Quotes, Components and Companies
By a huge distance the most important thing to get right when looking to become an independent games designer and publisher or self-publisher is the quote for printing. Many first-time publishers will look to PoD services which offer 500 or less as a print run or will even offer a print run of exactly the size you’re looking for. While this can allow a project that just wants to exist in the world to happen, it will never be a viable option for an ongoing or profit-making project. Even if it isn’t necessarily your intention to make money or launch a company off your project I would still seriously suggest getting a quote for your game from a company that offers a minimum print run of around 1000 games. I know I can be daunting and the companies that will print exactly as many as you want can be very tempting, but the price break will be needed to make your game a realistic market option. However, I know that doing this can be a battle in itself, so here’s a little advice about how to go about it.
Ducks in a Line
First things first, figure out what you want in the game. For an initial quote this doesn’t need to be 100% perfectly accurate down to the number of cards, your main purpose is to get a solid idea of your options and to compare across companies, but there are a few things you should try to cover with some accuracy:
· Right range of components – There won’t be a massive difference between having 50 poker sized cards and 60, but there might be a big difference between having 50 poker sized cards and 1 meeple. Make sure that you have the right range of components, particularly if its something other than box, board, rulebook, cards and meeples as your manufacturer might have to go outside of their factory to get those. Before you send the quote off, get your prototype, empty the box, check you’ve listed the box, then only put bits back into it if you’ve got them on the quote. You’ll see if you forgot the rulebook or not pretty soon.
· Try to get the box right – The box will almost certainly be one of the most, if not the most, expensive element in your game. The difference between a simple telescopic box (more on that later) and a magnet catch can be eye watering across 1000 units, but a few millimeters here and there can still make a difference. Particularly if you want hard board dividers as opposed to cardboard inlays, make this clear as soon as possible. Consider your posting options also as soon as possible. If your cards are all stacked on top of each other as opposed to laid side by side, does that mean you can get into a cheaper standard rate shipping box? If you’re not sure, go and get some standard rate boxes from your local carrier and experiment.
· Minis and extras – Again, I’ll go over this later, but if you’re thinking of having minis, or any custom-made plastic components in fact, get them quoted for early. If you’re looking at a high end added stretch goal, ask about it as early as possible.
Ask for a break down of the costs for the quote. A lot of manufacturers will do this anyway, but some won’t as a matter of course if you don’t ask. Seeing where you can tweak and which components are sucking up your budget is vital. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for options. If you want a magnet catch but aren’t sure, ask for a quote with and without. Keep it simple, three or four options is probably the most for everyone’s sanity including yours, but keep your options open. Keep your request simple and clear and regular across all manufacturers you look at. You can tweak finishes and numbers of cards at a later date if you need to, but don’t do it between manufacturers, otherwise you’ll not know what you’re comparing.
Aside from numbers of components there are few things a manufacturer will want to know:
· Card size, weight and finish – Size you should be able to figure out pretty easily, stick to the standard sizes unless you have a really good reason not to, a custom die can cost serious money. Weight is the thickness of the card stock, if you’re not sure and they don’t have a standard weight, 300 gsm is a good mid-range place to start. Finish is generally gloss, matt or linen, at this point it doesn’t really matter which, just pick one, though linen will generally cost more.
· Punchboards – You’ll probably want punch boards for tokens. Having one as opposed to two does matter here. Do a quick mock up in photo shop or something of a board the size of your game box and stick on some tokens with plenty of room around them to find out how many you’ll want. They’ll want to know finish again, but the weight will be standard once you tell them you want punchboard.
Finding the right fit
There are lots of manufacturing companies out there you can google and find. I’ve asked for quotes from most of them and sadly I’ll say that not all respond. I’ve had companies come for face to face meetings at conventions not reply when I e-mail them for a quote. It can be disheartening especially when you only mail people who don’t get back to you. There are some things to consider here, firstly, China is where the cheapest manufacturing with the widest range of options that will actually respond to you exists. I’m in the UK and I’ve found that the majority of European manufacturers will often not respond to an unsolicited quote request and if they do don’t have the range of components that those in China do. There are good reasons for printing locally, but if you do you will have to accept that you may be raising the cost while lowering the quality of your game and that you will certainly be narrowing your options. The following are a list of manufacturers that have responded to quote requests that I’ve made in the past and have offered a full range of services:
Best known games – Kingdomino, Just One, Throw Throw Burrito
Our manufacturer of choice and very popular with Kickstarters. They can offer a 1000 minimum run with a first price break at 1500 and I’ve found to come in consistently as one of the lowest quotes with a very high-quality finish. I’ve not yet come up with something they can’t provide or a service they don’t offer.
