A year or more back, a designer of some repute sent us a game submission that we fell utterly and immediately in love with. It was so clever, so tight, so utterly charming and light on its feet. Now, we had no idea if the thing would sell or if it would flop. Just because we're excited and effusive about a game doesn't mean that anyone else will be. But the great thing about our print-on-demand model of course is that it so thoroughly mitigates financial risk that we could publish the thing anyway, and likely turn at least a small profit.
The short version for those of you that aren't in the know: when you pay us for a game, we place an order with our printer, who manufactures and ships the game to you. Printing games one at a time is much more expensive than a standard print-run; I like to say that it's the most expensive and least efficient way to publish games. I also like to say that it allows us to publish games with impunity: we don't need to come up with tens of thousands of dollars to publish thousands of copies of one title which might not sell in that quantity. Because of that, we can take risks on weird games and unusual topics, and in fact we sometimes feel like we have a responsibility to do so.
And so, like I said, we were really excited to take that risk on this game. If you're wondering why I'm talking around this game and its designer, it's because we never published it. We fully intended to, but hit a wall when we started pricing the thing out: how much for a map of the right size, how much for player mats and screens for each of the five players, how much for counters, for wood bits, for cards.
Given the style of game and the audience we saw for it, we were looking to release a game with a fifty dollar MSRP, but when we did the math, it would cost more than that for us to produce a copy of the game. To turn a profit, we would need to charge significantly more than what we thought people would reasonably pay for the game. We couldn't really see a way to reduce the pricepoint without diminishing the game, and so we released it back to the designer. Better for it to find another home that can offer it at a more competitive pricepoint than to charge so much for it that nobody would buy it.
It was one of the few times when we chaffed a bit against the constraints of our model. Because for all the things that it allows us to do - first and foremost being making a living at it, which is something that we're deeply grateful for and that I don't think I'll ever stop marveling at - there are other things that are off-limits. For example, there's no way we could do an honest-to-gosh four-map quad set. The whole point of a quad is to get four games for the price of one, but for us it'd be four for the price of four, and who wants that? The closest we've come is our three-map Great Heathen Army, but we were able to justify the higher price tag to our customers by designing eight battles for those three maps.Our games tend to use just one map and a half-sheet of counters (sometimes a full-sheet), and while that's partially due to coming up with components that will be conducive to an attractive pricepoint, it's just as much a philosophical predilection: we always try to do more with less. Because of that, we don't really mind the things that we can't do or the games we can't publish, nor do we have a desire (often wished for us by others who seemingly mean well) to "move on" or "expand" to a more traditional model. There's so much that we can do, and so many ways that our model plays to our strengths both creatively and as a business, that we're naturally quite protective of it.
Thanks for sharing some of the insights into your business. It’s an open and generous position to take and very interesting.
I’m curious, do you think you could have produced a game with the components that are hard to manufacture at home (cards, chits, screens) and then had the maps as 11×17 PnP files? Most people can access a print shop, and for some reason paying $50 then $10 two weeks later is less painful than paying $60 upfront, Amazing how the brain deceives us!
Would that have reduced costs enough to make it reasonable?
Thanks again for the interesting post.