Showing posts with label Publishing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Publishing. Show all posts

Saturday, November 28, 2020

New shipment of Doctor Esker's Notebook arrived

A new shipment of Doctor Esker's Notebook arrived from India today. 4,320 games in the third printing. 12 boxes, about 40 lbs each. They went to Charlotte instead of Greensboro, and my customs broker closed down, so I had to figure out some new stuff. My new customs broker was absolutely wonderful, though - shout out to Charlotte Customshouse Brokers (

Now I have to get them down to the basement sans hernia.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Doctor Esker's Notebook Project - by the numbers

I did a workup of the finances and sales I've had for the Doctor Esker's Notebook project. I figure this might be of interest to other indie game designers and publishers. The project started in May 2018, with the first printing (1080 copies) ordered in August 2018, arriving misprinted in October, and then fixed and ready to sell by February 2019. The sequel and the second printing of the original game (2160 copies each) were ordered in July 2019 and arrived in late September 2019.

Let me know if you have questions in the comments.

Bigger version of the image is here.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Son of Doctor Esker's Notebook is now officially available

Son of Doctor Esker's Notebook is now officially available for purchase on my site! Yay. Here's the purchase page. I added a special discount (10%) if you're new to Esker and want to buy both games at once.

Son of Esker is here!

Son of Doctor Esker's Notebook, plus the second printing of the original Doctor Esker's Notebook, are here stateside! It will take me a little time to get them processed, to get some shipped to Amazon, and to get my website updated, but they're here! Yay!

If you see this and want one, and you're in the U.S. you can send $14.99 via Paypal to, and just mention that you'd like Son of Esker rather than the original. If you're not in the U.S., contact me about shipping. I can only cover free shipping to US addresses.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Off a cliff (not really)

Well, my profitability graph went off a cliff. Why? Because I paid for two new things last week. Thing One was a second printing of Doctor Esker's Notebook, which is exciting. I've now sold half of my first print run, and I'm on schedule to run out sometime in October at current sales rates, so I needed some more. I ordered another 2160 games, or double the number from my current print run.

Thing Two was the sequel to Doctor Esker's Notebook, called Son of Doctor Esker's Notebook, which is a whole new deck of puzzles to play. The game mechanism is similar to the first game, but the deck and the puzzles are completely different. You don't need to have played the first to play the second - you can do them in either order. I ordered 2160 of these as well.

So, my graph above, which was flirting with profitability for this year, is now way back in the red. But that's a good thing! I stand to make another $4000 or so from my remaining games from the first print run. I spent about $7500 on the second print run and the sequel print run. That will give me the potential for another $40,000 in revenue from those two printings, or a total profit off all print runs of about $34,000 after I deduct expenses for development, marketing, and supplies. That's nice. Obviously, I'll have taxes to deduct from that also, and I'll have to pay both ends of the social security and Medicare taxes like you do as a sole proprietor. I don't really want to estimate what the hourly rate of compensation for me is, because I've put so much time into this, but I think it'll beat working at McDonalds.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Doctor Esker's Notebook project financial update

I've been doing a series of posts about the financial end of my game project, and I haven't posted an update for a while. I'm nearly to the break-even point, which is great! I'm at $-194 by my calculation, with revenues of $3,454 offsetting expenses of $3,649.

I have sold 386 games and sent out 35 as promo or reviewer copies. I have 134 in stock at Amazon, and another 525 or so at home (uh, I mean in my warehouse 😀 ). I make about $9 per game depending on the sales channel, and I am not incurring too many new expenses at this point - the major expenses were printing and development, and I don't have many ongoing costs (other than the cut Amazon and PayPal take from each sale). So, I could make up to about $4,000-$4,500 on this if I just sell out the print run and don't do anything else.

Sales have taken a little bit of a hit over summer. I'm at about two sales a day, where from February to April I was at more like three a day. I hope that's just seasonal and not a trend. Nearly all sales now are through Amazon.

Here's the info in graph form. First, expenses and revenues by category:

The picture above shows revenues (above zero, climbing) and expenses (below zero, mostly flat). Time progresses along the bottom, but not evenly - initially I was updating every day or two, but now I'm updating less frequently.

Next, net revenue (income minus expenses): 

On this one, the time axis is properly scaled. I'm almost back to zero, as you can see.

