16 March 2017
Never did I think box sizes would be the focus of my career. But this is the life of a game publisher! Here are some of the questions I’m asked most frequently, along with the factors I consider when deciding box size and a proposed solution for a frequent request about Scythe.
Will the Expansion Fit into the Original Game Box?
Whenever I announce a new expansion, this is the most commonly asked question. It seems that most gamers want everything to fit into a single box, which makes sense–we all have limits on shelf space and bag space (when we travel with games).
A few months ago I posted a poll on this subject: When you buy an expansion, if the contents fit into the original game box, how often do you throw away the expansion box?
The results (see image) indicate that 50% of people throw away the expansion box and 50% of people keep the expansion box. So there are two very different audiences to whom to cater.
Why Don’t Publishers Make the Original Box Big Enough for All Expansions?
I can’t speak for other publishers, but for Stonemaier Games, there are a number of factors in play:
- Bigger boxes cost more to make. More cardboard and more ink result in a higher manufacturing cost. This may not seem like a big deal–it’s just cardboard and ink–but it adds up.
- Bigger boxes cost more to ship. Freight shipping is where the costs can really increase. A standard pallet holds 48 cartons worth of content. Say, hypothetically, that you’re paying $1000 to ship that pallet from China to the US. If those cartons can hold 6 games each instead of 4 games each, that’s a difference in freight shipping costs of $3.47 per game (6 per carton) to $5.21 per game (4 per carton). To put that in perspective, if we print 30,000 copies of a game, that’s a $52,200 loss (unless we proportionally increase the MSRP).
- The more extra space in a box, the more potential for damaged components. Sometimes a cardboard insert can be used to prevent some of this damage, but usually it only helps with side to side movement, not top to bottom.
- The future is uncertain. I usually have no idea how big future expansions will be or how many we’ll make. The best I can do is design a box that works for the current game–that’s the only certainty.
Can You Publish a Big Empty Box or Put the Next Expansion in a Huge Box?
At first I was surprised when I started getting these questions. Do people really think I would publish a big empty box? Is it reasonable to ask me to put an 12x4x4-inch expansion in an 18x12x8-inch box?
But as I’ve learned over time, if I get the same request over and over, clearly I’m the one who’s missing something. That isn’t to say that publishing a big empty box or putting the next expansion in a huge box is feasible or responsible. Here are some of the considerations:
- Transparency. I think it’s somewhat deceptive to the consumer when the contents of a box take up about 10% of the space. You’re just selling air at a premium. I want the exterior of the box to align with consumer expectations of the interior.
- Practicality. It isn’t particularly practical to make and ship a big empty box (or a mostly empty box). There’s so much wasted space.
- Scaleability. Distributors aren’t going to buy a big empty box from me, so I’d have to sell it directly to consumers (or find partners who will do that).
- Marketability. I question whether people will actually pay for it? It’s one thing to say you want something (like on our future printing request form). It’s another thing to pay $12 + shipping for an empty box.
- Durabilty. Courier tend to throw boxes around and stack stuff on top of them. No matter the padding, an empty box isn’t going to hold up as well as a full box.
- Predictability. Say I make a box that’s big enough for all of the current components, expansions, and accessories for a game…and then tomorrow I think of a great idea for a new expansion? Then I have to make an even bigger box!
I’ve also been asked if I’d put a fancy insert in a big empty box–that way it’s not quite as empty. That’s intriguing, but again, I don’t know what the future holds, so how can the insert be properly designed? And wouldn’t it undercut all of the third-party vendors who have put significant time and effort into creating custom inserts?
Why Not Make a Big Box Edition of the Game That Includes Everything Ever?
I’m sure you’ve seen publishers use this method. I have the El Grande big box on my shelf, for example.
I think this is a great solution if a game has been out of print for several years. Otherwise you run into the following issues (you’re probably starting to see some patterns here):
- Unless I’m sure that you’re done making expansions, the big box edition may end up not being big enough.
- If I’m actively making the game, expansions, accessories, etc, I’m undercutting all of the vendors who’ve invested in those products.
- For many games, a big-box edition would result in such a high MSRP that it significantly reduces the size of the consumer base.
- You can’t put anything new in the box, because then you’re asking current owners of the game to buy a bunch of stuff they don’t want (or you have to package that content separately, diluting your SKUs and increasing the potential for confusion).
The Solution for Publishers
What does this mean for my fellow creators and publishers, particularly as you’re selecting the original box size? I don’t think there is a right answer, just a lot to think about. At the very least, you should be prepared to answer these questions with the answers that feel right to you.
Update: People have mentioned in the comments that other publishers have found solutions for this problem. There’s Smash Up’s “Big Geekly Box,” Red Dragon Inn’s 5th box, Alien Frontiers, and Champions of Midgaard (though I think some of those boxes include other content).
The Solution for Scythe
These questions are most frequently asked about Scythe. We packed a lot of stuff into Scythe’s original box (which is quite big), but we’ve since released the Invaders from Afar expansion, we’ll be announcing a new expansion in a few weeks, we’re brainstorming a third (and maybe final) expansion, and there are already a number of accessories for the game (both made by us and by third-party vendors).
We would want a box that can fit after-market inserts like those from Broken Token, Meeple Realty, and Insert Me Here. Also, it would be designed so that owners of the original Kickstarter editions (fancy box tops) could transfer their box tops seamlessly onto the big box.
I’m currently considering reaching out to a few of our accessory and third-party vendors (US and international) to see if they would be interested in sharing a print run of a big empty box for Scythe. I would configure the box (maybe using the original illustration or a different one) to be twice as deep as the original Scythe box but otherwise the same dimensions, which are designed to fit on a game shelf.
We would manufacture the box and ship it in bulk to those vendors. They would sell the box in their stores and on their websites along with (and/or bundled with) other Scythe-related products so consumers could pick and choose exactly what they want.
What do you think about this solution?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments about box sizes!