Sunday, June 16, 2019

Board Game: Slay the Oly Dragon Released!

Slay the Oly Dragon board game has been officially released and is now available for purchase at The Game Crafter!



The game board and a few cards...


And How To Play video...


Unfortunately the game isn't cheap. I wanted the premium physical package - hard box, large game board, full sized cards, and nice player tokens. Add in the inefficiency of on-demand printing and shipping and it just costs a lot. Each purchase has a few bucks for me as profit, but it literally is just a few bucks. I'm not making any money on this; it is purely for fun.

More importantly though the game has been a hit with families that have played it.


Even if I sell very few to random people on the internet, I will be buying many copies as gifts for friends and family. This was definitely a passion project of the exact game I wanted to play with my family.

I think if the game was in the $20-30 range, then it could be a hit. That'd be closer to a typical kid's gift price point and it would be a great gift idea. However being in the $40s shipped its price unfortunately shifts itself more to board game enthusiasts (and they may be more inclined to more advanced gameplay). We shall see...

For things I'd change...
The Game Crafter printing was really nice, but a lot of the subtle details in the terrain did get washed out. Next time I'd exaggerate the texture so it comes out better. There could be more trees on the board and of more varieties. I could also have more card variations for shortcuts and obstructions. But these are all minor artwork items, the game play is solid and that's what matters. Maybe I spruce things up for the 2nd edition! (Don't wait for that one, who knows when that would get touched!)

I already have a running idea for my next board game that is far more commercially viable... a single player card only game that will be a fraction of the cost. But it is a ways off... I'm back on the computer RPG game with improvements moving along.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Game Business: What Age Range Can I Market My Board Games To?

(The following is based on my limited understanding of toy regulations as of early 2019. All of it may be totally wrong; just use it as one more bullet point in your quest to sell games.)

So what age range can I market my board games to?

Several years ago (after it sounds like a lead paint scare from toys made in China), the U.S. (and E.U.) enacted some over the top regulations concerning children's toys. Basically every toy marketed to a child under the age of 12 has to have every component thoroughly tested before it could be offered for sale.

Doesn't sound too bad right? Well here's where it gets stupid. It's the final game that has to be thoroughly tested, not the components from the suppliers. It doesn't matter if Supplier A and Supplier B have passed testing, when I offer those 2 items combined in a game I have to have it retested by a third party. At the cost of a few thousand dollars. Well if you're Hasbro and you're selling a million of something, that's a rounding error. If you're just a guy trying to offer a compelling product to a niche market where your profit is likely sub $1000, you're screwed.

(From what I've read all of this is very similar in the E.U., but I don't know details.)

Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is the enforcing arm in the United States of this law. Their website is hit or miss on how well they explain things, but potentially the most important link to read:

https://www.cpsc.gov/Business--Manufacturing/Business-Education/childrens-products

Screenshot snippet:


There is an exception for small businesses selling children's products with low print runs. Some products don't have to be third party tested if you're a small business, with very low print numbers, and you have documentation from the suppliers that the toys are clean.

https://www.cpsc.gov/Business--Manufacturing/Small-Business-Resources/Small-Batch-Manufacturers-and-Third-Party-

Screenshot snippet:


Sounds great, right? So that means I can market to any age because I'm a small business using The Game Crafter as my printer? But I'm not selling the games directly; The Game Crafter is. And they're too big / print too many games to qualify under the exemption. That is why The Game Crafter doesn't allow games to be marketed under the age of 12.

https://help.thegamecrafter.com/article/20-can-i-make-games-for-kids

Screenshot snippet:


And according to the CPSC (from that first link above), you can't make a children's game and just slap 12+ on it. The style of the graphics, gameplay, and how it's marketed determines the age range.


So does that mean any game I create can only appeal to teens / adults? Not necessarily... If my game falls under "General Use", then the age range is more flexible without the third party testing. (Checkers is an example of General Use.)

Small Business Ombudsman

This is the point I'm going to introduce the Small Business Ombudsman, they're a resource from the CPSC to help people like me understand the rules.

https://www.cpsc.gov/Business--Manufacturing/Small-Business-Resources

I contacted them and they were very friendly and tried to help in clarifying the CPSC rules. Additionally, they offered to review my game and marketing materials to offer their opinion on the category and age range it should be assigned.

(Please note: I found the Ombudsman to be great over the phone but not very responsive to e-mails. If you decide to e-mail them and you don't hear back within a few days, give them a call to follow up. They can look up the e-mail you sent while on the phone.)

