Lessons from a failed Kickstarter #3: Costs, shipping & logistics
(The third in a series of lessons learned postings, following my recent cancelled KS campaign for Take the Kingdom)
So you've got what you hope is a great game, you've tested it to destruction, you've generated some interest on turning this into something real, now comes the hard bit - how much is it all going to cost, and how on earth are you physically going to get your game to everyone that wants it, across the world?
This is probably the bit that will feel most alien to most creators and designers - you probably got into this as a designer, not as a shipping expert, but it's probably the most important bit of the whole campaign; if you can't get your game to your backers' homes, the whole thing could be a disaster. Luckily, there are many companies who are experts in exactly that. After getting some quotes and looking at recommendations, I decided to use two companies together - Spiral Galaxy Games, based in the UK (where we're based), who had the best rates for UK and EU - and another company based in the US (Quartermaster Logistics), who had better rates for the rest of the world, based on the size and weight of the package I would be shipping.
My China-based manufacturer was also also to ship direct, so in some cases that was more cost-effective again. All this meant I could offer customs-free and VAT-free shipping for EU, North America and Australia as well as China and some other parts of Asia. See this posting from Stonemaier Games as to why that matters. I should be clear that the choice of partners wasn't just based on cost (although that's important) - both these companies come highly and widely recommended by people that have run actual, successful campaigns. But there's a ton of great companies out there and new ones coming on line all the time, so do some research beforehand for the latest.
Obviously with the campaign getting cancelled I didn't get to put this into practice, but I felt confident enough in the exchanges I had to want to go with this approach again next time. Going with a single agent, or shipping it all directly from China, would have meant higher costs for backers in at least one continent - although that may be right for you if you're expecting the majority of your backers to be in one continent. Make sure your chosen partners know the exact weight and dimensions of your product, and make sure you know what packaging they plan to add, both so you know the impact in shipping costs but also so you know that the packaging will be good enough for the journey, and will have enough 'wow factor' when people open the box.
Of course, you might have in mind that you'll just do this at home - get everything shipped to you, then you can box everything up and send it all out, right? Please be careful - this is a proper area of expertise that looks very simple when it's done well, but think very hard before taking this on - and remember you may be lucky enough to overfund, so if you think you can cope with boxing up and sending out 50 games, well what if you get 500 backers? And half of them are in Brazil or Russia (which are consistently difficult countries to ship to)? I've done this with protoypes and yes, it's easy one by one, but it's also pretty time-consuming and the costs can really add up. If you're moving more than about 30 copies, you might well find it's actually cheaper to get an agent involved.
I'd noted in a previous posting that you really shouldn't compare your campaign with others, but in doing your research you will need to have established:
- Is your game priced at a realistic level, both per unit and for the overall funding level;
- In other words, can you afford it at that rate, and will backers pay that rate?
- Have you got your shipping costs as low as they can reasonably be (you'll soon know from backers if it's too high). Shop around to get a good range of quotes;
- What is the instant impression people get from seeing your campaign? You don't have to pretend to be a huge, experienced corporation if you're not, but you do need to inspire confidence that you know what you're doing and you can deliver what you say;
- Have you hit the sweet spot between making the page look as good as it can, while not breaking the bank? You can always spend more, but make sure you can afford it.
Although this is a posting about learning from failure, this was actually one of the bits I thought went really well. But... Full disclosure, I made a massive error with my budget. Not in costing up the game or the logistics, I had all that covered. But I completely failed to realise that your funding total on Kickstarter includes shipping charges. So my funding level was based on 250 backers at the basic pledge price of £19 (not including shipping), 250 being the point at which the economies of scale kick in enough to make that price work. But of course with shipping added, each backer actually pledged between £24 and £31, which could have meant hitting the target with as few as 175 backers, which would have left me fairly significantly in the hole as my unit costs would be much higher - or I'd be producing too much stock! Watch out for that one (you're probably not as stupid as me though...)
Main lesson - don't neglect this bit. Put as much heart into planning your budgets and logistics as you did in designing the game and you'll be fine.