Publisher’s Journal #1 – Why Crowd Sales?

If you are reading this, you either have heard of Grey Gnome Games, or you are simply interested in learning more about Crowd Sales, or perhaps both. Welcome! In this first Publisher’s Journal I wanted to tackle the reasonings behind Grey Gnome Games switching to Crowd Sales after having twelve successful Kickstarters. So let’s get started!

What is a Crowd Sale?

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We should probably start by discussing exactly what a Crowd Sale is. Crowd Sales are very much like any other crowd-funding platform like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or Gamefound. There are certainly advantages to using these other offerings and I will discuss my experiences with Kickstarter below. What makes the Crowd Sale unique is that the entire process is handled by a single company, the Game Crafter. They host the actual crowd-funding platform, they manufacture the entire game here in the United States, and the fulfill all the orders! All I have to do is upload the files and build the page and launch. They do the rest. One more very important difference needs to be mentioned. Crowd Sales do not have stretch goals. I hated having to come up with crazy stretch goals to entice backers on Kickstarter. Now I can simply design a complete game that has everything you need to play on day one. You might not think that sounds like too much fun for the backers. Well, Crowd Sales do something quite different that I absolutely love and it is one of the major reasons I run Crowd Sales. Instead of stretch goals, the price of the game drops with every ten backers up to 100 backers and then again at 500 and 1000 backers! We are talking anywhere from 30-40% off the game. Now that is an incentive to back a project. It should be noted that all backers get the final, and lowest, price.

Why did I move away from Kickstarter?

You likely have heard stories of publishers losing tons of money running poorly run Kickstarters, or perhaps you even backed a project that suffered from these sorts of issues. I certainly know that I have! Still waiting on a few games that I know will never surface. Well, Grey Gnome Games never had any issues like that. I did the best homework I could. I started way back in 2012 before there were thousands YouTube videos and podcasts on the subject. It was definitely a learning experience. I ended up running twelve Kickstarters from 2012-2017 and all of them funded. So why stop?

There is a real short answer to that question and that answer is TIME! My calculations for costs to manufacture, for customs and overseas shipping, and for hand-shipping every game were actually pretty accurate. But after all the costs were tabulated, the payout simply was not worth my time. Let’s take a closer look at a couple of examples. 

268027989_384783146738120_3412552104482856589_nFirst, let’s discuss my most successful Kickstarter, Dig Down Dwarf. Dig Down Dwarf funded in April of 2014 at $50,120 with 1633 backers. At the time $50k was a pretty successful Kickstarter. You would think I would be thrilled right? I actually was at the time. I was out of work and this was a big help when my family really needed it. However, that was not simply $50k I got to keep. I manufactured 2000 units in China at a cost of $5.70 per unit. When you add the cost to ship each unit from China to the United States that unit price was closer to $7 each. Some simple math will have you arrive at roughly $14,000 to get the games unloaded at my house. Yes, you heard me right! They were shipped to my house. I packaged and shipped every single copy myself. I bought thousands of boxes from Uline and opened up a shipping account with USPS. Shipping was the real killer. Shipping for Dig Down Dwarf crossed the $20k mark when you factor in all those international backers and materials for shipping (boxes, packing supplies, and tape). But wait there’s more! I also had to manufacture neoprene game mats and build by hand the small expansion Gems of Norcia. At the end of the day I ended up with about $10-12k. You would think that is great, but we are missing that one factor, the most important one, my time! How much time do you think I spent designing the game, playtesting it, going to Protospiels with it, illustrating everything for it, marketing it, dealing with manufacturers, and most importantly boxing and shipping every single copy? The answer is likely a staggering number. I am certain I was making minimum wage at best. Keep in mind this was my best Kickstarter and I still had to pay taxes on those profits.