Of course, I'm not including the time I've put into this project. My hourly wage is something like negative fifty cents an hour. So, this isn't (yet) a good way to make a living, put food on the table, or pay for health insurance. It's not even a good investment relative to a good solid mutual fund, although it will be if I sell out the print run by the end of the year, which looks likely if sales pick up a little around the holidays.

Anyway, looking good. I should hit break even sometime later this month.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Excessive game box size

I've been really enjoying Splendor, which I was given for Christmas. I've played a couple times in the past week after playing it for the first time a few years back.

I've been thinking about box size. I've commissioned some cool art for my card game Horde, and I'd like to get that printed up for distribution. It uses cards plus some scoring tokens, so I need a box big enough for about 90 cards plus 11 tokens and a set of rules. I've been using TheGameCrafter's token chips, which are a satisfying size and weight. All of that could probably fit handily in a small box.
Interestingly enough, that's also about the same component set as Splendor, although it has more like 40 chips instead of 11. Still, it shouldn't need a big box. But they gave it one! Here is a comparative look at the game:

The top picture shows how it's packaged. It looks nice. Below that is the space all the components actually take up.

Clearly, it doesn't need this big a box. It's bad for the environment and bad for storage. It's 80% empty space, and it needs a huge blow-mold plastic frame to hold it all. I wonder, though, if people are willing to pay more for it (and think more of it) if it looks like a bigger game than it is. At $25 retail, or $40 MSRP, I bet a big chunk of that price is actually the empty space in the box. I wonder if I can pitch a smaller box for Horde and convince people that it's as much of a value small as it would be with wasteful packaging. Sometimes when we shop we're just dumb sacks of meat, and I think this might be one of those times.

Friday, April 12, 2019

A business milestone - $2K

This past week I crossed $2,000 in revenue for Dr. Esker's Notebook. The last bit of that came from a distribution deal in Canada with a game store, who bought forty copies at a steep discount and arranged for a U.S. cargo forwarder who I could send the games to, which saved a lot on shipping and complexity for me. I am very grateful for that.

I haven't tried to get into game stores directly other than this effort, and I think that might be a cool avenue to pursue, particularly if I do another print run. Here is the updated revenue and expense chart and net revenue track. I've had pretty healthy sales on Amazon for the past week (around 2-5 per day), so that's helped too.  I've gone from being $3500 in the hole after printing to $1650 in the hole now, about two months later, so that's good progress.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Cubist podcast appearance

I had the great pleasure to be on The Cubist podcast with host Bill Corey, talking about puzzle game design and lots of other topics. Give it a listen!

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Sources of orders

I've been selling Doctor Esker's Notebook for a couple of weeks now. I've paid for a little advertising on Facebook and Google, but most of my customer traffic has been via Facebook, where I've posted general announcements on my feed and also posted to my very active college class page (Harvard-Radcliffe 1991). So far, the HR91 folks have come through in a very big way and represent nearly half of my sales. Here's the distribution, classified by segments of my life:

Those folks who have no connection to me, the purple wedge representing ten orders, are the group that needs to grow if I'm going to expand sales very much. I only have so many affinity groups that I can go to personally. The question is how best to reach outside those groups to people who would just take a chance on the game without a personal connection to me.

I would imagine this is what most boardgame Kickstarter campaigns look like, at least in the early stages, so even though I've already printed, this is probably parallel in terms of audience.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

On the efficacy of Facebook ads

Here are the results from my ad campaign. It ran for about ten days.

So, did it work? Well, assuming Facebook isn't just making up numbers, they showed my ads 129,118 times to 31,662 people. Some people must have seen them a lot more than once, so I guess I'm kind of the MeUndies of puzzle card games. That's a lot of potential views. However, there were only 37 clicks on the ad, which is a fraction of a percent of the people who saw it.

Was it worth it? Well, I spent a little over $50, which means that I need to sell six games to cover the costs. I likely didn't. At this point, I have sold about eight games to people to whom I don't have a known personal connection. All but one of those were on Amazon, which wasn't where Facebook pointed. So, I can't possibly have made back my investment, unless all eight of these sales came from Facebook click-throughs that somehow ended up on Amazon, which is really unlikely. It's far more likely that I have zero sales from Facebook. My Google Analytics aren't really robust enough to track sales yet, because I handle the transactions on my site through PayPal, and I lose the thread of connectivity once they go shopping. I'm working on that, but it isn't really an issue with only one PayPal sale so far that I don't know the source for.

