Monday, November 24, 2014

Snake Oil Elixer and The Power of PR

After last week's post on the lack of retailer buy-ins for Out of the Box's Kickstarter campaign for the Snake Oil Elixir launch, I received a call from Out of the Box president Al Waller.  We spent the next 25 minutes discussing the column, the Kickstarter Campaign and Out of the Box's plans for Snake Oil.  It turns out my guesses about the reasons for the Kickstarter were pretty close to correct.

The first thing Waller wanted to make clear was that the company did have plans for retailer levels for the Kickstarter campaign but due to oversight and the rush in getting OOTB's first crowdfunding campaign off the ground, they were not included.  Two retailer levels are now included, one at a five copy buy-in and one at 10 copies.  Both include demo copies of the assorted Snake Oil games as well as other OOTB games at the higher level.

He also confirmed that promotion for Snake Oil Elixir was one of the two major reasons for using Kickstarter.  Much like North Star Games and Popcorn Press, Out of the Box has noticed the attention those games that successfully fund on Kickstarter receive and chose to use it as a promotional tool for the company.  The plan is, over the next few years, to make Snake Oil into a brand strong enough to support several extensions, such as Settlers of Catan or even Apples to Apples (once owned by Out of the Box but sold to Mattel in 2007) are able to support.

The other reason, Waller said, was to get the game into print more quickly.  While many people in the industry view Out of the Box as a comparatively large publisher in the gaming field, they are actually a very small operation with only a few people on staff.  The recession of 2007-2008 hit them quite hard, as they went from 5,000 outlets selling their products to roughly 1,500.

Out of the Box, based on the sales of the previous Snake Oil games and the awards the game has received, believesa market exists for Snake Oil Elixir.  However, showing off the prototype at last spring's Toy Fair, the largest trade show for the toy and game industry, did not generate enough orders from retailers to justify a production run.  Jump forward to Gen Con where showing the game off generated much more enthusiasm from the gamers attending the show, enough that Waller felt much more comfortable going ahead with a production run.  The question then became:  when to launch the game?  If Out of the Box relied solely on its own capital to produce a 5000 copy run (OOTB’s usual print run for the first printing of a game), it appeared Snake Oil Elixir would not hit distribution until late 2015 or the first quarter of 2016.  By crowdfunding the first print run, the game could move into distribution by April or May of 2015, having it available for sale by Origins and Gen Con.

So now I have a better understanding of why OOTB opted to use crowdfunding and two retailer options for participation in the Kickstarter.  Is it perfect?  Of course not.  Ideally, Elixir would launch in April with no crowdfunding, but that's not happening.  At least now, those retailers that wish to have the option of participating.

Speaking of perfection both Wizards of the Coast and AEG are launching products for release on Black Friday:  the 5th Edition Dungeon Masters Guide from WotC and the Holiday Black Box from AEG.  For participating retailers, both companies have the products scheduled to arrive the Wednesday before Thanksgiving with instructions to hold them until Friday.  Here's hoping shipping works out as planned because this is cutting deliveries too close to release date for my taste.

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