Running a Games Company - Not As Easy As It Looks!
Jackson Pope
United Kingdom
Newcastle upon Tyne
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As many of you know I'm the guy behind Reiver Games, a UK-based one-man games publishing show. Here's an account of my efforts to making a living as a games publisher.
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1. Board Game Publisher: Reiver Games
 
Jackson Pope
United Kingdom
Newcastle upon Tyne
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About eight years ago, after a weekend long game of Mighty Empires that ended in a mad random dragon attack I decided I could design a board game myself. Until that point I'd used a chunk of my spare time making bits of computer games. Of course, a computer game these days is like a film - it requires a team of tens of people working full-time for a number of years. What I could do in my spare time on my own was limited. But a board game? I reckoned that I could design a whole game on my own, from concept to finished prototype.
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2. Board Game: Border Reivers [Average Rating:6.39 Overall Rank:12140]
Jackson Pope
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Over the next three of years I worked on a design of a much lighter, much quicker game than Mighty Empires, but with the same feel of empire building and combat. Eventually, it reached a point where I was happy with it, so I put it in a Tupperware box and put it on a shelf.

A couple of years later I came back to it. It was a finished game. I wanted it to see the light of day. So I set up Reiver Games as a company to publish it. I got the art done with the help of my Dad, then I got enough artwork printed by a digital print company to make 100 copies and set about assembling those copies by hand.
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3. Board Game: It's Alive! [Average Rating:6.28 Overall Rank:3146]
Jackson Pope
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That first year, I was spending my evenings after work (and some holiday allowance) assembling copies, selling them via BGG and convention attendances.

During that first year, Yehuda Berlinger (of Purple Pawn and his own blog's fame) contacted me, asking if I was looking for other games to publish. Yehuda sent me his design which I published as It's Alive! I decided to make 300 copies of It's Alive! and assemble them by hand again. The game did well, I sold out within a year again and a couple of shops contacted me about stocking them.
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4. Board Game: Activity professional! [Average Rating:5.19 Unranked]
Jackson Pope
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So far so good. At this point I had a full-time job as an IT Project Manager, and was spending a fair amount of my spare time either making games, or publicising them. My lunch breaks often consisted of an hour's round trip to the Post Office to send It's Alive! to various places around the world.

It was time to bite the bullet and try to make the jump from hobby publisher to professional.
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5. Board Game: It's Alive! [Average Rating:6.28 Overall Rank:3146]
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With a chunk of our savings I set up Reiver Games as a professional outfit. I was going to work on it full-time, getting the games manufactured for me and try to get them into shops and distributors, rather than focussing on direct sales through my website and convention attendances.

It took a long time to get things started but six months after quitting my fairly well-paid job, It's Alive! version 2 arrived from the manufacturer in the UK. Four pallets of it. I'd bought 3,000 copies of it. I was committed now.

Due to inexperience and an optimistic desire to release the second edition at the same £15 that the original hand-made version had sold at, I ended up with really crap margins on It's Alive! I'd have to sell 3/4 to break even. Tall order.
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6. Board Game: Carpe Astra [Average Rating:5.95 Overall Rank:6543]
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I'd also been working on another game during that year, a collaboration with Ted Cheatham of Silk Road fame. Not long after Essen (how's about that for bad timing!) Carpe Astra was released. The price was higher, but with a smaller print run (2,000 copies) I was optimistic. Carpe Astra was a much heavier game, so there would be a smaller market for it.

Now with two games on my books things were going well. There was a flurry of new distributors and initial sales of Carpe Astra outstripped It's Alive!

This running my own publishing company was looking like a possibility.
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7. Board Game: Sumeria [Average Rating:6.58 Overall Rank:2984]
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Last year, with things looking pretty rosy, I decided to move Sumeria, the next game I was going to publish forward from Essen to the UK Games Expo in June. Sumeria was an awesome game, I loved the simplicity of the rules coupled with surprising depth of play as you have to make not the best move for you, but the best move taking into account what you think your opponents would. Mulitplayer solitaire it was not.

I found a great (if fairly expensive for my limited budget) artist in Harald Lieske, and started getting it made. I was determined this time to get my margins right, so Sumeria was more expensive again than the first two games. Of course the downside was I had a game is a pretty small box that was at a more expensive price. By the time I had shipped the games to the US the USD price was pretty high - hopefully that wouldn't hurt me too much. Sumeria was the most expensive game yet to buy. Here's hoping the gamble would pay off.
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8. Board Game: Sumeria: 2-Player Expansion [Average Rating:6.46 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.46 Unranked]
Jackson Pope
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For my second Essen I had to decided to release a promo expansion to Sumeria reintroducing the 2-player game that we'd removed to problems we'd found in playtesting. We'd fixed the problems first, of course I was hoping that the promo would drive sales at Essen.

Essen however was a disappointment, I made a small profit, but after the cost of shipping my games there (and the surplus back) it really wasn't that much.
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9. Board Game: Slow Freight [Average Rating:5.37 Overall Rank:15568]
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Sales over Christmas were much slower than the previous Christmas, and after Christmas, without a new game dropped right off.

It was clear that as things stood I was not going to be able to make a living running Reiver Games for a long time to come. I was selling games, and making a small profit, but the profit is nowhere near enough to invest in new games and pay myself a salary. I'd been running the company now for two years and still hadn't drawn any salary.

I tried a bunch of things at the beginning of this year to boost sales - giving free games to a few games clubs around the world, authorising one of my US distributors to sell cheap demo copies to shops, contacting US and Canadian shops directly and asking them to stock my games.

All of this helped, but not enough.
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10. Board Game: Don't Give Up Your Day Job! [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Jackson Pope
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The moral of all this is that I'm going to have to go back to work, earning a living again. I'm determined to continue running Reiver Games in my spare time again, as most of the UK publishers are run.

It's very difficult to make games cheaply enough. Artists cost money, manufacturing isn't cheap unless you make a lot of copies. I've sold over 2,200 copies of It's Alive! in nearly three years, over 1,000 copies of Carpe Astra in 16 months and over 1,100 copies of Sumeria in 9 months. Sounds great, but they aren't selling quickly enough to support new development and pay me.
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11. Board Game: What Happens Next [Average Rating:6.75 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.75 Unranked]
Jackson Pope
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So what's next? I've got a game that I hope to announce shortly which I think has the potential to be my best seller so far. I'm determined to keep Reiver Games going and to get to the point where my games reach break even and sell out.

In the mean time I need to find gainful employment again to pay to bills. Sad, but true.
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