Smart Play Games 2014 Sales by Country and US State

As the year draws to a close, I'm planning actual paid advertising for Smart Play Games in 2015. One thing I learned from my time in the ad world is that it's very easy to spend a lot of money in an unreceptive market. So I needed some data to find out where I should be sending my directed advertising, particularly any promoted tweets.

Thankfully, DriveThruCards was kind enough to provide a big sales report that included country and state for each of my sales up to mid-December of this year. That should be plenty of time to measure sales for each region and perhaps give me some insights as to where I should spend my ad budget.

Below are interactive pie charts and maps where you can see sales by country and by state.

Sales by Country

USA being the top seller is no surprise. The expense of shipping internationally is the biggest barrier to the POD model's global reach. That being the case, I'm surprised to see Australia beat out the UK for international sales by over half.

Clearly I need to focus my paid advertising in the USA. I figured that much by tracking my monthly sales and hearing feedback on social media. Good to see it confirmed by hard numbers, though.

Now let's break down the USA by state.

Sales by US State

Wow, this is very interesting. I expected North Carolina to be overrepresented since I live here and I'm always promoting my games around town. Also these sales numbers include my own orders. Let's assume it would normally rank somewhere closer to 4th place normally.

California is a big surprise. I'm equally curious about New York, Washington, and Illinois' high ranking on the sales chart. All four are home to major cities with big tech companies and numerous tech startups. I wonder if the high number of tech-oriented people out there made the POD model a bit easier to understand. Perhaps the whole thing just piqued DIY entrepreneurs' curiosity

At least this narrows down where I should target my advertising, perhaps even how I should frame my press releases.

I hope you liked this peak into my own analytics.

New Game Icons and CCG Templates, thanks to Patreon Backers

This weekend Patreon backers got a double-whammy of goodies. First up, a new set of icons inspired by Love Letter and the Dominion core set. This includes some more specialist actions like "trash a card" or "buy a card" which is distinct from "gain a card." Tricky stuff.

I included the Dominion example above for some context of where I drew inspiration for each icon. That was also an opportunity to suggest how you might use language-neutral typography to represent things like "You may trash up to four icons" or "If opponent plays an attack card, you may cancel it."

The second update went out exclusively to $20 backers. It's a vector CCG frame in InDesign readymade for DataMerge. Because it's vector, it should be pretty easy for you to customize to your liking without losing any resolution.

Get both goodies on my Patreon here:
Hope you enjoy!

Empathy Triumphant in Legend of Korra

Wow. How about that Legend of Korra finale? Normally I don't talk about anything besides game design and the business of tabletop game production on this blog.

However, one of my core tenets for the past few years is finding non-violent themes for otherwise competitive games. More than that, finding non-violent themes that are better matches for their mechanisms than a traditional war/combat trope. In this, I think my modest creative goals are similar to what the folks behind Korra achieved in the finale.

For what is definitely an action-oriented cartoon, Avatar: the Last Airbender, and Legend of Korra in particular, have often shown the consequences of violence. On the subject of violence, three big themes clicked in the finale. (Legend of Korra spoilers follow, hence the non-spoiler image up top...)

Violence as Vulnerability
The big giant glowing Avatar State is when the Avatar is most powerful, but also most vulnerable. The whole thousand-year-long cycle of Avatar reincarnation ends if the Avatar dies while in the State. It is a powerful weapon, but just as much of a risk to the Avatar as her opponents.

Still, this was Zaheer's whole plan in Season 3: Bring out the Avatar State, then execute Korra to end the cycle forever. We've seen Korra smash buildings, become a giant energy god, and beat up countless goons without a second thought. However, in her fight with Zaheer, she faced a peaceful philosophy perverted to justify emotionless killing. In turn, Korra became the most viscerally violent brute she's ever been.

But her victory was not gloating. She did not get a gaudy pro-bending trophy at the end. She was literally and metaphorically poisoned by the experience. This may have been what Aang was so scared of happening before his own ultimate conflict with Fire Lord Ozai. Not that he'd lose, but that he'd win and be forever scarred.

