Don’t Just Build a Board Game, Build a Business

Posted on 35 CommentsPosted in Behind the Scenes

Last week, I talked about Kickstarter, and how I could see that website changing in the near future. It occurred to me shortly after I wrote that article that many people approach board games with the intention of making money, but not necessarily making games as an end to itself. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this, and you can certainly make good money producing board games. The only trouble is that many of the people who see board games as a vehicle to get rich quick don’t realize that you have to build a business along the way.


Construction - Build a Business in Board Games


For those of you who get into board games because you’re seeking money or looking for something to do in your spare time, this is an article for you. If you’ve released a game and you’re staring down the yawning chasm of “what next,” this is an article for you, too. Those among us who want to test the waters for different industries like video games, RPGs, or toys – this is for you, too.


Think long-term.

It takes a long time to build a business. The simple fact is that if you’re not a fortunate son starting out with tons of spare cash or hands-on mentorship from early in your life, you’re going to have to learn the hard way. It will most likely take three to five years to turn a profit, and if you’re working full-time or have a family, it could take longer.

There’s no shame in taking your time! It does mean, however, that you have to plan for five or ten years down the line. You can’t merely be a trend-chaser because trends change very fast. If your intent is merely to make beautiful board games as a creative endeavor, then you should do that and have fun doing so! However, if you want to make money and you have to build a business, you have to see gamers as customers.

When you build a business, you can’t simply give customers a new variation on something very old. That may be your end result, but you have to either go through a specific process where you figure out what they need and then make that or, you know, get really lucky. You have to find your target market, figure out what they need, and then figure out how to address them. In the end, you may do this through games, or you might do it through something else entirely!


Build a business by building a platform.

Let’s say you’re convinced by now that you need to think long-term. Your intention is to make money with board games being just one possible way to do that. With board games being difficult to make and the likelihood of success being several years away, how do you build a platform that can weather the storms? A lot of things can tear you down when you try to build a business – failed product launches, dried-up funding, personal crises. Even if you have some early successes, you may not be bringing in the kind of money you hope for. You need the ability to pivot and diversify into related businesses.

In short, you need to build a brand. This is one of those pieces of advice that gets passed around on the internet so often that it becomes meaningless. Here’s what this actually means: you need to encapsulate your intentions, your abilities, and your interests into a set of associations. Those associations include a name, logo, website, social media, mailing lists, etc. If you do this right, you can explore different areas in business without losing everything. If you do this really well, then over time, you can bring in income from lots of different sources, which would leave you free to be more creative in the long run.


Build a business by building a community.

Having a platform is one thing. Having a lot of people to talk to is something entirely different. Obviously, the marketing benefits of having a large community are numerous. You can generate more leads, market test ideas, and generally spread your ideas to a larger audience. Yet that’s not the only reason to build a community or network.

When you build a business, having a community can help you meet valuable contacts. Knowing the right people can help you know which opportunities to pursue. They can help steer you away from unprofitable or unenjoyable directions. What’s more, the people you meet may very well make fantastic teammates for future projects.


Create situations where you can fail and still try again.

Last but not least, some degree of failure is inevitable when you’re talking about time frames spanning multiple years. You need to be able to recover quickly when you fail. Yes, that is a when since the experimentation necessary to succeed will invariably lead you down some misguided path at some point. This is especially true early on.

For the first year or two, your goal is simple. Don’t get knocked out of business. Stay solvent on your debts and hope that by continuing to work, build a platform, and build a community, that better days will come. After that, your job is to use the resources you’ve gained – whether that’s some hard-earned cash or brand equity – and put it to good use by making something truly profitable.


Final Thoughts

When you realize that trends change as people find different ways to meet needs – which are themselves in flux – the whole context in which you build a business changes. The scope widens. You stop seeing things in terms of “the next board game I’m going to make.” You begin to see the next way to allow people to escape their problems. Games become one of many ways to provide an intellectual challenge. Your design becomes a way to bring communities together.

