Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The harsh reality of Board Game Development

Well, I took the time and updated all of Taipan to The Game Crafter.  It was more work that I would like, but better than it used to be.  They have recently changed the way their site works making things easier to use and to upload a lot of files quickly.

I played around with having all the parts I used when making the game, but the cost got to be a bit high.  Over $30 just to get a prototype made.  Over $37 if I wanted to use their new quad folding board. So it made me rethink how I was doing a few things to make the game more affordable.

One big change I did was to remove all money counters and just use dice.  2 white dice and 1 red die.  White dice count as 1's and the red die count as 10's.  So a 4 on the red die and a 2 on a white die would be 42.  Changing the nice high quality wooden cubes for cheep plastic winks also helped to bring down the cost.  The cubes are .12 cents each and the winks are .01 cent each.  To have 20 cubes was costing me $1.20x6 Resources = $7.20 in production cost.
In the end it would now cost me $20.48 to print a single Prototype.  Not too bad.  It's not ideal to skimp on the parts and goes against everything I want from my games, but the sad reality is, in most cases, making Board Games is a loosing proposition.  The margins for making money with Board Games are so small that you can't be idealistic and put the highest quality parts in your games.  Unless you are independently wealthy and can afford the loss of profit, it's just not smart.

In this case, since  TGC gets paid $20.48 to make a copy, I would have to sell my game at about $40 for me to ever make a profit.  This is based on how much my time is worth.  I take my salary (I don't work cheep) and factor in how much time I spent working on this game.  It would take about 500 sales for me to recoup my investment.   Thats just to break even!  I still wouldn't have made a profit yet.  On top of that, I am using images that I don't have the rights to, so I still have to create images (or buy images) I can use, thats more money and time, which equals more money.  Now we are easily up to 1500 copies to make a profit.

Then to ever have any hope of selling those 1500+ copies, you need to advertise.  Facebook, twitter, and other social media sites are a good start, but if you want to have any chance, you should consider putting down some money on advertising.  Advertising on the sites where your target audience is.  Board Game sites.  I haven't looked into what Boardgame Geek or some of the other sites charge, but you can be sure to spend a few thousand bucks. Minimum.  Now I would have to sell to something close to 3500 people to even hope to make a profit.  See how this escalates?

I hope you enjoyed this crushing little jaunt down disappointment lane.  Now get out there and make some great games.   By the way, Happy Thanksgiving!  =)


  1. Actually, once you've gotten past what you've spent to make it and you're into what your "time is worth," then you're actually talking about profit. It may not be enough to equal what you're getting from your day job, but technically it's profit as long as you aren't paying someone else to make the game for you. Making enough profit for a livable wage is another issue altogether. I rather suspect that many (most?) board game makers are making sub-minimum-wages from their work. In fact, I rather suspect the whole board-game/RPG market has been driven by hobbyists for a while, with only the publishers making a livable wage off it. I always got the impression with companies like Steve Jackson games that if you were the one actually writing the games, since you were free-lance you weren't actually capable of making a living off of the work (since the market is small and the pay not so great, and royalties are iffy). I know Wizards of the Coast these days actually has some salaried designers/writers, but I'm not sure how much of their content still comes from free-lancers.

  2. Well sure, if you want to get all technical on me Ben, you are correct. But my words still hold weight. The basic message there was "Be aware of how much a game is going to cost you to make vs. how much your are going to make". If money isnt an issue then you have nothing to worry about, but if it is, be smart about the money you do spend on your game. Everything from materials to your time is important, spend it wisely.

  3. Yeah, you're absolutely right, I didn't mean to imply otherwise. ;) One definitely needs to keep in mind, at all steps, "How much money can I afford to spend on this?" (or even "How much money can I afford to lose on this?") I don't know anything much about the board game market and what average sales are like, but I assume that if you had high development costs, for example you did a lot of testing iterations or paid for a lot of art, it might even be possible to not recover your costs. If you actually want to make a profit, you've identified the vicious cycle that requires spending ever more money/effort to reach the necessary number of sales.

    I'm always shocked when I see board games being sold for $60-$80, but you neatly described why they don't have much of a choice about the pricing.

  4. There is a another aspect that I don't really understand. Online stores are undercutting retail stores forcing the prices of board games down. This further impacts the Designers from making any money. But again, this part I don't really get because I have never shipped a Board Game.

    On top of all of this, many Board Games are now releasing a digital version on IPads and Androids for $3-$8. This also makes the idea of buying a Hard Copy of a game less likely. Why have a physical copy of a game taking up all that space for $40-$80 when you can get a version that travels with all your other games for a fraction of the cost.

  5. I've always assumed that most of the difference in online versus retail prices came down to the online seller having a lower percentage markup (since they don't have the costs associated with running a store, and boardgames take up a lot of shelf-space). But given that the big online retailers like Amazon can influence the wholesale prices on some goods, I guess the same could be true for board game sales online.

    I wonder if the iPad versus printed versions of boardgames actually share the same markets really, though? I assume the iPad versions are mostly set up for online, rather than expecting you'll try to cluster around it to play? A printed board game is for gathering friends together, the iPad version is either a poor (but more portable) substitute, or it's networked play, so I can see buying both versions. Reading the board game feature "Cardboard Children" on Rock, Paper, Shotgun, a lot of people say, "this game sounds great, I wish I had someone local to play with." So they're potentially buyers of a digital, online version, but not a printed version. It seems like digital versions have a bigger market and of course, lower production costs per-unit, so if you kept the digital version pretty straightforward (with no extra bells and whistles) to keep the extra dev costs down, you could still make a profit while selling at a much lower price. Then again, there's the whole issue that people have crazy expectations for low game prices on phones/tablets, so that's keeping prices much lower than they would otherwise be. (And digital versions of boardgames can't use the free-to-play dynamics that the successful iOS games use to actually make most of their money.)

  6. There is a market for both. But iPad games are being designed with multiple players in mind.The game Tikal is set up to placed on a table in between all players and the screen will (if you set it up this way in the options menu) automatically flip to orient itself between two players on one side of the table and the two players on the other side of the table.

    Yesterday I played Eldar Signs: Omens with 2 friends by just passing the iPad back and forth. I didn't see much reason to buy the $60 version of Eldar Signs since I have Arkam Horror and 3 expansions and only played with it once or twice.

    Eldar Signs is basicly a single player game though. You have to have 4 investigators. Also, its a light version of the Box game since it only has one of the great old ones to beat. The box game (like Arkam horror) has 4-6 great old ones that make the game play diferent each time.