Panda Games - pandagm.com
Best known games – Pandemic, Wingspan, Dead of Winter
Very much the premium service option. Panda have an automated quote service that you can sign up for and play around with to your heart’s content. They also have a high degree of customer service, they will help you out and hold your hand if you’re not sure what you’re doing, but that service does come at a cost. If you’re looking at a small print run of 1000 or so games, they will almost certainly quote the highest price around, and you’ll be unlikely to get their price down to the other companies on this list until you hit a much larger run, though they do offer good price breaks at higher levels.
Boda Games – email@example.com - bodagames.com
Best known games – Machi Koro Legacy; Good Cop, Bad Cop.
I had a quote from this company that came in a competitive price, but when I requested a sample box didn’t receive a response. They seem to be relatively up and coming and a decent possibility.
Magicraft – firstname.lastname@example.org - magicraft.en.alibaba.com
I list this company because they have come in with the lowest quote on a few projects that I’ve reached out to them for. I’ve never gone with them because I don’t know any games they’ve previously made, but if you’re on a budget and feel like a gamble, they might turn out to be amazing.
I’ve not used these guys and again they don’t have a list of past properties, however I have received a sample box for them and met them at conventions. The sample box was of acceptable, although not great quality and their quote wasn’t the cheapest, but they might work for you.
Again, a mid range quote back from these guys and no real boardgame pedigree to speak of, but if they offer a good price or go the extra mile for you they might be a good choice.
A couple of things to consider when picking your manufacturer aside from just price:
· Intermodal shipping – This is the term for the shipping from where you made the game to where you intend to fulfil the game from. Even with the cost of intermodal shipping Chinese manufacturers tend to come in a lot cheaper than US or European, however it is worth asking if your manufacturer can organise that for you. LongPack can and will at a decent price, for example, if your manufacturer can’t or won’t you should look into a logistics company ahead of time.
· Testing – If you’re planning on selling your game to people in the EU you’ll almost certainly need CE mark testing. Check to see if your manufacturer can find a 3rd party lab for you and take care of the testing, especially since you’ll be wanting it to clear customs on the main shipment if you’re in the EU yourself. Again, this is a service I know LongPack are willing to set up for you.
· Language barrier and responsiveness – If you’re using a manufacturer that works in a language not your own you will probably need to be extra clear and explicit whenever you want anything out of the ordinary. If your first communications show problems of understanding or if simple requests take a long time to get responses this can be a serious problem.
How many Pallets would a woodpallet chuck?
This is sort of an aside, but its worth making, you may not know how many pallets you’ll take up on intermodal shipping. You may not have cared about that in your previous life, but you may be about to care a lot. I’ll take a second to explain.
If you want to offer friendly shipping to certain zones the only way to do it is to ship a pallet of your game to a fulfilment company in that zone and have them ship from there to your backers. If you have a game that is delivering on several pallets, you need to pay for those pallets to go somewhere and sending some off to the US, some to Europe and some to Australia isn’t going to feature a huge increase in either complexity or price. However, if you have a game that’s going to take up one pallet normally, getting it split up into multiple pallets in order to do the same thing is going to be a pretty significant increase in complexity and price. Depending on your day job you might never have encountered a pallet in the flesh, and even if you have picturing how many games fit on one might be a stretch, mentally speaking, it certainly was for me. I’ve had a few games shipped now, so here’s a little bit of practical information, if I get more, I’ll add it later:
1000 copies of SSO Base Set 200x100x20mm telescoping box plus 1000 copies of SSO First Captain Expansion 90x67x12mm tuckbox shipped on one pallet.
1000 copies of Moonflight 264x160x40mm plus 1000 copies of SSO Parasites Expansion 90x67x12mm tuckbox shipped on two pallets.
From that I’d say that if your game is a tuckbox sized game or below (so a standard deck of cards or smaller), you’re unlikely to get over a pallet until you hit around 3-4000 copies. If your game is around the size of three decks of cards then, you can expect it to hit a second pallet once you get to your second thousand. Small but not pocket sized games will probably take around one pallet per 500 or so. Mid-sized games will probably see a pallet take 250-300 with big box games filling a pallet around 100-250 units to a pallet.
What’s what with the wit what?
