Opportunities in the Board Game Industry

A recent post on a forum asking if it was a good idea to start an online game store had me thinking.  The simple answer is no (definitely not in America, not so great in Canada either really).  However, the fact stands that there are a significant number of opportunities in the industry currently which don’t involve direct retail of board games.  I figured I’d detail some of them here (at least from my view point).  Note that I don’t, in most cases, have direct experience so it’s an outsider perspective.

1.  Game Reviewer

Firstly, let’s start by saying that there are only a few reviewers out there who do this full-time.  This is a long-term play as you need to build up enough of a fanbase that they would be willing to pay for you to continue development & publication.  It took us nearly 4 years (over 100+ videos) before we ran our successful Patreon campaign and even then, at $400 per video which came out every 2 weeks, it wouldn’t really be enough for most people to live on.  However, we also only published a video every few weeks and focused on significantly higher production values than most game reviewers, so if you had the time, ability and funds to do this for a year (or two), it should be possible to make a full-time career from it.

The advantage of this is that you’d be playing games constantly unlike other parts of this business.  After all, part of your business is playing games  The negative is that it takes a lot of time to create a video review, so you’d be on a constant ‘mill’ of content development.

2. Game Accessory Retailer / Manufacturer

An interesting area that has cropped up is the development and sale of game accessories.  Whether it’s sleeves, tokens or inserts, there does seem to be some demand for this.  My guess is that the actual margins on producing and selling multiple tokens is quite high once you get past the set-up cost.  The negative is that you are targeting a small portion of an already small market, so I’m not sure there’s enough of a market to generate a decent income.  On the other hand, if you can combine this with sales to publishers for their prototype designs, there could be a decent business here.

3. Publisher

This is probably one of the two areas that I’d certainly look into more significantly if I had the time and capital.  With Kickstarter available these days, capital requirements are actually significantly lower than previously (I’d guess between $3-5k per game for artwork, design and testing and prototypes to be sent to reviewers).  Risk is significantly lower as you are able to crowd-fund the cost of publication to start.  The major disadvantage (beyond the significant time investment to find and playtest games) is the time-lag.  It seems to take between 8 to 12 months to produce a game and most backers would prefer to see the delivery of their first game before you begin Kickstarting a second game.  As such, until you’ve developed a significant following (and/or have a decent hit for a game), your income is likely to be pretty low for the first few years.

4. Game Publishing Management (ala Game Salute)

Game publishing management is something I haven’t seen since tried since Game Salute.  Rather than being a full publisher (purchasing rights, developing the art, etc.), that there might be a space in the market for someone to work as a contractor to aid in the marketing, design & manufacturing and importing of the game.  Certainly it’d require quite a bit of knowledge in this area and and it’d be tricky to work out compensation.  If you charged an hourly rate, you might not be as attractive to a new publisher, but if you did it on a commission basis, you run the risk of a failed Kickstarter (or low funding Kickstarter) since you aren’t personally choosing / editing the games yourself.

5. Distributor

This is really only for those with a lot of money and probably not in the USA. I know at least in Canada, we could probably do with a well-funded West Coast distributor and I’m sure there are significant opportunities for distribution in other countries.  When I say a lot of capital though, I’m talking in the millions.

6. Game Cafes / Restaurants

The hottest trend in retail is game cafes & restaurants.  This seems to be quite profitable if you could can locate a good spot that is large enough and can be staffed regularly.  This is the other area I’d recommend putting money into if you had the desire to get involved with the game industry.  Unlike publishing though, this requires significantly more retail.   From my estimatation, you probably need at least CAD$30k to barebones launch a business and I’d really not want to get involved without at least $60k.  Comfortably, you’d be better of with $100k.

7. Rulebook reviewer / editor

If you’re reading this, you know how many bad rulebooks there are out there.  If you have the skillset to write good rules, this is probably a good market to get into.  This is however (like being a cover artist / board designer) something that is very skill dependent.

8. Game Designer

Unless you become a publisher yourself, most game designer’s aren’t able to make a living just designing board games.  On the other hand, you don’t have to put up a lot of money for this and who knows, maybe you’ll design the next Pandemic / Catan / Scythe and end up raking in royalties forever.

9. Comprehensive Board Game Website (competitor to BGG)

Everyone thinks the design on BGG is horrendous.  They’ve been working on a version 2 of the site forever.  So far, no one has come up with a serious competitor to the site but considering the sheer volume of advertising / marketplace sales and industry information there is, I would have to say there’s a significant revenue source here.  Of course, this requires specific skillsets, a decent capital bank and reliable servers, but I’m sure there’s a business case in here somewhere.

