12 Questions About Board Game Order Fulfillment & Shipping, Answered

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Of all the ways to learn about board game fulfillment, I didn’t think the Quacks of Quedlinburg would be one of them.

From February 25 to March 9, I worked with Charlie Brieger, the CEO of Fulfillrite on a giveaway contest. We gave away the aforementioned game and there were a lot of ways you could enter the contest. One of which was answering the question “what confuses you the most about board game fulfillment?” Charlie and I didn’t know if that question was going to be useful or not, but we figured it was worth a shot.

Turns out, we received 165 responses that, in the aggregate, were incredibly insightful. When you run a board game publishing company, fulfillment is a major part of your customer service considerations. Likewise, if you run a fulfillment company like Charlie does, it’s always useful to hear from the customers.

Shortly after the contest, I put together a report for him summarizing the data. We thought it’d be fun to answer some of those questions online. I’ve selected twelve of your questions and Charlie will be answering each of them below.

 

 

1. What is fulfillment?

After a Kickstarter campaign is funded, a lot must happen in order for you to receive a game! It has to be manufactured, shipped by freight (ocean or air), sent to a warehouse, and then sent to your house. As you can imagine, the game devs who made the game you want to buy can’t do this alone.

What I’ve just described is the supply chain. The supply chain includes everything involved in the production and distribution of a product, such as a board game you’ve been looking forward to. Fulfillment is an important part of the supply chain. It involves order management, picking, packing, and shipping.

 

2. How does fulfillment work?

Fulfillment is what we do at my company, Fulfillrite. When you place an order through your online store, or when a Kickstarter creator has a whole bunch of orders to fulfill from a Kickstarter campaign, that’s where we pick up. We receive orders, prepare the packages by selecting the appropriate inventory, then we send it out via USPS or FedEx – whichever is appropriate.

 

3. How does international shipping work?

International shipping is very similar to domestic shipping, with a couple of key differences. First, the postage costs more because it takes more cars, more planes, and more boats to get a game from our warehouse in New Jersey to Sweden, than it would, say, Pennsylvania. Second, we fill out customs forms which lets customs agencies know how much to charge in taxes for exporting / importing goods.

 

4. How are games shipped to my house?

When games are shipped from a transportation hub to your house, that’s called last-mile delivery. A lot of people consider this to be the hardest part of the entire supply chain!

When we ship products, there is a handoff. The product is then in the hands of USPS, FedEx, or DHL. From our warehouse, they send your game to the nearest one of their hubs, which is usually within 50 miles of where you are. From that local hub, one of a few scenarios can occur:

  1. The game is then sent by mail (USPS, Royal Mail, etc.).
  2. The game is delivered through courier service. This is when UPS/FedEx/DHL comes to your house.
  3. Your game is sent to a pick-up location at your request. For example, FedEx can ship to Walgreens for pick-up. Amazon likes to send products to Whole Foods for your pick up when it’s not practical to deliver to your home.

Again, this is not a perfect process. If you live somewhere really remote, there may still be no last-mile delivery service. However, emerging technology such as self-driving cars and drones may change this in the future.

 

5. How are shipping costs determined?

A little while ago, we did a post with Brandon called Board Game Fulfillment & Why it Matters on Day 1 of Game Development. In it, we said that shipping costs were largely determined by two factors. The first is the height, width, and length of the package. The second is the weight of the package. The lighter and smaller boxes are, the cheaper the cost to ship will be.

Why are bigger and heavier boxes more expensive to ship? The answer lies in other parts of the supply chain, many of which Fulfillrite doesn’t deal with directly. Heavier packages take more fuel to ship by ocean and by truck. Similarly, the bigger a package is, the fewer you can fit on a single vehicle – whether it be a gigantic transpacific ocean liner or an 18-wheeler truck. Every square centimeter of space you take up on one of those vehicles is a square centimeter someone else’s products can’t occupy, so they charge accordingly.

 

6. How do you determine how long it takes to ship a game?

Once we receive orders at our warehouse, we move pretty fast. Everything inside Fulfillrite is very streamlined, so we can have orders out the same day we receive them if received by 2 PM.

