the game has been manufactured. I pay my manufacturer before I've sold more than a handful of copies.

For the last three years my company has been profitable, i.e. it's worth more now than it was last year, and so on. All sounds fantastic doesn't it? The problem is that my assets are mostly stock. Stock is not a liquid asset. What's a liquid asset? According to Wikipedia:

A liquid asset has some or more of the following features. It can be sold rapidly, with minimal loss of value, any time within market hours. The essential characteristic of a liquid market is that there are ready and willing buyers and sellers at all times.

Clearly I can't just sell all my stock instantly at full price, it takes time to sell stock, so stock is not very liquid. Why is this a problem? If I receive an excellent prototype tomorrow that I want to make immediately I need to be able to pay for it. The manufacturer will only accept cash, so I need lots of cash on hand to fund the manufacture of my next game. If all my assets are stock then I can't make another game until I've sold enough to fund the next game.

Of course, the other problem with stock is you don't know how much it's worth. You know what you paid for it. You know what it could be worth if you sold it all at full price, whole sale price or even the average price of your sales to date. But you don't know how many you can sell. You might have sold the last game you will ever sell yesterday and all your stock is all firewood. Or worse: firewood you are paying to warehouse.

What can you do to avoid this problem? Probably the easiest thing is not over-produce. If you order 5,000 games and only sell 1,500 then you're in trouble. If you produce 1,500 and sell 1,500 you're on to a winner. The problem there of course is that the more copies you make the better your profit margins or the cheaper the final product - which could lead to more sales.

Another thing you can do is try to drive sales early. The faster you sell your games the sooner you turn them into cash that can be re-invested into new games. It's probably worth making less money sooner than more money later.

Wednesday, February 10

Breaking into Shops

If you take a look at my stockists page on my website, you'll notice that there are almost as many UK stockists of my games (that I know about) as there are American. America however is a much bigger market (I know of 600-odd games stores in the US and Alliance service 2,500 game and comic shops.

So why is my market penetration so much better in the UK despite several US distributors? There are several reasons:

  1. UK shops like to carry UK publishers' games: they're local
  2. It's easier for me to contact UK shops by phone and in person
  3. It's easier for me to organise events in UK shops
  4. My games are cheaper in the UK (less shipping)

So what can I do to improve the number of shops in the US (and Canada, Germany and the rest of Europe for that matter) that carry my games?

The first thing I did was to email all the shops I could find an email address (or web form) for, introducing my games and asking them to consider stocking them. That seemed to go pretty well, but several of the shops wanted demo copies of the games, either to see them before deciding whether or not to stock them or to allow demos of store-owned copies to help them sell the stock they have.

It costs me at least £21 to send a set of all three games to the US so it would be a very expensive effort was I to supply copies to all those who wanted them from the UK. However, my US distributors have stock on hand in the US, and can fold demo copies in with the rest of their stocking order to the shop in question, so the shipping is effectively free. So I'm trying to set up a promotion where one of my distributors allows shops in the US they service to buy my games at a reduced price. Apparently some big US publishers offer shops the chance to buy demo copies at 25% of the full retail price - so that's the deal I'm trying to set up.

One of my US distributors currently have my games on consignment: they have a decent amount of stock of all three games, and they just let me know how many they've sold each month and then I invoice them for those sales. Since they haven't already paid me for the stock they've got on hand, it's going to be easier to set up a promotion with them than someone who has already paid me full wholesale price for the stock they are offering at a reduced price.

Obviously the price I've negotiated with the distributors for the ordinary copies is based on them selling the copies at the ordinary price, so I've got to negotiate a new price for each game when sold through the promotion. Also, I don't want each shop to stock up on cheap copies - I want it limited to one copy per game per store, purely for demo purposes. Fortunately, this is something the distributor can organise.

I've gone around the houses a bit trying to find the right person at the distributor to talk to about this, but hopefully it's going to be sorted pretty quickly, now that I'm talking to the right guy. Things are also being slowed down by the time difference - it usually takes 24 hours to get an answer to my questions :(.

Saturday, February 6

The Offer That Will Not Die!

At the beginning of January I offered free worldwide shipping on games bought from my website, as an effort to boost sales and to raise awareness of my games and company.

Due to some technical problems at PayPal, I've been unable to cancel the deal at the end of January like I planned, so it's still running on my website at the moment, and it will remain so until PayPal fix the problem with their buttons feature. I would say that this could be your last chance to take advantage of the offer, but it might finish Monday or it might finish in 2011!