At other times, in other ways, we've seen characters scarred by their exposure to child abuse, war, and violence in all forms – but the end of Season 3 was the most heart-wrenching example by far.

Kuvira the Cypher
I'll be honest and say I've often found Korra's antagonists to have interesting motives at first, but eventually flatten out into one-note capital V villains.

Amon began as an interesting argument about the role of non-benders in society until being exposed as a hypocritical con artist. Unalaq wanted to re-connect the Spirit realm to the physical realm in the face of rapidly encroaching industrialization, but ended up becoming pretty much the Devil. Zaheer probably had the best arc, keeping his (short-sided) anarchist motives clear nearly until the end.

In Kuvira's case, we barely got any sense of her motive. By the point when we heard about work camps and re-education programs, I was far more interested in why the heck anyone around her couldn't see she was an outright villain. Even the brief glimpse of her relationship with Bataar Jr. was subverted within the same episode.

Still, in the end Korra and Kuvira's relationships flipped completely from the season opener. Korra began the season alone, Kuvira surrounded by supporters. In the end, Korra had her friends and family while Kuvira literally towered over the rubble of her friendships.

Korra the Detective
You can say I went into the finale not feeling too excited about a perfunctory battle against an uninteresting villain. (I felt the same about Fire Lord Ozai, to be honest.)

Boy, was I blown away by the end. All around, from tactics, to animation, to simple "hell yeah!" character moments, that climactic fight was an amazing piece of work. Still, I expected the villain to either be captured, ambiguously vanish, or die by their own hubris... just like any American action cartoon. I was so cynical, despite my love for the series and the universe. That cynicism was extremely misplaced, I'm happy to say.

What I really liked about the finale is how despite the massive magic-vs-mecha battles and city-destroying Colossus, this battle could have ended with a nice clean bow. But no, by the end, Korra and Kuvira are barely strong enough to throw rocks at each other, yet they still keep fighting. I'm reminded of Einstein's quote:

“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

What ultimately prevailed was an opportunity for Korra and Kuvira to be alone with each other. Korra realized what made Kuvira so violently oppressive. (Perhaps even before Kuvira realized it.) Both Korra and Kuvira faced trauma mixed with immense responsibility, but responded in very different ways. Korra sequestered herself from others. Kuvira shielded herself with an army and armor.

All at once, the whole point of Kuvira being a one-note villain made sense for this season's arc. Korra had to find a way to stop the war that didn't involve a punch-out, that much was clear from the beginning. But in doing so, she would need to find some common ground with a person absolutely determined to resist it.

In this, Korra finally begins her era as a mature, fully realized Avatar.


Also, Korrasami forever.

SkillShare Coming Next Month: Graphic Design for Collectible Card Games

Hearthstone Cards (Source)

Good news, graphic designers! Next month, I'm releasing new Skillshare course on laying out cards for a collectible card game. This series of videos focuses on how to make the borders, backgrounds, high-def graphics, and variable text of a typical CCG. I'll be dissecting the graphic design from popular games and breaking down how to get the same effects from Photoshop and InDesign. It'll be fun! Look for more in coming weeks.

Announcement: Smart Play Games Seeks New Card Games for POD Publishing

People of Earth! Smart Play Games now seeks small card games to license for print-on-demand publication. This is a weird idea, so check out the FAQ below!

What's all this then?
After a successful run of self-published games on the print-on-demand site DriveThruCards, Smart Play Games wants to help other designers try this fast, low-risk publishing option. In time, we want to make print-on-demand a viable "farm league" funneling high-quality, customer-vetted products to traditional publishers.

What is Print-on-Demand?
To the customer, it's just like ordering any other tabletop game online. Presently, the one difference is that Smart Play Games' preferred printer DriveThruCards does not offer custom printed tuckboxes, but that will be added in coming months.

To the designer, it means faster releases, aimed directly at an engaged and connected audience. It's also an opportunity to test out niche game ideas that might not be viable in traditional publishing, but can still find a smaller devoted fan base.

