SCG Daily – Designer’s Journal #2: The Search for a Hit

Yesterday I hinted that we’d come up with a game that was very exciting as a product – much cheaper than other games in its category, with enough rebuy potential to let us (and stores) invest in customers but not so much as to turn off a new gamer.

That game is Battleground: Fantasy Warfare.

Yesterday I hinted that we’d come up with a game that was very exciting as a product – much cheaper than other games in its category, with enough rebuy potential to let us (and stores) invest in customers but not so much as to turn off a new gamer.

That game is Battleground: Fantasy Warfare.

In simplest terms, Battleground is a table-top tactical wargame, like Warhammer, that uses cards instead of painted models to represent units. This nearly eliminates three major problems with miniature-based wargames: expense, prep/setup time and transportation.

In fact, using cards instead of models lets us do more than that – it actually supports some important game design possibilities that make Battleground better than other wargames. I’ll save that for later in the week, however, since today and tomorrow I want to concentrate on the business side of Battleground – i.e. all the decisions that go into giving it as good a chance as possible of being a successful product.

As I mentioned last week, Battleground sits between a board game and a CCG in terms of rebuying. An avid player will continue to buy new armies, but you will never need as many Battleground units as you do Magic cards in order to qualify as Mr. Suitcase. That said, a regular customer (who, at the risk of sounding like an MBA, I will call a subscriber) will still spend enough to be worth real money.

Once we’d decided to go ahead with the game, we had to decide how we were going to package and price it. We knew the potential market was large – there are roughly one million people playing table-top wargames and probably at least as many who used to play but gave up due to cost/convenience. Add to that the potential to attract crossover gamers – people like me who love in-depth strategy games but balked at the cost and time investment of miniature-based wargames – and you’ve got a lot of potential customers.

With that in mind, we wanted to price (and package) Battleground so that it would be easy for people to buy and try out. That meant that the basic starting package should be enough for two players to have a real game – but not so much that they wouldn’t feel some design constraints. That would maximize our chances of having people try it out, and if it was priced reasonably enough most people would want their own army (ies).

With room for 50 cards in the deck (given the space needed for a largish rulebook), a 30-card Command deck and a need for two quickstart reference cards, that left room for 18 units – and remember, in Battleground that’s the game-play equivalent of 18 boxed sets of miniatures. That’s plenty for two people to play a small game with or for one person to design a broad range of armies.

Next came the “booster” product, for when people decided they wanted more units of a particular army. We needed a new packaging option because players would only need a second Command deck if they were playing an absolutely mammoth game. At first we looked at booster packs, but these had some problems. The similarity to CCG boosters might be confusing to players (who would expect them to be random) and to stores (that might expect booster sales to be much greater than starters). Packaging boosters is also quite expensive, so we’d be wasting money relative to play value.

Ultimately we decided to go with two decks per army. Starter decks would have the basic setup – 18 unit cards, the Command deck and quick reference cards and the basic rulebook. Reinforcement decks would have fifty unit cards and the advanced rulebook, making it a much better deal if all you want is more units for your army.

Another hook to the Reinforcement decks is that they have units the Starter decks don’t. Each army comes with twelve unit types, and we use ten of them in the Starter deck. That’s not as mercenary as it sounds – anyone who is happy with eighteen total units is probably happy with ten unit types – but it’s nice to know that someone who is considering buying an Orc Reinforcement deck has the extra cookie of knowing there are Goblin Bomb Chuckers waiting for him.

We decided to price each deck at $14.95 MSRP. We might have been able to charge more – at almost any price Battleground is insanely cheap compared to similar play value from miniatures. But our price point is one of the things we’re happiest about. Why?

First of all, our goal is to maximize the chances of Battleground being a hit, not to make the most we can off of each individual sale. We want miniature gamers to laugh happily at the price point, but we don’t want CCGers to think, “That’s pretty expensive for a starter deck,” not realizing that they are getting much more play value than from a CCG starter.

That brings us to the second point; right or wrong, there is a perception in the market of how much a “deck of cards” game costs, and it caps at around $15. By that standard Battleground is actually on the expensive side. When you’re selling a completely new category of product you can’t assume your customers will share your perceptions of how much value you’re offering them.

Third, the price point for a deck sets the price point for being a subscriber. Wargamers know that part of the fun is building new armies; the first question they ask us is, “How often will you be coming out with new armies?” CCGers may not know a thing about wargaming but they understand intuitively that if they get into a game like this they are going to be buying expansions.

Pricing Battleground at just under $15 per deck means that a full subscriber will spend just $120 a year. That’s not a very threatening number for a serious gamer.

Finally, $14.95 is within that sweet spot where “impulse purchases” take place. It’s about the price of a draft tournament or a movie with soda and popcorn. It’s something a person can spend just to try something out. If you see someone playing Battleground you’re going to want to give it a try. With a $15 price point, we’re hoping it will be that much easier for you to do so.

Tomorrow I’ll look at product design from the retailer’s perspective after which we can go into the basics of our launch strategy.

Hugs ’til next time,