Preorders are nothing new. There’s nothing like a big, hyped up, pre-order-tastic launch to really set a game on the course to commercial success. Hell, in the past few months I’ve dabbled in a few preorders myself, including Games Workshop’s new edition of Blood Bowl and Fantasy Flight’s New Angeles. I also fully intend to preorder the new Android: Netrunner expansion, Terminal Directive:
Kickstarter shook up how we think of preorders when it came along, with customers not only purchasing the game on release, but also funding the actual development by putting in their money early, paying for development, artwork and production. Again, I’m no stranger to this, having backed games like Super Dungeon Explore, Euphoria and Secret Hitler. Of course, different projects and companies use Kickstarter in different ways, with many people publishing their first ever game through the crowd-funding platform. Others build up small but successful companies, like Stonemaier games who have released Viticulture, Euphoria and Scythe on this platform.
I’m a bit more judgemental towards larger, more established companies like Mantic and Cool Mini Or Not using Kickstarter to fund every single release they put out. I love the idea of Kickstarter as a platform for small groups and individuals to fund that dream projects, but recoil a little at the idea of it just being used as a preorder platform for larger companies. Maybe I’m wrong, and I’d welcome your opinion in the comments.
Now, moving away from those two models, I’d like to take a look today at a company-specific model used by GMT Games, a company I have recently been showing much more of an interest in, as can be seen on my own blog. GMT have their own preordering system called P500, whereby they will not reprint a game until their recieve 500 preorders through their website. They give an explanation of this on their site:
Essentially, P500 is built to foster stability in our cash flow as well as to ensure that we are producing the games that our customers want to buy. As long-time gamers know all too well, inadequate cash flow and “guessing wrong” about the sales of future games have each played a large part in killing or handicapping numerous game companies over the years. The nature of the game production beast is that a game company must invest tens of thousands of dollars to conceptualize, develop, test, print, package and distribute a game. If that game hits the market and receives insufficient acceptance (for whatever reason!), the company loses. If that happens a few times, cash flow takes big hits, production flow slows down, and eventually, the company dies, then, (if it’s a company we like) we all lose that source of new games.
Now if you’re a big company with deep pockets, small cash flow hits here and there are not that big of a deal (kinda like having one of your MMGs jam in SL/ASL when you have bunches of machineguns in the fight – not the end of the world). But we’re not such a company, so the consequences of “guessing wrong” or taking several cash flow hits on production-related mistakes can be pretty dire, even fatal. For years in the early-mid 90s, we played the “guessing game”; and even though we guessed right more times than not, we still ended up spending way too many productive hours worrying about cash flow that could have been much better spent on developing new and better games. Out of our frustration with this situation, we asked a better question, and came up with a solution that was so simple we were amazed we hadn’t thought of it before:
What if the company knew ahead of time that there was a committed interest in the game, before they committed all those funds? They could produce exactly the games that their players want!
And that’s exactly what Project 500 allows us to do. It also happens to fit really, really well with our desire to communicate with and hear from our customers, as it lets us tailor our game release schedule to get the “most wanted” games turned around quicker than those that fewer of our customers commit to. Essentially, you guys get to determine to a large degree what our future production schedule looks like. That’s always been our favorite part of P500, as it gives the gamer/hobbyist a very real way to significantly affect which games we produce.
Full explanation can be found by clicking here.
Of course, when it comes to reprints, they do look at more than just the P500 numbers, as they explain:
Several of you have asked about how we decide on what to reprint. First off, it’s important to know that we do not use solely a P500 approach to reprints. We also take into account which out of print games distributors are telling Tony they want to order most, and look at that demand in addition to what we see on our P500 reprint list. We also take a look at series games – ones we believe we need to have in print in order for other games in the series to do well. An example here is the Commands & Colors series, where it does really hurt the entire series if we have several games out of stock. So in a case like that, we might reprint a game in a series before another game that has greater order #s or general demand just to make sure players aren’t unable to enjoy the whole series because of a missing game that the other games depend on. And we absolutely DO prioritize to keep the best-selling, most popular games in stock. So for example, Twilight Struggle, with now over 50,000 copies sold, far and away our best seller, ALWAYS gets priority on reprint funds whenever stock gets low. But whenever that happens, some other deserving games have to wait to get reprinted, because we used our reserve funds for Twilight Struggle.
So into all that mix we have the limiting factor, which is that we don’t have unlimited funds to reprint everything we’d like to. But in recent years, we’ve been able to reprint more and more games, as strategic reserve funds have increased due to greater sales as more people find out about GMT and buy our games. So I’m not whining here about not having enough funds to reprint, rather just noting that we never have enough funds to reprint everything we want to, so we tend to have to plan well ahead, gang print several games together to cut costs, and spread out the reprints over time as funds allow.
Full reprints policy can be found by clicking here
It’s interesting to hear a company with such an extensive and eclectic catalogue acknowledge what we already suspected – that Twilight Struggle really does massively outstrip the sales of all of their other titles to the extent that when presented with the decision of reprinting that or any other title, there really is no decision at all. I say this as someone who is a massive fan of Twilight Struggle, as you will probably see over the next month during a series of posts on my top 50 games.
I also really like how the whole thing is presented, with games that reach the goal of 500 preorders being listed as having ‘made the cut’ and then the website updating you on the progress of the reprint. There is also often some redesigning involved, whether to fix errors in previous printings or to make slight tweaks and improvements. In each case, the status of the project is tracked and reported to backers and onlookers alike.
The principle of the whole thing is not a hundred mile from Kickstarter, but I appreciate that it’s a company looking to find solutions to their limited funds and the sheer weight of games in their catalogue that are, at any given moment, potentially out of print. It’s also presented as its own thing, rather than just being an established company using a platform intended for entrepreneurs and smaller operators raising funds for dream projects. It feels more honest, I suppose, and gives you a real insight into the practices being used at GMT Games. I just really like their system.
I encourage you to pop over to the GMT website and check out the P500 homepage to see everything that is going on just now.