Pre-Ordering Etiquette
April 20, 2004 8:49 AM   Subscribe

I have a game that I am interesting in self-publishing. I don't have a lot of capital to put into it myself, so I'm thinking about using pre-orders to generate the bulk of the necessary revenue. What is the etiquette, if you will, of pre-ordering? What's "too long" between the submission of a pre-order and the availability of the product? I don't want people to actually give me money unless I can guarantee eventual shipment of the product; how is this handled? I'm thinking of how Amazon doesn't charge your card until an item ships; is that how pre-orders are typically handled? Do business that operate on pre-orders borrow against those pre-orders to pay for manufacturing, and then cash in on those pre-orders to pay back the bank? Any wisdom in this area is appreciated.
posted by blueshammer to Work & Money (13 answers total)
The kinds of credit terms among companies you refer to above involve, well, credit infrastructure - bank relationships and references, and credit-card authorizations, for example.

Within this interesting article about copyright is a description of the threshold pledge system. This system does involve collecting money up front but holding it in a way that it can easily be refunded if the threshold isn't reached.

I haven't read a single solitary thing about this in operation, but it's an idea I've been considering trying out myself. It really appeals to my notions about collapsing publisher-creator relationships and ensuring that small-audience works make it out into the world.
posted by caitlinb at 9:34 AM on April 20, 2004

I don't specifically about the gaming industry but this is bad, bad, bad.

The idea of pre-orders in my understanding is so that gamers can lock in the game with a first shipment, so they don't have to wait in line at 6 AM to get it. The companies benefit from promised sales, and a guage to how popular the game will be. To my knowledge preorders are not used for financing. I do not believe preorders would be substanstial enough to pay for the costs of manufacturing.

Basicall you're asking your customers to be the financers to your business, which means you are in debt to them. What if for some unforseen reason game development stops? Or any variety of ways that game development will be significantly delayed, etc. You will now owe these people money you didn't have, and not only ruin your reputation, but face possible lawsuits.

I don't even know if you are able to open a merchant account without have a product to sell. You'd then have to accept only checks, which people would be hesitant to send.

So unless I'm missing a major industry secret, this is a terrible idea that could really ruin your life. If you are confident the game will sell, take out a small loan (I would do reasonably, $10k). Do market research and advertise everywhere. Get a company consultant that specializes in this sort of thing.

I know this sounds really over the top but you need to decide what direction you want to take. It seems you want to get by with as little risk as posisble, when in reality you're taking a big risk. I recommend not self-publishing and selling the game to a distributor if you don't know how to run a business. If you think the game will be a huge hit, by all means take the risk and start self-publishing.

Upon rereading your question it seems as if the game is already done. In that case, I don't know what publishing costs would be associarted that you couldn't finance yourself? Burnt CDs with a nice label? Even running batches of pressed cds plus getting a nice DVD case is fairly cheap. I guess we would need more info to really know what you're aiming for. But to the original question, bad, bad idea.

Upon preview: Yeah I know nothing about these new-fangled business models for small-publishing. But looking at it from what I'm majoring in (Int'l Business/Finance & Economics) it seems unfeasible. Though I've only studied larger production runs.
posted by geoff. at 9:41 AM on April 20, 2004

couldn't you sell it as a download? That'd be dirt cheap. Put all the documentation and instructions etc online, with a link to purchase. Then you'd just have to spread the word, get press, etc.
posted by amberglow at 10:12 AM on April 20, 2004

Do you have any reason to expect many (or any) pre-orders? Do you have some sort of track record that would compel gamers to shell out cash for delayed gratification? You're asking people to trust that you can deliver something great. A company like Blizzard can get away with that, because they earned that trust with a number of hit titles; most indie developers lack that kind of credibility.

Have you checked out GarageGames? Looks like not a bad deal for an indie developer. Or, as amberglow says, maybe you can sell everything electronically to reduce costs. I think Uplink was originally sold as a download, until attracting enough attention to get picked up by more traditional publishers.
posted by Galvatron at 10:43 AM on April 20, 2004

What kind of game is it? Video game? Card game? Board game? Role-playing game?
posted by MegoSteve at 10:54 AM on April 20, 2004

Most pre-orders seem to be from companies with some sort of established track record.

If you're interested in publishing a roleplaying game in print, you could try using a service like xlibris or iuniverse, which would require you to put up some money but not as much as if you were to publish it yourself.

