Friday, May 14, 2010

Game printing costs

So, I mentioned earlier that Imagigrafx is no longer printing games. I had sought bids from them to produce my game, Diggity. The final product here would consist of about 100 cards, a rule sheet, and a box.

My first instinct was to treat these as confidential, for two reasons. One is, it's kind of unfair to Imagigrafx to publish their bids, because they're a competitive business, and it would let all their competitors know immediately what they're charging and how to undercut them. The second one is similar, but for my business; publishing this information might let potential customers of mine (or distributors, or whatever) know what my costs of production are like, and then use that knowledge to shape their pricing and purchasing decisions.

But I've moved on to my second instinct. My first reservation above, preserving trust with the printer, is not important now. The bids I've received from Imagigrafx are never going to be honored, so it's not hurting them to share the info with the public here. Just to be sure, I asked permission from the source of the quotes, Ben Clark, formerly the games contact at Imagigrafx, now co-host of Paper Money, and he graciously approved. As for my second reservation, keeping my production info private, there's still some concern there, I guess, but the point of this blog is primarily to be useful to my fellow game designers, and I think what I'm learning would be pretty helpful.

So, here's a summary (not the nitty-gritty) of the bids I got from Imagigrafx. They were an American printing company; I found their prices mostly competitive with other printers I consulted, and I was strongly considering going with them to avoid the hassle and uncertainty of working overseas. As for the information here, Ben had some caveats about using these quotes as representative of U.S. printing costs. Prior to exiting the business, Imagigrafx had increased some prices on shorter print runs, and that may have pushed them above other competing printers. This is especially true for the card printing costs; apparently, there was a mandate from higher up in the company to increase card printing prices.

There are three columns here representing three different ways to produce the game. The first is the path I'd like to pursue - a larger two-piece box with a cardboard platform insert, with a cut-out hole where the deck of cards sits. The second and third columns are for one-piece tuckboxes. The second column would have the cards split into two stacks side by side. The third column is the cheapest, and has a single, thick, 100 card stack. For more discussion on these different box types, see here.

The top table shows the fixed setup costs (costs to make cutting dies and deliver proofs), marked in yellow, and then the per-game printing costs. The middle table shows the size of the actual check I'd be writing, or nearly so - there would be shipping costs too. The bottom table shows the final cost of goods - my cost per printed game. It's the first table with the setup costs worked into the per-game cost.

Here's that third table graphed up - you can see there's a huge price drop (about 40%) between 1000 and 2500 games, and another big drop (another 15% or so) between 2500 and 5000. Not so big a change between 5000 and 10000.

Remember that if you're relying on distributors, you're going to be getting only 35-40% of retail for your games, and you have a bunch of costs other than production costs. The wise sages of the industry recommend that your costs be 15%-25% of retail. So, a game you can produce for, say, $3.50 has to retail for $14-24 to fit the industry viability model, and a price at the upper end of that range would be hard for something like Diggity to bring in. I talked more on those economics in my earlier post here.

I hope this helps - the numbers are somewhat sobering, but you need to be informed to make good decisions.

UPDATE: To be clear, the prices above are for the whole game, including cards, rule sheet, box, and a cardboard insert in the case of the setup box.


  1. Sounds like a ripoff Dave.

    Just two years ago, I got a quote from a major European manufacturer that included setup boxes approximately 12 x 9 x 1.25 inches. At 1000 units, they were $2.38 each with an additional 0.39 cents for a card tray. At 2000 units, they were $1.43 each and $0.31 per card tray.

    A few months ago, I got a quote from a box manufacturer here in the U.S. for setup boxes alone. Again, for a 12 x 9 x 1.5 inch, it was $3.39 for a full color on both sides box at 1000 units.

    Since your quotes are twice that (and the box is probably smaller too), I suggest you look around some more.

  2. These are quotes for the whole game, including cards, rules, box, and insert tray for the setup box. It sounds like you're talking about prices just for the box, which would be significantly cheaper without the game components. Is that right?

  3. Tom, I think rather than Dave getting ripped off I think you got a steal of a deal. I would be interested in seeing what your cost from the European manufacturer is today. Two years in the printing industry is an eon. I work for a bindery and over the past year alone we have seen anywhere from a 20-50% increase in most raw materials. I think last year we saw 5 price increase alone on chipboard, anything from 5% to 20% at a time.

    Could you clarify the specs on the setup boxes you were quoted on. Where the boxes wrapped in printed paper wraps or where they printed directly on the card stock? Was the box size a standard size this company makes or were dies required? Making a custom box requires 4 dies alone.

    I would have to say that the prices that Dave had been quoted here for having a domestic product made are actually decent and I would even suggest on the low end.