Getting a little more specific on components, here a few options and points that you might not appreciate until you start getting and fiddling with the numbers on quotes:
· Minis – Specifically anything plastic and custom molded, even plastic meeples, you will need to pay a plastic mold fee. You may have heard it’s a lot of money, its about $3000 per mold, which you may or may not consider expensive, although the mini will likely be in the range of $0.10. Conversely there is the option for resin minis, in which case you’re most likely looking at a mold cost closer to $150, but a unit cost closer to $0.50. Clearly, depending on whether you plan on printing 1000 copies as opposed to 10000 and if you can get multiple models onto a mold this will make a huge difference. The lesson I would take from that personally is, if you don’t know what you’re doing with minis either stay well clear or find someone who does know what they’re doing, because that ‘tooling fee’ can slip by surprisingly easily and cost an excessive amount. Remember that not all elements can be constructed by all processes and different manufacturers will have different options and mold costs.
· Other production pieces – There are a range of custom components that can raise your production value considerably at a much lower price. Ask your manufacturer about a range of features that would be appropriate to your game such as printed cloth bags and sand timers, many can come in cheaper than you might expect. Consider these:
o Custom Printed Poker Chip – Most manufacturers will be able to make these in house for a very low increased cost, depending on theme they can make a nice first player marker
o Custom Molded Coin/Medal – Metal mold prices are relatively low, particularly if you’re going for something relatively standard like a coin or medal, and they’re even something you can design yourself with some imagination and basic 3D rendering programs.
· Boxes – Boxes are both generally necessary and expensive, they are also the one thing your manufacturer won’t send spares of. They come in a few basic forms:
o Telescoping box – This is the standard two-part box. Expect them to cost in the ballpark of $0.75 on a $5.00 game.
o Premium box – This can be a range of options, including side slide box, magnet catch box and book style box. These will come in closer to $2-3 depending on the size of the game.
There are a couple of finishes to consider also, foil and UV. In my experience they cost about the same, in the region of a hundred or couple of hundred dollars across a print run. Which is better is a matter of taste, as is how to use them. Either will need a special image file that your manufacturer should be able to advise you on and any decent graphic designer set up pretty easily. Bear in mind, if you go for an offset finish image you will then need to produce the art asset.
· Cards – The basic of the game. Expect a deck of cards at a decent gsm to come in around $0.75-1. This will go up if you increase the gsm, choose a custom core or go with linen finish. Gsm is the thickness of the card, its generally pennies per unit to pop yourself up to whatever the premium thickness that your manufacturer offers and it results in a genuine increase in quality. I would suggest pricing for a premium gsm weight and offer upgrading to it from the standard weight as a first stretch goal. Custom cores vary, black is pretty standard but I’ve seen them offered in blue and other colours. The theory is that they make your cards less see-through. Personally, I’ve never seen a 300gsm card with a decent back design (back designs do have a practical purpose, lots of white is a bad idea). Still, different coloured cores cost a little more so they’ve become a premium option, and they do make the cards look different when stacked. Some manufacturers offer coloured core at the same price when you go up in gsm, if they do, you could consider it and even offer it as an additional stretch goal. Finish is the last real feature, cards can be gloss or matt for no change in price (I prefer matt), but if you want linen finish it costs a little extra. If you’re not sure what linen finish is, grab some cards and even boxes of high-end games, stroke them very carefully or hold them up so the light hits them, if the surface is slightly rough, that’s linen finish. It costs a little extra per unit, usually adding up to a few hundred across a run and can be applied to boxes, cards and counters. Some people like it, most people don’t notice it, but it’s a premium option that costs a few hundred dollars without needing any design or weight changes, so it makes its way onto a lot of stretch goal lists.
· Meeples – Standard meeples in any colour you may wish are pretty cheap, expect in the range of $0.01-0.02 each. If you look into the process of making meeples a little you’ll see that you can make custom ones fairly reasonably for not too much extra price. Generally, a meeple is made by a machine carving a long strip in a meeple shape then slicing off pieces, imagine a meeple shaped broom handle being cut into discs. If you design a meeple with no cut outs that doesn’t have too much in the way of undercuts, and your manufacturer can advise on this, you can design your own versions of meeples for very little cost increase. If you do want cut out or more intricate shapes or screen printing the price can jump to $0.05 per meeple (which if you have 50 in a game and 1000 copies of a game, is worth considering).
In conclusion, I hope some of these ballparks have given a better idea of what to look for if you’ve never had a game quote in your life. Clearly, all these prices will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, and are based on full print run numbers rather than PoD or small runs. Get a quote of your own for your game, check out the break downs and don’t be afraid to poke around some of the numbers, you can often increase quality while reducing price with a little moving around of features. If you’ve used a manufacturer not listed here, or one that I’ve listed but not used, and had a good experience please let us know. There are plenty that I’ve left off because I can’t recommend, but I’d love to add more on. Is there an element that you’ve had quoted for and were pleasantly surprised at the price? Or a feature that you love in a game that you wish turned up more often?