What is your board game worth?

Posted on Posted in Philosophy

Economics is a head-spinningly complex field, but you have to understand at least a little of it to successfully pitch an idea. Specifically, you need to be thinking about how people determine what’s valuable. The way you value your game is way different than how everybody else will.

Photo taken by 401(k) 2012 and posted to Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0, License, Source)

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Game developers are emotionally involved with their projects, but you have to put that aside sometimes to see what other people see.

There are a lot of different lenses through which you can view board games. Even if you do all the art and play-testing yourself, you’d have to have your game manufactured and retailed before it’s played and resold. From the time your game is conceived to the time it is manufactured, retailed, played, and resold, the value of your game will change constantly depending on who’s holding it and what it means to them.

Think about everything that goes into a game from the creator’s standpoint. Your game will take a lot of time and emotional commitment to create. That means you’ll value it higher than anyone else in the world will. You’ll have to spend at least some money on the testing phase (research) and some more money on the art and sampling phase (development). Once you get all the R&D done, you’ll have to pony up some cash to have the game printed. For a creator, a game’s value is measured in time and emotional commitments, research and development costs, and manufacturing costs – before it even hits the shelves.

Once the manufacturer has your specs, they’re valuing your game, too. They see it as raw parts: cardboard, plastic, wood, paper, and ink. They have to start factoring in labor and the overhead that comes with running a print shop, like keeping the lights and heat on. To them, the value of your game is what you’re paying for it minus the parts, labor, and a portion of their overhead. To a manufacturer, your game is valued physically more than anywhere else.

Offset Printing
This is your game according to the print shop. Photo taken by Ms. Tharpe and posted to Flickr. (CC BY 2.0, License, Source)

You might directly sell your game, but it’s likely that you’ll want to get in some stores, too. Once a distributor or retailer has your game, the value of your game changes again. They value your game by the profit they’ll make off of it. They pay you 30-40% of MSRP – very seldom more than that. Then they mark this up significantly and sell it to customers that way. They value your game in terms of the amount of money it will make them, how much shelf space it will take up, and – if you’re a real hot shot – whether it will bring people into their store. To retailers, your game is one among many.

Let’s talk about customers now. When they see your game on the store shelf, whether that be a virtual or brick-and-mortar store, they’ll almost definitely see two different prices. The first being the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) set by you and the second being the actual sale price for when the retailer inevitably ignores your silly suggestions. To them, the value of the game is the sale price, MSRP be damned. Then depending on your customer, it might be their fourth game or their four hundredth game. Some gamers are looking for something fun to play with a few friends and some gamers are collectors looking to fill a niche in their collection. Collectors and social gamers have different senses of value, but they ultimately both want to create good memories. Some gamers hang out with their friends and some gamers just like having a little bit of everything. The value of your game to a customer once the box is open is in the memories you create, if you’re doing well. If you’re not, it’s primarily in the cost of the game and how much they can get trying to sell it used on Amazon for less.

Board Game Shelf
This is your game according to your customer. Photo taken by rachel_pics and posted to Flickr. (CC BY-ND 2.0, License, Source)

A non-customer has a different picture of your game’s value. It’s not a pretty one. If someone doesn’t care about your game, that means your game has no value to them. Don’t waste your time trying to sell a board game to a non-gamer. In fact, don’t even waste your time trying to sell your board game to someone who dislikes the genre your game falls under. If you give someone a game and they never open it, then it can’t create memories. It has no value. It’s just a paperweight with a Board Game Geek listing.

Value is extremely subjective. Fit is everything. 

Yes, spend all the time you can making the best game you can. Try to sell it for as much as you can without scaring people off. Spend as little on R&D and manufacturing as you can without compromising quality. Just realize that your game is at its most valuable when you give it to people who see it as valuable. Value is not an intrinsic property to games. It’s created when you give it to the right person. Target the right audience. Find retailers and distributors who either specialize or are actively looking for games like yours. Find manufacturers who are used to making games like yours. Don’t just find a random one and make an unusual request.

You cannot change the world alone. You cannot change the industry alone. You can make a great game and give it to the right people.

Key Takeaways for Game Devs

  • Value is extremely subjective. Fit is everything.
  • Put aside your emotions and try to see your game as others see it.
  • For a game developer, a game is time and emotional commitment plus R&D and manufacturing costs.
  • For a manufacturer, a game is the profit minus the labor and raw materials.
  • For a retailer or distributor, a game is whatever they can make on markup.
  • For a gamer, a game is all about the memories they create.
  • For someone outside your audience, your game is a paperweight.

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