What this article is about & Who should read it
This article is mainly for you game inventors looking at creating your own business, then selling and distributing a product (board game). This guide can also be applied to any product or anyone looking at starting their own business and working for themselves. I run a game design and business start-up seminar for Create at Lancaster University, based on my own experiences. I’ve used the information from my seminar to create this article so it has a good pedigree.
History of me and my little company – Total Strategy Ltd
It’s kind of funny to think back to where the invention of my game came from. It begun as something to do on the bus on the way to work, at the start it was just some strange doodles on pieces of scrap paper. I was playing around with a new idea, a simple mechanism for a strategy game that would mimic ancient battle’s while being really simple to play. The more I played with it the more it seemed to have a lot of promise.
Two years later after a lot of work, play testing and favours called in for parts I had a working prototype of my game.
Initially I just loved playing the game with friends, we’d take it to the local pub and play a few games and have a few drinks. It was great fun to watch people play it and really get into the strategy, pointing out what formations they’d use, how they’d position their infantry, and where they’d strike with their cavalry. I could even see a person’s personality come out in the way they’d play the game. Some were cautious, some were cavalier, some would try to do a bit of everything, each strategy could be beaten by adapting to the opponent. The games appeal showed me that it was worth taking it to the next level.
The next step for me was to approach games companies to try and get them to licence the game, I received a lot of positive remarks but unfortunately in the UK strategy games are a big risk. The other problem was my timing. It was Autumn 2008…right in the middle of the recession and a lot of the independent games companies in the UK were either struggling or going under!
So I put the dream on hold and returned to playing the game with friends. It wasn’t until I met a friend at work called Joe who worked for an entrepreneur group where things changed (Joes website is www.ideasmapping.com). His enthusiasm for the game was amazing right from the start. With his business advice and with his contacts and friends we managed to get the start up costs for production down to just over £5K from what was originally looking about £35K. I took a second job to pay for the production costs and got a grant to help with the start up costs, before I knew it I was in at the deep end.
Fast forward to Jan 2012 and I now have my own games company Total Strategy Ltd, a delivery of 500 games, supply infrastructure and a big proud smile. Neat!
So finally to the point, the last year has been a blur filled with joy, setbacks, enthusiasm, frustration and a hell of a lot of things learned the hard way. Hopefully this article will allow you to plan ahead and have a smoother set up than I did.
Ok so let’s assume you’ve got a board game idea, you’ve play tested it to death and you’re convinced will sell. Your next step is to get it out there, licensing it to a large games company is one way to do it, but for this article we’re going to look at what it takes to go it alone?
Owning your own company is much harder that just licensing the game but there are advantages. It gives you full control over your idea and you get to keep all the proceeds. Over the next few pages I’ll run through the major points of what you’ll need to do to start your own board game company.
The first thing you’ll need to do is to make a prototype of your game. This will give you:
- The opportunity to understand how much it will cost to manufacture, to see whether it’s viable as a business and to make changes early to keep costs down.
- The chance to get all the artwork together and see what it will look like.
- A Chance to iron out any bugs in the game play and any previous unseen mistakes before the final production.
- You can make a basic prototype at home quite easily with materials from an art and craft shop.
Board Game Geek have a wonderful guide to making a board, you can see it here: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/531148/folding-board-tutorial-with-pictures
Your other option is to pay a games manufacturer to make you a prototype, again it costs more but it can be worth it.
For links to prototype manufacturing see Chapter 9 – Manufacturing.
2. Protecting your idea
Protecting your board game is a toughie; usually with a new product you would look to have it patented in order to prevent other people from using your idea. However you can’t patent a board game because it’s essentially a collection of elements. Dice rolling, counters, cards etc already exist in the public domain, this makes it impossible to patent your game. You could patent a unique element of your game but on the whole it’s a no go. There other ways however.
Your best method of protection is to copyright your idea. Copyrighting your game is free and it’s also automatic. If you print your rules and take photos of your board, playing cards, pieces etc then legally they’re considered to be copyrighted. The tricky part is proving the date that you copyrighted the idea!