Now that’s just getting inventory out of our warehouse. If you’re a gamer, you’re probably wondering how long it takes for the entire shipping process to be over – including the last-mile delivery. For most people, it’s as simple as adding the time it takes us to ship the order and the time it takes the couriers to deliver the order.

 

7. How are customs and taxes determined?

Customs and taxes are based on different countries’ regulations. Goods are classified by the type of good or goods they are. Customs and taxes are then applied based on the type of good(s) and the country they’re going to. I recommend you use an online calculator like this one if you need to calculate customs or taxes for a Kickstarter campaign.

 

8. How do you determine whose game gets shipped first after a Kickstarter campaign?

The short answer is that we defer to the recommendations of clients. That is, if the Kickstarter campaigner says to ship to a certain subset of people first, that’s what we do. Otherwise, we ship them all within the same day or two. We ship based on the information the clients provides, which may include special instructions. In reality, though, we usually ship them out so quickly that it doesn’t matter.

 

9. How does Amazon ship so cheaply and quickly?

Great question – we call this the Amazon Effect. In short, customers have really high expectations of shipping because Amazon is so fast and inexpensive. You’re probably referring to Amazon Prime – which provides free two-day shipping for most items to most places in the US.

Amazon is cheap because Prime generates a lot of cash by encouraging people to buy more items. This makes it plausible for them to rush ship nearly everything they have in stock. They also have a lot of local warehouses spread all over the world and robust IT to help them predict which items will be needed in which areas. Finally, the fees on their Fulfillment by Amazon services are fairly steep, which gives them the additional cash needed to finance the Amazon Prime program.

 

10. What causes delays in fulfillment?

By far, the biggest cause of delay in Kickstarter fulfillment can be chalked up to shipment receiving delays. Kickstarter campaign fulfillment relies on a few prerequisites:

  • The timely communication between the campaigner and the manufacturer.
  • No issues in manufacturing.
  • Timely shipping by ocean, plane, or truck.

If something goes wrong with any of the above, that causes us – and other fulfillment centers like us – to start late.

If there are any problems with last-mile delivery after a game leaves our warehouse, that can also cause you to receive your board game later than you would like.

 

11. Why are companies so bad at communicating throughout the supply chain process?

There are a few causes. Regrettably, the most common one is simply that a Kickstarter campaigner does not follow up with timely information. Other times, a Kickstarter campaigner’s inventory is being manufactured or shipped by ocean/air and they have little communication from the people who currently physically possess the games. In short, they don’t know what’s going on either.

Once games are in a warehouse like Fulfillrite or in the hands of the courier handling last-mile delivery, communication tends to improve. We often send out tracking numbers that make it easier for people to figure out where their games are in transit.

 

12. How can we handle the less environmentally-friendly parts of fulfillment?

It’s pretty incredible that you can move goods across the world a matter of days. What’s not incredible are the fossil fuels that are burnt, the greenhouse gases that are released, and the packaging that is created and then quickly disposed of.

Fulfillrite is aware of environmental concerns and we take steps to make sure our operations are as green as possible. For one, we’re physically close to the Newark, JFK, and LaGuardia airports. We’re also physically close to the Port of New York & New Jersey. Not only does this cut down on costs, but it also means inventory doesn’t have to travel very far by truck to get to us. This cuts down on a lot of harmful emissions.

We’re also careful not to use more packaging than we need. We send a lot of small items, so we use small boxes to send items instead of larger standardized boxes. Since we use smaller boxes, this saves the materials needed not just for the boxes but also for padding the inside of the boxes too. In short, we keep your games safe and snug without senselessly harming the environment.

 


 

As you can see, fulfillment has a lot of moving parts. We hope that by taking the time to answer some of your questions, you better understand the extraordinary inner workings of the processes that ship games to your home.

Have any more questions? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear them 🙂

 

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Board Gaming in 2029: Kickstarter & Cardboard 10 Years from Now

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The year is 2029. Everybody has jetpacks and Amazon is the only company in existence. What does board gaming look like in this brave new world 10 years into the future? And for that matter, what happened to Kickstarter?

 

Board gaming in 2029.

