Category Archives: Otters

Financial breakdown of the Otters Kickstarter project

I’m a big fan of transparency. When new game designers / publishers are just getting started, having detailed stories from people who’ve gone before them is a big help (it definitely was for me).

With that in mind, I wanted to share a detailed financial breakdown of my kid-friendly card game, Otters. This will cover everything from the initial concept of the game on November 1, 2013, up to the publication date of this article, April 28, 2014. It’s a six-month period during which I designed Otters, playtested it, got art and graphic design, found a manufacturer, built and ran a Kickstarter campaign and then fulfilled all of my Kickstarter pledges.Otters Cover HighRes v1.00

A few notes:

  • I’m proud to say that I delivered Kickstarter rewards ahead of schedule. My expected delivery date on the campaign page was May 2014, and here we are in April with the rewards already out the door! (I’m sure a few international backers won’t actually receive their packages until early May, but I shipped them all by April 26.)
  • There are still seven Kickstarter backers to whom I have not yet shipped rewards. One is local to Colorado, and she will be arranging an in-person pickup. Three haven’t filled out their surveys yet. Three indicated that they wanted to add something to their order but haven’t paid for the add-ons yet. The total amount of add-on payments I have yet to receive is pretty close to the total shipping costs I have not yet paid, so that’s going to be more or less a wash and won’t change these numbers dramatically.
  • If you want the quick summary, I ended up turning a very, very small profit on the game: About $250. This is on a Kickstarter that raised over $5,000. Call it a 5% profit margin (without getting anything for my labor, of course).

Income

The income side of the equation is pretty simple. I brought in money from the Kickstarter campaign, I had some post-Kickstarter add-ons to backer pledges, and I sold a few pre-order copies to non-Kickstarter backers.

  • Kickstarter pledges: $5,321.00
  • Post-Kickstarter add-ons from backers: $321.60
  • Pre-orders from non-KS backers: $35.32

Total income: $5,677.92

Public domain money bag icon

Expenses

I’m going to break expenses into several categories, because I think that will be most useful for other Kickstarter project creators.

Expense: Kickstarter / Amazon fees: $499.17

Once the Kickstarter campaign ended, backer credit cards were charged via Amazon payments. Each charge showed up in my Amazon payments account with some money coming to me and some money going to Amazon/Kickstarter.Kickstarter Logo

I ended up moving money from my Amazon payments account to my business bank account in three waves: One the day after the campaign ended (the bulk of the transfer), one a few days later after a few backers had updated their credit card information so that the payment would go through, and one three weeks later when the last backer’s payment finally went through correctly. I simply added up the total money I was able to transfer to my bank account and compared it to the total pledges to get the fees lost to Kickstarter and Amazon.

I’ll note that this expense was 9.38% of the total pledged. So, all the advice you see about expecting these fees to be 10% – that’s pretty good advice.

One last note here: Every single backer paid me. When I read about other Kickstarter projects, I’ll usually hear about 5% of backer payments failing to go through and never getting fixed. I had a grand total of one backer who took longer than a day or two to have his payment go through, and while I was expecting to write that one off as lost even he came through in the end.

Expense: Card print runs: $2,038.55

Naturally, this is the biggest expense for a card game like Otters. I used DriveThruCards as my manufacturer for Otters, and I’m completely happy with them. The card quality was excellent, the communication was excellent, the speed of production was excellent… what more can I say? I hope they someday offer custom tuck boxes for card decks, but I can live without them.Otters print run photo 1

This expense is actually two separate expenses: $1,688.10 for the main print run, and $350.45 for the “Speedy Otters” print run that I had done before the campaign started. That Speedy run gave me decks to ship to Speedy Otters backers right after the campaign ended (those went out within a week) as well as review copies to send to bloggers and podcasters in advance of the campaign.

Expense: Quality Assurance: $65.60

This covers the cost of test decks from DriveThruCards, both prior to my initial print run and prior to my main print run. QA is important, folks!

The borders on all of the cards were supposed to be blue. For my first test deck, they weren't.
The borders on all of the cards were supposed to be blue. For my first test deck, they weren’t.

Expense: Art and graphic design: $886.12

Otters uses primarily Creative Commons licensed photographs for the “art” on the cards, which doesn’t generally cost money – but I ended up sharing some of my profits with a photographer who let me use a ton of his photos (not required, but he asked and I thought it would be nice).

This expense is mainly made up of the cost of graphic design – the Otters logo, the cover design, the card layout, rule sheet layout, creation of PDFs for DriveThruCards, etc.Otters Rule Sheet 05

It also includes the cost of a couple of illustrations that I commissioned before the campaign began, when I thought that a stretch goal would be for illustrations instead of photos. We hit that stretch goal, but my backers preferred photos over illustrations as it turned out, so those illustrations were unused.

