Tangram Fury has arrived!
View a quick video on how to play Tangram Fury.
View a quick video on how to play Tangram Fury
That's Right, Tangram Fury is Made in the USA!
Many told me, "Don't do it..."
I had never published a game before. I've made up games that we've played as a family, but I'd never published a from-concept-to-product actual game for commerical sales before. For me, it was a bold step (meaning it was somewhat intimidating and costly), but I was determined to make it happen.
My first professional job was working in the publications arena project managing the printing of the international versions of the software documentation for WordPerfect. As such, I thought I knew the publishing business well enough to give me the false confidence I needed to make this work. I was quick to learn, though, that there had been many changes to that industry since the time I was immersed in it. I was also quick to learn that there were a great many things I did not know.
As I researched how to manufacture a game, I hit up those I knew who were at least loosely tied to the game industry, and did a lot of research on the Internet. Everything I read and those that I talked to all seemed to have the same advice. If I wanted to be successful, I had to go to China.
I didn't want to go to China, though. When I'd say this, I'd get that shrug in reply and the look that said, "OK, have it your way, but you're being naiive. You'll find out soon enough. Best of luck to you..."
Yes, I may be naiive, but I like to think of it as patriotic. I love America. I want to see America succeed. When I first taught my oldest boy about the three branches of American government and the Constitution, I surprised myself by getting choked up. He asked, "Dad, why are you talking in an old man voice?"
No Love for Outsourcing
I couldn't help it. I love this country and all it stands for. And, I've seen too many co-workers lose their jobs to outsourcing. I was determined to make my game as a "Made in the USA" product.(Dang it all, even after all this, I ended up losing my job for the second straight year. Last year was due to the company I worked for getting bought. This year, it was due to outsourcing outside of America...)
I made a mock-up prototype of my game to determine the contents. After some trial and error, I determined that I'd need 1) foam tangrams, 2) color-coded cards, 3) an 8-sided die (dice) with colors to determine the card category, 4) an insert sheet of instructions, 5) boxes to hold the cards and puzzle pieces, 6) an outer box to hold the game. I decided to keep the game as simple as possible, so that things like a pencil and paper for keeping score would be unnecessary.
Of all the components, I figured the cards would be the easiest to manufacture and the dice and foam tangrams would be the hardest.
I wrongly believed that there are dice companies out there that make multi-sided, colored dice that I could buy from stock-on-hand. I could have used 6-sided, numbered dice, but that would complicate things. It wouldn't have been difficult to come up with 2 more categories of tangrams, but I didn't want those playing the game to become confused. I didn't want them to have to remember that "1" meant "people" and "2" meant "animals". I wanted to make playing the game to be quick, simple, and fun. This was why I wanted colored dice to reflect colored cards.
A Peek At China
I finally gave into all those who kept shaking their heads and pointing me to China, for the dice. I looked up the site of the #1 manufacturer out there. They advertised on the site that I could get 10,000 dice for a nickel a piece. That was tough to beat. It was many more than I needed, but at that price, it was doable. I knew I could stockpile dice, so I contacted them about it, and asked if they could provide colors.
They turned around and said that "actually" the minimum order would be 50,000, that they didn't have the molds in place, so I'd have to have new ones made for $250, and that the price was closer to $.50 each, not $.05. In short, the cost had gone up exponentially. To top it off, they couldn't produce colored dice for me.
Dice: Made in New Jersey
As annoying as this was, in a way I was relieved. I wouldn't be going to China afterall. I resumed my search State side and found a producer in New Jersey that could provide me with blank 8-sided dice at a very reasonable rate. I placed the order, and they fulfilled it in a timely manner.
This left me with a problem. The dice were blank. I needed to color them. I considered painting, but that's way impracticle. I considered stamping them with a rubber stamp, but that's both impractical and would eventually smear off.
Dice Stickers: Made in Utah
The only practical answer was stickering them. But, who wants to sticker 1,000 8-sided dice? I set that concern aside while I tried to find 8,000 colored, triangular stickers. Long story short, I found a place in Orem, Utah that manufactured the stickers for me. The colors they had available determined the color of the paper I chose for the cards.
Then, it became a matter of stickering those 1,000 dice - 8 times each. My wife readily volunteered to help. I asked my kids for help, but cautioned that I only wanted those who were old enough to be capable of doing a great job, and those who were actually willing to do so. I didn't want to "force" anyone to do it against their will, as, among other things, they wouldn't do a great job. We spent a week hand-stickering dice until all 8,000 stickers were neatly in place. It was quite a bonding experience for us. (Hmm, pun intended?) And thus, the dice were ready.
