Something very interesting has happened in the last two weeks. Through the Grindhouse Games online store we sold more product and brought in more cash than the combined total of all distribution orders in the last 4 months…and I didn’t have to follow the distributors around hat in hand to try to collect the money for two months afterward. Most importantly, you, the fans, won big. You got the toys at half price.
I’m going to come clean with you: I’ve never run a game company before. This is all new. Just making it up as I go along. If something works, I go with it. If not, pitch it out. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way through lack of experience but hey, that’s to be expected. The important thing is Grindhouse is still here going strong, working on some new stuff for Incursion and starting a new range of models.
This is a good time for a moment of reflection. I know this sounds odd but I tend to solve the hardest problems while I sleep. I wake up with solutions. The last few nights have been pretty turbulent as work overload relegated the tough cerebral stuff to the subconscious. I’ve had a few positive revelations regarding my career as an architect and solved a couple of financial issues but I’ve also had some pretty powerful thoughts about Grindhouse Games. It’s a complicated tangle so bear with me as I attempt to jot it down. I may ramble a bit. I just woke up so it’s all still fresh in the noggin.
So, Andy Cooper of West Wind and I have been having this ongoing discussion for years now about packaging, presentation, and distribution versus product end cost to consumer. It’s very very complicated. The Global market has so many variables it makes my head spin. Supply Chain and market expectation work much differently here in the USA/Canada than they do in UK, Europe, or the Far East/Australia so there really is no magic bullet. You know, some game companies make it big in the North American distribution grind but most are doomed to fade away or die spectacularly. I’ve watched it happen over and over again. All of you have too if you’ve been gaming for any significant amount of time. Privateer Press made it. Wyrd is making it. Bless Nathan Caroland’s heart but I never thought steampunk western/horror could do mass market. It is though, by gum. Go Malifaux! Pulp City is hanging in there as well. Why are these guys making it while gigs like Heldorado, Alkemy, and Rackham imploded? I think it’s because the former did it smart by growing organically while the latter made some pretty big up-front investments based on expectations that couldn’t be met (Rackham with the plastic jump). There is also another layer of smaller miniature game companies out there that do fantastic stuff but don’t rely on mass distribution to be successful. Red Box Games and Zombiesmith jump to mind. My friends at West Wind are also in that category. 10 years later and they are still here and growing all the time.
Grindhouse is trying to figure out where it fits in and what it will become. All summer long we schemed about the next project. Let’s face it, Incursion is a board game and there is only so far we can go creatively with it. We will continue to expand it and give it love but it’s not enough to build a Game company on by itself! I have been pushing for a big splash tabletop release based on any one of the 10 or so concepts that I have developed to one degree or another and a foray into plastics. Big budget stuff. Glassy-eyed dreaming. Hey, we pulled off Incursion, so why not? Well, because we wouldn’t be growing organically and the risk of total destruction of everything we’ve built to date is just too high. We’re going back to our roots with our next product. We’re taking everything we’ve learned and distilling this thing down to it’s essence. We’re miniatures gamers so it’s miniatures of course. Miniatures that I want to play with and paint. Low cost, super high quality miniatures and a no-frills but exquisitely designed web presence. Inexpensive yet creative packaging. We grow it organically and slowly layer in rules and print material. This next deal is all about designing a product and process to serve the hobbyist. We will not be offering it up for mass distribution but will sell direct to any brick and mortar retailers or full price online retailers that will have us. Power to the people. Will it work? Don’t know but we’re not doing an Alkemy and investing so much money that it not working is a game ender. More on this later. The sell page and blog for JUNK should be up in about a month.
Now, back to the revelation that we sold more Incursion in the last two weeks on our website than ALL distribution orders combined over the last 4 months. Why is that? Price, of course. Incursion is expensive. It’s expensive because it’s freaking awesome and full of expensive art and design and graphics and expensive sculpting and printing and packaging and bases and so on. The bases alone cost 3x what a 25mm GW style base costs. Cost of bases, you query? Can’t be that much, can it? Multiply 20 cents by 20,000 and all of a sudden you’re looking at serious money (for a small operation like this). Okay, so that’s all part of why it’s so expensive. The 900 pound gorilla is distribution and retail. Retailers want 40% off. That’s fair. Gotta support the retailers though I rarely hear retailers shouting “support Indy game companies!!!”. Even my local game stores aren’t really interested in doing much. We’re just a pain in their ass, really. The real problem is that the big distributors force a 60% discount and make us pay shipping which equates overall to a 65% discount in the volumes we do. That might be okay but then they turn around and offload them at 50% off to cut-rate online retailers. Little guys like us have to play the game if we want to make it on to retail shelves because retailers are increasingly lazy and most will only order from an Alliance or ACD catalog. Too much trouble to order direct from manufacturers or stay informed about what’s going on under the radar in games development. It’s a fucked up system people. Incursion was priced from the beginning to be sustainable within that system.
So, what do we do about Incursion? I don’t know yet. Let me see how many more emails I have to send to my distributors to get paid for the orders I shipped last month and let’s see how big their orders are this month. Wouldn’t it be fun to drop the price of an Incursion Allied or German starter set to $45 and the game to $30? We could do that if we were selling direct to only full price retailers and through our online store… cut out all the middlemen and scalpers :-) Imagine being able to walk into your game store and buy Incursion for 30 bucks with the knowledge that you are supporting both your retailer and the game company in equal measure… I think we're probably too entrenched with too many people to enact a change that massive but it's one hell of a what-if, isn't it?
Now, I am not stupid enough to think that I can change the system but Grindhouse can experiment with JUNK and see where it goes. Chew on what I just said for a bit… Next time you are about to vocalize a complaint about prices of games, remember what I told you here.
Thanks again to everyone who ordered over the last couple of weeks. It’s been a revolutionary event in my mind.