  • People may have seen the ad, become interested, but intend to buy later.
  • People may have seen the ad, stored a scrap of brand awareness in their subconscious memories, and have a vague positive association if they encounter it later.
For me, Facebook ads seem to have a return on investment value near zero.

Jury's still out on Google ads (the numbers are a lot lower), but I suspect it's similar. My guess at this point is that most of the sales for which I don't know the origin come from Amazon searches.

Fixing errors

Here's what fixing a printing error looks like. This is four cases of 11 games each laid out with the eleven cards I needed to replace in each box next to them. This set took me about an hour and fifteen minutes. I did 12 cases total today (132 games) for a total of about four hours work. The hardest task is cutting the shrinkwrap carefully on each box, although opening each box and finding and replacing the badly printed cards takes some time too. I elected not to invest the time or money in re-shrinkwrapping. No complaints so far, but I imagine if I sold in game stores I might need to rewrap them.

I really wish I didn't face this problem, but it's not insurmountable. In about four hours work today, I fixed about 12% of my print run. I have 79% of the print run (860 games) left to fix, so another 27 or so hours of boring labor to get them all done.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Esker net revenue so far

I'm going to add a graph here for folks interested in the business of self-publishing a game. I'll update this over the next year or so as the project continues.

The graph here shows all my expenses to date (all the stuff below zero) and all my net revenue from sales (the stuff above zero). The sales income already has the fees deducted (for sales on my site, that's credit card processing and shipping; for sales on Amazon, that's their fees). I'll break even when the stuff above the line matches the stuff below the line.

Note that the dates here aren't evenly spaced, so while time advances to the right, its speed isn't even. The net revenue (income minus expenses) figure now is -$3,109, so I have a lot of ground to cover to break even. Here's a representation of that.

At my current price of $14.99, which is the same on my site and on Amazon, I net the following: about $10.99 $9.54

In both places, the shipping is free to customers, meaning that I pay for it. Initially, I was going to charge shipping on my site, but I changed it once I learned that even non-Prime Amazon sales had shipping included when you do fulfillment by Amazon. I thought (a) people might resent the extra shipping charge, since folks are getting used to free shipping, and (b) it was nice to have the same price on my site and Amazon.

At those prices, I'll need to sell a bit more than 300 more games to break even, although I'll obviously incur more expenses as I go if I continue to do advertising, send out review copies, and run into other stuff such as NC sales tax.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Doctor Esker's Notebook: One week in

OK, I've had a published game out there for one week. Yay! Here are some numbers:
  • I started with 1080 copies; I've sold 24. 
  • After shipping (which I'm offering free and covering from sales revenue) and payment processing fees, I've cleared about $220 in net revenue. I'll owe a little bit of North Carolina sales tax on in-state sales.
  • Of the 24 sales, at least 22 are to people who have a personal connection to me. One of them I don't have a name for yet, and one of them (purchased on Amazon) seems to have found me in another way, but I don't know how. 
  • I really need to expand my sales beyond just people who know me, because I don't have 1080 friends.
  • I've spent about $3300 on this so far, as broken down in the chart here:
  • That comes to about $3 per game in costs. After the selling and fulfillment fees on Amazon (I'm having them ship the product), I clear about $7.50 per game. For the ones I've sold on my site via PayPal and shipped myself, I clear a little under $10 per game. So, I have to sell somewhere between 500-700 of my print run to make back what I've spent so far. 
  • I've done small ad campaigns with Facebook affinity ads and Google search ads directed to my site. They've both produced about the same (small) number of clicks, but Facebook has about 400 times the impressions (showings) as Google. That suggests that Google search results are much more efficient (i.e. clickable) than  Facebook ads. Neither of them have (as far as I can tell) resulted in any sales. Not sure I'll continue with those.
  • Board Game Geek's minimum ad package is $500, which would mean it would have to produce at least 50 sales to pay for itself. If reports from Kickstarter campaigns (which don't even have real games yet) who've advertised on BGG can be believed, that might be possible.
  • I do have a bit of a secret weapon, although I have no idea how strong it is. Although I no longer have an ownership stake in the Snood corporation, my partner there has said he would be amenable to advertising Doctor Esker's Notebook to their mailing list. The audience between Snood and a puzzle card game probably doesn't have a strong overlap, but it might have some, and there may be some residual Snood customer goodwill there.
  • I've sent the game out to several reviewers. I'm hoping to get some reviews up, either from those review sites, or from Amazon customers, or Board Game Geek users, before I do too much more marketing, because right now, there is no way for a potential buyer to know if the game is any good or not.
I'll update more later, but it's been a really exciting week.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Amazon product titles