Age Determination

I e-mailed the Small Business Ombudsman a sample of graphics from Slay the Oly Dragon and my marketing points. A couple weeks later I had a follow on phone call and heard the determination... From their initial review, my game could be considered a "General Use Product, ages 9+"! Which is to say it's not a product primarily for children 12 and younger. Adults, teens, or kids under 12 may all have enjoyment out of the game.

I'm very happy with the assessment. The game is meant to be an uncomplicated counter to the other role playing board games on the market. Not just enjoyable for kids, one of my coworkers liked it because you could do dinner & game night without spending half the evening figuring out the rules. This was not official testing; I can still get official testing to confirm an age range if I wanted. But it was great news to hear!

They didn't say this specifically, but I think the following is what pushed Slay the Oly Dragon to "General Use, 9+":
- The game is relatively simple for teens and adults but still fun, it's not just for younger kids.
- Art was not geared to small children. I did censor out the blood on the zombie so I wouldn't have to check a "gore" checkbox on The Game Crafter, but the artwork goal was realistic rather than cartoonish.
- The Encounter & Loot cards are physically full size (not smaller / children size).
- There are tactical decisions where a player's higher skill results in better play. (Contrasted to other children's games that are essentially pure luck.)
- My marketing did express that the game was quick to setup with straightforward rules, but nothing specifically targeting very young kids.

General Use Labeling

As a "General Use" board game, it is not subject to CPSC testing, labeling or certification requirements. Also as a general use product, I'm not required to have an age range printed on the box. I could put 9+ or 12+ on the box if I wanted to (but I can not go below 9+).

Since The Game Crafter does not allow listing below 12+, I'm opting to not put an age range at all on the outside of the box. My game can be enjoyed by 9 year olds, so I don't want to limit the box to say 12+. And I don't want to put 9+ on the box only to have it conflict with 12+ advertised on the website.

I also asked the Small Business Ombudsman about the "WARNING CHOKING HAZARD Small Parts" label you see on so many boxes. For games such as this one (target ages 9+) it does not need to be included, but it's ok if I do.

What it Comes Down To

If a game can be enjoyed by teenagers and adults, then it may be a general use game and not subject to testing requirements. So making a game specific to children is a pain in the butt, but making a game that can also be appealing to children is not. And honestly any game I make I want to also enjoy playing so that's fine by me!

(And of course everything I say above may be completely wrong...)

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Game Business: Starting the Business (Washington)

The first game that I'll offer for sale will be Slay The Oly Dragon; I expect it to make very very little money (reasons I'll go into in a future post). The steps to create the business have been very interesting, and I haven't found any step-by-step guide (free anyways) that details it out.

I've been debating whether or not to blog about my process of creating this game business. I'm not a lawyer or accountant or MBA holder or tax expert. I basically attempt to research something thoroughly enough that I become confident enough to do it myself. It doesn't always work but frequently does. (Coupled with very bad experiences with hiring contractors - I try to do as much as possible myself.)


So I think I'll go into my business creation process here to help others. I am NOT AN EXPERT - this is just (mostly) what I did. I say mostly, because it's just not practical to include everything. I'll be trying to hit the major points and smaller gotchas that may help others. If you saw me leave out something incredibly important and obvious and everyone should know; it's probably because I thought so too and didn't bother saying anything. (Or maybe I missed something and you should say it in the comments before I get audited. ;-) ) What I've done may be horribly wrong, so as I've said with electrical work - use me as just one more bullet point in your research.

Everything I say is based on United States & Washington State (and early 2019). Anywhere else... at anytime other time... I don't know... Also my goal is a simple one-man game design shop where I do not sell direct to consumers (very limited scope). It gets complicated fast once you sell direct to people.

The very first thing to do is pick a business name. Basically you have to have something that is unique in at least the fields you'll be operating in. For example: don't touch the word "Apple" with a ten foot poll if you're doing anything technology related.

At least for Washington, they recommend business searches local to the state and with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office:
https://bls.dor.wa.gov/addtradenames.aspx

Then (in Washington State) you submit a Business License Application with the Washington Business Licensing Serve at the Department of Revenue:
http://bls.dor.wa.gov/

It's quick and easy to apply online at "My DOR":
https://secure.dor.wa.gov/home/

In the application you'll include all possible trade names your business will use, whether its a Sole Proprietorship or Limited Liability Corporation (LLC), and the type of business activities you'll be performing. Sole Proprietorship is by far the easiest and cheapest to setup, but it also has the greatest liability in terms of lawsuits. LLC has much more overhead in setting up and running but it gives some protection from lawsuits affecting you personally. There are lots of websites that explain those in far more detail than I'll ever go in, so I'll move on now. The type of business you select determines the frequency Washington state wants your taxes reported.

