Game Creation for the rest of us
There are a plethora of resources available these days for game designers of any kind, from how to evaluate your audience, how to test a design, how to market, and even how to approach retailers. But as a consumer, what does this actually mean?
You as a consumer need to understand how much time the entire process takes. It can take a designer anywhere from a couple weeks to several months to design a concept into a playable prototype. This is, however, the fastest part of the entire process. In many cases, the challenges begin after the basic design has finished. Still to come are playtesting, graphic design, production, and distribution. Let’s look at each of these steps a little closer.
Playtesting. Whether you are designing a computer game or a tabletop game, playtesting is a must. It will tell you some very important information about your project. The most important things it will tell you is whether the concept is even good, and what adjustments to the basic concept need to be made. A good example of this can be seen with the online game Club Penguin. Lance Priebe, the original designer, will freely admit that his original concept for Club Penguin was an online snowball fight battle system called Snow Blasters. However, once the game entered testing, the players primarily wanted to use the unique chat features, and only occasionally play the game. This caused a massive re-design of the features, and eventually the release of what is now known as Club Penguin. 2 years after its release, Club Penguin was purchased by Disney.
So what would have happened if Lance had decided to continue with his original Snow Blasters concept? The game would likely have never reached the success it had and may have joined the hundreds of other MMO’s that have been developed yet very few people know even exist. This time period for the development of Club Penguin took about four years. Many games never even make it past this part of the process, as turning the prototype into a game people truly enjoy may be too expensive and time-consuming for some projects.
For the average tabletop game, this part of the process will take 1-6 months, as long the game does not require massive redesign at this stage.
Graphic Design. Have you ever picked a game up off the shelf of your local store and thought “this sounds interesting, but I could never play a game with artwork like this.” If so, you’re not alone. So why is it so hard for some games to be developed with good artwork? In many cases, this comes down to a simple issue of cost.
In North America and Europe, the average cost for a single piece of artwork in high enough resolution to be used in a tabletop game is between $50 and $100. For larger pieces, such as game boards, boxes or figurines, this can run anywhere from $500 to $2000 each. The average game requires a graphics budget of $2000 to $6,000. With systems such a fivver now available, this budget can be reduced, however, you’ll be working with an artist in another part of the world, who may not fully understand your language. Additionally, getting the graphics to look just right takes time. Again, for the average tabletop game, this part of the process will take another 1-3 months.
Distribution. Yes, I know, this is the last stage, but realistically, from a designer standpoint, it needs to be considered before the game is produced. Why? Because of the added costs involved.
If a designer plans on selling the game online, there is a cost of $1.75 - $3 per game to process the game, as well as the shipping cost. For fulfilment companies, this would be their pick rate. For an individual sending it out themselves, this would be the cost of the shipping material (box, packaging, etc.).
If selling the game directly to a store, most stores will only buy the game at 50% - 55% of the suggested retail price (MSRP). If selling to a wholesale distributor, however, the maximum most distributor will pay is 45% MSRP (and will usually expect to receive free shipping). The majority of games a design company can expect to sell will be through distributors.
Production. Now come the really difficult issues. How many games are you going to make? This will be partially answered based on if you are an established company or a new designer. Will you be using Crowdfunding or not? Where are the games being made? Where will they be stored after production? How will they be moved from production centre to storage/distribution centre?
This is the stage at which the majority of tabletop games fail to even be developed. Again, let’s take a quick look at the numbers involved.
The average tabletop game can be produced for as low as $2 (a deck of playing cards), to $10 (a highly involved game that does not include figurines) per game. If figures are included an additional cost of $5 to $10 per game needs to be added to the cost.
Most manufacturers will produce a minimum order 1500 units a game. So if our hypothetical game costs $8 per unit to manufacture, it will cost $12,000 to make a minimum print run.
Putting it all together. As a game designer, I need to account for all the costs I paid out of pocket prior to making any profit. Additionally, I need to set the suggested retail price of the game high enough that when a distributor purchases it off of me, I can cover all of my expenses. This is where the 5X rule comes in.
On average, as a designer, I will need to set the MSRP for a game at 5 times the manufacturing cost. This means that is a game cost $8 to manufacture, I will need to set the MSRP at $40. A distributor in turn will purchase the game off me for approximately $18. This provides me with approximately $10 per game to pay for shipping costs from the manufacturer to the distributor, storage space until the distributor actually purchases it, and of course all the other costs associated with running a business of any kind. So if the game designers are only being paid 45% of the MSRP, where is the other 55% going?
Most distributors will keep 10% - 20% MSRP to cover their own expenses. So on the example of the $40 dollar game above, the distributor will only keep $4 - $8 per game. They make money off the fact that they are selling massive amounts of hundreds of titles at a time, so the 10% - 20% adds up quickly for them.
Having spoken with several FLGS owners, the average they pay for a game from a distributor is 55% - 60% of MSRP. On this $40 game again, they would be paying $22 - $26. And every game a FLGS purchases is a gamble. The game takes up shelf space (a major commodity for any retailer), and has the potential to sit there for a long time. Some games however sell out quickly, and require multiple re-orders, these are the games that offset the games that sell slowly. Store space is expensive, and their greatest competition is online retailers who do not need to pay the premium price of a storefront, but only the lower cost of a storage space,
Game creation, distribution and costing is a very complex affair, and very few companies are able to compete for long in this industry. Some new companies believe the best approach is to forego the distribution channels, and try to sell directly to game stores, or online only in an attempt to keep the costs down. The problem that many of these companies forget to take into account is that shipping and distribution itself is expensive, so unless the company is able to make large amounts of sales each month as an unknown newcomer, the game industry will end up costing too much for them to compete as well as they believed they could.
We hope this quick summary of the entire process is helpful to you the next time you make a purchase!