The most basic method of date copyrighting is to take all those pictures of your game, put them all in a well sealed envelope and then send them recorded delivery to yourself. When you receive it in the post it’ll be date stamped. Keep it in a safe place and don’t open it, this will be your proof that you came up with the idea on the date marked on the envelope. A better but more expensive way is to keep a copy of the printed rules and photo’s with your bank. So long as it stays unopened with them it’ll provide you with a secure date that you created the game.
If you’re interested in IPR and development Joe actually uses my game as a case study in his book Brilliant Business Ideas – it’s well worth a read.
3. Setting up a company
The next step is to set up a company. Setting up a company in the UK is done through Companies House: http://www.companieshouse.gov.uk/
The cost of setting up a Private Limited company is: £40 by paper, £15 if done online + Solicitors Fees (if used). Once you have a company you’ll be legally responsible for your company’s “Annual Return” (£14 per year) and for its “Yearly Accounts” (this can be upwards of £500 as it almost certainly requires an accountant).
Your company will need a logo, this will be your brand/identity and you’ll need to protect it. Registering a trademark in the UK is done through the Intellectual Property Office website at: http://www.ipo.gov.uk/tm.htm.
Board games fall under – Class 28. The cost to register your trademark is:
UK – £170 per category + £50 per additional category, + (Solicitors fees if applicable)
While the trademark is going through the process of being granted you can use TM in the upper right corner of your logo, once its granted you can use R in a circle.
5. Business banking
Choosing a bank account for your business is very important. The majority of them have fees somewhere, the key is to find one that suits your business the best. I used Money Supermarket to find the account that me best: http://www.moneysupermarket.com/BusinessChequeAccounts/CommercialChqAccForm.asp
Barcodes are expensive; normally you’d have to join GS1 US. (GS1 is formerly the Uniform Code Council). Joining GS1 is not cheap with an initiation fee of $750 and an annual fee of $150. Read more: http://www.ehow.com/how_2275418_buy-bar-code.html
Fortunately there are cheaper ways if you only have a one off item (like a board game).
I used barcode1 to get an individual EAN-13 barcode. Cost just £20 and they supply the artwork and certificate and is recognised internationally: http://www.barcode1.co.uk/
An EAN-13 barcode will need to be black stripes on a white background, also a specific size to allow bar code readers to read it correctly.
Your bar code should be 37.29mm wide and 25.93mm high. It can be scaled but must be within a magnification factor of 0.8 to 2.0. this means the smallest your bar code may be is 29.83mm wide by 20.74mm and the largest it may be is 74.58mm wide and 51.86mm high.
There’s a lot more information on barcodes at: http://www.codeproject.com/Articles/10162/Creating-EAN-13-Barcodes-with-C
7. Safety Testing
The hardest part for me was trying to get information on CE marking. In the EU any product should display a CE mark and have the certificate to back it up. The CE mark is a passport for your game to show any country in the EU that your game meets the safety standards required for retail in Europe. There’s a lot more information on the web now thankfully, Wikipedia now has a very good run down of the tests needed: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toy_safety
The 3 tests you’ll need for a basic indoor board game will be:
- EN71-1, Safety of toys: Mechanical and physical properties
- EN71-2, Flammability requirements
- EN71-3, Specification for migration of certain elements
If it’s possible it’s best to get the factory manufacturing your game to do these tests. They usually know how to do it, they’ll get the tests for a decent price, and most importantly they’ll catch anything during the manufacturing process rather than after the final production run.
8. Legal Blurb
Your game will need to have certain legal text, symbols, company information and warnings on the box, based on sales in the UK it should have the following:
- Logo (with TM or R) – Firstly you’ll want your company logo on the box so everyone knows it belongs to your company.
- Barcode – Your EAN-13 barcode, remember it should be on a white background and be the correct size as mentioned above.
- Not for under 3 years logo – This is important if your board game isn’t aimed at small children, as small pieces can choke little kids. There should also be text to say “warning not for children under 36 months” and if it contains small parts it must say “warning may contain small parts”. If your game is for children under 3 years then you’ll have to do a lot more safety tests on it, unfortunately that’s beyond this article.
- The CE mark – When you have your CE test pass certificate you can put the CE mark on your box. This is your passport to sell the game in any European country that participates in the CE mark.
