I haven’t been posting much on this blog of late–most of my writing time has been going towards new games and books that I’m working on and hoping to publish, or towards writing updates to the Kickstarter backers of my first published board game, No Honor Among Thieves. Between those projects, and my new full-time job that I started in August, I haven’t had nearly as much time to keep up with stuff like this as in the past. But NoHAT is finally shipping, so I’ve been looking into ways of selling the game from my website once all the Kickstarter backers have their copies, and I figured that others might benefit from the results of my research if I were to post what I’ve been doing. So here we go.
First off, one important thing to remember: you’re probably not going to make a profit from your Kickstarter by itself. Get that idea out of your head. All the money you raise on Kickstarter is going to go towards fulfilling the backer rewards for that Kickstarter campaign, especially if this is your first time doing this. You make your profit by selling your game at retail afterwards.
Some example numbers for you: No Honor Among Thieves needed about 900 copies of the game to fulfill backer rewards. The minimum print run from my manufacturer, Panda Games Manufacturing, is 1,500 copies, leaving me with 600 that I can sell afterwards. Depending on whether I sell those copies mostly to distributors and retailers or directly to customers, if I sell all of them I could make anything from $10k (which would mean I don’t quite break even on this game, considering how much of my own money I’ve put into it over the past four years) to $20k. This is what I’d consider to be the usual method that a crowdfunded publisher uses to make some money from their hobby business.
There are three main ways to sell these extra copies of your game: distribution, conventions, and online.
This is what gets your game on shelves at stores. There are three ways of going about doing this: selling to retail stores, selling to distributors, and working with consolidators.
Retailers generally want about 50% off of MSRP and free shipping to their store. If this is your first time going through the publishing process, working with local game stores in your area is probably your best bet for getting your game on some shelves. If they don’t want to take the risk on an unproven publisher you can make deals with them to sell games on consignment, where you provide a couple of copies and they pay you when they sell them instead of when you send the games to them.
Distributors are companies that sell games to local game stores. They have broad reach, and buy in bulk (I’ve never seen a distributor ask for less than 100 copies of a game). They’ll usually want about 60% off of MSRP per copy, and you can negotiate with them for whether or not they pay for shipping (free shipping on orders above a certain number is a good incentive that you can offer). If you want to find distributors, check out this list by James Mathe, or contact your favorite local game store and ask who they buy their games from. There’s no harm in contacting as many distributors worldwide as you want, but remember that you might not have much luck if this is your first game. Also, you’ll want to start talking to them about three months before your game is available, so they can ask the retailers that they work with if your game is something they’d be interested in buying. Find more expert advice (again from James Mathe) here.
Consolidators are companies with ties to many distributors, and who sell games to those distributors, taking a small cut each time they do so. Distributors like consolidators because the consolidator can ship them many different games from different companies in the same package, saving them shipping costs and giving them more variety (this is also a reason that retailers like distributors). Right now, unless you’re already a client of a consolidator, you probably aren’t going to be able to take advantage of their services. There’s only a handful of them in business, and they’re absolutely swamped with business.
If this is your first time publishing a game, consolidators and distributors are going to be harder to work with. These businesses want to minimize their risk, which means that they only buy products that they know they can sell to retailers. Publishers with multiple products available provide less risk, because 1) they’ve got some sort of a track record at that point, and 2) if a distributor buys 100 copies of one game and 100 copies of another game from a publisher, and one of them doesn’t sell very well, then they’ve still got the other one that they can push, whereas if they buy 200 copies of just one game then they’re banking on that one working out for them. It’s the same principle as smart stock investment; minimize risk through diversity.
That said, you should absolutely get in touch with distributors anyway. Have a sell sheet ready that you can send them, know your prices, offer free shipping, and be ready for them to ask for demo copies. Just because it’s harder for a first time publisher to convince a distributor to work with them doesn’t at all mean that it’s impossible.
Confession time: I’ve never actually sold anything at a convention. I’ve been to conventions to demo my games, but I only have a few pieces of advice from that experience, and none of them are really related to selling stuff.
- Plan out your booth setup and order your signage and handouts way earlier than you think you need to. It takes a while to design and print stuff like that.
- Bring a lot of business cards to hand out. You can go two ways with these: either make them general advertisements for the game, so that you can order them in bulk and hand them out at later conventions as well, or make them specific to the current state of development that the game is at, which will give people a better idea of what to expect from you but will also eventually leave you with a collection of business cards that you can no longer use (for example, you can’t use a card that says “Follow development on my website!” or “Launching on Kickstarter on April 4th!” after the game is published). I myself have stacks of business cards from each stage of development for No Honor Among Thieves that I can never really use again because they have outdated information on them.
