- Follow Cheapass Games on Twitter: @cheapassgames
- Follow James Ernest on Twitter: @cheapassjames
- Read James Ernest's blog on Tumblr: prettybigif
Cheapass Games is a small game company in Seattle WA. From 1996 to 2006, we produced roughly 100 tabletop games, mostly in very cheap packages, and without the generic components, like dice and paper money.
From 2007 to 2011, we hibernated. Some of our games found new publishers in the game industry, and some of our games wound up out of print. We also posted a decent number of our old games as free downloads at cheapass.com.
In 2012 we re-launched our publishing business, thanks to some fundraising help from Kickstarter. We started with a deluxe reprint of Unexploded Cow, then followed up with a deluxe edition of Deadwood. Along the way we also released three new games without crowdfunding: Fish Cook, Veritas, and Captain Treasure Boots. As of summer 2015, we have run six Kickstarter campaigns, most recently for Stuff and Nonsense.
About Our Business Model:
In the old world of game publishing, publishers would solicit pre-orders for a new product based on a one-page description, set their print run based on those pre-orders, add some "extra" to accommodate future orders, and hope to sell through the entire run. If they overprinted, they took a loss. If there was extra demand, they had to decide whether to take a risk on another print run. And so on. It worked, but it involved guesswork and risk.
Now that pre-order model is getting weaker, because as more publishers emerge, each individual publisher sells fewer games through pre-orders. This makes the "extra" copies a larger percentage of each press run, and makes each new product more of a risk for the publisher.
When the publisher sells a copy of the game, it goes to a distributor at about 40% of the retail price. That distributor sells the game to a retail store for about 50%-60% of retail. The retailer orders only as many copies as he thinks he can sell. If he orders too few, he can order more, but he loses sales in the meantime. If he orders too many, the retailer takes a loss. In most cases, game product isn't returnable, because the manufacturing costs are too high. So part of the retailer’s markup goes to cover his costs, and the other part covers his risk. The same is basically true for the distributor.
This means that nearly half of the money that the publisher, retailer, and distributor collect on these games goes to cover their risk, because games are expensive to make, and don't always sell. After the dust settles, there is about one dollar for the game designer for every $25 in the retail price. The rest of the money goes to the people who take the risk.
Three Approaches to the Problem:
Cheapass Games has three distinct approaches to the problem of high risk. Free Games, Cheap Games, and Crowd-funded Games.
Free Games: We post many of our games for free right here. When the game is free, we can shift the burden of production to the customer. If you think one of our games might be worth $25, print it yourself and find out. Then, you’ve got a budget of roughly $24 to make the best version of the $25 game that you can. We just ask that you set aside the other $1 for us. Save up a few games’ worth, and then send us a healthy donation of $5, $10 or more. (Paypal charges smaller fees on larger amounts.)
Of course, a game's value isn't really dependent on its production cost, so you might think our games are worth more than a dollar each. It's up to you. For a chart that might help you determine how much a free game is worth, click here.
Cheap Games: Our traditional business model is printing games in the $5-$15 range, which ship with only the bare essential pieces. This helps us reduce our inventory risk, and essentially puts half of the manufacturing burden on the consumer, who must still provide spare parts like dice, counters, play money, and so on. Thus, we can sell a game that might be worth $40 with all the bits, and meet our customers halfway. We also make some complete games in the $10 and under range. Check out Pairs, or some of the card games at our Factory Outlet Store.
Crowd-Funded Games: Crowdfunding through Kickstarter is a good way to raise enough money for a decent-sized print run of a deluxe edition. By raising the startup costs, we can mitigate our risk on a more expensive, high-quality game. Kickstarter has been very good to us so far, as we've raised money to print six games as of summer 2015. Our next project will be the 20th anniversary edition of Kill Doctor Lucky.
Join the Club!
We now have a roughly-twice-monthly newsletter called Shameless. You can subscribe by clicking here or on the "Subscribe" button at the top of the page.
Spread the Word!
Our cheapest and most trustworthy marketing has always been word of mouth. If you're enthusiastic about Cheapass Games, join our team! Your energy and expertise are worth more to us than money. Tell your friends about Cheapass Games, ask retail stores for our new products, and point people at our pages. If you want to help even more, you can join the ragtag cadre of official Cheapass Games demo monkeys. Learn more about being a Cheapass Games Demo Monkey here.
We hate robots. So, if you're a robot, close your eyes. Or whatever you see with.
- James Ernest, president and designer, can be contacted at gmail under the moniker "cheapassjames."
If you still live in the olden tymes of sending money through the mail, we respect and admire that. Donations of the classical check, cash, livestock, or money order type can be sent to:
- Cheapass Games, PO Box 15460, Seattle, WA 98115
More about us:
- Who are we?
- A promotional headshot of James Ernest is available for news organizations and coffee mug lovers, here.
- A newer and more bug-eyed headshot of James Ernest is here.
- A whimsical headshot of James Ernest with his camera is available here.
- And in case you need it, here is a nice big JPG of our logo.