Friday, March 19, 2010

No ISBN/UPC needed?

With regard to my recent ISBN/UPC posts (here and here), Tim Harrison of Games on the Brain says:

I checked a number of games I own. None of the following publishers use UPCs or ISBNs:

GMT Games
JKLM Games
most small publishers

GMT publishes thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of copies of games every year, and they don't use them. I'm just saying that unless you have a lot of capital and plan to be doing huge print run, don't waste your money.

Good advice, I think, but I'll unpack it and do a little research.
  • GMT Games, as far as I can tell, is an aggregating publishing house that sells small print runs of games direct to players, many of them through a pre-order model. I doubt their games are often in stores. They have no UPCs or ISBNs, I think.
  • Warfrog (soon to be Treefrog) publishes their own line of games, but also in small print runs, and they don't seem to be listed in most stores, although carries a couple of titles (Brass and Perikles). Perikles is now released by Fantasy Flight, a bigger publisher, and does in fact have a UPC. Brass appears to have one too. Maybe just their bigger titles have codes?
  • JKLM Games (soon to be out of business, unfortunately) is listed in many stores. I'm not sure if most of their line has coded products, but some do - Alien Ascendancy has an ISBN, Days of Steam has a code (I think it's an EAN), but Confucius and Caveman do not.

So, I think I'm in the same boat I was in. Tim's advice is great for smaller print runs that are likely to be sold directly to consumers; there's no need for coding for these. For bigger print runs that might get broader retail distribution, it seems to be pretty standard to have them. I'll have to make that call on my game when I get closer to publication. Since the printing is such a big investment, it might be worth the money to at least have a chance at retail distribution, but on the other hand, I could do a smaller initial print run and add the UPC/ISBN if a second printing is warranted.


  1. Keep your money and don't bother with UPC/ISBN.
    If you want to be extra extra safe, just make sure there's some space on the box bottom where you can later on affix a sticker with an upc/isbn, so should you ever hear your distributor request one it's only a matter of adding a label to all boxes of the current print run.

  2. I agree with Eric.

    As for GMT Games, they are carried by every local game store here in my area, as well as most online retailers.

    Warfrog/Treefrog's 1500 copy print runs (and soon to be 3000+) are small?

  3. Thanks for the advice. I'm certainly listening - I just want to make sure not to miss an opportunity or make a mistake, especially if I print a lot of these suckers. 1500 is certainly a big print run, but it seems like it's about as low as you can go and still have a shot at some kind of retail market. I'll consult some other folks and see what I learn.

    I'll have a post up on what I've learned on the economics and size of print runs in a few days.