David Murphy
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Something has been spinning around my brain. I've got a card game currently under wider play testing, I've got 2 other board games with potential showing and a 3rd that has yet to hit first play testing. I've considered self publishing these, but may alternatively seek someone to partner with, or someone to straight up publish them.

I'm left with a question though, what sort of volume sales to average board games achieve? Sure I'd like to have created the next Settlers, but I don't think I have yet, however I have a set of moderately enjoyable games that I think will be popular enough to sell, I'm just not sure where the middle ground is for board games.

On the subject of my card game, it is a fairly light, play between games, 50 card deck, that I think is fun and certainly has potential to be more fun as I iron out the creases in it. What is the sort of volume sale for something like this, price point is far lower than a board game, but I'm guessing appeal is more niche?

Anyone got any figures? Ideas?
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Eric Jome
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HoTWire wrote:
I'm left with a question though, what sort of volume sales to average board games achieve?


Your average game is going to sell between 1000 and 1500 units if it is a basic success. It might still be financially viable with as few as 500 units selling, but often a publisher won't be interested unless it can get considerably more than that. Selling 3000 units would be considered a very good success by most standards.

Games that win major awards or achieve breakthrough status will frequently multiply these results by orders of magnitude. A Spiel des Jahres winner, for example, could sell 300,000 units... but that would be the extremely rare case that would be impossible to predict or control. Very few games sell 10,000+ units, but there is a middle tier of games that are successful, well regarded perennial favorites that stay in print and keep ticking up - these are the exception not the rule.

Selling out quickly with requests for more orders might get a game a second printing. Or the perception of pent up desire generated over time. But often games are not reprinted.

Generally, figure your per unit cost to produce the game should allow you to break even and make something back after about 800 to 1000... if you can't move that quantity, you should probably look at doing it as a print and play.

Quote:
On the subject of my card game, it is a fairly light, play between games, 50 card deck, that I think is fun and certainly has potential to be more fun as I iron out the creases in it. What is the sort of volume sale for something like this, price point is far lower than a board game, but I'm guessing appeal is more niche?


People will, in my opinion, not be willing to pay more than US$10 for a game like this. Maybe if it had big names and killer art, you could get it up to $12, but you're selling little more than a pack of playing cards to people - and those retail well under US$10. That would be your competition... a tough level to crack.

Do you know about Artscow? Might be worth looking into that.
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Paul DeStefano
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cosine wrote:

Do you know about Artscow? Might be worth looking into that.


I prefer SuperiorPOD.com.
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Eric Jome
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Geosphere wrote:
cosine wrote:

Do you know about Artscow? Might be worth looking into that.


I prefer SuperiorPOD.com.


I don't really know what I'm talking about with either one - I've never used either ones services as a producer or consumer, but it's worth your time to investigate this publishing option thoroughly I think. The little I've gleaned from reading about it in passing makes this an attractive option for small print runs, I think.
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Philip Migas
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See: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/22976/board-game-sales...

Eric,
Was your post factual or conjecture? Do you have any supporting data to any of your statements?
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Eric Jome
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pmigas wrote:
Was your post factual or conjecture? Do you have any supporting data to any of your statements?


More or less factual. The problem is that it varies wildly across the business and different kinds of products. I've worked with startups to help them produce games. I've attended seminars of the big producers talking about their business. I've pitched games to companies. I've known some people casually over the years and you get to talking at conventions and such. I've interviewed designers and worked with people in different parts of the business... these are my collective impressions of an average situation.

I'm pretty sure it's right, but any given case could be wildly different.
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Joe Mucchiello
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pmigas wrote:
See: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/22976/board-game-sales...

Eric,
Was your post factual or conjecture? Do you have any supporting data to any of your statements?

That thread is not representative of all board games. It represents only those games where sales data is available. That is not statistically valid for any kind of interpolation. Instead, think of it the other way: How many games are in the database that you can just tell sold only in the 500-2500 range? They more than like represent more than 70% of the database. That means the average sales/game is going to end up close to 500-2500.

Take this thought exercise. Say there are 100,000 games and only 1 has sales of 100,000,000 worldwide and the rest sell 0 worldwide: the average for sales is 1,000. But even if you set the sales for all 99,999 games to 1,000, the average only goes up to 2,000. That 100,000,000 selling game does not raise the average very much. And there are not that many 100 million selling games.

