It is very apparent now why most of the time companies run businesses and not a single person that already has a full-time job. Of course if depends on the type of business that needs to be run. Either way, the process is immensely complex and is definitely at the very least a full-time job for one person, if not a team of at least 5. I can say that bringing Destined Legends to market was one the most stressful thing I’ve ever done in my life. Shawn and Denis (Meet the Team) were there for development, and the game wouldn’t be where it is without them, but bringing the game to market is a whole different story. With Shawn still attending school with a full-time job, and Denis going to school with a full-time job, most of the responsibility fell onto me to bring Destined Legends into the real world. Luckily, this being my passion project, I absolutely loved every hair-pulling nail-biting second of it.
“...bringing Destined Legends to market was one the most stressful thing I’ve ever done in my life. ...I absolutely loved every hair-pulling nail-biting second of it.”
To manufacture the game, we sourced a printer in China. In hindsight, we probably created more stress than we needed to by going with an OEM rather than a full-fledged Game Manufacturer, but the benefits outweighed the drawbacks tenfold. More on that later on.
OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer. This means that the only service they provide is manufacturing. This may seem sufficient when mentioned in light conversation, but it isn’t. This means that you as the purchaser are responsible for everything else. This includes shipment, Importing, and delivery to your storage/warehouse. In reality this process is so complex and sensitive, that if even one line of one form is filled out incorrectly, it can cause problems. One number could mean the difference between you receiving your order on time, and receiving it months later and paying a thousand dollars more. I’m not saying this to scare anyone who wants to enter this world. I just want to make sure that it is understood that the stakes can get pretty high. I hope this will prove useful as a guide for those ambitious entrepreneurs.
"One number could mean the difference between you receiving your order on time, and receiving it months later and paying thousands of dollars more.”
The logistical journey begins with the specs of the product. We began talking to Lijia (Our Printers) in late 2011. Back then, we were considering ordering all of the parts individually and assembling it ourselves. We had no clue how much thing would cost to have it professionally manufactured. We contacted Lijia at first simply to manufacture the punchboard tokens. We couldn’t find an American company that could do it so we looked to Lijia in addition to some European companies. I was blown away by Lijia. I remember placing the request for a quote at 9PM one night, and waking up to a response in my email inbox. This leads me to some of the greatest benefits with working with an overseas OEM. The first is that they (at least this company) are usually very quick to respond. This makes the barrier of entry for asking questions extremely low. Second, they work while you sleep, arguably doubling your productivity. You get to wake up to a response, spend the day adjusting and developing, then returning an answer before you finish your business day, just in time for them to see it. Also, it is a dream for anyone with a second full-time day job, like me. Ningbo, China is 15 hours ahead of U.S. time. This means when I get home at night, they are in their mid-morning, perfect time to skype or email for a productive conversation.
This sort of leads to one of the larger drawbacks about working with an OEM. Unlike full-fledged game manufacturers like Panda or Global PSD, Lijia does not have an American agent. They understand you for the most part, but can be frustrating at times, especially if you get a little more technical with your English. And they will not take any creative license. Normally this is fine, but in-fact, they manage to take negative creative license, which I didn’t this was possible. What I mean is, when they come to an obstacle or problem, they will resort to finding their own solution instead of asking you for advice on how to proceed.
One example of this was the wrapping on the card decks in the Battle Set. The Combustion and Eradication decks were supposed to be wrapped each in cellophane (the stuff used to wrapp cigarette cartons or a normal deck of cards), not shrink wrap as it is now. We didn’t realize they did this until we got the final product. When we approached them about it, they said that 70 cards is too big of a stack to be wrapped in cellophane. If they had told us that, we would have not stacked the status cards with their decks and instead placed them in the center slot of the box, leaving a stack of 60 to be able to be wrapped in cellophane.
“...they manage to take negative creative license, which I didn’t this was possible.”
I was deeply impressed with not only the unbelievably low price to manufacture 2500 token punchboards, but their speed of response. Months later, when it came to select a company, I knew that we should definitely get a quote from Lijia. We gave them the specs to a very rough version of the game to start getting an idea of how much things cost. Manufacturers don’t like just asking for prices without drawing up a quote. Moreover, they don’t like to draw up a quote if they feel you’re not serious about moving forward with it. At this stage of the game it helps to act big and serious. It is important to act with a sense of urgency and make them believe that you are taking this seriously.
“... they don’t like to draw up a quote if they feel you’re not serious about moving forward...”
We were blown away with how low the price was. We knew then and there that we were going to use them.
Fast forward a few months later to August 2012. The game was near-final and we had a very clear idea for the design of that packaging. I drafted a 20-page PDF filled with renderings and spec charts for each product in our (2013) product line. We sent it off and got our price back a few days later. We had our price. At that point we were simply going to manufacture the Battle Set. And with that price as the goal, we launched our Kickstarter campaign.
Placing the Order
We had a 30-day delay on ordering the game due to incomplete Artwork. Our 2 artist churned out 77 incredible pieces of artwork in only 5 months. Any artist will know that this is no small feat. We set a goal to launch at San Diego Comic-Con 2012. The one big lesson I took away was to never set a launch date to coincide with a convention. But, the booth was bought and paid for so we had to bust our asses to make it happen.
