Thoughts on Publishing – Pricing an Indie Card Game

Isaac and I have been working on our upcoming card game, Battle Decks: Trials of Blood and Steel, and we had a gaming-experienced friend come by a few days ago to test the game. He gave us a lot of great advice that we’re now looking into implementing. Our date of release may have been pushed to a later date now, but we should have a better game for it.

In the meantime, Isaac and I have been thinking about how to price Battle Decks, as well as how to make it available to the largest number of people (and still make at least a small profit).

Currently, we’re printing Battle Decks through The Game Crafter, a print-on-demand company for tabletop games.

The downside with any version of print-on-demand is the cost. For books, this has become increasingly better over the past several years, and it is now reasonably possible to be competitive with traditionally published books). For tabletop games… they could use a bit more work.

But here’s the problem. Since a customer typically only buys one game at a time, the cost per game is relatively high (at least compared to what you would find in stores). This can be offset by purchasing a large number of games in bulk, but for a small business, this quickly adds up.

Take, for instance, our current version of Battle Decks with all its bells and whistles (four glossy rules pages, a pair of dice, 108 tokens, 126 cards, and the box). The base cost for buying just one game is $28.00, not including shipping. Once you add the cheapest shipping–short of will call (sorry, we’re not traveling to Wisconsin to pick up a box)–we’re looking at $36.00 per game. That goes down to $26.50 per game if we buy ten games at once, but when we add shipping, the price comes to $303.00, or roughly $30.00 a box.

(Note: Shipping costs may vary by location.)

Say we chose to purchase ten boxes at $30.00 a box. We still want to make a profit. If we sell them ourselves, we could offer them for $40.00 a piece and make $10.00 per game, minus sales tax if we factor tax into that cost. However If we take it to a store and ask them to sell it, they’re going to want a wholesale discount. I expect stores want at least a 35% discount off the retail price, and the one store I’ve spoken to thus far preferred a 50% discount off the retail price. Which means that, if we sold our game at $40.00, we’d be selling the game to 35% stores at 26.00 (we lose $4.00 per box), or at $20.00 to 50% stores (we lose $10.00 per box), which basically means that price isn’t feasible.

So, if we push the price of the game up to $50.00, the 35% store wants the game for  $32.50 (we make $2.50 per box), and the 50% store wants the game for $25.00 (we lose $5.00 per box).

However, now we risk pricing the game too high for potential players to take the risk on a new game.

Now, keep in mind that I haven’t done nearly as much research on what stores want in regards to purchasing indie games as I have with books,  so it may be that they want a lower discount. But given that many stores offer discounts to their customers (such as a 10% student or military discount), and they also want to make money (make sense, since they need money to stay in business), and indie games don’t usually have the name recognition that traditionally published games do to help keep those games selling, rather than sitting on the shelves, untouched, I expect that stores will want a decent-sized discount. (Note: See the comments below for input regarding wholesale discount ranges from an experienced seller. According to him, 50% is much less likely to be the norm than a 35% or smaller discount).

I’ll be doing more research in the form of talking directly to stores in the future, once we have more funding available to do a bulk purchase.

In the meantime, yikes.

Our best bet of keeping the game somewhat affordable and still making a small profit is to sell online. However, we’re still looking at a roughly $35.00 to $40.00 game, plus the cost of shipping.

So how do we make the game more accessible?

There’s a few possible options that I’ve found thus far.


While browsing The Game Crafter website, Isaac and I noticed that a few games (card games, in particular), had print-and-play editions. With a little more research, and I discovered that Cards Against Humanity has a free print-and-play edition as well as their regular edition.

Basically, a customer pays a small fee (.99 cents to a few dollars) to purchase a PDF file with all the cards ready to print. They print the cards, cut them out, and read any rules that come with the game. They can start playing almost instantly. No shipping time, and low cost.

The downside is the lack of quality control. If a player’s printer renders cards dark or blurry, it may turn other players away from the game. Or maybe the cards aren’t printed on card stock, and shuffling is therefore terrible. (Cards Against Humanity gets around this by putting a set of instructions at the front of their PDF with suggestions on how to print quality cards).

The other downside is that if your game has a lot of cards, and the player uses their own printer, they may end up using a lot of ink.

So… Isaac and I are thinking this isn’t the best alternative option for Battle Decks.

Card-Only Variety

Another option we’re considering is offering a stripped-down, card-only version of the game. No dice, no tokens, a smaller box, and online PDFs you can download and print at your leisure.

This brings the cost of each box down to roughly $17.00 (plus shipping), and if we wanted to make a $5.00 profit, we could offer the game online for $22.00. Shipping would be anywhere from $3-$9, (not sure, since I couldn’t put an unproofed game in my cart). But it’s considerably more affordable, and suitable for players who have plenty of dice, don’t typically use tokens, and don’t mind printing the rules themselves.

