I recently listened to an interview with Phil Reed, CEO of Steve Jackson that you can find here.
During the lengthy interview, Phil brings up the concept of designing with material costs in mind. In essence, he argues that when designing a game to start by researching and keeping a running total of the component costs and use this background information to dictate what components to include in a game based on the prince point you are aiming for.
Wow, did I wish I had heard of this before I started designing games!
It seems like a common sense notion, but it is not…at least for me. I did not price out components prior to beginning the game design process. For Crop Cycle, I knew I wanted to make a smaller game than Centaurus (i.e not miniatures, a game board, full-box, etc.), but I did not have an outline for exactly how small the game should be. With no previous games under my belt, I also did not have the background knowledge and experience that Phil Reed and other serial game publishers hold.
In hindsight, if I did it again I would begin with researching the manufacturing. The easiest way to get accurate information is to request a few quotes from manufacturers that provide component breakdowns (Panda Games and Wingo both provide this). Alternatively, ask around in game publishing circles such as the Facebook communities here and here.
What I did instead was use the prices of a print-on-demand service as an estimate for the relative differences in cost. For example, I assumed that the comparative difference in cost between cards and tokens when I approached a manufacturer. I did not ask for quotes until later in the process and failed to realize that the price differences of a Print-on-Demand service can vary wildly from a print-run manufacturer.
To use Crop Cycle as an example, the game uses small tokens to use both indicators and as a means of keeping score. For the prototype, I used Circle Shards from The Game Crafter. The cost was cheap and I naively assumed that the cost would be comparable when speaking with manufacturers.
This was a mistake.
It turned out that die-cut tokens can dramatically increase the cost of a project, particularly as some manufacturers lack the required machinery and will outsource the component to another factory. I would have known this if I asked for quotes from manufacturers at the outset rather than waiting around.
Of course, I am not recommending that you pester manufacturers with every conceivable piece component imaginable, but if you have a few manufacturers in mind, ask them for the component costs of common items such as cards, game boxes, dice, and tokens. Then, when you to sit to thrash out the finer points of your game, you will have a much better idea of the overall cost of manufacturing and whether adding an extra cards or dice will still keep the game within the price range you intend. Remember that the MSRP (price retailers sell the game for) is typically 4-5 times your production cost.
Give it a try. Once you have decided to take the leap from designing game to publishing, get your component costs down and then delve into designing your first foray into the world of publishing.
James Mathe, a serial kickstarter creator and experienced game publisher wrote three fantastic articles on speaking with manufacturers and the costs of game design. I recommend you read them all!
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