There are so many games that just do not sell. And that means taking "average" or "median" on sales figures is going to tell you "games don't sell." It's like the lottery. Most lotteries payout at about 1:2, meaning the state takes half and the winners take half. That means the "average" ticket is worth exactly half its cost. But that's not how they payout. Some tickets end up work thousands and thousands times their cost and others are worth thousandths and thousandths their cost.
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Eric Jome
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pmigas wrote:


The geeklist is cool and informative, but it does cover quite a range of different games published at different times in different ways... it's very hard to get a standardized picture of what commonly happens from this data.

If anything, my estimates might be a little low - games we, the BGG public, take notice of and follow more avidly probably make it into the tens of thousands fairly often. I know, for example, that a big and effective company like Rio Grande Games isn't really going to be interested in a title unless they can move units of it in the low tens of thousands... but is that fair to use them as an example? They're an established "heavyweight" in the business at the top of their niche - they do the best and biggest, having grown out of the startup range.

By contrast, take a startup like Zombie State: Diplomacy of the Dead... he's not clearing units in the tens of thousands, my guess anyway. But that's a very successful "indie" title, so if they said they'd sold 2000 or 3000, I could probably believe that. It would be higher than I would expect though.

And then there's the poor guy who built 18EZ, which is in my opinion a great game, but when I spoke with him about it I believe he was saying he was having trouble clearing 100. (So go order a copy now, eh?)
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Over the years, as designers and tiny publishers have spoken up here, the information that Eric has posted above has come out and basically been proven as solid information, though not enough real data for statisticians to be happy with. I note his first line "Your average game is going to sell between 1000 and 1500 units if it is a basic success." should emphasize the word success and is based on the sales over a lifetime of the game, not within the first year. I think Dominic Crapuchettes had an interview where he mentioned that the sales the first year or two were really low until it managed to take off.

Then there are the stories of self-published games that sold under 100 copies and people were stuck with garages filled with unsold copies years later.
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Joe Mucchiello
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Your estimates are fine and the mirror other publishing industries (where development does not cost millions) perfectly: Books, Music, RPGs, etc. For every million selling book, there are thousands of 5-500 print run vanity press books. For every Lady Gaga, there are thousands of Tuesday night bar bands making nothing. For every Trivial Pursuit, there are thousands of Decktets.

The reason this doesn't apply to Movies, is the up front costs. A movie costs millions of dollars to produce. You don't do that unless you know you can get millions of butts into seats to watch it. (And even then, sometimes those butts don't show up.) Games, books, and even music, cost far less up front and so people are more willing to take chances.
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jmucchiello wrote:

The reason this doesn't apply to Movies, is the up front costs. A movie costs millions of dollars to produce. You don't do that unless you know you can get millions of butts into seats to watch it. (And even then, sometimes those butts don't show up.) Games, books, and even music, cost far less up front and so people are more willing to take chances.


Eh?

There are plenty of independent films out there. Robert Rodriguez's first film, El Mariachi, was made for $7,000. Anyone with a decent video camera and some editing equipment can make a film. It may never get a distributor and never be shown in theaters, but it's still a movie.
 
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David Murphy
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Thanks so much for the information (and subsequent discussion), that is exactly the sort of thing I was looking for.

The lifecycle thing is quite interesting, if you are looking at 1,000 over the total 'life' of a game (for example), there is a higher profit margin in getting them all printed up front, but obviously you front load your risk (and you need a whole lot of up front cash).

Given the (relatively) low volume sales of the average game I guess it is a case of trying to either aim for the big prize of the hit game and then expansion, expansion, expansion, or go for lots of small game releases in order to have a viable business. Settlers Of Catan vs. Reiner Knizia. Sort of.

Hmmm, plenty to think about...
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HoTWire wrote:
Hmmm, plenty to think about...


Really throwing a wrench in this is new technology. Selling your game as a PDF or having something like SuperiorPOD make it and sell units as ordered... that's some really sexy, interesting stuff full of possibilities. If the goal is to just offer what you have for others to enjoy, look into print and play or print on demand. If the goal is to have your creation on a shelf at the LGS with a Rio Grande imprint on the box, that's a whole nother kettle o fish.
 
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David Murphy
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cosine wrote:
HoTWire wrote:
Hmmm, plenty to think about...