 

I’m going to do something I don’t do on this blog. I’m going to try my hand at futuring, that fabled profession of the mystics. While unscientific, unfalsifiable, and usually wrong, I nevertheless think this is an important exercise sometimes. When you’re trying to come up with a business strategy that works, you need to think five or ten years down the road. By extrapolating from current trends, you can try to envision the world you will soon inhabit. As Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

These are just my thoughts. They’re not hard facts and this isn’t a how-to guide. I want to start a conversation about the future of board gaming, even if you think some of this stuff is totally off-base.

 

Kickstarter will become a store.

In my recent article, Could Kickstarter Become a Board Game Store by 2020, I talked about why I believe Kickstarter could become a store in the near future. The year 2020 is a nice, clickable title that just happens to be feasible. In reality, I could Kickstarter becoming a store anywhere between 2020 and 2023.

The short version of my argument is that Kickstarter has already started taking pre-orders. This marks a dramatic change in the way they have historically done things. Not to mention, around 10% of campaigns don’t fulfill rewards at all, and those that ship are basically always late. In some countries, Kickstarter is not allowed because of consumer protection laws.

If all that weren’t enough, Kickstarter has financial incentives to become a store, because they take funding based on success. Furthermore, they have the brand recognition and loyal community they need to pull it off. They could very easily pivot into “a store for small businesses / creative professionals.”

 

The traditional publishing business process will be much more viable than self-publishing.

You’d still be able to get your board gaming fix, don’t you worry. There are all kinds of small companies that publish board games and for ones that have already had a measure of success, you’re not frontloading the entire cost of board gaming, just the manufacturing cost that Kickstarter would cover. This is likely to happen even if Kickstarter doesn’t become a store because there is some evidence that suggests your first time on Kickstarter is harder than ever.

Though you’ll still be able to buy great board games, that extra expense would knock a lot of self-publishers out of the game entirely. Board gaming as an industry isn’t declining, but rather maturing. The explosive growth is slowing down, which makes it a little harder for first-timers in business, too.

 

Some board gamers will become intensely interested in RPGs.

While board games still grew from 2016 to 2017 by 13%, RPGs did 22% at the same time. The year before that, the growth rates were 22% and 29% respectively. This is in stark contrast to the 2014 to 2015 growth rate where board games grew by 56% and RPGs by 40%.

Now, look, any economist worth your time will say “past returns do not guarantee future performance.” This is true. However, what made me look into all this data was the overwhelming amount of people on my Facebook group, social media channels, and chat room saying one of two things:

  1. Board gaming is getting stale and all the games look the same.
  2. I really want a story.

Number one is really telling. A lot of the people I see complaining are the exact same who were head-over-heels in love with board games in late 2015 and early 2016. They are early adopters. Many of them are superbackers on Kickstarter. With the love fading, some keep buying games and hoping they’ll find something great. Others leave board games entirely.

The second point is different. Board gaming does allow us to tell stories, but RPGs are a far better medium for that. In fact, the core component of any given RPG is essentially the sourcebook. The sourcebook contains lore as well as the rules the RPG universe abides by. RPGs rely on players to tell stories with the prompting and structure provided by a carefully crafted system. RPGs won’t scratch the board gamer itch for puzzles or crunchy heavy board games. They will definitely satiate desire for storytelling far better than board games typically would.

 

It will still be worth it to make board games if you love board gaming.

This post might make you feel awfully uncomfortable about making board games. Allow me to try to ease your unease. Creating hobby board games alone without integrating them into a larger business model such as transmedia storytelling doesn’t typically yield phenomenal amounts of money. The biggest board game campaign I remember was Exploding Kittens, which was in the neighborhood of $8 million. Matthew Inman might have walked away with $3 million in net profit from that. That’s a heck of a windfall, but he lives in Seattle, and frankly, you can’t retire wealthy on that sum. Oh, and by the way, he sells, in the words of Wikipedia “wall posters, greeting cards, calendars, clothing, coffee cups, signed prints, stickers, magnets, and badges.”

What board gaming has always done, however, is get people around the table to have a good social time without staring at a screen. In our increasingly digitized, alienating world, board games give us a chance to communicate with one another, escape our problems, and challenge our minds. While the amount of mechanics that can be applied to board games is finite, the number of possible expressions when combined with themes in nearly infinite. A well-made board game is an elegant system. It’s an art form.