Was the offer successful? I think it was. I sold nearly thirty games that I doubt I would have sold otherwise, either through my website or through retailers and distributors.

My big concern was that the offer would spark a rush of sales from countries where I already had distribution, effectively hurting those retailers and distributors who are already my customers. The good news is that only five of those sales were from countries where I already had distribution (four from the UK and one from Hawaii). The rest came predominantly from Australia (half of all the sales), the Far East and Norway.

One of my other reasons for the offer was that I hoped that getting the games into the hands of gamers would hopefully lead to some more sales - Aaron buys the game and plays it with Bob and Carol, Bob thinks it's okay, but Carol loves it and buys her own copy (which she later plays with Dave and Ellie ...). In one case this definitely happened, which is a great feeling. Aaron (real names have been changed!) bought a copy of Sumeria. A week later he bought another copy - he said he loved it and he was buying a copy for a friend. It's this kind of sale that's the ideal - the game is bought (this applies to all sales by definition), played (some collectors own hundreds of games they've never played), and the people who played it enjoyed it enough to lead to another sale.

In my mind that's a win, now I need to drive more sales, to hopefully lead to more. I'll blog again next week with what my next plan is.

Thursday, January 21

Contacting Shops

Over the last year or so I've managed to pick up twenty distributors for my games. This is obviously a Good Thing(tm), since I can now get my games in more shops and hence more exposure and hopefully more sales to actual customers.

So far, when I bring out a new game I get initial stocking orders from my distributors, and often a restock of the others. Occasionally I get a restock order for one or more of my games out of the blue.

Over the Christmas and New Year period, with no new games released, I've not had many restock orders - most of my distributors still have stock of my games on hand. In an effort to help them sell their stock and encourage them to re-order, I've been contacting shops in the US introducing myself, my company and my games.

I've managed to build a database (read spreadsheet!) of 611 stores in the US, including their location and contact details. That's great - if I could sell two copies of each game to all those stores I'd have sold a huge percentage of my print runs in one fell swoop. Now obviously, lots of those won't want to carry my games because they're not that heavily into board games and they only want to carry the really big names. However, a few of them would want to carry my games, only they've not heard of them - they've slipped under the radar as they receive a welter of information about hundreds of new games.

I think my email marketing campaign has been remarkably successful. I've got to assume a lot of my emails will end up in a spam filter and in many cases won't even be read. However, of the stores I have contacted before today (the ones I contacted today haven't had much of a chance to respond!), 10% have responded to me via email.

That 10% includes 4% who already stock my games, and another 2.5% who have placed orders with their distributors as a result of my emails. Where I've been copied on the emails to their sales contact at the distributor they have usually picked up two or three copies of each game.

What surprised me the most though was the number of stores with no website (not even a Facebook or MySpace page) and the number who don't provide an email address on their website. I can see why they wouldn't want to expose an email address to the world (I get enough spam on mine), but there are ways around it (online email forms, possibly with captchas, obscured email addresses (e.g. jack (at) reivergames (dot) co (dot) uk). I would have thought as a store you would want to make it as easy as possible for your customers to contact you. In total, I couldn't find an email address or form for 113 of the 611 (that's 18%!).

I think this has been a pretty successful effort, I'm just kicking myself that I didn't do it sooner - especially when I had a new game coming out. I'm going to extend my efforts to Canada and then Europe, and possibly other countries where I already have a distributor.

Monday, January 11


In my last quarterly newsletter I did a special deal for subscribers where they got to buy my games at a discount price. There were a few takers, but not a huge number - there's only four hundred or so people on my newsletter mailing list, and most of them already own one or more of my games.

At the moment I'm running another incentive: free shipping on all my games (but not the Sumeria Expansion) when bought from my website - regardless of where I'm shipping the games.

Incentives like these seem pretty harmless - I get a bit less money than selling at full price, and the customer gets it a bit cheaper than full price plus shipping. However, it's not quite that simple.

I've already agreed to sell my games to a bunch of shops and distributors. Those shops and distributors want to sell my games in their backyard, and due to their nature they will be much better at it than I am: A game shop in Lancaster, PA will have a much better idea of who in Lancaster, PA buys board games than I do, and far more people there will know about the local game store than my website. So I want to keep them as customers, and support them however I can.