After a couple weeks you'll get a fancy "Business License" with a UBI (Unified Business ID). On that license will include any trade names you submitted for and you'll be told your required tax reporting frequency.

When I received my license, the tax reporting was quarterly. Since I'm not expecting to make practically any money with this first game, that seemed a bit excessive. I called up the Washington Department of Revenue, and the reason it was quarterly reporting is because I picked business segments related to game sales. Washington state reasonably figured I'd be selling directly to customers and collecting sales tax and thus should report taxes on a fairly frequent basis.

 At this point, I need to go into how The Game Crafter works...

I design a game and compile all the artwork. I then upload it to their website and publish it as a game. People can go to thegamecrafter.com to order my game where it's printed on demand and mailed directly to them. I never deal directly with customers. The Game Crafter sends me a periodic royalty payment to pay me for my design.

From The Game Crafter website...



I called the Washington DOR (Department of Revenue) and read off how The Game Crafter works to them (Game Crafter collects the sales tax and sends me a royalty payment). The DOR agreed that the quarterly reporting was not necessary. In fact, since I'm only expecting to get a couple hundreds dollars a year (at best) for this first game, then my business can be downgraded to "Active Not Reporting". Washington does not require me to report my revenue until I hit $28,000. Just over the phone the DOR representative put in the change of status request for me!

https://dor.wa.gov/file-pay-taxes/filing-frequencies-due-dates/active-non-reporting


It took about 2 months for my reporting status to change from quarterly to "Active Non Reporting". But it's nice not having to worry about that.

If I ever do a Kickstarter for the game or anything similar where I'm selling directly to consumers, then I'll have to collect sales taxes and go back to the Department of Revenue to start regular reporting - even if I'm making very little revenue total.

I'd like to mention calling the Washington Department of Revenue to ask tax questions was an absolute breeze. Very little wait time (if any really) and friendly and helpful people. Don't be intimidated on calling them.

This is a common theme I've noticed online. Someone will ask a question on a forum and they're hammered with "if you don't know, call a professional attorney/tax specialist/electrician/whatever". My suggestion... do research yourself then just call up the government office directly. After I did the electrical calculations for my shop and was on the fence of 6/3 copper or thicker aluminum wiring, I called the county electrical inspector. The inspector said "I can't design your electrical wiring, but when I did mine on a similar project I used 6/3 copper." ;-) If after all that you're still not confident, you can always fall back to a professional!

Except for major plumbing, f plumbing.

Back on topic... according to The Game Crafter they'll be sending me a 1099 for federal tax filing, so that should be pretty straightforward... Report on my federal income tax return and pay taxes on the "self employment income" as appropriate.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Board Game: Slay the Oly Dragon Printed Prototype

I received the first professionally printed version of the game, and it looks fantastic!


I've been doing a LOT of play testing with it. With my family, friends, and even showing it at the local game store to strangers. Going to the game store for feedback was kind of a bust; since this is a family game it just wasn't the right audience. I've been getting great feedback from friends with families though.


Added some clarification to rules. Many changes to the artwork - shades of colors tweaked, fixed graphic artifacts, and added more detail. But the most time spent has been on balancing. I found the game to be too easy, so I bumped up the attack requirements for nearly every monster. It feels pretty good now, but it requires so many playthroughs to build up the confidence to say it's solid.

My computer RPG is on a very brief hold, but I will return to it!

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Board Game: Slay the Oly Dragon Printing

First professionally printed version of "Slay the Oly Dragon" has been ordered! I'm a little behind schedule of where I wanted to be, but I should have the physical game in early March to begin play testing. I'll make adjustments if necessary from the play testing then post the game officially for sale.

The box front...


The box back...



Wednesday, January 16, 2019

RPG: Externalized Events

Latest change in the RPG has been externalizing both events and items into files that are loaded at startup. Now it's far easier for me to make complex events of when <X> happens then trigger <Y>. (And those can be compounded such that <X> and <Y> must happen to do <Z>.)

Every character and item in the game can have a tag. And events can be triggered based on the state of objects with a certain tag.

Here is the tutorial externalized...


And here is the first quest externalized...


The tags are assigned in the character list loaded at startup...


And here is the item list...


So that's what it looks like in the data files; what does it look like in the game?