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How much to budget for artwork for Kickstarting (Kickstarter) a board game

6 replies [Last post]
Joined: 11/07/2008

Hi all.

I am fielding quotes from a variety of artists and I am trying to decide how much to budget for a game (and as an inaugural launch for my game company). Without going into detail it is basically a card game that has resource management aspects to it.

Right now I am trying to decide a number of decisions: Should I bother with extra card art (think Magic or Pokemon cards...NOTE: this game is not collectable) or just leave it plain with texts and symbols.

How much artwork should be in place before the game goes live on Kickstarter?

What is the turn around once layout is complete for a "straightforward" print run from Ludo fact, Panda, etc.?

I know these are very rough estimates I am asking.

I want a polished game with nice art. Certainly great art on a sucky game is still a sucky game, but sucky art on a great game can really deter buyers ("this looks cheap, ergo it is not good") and detract from the game experience, while great art can make a great game even greater. Having said that, I am also trying to shoe-string this as much as possible.

Anyone with Kickstarter experience if you could help, I will be eternally grateful!


3dragonfly's picture
Joined: 12/19/2009
Kickstarter Art Budget

There are a lot of variables. As far as budget, that is a personal decision. What you need to have a good Kickstarter launch is a great box cover, video and some card art samples. They ideally should be completed samples with others coming out as the project moves along. The actual prices depend too much on the look, feel and artist experience you are going with.

For a video, unless you have a video friend, $300 to 600 is not outrageous.

Traz's picture
Joined: 04/06/2009
art's the thing

SPOILER: not going to give my artist's bargaining power away by telling how much we contracted for!

Suffice it to say, just contact any artist, tell them you have a set of cards you need art done for and ask them how much they want to do the art. It's going to vary A LOT! Why?

Complexity of the art for starters. Are you talking icons, line drawings or full color [will that be comic-style or full cgi?]?

Regardless, the only way you'll EVER pay less than $10 a card [read: free] is if you can find an aspiring artist who wants to break into the field and will take on your project to 'pay their dues' and establish their chops. They're out there - but they're VERY hard to commit to a project [easy to get them on board, tough to get them to stick it out].

The interesting twist that you've thrown up here is the whole KICKSTARTER thing. That's a game changer.

Nothing is going to happen if your KICKSTARTER project doesn't get funded. You have to budget for everything - only then will you know how to set your levels. You budget for the standard card designs [which you may or may not be able to do yourself], and you also budget for the artist who can deliver a knock-your-socks-off set of card illustrations. At that point, whatever the artist wants to charge will be reasonable as long as you both agree on a figure.

As an example, I'm working on getting quotes for one of my card games - ART DECO. The 'basic' cards will be the set I created myself. Each of the 75 card images are taken from picture font symbols [see Judgensthil Font for some good examples]. I had to alter the images to clean them up for as large as I blew them up, but that wasn't difficult with my $100 program of choice - PHOTOSHOP ELEMENTS 9. Those cards all look good and sharp and are in my limited POD print run - I've sold a couple dozen and gotten great feedback [even created an expansion for 6-7 players due to demand].

But for the KICKSTARTER project? You've got to [well, you should] have a 'next level even cooler set', which in the case of my ART DECO game will be a set of original art for all 75 cards by a local artist who gave ME an offer I couldn't refuse. I upped her offer by 15% to round the amount I'll pay her and also as a thank you for committing to the project. Believe me - we're both hoping it takes off. Otherwise neither of us will get squat.

Well... I take that back a bit. We figured out what the cost-per-card would be and I asked [and paid for] three card design images to be done. I did this for two reasons.
1) I needed to make sure she could produce the type of images I was looking for - she did that in SPADES!
2) I needed a couple of images to show the potential KICKSTARTER investors the awesome product they'll be looking at once we reach the higher levels.

I realize this doesn't answer your question with $$ specifics, but I hope it will help you to better understand how the PROCESS can work. At least in my case. I am of the firm opinion that everybody's experience will be unique.

TeaisforTim's picture
Joined: 01/05/2012
I have heard from more than

I have heard from more than one source that you should expect to pay a professional artist something around the MSRP value of a single copy of your game per card. So if your game will retail for $40, expect to pay your artist around $40 a card. This is for original hand-drawn images in the artist's medium of choice. My experiences contracting a high quality and reliable artist have been along these lines. It's certainly possible to go lower than this, but that seems like a good place to start. Also, you risk reducing your artist's dedication to the project if you underpay them. This can have all kinds of disastrous effects on your product including, but not limited to: production delays, sub-par art, contract disputes, and having to find a new artist for future projects.

As for Kickstarter specific stuff, I have a few insights on that as well. The best option is to have a shelf-ready game printed (using a game print-on-demand service) several months before you launch your Kickstarter. There are two major reasons for this:
1. Reviewers will tend to pay more attention to a shiny and impressive looking game (and who can blame them?). We are all impacted by the beauty and finish of something that we are assessing, like it or not. Reviews seem to be a major source of novel traffic to your Kickstarter page.
2. Backers like to see exactly what they are buying. If you have cool art, you should maximize it's impact by showing it off. The best way to do that is by having a complete game before your Kickstarter goes live.

Kickstarter is an amazing platform because it has no practical upper limit on marketing returns. Simply put, the better your game is marketed through various channels (ads, videos, blogs, reviews, etc.), the more money your project will receive. It is also an all-or-nothing marketplace where you have one great chance to either shine or burn out.

