Friday, May 27, 2011

ZoxSo: Made in the USA

When most independent game designers say that they "make" games, what they really mean about their process is the following:  First they design a game, then they prototype and play-test it to work out the various kinks in playability, fun factor, and the like.

After that -- if they don't just stick it it a box or a drawer somewhere, and if they feel that it's really a game worth pursuing -- then they'll usually act upon one of the three options below:

1)  Submit their game to an established game company themselves for publication; or,
2)  Contract their game to a broker acting as their agent, who submits it to game companies: or,
3)  Raise the money to self-publish their game, have it manufactured and shipped to them from China or elsewhere overseas (rarely from the US because of the cost, and without concern for the negative effects of outsourcing on our economy), and then they will try to sell it to as many distributors, stores, and retail customers as possible.

Well, when it comes to option number 3 those standard, time-tested methods might be okay for the other guys, but personally I like to add a critical step that -- although it makes the game-designing experience problematic, laborious, and extremely unprofitable -- keeps production in the USA at all costs; namely:

I build the games myself.

Here you might ask: "deMarcus, what do you mean, you build the games yourself? You certainly don't expect us to believe that you yourself actually sit down and physically make the games, do you?"

Well since you asked, yes, that's precisely what I mean.

Though to be fair, please allow me to now qualify that statement by describing to you exactly how I currently produce my newest game ZoxSo here in the good old "US of A," from scratch:

The first "boxed" production-run of 2,300 ZoxSo games, although small by mass-market standards, is a fairly reasonably-sized production-run in the hobby-game industry.

And by 2,300 games, I mean the separate components to put all of those 2,300 game sets together, namely:  2,300 printed set-up boxes, 2,300 folding game boards, 2,300 rules pamphlets, 46,000 high-quality plastic game pieces, and 2,300 sets of ZoxSo printed and die-punched piece-labels (or 92,000 labels at a breakdown of 40 labels per game, which is two labels per game-piece; one on the front and one on the back).

To undertake the publication of ZoxSo here in the United States, I first needed to contract the boxes to be produced and shipped from Portland, OR;  the rules pamphlets locally from Mukilteo, WA;  the game-piece labels locally from Lynnwood, WA;  the folding game-boards from across the country in the eastern United States;  and all of the plastic game pieces were acquired here locally from an established game company in Seattle, WA.

So now, all of the components are being stored separately; then assembled, boxed, and shrink-wrapped so as to be ready for shipment to game industry distributors, stores, and customers.

Oh yes, there is one other little thing I forgot to tell you:

Those 46,000 high-quality plastic game pieces that I mentioned?  Well, even though they are brand new, boxed, and sealed in cello-wrap... they came into my possession ... wait for it ... already labeled -- on both sides -- with the label-art from a completely different game!

I am not making this up:  It was a collectible game that's no longer on the market, nor in production, because it simply did not do well enough in the marketplace (I will let you try and guess which game it was; and  if you like, you can submit your guesses to me via email at  The game company, based in Seattle, was clearing out the entire storage unit of components that it had left for that particular game.

So, on a tip from a good friend of mine -- and with the blessings of the game company -- not only did I obtain the 46,000 pieces I needed to publish ZoxSo; I actually acquired a total of about 150,000 of the little buggers, along with some other cool components, to be used in any way that choose, and for all manner of game-development fun, frivolity, and excitement. Score!

On a side note:  I like to think that I'm providing these previously discarded little treasures with a fulfilling second life; namely, the chance to participate in the early developments of ground-breaking ZoxSo game-theory, in addition to other as-yet-unknown projects and adventures.  But, I digress... 

Anyway, what all of this really means is that, before these great plastic pieces are able to accommodate my custom printed ZoxSo labels, they must first be "de-labeled" by hand; and one-at-a-time.

To that end, I recently fashioned a tool which enables me to remove the labels from those plastic pieces -- safely, cleanly, and without damaging the surface -- at a rate of approximately 200 labels every 10 to 15 minutes.  With this in mind I calculate that, if I were to remove labels non-stop -- without taking any breaks (and without accounting for setting aside those cool little collectible labels that should not be thrown out), or for other activities related to set-up and to bringing the boxed pieces out of storage -- that it would take me about 115 hours to remove all 92,000 of the labels from both sides of those 46,000 plastic pieces.

Believe it or not, it is the relabeling process that takes the longest; for even though I've become fairly good at it, I am barely able to complete the labeling of six sets per hour; not allowing for breaks, of course.

In all actuality, I have been removing labels and re-labeling the ZoxSo pieces slowly-but-surely -- a little bit each day -- both at my workshop and at the chess-and-game area that I happen to go to sometimes, called "Crossroads."

Crossroads is a very cool gathering place in the Bellevue, WA area.  There's lots of great food, music and people, as-well-as fantastic local ambiance.  On any given day I might go there from the office to engage in a "mobile-production session," oftentimes while hanging-out and chatting with friends and fellow game-players.

Sounds like a lot of fun, this production stuff; doesn't it?

Okay, maybe it's not so much fun as it is time-consuming.  But it is the only way that I'm able to afford to produce ZoxSo here in the USA right now.  And after all, that really is the one of the primary goals I have for ZoxSo, namely:  Keeping it a "Made in the USA" product.

I'd like to say that if I had it to do all over again I'd publish the first run of ZoxSo differently; but I'm not sure that's true.

However, if ZoxSo does well by selling out of this first production-run, I will more than likely change my methods a bit; primarily by bringing several well-trained "assembler-type individuals" into my inner-circle.

As a matter of fact, if you'd like to try out for a possible future position on my "manufacturing team," please feel free to swing by Crossroads sometime, to lend a hand by helping me to label a goodly number of the ZoxSo game pieces.

Genuinely competent and enthusiastic help will be appreciated, I assure you...

...until next time,

-- deMarcus

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