The cheese has congealed, the fries are cold, and time moves ever further. Frank West and I finish things up talking about the nitty-gritty of Kickstarter, game weights and shipping, and the mysteries of BGG ratings.

DTD: Did you pick up [Expedition to] Newdale as well?

FW: Yeah, and I’m looking forward to it. I’m a big fan of Oh My Goods, and Im really intrigued by it.

DTD: [Alexander] Pfister’s games just always thrill me. There’s the lighter ones, and there’s the heavier ones, and both of them are really good.

FW: It will be intriguing to see it.

DTD: I didn’t really have anything else to talk about, and as you can tell, I tend to not really have a plan anyway. I just ramble randomly.

It’s true. The inside of my mind is solely windup toys and honking noises.

FW: Well, hopefully it has been both interesting and useful in some way.

DTD: Absolutely. These are the sort of things I want to hear about. The back side, behind the curtain.

FW: So, we moved house at the end of last year. In November. And it has been a nightmare since then, because we had quite a lot of problems. The last few months it got very busy because of the Kickstarter and stuff, so we only really managed to start working on the house properly a couple of months ago.

DTD: It is always a lot more work than you think it is.

Frank’s previous video work is on YouTube as The City of Games.

FW: And we had to get the whole side of the house rebuilt, so that took 6 months. And we couldn’t do anything until that was done. And we bought a house that we knew needed a lot of work, but it always is, whenever. So anyway, the point being is that now, as of just before I came to Essen, half of the house is now done, and now we can start on the other half. And what that means is one of the rooms that is done is going to be my recording studio, which means I can finally set up all my recording equipment and start doing videos again. And so, I’m hoping that by the end of November, that will be set up and I can start recording. You know what its like, it might be a bit later. My primary goal with all of that, outside of the Isle of Cats videos and stuff, is I want to create a new YouTube series where I am going to be doing 5 or 10 minute episodes where I am going to be talking about “This is day 1…2…the start of year 3…of me going from doing nothing to selling millions of dollars a year worth of games, and this is all of the learnings. Any questions you have, ask me, and I’ll do an episode on that.”

DTD: That’s awesome.

FW: And talking about things like how much money I spend on artwork, because where can you find that information online?

DTD: There’s a couple of companies online that have been transparent about it, but they are pretty rare.

FW: I have been thinking about so much of this kind of stuff, and really targeting both people who want to join the industry, people who are in the industry and are not sure where to go, and people who just want to learn about these things. But I am so, so transparent about the stuff that I do. And I really like the idea of this video series.

DTD: That’s awesome. I like reading about Steve Jackson Games, because they are very transparent about it. And even Jamey Stegmaier with his stuff, his really popular stuff. He will be very transparent about it. And he’s gotten some flak about it.

FW: And this is the thing, because he is—I think the kind of stuff Jamey has done over the years in terms of his writing, is the kind of stuff I would like to talk about in the video terms. But my feeling of it, and obviously this isn’t a negative of him in any way, but its just a natural evolution is that—

DTD: No, he’s a great guy.

FW: He’s now been doing this for 7 or 8 years, and a lot of the stuff he’s learning and doing now isn’t as relevant to the people who are on day one.

DTD: Well, he has had a weird roller coaster, too. Because his early stuff was about, “This is how you use Kickstarter.” And, as you know, Jamey does not use Kickstarter [anymore].

Jamey’s articles about Kickstarter are still available here.

FW: So, I want to talk a lot more about those early stages. And I am going to do all sorts of stuff which I don’t think people have done. So I’m going to do a whole series which will be—So there will be multiple series within the series, like multiple episodes, so there will be, as an example, one of them will be conventions. And there will be convention part 1, Essen. Convention part 2 will be GenCon, convention part 3 will be UK Games Expo. And each of those episodes will be if you want to exhibit at these shows, this is what you need to know. This is how it works. Because when I wanted to exhibit at these shows, I had no idea how it worked.

DTD: Get ready, because that table is going to cost $10,000.

FW: I didn’t know how to get my goods into the hall. I didn’t how to get furniture. I didn’t know what booth placements were, so I didn’t know how big a booth to get. I didn’t know how many staff or how much stock to take. So yeah, I want to start talking about that kind of stuff on videos and sharing it and pushing it out there.

DTD: That’s awesome, I think we need that.

FW: I think that would be a really good series to make.

DTD: And you may have 10% of people who look at it, that are going to use it for actually learning purposes and do it, but 90% are just going to want to know. It is just fascinating.

