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Do you really need to know how much your game will cost?

I was re-reading this post that I wrote a few years back and recognized that it had some really helpful tips for new game designers but also an idea or two that I think about differently now. So, I have revisited the article and updated it to reflect on the experiences and knowledge I have gained since that time. I hope you enjoy the article!

“How much do you think this game will retail for?”

This was not a question I was expecting to receive at a publisher speed dating event, but I was asked nonetheless.

I had an idea in mind for what I wanted the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) would be, but clearly, my estimate of $40-50 was too low.

The publisher immediately said there was no way the game could be made cheaply enough to justify that price. He went on to talk about the recent tariff hikes (which I talked about in this previous blog) and the cost to produce wooden cubes, etc. and felt that my game had too many components.

Fair enough. There were tons of cubes, along with cards and a large board, among other things.

I knew it wouldn’t be a cheap game to produce, but it had such great table presence and it also played really well, so I felt that finding the right publisher would just be a matter of time.

Fortunately, I was correct.

Whereas some publishers saw a game that would be costly to produce, three other publishers took a keen interest in it and saw its potential. They talked about ways they could reduce the board size and be able to sell it at a reasonable price, while still maintaining its uniqueness and table presence.

They looked past the overly polished prototype and loved the look, feel, and combination of mechanics that were both new and familiar.

Whereas some saw issues, others recognized an opportunity.

Do you need to know your game’s MSRP?

So, the question comes back to whether or not you as a designer need to know what your game will sell for.

Of course, if you are self-publishing the game, it is absolutely necessary for you to know this, because you will be intimately involved in figuring out manufacturing, shipping, and everything else related to price.

But what if you’re pitching your game to publishers?

This question actually came up in a game design Facebook group recently. The designer had received feedback from a judge in a game design competition they entered, and it was suggested that the designer should have put the MSRP on their sell sheet.

When he asked others if this was standard practice, the response was unanimous. Even those designers who have had a dozen games published have never once put an estimated MSRP on their sell sheet, nor have they been asked to do so.

It was clearly poor advice to request that any costs be included on a sell sheet.

This is something the publisher will need to figure out.

And besides, if a publisher is large enough, they will have a developer who will ask the tough questions about whether each component is really necessary and will find ways to produce a really good-looking game within their budget.

But that doesn’t mean you don’t still have to be thinking about component costs…

What you do need to keep in mind

Even though it will be the publisher who is responsible for figuring out the manufacturing and retail costs, as a designer it is still important for you to think about these costs.

Here are some things to consider:

  • You want to make sure that the price of your game will be in the range of the publisher or publishers you’re interested in pitching your game to. If they only do small box games under $20, then it is unlikely they will take an interest in your miniatures game that will retail for over $100.
  • Look at ways you can reduce component counts. If you can use both sides of a card or board, or put multiple topics on one card in the case of a party game for example, these are good ways to reduce costs and make your game more appealing to a publisher.
  • List your components on your sell sheet. Now look at this list and determine if every one of them is necessary. Also, you don’t have to get into the details of how many event cards, power cards, reference cards, etc. that you have, but rather how many standard-size cards, mini cards, boards (along with a rough size), cubes, meeples, and other components you’ve included. This will help a publisher, who is much more familiar with the cost than you, determine the rough production and retail cost.

How to estimate costs

A quick rule of thumb is that a game will sell for approximately 5 times the manufacturing cost.

So, if your game costs $10 to produce, it will likely sell for around $50.

But how do you know what the manufacturing cost will be?

Well, you could ask for an estimate from a board game manufacturer. They can give you quotes on multiple quantities, typically with a minimum of 500 or 1,000 copies. You will see that the prices go down per game as the quantity goes up.

You could even just ask for quotes for each different component that you use. For example, ask about the cost per card, meeple, cube, token, etc. Make sure to also include the box, which is often the most expensive part to manufacture.

However, if you have no intention of self-publishing your game, you’re taking up the manufacturer’s time when they could be spending it quoting a project that is much more likely to proceed, so keep this in mind.

A better method some people use is to price all the components on Gamecrafter. The cost to get your game made here will be at least in the same ballpark as what your game would need to retail for (not the manufacturing cost).

You can also compare your game to other already published games and look at the MSRP for games with similar components and box sizes.

To sum this all up, you don’t need to know exactly how much your game will sell for, but it definitely is helpful to have a rough idea of how much it would cost to produce your game, and therefore what it might sell for. This helps you get into the mind of a publisher and think about where you can save some costs or reduce unnecessary components, without negatively affecting the overall player experience.

What tough decisions have you had to make with your game to ensure it wouldn’t be too costly to produce?

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