I’ve written before about some of the rude awakenings I experienced when starting a board game business. So many of our sorrows are born of the disparities between our expectations and reality. It’s my hope that by spelling out the specific things that happened to me, I can prevent you from being surprised and disappointed by some of the harsh realities of game development. Through that, I hope you’ll be free to experience the incredible satisfaction of creativity and the sheer fun of getting into the gaming industry.
And now, without further adieu…
1. Taxes are everywhere.
Other than death, taxes are the one certainty in life…but the extent of taxes I encountered during the creation of War Co., the Kickstarter campaign, manufacturing, and fulfillment were nothing less than stunning. I can’t imagine it being any different outside of the United States. For everyone who buys cards from inside my own state of Tennessee, I owe sales tax. For anything I import into the state of Tennessee, I owe use tax. For any profit I earn, I have to pay business tax. If I pocket any of that profit, I have to pay income tax on that.
Oh, and that’s just domestic taxes. Whenever cards are shipped from the United States to other countries, they’re subject to value-added tax, customs tax, and administrative fees on top of customs taxes. I cover all this on my end so customers don’t have to deal with the hassle.
You get used to it after a while, and it’s not enough to choke the life out of a small business like many hand-wringing individuals may fear. In fact, some level of taxes is a fair trade for the services which facilitate owning a business. The trouble is that they’re hard to calculate and the actual amount you end up paying is a surprise early on until you build robust ways of predicting it.
I’ve learned how to cope with taxes through experience and careful bookkeeping. Staying organized has helped me stay on top of this.
2. Shipping is a complex beast.
For a moment, consider all the variables that go into fulfilling a Kickstarter campaign. Your manufacturer has to receive parts from their suppliers. They have to send the product to you or your distributors in bulk. Then they have to separate the rewards and send them to individuals. The whole time, your rewards or their component parts are zipping back and forth in boats, cars, planes, and trains. They cross country lines multiple times, go across oceans, fly thousands of miles, and are handled by multiple different companies. Your rewards are subject to all kinds of laws and taxes that you can’t possibly understand all at once. No one can.
That realization sink in yet? Good. Don’t let it dishearten you, because it’s not actually that hard to deal with. You just need to respect the complexity and variability of what you’re doing. That’s the beginning of understanding.
The two articles linked above show you how I’ve overcome the challenges of fulfillment. It’s worked pretty well for me, and I’m actually a couple hundred dollars under-budget!
3. Most of my time is not spent designing.
I love game development. I also love running a business. Yet shockingly, the amount of time I spent developing War Co. was far less than the amount of time I’ve spent running social media campaigns, preparing for Kickstarter, getting the game manufacture-ready, fulfilling the game, and performing general day-to-day business functions.
For every hour I spent on War Co., maybe fifteen minutes went to developing and play-testing the game. The idea of the creative genius sitting alone in his or her room, creating perfection is a myth. Creating something great comes through a good idea filtered through rework and the opinions of hundreds of other people. That “something great” is then propped up on an infrastructure of business processes like accounting, promotion, fulfillment, and sales.
Time spent on design is crucial, but you can’t ignore the entrepreneur and manager aspects.
This is an industry of immense possibility and potential. It’s a blast, and I encourage you to get involved and make your dreams come true, too. But there’s no sense in being delusional about what it’s going to take. There’s a lot of hard work and relearning along the way.