To the publisher, there no need for large print runs or over-committed crowdfunding campaigns. Licenses can be written more leniently and generously for the designer, because there is less overhead and risk.

I can release Print-on-Demand games on my own, though.
Yup! And you should definitely give it a shot. More competition and higher quality games will raise the legitimacy of the model as a whole. A rising tide lifts all boats.

So why should I license to Smart Play Games?
Smart Play Games offers award-winning graphic design and art direction services, plus development, editing, and marketing from experienced professionals.

What is Smart Play Games looking for?
  • Fully playtested small card games with 54 cards or fewer. (For more info, see this post for how card count affects prices.) A small card count also makes it easier to transition a product from POD to traditional publishing.
  • Games with no need for other components besides cards. Paper and pencils are okay for scoring. It's also reasonable to expect some small tokens, but anything you can do to keep the game limited to cards is best.
  • Games with no combat, horror, or exploitative themes. Be ready to discuss re-themes if you propose Zombies vs. Cthulhu Colonialist War Game.
  • Animals seem to be a recurring theme here, with Arf, Nine Lives, Koi Pond, and Ten Pen already in our menagerie. Animal themed games will still be considered, but bear in mind that we have quite a few already. Get it? Bear? Ha!
  • Competitive games are still perfectly fine, especially if they're framed in unusual and/or family-friendly themes.
  • Games that make clever use of the physical nature of cards.

Who should submit?
Published and unpublished designers are both welcome.

We're also interested in licensing beloved, but out-of-print card games. Given the existence of low-cost print-on-demand technology, we want to make any well-loved game always available at a reasonable price.

Women and people of color especially encouraged. (Play Parable of the Polygons by Vi Hart and Nicky Case for more info on what it takes to boost diversity in a group.) Smart Play Games is a minority-owned company.

How do I submit?
You can email the gmail address smartplaygames with the subject "Game Submission: ____" and the title of your game in the blank.

If you'd just like to discuss anything in this post, feel free to leave a comment!

Chalk Board Game Reviews - Belle of the Ball

The kind folks at Chalk Board Game Reviews did a full fancy-dress review of Belle of the Ball! This was just delightful. :D Excellent work, everyone!

Handy Tool for Board Game and Card Game Graphic Designers: Icomoon

One of the most perplexing challenges of tabletop graphic design is how to design a whole deck of cards with variable text, stats, images, and borders. Fortunately, DataMerge makes that much easier as I describe in my SkillShare course. But there are some advanced problems that still pop up even when you've mastered DataMerge: Namely, inserting icons into any part of the text.

I discussed one method of doing this a few weeks ago, but that relied on using a pre-existing dingbats font for your icons and making bizarro GREP styles. As of that post, I hadn't found a reliable and easy to use font creator that flowed seamlessly from Illustrator to TrueType to InDesign. Well, I'm happy to say Icomoon is the app I've always wanted.

You can upload your own SVG vector files, assign keywords to them as ligatures, and save them as TrueType fonts. When you type your keywords with this font, it's automatically replaced with the icon you've chosen. All you need to do in InDesign is make a simple GREP style to apply a new character style that keyword. The character style is your icon font, plus any advanced baseline or kerning adjustments you want to make.

Designing CCG-style cards just got so much simpler.

One tip, though: Make sure your keywords are not a common combination of letters that might appear in another word. For example, if you have an icon for "hat," then it will affects words like "that" and "hatchet."

Excelente! Suspense and Light Rail in are a hit in Brazil!

A few months ago, Brazilian publisher Funbox Jogos licensed Light Rail as Metrocity and Suspense as Emboscada. They had a Black Friday sale to launch both products and it's safe to call them both a smash hit. Within 24 hours, nearly a fifth of both print runs were sold out! That's a hell of a start for any product launch. Check out these preview videos for Metrocity and Emboscada (Portuguese).

Language-Neutralizing Tabletop Games on Patreon

My next batch of icons on Patreon will be something a little different. I'm trying to make language-neutral icons for existing games, the first set being Love Letter and Dominion.