265407177_1058274011675936_7817836700234652400_nQuickly, let’s dive into one more of my Kickstarters. Let’s discuss Siege of Sunfall. This was one of the last Kickstarters I ran and it funded at $21,801 with 455 backers. The killer was that 455 backer number. I had to manufacture at least 1000 units and I was gambling a bit that this one would do better than it did. You never truly know how well any game-funding experience is going to go beforehand. I had high hopes. It was not my own design and I also used someone else for the artwork. That means I also had to pay both the designer and artist. In the end I put about $3-4K in my own pocket. I also had a crap ton of extra copies that we will not discuss here.  

There is a high probability that I was simply just not that great at running Kickstarters. From the outside, I looked great. I was twelve for twelve with a total of $350,000 raised altogether. I likely walked away with $50k or so over those 5 years. It was a lot of work and not the type I enjoy. My heart is all about designing and illustrating. That is were Crowd Sales came in.

Why did I choose Crowd Sales?

I think I have covered the fact that I realized just how much I was undervaluing my own time. It was a hard realization. Part of me truly enjoyed the Kickstarter experience. There certainly was a rush to it. I decided that I would slowly sell off my stock of games from all my Kickstarters and move some of the titles over to the Game Crafter. I was pretty burnt out having just ran twelve Kickstarters in five years. 

264004966_1359507104485429_8214730361770153204_nThis was a slow process, but having put Kickstarter in my rearview mirror, I was able to get back to what I love, designing and illustrating. One day JT Smith (owner of the Game Crafter) reached out to me about this idea he had for a crowd-funding platform that would be hosted on the Game Crafter’s site. I was thrilled. I was most thrilled about the price-drop aspect of it. As a gamer myself, and someone who bought quite a few games on Kickstarter, the notion of price-drops instead of stretch goals had me hooked. I lunched one of the first Crowd Sales for a revised second edition of Four Tribes. It did moderately well with 68 backers and netted me a few hundred bucks in profits. The best part was it took very little effort on my end. Just upload the files and build a Crowd Sale page and the Game Crafter handled the rest.

This new-found free time was the real payout for me. I felt like I had moved through a storm (Kickstarter) and into a wide open meadow full of sunshine. Sorry, I know that sounded cheesy, but it was an awakening for me. My creative juices started flowing. I was no longer hindered by thoughts of overseas manufacturing, or having to fill my car up with packages to take to the post office, or worrying about backers canceling their pledges in the last few hours. I could just design.

So I did. I started with a little roll and write game called Doom Realm and then I designed a couple of entries for contests on the Game Crafter. This brought to life Wunder Garten and Zogar’s Revenge. Then came Stew which got published by ButtonShy Games. That was just 2017. Then I feel like I turned a corner in 2018 and beyond with Desolate, Iron Helm, Gate, and Tin Helm. I feel like I am doing my best work now. Why so much about all of this you ask? I am only able to do this because of the free time afforded me by moving away from Kickstarter. 

I decided to go all in on Crowd Sales. My second Crowd Sale was for the expansion to Desolate and it did well with 144 backers and $3,186 in funding. I also sold quite a few other games in my library, because you can link other games so backers can add them on during checkout. I ended up making about thousand bucks in profits on that one. This is when I knew this Crowd Sale thing could work and I have not looked back. A thousand dollars may not seem like much, but remember I was only making a few thousand dollars on my Kickstarters and they required ten times the work.

Fast forward to my last two Crowd Sales and things have really heated up. 

267837555_629586998456000_6569049161885081742_nTin Helm had 1165 backers and raised $23,334. Of that amount I saw $7,372 in profits. On top of that backers again bought all sorts of other games in my library, adding another $4k in profits. That is a total of roughly $11,000! That is about what I made on my best Kickstarter! I want to be transparent here with the numbers, so folks can see that you actually can do quite well with Crowd Sales.