- Your company name address –This allows you to be contacted, I also put my web address www.totalstrategygames.com for extra information.
- Place where the game is manufactured – Made in UK, Made in USA, made in China etc.
- Number of players and suggested age range – Eg for 2-4 players, recommended age 8 and up.
- Colours and contents may vary from those shown – chances are that all the images of game play on the box will be from your prototype and not from the finished version. You should put this on the box just to cover yourself.
This is the biggest and most expensive step, when you have everything in place you can finally get your game manufactured. From your prototype you’ll be able to get an idea of how to keep costs down and how easy your game is to manufacture. It’ll also allow the factory you choose to give you an accurate quote and to see what’s required so there’s no confusion.
Your cost for the total production will be: Tooling costs + (unit cost x number of units) + delivery
Your choice is UK vs Overseas.
Having your game made in the UK is the most straight forward method, the shipping will be cheaper and you can easily meet the people who will be making your game. However the drawback is the cost, if you have a low order quantity (500 or less units) then the cost to do a print run.UK Custom Board Game Manufacturers,
Shannon Games are a small company in Scotland who I approached in the UK, they were friendly: www.shannongames.com
If you’re from the USA
I also approached MJS Creations who were a nice bunch: www.BoardGameManufacturing.com
A popular choice for overseas manufacturing is China, the production costs are lower than in the UK, in fact the more labour intensive your games construction is then the better value you can get from having it manufactured in China. This is less so if your game is more automated construction.
The drawback however is finding a factory you can work with when the chances are you’ll never meet with them face to face.
I was lucky to have my cake and eat it. My game was manufactured in China by QSSTCO, working through one of their contacts Phil at Scarlett Opus here in the UK.
10. Shipping and Import
Airmail vs Sea Freight
Airmail much faster, approx 2-3 days but much more expensive and will probably push your prices up too much if you’re not careful. Your best option will be sea freight. Sea freight varies in time, for me it took 5 weeks from China to UK.
Usually the factory/manufacturer will load your goods onto the ship FOB (Free on Board), you then deal with the shipping company, in my case it was Davis Turner. The shipping company handle the shipping and the import, you then pay them for shipping, import, taxes, UK delivery and insurance.
For your first import you’ll need to apply to HMRC for an Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number. The factory/manufacturer will supply you with part of the information required, the other part is supplied by the shipping company when it docks in the UK, you can then apply to HMRC for an EORI number to complete the import. You keep this number for any future imports:
When your game arrives (well actually before it arrives) you’ll need to work out where you’re going to store it.
Your choices are
Use a UK Fulfilment Company – This is the most costly but they can help you with the distribution of the game. Useful if you’re selling a lot of them straight away.
Store at home – If you’ve got the space then this is the cheapest option.
Pay for private storage – You can hire storage from a local company to store your games.
12. Selling The Game
So to the last part, you’re the proud owner of a big stack of games, all you have to do is sell them.
Go to your local shops and see if any of them would be prepared to sell them on a “sale or return” basis. This is a good way to persuade shops to stock your game as it minimises the risk to them. What it means is that if they sell your games then they pay you a percentage otherwise you take the games back.
In order to reach customers all over the world you should have an online shop. The obvious choices are Ebay & Amazon. You can also sell on your own website with Sagepay or Paypal.
Sell them yourself – Lastly you can’t beat a bit of old graft, you could just go out and sell them yourself for cash!
Well that’s it, that’s pretty much my journey to market so far, If you’ve gotten this far then now the fun part begins for you…marketing your game! At some point I’ll add a chapter 13 for marketing but only when I get a little better at it. In the mean time If you’ve got any questions or want to get in touch then you can find me at the following:
- Total Strategy Games: www.totalstrategygames.com
- On Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Total-Strategy-Z-Arena-Combat/dp/B007DYI1C0
- Facebook: Search Total Strategy (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Total-Strategy/158674040913808)
- Twitter: @totalstrategy (https://twitter.com/#!/TotalStrategy)
Good luck with your inventions!
Note: The information and prices in this article are correct as I write this in 2012. Information does change especially the safety requirements so remember to double check yourself.