Behind The Joy #9: Choose Your Own Adventure In Self-Publishing
Back in Behind The Joy #6, we talked about making the decision to either find a publisher for your design, or to self-publish your game. In that article, we argued that in today’s increasingly competitive board game market you should have a compelling reason to pursue self-publishing unless you happen to have a small financial fortune just hanging around. For the record, this compelling reason should not be “no one wanted to publish my game” unless there is an extenuating circumstance. If you receive several “no” responses from publishers that are good fits for your game, think long and hard before self-publishing. The publishers may have spotted a significant problem with your game.
Gather The Facts
Before you can make an informed decision to self-publish, you need to gather several key facts which will help you understand the scope and scale of the publishing commitment you are about to make. Get a few manufacturer quotes. Read up on what art and shipping cost. Look into business formation fees and taxes. When we did this back in November of 2014, we estimated our total expenses at about $35,000. Now, it is looking more like $40,000. It took us a while to work our way through the sticker shock, and that is a good thing. It is much better to go into this aware of the challenges and commitment than it is to be blind-sided during through the process.
Once you decide to move forward, take a deep breath and dive in! Find both a lawyer and a CPA you trust who can lead you through the challenges of finding the right kind of business structure to get you setup for legal and financial success. Dot your i’s and cross your t’s so it doesn’t come back to haunt you later!
New publishers typically use one of two models to fund their new business. Traditional publication involves procuring capital from banks or a few large investors before producing the game. These publishers use the investment capital to cover initial expenses, and then repay any loans out of game sales. In this model, your challenge is to find someone excited enough about your game to risk a large amount of their money. Additionally, loan payments can hurt the business’ ability to follow-up successful sales of the initial printing with sufficient funds for a second printing. On the other hand, traditional publishing carries the prestige involved in risking your own reputation on the success of the game. This prestige rests in the fact that the game should be good enough to merit the risk.
Crowd-funding websites like Kickstarter have created a second path to publication. This model relies on many people accepting a much smaller risk to collect the financial capital required to print the game. There are plusses and minuses to this method. While Kickstarter has upfront costs, there are no loan fees for a company to repay. Additionally, new companies do not have to pass a rigorous screening program to receive a large investment from a single bank or group of investors. That being said, people have abused the system to extract large sums of money without delivering a product. Others have produced products lacking in either design or component quality. As a result, board gamers have grown increasingly wary, and are demanding higher fidelity (finished art, rule books, reviews, etc) before supporting Kickstarters. For project creators, this places a burden to get their game financially through preproduction before beginning the Kickstarter campaign.
Both models can be used effectively. New companies should carefully consider their options and available resources before making final decisions.
We hope you found this overview of the designer-publisher relationship useful! Next time, we jump back to the big decision, and explore what it is like to walk the self-publishing road. As always, fire away with comments & questions!
Pat & Kat Lysaght