We’re thinking of offering the full edition of Battle Decks, with all the additional pieces, along with the card-only version, which gives players more options in regards to how much they want to spend on the game, and how they want to play the game.

Character Cards Only, and Players Use Free Trial Print Version with Proxy Decks

The final option we have considered is offering a small pack of just character cards. (18 cards in a poker card wrap). Base cost $5.00, plus shipping (probably around $3.00, given the piece of one of our other purchases with a slightly larger tuck box).

The idea behind offering only the characters is so that people who play the trial edition (which is a PDF we plan to release that shows players how to proxy the game using poker decks, and includes a single team for each faction) can enhance their game-play while still using the proxy decks, thus making the game more accessible by offering an even lower cost.

However, this only works if you don’t mind using proxy decks. At the moment, I’m leaning toward offering a card-only variety of the core game, in addition to the full version.

Note: These prices may change over time depending on what is being offered at The Game Crafter. Also, further research is needed to determine what indie games of this particular type would reasonably sell at.

Anyway, those are our current thoughts and theories. We haven’t actually tested selling the game with any of these methods.

I hope you enjoyed this post. 🙂 If you were to buy a new, indie card game, how do you prefer to buy it? What prices do you feel are fair?

Further Reading: – (2011 article, so information may be out of date) One of the people on this webpage make a great point about pricing (indie computer) games based on what platform you’re selling them from. – (2011 article) This article talks about indie (computer) game pricing pressures. It’s a bit off in regards to how books are produced, but the comments do show concern at an expectation for low prices. Those comments also show example of higher-priced (and high-quality) games selling well). (2011 article) – This post details a card game with components, and what pricing various people consider fair for that game – Details on card deck pricing from various printers. (I haven’t read through this yet, but it looks like it has potentially useful information) – Discusses profit difference between core games and expansions.


Filed under Business Ventures, Gaming

11 responses to “Thoughts on Publishing – Pricing an Indie Card Game

  1. Speaking as a gaming store owner and being a fan of several games similar in execution to yours here’s a few comments.

    The rules should come with the game. While everyone who can afford the game probably has the internet in their pocket, it’s just a standard practice. You have to include at the very least a sheet of folded paper with the rules, and then a link to play examples and pictures online.

    As for pricing the first thing I thought of was other card games of a similar size. You’re selling about as many cards as an Uno deck has – Uno costs $10 MSRP, $6 with free shipping from Amazon. You include a higher quality of art and detail on the card and components, so the next game I thought of was Bang! (it’s like 110 cards and 30 tokens with some other tiny parts) and that’s list $20/$14 Amazon. It comes in a tiny box designed to just hold the items, barely bigger than 3 poker decks.

    I think if you’re trying to sell a 2 deck game, that $20 price point is going to be the sweet spot. A Magic Duel Deck is two 60 card decks with foiled cards, several rules sheets, usually a pair of D20s or the like and the resell value of single Magic cards…all for $25. It’s tough to say your product is significantly higher quality than a Magic card and certainly there’s no secondary card market. Unless you’re including multiple dice of non-standard size than I think $20-$25 is your break point for a glorified card game.

    As a store owner selling board games I did not ever hope to get 50%. Magic had a 37%, as high as 42% when I bought in super bulk (like $1000 worth) and that was one of the best margin items around. Catan was 35% when I bought on sale and sold at MSRP, but most people would be perfectly happy to buy off Amazon at 20% off MSRP (and no sales tax) unless I could match it, so I settled for 10-15% margin usually.

    If you want to sell the game at $20 (and I think you almost have to meet or beat that) you should be trying to sell it to stores wholesale at $14-15. If it’s costing you $3 per unit in shipping then you need to get costs down to $12 just to break even. That doesn’t seem very likely with your current vendor unless you get really aggressive.

    If you’re willing to invest a little money into copies that you don’t need to flip immediately you can also ask local game stores to put it on consignment, While Walmart can’t help you with it, most local store owners are willing to let the item sit there if it doesn’t cost them anything. Drop off 5 copies, come by in 2 weeks and collect your portion of the sales and the unsold copies. The store owner would probably also let you come in on Game Night and demo the game to generate a few sales too.

    • Thanks for the input. That’s definitely helpful to have (and I updated the post to reference to the comments in regards to wholesale discounts). 🙂

      We might be able to add the rule sheets, but that brings the basic cost for a single game up to $19.45. For 10 games, 18.38, and at 100+ it’s 13.68, not including shipping (though shipping costs ultimately go down per piece as the order gets larger). Though if we only included 1-2 pages, and cut a few the page with the tokens, that might help (but then we’d lose the larger picture example. That might be where having it additionally online would help). We’ll think about that, though.