If you're trying to get others to finance it, you could try applying for more credit cards, or maybe write a sample chapter and set up a website somewhere.
posted by drezdn at 11:04 AM on April 20, 2004

Response by poster: caitlinb: That threshold pledge is exactly what I had in mind. Very interesting, and thanks.

geoff.: I'm sorry if I didn't make it clear in the question, but I don't want to collect actual lucre from anyone until I know I would have enough, upon collection, to meet the printer's bills. (It's a card-based game, not an electronic one.) prior to knowing that I'll have enough to make the thing happen. Like an Amazon pre-order: No money changes hands until it ships, or, rather, until it's certain to ship (i.e. I've met the threshold). Yes, I am looking for the low-risk/high-reward solution, but who isn't? And in something batch-oriented like printing, I don't see why pre-orders couldn't generate enough revenue for a first printing. If the profit margin on a preorder is, to pull something out of the air, 50 percent, then that lets me get twice as many printed as I have sold. Once I sell that second 50 percent, I can reinvest the profits in a second printing.

But, yeah, the question is, is there a way to do this that doesn't seem like stealing, and gives me an out if I can't get enough pre-orders.

amberglow: I thought about that for a v0.1 release, but, as I mentioned above, it's a card game, and cutting out cards is a really laborious thing to ask buyers to do. Plus, the tactile pleasure of a deck of cards is different from that of a stack of paper, and I think the former subtly improves one's opinion of the intellectual content.

Galvatron: I think the game will first be launched as a web-based card game a la It's a game targeted at an underserved but very large niche, and I'm hoping that the website generates traffic, which generates interest/orders/pre-orders. I really do believe that, with the right promotion, it could be pretty popular, because early play-testing has gone very well, and I have a lot of promotional ideas. But, having said all of that, I have no way of guessing how pre-orders will go. I know what price point I'd like to aim for (low), but I don't have a reasonable idea what the printing costs would be.

I had not yet come across GarageGames in my search for potential partners. Very interesting. Thanks.

MegoSteve & drezdn: I think I've covered your questions/comments by now.
posted by blueshammer at 11:08 AM on April 20, 2004

Where can I download a demo?
posted by the fire you left me at 11:27 AM on April 20, 2004

Is this a game that is going to have some appeal to capital G Gamers, such as the folks that will be flocking to GenCon and Origins this summer?

I've got a number of friends who have self-published their own games and are meeting with some success, and what they did is to suck it up and put up the cash at the start to get some quality product printed. They have since taken their smallish print run (~1000 units) to several gaming conventions over the last year and demoed their hearts out for a game they love. Word of mouth has been strong and they've also gotten a lot of good reviews in the gaming press.

I think that's really the only way to go, because there's a LOT of games out there and we gamers aren't really inclined to buy something we haven't played or heard good things about from another gaming buddy or a reviewer we trust. You need to have something for people to play and once they've played and liked it, they'll be wanting to buy right then.
posted by ursus_comiter at 11:38 AM on April 20, 2004

Response by poster: tfylm: Again, because it's a card game and because it's asking a lot for users to put a card game together, there won't be a downloadable demo per se, but the co-authors and I do want to get a puzzle-solitaire version of the game on the web in the next few months (a la, again). It won't be as fun as a true multiplayer demo, but we hope it'll show the game's potential.

ursus: I think it'll attract Gamers in the sense that a lot of games, like those from Cheapass, are really only available at shops that cater to Gamers. Of people who spend a lot of their lives thinking about games, it'll probably appeal to the more general Games Magazine crowd than to the RPG/Magic crowd, but I can definitely see us shlepping to GenCon and Origins, although probably not this summer.
posted by blueshammer at 12:08 PM on April 20, 2004

Have you tried contacting another game company about your idea? It sounds like something Atlas Games, or the company that put out Apples 2 Apples might be interested in doing.
posted by drezdn at 12:21 PM on April 20, 2004

Response by poster: drezdn, I know one of the guys from Out of the Box Games (who published Apples to Apples) socially and hope to play test it with him soon. But, as I would with any other piece of potentially profitable IP, I want to tread intelligently. Our second beta deck should be finalized in a couple of weeks, and that's what we'll want to shop to places like that, if we decide such shopping is what we want to do. And I suspect that it is -- none of us really want to run a small business. But we also have a lot of specific ideas about how the product should be handled, so there's a question of how much control we have to relinquish, and how comfortable we are with that ....
posted by blueshammer at 12:34 PM on April 20, 2004

I was about to pop in here and suggest that almost nobody in their right mind would prepay for a game -- as opposed to preordering -- until I remembered that I actually gave these guys money over a year ago for a game that shows few signs of ever shipping.
posted by majick at 8:35 PM on April 20, 2004

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