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A Crafter's Manifesto: End of an Era

Just over two years ago I made the decision to take a unique approach to game publishing. Thus was born The Game Crafter, the first web-to-print game publisher on Earth. Since then thousands of you have proved my concept both useful and viable. 
The Game Crafter has been called "Dream Fulfilling", "Inspiring", "Amazing", and many more wonder full things like those. When we go to conventions we often have teary-eyed fans come up and shake our hands or give us hugs, and say, "Thank You!". I knew there was demand for this service, but I didn't know how much until I started making your games and meeting you in person.
You already know all of this because you are the reason we have been successful. What you may not have known is that The Game Crafter as you know it is just an experiment. That's why you can see the word "beta" on our logo at the top of our site.
Today I'm announcing that the experiment is almost over. We launched the beta service in July of 2009, and in just a few weeks we will release the production version of The Game Crafter, which internally we call TGC2. 

TGC2 is a dramatic improvement over TGC1. It is the culmination of all the feedback you've given us, and all that we have learned since we launched the beta two years ago. Through this manifesto I will share with you what to expect going forward. It's long, but I think you'll find it interesting.
www.thegamecrafter.com
This site will be completely replaced with a new version we have written from the ground up for TGC2. 
Don't worry, all of your data will be migrated to the new site. The new site is packed with hundreds of new features. A down side of this migration is that we can't be sure it's 100% accurate. Not everything is an easy 1:1 mapping. Therefore all games will be automatically unpublished when they are moved to the new site. We'll send you an email letting you know to go review the game and republish it.
Facebook Connect
Users can now log in to our site using Facebook Connect, so they don't even have to create an account. This should lower the barrier to adoption of both designers and shoppers.
Streamlined Checkout
The entire checkout process has been revamped to create fewer steps and less confusion. This should result in more sales for everyone. Some of the bigger improvements are better address handling, and guest checkout.
Web Service API
The new site is fully accessible and can be manipulated through a web service API. That means that developers will be able to create custom applications to create games, and view all the data in the shop. This means game designers could have their site fully integrated with our shop. Some companies might choose to white label our service so they can provide their own customers with game creation options. And it will be possible to build native shops for iPhone, Android, and a host of other new devices and platforms.
File System
The site will have it's own virtual file system. This means that whether you upload files through our web interface, the FTP interface, or using a program created using our web services, all your files will be in one place. 
In addition, files are now "attached" to games rather than being moved into games. This is great because your files are now reusable. For example, if you make a copy of a game, or attach the same image to multiple game components, but then later realize you want to change that image, you can replace that file with a new one, and it's instantly changed in all the places it's attached.
Game Editor
The Game Editor has a new parts selection feature that replaces the old cart based system, and makes it trivial to add and remove parts from your game. In addition, all printed components in your games now have a quantity field, so if you want three copies of a game board you can do that easily. The game editor also now tells you on the summary screen what has or has not been proofed, so you can easily find and proof the missing items.
The game editor also no longer measures anything in inches. Everything is now measured in pixels. This makes everything easier to understand for two reasons: One, measuring in pixels means we no longer have to worry about DPI (dots per inch), so that should make it easier than ever to make images compatible with our system. Two, TGC now has fans all over the world, and most of the world measures sizes using meters rather than inches. However, pixels are universally understood by everybody. 
Also everything in the editor is saved immediately upon editing it. No more glitchy save buttons or worrying about lost work.
Game Promotion and Marketing
In TGC2 you'll not only have the ability to "publish" your games to our shop, but independently choose when to promote them on our Facebook and Twitter pages. In addition, you'll be able to easily track how many views you get on your game's shop page, how many nibbles each game gets (times added to cart), and how many sales each game gets. 
Your game's URL will also be made public even before you publish your game in our shop, it just won't show up in search results or other shop listings. That way, if you like, you can share your game with your friends and family before, or instead of, publishing the game to the shop.