Expense: Custom cloth bags: $374.00

This covers the cost of manufacturing and shipping for 50 custom Otters bags.photo 5

Expense: Supplies: $209.70

Most of this expense ($121.93) covers the cost of 500 blank brown cardboard flip-top boxes shipped to my door, each big enough to hold two Otters decks and a rule sheet comfortably.  I only went through about half of these for this campaign, but they come in 500 packs.

The other components are a box of 250 bubble mailers ($51.77) and a set of color printer ink that I went through in creating prototype decks ($36.00)

Expense: Printing labels and rule sheets: $168.41

I went to my local Staples office store for a whole bunch of printing over the course of this project.

For labels, I used some nice glossy sticker paper that I left over from my initial Chaos & Alchemy print run. I printed 9 labels per page, cut them apart with a paper cutter and stuck one to each box.

For rule sheets, I had Staples print on paper that was a step up from their normal quality; it just feels nicer.

Expense: Shipping: $1,065.61

Until I actually sat down and added this up, I didn’t know that I had crossed the thousand-dollar-mark in shipping expenses. Now, to be clear, $59.43 of this cost is for review copies of Otters that I sent out prior to the campaign. But that still means I spent over $1,000 in the cost of postage alone in getting Otters into the hands of my backers.

Shipping Update photo 1

Not included here is the cost of shipping labels; I already had plenty of them on hand.

Expense: Taxes: $124.77

This is a little bit of an estimate right now, and I know it’s not 100% correct, but we’ll go with it.Money 1

For sales tax, only a few backers are here in Colorado, so I’ll only owe a total of $5.62 in sales tax so far.

For income tax, I’m estimating based on applying my marginal federal and state income tax rate to the nominal profits I’ve made on this game so far. That’s not going to be the actual number in the end, I’m sure, because it’s ignoring inventory for one thing. But it’s a reasonable guess for now.

Expenses: Total

  • Kickstarter / Amazon fees: $499.17
  • Card print runs: $2,038.55
  • Quality assurance: $65.60
  • Art and graphic design: $886.12
  • Custom cloth bags: $374.00
  • Supplies: $209.70
  • Labels and rule sheets: $168.41
  • Shipping: $1,065.61
  • Taxes: $124.77

Total expenses: $5,431.93

Bottom line

  • Total income: $5,677.92
  • Total expenses: $5,431.93
  • Profit: $245.99

The future

Now, I’ve simplified things a little bit here.

First, I’ll say that if all I had to show for this whole experience with Otters was 246 more dollars in the Clay Crucible Games bank account than I had beforehand, I would still call this a success. I’ve created a game out of nothing and gotten it into the hands of hundreds of gamers around the world, and I even made a little money doing it. That’s pretty good.

However, I’m also left with some inventory. I have plenty of leftover game boxes, several labels and rule sheets, a few custom bags, and importantly, some Otters decks. After setting aside the 11 decks and 1 bag that I owe to backers who have either not paid for their add-ons or not completed their surveys, I still have 53 Otters decks and 9 custom bags on hand. I also have 11 Speedy Otters decks, which I have no idea what to do with (probably give away to worthy causes of some sort).

If I end up selling those decks and clear $9 of profit on average for each of them, and call it about the same for the bags, that would be another $558 in future profits.

Furthermore, I plan to eventually put Otters up for sale directly on DriveThruCards, and the sky’s the limit… but I’m not expecting anything crazy, of course!

I hope this helps!

My goal with this sort of post is to help other Kickstarter project creators and game designers / publishers to understand the financial reality of putting a game out there via Kickstarter. This was a very humble campaign, and it worked out just fine in my book. But I’m certainly not quitting my day job! 🙂

If you want to say thanks for the information, you can get yourself a copy of Otters right here.

Thanks for reading!

Michael Iachini, Clay Crucible Games

@ClayCrucible on Twitter

How to run a humble Kickstarter campaign

There are lots of lessons out there for running a big, blockbuster Kickstarter campaign. The advice is excellent, in my opinion.

However, when I was planning my campaign for Otters (which is now over, but you can get information about acquiring the game here), I wasn’t going for a blockbuster. I was going for humble.

What does humble mean?

Humble, in this case, means that I wasn’t looking for a ton of money (just $1,000). I didn’t plan for a ton of stretch goals. I didn’t want to promise something overly shiny. Just a fun little game for a reasonable price.

Most importantly, I didn’t want the Kickstarter campaign to take over my life!

Humble step 1: Low funding goal

A humble campaign only works if you don’t need a lot of money in order to deliver your project. In the case of Otters, I was using a print-on-demand company (DriveThruCards), which meant that I could theoretically just print a few decks and call it a day.

