An Inside Look at Production and Kickstarter

In a previous post, I discussed the design aspect of VERBA and the decisions that went into the game play, rules, and layout of the cards. I wanted to spend a little bit of time, however, talking about the production side of things and the decisions (and costs) that go into that process because it’s probably the one thing that most people don’t think about when buying or playing a game; educational or otherwise.

Before talking about commercial printing, it’s worthwhile to note some of the decisions that also impact the total cost of a game. Artwork is huge part of most independent game designers’ budget. The going rate for a single art asset similar to a typical VERBA noun card is somewhere around $40 depending on the complexity of the image. If you were to multiply that by the 145 noun cards included in the VERBA Core Set, you’d be looking at a market rate of almost $6000. Thankfully we aren’t paying market rates, and we were able to refocus our energy from the Picturae project, but it’s important to understand that time has a value as well. We made a decision early on in the process that we wanted to separate VERBA from other language games by providing quality, full-color artwork to help establish meaning rather than providing endless piles of cards with simply words on them.

The world of commercial printing is very difficult for independent publishers. For the most part, you can’t get a quote for less than 500 copies of a game because of the amount of setup time it takes for a company to print. With board games, there are a lot of different parts, sizes, and shapes to consider and this only further increases the costs. Fortunately with card games, especially standard poker sized cards, it isn’t quite as bad.  

When it comes time to move from concept to production, there’s a lot to consider.

For example, the number of cards included with the game is one of the biggest factors. VERBA includes (as of right now) 195 playable cards; 50 sentence cards and 145 noun cards in each core set. With our current on-demand printer (that is, no minimum order), it is roughly 9 cents per card. Working out the math for printing, along with including shipping and other fees related to generation, it comes out to almost $20 to produce a single deck.

On top of that, for VERBA we use a simple hard plastic case to keep costs down. Ideally, I would love to have a quality two-part cardboard box, but in our current production setup it would add $6 or more to the cost under the current setup. Once you then add in credit card processing fees, shipping materials, and additional costs, suddenly the margin for any kind of “profit” (and I use that term loosely) is very small.

So why Kickstarter? What are the advantages?

Kickstarter has created an opportunity for independent and creative individuals to embrace their communities and, in a sense, provides a pre-sale+advertising platform with little financial risk. While ultimately almost 10% of the funds raised are taken by Kickstarter and their payment processing platform, the remaining funds are turned over to the creator of a project after a 14 day window and that seems to be a fair trade-off for access to the platform.

In the case of VERBA, bare minimum funding of the Kickstarter would allow us to order a production run of 1000 copies, possibly including upgraded packaging, and an additional ~25 noun cards. From a business perspective, it’d also allow us to move forward with development of additional languages (French, Chinese, and Ancient Greek are very much on the immediate radar) and it would allow us to continue to develop additional content for the existing languages.

Why does all of that hinge on the success of the Kickstarter? Simply put, content specialists (which we absolutely need for all languages) won’t work for free forever, and I wouldn’t want them to do so. If the Kickstarter fails, most likely is that we’ll continue to develop and expand the Latin version since that only requires time given the skill set of those of us who make up The Pericles Group.

Right now, things are trending in the wrong direction, despite over 800 downloads of the print and play file and thousands of page views:

VERBA: Español - A Spanish Language Card Game -- Kicktraq Mini

In short, this is a call to arms to support not just VERBA, but other independent designers on sites like Kickstarter. Often the greatest innovation happens not from the large corporations, but rather on the individual level, not only in edu and in other spaces as well. If you see something that you think is neat, back it. Often you’ll get a great reward (in terms of games, it is usually a copy of the game itself) and you’ll know that you helped new and unique things come into being.

But more than anything, individuals creating things at this level absolutely need you to help share the enthusiasm. That enthusiasm fuels others to become excited and that's how these projects catch fire and spread. Independent individuals just don't have the resources for advertisement that a major corporation does because all of their time, money, and energy goes into creation of these works. Without support, these works don't get made.

Here’s what I’m backing currently (or have backed recently) on Kickstarter. I'm sharing this partially because I’m a part of the community that some of these designers work in, but also because I genuinely think that their ideas are good and deserve to be recognized. Check them out:

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