Iron Chest was my last Crowd Sale and we had 1047 backers and $40,880 raised. Of that I saw $8,256 in profits. Again I sold a ton of add-ons which brought my total profits into the $13,000 territory. This is not me bragging. This is me literally shocked myself. Yes, I am sure many Kickstarters and Gamefound campaigns are crushing these figures, and I applaud folks that can stomach that level of commitment, but I am not one of those people. That is why I will continue to use this platform and enjoy my free time. I want to touch on one more thing before I conclude.

Can anyone have this level of success?

I think this is a tough question. I think the honest answer is that is a hard road to get yourself into a position to have this level of success. Anyone that has ran any sort of crowd-funding campaign will tell you that backers just don’t come from out of the shadows. There are a lot different ways to gain backers, and perhaps I will dive into that in a future Publisher’s Journal, but in simple terms, you have to bring the audience. 

266489455_340744024169764_9131744644848715923_nI have a few things going for me. I have slowly built a following organically over the past decade. There was a lot of work on my end to get to this point. I am committed to the indie game design community and try to be outgoing and helpful. For example, you will find nearly 100 free art assets on this site under the “Free Art Assets” tab. That took a lot of time to do, but it is my way of paying it forward. Things like that will build your audience and your following and you certainly need that to bring backers in.

Additionally, it is important that your game look its best. If it looks like a prototype, you will struggle. That is the reality. Good art and graphic design matters and draws people to your game. Look through all the top Crowd Sale games on the Game Crafter site and you will see solid art direction. You will see this again if you go through all the top selling games on the site and the Staff Picks. They all are able to draw the eye in. 

With some time and effort, I think most designers can do quite well with a Crowd Sale. I would always suggest start with something small and inexpensive if you have a small following. If you deliver a good product, then you will do better the next time, and slowly you can build a name for yourself.

If you are already an established designer with a decent following, then I implore you to try this Crowd Sale thing out. The more bigger names we can get using this platform the better for everyone! That equates to more eyes on site and that would be great. I am all for some healthy competition.  

That is about all I got this time around. If you have questions, please ask below and I will try to answer. Special thanks to JT Smith for providing the lovely behind-the-scenes photos found sprinkled throughout this blog. Until next time, take care and be safe!

18 thoughts on “Publisher’s Journal #1 – Why Crowd Sales?”

  1. Thanks for being so transparent with your numbers! I am getting ready to publish my first physical game via crowdfunding (I did a PNP on Kickstarter last year, but no physical fulfillment to deal with yet). In preparation, I have been doing a lot of research about crowdfunding and talking to people who have done small campaigns (less than 1000 KS backers). They all seem to laugh when I ask whether they made any profit. Many of them barely covered costs, and many have a bunch of extra games sitting around their houses, garages, etc. I really don’t want to be in that situation. And I really don’t want to deal with international anything right now, given all the shipping complications.

    I did a Crowd Sale through The Game Crafter last May, and literally didn’t touch a single game piece, except ordering 1 prototype copy, snapping some photos and making a quick unboxing video. It was super easy. (But I was hosting a contest at the time, so I had a bit of a crowd paying attention to the sale. )

    I am definitely considering Crowd Sales via TGC, and/or Bulk Order Fulfillment for my upcoming campaign–if there are enough of my parts in stock, or I can figure out a way to get them there.

    1. I think it is really hard to turn a profit on a small run using Kickstarter in most cases, especially if you have to manufacture more games than you have backers. A hundred extra copies can be sold off over time, but 500+ is tough. I think KS using TGC’s bulk order fulfillment is a solid middle ground, but remember you lose 10% to KS.

  2. Very insightful on the workings of Kickstarter and Crowd Funding. I appreciate your effort and hard work even more! Looking forward to more of your games! Any thoughts on a WW2 dungeon crawl along the lines of Airborne in my Pocket? Also what is the major difference between KS and Gamefound?
    Thanks and keep up the great work!
    Dave Bauer

    1. I have wanted to do a WW2 themed game for some time, but it would be a solo game. I was leaning towards the player playing as a young girl on a mission to get a letter to the Polish resistance in Krakow. We will see…

      I do not know a lot about Gamefound other then it seems to only be board games and a lot of big publishers have switched to it. I assume they take a smaller cut of the profits?