Some cases where this approach can work:

  • Print on demand games (DriveThruCards, The Game Crafter, etc.)
  • Digital-only projects (RPGs, art projects, comic projects, music downloads, etc.)
  • Capped rewards (handmade items where you’re only making, say, 50 of them)

Some cases where this approach probably doesn’t work:

  • Manufacturing projects (gadgets)
  • Games with lots of components (minis, dice, etc.)
  • Projects with big fixed costs (art commissions, recording studio time, crafting of molds for plastics)

Basically, if your project gets dramatically cheaper per backer to fulfill the more backers you have, it’s probably not a great fit for a humble campaign.

Humble step 2: Pay for graphic design

Wait, didn’t I say this campaign was humble? Doesn’t that mean I can’t afford to pay anyone?

Well, I can’t afford to pay a lot of people, but I can spend money where it counts: Graphic design.

Otters Card Back High Res

Your humble campaign still needs to look good. Backers need to have confidence that you’re a professional and that you know what you’re doing.

If you’re already a skilled graphic designer, great! If not, hire one. You at least need a logo, and you can use that to craft a consistent look and feel to your campaign.

In my case, I hired Dane Ault. I highly recommend him – he does freelance work! Give the man a call.

tumblr_static_danelogo

Humble step 3: Creative Commons art

Like I said, I can’t afford to hire a lot of people. This includes illustrators. Good art costs money, especially if you need a lot of art (such as in a game with lots of cards, each of which needs its own illustration).

This is the type of thing that Creative Commons was invented for. You can use Google Image Search – Advanced Search to find images that are available for reuse, even for commercial purposes. You’ll still need to make sure you give credit to the creators of those images in most cases (sometimes you’ll find true public domain images), but that’s a fantastic deal.

cc.logo.large

In my case, I was actually planning to pay illustrators to create custom illustrations if my campaign raised enough money, but by that point my backers were in love with the Creative Commons photographs of otters – so I just added a bunch more of them.

Otter illustrations by Maria Keller and Dane Ault; photograph by Paul Stevenson
Otter illustrations by Maria Keller and Dane Ault; photograph by Paul Stevenson

I’ll note that it’s not just illustration and photography that can be released under Creative Commons: You can find music, too, and even some other media.

Humble step 4: Getting the word out

This was the main step where I wanted to be humble. I’ve read so many stories of how Kickstarter campaigns will dominate the lives of their creators. You won’t sleep, you won’t eat right, your friends and family won’t see you, etc.

That’s not for me.

Now, this meant that I wouldn’t be able to maximize my campaign, and I had to be okay with that. Fortunately, I was indeed okay with that. I wanted to get Otters out there in the hands of families, and I wanted to make a little profit doing so, but I wasn’t planning to launch a gaming empire from this campaign.

My outreach mainly consisted of reviewers. I reached out to about a dozen game reviewers (you can find lots of them here, thanks to James Mathe) about five weeks before I launched the campaign to ask them if they would like a review copy of Otters. They all said yes. I sent them games, along with a letter containing details of the Kickstarter campaign, and they did their reviews.

I had several reviews that were already done before the campaign launched, which is hugely important for credibility (backers want to see third party opinions of your game). I also had several more that came out during the campaign.

There were blog reviews, video reviews, and podcast reviews. I only approached reviewers who were interested in covering Kickstarter games and who didn’t charge for their reviews (beyond the cost of sending them a game, of course). I tried to target folks who reviewed children’s games, since that’s what I was making.

Beyond reviewers, I kept my blog going and I talked about the game on my Twitter and Facebook pages (but not too much).

A special note on reddit: I only put up one post about Otters on reddit, and that was on the next-to-last day of the campaign. The /r/Boardgames subreddit can be very particular about spam. Reddit is a powerful force for traffic, but you have to be involved in the community and not just use it as an advertising platform. I’m pleased to say that my post about Otters got over 100 net upvotes, which is huge for me.

Humble step 5: Keeping the campaign in check

Now, I don’t mean that I actively tried to keep people from backing me in an effort to stay well away from $100K. I mean that I didn’t want the campaign to get swept up in too many stretch goals and add-ons.

With stretch goals, I had two. The first one, as I mentioned above, would let me pay for illustrations on the cards. As it turns out, the backers didn’t even want that.

The second stretch goal would let me have a rule sheet with the game instead of three cards with the rules on them. Amazingly enough, the backers seem to prefer the rule cards (though some do want the rule sheet).

I did have a stretch goal in mind in case the campaign hit the $15,000 level that would let me use a more traditional game manufacturer for a bigger print run with a custom printed box, but we never got close to that, and I’m okay with that.

As for add-ons, I only have one: A custom cloth bag to carry the game in.

