Now that the campaign is totally concluded, how did you spend the money?
Lots of details incoming!
The campaign finished at $9,209, and Kickstarter (and the processing company, Stripe I think) immediately took about $800 of that, which is great. Thanks Kickstarter!
Emily made about $800 for something like 100 pieces of finished art, which is a criminally small amount of money - but it was excellent to be able to pay her something.
The vast majority of the money went into printing the actual components. I was working at a small scale for board games; because physical board games often involve lots of specialty pieces, most manufacturers have minimum orders that start in the thousands. They compensate by being able to print each game at a small cost, usually between $3 and $6 per game. Even with a small unit cost, though, once shipping and all the other "big company" fees are factored in, those avenues were too expensive.
My primary manufacturer was through boardgamesmaker.com, which is a Hong Kong company that prints at a couple plants in mainland China. They printed and shipped the box, cards, and tiles for about $4,100 (250 copies). The cubes were a few hundred dollars, and the manuals (basic and bonus versions) ended up being a steal at about $500, from a local company that prints brochures for some theater companies I work for (Cedar House Media! Thanks again!). Thus, my unit cost ended up being much more, but the overall cost of the games was within budget.
(An aside: without doing too much research, my guess is that the hypothetical designer wants to go to a larger company once they get up to needing 500 to 1,000 copies. At that point, it's probably cheaper to do a mass run of 5,000 or so. Depending, of course, on the actual contents of the games.)
Because the campaign came in over its goal, I chose to put that into a better version of figurine. Originally, I had intended to print additional cardboard tiles with character art on them, then get stands that they would fit into, meaning the character pieces would have been done along with the rest of it for relatively cheap.
Instead, I looked into other ways of doing it. A company called Infinity Images does a lot of cool stuff for tradeshows and store displays, and we figured out how to print directly on acrylic and laser cut the rough outline of the characters. Originally, I wanted to do the exact outline of the characters, but the complex outline would've taken too much laser time (approximately $6,000 for all the figures I needed), so instead I did simpler outlines with printed, see-through character art, which is pretty cool (and they discounted it to $1,300).
I tried to keep the bonus kickstarter stuff to a relative minimum, mostly because I couldn't (for example) afford to print two kinds of boxes. All told, additional pieces for the Bonus Version, buttons, art prints, and a limited run of t-shirts and stickers ended up costing about $400.
If you're keeping track, we're at about $7,900, leaving about $600 left over and one big task: Shipping.
Let's talk about shipping.
I was an idiot about shipping, but not the way that most kickstarters are. Although I undercosted the shipping line items on the kickstarter pledges a little, behind the curtain I had the right number: about $1,500 to ship out everything. It was right there, in the budget.
So was it a failure that I ended up with $600 to ship $1,500 worth of stuff? Well, no. I basically took money earmarked for shipping and put it into laser cutting and printing the figurines. I was prepared to do this because I was willing to put some of my own money into the project (there was never any intention of paying myself or breaking even), so it felt fine. That's it - that's the whole story of why I ended up short on money.
Thus, I was smart and well-considered about budgeting. The idiocy came later.
Essentially, I came back into the country after a month of work and vacation to 150 copies of Saga that needed to be put together. Due to an issue with the laser cutting, each figurine needed to be pre-assembled to ensure that the base fit (there were extremely minute variations in the spacing of the holes). The manuals, cubes, character cards, and figurines had to be sorted into each box. And, most unpredictably, I was heading into another hectic work situation at the top of September.
So I sat up late watching Sherlock and fitting together small plastic pieces, and organized some dear friends (thanks again!) to spend a couple nights as an assembly line. All of that worked fantastically. I found packaging that fit the games really well (I hope the snug fit treated everyone right). Only when the games were finally put together and packed did the troubles begin.
With hindsight, I can see that the problems arose because I was completely ready to be finished and done with the project. So, lazily, I did a quick export of the spreadsheet kickstarter sent me, printed out shipping labels, and packaged everything. If you can spot the problem, then you are smarter than I was.
Because I hadn't used any "shipping label" software (like stamps.com or FedEx's business stuff), I ended up with a little over 100 boxes that had to be hand-entered by people at shipping desks, and that was not a fast process.
So I dropped most of the Super Backer packages off at a commercial FedEx location, which led to a nasty surprise when I got the bill and discovered it was $3 more expensive per package than I thought it'd be, based on the quotes I'd gotten through the website. It turns out that there's a "deliver to residential door" surcharge that only pops up if you put in the address on the website, as opposed to just the zipcode. That was a bummer, on top of the "not having enough money for shipping anyway" problem.
I did the rest of them via USPS, logging the zipcode and address for each one via the automated package kiosk; it took about 4 hours, in total.
All told, the phase of "putting products in the mail" was way, way more complex and baroque than it should have been, and it was not a fun process for me, which just goes to show that laziness maybe doesn't lead to good results.
This is my one unequivocal piece of advice for anyone doing a kickstarter: research your shipping until you're sick of it, because I didn't, and it was terrible. Again, I don't think that I'm an idiot in general, but I stuck myself into a bad situation by just wanting to stubbornly get through it, and mistakes compounded themselves into too much time and money.
But I got through it, and I hope everyone has their games now.
Did you get screwed on taxes?
A little background - kickstarter money is classified as income, as though you were an independent contractor. I started an LLC for Fly Paper Games, so the gub'mint treats it as money that I made as the owner of that business. I have read a lot of struggles that people have had with taxes from kickstarter hitting them before they've had a chance to spend the money (because business expenditures aren't taxed like income).
I didn't really have the opportunity to spend the money in 2016 (the kickstarter wrapped up last October, remember), so I did take a "tax hit" in 2016. But it was something that I was prepared for, and it's not actually like losing money; because I spent all of that "income" in 2017, without the same level of money coming in, I should get a break on my 2017 filing. (And unlike a lot of people who do kickstarters, all my "normal" income is also as an independent contractor, so I have a big tax pool to get breaks on.)
How did you do in terms of schedule?
I think we did great. I had a secret hope that I could ship the game out sooner, but setting the shipping deadline a little further out ended up being helpful when work situations delayed both Emily and I over the spring and summer.
The year-long delay between campaign and shipping was a simple fact for this project, because we had to learn so much about our process and the game itself, but in the future my projects will be prototyped and ready to go to print if the campaign completes successfully. I think that's the only way to capture a large amount of internet traffic to support board game kickstarters - there's just too much competition. It takes a big leap of faith to support an unfinished game over a finished, reviewed one.
For more on the game and its process, check out Part 2, which is above this one, because blogs.