We went through 2 prototypes, (which we had to pay close to $200 in shipping each time.) We finally approved the order with the exception of the Manticore card (more on that here). With our invoice, I walked into our bank and filled out the very long and complicated form for the international wire transfer. We wired them 50% of the cost, plus the setup fees. I had a pretty huge sense of relief when I signed the transfer form and sent it on its way. I think that was the most I had spent at one time. It was definitely nerve-racking, but very thrilling at the same time.
Quite separately we had sourced Chessex™ for dice. We were very underwhelmed by the dice the OEM wanted to use, and we knew our game deserved better. We ordered the dice and had them shipped to China for packing.
The printing and packaging took 30 days to complete for 5000 pieces of product. After the game was completed, we paid the remaining 50% and it was loaded up on 2 pallets and put onto an ocean freighter for its 2-week journey over to the Southern California coast.
While the shipping of the freight cost a relatively inexpensive $250, customs was a whole different story. If anyone has imported anything before, you would know that anything entering the United States need to clear customs, before it is allowed on U.S. soil. The process of clearing customs is so complex, that there are people who do it professionally. Luckily for us these people exist, and en masse. They are referred to as “Customs Brokers” and we decided to hire one to do the work for us. Our customs broker was excellent. He filled out all of our paperwork and told us what paperwork we needed to ask for from Lijia. The entire process went very smoothly… until our pallets hit customs.
It turns out that less than 5% of imports are randomly inspected for contraband. We were in that very lucky 5%. Thus, yet another delay. It took the shipment 3 more weeks after arriving to clear the contraband inspection. It got pretty ridiculous at one point. The shipment sat there for 2 weeks in queue to be inspected, then after it was done, it sat there because “the shipping company didn’t have time to come retrieve it back from the contraband inspection facility.” Oh and the best part, we had to pay for the contraband inspection. In the end, it ended up costing around $750 for clear customs.
The shipment was literally cleared on the day of San Diego Comic-Con’s Preview night. We were already in San Diego the night before. I got the call in the morning that it was ready to be picked up from the Long Beach customs warehouse. In order to have it for the show, I drove the 2 hours back up to Long Beach. I had a 2.5 hour window to pick it up, or we wouldn't have had the game for the show.
I got to the truck rental at 2 P.M. and rented a commercial truck. Never having driven one before, I drove over to the warehouse with my heart in my throat. Mind you I was also all by myself because Shawn and Denis had to stay in San Diego to setup for the show. I made it to the warehouse with a good hour to spare. I backed the truck up to the loading dock and went in. I claimed my shipment and the workers fork-lifted over my two pallets onto the back of the truck... And he needed the pallets back.
I unloaded the two very heavy pallets into the truck and drove up, sweaty and dirty, though L.A. rush hour traffic to unload the shipment at home. After unloading, I took the most incredible shower I had ever taken the returned the truck. Renting the truck, cost around $200 USD, and 1000 in sanity bucks. It was the single most stressful day of my life and I’m never putting myself in that situation again.
“Renting the truck, cost around $200 USD, and 1000 in sanity bucks.”
The only thing I regret is not raising enough for a fulfillment service for shipping out the games to the backers. I feel like we right up on the cusp. Close to 1000 games went out to a combination of Kickstarter backers, pre-orders, and authorized resellers. As soon as we got back from Comic-Con, we began the process of fulfillment. It was a very long and complex process. We had to develop a system to organize our 13 different reward tiers and their contents. After packing, we used a scale and label printer to handle the postage. This was a very complex process. It wasn’t as organized as it should have been. It took us close to 60 days to pack and ship all of the orders. We also learned quite a few tricks for next time around that will help streamline the process. The one thing I was not expecting was the cost of postage. We went over double our shipping budget and it was not pretty.
In The End
I’m happy that we had to do everything ourselves. Otherwise we wouldn’t have learned exactly what goe into making a card game. We have learned so much and are beyond ready for the next go-around. We now know what kinds of hurdles could be ahead and can prepare for them. I wanted to write this particular part specifically for anyone who is looking to get into this business. I mentioned some of those price figures purposely, so you can see that there are expenses stacked on expenses. It isn’t enough to just raise money for manufacturing.
If you have a company who do everything for you then you will pay more but feel much less stress. But if you are a grass-roots indie operation like us, then the best of luck to you. Through all that, we now have an incredible product that we are all super-proud of. As I stare at the mountain of shrink-wrapped games behind me, I know my efforts have paid off.
We live in an incredible time where anything is truly possible. Even if you have the tiniest itch to do something like this, just ask yourself the question, “why not me?”
Join us soon for the final part in this five-part feature. Funded with Kickstarter Part V: I Assure You We Exist.
In This Series
Funded with Kickstarter Part I: Too Much Free Time 6/2 - The conception of Destined Legends, beginning over 10 years ago.
Funded with Kickstarter Part II: Anything You Can Do 6/9 - The process of officially developing Destined Legends.
Funded with Kickstarter Part III: The Campaign 6/16 - The most exhilarating and stressful 30 days of our lives.
Funded with Kickstarter Part IV: I Heart Logistics 10/8 - The processes of manufacturing, importing, and fulfillment.