Really throwing a wrench in this is new technology. Selling your game as a PDF or having something like SuperiorPOD make it and sell units as ordered... that's some really sexy, interesting stuff full of possibilities. If the goal is to just offer what you have for others to enjoy, look into print and play or print on demand. If the goal is to have your creation on a shelf at the LGS with a Rio Grande imprint on the box, that's a whole nother kettle o fish.


I think for a first venture and for something simple like my current card game I'll probably go with less risky print on demand and gather some more data, make some contacts for promotional purposes and hope that people get some enjoyment out of the work.
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klz_fc wrote:
Then there are the stories of self-published games that sold under 100 copies and people were stuck with garages filled with unsold copies years later.


The life-cycle of the published product is a key consideration. There are a bunch of factors to consider from first year sales, to second year sales volume, drop-off or acceleration rates, lifetime sales volume, and not least, storage costs and committed capital costs. Yes, it is cheaper to print umpty thousand copies. but if you do print that many, you're also committing to not only having that money tied up in those copies, but to storing them until they sell, and storage is a not inconsiderable cost. In fact, storage is deadly.

The result is that the size of a print-run is an optimised figure, aimed to minimise up-front capital commitment, ongoing costs (storage, marketing etc) and risk while maximising profit margin, and all of that measured against an aggressively depreciating time schedule. A bunch of trade-offs across multiply contradictory values. The result is that print-runs are generally scaled for sell-through in ~18 months. They print something and in 18 months all copies have sold, and that is the really basic definition of success. Print + 18 months == sold out == party! Expanded a bit, the basic definition of success is: print however many copies (might be hundreds, might be thousands), sell 60% of them into the channel in the first 6 months, and the other 40% across the next 12 months. The percentages may vary a bit, 18 months is sometimes 12 or 24 months. but the basic pattern is solid. They print, sell almost all of them into the channel quickly, dribble the rest out over a residual time with high management costs, and then check to see if they have an evergreen title that warrants a reprint on a similar basis. The escape plan BTW if the sales volume in the first 6 months isn't high enough is to dump the back volume into the discount channel (Tanga etc). This is a direct trade-off of brand hit versus no storage costs versus reduced profits/losses versus capital flexibility and new product opportunity. Then, the dump done and capital liberated, they're onto the next ~18 month plan for the next product. Lather, rinse, repeat. Most of all: repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat.
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HoTWire wrote:

The lifecycle thing is quite interesting, if you are looking at 1,000 over the total 'life' of a game (for example), there is a higher profit margin in getting them all printed up front, but obviously you front load your risk (and you need a whole lot of up front cash).


Also, something to keep in mind is storage over that lifetime. You need a warehouse or garage or someplace to store the unsold games until they are sold (or destroyed as losses) and will take up resources you might not have figured in. Renting a storage locker over a year is much more expensive than using space in your garage, but that is space you also cannot use for anything else while it sits there, so there is still a recurring "cost" you should factor in.

As discouraging as this may seem, the lessons learned and possible contacts will help, and if it's clever enough to catch someone's eye, it might get you where you want to be. You just have to be cognizant of your potential costs and risks.

Edit: I see while I was typing this up, JC posted up a far better explanation. Good to remember anyway.
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cosine wrote:
HoTWire wrote:
Hmmm, plenty to think about...


Really throwing a wrench in this is new technology. Selling your game as a PDF or having something like SuperiorPOD make it and sell units as ordered... that's some really sexy, interesting stuff full of possibilities. If the goal is to just offer what you have for others to enjoy, look into print and play or print on demand. If the goal is to have your creation on a shelf at the LGS with a Rio Grande imprint on the box, that's a whole nother kettle o fish.


Totally agree with this. I've had a number of game designs that I'm developing and planning to "publish" via SuperiorPOD's service.

Would I like to sell 100's or 1000's of copies and get a huge print run made? Yes of course. But the options are either I go balls out for a high volume print run and truly self-publish OR find a publisher that's interested in picking up the game for broader publication/distribution. The former option requires a signficant upfront investment that I don't have . . . although Kickstarter may emerge as a candidate for that, as shown by the success of Eminent Domaine. In the latter case, it's a big uncertainty whether you'll find a publisher interested in the game, although it never hurts.

Anyway, the print-on-demand services are a perfect middleground for someone in my position. I can create a game and have it "published" with good quality components/printing without needing to invest in larger print runs up front. Plus, I get great "prototypes" for shopping the game around to other publishers. The profit margins are not big by any means with a print-on-demand service, but at least you aren't left with a garage full of unsold games at the end of the day if the game flops.
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