If you can't scare up the money for a fully finished game pre-kickstart, then you should definitely take the advice others have given you in this thread and at least have a finished-looking box and a few finished cards with lots of art previews and stretch goal goodness.

Hope that helped!

Matthew Rodgers
Matthew Rodgers's picture
Joined: 03/01/2012
I've had similar experiences

I've had similar experiences to TeaisforTim, but will give you the caveat that sort of calculation is heavily dependent on what all the artist is doing (art only or handling art+text/icons) and whether the game is typical for it's price point or exceptional (obviously Hasbro pays an artist much more than the cost of a booster pack to paint a Magic card).

What is your fulfillment model? If you're looking at PoD and producing just what you sell through Kickstarter that can impact the calculations as well. If you're looking for Kickstarter to fund a production run, you'll have to set your goals higher, but then the percentage of each box's MSRP that is going to fund the total cost of art goes way down.

Joined: 11/07/2008
Great advice all around!

So much great advice to think about. Thanks everyone!

Joined: 06/07/2012

Good advice from everyone who has replied. As previously stated the cost of artwork can vary due to a number of different considerations. In light of this I would approach the costing from a different angle.

Estimating what an artist will expect is a very inexact science. However, estimating what you have to spend on artwork isn’t. You should be able to guess how many copies you realistically expect to sell and how much the basic production and distribution costs will be.

An initial print run for a first release could be 500 copies. If the price of this example game is set at $40 you can quickly calculate a maximum income expectation figure – which can be used to set a break even point.

500 copies at $40 could yield a sales revenue of $20,000

If the manufacturing of the game costs $10 per copy you will have basic production costs of $5,000.

If you use the services of a distributor or sell to stores instead of direct to customers this could lower your profit margins per game by another $20. For a total of $10,000 on a 500 copy print run.

You then have to set aside an allowance for expected things like, money off or multi buy promotions to shift the games when/if regular sales slow down. You will also have to budget for advertising and storage (unless you happen to have somewhere that you can store 500 games easily). Last, and most probably least, will be the payment for your own time (which will probably be nothing).

If you plan to sell direct to customers you will have to budget for higher advertising costs, event or trade show promotions, travelling costs, web page hosting/designing costs, and customer relation/service costs.

It’s also a good idea to include a contingency for things you can’t predict, say 10% of the selling price. I would call this contingency the net profit (even though it isn’t).

So in the above example you would have an income of $20,000 less $15,000 for production and distribution, giving you a working gross profit of $5,000. Out of this $5,000 you will have to pay for storage, advertising and potential promotional reductions. If you spend $2,000 on advertising and $1,000 on storage over the course of the games product life cycle, this will leave you with $2,000 net profit (or the contingency allowance).

So, for the made up example given, you would have a maximum of $2,000 to spend on artwork. If you spend all of that you will break even on the release. However, any unexpected costs that need to be paid could see you loosing money on the release.

Depending on your aspirations for the project and what you hope to accomplish a small loss might be acceptable in respect to seeing your game out there and attracting attention to your name as a game designer which could result in long term benefits/rewards.

Instead of thinking in terms of what artists might want in terms of payment, consider thinking in terms of what you can afford to pay them.

Producing any product always means paying attention to the BOTTOM LINE BREAK EVEN POINT. Naturally you want the best artwork possible, but the best costs, and if the best is more than you can expect to recover in sales revenue then you are going to make a net loss.

If paying the required amount means the game could actually result in you loosing money then you might have to think again. Unless you find the idea of paying to produce games an attractive business model or you see your game as a vehicle for promoting you as a designer in anticipation of future releases.

Kickstarter involves a slightly different model than direct or distribution based selling.

Not only will you have the opportunity to attract funding, lowering your own personal investment stake, you will also have the opportunity to sell some of your games direct to buyers (circumventing the distributor costs for these units). But don’t forget, you will have to pay the Kickstarter percentage and the Amazon payment percentage – which will lower your net profit.

You will also have to kick up the promotion investment. A video promotion will cost you a significant sum, promotion via ‘paid for previews’ or free copies to reviewers, advertising links on the geek and others (along with banner graphics), and time spent answering queries, questions and putting together a development blog.

The artwork itself will also feature heavily in a kickstarter project. There are no two ways about it, eye candy sells games. Quality artwork increases the attraction of a project and it will improve your chances of attracting funding. I would say that some artwork is essential to give investors an idea of how the game is actually going to look.

So again, it’s something of a balancing act. You want a great looking game, because great looking games have a greater chance of attracting funding, but don’t put the farm at risk by overspending on crop seeds.

Oh, and don't rule out the possibility of taking the game back to the design board in response to game component costs. If you find the artwork/artist that suits the game perfectly, but the price is more than your budget allows, consider modifying your game design.

Do I really need to include this many card variants or could I repeat some artwork, do I really need this many cards in the initial release or can I offer them later as an expansion, does this game mechanic really need cards with artwork or can I alter the mechanic so it works with basic design counters, could I susbstitute this mechanic for that mechanic and so on.

Producing a game involves just as many decisions as actually designing a game. So in summary, work out what your aim for the release is, work out what you can afford to spend, and then shop around for the best deal in relation to the budget you have available.

.... and never forget the BOTTOM LINE of the balance sheet :)

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