- I usually like to have some free swag to hand out to people that isn’t just a business card (for No Honor Among Thieves I used custom poker chips, but there’s all kinds of branded merchandise you can get your hands on to promote your game). This option can be a little expensive, so skip it if you want to keep a tight budget.
- If it’s within your budget and makes sense with how your game plays, having a space at your booth to demo the game you’re trying to sell is a fantastic idea. This gives people a chance to play before they buy, and also works as fantastic advertising, giving passers-by a chance to watch the game for a minute and see people having fun with it. This is a bit difficult to pull off with the amount of space usually allotted to an indie publisher booth, unfortunately, but even if you can’t have a game demo right there you can usually sign up for an event at the convention to demo your game.
- Bring at least one other person to help you run your booth, no matter how small it is. You will thank me when you need to go to the bathroom, grab lunch, or talk to more than one group of people passing by your booth.
That’s more than I thought I had to say about conventions, but I still don’t really know how to sell stuff at one. I imagine there’s all kinds of marketing and vendor license stuff that you have to keep in mind. Hopefully I’ll get some experience in this particular field at some point soon, and come back with another helpful post.
I’ve been doing a lot of research into this lately, in preparation for No Honor Among Thieves finally shipping to backers and me switching over to retail sales and plans for my next publication. The tools that I’m using might not be for everyone, since I used to work as a web developer and am generally what you might call “good with computers,” so in addition to an overview of the tools I’ve been using I’ve tried to find some options that would let you easily set up an online store even if you don’t know how to build a website yourself.
To build a webstore, you need four things: web hosting, an ecommerce program of some kind, a way of collecting payments (this is included in some ecommerce platforms but not all), and a way of getting your orders to your fulfillment people so they can ship the game out to where it’s supposed to go.
I’m going to cover my method first, and then offer alternatives for people who aren’t as tech savvy or who don’t want to put as much time into the project.
If you know a little bit about building websites, I recommend building a webstore using WordPress and WooCommerce. Both of these programs are free, with a lot of optional paid upgrades available, and come with a variety of free themes that you can use to quickly make your website look professional. Hosting at any major web host is about $8/month, and a domain name is $9/year if you use my favorite registrar. Beyond that, you don’t have any other expenses for setting up your store using this method. I use a free Stripe account to accept credit cards and a PayPal account for everything else.
Pros: Super cheap, you can customize it however you want, and a lot of companies and services have WooCommerce integrations that let you automate a lot of your business.
Cons: Takes longer to get set up, you have to maintain the website yourself, there’s no tech support to call if you have problems, and requires some technical skill to build.
If you want something that works out of the box and integrates with basically everything, and are willing to pay a little extra money, Shopify might be a good solution for you. Their basic plan gets you a website, tech support, easy-to-set-up product listings, transaction handling, an SSL certificate, and everything else you might need to run a decent online store. They don’t provide you with a custom domain name by default, but again, you can get those for cheap.
Pros: Shopify basically handles everything for you, leaving you free to focus on making and selling games. They also have integrations with a ton of different services, meaning that if you choose your fulfillment partners correctly you can entirely automate the delivery process on your end after you make a sale (something that I encourage you to do as much as possible).
Cons: Their basic package is $29/month, which is a fair bit more than setting everything up yourself with WooCommerce. Also, you have to build your website using their platform, which means you can’t customize it as much as you would if you built it yourself.
If you want to spend even less time on setup, you can sell your games on a marketplace, such as Amazon. Selling on Amazon through an Amazon Seller’s Account lets you reach a huge audience of potential customers without having to set up a website yourself. It also lets you use Fullfillment by Amazon, which can cut a lot of the headache out of inventory management and associated logistics.
I honestly don’t have much to say about this option–whether it’s an effective strategy or not, what hiccups you might run into along the way, etc–because I stopped looking into it when I found out how much a seller’s account costs.
Pros: Amazon has a huge audience, many of whom are used to buying games on the platform. You don’t have to set up and maintain a website, just a seller’s page. Fulfillment by Amazon can handle all of the logistics for you.
Cons: $39.99/month, plus storage costs if you use Fulfillment by Amazon. Also, you probably want to set up your own website for marketing purposes anyway, so why not sell games through that?
My Next Steps
This is all a kind of long-winded way of explaining that No Honor Among Thieves will be available for retail purchase within the next couple months, after all of my Kickstarter backers have their games. I’ve got six-hundred extra copies that I’m going to be able to sell, and if they go fast enough that I think a second printing is warranted then that’s going to be good evidence that there’s demand for an expansion, which I’ll then be able to start working on. So my game design and publishing plans really depend on how well I manage these sales.
It’s been a long road to get to this point–four years, from coming up with the idea in 2014 to finally shipping in 2018–and frankly I’m amazed I’ve gotten this far with it. Hopefully my experience can help someone else publish their own game a bit more quickly than mine.