Otters Dice Bag

A minor side note here: All of the various dollar amounts are set (serendipitously) such that I can tell what add-ons each backers has picked based on the dollar amount. In some cases, a backer might round up a $24 pledge to $25, but I usually know that:

  • $12 is a one-deck US backer
  • $20 is a one-deck international backer
  • $21 is a two-deck US backer
  • $24 is a one-deck and one-bag US backer
  • $29 is a two-deck international backer
  • $30 is a three-deck US backer
  • $32 is a one-deck and one-bag international backer
  • And so on

I wouldn’t suggest killing yourself to set up your pledge levels to have this feature, but it sure helps me keep track of things.

Humility achieved

If you want to run a simple little Kickstarter campaign rather than a blockbuster, keep it humble. This might be because you have a simple project that you just want to put out in the world. Or it might be because you want to establish your reputation on Kickstarter with something you know you can fulfill before you go for the big project down the line.

Either way, humble is good.

Michael Iachini

@ClayCrucible on Twitter

Otters is live on Kickstarter!

I’m so excited to announce that the first ever Kickstarter project run by Clay Crucible Games is now live on Kickstarter!

Otters is a kid-friendly card game full of adorable pictures of otters. It plays in about 10 minutes. The basic deck lets you play with two players (or two teams of two players each), or you can get a double deck to let you play with three or four players.

A $12 pledge gets you a deck shipped in the US, and you can up your pledge by $9 if you want a second deck.

You can even add in custom cloth bags to carry your game in if you want.

Check it out!

Michael Iachini

@ClayCrucible on Twitter

What’s up with Otters?

Editor’s note: This is my first blog post to originate on the Clay Crucible Games site directly instead of on my old site, Online Dungeon Master. I intend to ultimately bring my board game related posts from Online Dungeon Master over here, but I’m starting with this one.

Those of you who may have been eagerly following my blog posts about my National Game Design Month (NaGaDeMon) 2013 project, Otters, might be wondering what the heck ever happened with that game. Wasn’t I just about done with it in late November?

Well, yes, I was! And I was actually planning to put it up on DriveThruCards as a print-on-demand item. But then something came up:

Kickstarter.

After asking for opinions on some game- and Kickstarter-related Facebook groups, I decided that I might as well run a Kickstarter project for Otters rather than just tossing it on DriveThru and calling it a day.

Otters Kickstarter Image 03

There are a few reasons I decided to go this direction.

First, there’s the exposure. Lots of gamers are looking for games on Kickstarter, and they may well discover Otters if it’s there when they might not discover it if it were only on DriveThru. Now, that by itself isn’t much of a reason to run a Kickstarter project for a game, but it is a reason to consider.

Second, there’s packaging. While I love the quality of the cards from DriveThru, the only box they offer is a clear plastic box to drop your cards in. I’ve ordered some of these boxes, and I just don’t love them. If I order the cards shipped to me from DriveThru, I can put them in a box that I like a bit better, one with an actual Otters label on it.

Finally, there’s the potential for enhancement. Otters is ready to go right now, even before the Kickstarter launches. I ordered a small print run from DriveThru so that I would have copies to send to reviewers, and I even have some extras left over from that print run that I’ll offer to Kickstarter backers who want a game ASAP.

But I don’t have to leave Otters in its current state.

  • If the Kickstarter does well, it opens the possibility that I could hire an illustrator for cute custom otter images rather than sticking with the (also cute) photos that the cards have right now.
  • If the Kickstarter does REALLY well, I could even consider a much bigger print run from a more traditional manufacturing company, which could let me have Otters packaged in a real board game box (as opposed to the very humble flip-top cardboard boxes that I’ve been packaging review copies in).

Now, I’m keeping my expectations for the Otters Kickstarter campaign firmly in check. I’m only planning on trying to raise $500. But if it gets to the several thousand dollars level, well, I can improve the quality of the product. And that’s worth going to Kickstarter for.

Finally, the other reason I’m interested in Kickstarting Otters is that I want to get the experience of running a Kickstarter campaign. While I expect to mainly be a designer who designs game for others to publish, I want to know what it’s like to be a publisher, specifically one who uses Kickstarter. I did publish the first edition of Chaos & Alchemy myself, but I paid for that out of pocket. Could Clay Crucible Games be a full-on publisher one day? Probably not, but Otters is the perfect project for me to explore that possibility.

So there you have it: Otters will be coming soon to Kickstarter! I’m targeting a late January / early February launch, so keep your eyes peeled!

And if you want a sneak preview of what the Kickstarter page is going to look like, check it out here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1125132758/1664206759?token=b3fc11c9. As of this writing (January 15) the page isn’t 100% complete; I still need to add the main video, the learn-to-play video and some photos of the review copies (plus more reviews as they come in). But everything else is there. Let me know what you think as far as improvements go, either here on the blog, over on the Kickstarter preview page itself, or via email at ClayCrucible@gmail.com.

Michael Iachini – Clay Crucible Games

@ClayCrucible on Twitter