Oct 262011

Jeff Tidball and I have been looking at pricing on the Zeppelin Armada card game over the last several months (and yes, the process has taken months just getting in quotes and where warranted samples of the materials we’ve wanted to look at), to get a sense of what we’ll be looking at. (Sidebar: The game design is essentially done, or at least close to it, but we’re waiting on art before the layout job can begin. I’m also working on getting Race to Adventure put together, and RtA might even see publication before ZA, depending on how things all work out. But the ZA quoting process is also working to help narrow the field on who we might use for the RtA printing. Balls, in the air, juggled.)

I really like going with domestic printers where I can, but sometimes the math just doesn’t add up in favor of it. Right now, it’s coming down to this:

The Leading Domestic Option


  • Strong customer service
  • Turnaround times from placement of order to delivery of product are ideal
  • Pricing not competitive: estimated $4.84/unit @ 3000, $3.79/unit @ 5000.
  • Can’t deliver desired linen finish at quality/pricepoint we want

The Leading International Option


  • Pricing competitive: estimated $3.50/unit @ 3000, likely below or near $3/unit @ 5000.
  • Able to supply linen finish at quality/pricepoint we want
  • Customer service has not impressed me (slow responses, needs “tending” to ship samples, etc)
  • Turnaround times from placement of order to delivery of product are not ideal (overseas shipping means literal slow-boat-from-China effect, plus customs delays)

It’s a bitch; they’re exact opposites of each other, and each has pros that I’d really like to have, and cons that I have a hard time finding a place to be comfortable about.

That $1.34 per unit gap (or even 79 cent gap) you’re seeing on the hard number side is nothing to sneeze at — when you’re intending to price your product at $25, you want your unit cost to be $5 or lower, and the lower the better (assuming all things held equal on quality), because your $25 product is probably selling for $10 per unit into distribution, where you’ll likely make the bulk of your sales. So if I was making a choice based strictly on price, the International Option would be the clear winner.

But damn if I’m not having a hard time finding my peace with that. In my personal life I’m likely to make a choice of customer service over bottom dollar nearly every time, because I’m buying an experience as well as a product, and I want the experience to color my use of the product positively. So my instincts pull strongly in that direction, and push me to find compromises I can live with, like dumping the linen finish intention from the games, and so on.

And after my chance to do a ride-along on a shipment-from-China experience with Hero System 6th Edition (there’s a reason it didn’t get to GenCon in time, and it had everything to do with the international factor), I’m super gun-shy about international shipping times. When I’m publishing books, that’s a decision I can make comfortably. The turnaround I see with my domestic printing options, from POD operations to hard cover full color offset jobs, is just stellar, along with strong customer service, etc, etc. But I can also operate at a comfortably smaller scale with my printings, there.

Not so much with card games, where you’re likely to commit at a 3000-5000 unit level at least — they’d tell you that 10,000 copies is the better entry level, though I’m sticking to my “test the waters” instincts of keeping it down in the 3k-5k range. (Yes, yes, I know about the POD offerings that are in the works out there but I haven’t yet seen the data that tells me they’re ready for prime time.)  So the gulf between those two price points starts to add up, and worse yet if I push to add quality-enhancing value adds that push me over the $5/unit max. As shown above, we’re talking a four thousand dollar difference at 3000 copies. And, yeah: I could kickstarter the thing, make the initial target $4k (or more) to cover the difference between the domestic and the international option. But, guys? I’d rather that $4k go towards getting me a larger print run, or covering more of the other costs on the table. Angst, angst, angst.

So, I feel stuck. Luckily, I don’t have to commit to either of these options right away — I probably have a couple months yet to decide, and frankly January would be just peachy by me, though I expect the ball to start rolling a touch earlier than that. Still: stuck. When it all adds up, the cons are weighing down the pros in each scenario enough that I don’t really like either choice. But them’s my choices, given my constraints.

Which would you choose?


  23 Responses to “It Comes Down To This”

  1. Domestic. I’d probably try to justify it by saying the slowness/poor customer service is adding an invisible cost to the international option, although admittedly probably not over $1 per unit. But I, too, am gunshy about international shipping times.

  2. Go with your gut. There is an ethical side as well and given the economic situation it’s the right choice. Also, there is a possible minor marketing boost with “printed in U.S.A” on the box.

  3. You’ll probably take more heat if the cards come across as being “cheap” or if the game is overpriced than you will for ordering from China and experiencing a possible delay. As long as you can avoid a Betrayal at House on the Haunted Hill type printing fiasco in which the cardstock warped if you looked at it wrong.

  4. Personal preference, I know, but I dislike linen finishing, so that would be easy for me to jettison.

    Have you contacted 360 Manufacturing Services (877-630-2417), which is Hasbro’s factory? When it comes to RtA, you should also check out Ludofact in Germany.

    When considering the tradeoff of price versus service and timing, I would keep in mind how important those will be when problems occur. I’ve heard more reports of problems with Chinese manufacturing than with domestic or German. How easy will it be to resolve problems if there turns out to be a significant quality issue. Even if it’s resolved, it might require another whole slow-boat wait.

    I assume the overseas cost already figures in the cost of shipping. What will be the cost, though, if you’ve been waiting so long that you end up asking them to send a case or two by air?