Deck Editor
The deck editor now allows you to attach a custom back to each card if you want to. This will enable designers to create flash cards or games like Trivial Pursuit. You can also assign a quantity to each deck. That way if you need a deck per player, it's easy to do.
Designers
We've elevated your status as a game designer to a whole new level. Each user can now have more than one game design company associated with them, each with separate payout settings, logos, etc. That way you can have "Creeping Death Games" for your horror games and "Happy Family Fun Time" for your family games. In addition, each designer will have it's own page in the shop showcasing all the games produced under that label.
Another neat new feature of the designer is that you can choose how you want to be paid for your profits. You can either have your profits accumulate as shop credit or you can take the monthly payout via PayPal.
Infrastructure
We've built out our new site on new web-scale infrastructure. For you that means that you won't experience the service interruptions or site slow downs of the past.
Taxonomy
We've developed a taxonomy system for categorizing all the games in the shop. You'll have the old stand by's like play time, number of players, and recommended age; but now you'll also be able to set genre, theme, setting, mechanics, and audience. This will help customers be able to find your game in the shop.
Shop Search Engine
We've built a brand new search engine for the shop. This new search engine will produce vastly superior results when doing keyword searches. In addition you'll be able to filter and sort games by taxonomy so you can get ridiculously narrow search results.
Game Shop Pages
The pages where your game resides to be sold to customers has a major facelift. It's visually stunning and provides more information in a more organized manner. In addition, it integrates with Board Game Geek, Facebook, Twitter, and Evernote to help you market your games better.
Gone is the old commenting system on the shop game pages, and in its place we've added a full game ratings and reviews system. This should help the better games stand out from the crowd.
In addition, your game shop page will be live to the world immediately upon creating your game (you need not hit "publish"). However, it's not linked in the shop. This will allow you to sell copies to your friends and family, without publishing.
Special Promotion
We'll be adding two new special promotion items to the shop. The first is called "Staff Picks", and it will be a curated section to the shop of games that the TGC staff have played and liked. The second is called "Featured Games", which will be a special way of getting your game highlighted in the shop. There will be various ways to become a featured game, and we'll detail that more after the release of TGC2.
There are also many other promotion items coming after the launch of TGC2.
Policies and Production
In addition to the major overhaul of the software that runs The Game Crafter, we're also making a lot of business decisions based upon what we've learned over the past two years. Some of these will undoubtedly make you happy, while others may not, but in all cases we're doing what we think is best for the long-term sustainability of the service.
Parts Price Decrease
Many of our game parts are going to get slightly better pricing. It will only be a few cents here and there, but it could easily reduce the cost of a game by a dollar or more depending on the game. An example are the tanks, which currently sell for $0.44 each, will be reduced to $0.35.
Also, we're able to offer bulk pricing on many of our game parts in the new shop. Using the tank example above, if your game were to include 10 or more of a particular color tank we would give you a discount of $0.05 on each tank. That will automatically be calculated into the price of your game, which will save you money (or make you money if you're selling your game in our shop).
Game Boards
Though it will not be ready immediately upon the release of TGC2, we will be offering real chipboard backed foldable game boards in the very near future. For this reason we're renaming our existing boards to "mats".  More details on this as we get ready to release them before the end of summer.
Bigger Card Stock
We're moving up from our 11"x17" card stock to 12"x18". That may not sound like much of a change, but it makes a world of difference. 
For example, instead of 16 cards per sheet we can do 18. That means we can make a deck of 54 playing cards using only three sheets of paper instead of four, which ultimately means it's cheaper to produce a deck of cards. However, the larger paper is also more expensive and requires larger dies which cost more to make. For some the cost will increase the cost of there game slightly and for others it will decrease the cost of the game.
This also provides advantages in our smaller mats. We'll be able to print eight small square mats (4x4), and four skinny mats (4x10) per sheet of card stock. Using this information allows you to get more for less.
New Cutter