FW: And obviously there’s the marketing side to it, where I’m pushing myself, and getting people to know more about me. But also, more importantly, its about being able to step up and help others, and help other people to be able to take that plunge. Because there’s so much risk in this industry. Do you know, one of the things—and I should never say this, but it is probably going to be the first thing I talk about in this series. One of the things that drives me crazy about this industry, is this continuous underlying message of “There is no money in this hobby, and it is hard to make money in this hobby.” Because it is true that it is hard to make money in this hobby, but I can assure you that if you do it well, you can make good money.

Like any business; if you open a coffee shop on the street, if you open a restaurant on the street, only one in every thousand of those is ever going to become a big successful business. It is the same as any industry. But we have this continuous underlining message of “You cannot make money doing this, unless you are super, super successful.” And I don’t agree with that. I just feel like—and this is one of the true reasons I want to make this series—I feel that people are either doing things wrong, or they are not planning things, or they are not working things out. But you look at people like Jamey Stegmaier, if you look at the Tiny Epic guys

DTD: They are not starving.

FW: And I’m not talking about Gloomhaven, where if you make one big hit. I am talking about if you make a game, and you get that basic level of sales, and you start building up from that, you can make a living from that. And you can be comfortable off that if you do it right. But it means, from day one, getting your numbers right, it means having contingency, it means having planning.

Every Kickstarter I do, Sara and Miguel [da Silva], who’s my artist who sits next to me, they always just get so overwhelmed when they see it. But every Kickstarter [that] I do, I create a spreadsheet. And this spreadsheet is slightly different, and it evolves over time, but it normally has ten to fifteen different sheets, full sets of stuff. And each of those sheets can have anything up to five to ten thousand numbers of different bits and bobs that I tweak and adjust. And that entire thing is a prediction tool that I use to work out what things are costing, how much stuff is going to be, what’s going to happen, when its going to happen. And it is fairly accurate, I can be fairly confident. And every day as my Kickstarter backers come in, I plug in the numbers, and it starts telling me the impacts of those. So I can understand those meanings.

And obviously, not everyone needs to go to that level, but having a basic understanding of…X percentage of your backers are going to be from these countries, which means you are going to have to pay VAT on to this percentage. And X percent are going to be from this country, and if you get to this line, at this point, it becomes more efficient to ship it to this continent rather than shipping it to that continent. Because you are going to save money directly by having those smaller shipments, which will be higher but less money for the individual shipping charges. There are so many levels of optimization that you can do, that not everyone is going to do all of them. But I feel like talking some of that stuff, and sharing some of that stuff can really help people out.

DTD: Undoubtedly, yeah.

FW: “He says, hopefully.” [laughs]

DTD: No, I hadn’t thought about all of that. Because people are very, very cognizant of the shipping charges, and that can affect who back and who doesn’t really significantly. Poor Australia.

FW: Well, let’s put it this way. The Isle of Cats, this might surprise you – it certainly surprised me. The weight of it is, it weighs 9 pounds. It’s a big, heavy game. It is in a Catan style box.

DTD: A lot of cardboard.

FW: And Catan weighs like, 2 or 2.5 pounds. It’s a lot. It is such a heavy game. When you pick that game up off the shelf, it is going to shock you just how heavy it is for that box. It is not like it is the heaviest game ever, but for that kind of game, it is heavy.

Shipping weight for Catan is 2.7 pounds. Thank you, research department.

But despite that, on our Kickstarter, we did free shipping to the U.S. and U.K. We did £5 shipping to Canada, and Australia and all the other places were like very little money. The cost that we charge for the shipping is like 20% of the actual cost of what it is costing us to ship that stuff. And yet, we are still making good money off of those orders, because of the way we set the numbers and the way we have worked stuff through. And we still haven’t charged people more than they would pay if they got it from the local board game store. They are still getting it cheaper, they are still saving money. But there are ways to work these things, because without tying you down too much into the basics of it, if you go to a distributor, they are going to take a huge cut of the money to every game you sell. And obviously, the upside of that is you are selling them loads. If you go to Kickstarter, yes you have other fees, you have admin and you have all this, but you aren’t sacrificing that majority percentage of the game.