Focus on people’s needs and how you can meet them. If you can do this with your own platform and your own community in your own authentic voice, then you have a much better chance of long-term success. Kickstarter could go offline tomorrow, board games could become unpopular, and customers could flee to entirely different products. Then there you would be – still be standing there with another chance to succeed.




Could Kickstarter Become a Board Game Store by 2020?

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about the future of Kickstarter. Many of the game developers I work with have expressed hesitation about the platform that I didn’t see in 2015 or 2016. Anecdotally, the platform seems to be getting harder to succeed on. The great irony being that their whole claim to fame was that it would help creative small businesses get started. So what’s going on?



They say Kickstarter is not a store…

Kickstarter Is Not a Store. At least, that’s what this seven-year-old article on their blog says. The idea of Kickstarter is that they would help you raise, through backers, enough funding to make your creative project come to life. The subtext being that you wouldn’t be able to raise the funding without this very special crowdfunding site.

Companies like CMON go to Kickstarter, raise funding for games they would be able to make even without the platform, and use the site in a way that’s very close to a pre-order system. Granted, that’s not quite pre-ordering since they are raising manufacturing costs, but there’s a degree of certainty to it that really small businesses can’t provide or compete with. Now, while this may go against the spirit of Kickstarter, I still consider this fair game. CMON makes pretty good games, and it’s hard to complain about that.

What I find a lot more alarming – at least for first-time game developers – is that, yes, some campaigns on Kickstarter actually have started taking pre-orders. That means the games already physically exist and people are effectively buying them from Kickstarter as if it were a store. If larger companies on Kickstarter follow suit and raise the standards to where manufacturing must be complete prior to Kickstarter, then that’s it. It becomes a de facto store.


Kickstarter has good reasons to become a store.

“But that’s against the whole spirit of Kickstarter, Brandon, why would they become a store?” The simple fact is that Kickstarter has a ton of really compelling reasons to become a store. First of all, Kickstarter gets paid 5% of every successful campaign’s funding. They get paid more when people succeed. You’ll notice that the most successful campaigns tend to be ones that aren’t risky. They tend to come from people who know what they’re doing. Kickstarter could absolutely lean into this and only accept finished products for campaigns.

Kickstarter has come a long way since 2009, and many successful projects are nearly complete once the campaign starts. When a campaign is successful, pages wind up looking pretty close to storefronts. Aesthetically and functionally, Kickstarter is creeping toward being a traditional online store like Amazon.

Kickstarter doesn’t have to change much to become a store either. They can either amend their rules to allow people to sell already-created goods as rewards or they can simply stop enforcing their moratorium on pre-orders which, by the way, they’ve already begun to do.


Negative reinforcement is a factor, too.

Consider also that our favorite crowdfunding has a lot of negative aspects to it that would go away if it became a more traditional store. At the end of 2015, nearly 10% of campaigns did not even fulfill their rewards at all. If you only had a 90% chance of receiving a product after purchasing it from Amazon or eBay, you wouldn’t purchase it! Simple as that!

On top of that, in late 2012, as many as 84% of projects shipped late. If we consider this separate from the 10% that don’t fulfill at all, that leaves a mere 6% of campaigns that arrive on-time. That’s an awful user experience, and you have to wonder exactly what compels people to keep coming back. Is it really about helping creators bring their projects to life any more, since Kickstarter has been regularly creeping toward becoming a store? Or rather, is it about purchasing things that fit into a certain “indie/creative” niche that Kickstarter covers better than anyone else. If it’s the latter, our favorite crowdfunding site could better serve that market need by becoming a store.

Did you know Kickstarter is illegal in Finland? That is because they have consumer protection laws in place that are intended to protect their citizens from websites that, I don’t know, fail to meet basic business standards 94% of the time. Honestly, it’s not hard to imagine these kinds of consumer protection laws taking hold in the US or EU. As much as I love crowdfunded board games, I get the logic behind these laws.

On top of that, I’ve seen a more negative attitude lately on social media toward Kickstarter. I know this anecdotal and personal. Nevertheless, I’m seeing people with “Kickstarter ennui” in far greater frequency than what I saw in 2015 or 2016. It could be because I’m confirming my own biases, but I really don’t think that’s the case.


