Tuesday, May 28, 2013

How do you "win"? The importance of goals

Vision. Mission. Objective. Goal. End-game.

There's a lot of ways to classify these things, but the idea is to figure out what you are trying to accomplish, and how you'll know it when you do.

There's also a lot of tools, tricks, instructions, and procedures on how to craft them, what they mean, and how to use them.

Here's one from Entrepreneur, for example.

I think it's important to capture your vision - write it down somewhere - and then refer to it periodically as you work. This is especially handy when you are doing a side-project, for reasons I'll get into momentarily.

Terminology Note:

For purposes of this post, I'm going to say "Goal", which will encapsulate objective, vision, and mission statement into one broad concept. In actual "business" terms, these are different things but I like to keep things simple and practical. (Not that those definitions aren't useful, but, there's no need to complicate matters).

What is a goal?

I think we all know what a goal is. I just want to add that I think a good goal is something that is:

1. challenging yet still realistic
2. measureable
3. timed

You can have goals for all kinds of things. I think it's a good idea to have a goal for each game design you are working on, for example. I also think it's a must for any organizational or business planning activity. It's absolutely something you need to have completely figured out before asking anyone for any type of start-up capital or launching a crowdfunding project.

You can have several goals; one for each design project, and one for your "overall goal", each having a different level of specificity. You can have broad goals that you define over time. Do whatever works for you, just have something captured that you can refer to.

 Examples:

A goal could be "to publish a game with a publisher in 3 years", "to design a game and crowdfund it in 3 years", or even just something like "to design the perfect dungeon crawl game for my friends in 3 years".

Even with just those 3 examples, I hope you can see how stating the goal can drastically change your approach, behavior, and even willingness to invest resources (your time and money).

What's so important about a goal?

1. it will help focus your time and resources
2. it will help you make decisions
3. it will help you finish tasks

We're all time-constrained. Especially when working on side-projects. And for you game designers out there, unfortunately you are designing games, planning crowdfunding projects, launching publishing companies, etc in addition to having a full time job.

Coming up with a goal and posting it in your workspace will help you focus your valuable free time. Ignore things that aren't substiantially related to accomplishing that goal. It will also help you make financial decisions. Sometimes spending money to make a slick prototype will help attract playtesters, which in turn will help you make your deadline to demo it at your local game convention, for example.

When you come up with ideas, activities, or are presented with challenges to your project, think about them in terms of how they will help you complete this goal - or not.

If they help, or are directly related to accomplishing your goal, then those are your priorities for the project.

If not, write them down in a notebook or "idea document", and leave them there for now. They're a distraction.

Do the same thing with your decisions. Approach your project decisions within the context of how they will help you accomplish your goal or not.

Finally, having a tangible goal will help you stay disciplined. If you're results-oriented, like me, seeing regular progress (checking things off a to-do list, for example) has an amazingly positive impact on any project, and boosts your motivation.

And for all of us creative types, where getting past that "creative/motivational/depressionist" rut is huge, having a goal hanging on your wall, and a sheet of checked-off items, is very powerful. Try it sometime.

Brain power - or, if you can dream it, you can do it

You've probably heard that if you want to accomplish something, just "set your mind to it". I think that deciding upon a goal, keeping it in your mind, and acting upon it, is a much more powerful tool than most of us may realize.

Many people create just for the fun of creating. Others create for fun, then decide to take it more seriously. At a certain point having a defined goal matters. Try it. I think you'll like it.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sales forecast: stormy, cloudy or sunny?

How do you figure out how many games to publish? And why does it matter?

There are a few ways to come up with this number, but you should do your homework, because getting it wrong can really screw you.

Make too many, and you've locked in your money. And you'll also have a garage full of games.

Make too few, and you're leaving money on the table. Meanwhile people who would have bought your game, if there was one on the shelf, have now bought a different game.

Maybe in six months when your next run is done and shipped, they might be interested in buying one then. If they haven't forgotten about your game or moved on to the next new hot game.

In a practical sense there are two approaches, okay, well, three, to use to determine how many games to produce.

1. Make something up. (AKA "WAG" - or "wild-assed guess).
2. Economic/financial approach. How much money do you have to spend and other factors.
3. Market driven approach. How much market demand is there over a certain period of time.