10. Kickstarter Fulfillment

We do this as Starlit Citadel Logistics.  There is certainly money in this business, but it is fast getting extremely competitive in Canada & the USA.  Outside of those countries, South America and Asia seems wide open and potentially Europe (or at least, there’s no leading player in Europe from what I understand).  The biggest barrier to entry in this area is shipping cost.  Many of the established players are able to get significant volume discounts from the courier companies and as such, unless you have an existing business that does a lot of shipping, this could be a major disadvantage.  Other things to watch out for in this business is that income is not predictable – you could do 3 Kickstarter’s in a week and then nothing for a month or 3.  Lastly, most Kickstarter’s break out (from what we’ve seen / been told) into the following volumes – 60% USA, 10% Canada, 20% Europe & 10% everywhere else.  If you assume most Kickstarter projects fund at the 1000 backer level, there’s only a small number of shipments everywhere but the USA which means you’d need to get a significant number of projects signed up to make a decent living.  Then again, there are always the mega projects (Kingdom Death anyone) that help pay the bills for months…

 

Hidden Costs

There are a number of hidden costs involved in running your own business.  I’m not talking about accounting or financial costs – I talk about them a lot anyway – but less ‘tangible’ costs.  These are often hidden, from casual onlookers, from employees, from customers that make running a business more of a challenge than most people realise. Here’s a few hidden costs:

Your Time

When we first launched the site, I worked between 70 – 80 hours a week usually.  Some weeks, I worked more than that. These days, I’m doing a more manegable 50 – 60 hours on average.  That is still a huge chunk of time, however you look at it especially when you consider most jobs talk about 35 – 40 hours as ‘normal’.

Your Boundaries

 

Other people get to put away the business when they get home.  You don’t.  I’m always on-call if the site goes down (I get a text message if it ever does and I can on it right away, whatever time of day it is).  Even when you do want to take a break, more often than not your mind will circle back to the business, to what you need to do now or tomorrow or the next day.  The boundary between work and personal life blurs and becomes very hard to tell, and this is often a necessity to get your business successful.  Perhaps later, it might separate again but for the first half-decade at least; it’s a constant intrusion.

Your Health

You know all that time stressing about the business, working those stupid hours? Yeah, it takes a toll.  An ‘in-joke’ among some friends are that I’m as often sick as I am healthy.  Not too much of an exaggeration as I’m highly susceptible to colds.  Between stress lowering your immune system, lack of time to exercise / eat well and having to work even if you are ill; you will find yourself getting ill and staying ill longer than you used to.

Your Relationships

Look at all the above.  Guess what that does to the relationships in your life?  If you’re ill, tired, thinking of your business and working on it all the time, the relationships in your life get strained.  You have to have an understanding family and friends as you won’t see them as often, and when you do; often what you’ll want to talk about (whether they are interested or not!) is the one thing consuming your life – your business.  It’s not necessarily healthy mind you… but it happens.

Your Hobby

This is for those of us who made a hobby our careers.  Sure, you might still game – you might still enjoy to game.  However, you just can’t find as much time.   It took me quite a few years to learn to book time out to actually play games, and even these days; I often end up playing games not because I think I might like them but because I want to learn them for the business.   It sucks some joy out of gaming, and committing to learning whole new systems just make me cringe – after all, I could learn a new board game in the time it takes me to learn the intricacies of Warhammer / GURPs/ etc.

Your Future

I know I said I wasn’t going to talk money, but I wanted to bring up personal money.  If you move from a relatively well paying job to working for yourself, unless you are extremely lucky, the chances are you’ll be ‘losing’ money almost immediately.  It’s hard to make as much money (especially in this industry) as you’d earn working for someone else.  At best, a Game Store manager earns $45,000 a year.  A freshly graduated IT worker earns $70 – 80k a year.  A freshly graduated Accountant (before they get their certification!) $55 – 60k.    And chances are, you aren’t even a fresh graduate.  So… how much ‘lost’ funds are you looking at? And it just keeps adding up, year after year….

I don’t want to sound like a downer here, but there are costs to choosing the lifestyle we live.  Some grate more than most, some can be ‘trimmed’ but they are all there.  If you choose to go down this road, realise there are further cost beyond just the upfront capital that you could lose…