What does this mean for first-time game developers?

First and foremost, everything I’ve said in this article is pure theory. Kickstarter hasn’t publicly announced an intention to become a traditional store. I still think crowdfunding is a viable path to publishing for a lot of game developers, especially those with the foresight to work in a team.

Furthermore, I don’t think a world in which our favorite crowdfunding site becomes a traditional store is actually all that different. It’s expensive to make games already, and manufacturing is just one of many expenses that you’ll run into. No matter what, you have to make products with product-market fit and build an audience. Our favorite crowdfunding website is nothing more than the venue. You’re bringing literally everything else yourself. You still have to build a business.

My final thought on this matter is simple. Don’t rely solely on the existence of a single website for your success. Kickstarter may or may not be around in its current form in five years. The world is a wild place and it continues to surprise us. As such, you need to make sure your business is strong enough to stand on its own feet.

If 2020 comes and the news breaks saying “Kickstarter has officially become a store,” you shouldn’t be in a position where that would scare you. You should be able to look at your computer, finish the article, and say “who cares? I have start-up capital, I have an audience, and I have a platform of my own. I don’t need their site.”

Board Game Fulfillment & Why it Matters on Day 1 of Game Development

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Board game fulfillment is really complex. In fact, fulfillment often determines how big games are and how many components can be included. Many game developers think about fulfillment only after their project is complete – and you can certainly get away with it! But today, this guest post by Michael of Fulfillrite will explain why you should think about board game fulfillment on day 1 on game development.

If you’re unfamiliar with the basic concepts of fulfillment, go ahead and take a few minutes to read other articles on the subject I’ve done:

Anyway, that’s enough out of me! Over to you, Michael…




For all you boardgame developers, you know how much creativity and hard work is involved with getting started. From scribbling your ideas onto the proverbial napkin, to actually crafting prototypes, play-testing, redoing it all, and finally getting your game to reviewers, there is no shortage of details and learning curves. You rely on amazing communities like this one to educate, encourage, and inspire.

Once your game is finally in the manufacturing stage, whether you got there through crowdfunding campaigns like Kickstarter, or for the brave, through out-of-pocket investment, many creators rely on publishers to handle, or at least guide them, through the rest of the process. But aye, there’s the rub. “The Rest of the Process” is all about logistics, freight, customs, tariffs, shipping storage, and ultimately, fulfillment. These are not the terms that lit the fire that got you into boardgame development. In fact, they can make your eyes gloss over, and have you reaching for some Rolaids.

If you’ve read this far, it probably means you are an optimistic person, who is hoping this article will solve this problem for you and lead you straight through Logistics Confusion, and on to Tabletop Nirvana.

So, good news and bad news. The bad news is you are going to have to get educated and spend some time involved in an area of development you might not have wanted to. The good news is that this article will cut through the underbrush, machete-style, and focus on giving you the education you need to make the best decisions for successful game fulfillment.

So let’s dive right in.


Q: Who are you, and why should I trust you? And what have you done with Brandon?

A: I’m Michael, and I work at Fulfillrite, an order fulfillment company that has worked with Kickstarter for years, especially in the tabletop arena. We have fulfilled hundreds of boardgame projects for one-time and serial game publishers. We got into this business because of the passion and creativity of the creators we work with, and have built a business model that is all about the success of each individual project.

Brandon is fine. He is an old colleague of our CEO, Charlie Brieger, and has collaborated with us in the past. He will be returned to you unharmed. Promise.


Q: As a boardgame developer, when should I start thinking about fulfillment?

A: Before you think you should. When you are sketching out your early ideas for the physical game, thinking about fulfillment is already important.


Q: Why so early?

A: The simple answer is money. Ultimately, for your game to be a success, it will have to be lucrative. And, what many folks don’t realize is that aside from the actual manufacturing of the game, the supply chain logistics – freight & customs, storage, pick & pack, and, most importantly postage – will be the single greatest expense in the entire process. For example, when doing a basic profit analysis, lots of developers will approach it like this:



 –  COSTS (in order: manufacturing, art and design, marketing, misc.)