I visited Board Game Geek to see if they'd approved my listing request for Doctor Esker's Notebook, and I was excited to see an Amazon ad for it. I hope that other folks are seeing the ad, as I don't need to buy a copy myself, but it was still cool to see it.

I noticed that the other products have long names that include descriptive text, and I thought that might be a good thing to try. In an ad like this, people wouldn't really know what the game was. So, I changed the name on Amazon to "Doctor Esker's Notebook, a Puzzle Card Game in The Style of Escape Rooms." I hope that will give people a better idea of what they're looking at, and it might make the game's discovery via search a little better too.

Doctor Esker's Notebook - released now!

I've got my new puzzle card game, Doctor Esker's Notebook, printed and ready to sell (well, I already sold the first copy). It's up on my website above and also on Amazon, which is really neat to see. I shipped them 44 copies, and they went live on Sunday night. Come have a look!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Doctor Esker's Notebook is on the way to being real

I just took a huge step on what's been a slow, twisty, often stalled journey toward publishing a game. I sent art for my puzzle card game, Doctor Esker's Notebook, to a printer.

I'll talk more as I get up and running with sales about the finances that went into this and the process of starting up this venture, but for now, it's just exciting.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Esker card game quotes and pricing

Getting some quotes back from manufacturers. A big variety in price points and discounts. The game is at a minimum 72 cards in a tuckbox, although I have considered extras like a two-piece box and an instructions sheet. I already have an instructions card, but it might be cool to have that be more obvious.

Here's what I have so far for quotes.  Tuck = tuckbox, 2P = two-piece box, I = small instructions sheet.
Some notes:
  • Ace (aka PlayingCardsIndia) is coming in at the most economical. They only bid for one print run, so they may have even steeper discounts at higher orders - I just extended their line so that I could see them relative to others. 
  • A two-piece box is way more (+$1-2) for some companies and not much more (+$0.50) for others. 
  • At a potential retail price point of $12 or $13, assuming I use my own art and don't get it redone, I'd probably be able to cover other costs (advertising, equipment, my time) at the Ace bid, but not necessarily too far above that. I don't want to order too many to start, because it's an unproven product in an industry that I know well as a customer but in which I have very limited experience as a seller. 
  • I've checked into selling at Amazon, and for something like this, they'd take about a $3.40 commission per order for just providing a purchase link and collecting orders for me to fulfill, and $7.00 if I have them do the whole fulfillment thing (they warehouse and ship the game, including via Amazon Prime). I'd like a presence on Amazon, but I don't know which option to go with. If I'm paying $5 per game to print, there's almost no margin for the Amazon fulfillment, but if I'm at $2 per game, then I could still make a few bucks that way. If I do the packing and shipping, then the margin is considerably larger, but I lose the Amazon Prime advantage and have to do the work myself, which may include equipment and will include my time (though not likely too much).

Sunday, August 12, 2018

New Puzzle Game - Dr. Esker's Notebook

I've been working on a new puzzle card game over the summer. It's modeled after an escape room experience, but based in a deck of cards. The cards have a series of puzzles to solve, each with differing mechanics. It's been a fun time, and I've tested it with a lot of folks, including family and friends. I also sent some copies to volunteers my college class, which I figured would have some puzzle enthusiasts.

Anyway, it's been a fun project. So fun that I've made up another two puzzle decks. The thing is called Doctor Esker's Notebook, and the conceit is that a mysterious professor has left behind a puzzle-filled notebook. The game cards are scans of pages from this notebook (which I actually made in real life with, like, glue and stuff).

Website is here:

I'm wondering if this is something I could print and sell - got bitten by that bug again. Might go through with it this time.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Great post on publishing process

I found this post by James Mathe from someone in the boardgame design community on Google+.  It's a really great summary of steps to publication (and a cautionary tale for prospective publishing enthusiasts).  It includes a lot of costs and steps you probably haven't thought of before.