Crowdfunding · Lean startup

Need help understanding manufacturing for a fairly simple product

smithsa Experienced software leader looking for new opportunities

Last updated on November 8th, 2020

I'm developing a game/puzzle and need some help understanding how to actually have it manufactured.

When completed, the game will consist of 100 flat plastic pieces (about 1 inch square), each with a unique geometry. The exact geometry of each piece is being calculated by hundreds of hours of computer time (this is the secret sauce).

Everyone I've shown my idea to has liked it (although I know what this is worth). So here's my plan to go forward:

Phase 0: Current phase - lots of R+D to get the design exactly right. Talking to people - they like it. Very soon we should transition into:

Phase 1: Produce about 10 prototypes so people can actually play with the whole idea. I see that I can get these laser cut from acrylic which will work really well. The services I've found can do this for about $30-40 per set - very expensive but certainly doable. The outcome from this phase will be:

  • Needs refinement, go back to Phase 0 (pretty unlikely)
  • Bad idea, drop it completely
  • Move to next phase

Phase 2: Make 100-200 sets of the product and start to use social media to sell them. During this phase we can play around with pricing to see what we can charge. We can also play around with marketing to see what's effective. I see this phase as critical in moving forward. We need to get this right to succeed. Once we know exactly what we have, we can move to:

Phase 3: Begin to mass produce this. From a "what it is" perspective, this is a really simple product to manufacture - no moving parts, no expensive components. It should be producible for less than $1 per set. Much less. Margins should be great, but to get to this point, we need to get through the previous ones. I believe that we can "get this manufactured in China inexpensively", although I don't know exactly what this entails.

Okay, so here's my question: How do I make the products for Phase 2? Laser cutting acrylic will be functional and beautiful, but it will cost more to make than I can charge. Producing molds and mass producing (at this stage) seems very expensive to set up and a bit premature. So what's in the middle that will be cheap to produce while limiting the risk?

I also realize that we can also approach this through a crowd funding campaign. I'm a bit wary of this since it seems that a successful campaign requires a pretty big effort for marketing and promotion. If we decide to go this route, how do we fit a crowd funding campaign into the phases above?

Garett Fitzpatrick CXO, Founder, Investor, Customer Experience Solution Architect, Sales Operational Guru

November 12th, 2020

First, to answer your last mention on crowdfunding... you are absolutely correct... it's a huge undertaking and should not be taken lightly.

The very first thing I would do in your position is source a designer. Upwork is full of designers that can help you. You will need either a few cheap ones, or one expensive one. The considerations relevant to your hiring process are graphic design, product design, and process design. A talented designer should be able to handle both the product, mold, and process design by themselves. With luck, that designer will have a keen eye and will do your graphics, but I wouldn't go that way.

There are a lot of options and lots to consider when figuring out where/how to make the product itself. For example, China and Vietnam have done a great job for me in the past. However I have built complex and expensive products that had a low H/S code (import duty). You may find that a US based plastics shop can churn them out for a comparable cost to the landed (post duties paid) cost of the foreign counterpart. One thing that is for sure, if you are going with a US company, they will likely charge WAY more for the molds. Some Vietnam shops give you the mold for a PO over a threshold.

There are a ton of variables. Message me if you like and I can walk you through a few options and hopefully clear a path for you. Good luck!

smithsa Experienced software leader looking for new opportunities

November 12th, 2020

Hi Garett,

Thanks for the feedback.

I'm not really sure why you've suggested a designer as your first recommendation. Here are the hurdles that I see between me and making money:

Product Design: I think I have this completely nailed down. The product is pretty simple - just a bunch of plastic tiles with a design that I'm creating. A designer won't do anything but get in my way.

Product Manufacturing: I know that I can get acrylic laser cut to my exact specs and will be perfect for this product. I'm going to use this in small batches to do initial testing. Later, I need a better solution since laser cutting is expensive and won't scale. I have no idea how to do this.

Product Documentation: My wife does this professionally. I'm very confident here.

Packaging: Don't know what I'm doing here. I recognize that I'll need someone that knows what they're doing. On the other hand, I'm planning to sell online and not in retail, so attractive packaging is less of an issue.

Marketing: I'm not the expert, but I think I know enough to get by and know how to get help when needed.

Fulfillment: I've never done this, but I believe that if I use a service I'll be able to manage.

Is that everything? What steps am I missing?

As far as going to China/Vietnam, at what point does this become a cost effective option? How many thing will I need to produce to make things like mold creation worth the investment? How much money will I need to start with to really get things moving with overseas (or even American) manufacturing?

Paul Garcia marketing exec & business advisor

December 8th, 2020

There are a number of companies that produce board games for game makers like yourself. They have varying degrees of flexibility on the components they can produce, but there are enough of them that you don't have just one choice for your specs. You can meet them at any of the gaming conventions, which probably aren't happening right now, but you can at least find their names by looking at the various gaming conventions.

What step I recommend most that you seem to be missing is play-testing. You want a single prototype of your game that you can actually play with other people, so you learn which mechanics work best and what adjustments to either your play or your pieces would really improve the game.

My best friend has designed some games, and every single one of them goes through a playable sketch period where even if it's pieces printed on card stock from the inkjet, the play testing comes before making the board and pieces sexy.

My recommendation, stop obsessing about the sexiness of the pieces until you have battle tested your game and people want to play it. Games have ratings for playability, style, and several other factors. Sometimes they come in multiple price tiers to attract a different audience that cares about the pieces more than the game play. I think you may be surprised what you can charge, but until you get immersed in the game testing world, you're not going to have any perspective on what game players expect from your offering.

As @Garrett notes, crowdfunding a game is a massive full-time commitment if you plan to succeed), usually two months of full-time prep before launching, overtime during the campaign run, and then full-time again for months after a successful campaign to fulfill.

Regardless, stop worrying about the production details until you do your game play testing. That will help identify what you need versus what's nice to have. And it will also help ensure you have buyers/players when it's available. Almost no one is going to buy a game that hasn't been rated for game play.