Cheapass Games is small but mighty tabletop game publisher based out of Seattle, WA. We publish free, cheap, and deluxe games. You might know us best from titles such as KILL DOCTOR LUCKY, PAIRS, and TAK, or from our world-famous boss, renowned game designer James Ernest.
We got our start in 1996. Over the next ten years, we published roughly 100 tabletop games. Most of these were packaged in very cheap black-and-white envelopes, without generic components like dice and paper money, which could be scavenged from games our customers already owned. This allowed us to offer our games for a mere pittance and inspired the name “Cheapass Games.”
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, because we’re nice like that. (Many of these downloads are still available. Have fun.)
While we hibernated, the industry changed. Printing costs went up as the supply of large print run paper remnants we had relied on dried up. The costs of other components went down as more games were produced. Gamers’ preferences turned towards more deluxe-style games with fancy things like color printing and custom components.
So, when we re-launched our publishing business in 2012, we did so with some fundraising help from Kickstarter. We started with a deluxe reprint of UNEXPLODED COW, followed by a deluxe edition of DEADWOOD STUDIOS, USA, and so on and so forth. We release some games on the side, sans Kickstarter, as our schedule allows.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! To 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.
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, allowing us to bring classic Cheapass titles like Kill Doctor Lucky and Unexploded Cow to life through deluxe editions.