Since we had to replace all of our dies for our new card stock size, we have replaced our old die cutter with a new more accurate machine as well. Our new cutting system has nearly pixel perfect accuracy. This will allow your designs to get closer to the edge than ever before, and you can have accurate borders. 
Profit Sharing Increase
During our TGC beta we have done a 50/50 split with the game designer on profit. However, that needs to change going forward so that game designers can make more money.  Therefore starting in TGC2 we'll be doing a 30/70 split, and yes the credit card fees still come out of our 30%. Basically our 30% share is to help us cover the cost of the servers, the credit card fees, and writing the software to sell your game. Your 70% is your profit to keep.
You can also choose to take your profit as a PayPal payout, or shop credit as mentioned above. Taking it as shop credit means an increase in your profit simply because PayPal doesn't take their cut.
Better Packaging
We have heard you loud and clear: you don't like our white indestructo boxes. We didn't like them either, but for our experimental phase we had to make do. That changes with TGC2.  We are now providing a 10x10x1.5 printed professional TGC logo'd game box with each game. These boxes are more expensive than our previous boxes, but are massively better looking as well.
Beyond that we will also be shipping our pretty new game box inside of an exterior shipping container box so that it doesn't get scuffed during shipping and won't have ugly shipping stickers all over it.
We also will no longer be providing the black and white game labels so many of you despise. In its place we'll be offering a full color sticker option (for an extra charge) that you can place on your box so you can get your own branding. These stickers won't be available directly at launch, but very shortly after.
Later this year we'll also be introducing a number of custom tuck box options for those of you creating smaller games that don't need the 10x10x1.5 box.
Shipping Changes
We're still going to offer USPS Priority Mail as our primary shipping mechanism, but we've made selecting shipping options much easier, including whether or not you want insurance. We even show you what the cost of the shipping insurance is so you can make an informed decision on whether the extra expense is worth it.
We're also going to start offering USPS First Class Mail as a secondary option. This option has no tracking information available to it, and it's much slower than Priority Mail. It also has some pretty severe weight restrictions. However, it's advantage is that it's much cheaper, especially for our International customers. Because there is no tracking available for First Class packages, insurance on those packages is much more expensive if you choose to pay for insurance.
Here are some examples comparing First Class to Priority: 
13 ounce package (368 grams) traveling within the United States would be $4.45 with First Class, but $5.10 with Priority. However, it will arrive between 5 and 8 days, whereas Priority will arrive within 3 to 5. It would be up to you to decide if saving the $0.65 is worth the extra few days.
The same package traveling to Italy would be $13.24 with First Class, and $45.30 with Priority. That's a huge price difference, but the time to arrive is also hugely different. First Class mail will take up to 60 days to arrive. Priority mail should be there in less than 15 days. 
Unfortunately First Class mail isn't available for every destination. For example it cannot be used to ship to Canada. In addition, though we can ship up to 64 ounces (1.8 kg) to Europe, the max weight in the US is only 13 oz. I realize that sounds crazy, but this is the US Government we're talking about. =)
Big Mats (10x16)
Unfortunately with the introduction of the new foldable game boards and our new 10x10 game box there is no longer a place for the 10x16 boards in our production process. However, we also know that hundreds of you have used them in the past because we couldn't provide a better option. 
Instead of discontinuing these boards entirely we'll keep them on, but they'll have to be creased and folded in half. This may mean that some of your artwork may become obscured or even slightly damaged (folding paper stretches at the bend) as part of the folding process. If this is unacceptable then you'll have the option of changing your big mats to our new game boards, or going to a smaller mat that will fit in the box.
Optional Boxes
We know that some of you don't want a game box with your game. Some are just creating prototypes, while others have game boxes made elsewhere, or make them themselves. In TGC2 you can choose to eliminate the box from your game. There will still be a small handling fee applied to the game, but eliminating the box if you don't need it will save you over $1 per game.
Publishing Strictness
We're going to be more strict on allowing games to be published to the shop in TGC2 to increase the overall quality of the games available to our game buyers. 
A small percentage of game designers choose not to purchase a copy of their own game from TGC. If they aren't willing to purchase their own game at cost, why should anyone want to buy their game at full price? Going forward a game will have to have at least one sale in order to be published to the shop. A few notes on this:

  • You don't need to rebuy your game if you change things, your previous sales still count. 
  • All existing sales counts from TGC1 will be brought over.

It's a proven fact of sales that consumers are willing to buy more products a $19.99 than they are at $20.00. Therefore all prices in TGC going forward will end in .99. 
Though we allow you to print copies of your game without a game box, we cannot allow you to publish it to the shop for normal game buyers to purchase without a game box. They'll be expecting a box, so we'll require you to give them one. Printing your own game without a box will still count as a sale of the game for the purposes of publishing the game.
We're also going to make sure that you've crossed your t's and dotted your i's. In order to publish in the shop, you'll need to fill out every field in your game's properties correctly. You'll need a description, some cool factors, and a tag line, and some action shots. 
We're also not going to allow HTML in your game descriptions anymore as it can lead to security problems and definitely leads to an inconsistent look and feel on the site.
All of these restrictions will provide a better shopping experience for the game buyers that come to our site. A better experience means more sales and more repeat customers. 
Cost Changes Summarized
I know the biggest question after all of that is going to be, "How will these changes affect the cost of my game?". The answer is that every game will be different. However, I can put it in some relatable terms for you. 
Overall the cost of one sheet of card stock will be decreasing from $1.55 each to $1.49 per sheet. That means a standard deck of playing cards will be $4.47 (rather than $6.20), and you get more cards / mats per sheet so it should be cheaper to produce your game, because the cost per card was 9.7 cents each, and is now 8.3 cents each. Likewise a small square mat (4x4) was 25.8 cents each, and now they are 18.6 cents each.
The price of many parts is going down, and with bulk pricing it may go down even further for you. So the net result should decrease the cost of your game or, at worst, keep it the same.
The cost of handling has stayed the same at $0.78. However, the cost of the packaging has gone up from $0.85 to $1.40. But you can also choose to purchase your game without a game box. So at worst the price has increased $0.55 per game, or at best it has decreased by $0.85 per game depending upon your situation.
The cost of a token sticker sheet has unfortunately gone up from $1.19 to $1.24 for a net increase of $0.05.
We've changed profit sharing from 50/50 to 30/70, which increases your profit per game by 20%.
The Near Future
Many of the benefits of our software and policy changes aren't immediately apparent with our big TGC2 launch. Instead, those benefits will be realized in the next several months after the TGC2 launch. Here's a taste of the things we will have completed before the sun sets on 2011:
- Stickers that allow you to customize the new TGC game box.
- At least three sizes of customizable game/tuck boxes.
- A new cross-site promotion system that will help you sell more games, and help buyers find games they really want to buy.
- An even broader selection of game parts.
- At least two additional sizes of playing card.
- Lots more marketing tools.
- Sale notification options.
- A peer review system to help judge game quality.
- Custom cash.
- Foldable chipboard-backed game boards.
- Step by step wizards to help novices with few design skills make beautiful games.
We have a list of over 100 enhancements we'd should be able to make to our software and services before the end of the year. 
Summary
Phew! That was a lot of information. If you're still with me, you must drink too much caffeine!  As you can see we're making lots of great changes. Some prices have gone up by a small amount, while others have gone down pretty significantly, but quality has gone up across the board. There are a few things in the list that will likely be unpopular, but please know that every change we're making, even the tough decisions, are so that we can continue to provide you the best possible service as we move forward. I look forward to doing more business with all of you for many years to come. 
Competitors will come and go, but we're in this for the long haul. We're working hard every single day to not only bring you your games in a real form factor, but increase the quality of those games month after month, year after year. Our goal is to make your games look and feel as stunning as your ideas are. 

Comments

Sound Great. Good luck with

Sound Great. Good luck with the upgrade, i hope it goes smoothly.

Phew!

when I read the title and the first few lines I thought you closing. Good thing I read the rest :)

Looking forward to the game boxes, real boards, and site improvements.

As for the boxes, have a picture to share yet?

Thanks,
JR

emxibus wrote:when I read the

emxibus wrote:
when I read the title and the first few lines I thought you closing. Good thing I read the rest :)

Same here. I was worried for a second.

This is great news for all of us. Congratulations!

Me, too!

I thought the same thing. I got freaked out for a second. Good thing I didn't stop at the title.

Ooh tuck boxes!

Consider me another weepy eyed fan.

Eventual tuck boxes.. sweet!? Will we be able to customize these using a template or will they be generic like the 10x10?

Yup

There's a little box porn on our blog: http://news.thegamecrafter.com

Sorry

I thought about that after I posted it. Sorry to have confused you.

Fully Printed

The tuck boxes will be fully printed, so you can customize the hell out of them.

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blog | by Dr. Radut