Before there was a Hollandspiele, there was a "Hollandspiele", the vague idea that Mary and I wanted to publish board games. We talked about it periodically for several years before we took the plunge, and there were a number of reasons for the delay. We needed some practical experience. I needed to learn my craft as a designer, and I wanted to develop some kind of reputation that could jump-start the proceedings.
And then, of course, there was the fact that we didn't have any money. For years we existed perpetually on the brink of financial collapse and disaster. Being poor is exhausting: you're constantly worried, constantly stressed out, constantly just-barely-holding-on. We managed to survive it, and then, eventually, we managed to climb out of it. Once we did, we had no desire to go back, and the specter of poverty, the fear of it, has made me extremely risk adverse. So there was no way we were going to take what meager savings we had just started to build up and pump it into a company. And having heard the story of the guy who ran a wildly successful kickstarter and still lost his house in the process, crowdfunding didn't exactly look attractive. (More than that, perhaps, there was the fact that we didn't think we had the skill-set to run that kind of campaign successfully.)
But print-on-demand mitigated that risk in a way that worked for us, and that allowed us to publish a large number of games fairly quickly. And so, more out of necessity than anything else, we grabbed on to print-on-demand, which is, as I like to say, the most expensive and least efficient way to publish board games. As an unintended side effect, it effectively cuts out any kind of traditional distribution in stores or overseas, which puts a certain ceiling on our sales and irritates gamers who live outside the United States.
And over the course of several blog-things, twitter-things, forum replies, podcasts, and emails, we've tried to communicate this as clearly and as honestly as possible. Look. We'd love to get our games in your friendly local game store, but either we'll take a loss or the distributor will, and it just doesn't make sense for either party. We'd love to have distribution in Europe and help you avoid the shipping and customs fees, but it has to get across that ocean somehow, and it costs what it costs, and someone needs to pay it.
There's often a certain air of haplessness and fatalism to these responses. We didn't choose to take distribution off the table; it's a side effect of our business model. We don't have mounted boards because they're too expensive to produce with that business model. And we chose that business model not because of any special preference, but because it was the only one that let two folks with limited financial resources and no significant social media game get into publishing. Beneath this logic runs an undercurrent of us being constrained by our circumstances, and the implication that, under different circumstances, we might publish games the "normal" way, and they might get into stores across the globe, with mounted boards and everything.
But here's the thing: we don't really have any desire to do that. Even if we could take on the risk of a traditional print run, we wouldn't. Given our current notoriety, if we ran a kickstarter it would likely be successful. But honestly? We're just not interested.
Our business model gives us what we want out of the business, which isn't always what every potential customer wants out of it. It gives us flexibility. It gives us speed. It gives us the freedom to do weird, noncommercial things - to take creative risks without also taking financial ones. It gives us the freedom to be us: it gives us our identity. We like doing things the way we do them, and since we're in charge, we're going to keep doing them that way.
And the more I reflect on the path that has led us here, and on the path that we see stretched out before us, the more I wish that I had been saying that all along, owning it, rather than apologetically blaming it on circumstances and necessity, some weird little corner we had found ourselves somehow painted into. It's our weird little corner, darn it, and we're happy with it.