  5. One additional delay you might be looking at with the Chinese source, depending on when you submit the order: Chinese New Year is coming up on the third week of January, and many Chinese printers and manufacturers will slow down dramatically just before and for a few weeks after that date (roughly a month period bookending the New Year, which is Jan 23rd), and then there will be slowdowns as they ramp back up after the long vacation because lots of employees do NOT return after the holiday, and training new employees takes a while, with a higher potential for a concomitant loss of quality (as well as the usual worries about international shipping, customs delays, etc.)

    Long story short: check with whoever is handling/supervising the printing in China to see if the New Year thing is or has been an issue for them.

  6. Given the two options I would most likely go with the Chinese company, because while it will matter to you, to the end user, the customer service of the company who printed the thing isn’t going to matter.

  7. Oddball idea from someone who doesn’t know enough about the business to know why it won’t work:

    Could you potentially use Kickstarter as a pre-order, with the specific goal of justifying a larger print run, say the 10K “entry point” that you mentioned, or some other number that results in a more competitive unit price from the domestic printer?

    I’m sure there are a bunch of problems with that, including setting up the criteria for the kickstarter project, explaining the goal clearly, shifting a significant chunk of expected sales from in-store to on-line, which could create fulfillment problems, and possibly alienate store owners.

    You know what, forget I said anything. 🙁

  8. Right now, my biggest question is… what is the component count like?

    If there’s sufficient STUFF in the box, you may be able to go with $30, which would cushion the higher domestic price considerably.
    I realize you set out with $25 in mind, but this last year has seen multiple spikes in component costs across the board, and EVERYTHING is more expensive as a result. Across the entire tabletop hobby, prices on things are 5-10 more than people would have expected a couple years ago.

    PERSONALLY… I don’t mentally ping a real difference between 25 and 30 bucks. Like most shoppers, I see things in tens moreso than fives. Yes, 25 is cheaper than 30, but they’re both in the same “price band”

    You obviously have a component count, so compare it to what other games are charging.
    Ascension, for instance, is a small board, some plastic tokens, and a mere 200 cards… for $40.

    Munchkin, OTOH, is $25 and consists of nothing but 168 cards and one die. However, a recent newspost from SJG points out that Munchkin has been $25 for a decade, and that simply by inflation, it should be over $30 now. They mention they’re only able to hold the $25 mark as a result of volume. Munchkin print runs are in the ten-thousands.

    So yeah… what are the components we’re looking at? I’m fairly sure you’ll have enough in the box to justify $30

    • $25 *is* the “upgraded” price. It’s 100 cards and a few cardboard damage counters. We were originally targeting $20 with just the cards, but I’m not comfortable with doing a card game that needs damage counters that doesn’t give you your means to track damage.

    • Re: the diff between $25 and $30:

      Mostly agreed. As a game buyer, I don’t think there’s a significant difference between $24.99 and $29.99 anymore. As a game seller, I had to increase the retail price of Zombie Cafe at the only store that I sell through as my printer raised prices, and I saw a dramatic drop in sales. This could also be due to a fall off of interest in that area market, no easy way to tell.

    • Was the price increase on Zombie Cafe from 25 to 30? Or was it a different bracket? I do tend to find that buyers aren’t always as good at predicting their actual behavior at the point of sale as they think they are. 🙂

    • Damn. Hrmm… it is a tough position. Not really sure where to go with it then.
      At this point, with Essen over, I’d give LF a chance to step up their CS game. If they improve, I’d vote for them. Slow shipping is a PITA, but that’s less of a drawback on a single print run… it’s more relevant for multiple runs.

    • Yeah, I have a slight leaning there, though I should note that the notion of a multiple print run is certainly in play, if it turns out that the necessarily low-quantity initial print run isn’t enough to meet demand.

    • Sorry for the slow reply, Fred, it’s been a busy few days.

      No, I’m not in that price bracket. I currently follow the Cheap Ass production model, I think I took my price from $14-15 to $18 for a two-deck game with no other components. Definitely a falling off using that production model as price approaches $20. IMO.

  9. Thanks for the transparency, Fred!

    The issue which occurs to me is the occasions where community response to shipping-enduced delays has derailed goodwill/discussion of a particular game line in *utter disproportion* to the responsibility of the poor folks getting the thing made.

    It sounds like Ludofact do good work from comments in this thread, but shipping is still a grand unknown.

  10. Im not likely to check back to read any follow up comments to what I post… But I’ll post anyway.

    I’m not sure If this is a ccg or a deck game like dominion or ascension. If it is like dominion or ascension, are you aware that ascension recently released their game on iTunes? It plays really well too. Would you consider that as an option? You could even do a ccg like that by enabling in game purchases. Let them get a starter deck and buy boosters. When your product goes from tactile to digital surely that helps?

    The ascension game plays really well even on iPhone though it looks best on iPad. I can easily see a lot of card games emulating them in the future.

    It may not be feasable for you but it’s something to think about maybe?

    If I had to make the decision you are trying to make I would consider what the long term effects would be. Would I lose enough profit buying local to make it worthless? In the long run would the profit margin make it difficult to keep doing business? If I need to send the business overseas after buying a batch local, will my customers be able to tell the difference? Will they care? If I buy overseas am I willing to commit the time to keep on them about my product since their customer service sucks? Is that time worth the money I am saving? If so, why bother.

    Buying local is great for the economy, but if It would make doing business unprofitable, then you need to go overseas to make the money you need to stay in business. It’s harsh but it’s a reality. Anyone who doesn’t understand that is just naive. The customer service issue seems like it can be fixed by being willing to accept the fact that you may need to nag them.

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