Tangram Foam: Made in Utah
The foam proved to be tricky, but ultimately more doable than the dice. I had NO IDEA how to track down a manufacturer of the type of foam I needed. I only knew that when I was putting together my mock-up, I had scoured a couple of hobby stores looking for something suitable for the tangrams. I liked the material used for some craft-based door hanger thingers. I contacted the maker of those, to no avail. Eventually, I was able to find out what to call the foam and local manufacturers of it.
The first manufacturer I talked to had nothing but bad news for me. He let me know that, first off, he wasn't interested in a small job such as I would want or need and second, the least amount he could charge would be $50,000 or more. Ouch! He was right that I couldn't afford that.
I eventually found a company in the Salt Lake City area, with a customer rep that was EXCELLENT to work with. He listened to my story of being laid off and trying to create a game, using my severance pay to finance it, and knew that I was on a tight budget. He confirmed that the pieces of foam they produce are so large that they would cost $40,000 or more and produce enough foam for 10's of thousands of games - way more than I needed or wanted.
Focusing on Solutions, Not Problems
However, he was more focused on answers than roadblocks. He wanted to help make this happen, not tell me why I shouldn't try. I greatly appreciated that.
He pointed out that large companies put in orders for foam, and don't need or use the entire sheet. He said that he could sell me the tale end of the sheets and cut those into tangrams. He cautioned me that this would mean I couldn't pick my color arbitrarily. I'd have to choose from among those that were already in their production system. It really was a win-win for both of us, because I was able to get the material I needed, and he was able to sell material his customers didn't want. We both agreed to look into an arrangement.
As I drove home, I was encouraged, but concerned. My original plan was to have 4 colors on the dice to match the 4 colors of the cards, and to have 4 colors of foam tangrams. I knew I couldn't afford 4 colors of tangrams, even under these new circumstances. I saw this as a roadblock. Then, I decided to audit my thinking.
Do I REALLY Need That?
I asked myself why I needed 4 colors of foam. I asked if I could get away with only 2 colors, or even just 1. I realized the 4 colors were a matter of preference and not critical to the game. I was able to settle on only 2 colors, and picked the best two that were available: red and yellow. This took care of what I thought were my two biggest hurdles to produce.
Cards: Made in Utah
I had no idea how hard it would be to print the cards. I wanted them to be larger than standard playing cards, so that all players could have a chance to clearly see the images on them when they were playing the game. My original plan was to have them nearly twice the size they currently are. It took a series of compromises of cost and feasibility to determine this size. I worked with 8 or 9 presses, before I found one in Lindon, Utah who could and would work with me from start to finish. I don't know why I'd get so far down the road and then other presses would simply stop responding to my calls and e-mails...
Boxes & Inserts: Made in Utah & Colorado
While the press in Lindon could produce the cards, collapsible inner boxes and the instruction sheets, they couldn't produce the static outer game box. They farmed that out to a box maker in Denver, Colorado. With that final piece of the puzzle (so to speak) solved, I was able to have every component of the game produced in America!
The final task was manufacturing, or assembly. When I got the cards back from the press, I found that they were shipped with each card of a given type in its own box. In other words, they weren't collated. This meant that I had to hand-collate all of the cards. There were 4 categories of cards, with 50 cards per category. This meant 200 cards per game. I printed 1,000 games. This meant that I had to hand-collate 200,000 cards! (We thought stickering 1,000 dice was intense...)
Assembly & Shipping: Done in Utah
Thanks to patient, willing and industrious family members, we had a few "game nights" at our house and managed to get all of the cards sorted in a few weeks. With the cards sorted, I was easily able to tackle assembly. As per the interview I did for KSL TV News, my living room was taken over for that purpose. Assembled games were shipped to customers, or packed in cartons for storing in our basement.
All shipping still starts from my front room, where games are packaged into mailers, weighed, postage is bought online and then they are labled. They then head out the door to be mailed.
The High Price of Costs
The good news is that I was able to meet my goal of creating the game from scratch to the point that it is now in many people's homes as an actual product. The bad news is that the cautions blasted at me by several people have also been fulfilled. Making the game in America has proven to be much more expensive than had I gone to China.
I had hoped to sell the game for slightly twice what it cost to produce it. In so doing, I'd be able to pay for the first printing, and also for the second, and still have a slight profit. As it stands, the COGS was much higher than planned, which meant that I had to charge more than I wanted to. Actually, the COGS was high enough that I really can't sell this in physical stores.
Physical stores want 40-60% of the retail price of the game. In order for me to do that, I would have to charge much more than customers would be willing to pay. As a result, I have to rely solely on word-of-mouth and Internet sales.
If I can get the game to take off and get a decent-sized order from a retail store, I will need to do a reprint. At that point, I should be able to get this reprinted for less, because of printing a larger quantity. My fear is that even that won't be enough to offset the costs and allow this to continue to be Made in America, in order to price it low enough for retail sales. I'll have to cross that bridge when I come to it.
Meanwhile, this game is truly...Made in the USA!