If you love making board games, you should still make them! If you want to make a little money doing so, you can still pitch to a publisher or make a small business. The rules of engagement will change between now and 2029, but this shouldn’t dash your dreams. It will simply change the methods needed to achieve them.

 

 

Final Thoughts

I know this is a lot to take in. Ten years into the future of board gaming is tough to imagine. Yet by practicing this exercise, we stretch our imaginations, reset our expectations, and become better planners.

What do you think board gaming will look like in 10 years? Let me know in the comments below!

 

How to Build Your First Online Community to 1000 Members (or More)

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Building an online community can be daunting at first. The internet is already so noisy. You can feel like your voice isn’t heard and that community building is futile. Fortunately, this is not the case!

Many of you know me through the Pangea Games Discord server I run (1,400 members at the time I write this) or the Pangea Games Facebook group (1,700 members). Both of these are active, engaged, friendly communities where board game developers and board game lovers get together to share ideas, commiserate in success, and improve upon failure.

Many have asked me how I’ve done this and how you can do the same. If you’re among them, it’s your lucky day! As it turns out, it’s not actually all that hard to build a community. It just takes a lot of work 🙂

 

Online community

 

First, let’s define an online community. As I see it, an online community is any place that people are actively engaged in conversation on the Internet. Actively engaged meaning that people check in regularly and talk to one another. It’s a simple definition, but you’ll notice that it specifically excludes online platforms where nobody ever engages. Engagement is key here.

With that in mind, let’s cover eight simple steps that I use to build online communities.

 

1. Choose the right gathering place for your online community.

Before you have a wedding, you need a venue. The venue will determine the decor, the number of guests you can have, and the general mood. Online communities are similar. There are many venues you can choose – your own website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, forums, subreddits, chat servers like Discord… You know what, grab a chair because this list can go on for a while.

Think deeply about what you are trying to accomplish by community building. Then choose one to designate as your gathering place. I chose to create a Discord server because Discord is a popular, free chat app for real-time discussion that’s targeted at gamers. Likewise, I chose to create a Facebook group because Facebook is the world’s water cooler and because groups are favored by Facebook’s algorithms (which prioritize active discussions).

I cannot give you a hard and fast rule to tell you which gathering place is right for you and your online community. You will need to use your best judgment.

 

2. Establish a theme and ground rules to ensure positive discussion.

Early on, you want to make sure your community has a clear theme. For my Discord server, the theme is simple: this is a place for board game developers to talk shop. The Facebook group is similar, however, the contests I use to promote it – more on that in a moment – make it friendly for both developers and hardcore gamers.

Once you have a theme, come up with some basic ground rules. Don’t overengineer it. Nobody will read super-legalistic community rules. For example, here is what I use on Facebook:

  1. Be excellent to each other.
  2. Don’t discriminate.
  3. Be classy about self-promotion. You’re allowed to self-promote – just be considerate!
  4. Don’t spam.
  5. Help others out any way you can.
  6. Invite whoever you want, as long as they’re chill.
  7. Don’t do or coordinate anything illegal here – your mom raised you better than that!

I start with a positive rule. “Thou shalt nots” will only get you so far. Rules 2, 4, and 7 are obvious ones – don’t be any kind of -ist or -phobic, don’t tell me how you made $87,122 working from home, and don’t talk about your illegal gambling den. Numbers 5 and 6 reiterate the positive rules, with 6 doubling as encouragement to invite.

The trickiest rule here is 3. Decide how you’re going to handle self-promotion. You can police it heavily by banning self-promotion or limiting it to a certain amount per week. Alternatively, you can allow it all (within reason) and let Facebook’s algorithm do the sorting. (Bad ideas get buried in active communities, so I don’t sweat it). No matter what you choose, be explicit about how you handle self-promotion.

 

3. Invite about 20 of your friends so the room’s not empty.

Before you can build a meaningfully engaged community, you need to establish a normal pace of conversation. Invite about 20 people who you already know. Start conversational topics on a daily basis and encourage them to comment. You don’t have to push extremely hard for engagement yet, you just need to make sure your community isn’t a ghost town when you really put your foot on the gas promoting it.