1. WAG.

This approach is more common than you may think, even with big corporations. Sometimes it stems from "there's a certain sales figure we need to hit for the company to reach a certain growth goal, so that's going to be our sales forecast." Have fun with that.

2. Economic approach.

Today I listened to On Board Games podcast, and Donald was interviewing game designer Andrew Parks regarding his crowdfunding campaign for his game Canterbury.

Andrew's goal was to use his Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to publish the game. He also wanted a quantity of games to sell into distribution and retail. Selling through those copies would then provide his seed capital to continue his publishing business.

When asked how Andrew arrived at his number for how many copies to print, his response was that it was based upon economics.

In other words, after gathering his printing quotes, he knew that to have 1,000 copies would make the per unit costs very high, and that doubling that print number would drastically reduce his per unit costs, and also provide him with around 1,000 copies to sell after satisfying  his crowdfunding backing commitments.

Andrew used an approach that is sound and viable for a lot of reasons and most importantly, it does mitigate some risk on his end. (Nothing wrong with that).

But what is the true market demand for Andrew's game Canterbury? What if demand is really 5,000 for the first year? Or even worse, what if demand is 500?

3. Market driven approach.

To find market demand, or produce a market-driven forecast, you need to perform market research. Commonly you'll ask your retailers, sales people, and distributors. You can ask your marketing staff to do some research. You can find out ballpark figures for what other games have sold.

This is tricky and takes a fair amount of time. At a certain point, you are going to have to say "this is close enough" because it's not going to be 100% accurate, and opportunity costs for your time are going to come into play.

Forecast scenarios

After you've come up with your basic sales forecast, using one of the above methods, it's relatively easy to plug that number into a budget spreadsheet and model out a few scenarios, like the ones below:

Stormy: what does your budget look like if you only sell half of your sales forecast? How much will this hurt your overall financials? What is the impact long-term?

Sunny: what does your budget look like if you sell all your games in the first year? How much (if any) overall profit will this yield? Will selling out leave you with enough money to make another print run - assuming there's enough demand?

Cloudy: what if you sell 75% of your inventory the first year? How does that impact your development schedule for expansions? Do you still make a profit?

Spending time playing with these scenarios is an excellent way to plan, and you'll get to see how inventory impacts your overall budget, cash flow, and capital.

If you do scenarios for year 1, year 2, and year 3, all based on a set of predictions, you can start to see how things may play out, and it's a powerful way to make some decisions or base a strategy.

If you want "advanced" lessons on forecasting, budgeting, or financial planning, there are many great resources. Here's a site I found that will help you with forecasting.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Do you want action?

The call to action, or CTA as we call it in the biz, is one of the most important parts of any communication, advertisement, web page, love letter, or anything else we're putting together for consumption by our target audience.

We're exposed to (hundreds? thousands? apparently we're not really sure) of advertising messages a day.

Regardless, it's a lot.

Most of those are what we call "push" advertising or marketing, where it's being - you guessed it - pushed to people who may or may not want it, or even have any interest. These are most commonly "brand awareness" messages.

The other type is "pull", which is when you are doing some type of shopping/research. This is obviously better because now you are actively interested, so presenting you with advertising is a much better investment. Product reviews are often in this category.

Considering the large number of push advertising we're exposed to daily, and then add the stuff we're experiencing that we have "requested" to see, as you know the environment becomes very noisy very fast.

So that means that getting to the point of your advertising message and being clear about what you want them to do next is paramount.

That's the call to action. And you should only have one call to action. Presenting more will confuse the issue and the message.

If there are more actions you want from people, those need to be in different ads, or in different steps of the purchasing process.
  • Click here to buy now
  • Email us
  • Pick up the phone
  • Reply to this message
  • Enter to win

Combine those with visual cues that are clear and easy to find. In fact, make that the highlight of your advertisment.

In fact, if all they do is respond to your CTA by clicking, calling, emailing, sharing, etc, then - congrats! You've succeeded!

There's much more to this messaging and advertising thing, but if you nail down your call to action before you even start to write or design your ads, you're already way ahead of the game, and have greatly increased the chances that you'll get a response.