PROFITS minus a small amount for shipping and fulfillment.


In actuality, the calculation looks more like this:



–  COSTS    (in order: manufacturing, fulfillment, art and design, marketing, misc.)



Q: Ok, I understand that the costs of fulfillment are high. How can thinking about it early help?

A: Good question. The more you know about which particular factors affect the fulfillment costs, the more actions you can take early on to create, market, and sell your game for maximum profits, and lowest fulfillment expenses.


Q: For example?

A: To start with, we’ll use the single biggest cost factor in fulfillment: postage fees. And the most important aspect of postage costs are the size and weight of the game. The smaller and lighter your game is, the lower your costs will be to ship. Now, while you are developing the look, feel, and physical properties of the game, understanding this fact can change what you create and how it is presented. Using a smaller board, lighter weight pieces, and fewer cards will allow you to ship the game for less. Mentioning your concern about economical shipping to your game manufacturer will give them an indication of which options to offer, and how you would like the game put together.


Q: So, lighter is better. But my game needs a larger board. And the cut-outs, meeples, and other inclusions simply need to be sturdier. Is there nothing I can do then?

A: You don’t want to compromise on the playing experience, and the right materials and size of the board are important. Still, there’s a lot you can do. There are fillers and trays that can be reduced or eliminated which won’t affect the playing, but which do take up a lot of space and volume. Sometimes there are more expensive and luxurious options like titanium meeples, which you opt out of because they cost more, but are in fact much lighter and cheaper to ship. Instruction booklets in their own compartment and extra packaging may feel like a nice, inexpensive touch, but when you factor size and weight, they might be a bigger expense than you think.


Q: You keep mentioning size. Aside from the weight, how does that factor in?

A: When carriers decide how much a package will cost to ship, they use a calculation commonly called “dimensional weight.” This is how they are able to charge you for more than just the absolute weight, but for how much “real estate” your parcel takes up in their trucks and facilities. Each carrier has their own version of the formula, but for now, just keep in mind that the larger the actual package is, the more you are likely to pay. The good news is that there are things you can do to lighten the dimensional footprint without changing anything about the boardgame experience. Fillers, trays, and the way the components are packed can be optimized for a smaller size boardgame.


Q: How much more is shipping, say, per ounce, or per centimeter?

A: I wish there were a simple answer to that question. It is more about which shipping tier the item fits into than an ounce here or there. For example, for an item to fit into a first class USPS postage, it needs to be less than 16 ounces. The difference between 15 ounces and 16 ounces is far greater than the difference between 10 ounces and 15 ounces. The same is true with sizes. There are certain limitations to less expensive shipping methods, after which the shipping becomes much more expensive.

Let’s say you mentioned the size of your board. Once you are somewhat familiar with the size limitations for all three dimensions, as well as the weight, you can actually have the same product produced, but since it is configured differently, you can fit it into a less expensive overall package, meaning a less expensive shipping method. A board folded into four or six sections might be a whole lot better when it comes to shipping than the same board folded in half.


Q: Wow. I can’t possibly know how all the sizes, weights, configurations go together and what the shipping costs will be. Nor am I about to learn them all, frankly. What do I do?

A: Don’t panic. We’re here to help. And by “we,” I mean the people in the fulfillment industry. Get in touch with a great fulfillment center early and tell them about your project. Give them some basic weights and sizes around which you can create a game. Also, reach out to your manufacturer and find out what the standard size game boxes are so you can inform your fulfillment partners. They will help you understand where the various cut off points are for the choices you are considering. We at Fulfillrite, for example, work closely with game manufacturers when they are putting together games so that the game is produced with shipping optimization in mind.



As you can see, board game fulfillment is pretty complex. You have to consider factors such as size, weight, and cost without letting your product quality slip. It’s a tough balancing act!

By thinking about board game fulfillment early, your business is in a much better position to succeed. And of course, if you need help, you can always turn to Fulfillrite.