 

4. Establish norms.

Nobody cares about your rules. Perhaps 10% of people will read them and far fewer will remember them. Because of this, norms matter far more than rules. Setting good rules is part of setting good norms, but it’s not the most important part.

If you’re going for engagement, you need to make a point to ask an interesting question every day. Come up with hundreds of questions you can ask to start a conversation and schedule them in advance. When people start to respond to your questions, like their comments and reply as often as possible. If someone behaves in a negative or undesirable manner, gently nudge them in the right direction (or delete the comment).

Constantly encourage positive and meaningful engagement. Constantly discourage negative behavior. Again, this is before you start really promoting your community. Once you set good norms, people will start following that old monkey-see, monkey-do rule. Surrounded by smart and kind people, people will become themselves smart and kind.

 

5. Give people a reason to join your online community.

Once you have a month or two of engagement, you can create reasons for people to join your online community. They can be simple, such as individually crafted messages over social media. They can be flashy, like the board game giveaways I do twice monthly on the Facebook group. Either way, you need to give people a reason to join.

 

6. Push to 1000 members.

Early on with the Pangea Games Discord server, I hand messaged nearly 10,000 people on Twitter and Instagram. It took about 100 hours over weeks of effort. When I was done, I had just shy of 1,000 members in the community and it was actively engaged. It has remained active without sustained effort.

I don’t know what it is about 1,000 members specifically, but this seems to be the point at which communities are self-sustaining. There have been entire weeks where I’ve dropped out of Discord and barely been on Facebook, and the communities are still running. This should be your goal.

“Brandon, I don’t have thousands of followers or the time to message all of them.” Hey, that’s fair – there are many other options. For example, I use the blog – which pulls traffic primarily from search engines – to pull in new members to the Discord server. I use regularly scheduled giveaways of popular board games to encourage engagement on the Facebook group, as well as other related channels.

Of these, you may find giveaways to be the most accessible option. In that case, I recommend you check out Gleam.io for running contests. I’d also like to point out that these contests don’t have to be super-expensive. Often, a $50 prize is more than enough to get people’s attention and $25 in ads can go a long way toward further spreading the word of your contest. I’m a notorious tightwad and even still, the prospect of pulling in hundreds of people for around $100 per month is very attractive.

 

7. Listen to feedback to keep your online community healthy.

Once your community is self-sustaining, people will start conversations on their own, without your input. This is really good! Every once in a while, you’ll see criticism of your administration or even simply an expressed desire for new features. Listen carefully to what people are saying. You don’t have to cave to every demand, but the occasional incorporation of feedback into your methods goes a long way toward a healthy community.

 

8. Don’t overspecialize on one platform.

This is less of a community-building step, but more a necessary caution. If you’re hoping to build an online community, you are likely doing so because you’re building a business. That means your community is not merely a cool thing you do, but a lead generator for product sales, consulting, etc. It may also be a valuable part of your branding, too.

If you depend entirely upon a single platform like Facebook or Twitter to build a community, you become dependent on a company whose success has nothing to do with yours. Facebook changes their rules all the time. Twitter might get bought out. Discord could disappear tomorrow.

Sound conspiratorial? It’s not. Facebook tightened their rules for contests lately, which led to people – including me – changing the way they run their groups. In a naughtier example, Tumblr changed their service to prevent certain sorts of 18+ content from being posted. The change happened suddenly and was effective two weeks after the announcement, leaving many individuals whose content was not family-friendly high and dry. YouTube has a terrifying copyright strike system that can easily shut down movie reviewers for using copyrighted content.

My point here is simple: build a community on more than one platform. Our online channels are handled by very large corporations who can change the rules whenever they like. Don’t forget that.

 

Final Thoughts

Building an online community is a straightforward, repeatable process. It takes a lot of work, but it’s well worth it in the end. You’ll be able to generate leads, communicate directly with a larger audience, establish your brand presence, and figure out what people want. Not to mention, it’s a lot of fun.

Have any questions about building an online community? Let me know in the comments below 🙂

 

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