So, you can start to use that, if you balance it correctly, to compensate for some of those shipping costs. And by doing that, you are going to get huge amounts of people; like, we had on the City of Kings, about 0.5% of the backers were from Canada. Whilst with The Isle of Cats it was like 7%. And fundamentally, the only reason I can put to that is, that the shipping price is so cheap for Canada compared to what it would be normally. Same for Australia. Our percentage for Australian backers was 4x higher for The Isle of Cats than The City of Kings. And again, because the shipping charge for it was so cheap. I mean, its risky, right? But you can start looking at it, and go, “Well if I can get that many more people from these regions, then am I now actually going to make more money overall, even though I am making less money per game?” Because let’s say I am making £20 per game, and charging them £50 shipping, or whatever, and I am shipping it to 100 people. But if I am suddenly shipping to 400 people and I am making £5 per game, then it is the same, and you get more people. More people talking about it. So those kind of things, and those levels of thinking, there’s balances and understanding.

DTD: In any business, it’s like that. I mean, Xerox does not sell copiers, Xerox sells toner. You take a loss in order to get the better hit somewhere else.

FW: And I think it’s those levels of optimization that people don’t think about, because a lot of people—not everyone, but a lot of people—think about “This is how much money I want to make right now on this type of this thing.” And they don’t think about the long term.

DTD: What is my net per game. Period. Like there is nothing else.

FW: Scythe, I believe, was Jamey’s most successful game on Kickstarter, which had 20 thousand backers or something.

Scythe – 7.45 pounds shipping weight. 17,739 backers. Total weight 132,155 and one half pounds.

A considerable amount of people, it’s a huge amount of people. But if you look at his reports, I think he’s now, there’s something like 240,000 copies of that game he has sold. So that 20,000, even though that’s huge, is nothing, less that 10%, of how many he has sold. And when you look at it like that…

DTD: Well, you can argue that the Kickstarter created the hype, and the hype created the user base and the demand.

FW: So, the more you create that hype, and get more people on board at that first point, the more you are going to get to that second point. And that’s the kind of mentality that I have now.

DTD: I look forward to that.

FW: With the City of Kings, one of the fundamental things that’s interesting, so you know the top 100 on BoardGameGeek is this huge thing that everyone always talks about. And to get into the top 100 on BGG, obviously it is hard. But what do you think is the primary thing you need to be able to get into the top 100?

DTD: It’s hype.

FW: It’s number of votes more than anything else. Obviously, you want them to be good votes, but the number of votes is so important. The City of Kings now sits at 8.1 on BGG I think. It might be 8. Anyhow, 8 or higher, which is a high score. If you look at the top 100, not all of those top 100 have 8 or higher.

DTD: I find it really fascinating that they start really homogenizing, and the range of scores is very, very tight.

FW: And yet, we have got 1500 ratings on BGG. And we sit at about 600 or something like that overall. And you look and you go, “The games that are in the top 200 might have 7.7 or 7.8, but they have 10 thousand votes.” So if you cannot get 5000 votes or more, you’re never going to get into the top 250 or 300. That in itself is the first line. And at that point if you are thinking, “Well, if we have had 1500 votes, and we have sold 20 thousand copies”, then that’s less than 10% of people are voting. So, if you want to get 5000 votes, you’re suddenly going to have to sell 60 thousand copies, 50 thousand copies, as a minimum. And that’s a really hard goal. To sell 50 thousand copies, just to get in to the top 250, and we are not talking about the top 100, just the top couple hundred. Then suddenly you realize how much its about just getting it into people’s hands. Because the higher you are on these lists, the more people are doing these things, the more attention and hype is being generated. And then, the rating; obviously you want the game to be good, but it becomes a secondary factor in some of this stuff.

DTD: But then you get into the whole thing of giving it to the high profile areas, giving it to the reviewers, put it out on display, give it away at meetings, give it away at contests, get it out there.

FW: And that then goes straight back to what I was saying, where maybe not making that extra £5 off shipping for every Australian person is possibly going to better for you in the long run, because its going to push you up there.

DTD: You’re totally right.

FW: And these are the levels where from a business perspective I look at it and think about it. And I think talking about some of that stuff could be quite interesting for a lot of people.

DTD: Yeah, I’m looking forward to that.

FW: Alright, should we head back?

DTD: Yeah, sure. [noise of an old man standing up] That was really awesome, I hope I didn’t keep you that long.

FW: No, I am more than happy not walking around in the halls today.

DTD: I really find it refreshing to go outside. I am going to turn off the recorder if you are good.

FW: Yeah, sounds good.

And with that, Frank and I head back to the cacophony that is Essen; booths packed with games, pastries and joy. My head is full of behind the scenes knowledge, while my belly is full of fries and Fanta.

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