The shops and distributors that have bought from me have invested their money in buying my games in the hope that they can sell them on at a profit. If I invite a few select people to get the games cheap from me, that's not really any skin off their back - those people were unlikely to buy from them anyway. In fact, as more people get my games and play them, the awareness of my games increases and it might even lead to more people interested in my games and more sales for my stockists.

If, however, I start undercutting them and making a big splash about it, then it might drive some of their customers who would have bought my games from them to buy them from me instead. That's not playing nice. Instead of supporting them in return for buying my stock, I'm hurting them. In that situation they'd be unlikely to buy more of my stock - leading to fewer sales overall.

There are some places in the world where I've got pretty good distribution: the UK, the US, and a chunk of mainland Europe. Similarly, there are a bunch of places where it's really hard to get hold of my games: Australia, New Zealand, Africa and South America. The free shipping deal was designed to help those hard to reach customers, while having minimum impact on my stockists in the well-supplied regions.

So far, it seems to be working, only one of the orders I've received since starting the deal came from a country where I've got good distribution, the rest came from those hard-to-reach countries - people who probably wouldn't have bought my games otherwise.

So I've sold a few extra games to people who were unlikely to get them otherwise; some people who wanted my games but couldn't afford full price plus shipping got them and the shops that stock them didn't get screwed. All sounds good.

The downside is that I really don't make much money on these copies. For example a sale of Sumeria (plus the expansion) to New Zealand gets me £25. £3.72 of that goes to the tax man as VAT. £1.18 goes to PayPal. £8.81 goes to the Post Office. £0.58 goes to Staples for the packaging. I'm left with £10.71. Still, it's more than I'd get selling to a distributor, and it's money I wouldn't have got without the incentive.

Thursday, January 7

Sales Over Time

Happy New Year everyone. I hope you all had a good Christmas (or other appropriate holiday season). I had a proper break for Christmas and New Year - it felt like the first proper break in years, but I'm sure it wasn't.

I read something recently (I think it was on BoardGameGeek but I can't be sure), that said that the vast majority of sales of a game are in the three months after release. I think they even gave a percentage. I can see that for companies with big marketing budgets that would be the case. Before the game is launched lots of money is spent to prime the market to expect and want the game. When the game comes out lots of people will buy the new hot game, but over time there's another new hot game, and then another, so sales tail off. However, I can think of at least two occasions when the front-loaded sales profile is not the case:

The Smash Hit

I've also read that over 15 million copies of The Settlers of Catan have been sold in the 15 years since it was released. Settlers has been a breakout hit, being re-published in tens of languages and becoming a perennial best seller. I can guarantee that most of those 15 million sales weren't in 1995. It's the same for Carcassonne, Magic: The Gathering, Monopoly, Munchkin, Risk, Trivial Pursuit, and any other game that becomes hugely successful. As more people play it, more people buy it and it becomes a juggernaut.

These games sell because people try it, love it, introduce their friends to it, they love it, some of them buy it, they introduce others to it and so on. As time goes on the demand for the game increases - not decreases.

The Sleeper

When the game is unknown and the company is small and has limited marketing budget then it's possible for initial sales to be slow. Distributors and shops don't pick up the game initially, waiting to see if it's got legs before investing in it. Maybe they get demo copies, try it out, like it and get a few copies in. Those copies won't fly off the shelves because no-one's heard of it, but maybe someone takes a chance and tries it out. Things then follow the Smash Hit path but only on a much smaller scale.

Without much of a marketing budget to speak of, I need my games to fall into the Sleeper category. I've not sold the majority of any of my print runs in the first three months. I've sold a decent chunk of my games in their first three months, but not a majority and certainly not 2/3 or 3/4.

How do I intend to do this? Two main strategies. I need to reach new markets where I don't currently have any presence, and improve my market penetration in markets where I do currently have a presence.

For the first point, I'm going to be contacting as many new distributors as I can, focussing on those that have recently expressed an interest in carry my games (particularly those who approached me at Essen) and those in territories where I don't currently have a distributor (notably France and Australia).

For the second part I'm going to continue contacting shops in North America (I'll do Canada once I've finished working through the US States), this seems to be working - several stores are now going to carry my games as a result of me contacting them.

I need sales this year to be at least as good as last year - it's a tall order, but I've got to make it happen. If you've got any ideas on how to boost sales, I'd love to hear them in the comments.