Fortunately, some of the basic concepts in these games have already been covered in past icons. Basic actions like "discard from hand" are well handled. I won't just copy-paste those files with new names.

For the rest of the icons, things are a bit tricky. In some cases, cards' effects are simple enough that I can make one icon for them, just as I have for the past several batches. That is, each file is a generic standalone icon. If your game has some complex effects, you can put those simple icons together, like letters from an alphabet.

In other cases, like Dominion, the effects have multiple steps and so are somewhat outside the scope of the existing icons. I can make files for each card, which would necessarily mean some repeating iconography (+1 action, for example). Or I can try to break up the individual actions from those cards and save those as separate files, again as I've been doing so far.

Which would you find most useful for you?

Questions about CCG design (Something From Nothing: Nov 30)

This weekend I was on Something From Nothing talking about my first foray into the realm of CCG design, or as I more often call it "cards with words," or "cards with effects." Chevee Dodd had lots of really good advice for how to model the kart racing theme of A La Kart. In response, I had rambling, ambiguous answers to his questions. Oh my god, I just would not shut up. Not my best showing. :P

Arf! now on DriveThruCards

Almost every Saturday morning, I volunteer at the local animal shelter socializing puppies and then tweet updates about each one. Part of this #pupdate is noting which puppies would be best in a family with lots of activity or other special conditions. I've been doing the #pupdate for over a year now and since the beginning, folks have asked if I'd do a game about it. Well, here we go!

I'm happy to announce Arf! the game of picky puppies. Players are volunteers at an animal adoption fair, trying to offer puppies different homes that meet their very specific demands. Some puppies want lots of room, others want lots of food, some want only love and don't care about room or food. Picky picky!

Arf! is now available on DriveThruCards! Remember, you have to place your order before December 8 to be sure to get it before xmas!

November 2014 Sales Report

Each month I make public my sales numbers for my print-on-demand card games. No sense burying the lede here, November was an awesome month for Smart Play Games! To the numbers!

2x Arf! (preview copies)
1x Bird Bucks +1
35x Kigi +30
21x Koi Pond: A Coy Card Game -1
6x Koi Pond: Four Walls (Promo Card 2) -2
6x Koi Pond: Four Winds (Promo Card 1) -2
10x Koi Pond: Moon Temple +2
17x Light Rail +1
10x Monsoon Market -2
4x Nine Lives Card Game +3
3x Penny Farthing Catapult +0
7x Regime +7
3x Solar Senate -5
31x Suspense: the Card Game +16
1x Ten Pen +0

107 Total Sold
$1,301.89 Gross Sales
$361.80 Earnings

Grand Totals for 2014 (to date)
1564 Products Sold
$10,924.16 Gross Sales
$3,170.55 Earnings

Sales were up for many products after a brief post-convention lull. We exceeded July's numbers and fell just short of the August spike from just before GenCon/Pax/Essen. Holiday shopping began in earnest well before Thanksgiving, rising sharply as we approached Cyber Monday. (As of this writing, DriveThruCards is experiencing traffic overload. Hope it stays live today!)

It's hard to say, but I do hope my demo table at the Museum of Life and Sciences during their game theory event drove some traffic to the site. It was a great time with lots of very interested casual players. I handed out nearly half of my business cards. Definitely my target audience.

It was also around this time last year, after releasing Suspense and Nine Lives, that I seriously began tracking sales. It will be very interesting to see how year-over-year sales compare to each other. At the time, my margin was about a third of my retail sales. Now it's closer to 3.5, coming from over over three times the products. That I've managed to maintain those earnings from a growing catalog feels like I'm doing the right strategy this year for a first-time venture.

However, strong correlations probably shouldn't be inferred since the overall environment now is way different than last November. This year saw more exposure, more promos, more product, just more more more. Hard to make a pure A/B comparison.

Suffice it to say I'm feeling good about 2014. It's modest for a traditional publisher, certainly, but this is all one big frontier. Hopefully some other brave designers will join me out here and we can get some healthy competition going. :)
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.