How much more expensive is it to ship a game today?
In 2019 I was preparing for The Isle of Cats Kickstarter, it was in the before times when shipping containers and fulfilment costs only increased by minor increments each year.
It has been 3.5 years since that planning and things have changed dramatically, the average cost of games has gone up and crowdfunding shipping numbers are far higher than ever before.
The CMON example
Let’s look at some numbers!
Zombicide 2nd edition from CMON (November 2019)
- US shipping: $15 – $26
Dune: War of Arrakis from CMON (September 2022)
- US shipping: $48 – $58
Disclaimer: I can’t compare the sizes or weights of the games as Dune is not yet available and CMON no longer put the weight on the campaign page. Zombicide was 7kg which is heavy, and I would be surprised if Dune was that much more based on the campaign page contents. I do know this increase in price is not specific to just this campaign and has been seen across much of Kickstarter in recent months.
This gives us an increase of 220% – 123%
How much has shipping gone up by?
I’ve done some maths and the following shows how much I believe the cost of shipping in the US has gone up by since 2019.
- US shipping: 41%
There is no single percentage increase for prices, these numbers are estimates based on the following:
- Taking the average price in the region from multiple suppliers, these are not from one company.
- The % increase varies a lot per weight, so I have taken the average increase across multiple weights (3 / 5 / 7 / 10kg),
It isn’t justified
These numbers are telling, the increase to the US is 41% and yet they’ve upped the prices by far more, it isn’t justified.
However, there are 2 more things we need to consider before we can cast our judgement…
For the purposes of this next part, let’s take the mid points of CMONs prices for the US in 2019 ($20) and 2022 ($53), with an increase of 165%
In 2019, it did not cost $20 to ship a 7kg game across America, the price on the page is subsidised. This is very common on Kickstarter as creators don’t want to be sharing their real prices as they put people off.
As an example, if I was to sell a game for $100 and shipping was $40, I would likely discount $20 from my profit and just charge the backer $20.
If we assume CMON are doing the same, then we can’t use a 40% increase on the public number ($20), we must use it on the real number ($40). Not only that, but all of this increase needs to be added to the public shipping price as further discounting wouldn’t be viable.
This gives us an increase of $16, bringing our public price to $36, an increase of 80%, double what we actually saw in shipping.
Between 2019 and 2022 manufacturing and freight costs have increased by a considerable amount and profit margins have tightened. In 2019 it cost me around $1 to ship a copy of The Isle of Cats from China to America, I’ve seen that increase to $6 during the past 2 years. It’s harder to put a cost increase on manufacturing as it really depends on the game components, but there have been big increases.
This means where once I could subsidise $20 on a $100 game, now I may only be able to subsidise $10.
If we take this $10 and add it to the $36 from step 1, we’re finishing at $46, or an increase of 130%.
If we remove the entirety of the discount, we finish on $56, or an increase of 180%.
Our measurement of CMONs increase was 165%, right in the middle of the 130% and 180% figures we just calculated.
Creators have been subsidising shipping for a long time and now the costs of manufacturing, freight, and fulfilment have increased considerably it is hitting them back hard.
The cost of fulfilment may have only gone up by 40% in the last 3 years (which is still a huge amount), but everything else has gone up too. Subsidising shipping has become much more challenging, margins have become tighter, and we’re only now seeing the real costs that fulfilment entail.
Do I think creators can do better, absolutely! But please keep in mind that when it comes to shipping, as much as none of us want it to be the case, the increases we are seeing can be justified.
Frank West is a gamer and designer based in Bristol, UK. He published his first board game, The City of Kings, in 2018 and now works on other games and organising events in the local area. His goal? To design and publish games focusing on immersive themes, fun mechanics and beautiful components. If you have any questions or would just like a chat, feel free to get in touch at any time!
20th September 2022 at 4:39 pm
So what I take from this is bad business practices led to poor profitability when unforeseen events occurred. And we are now expected to pay the bill. The difference here is that this is not food or gas for our cars. We don’t need board games. We can just simply stop buying them. I think that attitude will increase dramatically if the publishers do not find a way to decrease costs, including shipping. I also don’t see this problem everywhere. Stonemaier Games is an excellent example of a publisher who kept costs down, stopped using kickstarter, and who does not kill you with shipping prices. I appreciate your article, and while we all like to think of our designers and publishers as family, at the end of the day you run a business and we are the consumers. You need to work at keeping your business profitable, and if your only solution is increasing prices, you’ll likely not be in business long.
20th September 2022 at 5:43 pm
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this Richard, I think my views sit somewhere in the middle.
“So what I take from this is bad business practices led to poor profitability when unforeseen events occurred. ”
While I think the current events could be considered exceptional and not something businesses would plan for, I completely agree that there are a lot of publishers who have been running their companies badly. They were a ticking time bomb quickly running out of time and any number of events could have been the thing to break them. I’d love to see more publishers focussing on the business side of things and try my best to help them where I can.
“And we are now expected to pay the bill. The difference here is that this is not food or gas for our cars. We don’t need board games. We can just simply stop buying them. I think that attitude will increase dramatically if the publishers do not find a way to decrease costs, including shipping.”
There are a few things here:
1) There aren’t as many options for shipping as we would like. Board games need a special care compared to most other physical goods and the vast majority of shipping services don’t offer that care. I know many publishers are trialling new companies all the time, but until someone stands out as cheaper and reliable, the majority of publishers wont be able to move over. It’s important to keep in mind that shipping is make or break, if you end up shipping 1,000 damaged games to people then it can put you out of business. This is made even more difficult by the fact that most publishers don’t ship much volume very frequently, it’s a lot harder with one or two large shipments a year, than shipping several games every day.
2) I do think publishers need to review their costs as a whole as there are other ways to bring in some savings.
3) Publishers need to reflect on their prices and what they are including in the box, there is certainly room for improvement here.
4) The price is going to go up (most things are going up in price right now) and there will be a break point for every gamer as to how much they are willing to pay. Some publishers will keep their games more premium knowing not as many people will buy it, and that isn’t always a bad thing. Similarly, others will make cheaper game hoping for the wider market, variation is good.
“I also don’t see this problem everywhere. Stonemaier Games is an excellent example of a publisher who kept costs down, stopped using kickstarter, and who does not kill you with shipping prices. ”
I agree, while many publishers can’t move away from Kickstarter (Stonemaier is one of the bigger publishers for volume of each game), it can be possible to find a middle ground while crowdfunding. I like to think I’ve found this balance with my own costs but as companies grow in size this gets harder to achieve.
“I appreciate your article, and while we all like to think of our designers and publishers as family, at the end of the day you run a business and we are the consumers. You need to work at keeping your business profitable, and if your only solution is increasing prices, you’ll likely not be in business long.”
I don’t necessarily think increasing costs will put publishers out of business, but I do think it should be a secondary measure. A lot of this comes down to how they define their business, the type of games they want to make, and the audience they aim for. This all comes down to working out a direction for their business and anyone who just puts their prices up because they think it is the easiest option, is likely to struggle in the long term.