      Thanks for the examples, too (including Munchkin, below). We wouldn’t be able to do the $20-$25.00 with the full version of the game, but it might be possible without the extra components (which we would need to make prominently noted that this version didn’t come with those).

      • Lost Cities gets away with charging $25 for 60 cards (albeit large ones), a tiny game board with 5 squares drawn on it, and basically a one page rule book so that’s another data point for you. If you want to see how much a premium version of a game costs, look at Bang! the Bullet Edition which comes in a distinctive box with a plastic sheriff’s badge and some other trinkets. The price jumps from the $20 above to $45! But it really needs to feel premium to justify that. I can’t imagine paying more than $30 for a duel decks game unless it’s got some serious components.

        I think you could cut the shards and if you really want to premium edition it out the jumbo cards for heroes (for $2.39 more) would be more “product value” for the customer and they still fit in most of the boxes I looked at. That way you’re not just selling poker sized cards with no “extra” components.

        If you want to sell at $25 retail (and I think you really do need to get into that range at worst), then you’re selling to stores at $18 so they can pull 28% (and once again offer a buyback plan if you have to to get them to carry it to start).

        The best stripped down version I could quickly assemble was $11.62+.65+6=18.27 per unit for 1 copy where you just get cards and a sheet of rules (small print and really tight writing with a QR code and link to your Youtube Let’s Play video) in the medium box. I guess it comes down to shipping and volume – but even before you run the numbers you could probably guess that. Anyone who has ran a business will tell you that you will rarely do more than break even unless you can maximize your shipping and volume discounts. Seeing it here is par for the industry. Direct sales are about all you’re going to be able to really count on for actual profit.

        Good luck.

        • Thanks for the additional game examples. I’ll take a look at them.

          At the moment, I think we’re still considering offering two versions of the game, though the “full” edition would probably only be available through Game Crafter, for people who really want all the pieces in one set. Not sure about doing larger cards, though we have talked about doing that for a few of the more powerful characters in future expansion sets.

          At this point, I doubt we’ll be able to sell directly to stores. It would be a nice option in the long run, but we’ll need the funds to purchase the large bulk quantities, and not just the quantity of ten. However, selling the stripped down version (and I do like the possibility of including a single document of rules that includes a link to the easier-to-read document and video) should be feasible if we’re selling directly to the customer.

          As a side note, I had thought about having a QR code available at conventions so that passersby could easily go to an online ordering page for the various books and games. Hadn’t been sure on including it directly in the game or not, since I wasn’t sure how long the link would last. (That’s something I’ll need to do more research on).

          Thanks for the information. 🙂

  2. Oh, I thought of another game on the same scale as yours….Munchkin. 168 cards, a d6, rules, and it’s $25 MSRP/$17 Amazon. Right in that same ballpack. FWIW expansions to it about 100 cards in simple packaging for $15-$20. I think they try to make the real money there.

  3. suenuckles

    Don’t forget the legal side: Missouri, county and city business licenses. I know Goldie had to get a business license to sell her books.

    • Yep. I’ll be applying for the sales tax license once we’re ready to start hand-selling items. While it’s all online, we don’t have to worry about Missouri sale tax. I’ve sent the revenue department a question a couple days ago regarding whether I need the licence if I’m only selling to other retailers (who would be charging sales tax), but I’m still waiting to hear back from them. If I start selling at conventions or fairs or such, I would need a license then.

      So yeah, that’s been in the back of my mind.

      • I am not a tax expert (I’m an accountant but I hated taxes) but I think that if you’re selling online to a resident of the state you’re doing business in you should actually be collecting sale tax though.

        • I went and looked it up from my notes. If you are a 100% wholesale business in Missouri, you are not required to register for a state retail sales tax license. You are required to fill out a Form 149 for each reseller and collect their tax ID# though as part of your business records. You do not collect any sales tax so you don’t need to acquire a license or post the bond for it.

          • Cool. That helps knowing which form I’d need, and what to do with it. Wasn’t sure if there was something I’d send in or not. At the moment, we might be dealing directly with other retailers, though at some point we’d make the switch and I’d need to file for the license.

        • True, but all my online sales are going through other retailers (Amazon, Smashwords, The Game Crafter, etc), so–if I’ve figured this correctly–I think they’re technically the ones who are supposed to be collecting sales tax. (Or passing it on as use tax). Now if I was selling it myself, directly through my website, and a physical product was involved, then I would need to collect sales tax. (The Department of Revenue representative I spoke to said that I would report online sales of ebooks through Amazon, but that they would not be considered taxable sales.)

          Granted, I may have misinterpreted something during the course of my research, but that’s how I understand it at this point.

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