Structural Boundaries On Making

The medium is the message. The structures of things are more powerful than the things themselves for changing the world. There are constraints on things that are about the way they are delivered and deployed that defy the mere conventions of pure aesthetics. We talk about what media does but so often that is a question fighting with what media can’t do — because of resources like time or affordances like culture.

I’m gunna talk about making and selling Invincible Ink games.

Every game I’ve made has been made with a slowly growing awareness of what I can do.

Let’s start with a quick discussion about selling Invincible Ink games. They’re currently available on two online storefronts, over on Invincible Ink’s own website, and at DriveThruCards. These online storefronts get very little activity for the physical games – almost nobody buys the card games online. By comparison, Dog Bear (a digital download) and Simon’s Schism (a pay what you want digital download) are the most successful things we sell on DriveThru. I’m not sure about other people’s numbers, and I know I’m not very ‘popular’ on the platform, but it’s a platform with a few providers who are, essentially business as opposed to a hobby creator like me. Like, you can buy the Vampire: The Masquerade and Nisei games there, and those feel like they’re likely making meaningful numbers with a pre-existing fanbase.

This is not to say my games don’t sell, though. They just sell face to face, when someone can pay money and get the game in their hand. And they don’t all sell at the same rates. Some games are more popular than others and that’s okay by me.

This means the biggest purchaser of my games from DriveThruCards, the site that publishes it, is me. I buy stock of my games before conventions, depending on what’s sold well, and then I sell them at the conventions.

Thing is, to sell games face to face at conventions, we need these things called ‘conventions.’ 2020 and 2021 have featured one Convention, in total, that I attended, and that was Cancon in January 2020. Which is great and I loved it and I sold games. One thing that is remarkable about being a hobbyist game maker is that I can just stop. Any time I want to, I can just not make games for a bit, not attend things, and the stock I have of my games occupies a small cupboard in my house. I’m not paying warehousing costs in any meaningful way. Dormancy is an option at my scale, which for larger businesses, it’s obviously not.

This is also why work on my PhD has slowed down, incidentally. Kinda hard to do blind playtesting with strangers the way I used to.

This year, due to a variety of things, DriveThruCards changed their bulk selling rules. This is a bit of a problem for me because it used to be that if our order totalled over nhundred cards, no matter how many games it was split between, we qualified for cheaper shipping and cheaper printing rates. Now, due in part to shortages and shipping increases, which, you know, it sucks but it’s how it be, the pricing cares about how many cards of a single product.

If I made say, five games, each one taking about a year to develop and release, and stocked up like that, this wouldn’t be a big deal. I could probably afford to stock volume like that at my current scale. Right now, though, I have a corpus of a lot of games — at least thirty, as a general point — and that means my large variety of small games isn’t viable to have printed by DriveThruCards.

There is an alternative, but until now, it’s been markedly more expensive: Gamecrafter. I have a game available on Gamecrafter already, Skulk, a competitive game of trick taking thieves avoiding a dragon. I’ve recommended students invested in making prototypes for their games to use Gamecrafter’s system builder to get an idea for what their games can use and afford.

Well, now gamecrafter isn’t markedly more expensive than DriveThruCards, we’re investigating what games sold on Gamecrafter will look like, with their expanded options. Options like hook boxes, mint tins, counters and dice suddenly become available.

I made a lot of card games because I was limited to only building my games with cards. Once, the plastic shell box was standard, and then I moved away from that to the folded tuck box. Then, because folded tuck boxes weren’t viable for my small games, I moved away from designing games that needed a tiny number of cards.

Now, new tools are available, and we’ll see what new designs are available because of it.

Hey, if you’re curious about the things I’m thinking about, would you want articles about looking at different gamecrafter pieces and how I think I can use them?