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this resource. Not only for purchasing games and supporting designers. BUT, my wife and I have some ideas for games of our own and this would be a great way to get them out in the world.

  4. This was really great. I loved your transparency and insight behind the curtain.
    I view this all from the consumer’s perspective. Most of what I get to see is the filtered down statuses, end results, and third-party reviews and analysis.

    I try follow as many open designers as I can regarding their crowdfunding adventures and truth behind their games. Over the last few years more and more publishers, designers, and artists have been more verbose on their games and what it takes to get them to a consumers table.

    I really feel this information is good to talk about as it shines a light on some of the harder aspects of this industry and can lead to more success stories. As the gamer, knowing the true blood, sweat, tears, and financial hit a game took to reach my table makes me appreciate it that much more. I can say from experience that the games I’ve bought, crowdfunded or not, that have come from an open transparent publisher have reached the table sooner. Those that are either silent big-name publishers or newer publishers that crowdfund with short messages like “we’re still on track but might delay a month because we have to” don’t get as much emotional attachment from me and thus struggle to make it to the table as quickly.

    There are a lot of common issues and successes in your story that new and experienced creators can take notes from. I am so glad to hear that Game Crafter has been a big success. Platforms and processes like yours on GameCrafter look to be the way to go. Especially with the trends I’ve been seeing over on the other crowdfunding platforms with overseas shipping, low unrealistic goals, components and features removed from games just to create stretch goals, and big publishers overshadowing those who crowdfunding was designed for.

    1. Thanks for the kind words. I really try to be transparent. I mainly do this to help others. I know it is hard for my fellow indie designers out there to get a foothold in this now flooded market. But if you have a good design and some vision, you can still make a splash. I agree on all fronts with regards to what you said above.

  5. Thanks for sharing all these details, and affirming my own feelings toward KS vs Crowd Sales. I’m getting ready to launch my first Crowd Sale now; not expecting much, but excited to have some of my games out there for people to buy!

  6. I’ve heard the Kickstarter campaign is just to fund your production run at higher units, then you make profit by selling the extra copies. What do you think about that approach?

    For example, I need 20k to do a 5k print run, I achieve it with ~1k backers so now I have 4k copies of the game to sell for profit.

    1. Yes, some larger publisher do just this. I thing you have to be careful about are those extra copies. Do you have connections with distributers that are willing to take on that many units? Typically a distributor will not take on very many units from a new publisher/designer, even with a successful KS. Maybe they will buy a couple hundred until you prove yourself. Also they typically pay only 50% of MSRP or less. Sometimes quantity of sales is simply not worth it. Unless of course, you are a established publisher.

  7. Bless you, Jason, for sharing this post. I had no idea it was possible to make an appreciable amount of money on The Game Crafter. Their costs are quite high compared to overseas, which had made me skeptical.

    Question: Do your customers ever complain about the long time that it takes TGC to produce games? It’s shorter than waiting for an overseas shipment, of course, but it’s still a lot slower than “print on *demand*” would imply, so I’m curious about what kind of feedback you’ve gotten. Thanks!

    1. I did get a few backers that were upset when they realized that the Crowd Sale queue was separate from the standard production queue, but like you said, waiting a couple months is way better than waiting 1 1/2 years like the average KS.

      1. Ok, thanks. I guess we just need to manage expectations by communicating communicating communicating.

  8. Jason, thanks again for this article. I have another follow-up question: To what extent does it make sense (in your experience) to help TGC with promoting a crowd-sale?

    For example, have you found it worthwhile sending out review copies? Or advertising the crowd sale via Facebook ads? Or livestreaming any play-throughs? Or any other forms of marketing besides just mentioning it on your own website?

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