Road Map To Success: Kickstarting The Easy Way
Updated: Jul 20
To make it again clear by "success" here I mean "a position to launch your self-designed game without bankrupting yourself". My original intention with SSO was to design, print and launch it from my own pocket, selling it via a website and conventions. I was some way into the process when a designer friend convinced me to launch a Kickstarter. Despite that I don't believe I would have done a great deal differently apart from spend a little more money, which I don't think I would have needed to, on the Kickstarter campaign. I would strongly recommend launching a Kickstarter, there is little to lose by doing so, I run my Kickstarter during the final stages of production such that running it didn't even alter my original schedule. There are a series of steps I took which I would recommend anyone follows and I hope by detailing them to assist other independent designers. Just to reiterate we are entirely UK based and all advice may alter depending on your location, particularly that relating to tax and law.
I've written before about selecting a prototype for production and don't intend to do so again. Having selected SSO as a suitable prototype I contacted several manufacturers for quotations on minimum print runs for a game to the rough specifications I required. SSO consists of 72 standard sized cards, 1 double sized card, 2 sheets of punch board tokens, a rule book and a box (post-Kickstarter it had another card and a plastic poker chip added following completed stretch goals). I requested quotes from: LongPack Games, Panda Games, Grand Prix International, DeLano Service, Wingo, Ad Magic and Ludo Fact, all of whom claim to take quotes from independent publishers. I had responses from LongPack and Panda Games. Panda Games (manufacturers of Pandemic) offer a range of services and support including consolation and graphic design, which is why their quote for the initial 1000 print run was around £8000. They offered a reduction for greater numbers, coming down to around £5000 per 1000 copies, at a run of 3000. However, LongPack Games (manufacturers of King Domino and Machi Koro) quoted roughly £2500 for a print run of 1000, although they offered no reduction on larger print runs. I made all following calculations assuming that I would print with LongPack, although I intended to re-quote and recalculate once I had a better idea of components and print run numbers. I'll say now, I finally printed with LongPack and have found their support excellent and more than sufficient for my needs, they have been highly accommodating and patient and would highly recommend them. It is ironic that when seeking quotations a new designer and self-publisher will have a quite unfair sense of being at the bottom of the game manufacturing food chain. Should you make it to the point of having a stand at an event such as UKGE you'll find that relationship inverted suddenly as smaller manufacturers desperately court independent publishers. Don't worry though, your place in the hierarchy will be swiftly reinforced by a conversation or two with certain distributors (not my ones they're lovely!).
With a very ball park idea of income and expenditure I then went to my accountant to check the tax implications and seek general advice. Not everyone will have a long term accountant but once you have even a rough idea of your income from your minimum first print run seek out or research some advice. At this point I suspected my costs would be £7000-£8000 and income £10,000 from the first run, a price I could cover out of my own pocket even with 0 sales if necessary. As such my accountant gave two pieces of advice, firstly to set up as a sole trader and keep careful records and receipts with a dedicated bank account, secondly to get Product Liability Insurance.
Product Liability Insurance is relatively specialised and obtaining a quote will take some leg work but it is worth it. The three things likely to ruin you in self-publishing are 1) failing to calculate costs properly, 2) not paying taxes properly, and 3) being sued for everything you'll ever own because you haven't covered yourself properly. No matter how sure you are nobody could ever hurt themselves with your game you should still insure yourself against it. For 1 years insurance for a game like SSO distributed throughout UK, USA, Europe and the rest of the world I was quoted between £300-£600 based on my expected turn over. Any insurance company will require proper CE marking or the equivalent.
I've written a detailed blog on CE marking for independent games designers (CE Marking in Boardgames Advice) suffice to say it is not an overly onerous process. LongPack provided third party testing for SSO for around £200 which is well worth it to offer long term indemnity. Its worth repeating that CE marking is important and just marking the game as 14+ does not absolve your responsibility.
At this point, therefore, I was certain I could print the game and offer it to the general public without ruining myself, as such I set about the process of actually producing it.
The first major stage for an independent games designer in production is dealing with the artwork. This was quite a sharp learning curve for me, particularly the difference between a graphic artist and an illustrator. I had assumed that one person could do both things or, at least, that one could source the other. As it turns out this was foolish, some people can do both but they are fairly rare. I found a local graphic artist but found them unwilling to meet or communicate beyond quoting £500-£750 for a basic logo. Later quotations from other specialists suggest £500-£600 as a quote for a high end logo is not unreasonable, but I lost faith in that graphic artist. £500 might be acceptable for a corporate re-branding but I ended up paying £150 for the SSO logo.
Taking advice from a friend in the industry I searched Deviant Art for sci-fi and spaceship interiors and reached out to several artists there, one of whom we eventually commissioned. I acknowledge I was immensely lucky to find an artist who turned in high quality work on a reasonable deadline to an acceptable cost so quickly. Research suggests that a mid-range piece of work from a non-established artist should come in at around £300. Our artist's quotes ranged from £200 for playing card sized pieces to £500 for the full box artwork.
A note on artists and illustrators, it is my limited experience that if they are willing to respond initially they tend to lose interest if you are unable to move forward swiftly, so be sure to come with a first concept and be willing to make a commission or you may lose a useful resource.
I found tracking down an independent or freelance graphic designer even tougher, this may be due to the prevalence of free to use graphic design packages but I was ultimately recommended a company by a friend in advertising. They took the job, which was largely a type setting task, on a hourly rate, eventually coming in at around £600-£700 including a company logo and some minor illustrations for the game. Incidentally, on selecting fonts for SSO I was choosing between City Lights, the font from Alien, which would have cost just under £200; or Source Code Pro, the font used on Bios Shell Programs in, for example, Tron, which was already licenced to my graphic designers. We chose Source Code Pro not knowing how much return we would get from the project.
Shortly after finding an artist I set up a website including security and online store. I'm not hyper tech literate and have seen the Gaslands website attacked by hackers, so chose to go for the security of a large company, specifically Wix which has allowed me to put together a very decent looking website. Also I registered for bar codes. In the UK bar codes are dealt with by GS1UK which operates a yearly membership for just over £100 for the level of bar codes an independent designer and publisher is likely to need. When registered you get 1000 bar codes with your company name included. It is perfectly legal to sell these bar codes on and many companies do so, meaning you can buy a single bar code for a couple of pounds with a generic company name attached or 1000 for £100 with your own company name attached. Its entirely your choice, but be aware that without some sort of bar code no distributor will touch you.
My final step of early preparation was to establish the basics of distribution. Firstly I registered for a PO Box, since to legally sell your game you must include a business address on your box and as a sole trader that would be my home address. Much as I love the general public that is not something I'm willing to put out so openly. Secondly, I bulk ordered the necessary packaging to distribute my print run and checked the parcel category and therefore unit price I would fall into. Lastly, I organised a local self-storage unit to take delivery since they have a loading bay able to receive delivery pallets, unlike my flat.
So, I had all the essentials in place to create, launch and sell my game. At which point I started setting up my Kickstarter page and campaign.