Dashboard › Forums › Ask Me Anything › Kirk Dennison, from Thunderworks Games
Kirk Dennison, from Thunderworks GamesKirk Dennison updated 10 months, 2 weeks ago 8 Members · 22 Posts
Gabe BarrettAdministratorMarch 27, 2022 at 10:47 pm
Kirk Dennison, Operations and Product Manager at Thunderworks Games joins us this week.
Kirk has been on the BGDL podcast a couple times, and he’s one of the most helpful people I’ve ever met.
Besides creating games (formerly at PieceKeeper Games), he is a spreadsheet junkie and logistics guru. Kirk has consulted on or managed logistics for 40+ projects, so feel free to ask about shipping, fulfillment, VAT, spreadsheets, etc.
Hit reply to ask him anything! (Kirk will respond to your questions on March 31st.)
-Please limit your questions to one per person.
-Please submit your question before 11:59pm PST on March 30th.
- This discussion was modified 12 months ago by Gabe Barrett.
Samuel StocktonMemberMarch 29, 2022 at 3:15 pm
If I wanted to start doing my own logistics, what are the things I need to be doing in order to make that viable? What tools do I need?
Kirk DennisonMemberMarch 31, 2022 at 12:20 pm
Hi Samuel, managing your logistics involves working with quite a few entities and working with spreadsheets.
There is some learning to do so you can make well-informed decisions, including terminology (e.g. EXW vs FOB, FCL vs LCL), options available to you (e.g. floor-loaded vs palletized), and pros and cons of utilizing certain shipping lanes over others (e.g. when to send direct from China to your warehouse on the east coast vs when to send to the west coast and truck over to the east coast). This is all pretty manageable to learn, if you’re interested in learning!
You’ll need to confirm all the pertinent details of your goods at the factory a few weeks before they are scheduled to complete production (# units per carton, carton size and weight, count of pallets by size and weight). Then you’ll need to solicit quotes from freight forwarders using the total size of the shipment (CBM and kg). You could have the factory book freight for you, but I don’t recommend that.
When booking freight, make sure to get insurance for the full production value of your goods! Compare multiple options and be prepared for volatility in prices. Quotes are only valid from the 1st through 14th of a month and then the 15th through end of a month. So it can be tricky to have an accurate price quote in advance of when your goods are ready. On the 1st and 15th there may be a GRI (general rate increase) that changes your price. I recommend using Freightos.com – a freight marketplace.
To take things to the next level, you would want to learn how to calculate the optimal pallet and container builds for your cartons. You can’t rely on your factory or freight forwarder to come up with the most optimal solutions. You can do this with spreadsheets or utilize the free StackBuilder software (by TreeDim) and the paid 3D Load Calculator website (by Pier2Pier).
Kirk DennisonMemberMarch 31, 2022 at 12:22 pm
You also need to select quality fulfillment partners in each region you plan to fulfill from, provide them with timely and accurate information for your games, and optimize the shipping to their warehouses.
There are a lot of nuances along the way, but if you ask questions to your partners they can help point you in the right direction!
Andrew LowenMemberMarch 30, 2022 at 8:56 am
What are the biggest pitfalls when it comes to the size of your game box? My game box is large at 308x308x140mm (LxWxH), and might increase based on my manufacturing needs. Can you provide any helpful tips or guidelines on what factors to consider on the larger end of game boxes?
Kirk DennisonMemberMarch 31, 2022 at 12:31 pm
Good question! Here are some principles that I usually consider:
a) Avoid super “long” boxes (e.g. Power Grid) as they are likely to be much more expensive to ship than corresponding “square” boxes of the same weight (as any side that is disproportionately long triggers dimensional weight in many regions) AND they will get damaged so much easier.
b) Try to fit the game inside a Kallax shelf (13 x 13 x 13″) so that more gamers can easily store your game. If any of your dimensions are larger, your game may be more likely to be culled due to less places for them to store it.
c) Make your game box thicker as you increase in box size and weight. Any large game should have at least 2 mm thick boxes to reduce damages and I would even consider 2.5 mm thick when the weight exceed 10 lbs.
d) Consider paying for extra packaging at the factory to protect your games in transit. I personally like doing 1-2 layers of bubble wrap around the game within the cartons – this is the most economical option. But you can also explore foam, plastic / cardboard corner protectors, box within the carton, etc. Some factories are easier to work with on requests like this than others.
Bill MurphyMemberMarch 30, 2022 at 5:05 pm
Can you speak to supper large print runs and saving money then using that savings on warehousing storage fees while the game sells vs multiple small print runs at a larger cost per game but saving on warehousing storage fees. Small runs could create more marketing as you can promote each time a game sells out creating more hype and taking advance orders on the next printing. Still large run may have super savings attached.
- This reply was modified 12 months ago by Bill Murphy.
Kirk DennisonMemberMarch 31, 2022 at 12:40 pm
It is certainly a tricky balancing act knowing how many to print! If we were discussing this 2 years ago my perspective would be much different, but currently the insane cost of freight looms large.
I would focus on maximizing container space for your games above all else. The current freight costs will outweigh savings on per unit manufacturing costs (if you were to increase to the next price break) and long-term warehouse storage fees.
There is definitely some value to scarcity of products for marketing, but I would focus on producing enough for your pre-sales + a realistic amount you can sell within 1-2 years. Round up or down to fit a 20′ or 40′ container. If your volumes are much smaller than 20′, then just fit the logical number of pallets.
Some numbers to consider with a hypothetical game that is ~ 12 x 9 x 3″. In a 20′ container, you can fit about 2,800 games on pallets or 4,300 games when floor-loaded. On pallets, that is currently $5-7 / game and floor-load that is currently $3-4.50 / game (China to US east coast).
Bill MurphyMemberApril 9, 2022 at 1:09 pm
Thank you this is great info. Wishing you and everyone success with all their projects.
You’re welcome! Thank you.
Justin AntezanaMemberMarch 30, 2022 at 5:26 pm
What are some “typical” spreadsheets you would recommend each designer utilize to become more efficient and consistent with each design they are working on, whether it is strictly related to a single design or even just a format to follow?
Kirk DennisonMemberMarch 31, 2022 at 12:52 pm
Good question! From a purely game design perspective (and not getting into the publishing side of things, where costs and sizes of components come into play), I recommend designers use spreadsheets to:
1) Keep a changelog of cards. It’s a not a perfect solution given how many edits you can make over the course of a project, but it was the most practical solution I came up. I make columns for Card Type, Card # (which I define uniquely per card type – meaning that you can have Artifact10 and Weapon10), Card Name, Ability, Other identifiers / attributes as needed, Notes, and most importantly Status (use this to list where the card is in the development process).
Then I copy the sheet with all the cards regularly before major changes or lots of small changes to save a point in time history of the development. You never know when you may need to roll back changes by several “versions” or find some early ideas that are used differently later!
2) Data Merge input file for InDesign or Component Studio. (If formatted properly, you can combine this as part of the card changelog too!) For anyone unfamiliar with the power of using a spreadsheet to dynamically update all your cards within InDesign or Component Studio, I recommend learning how to do that before you start creating your next game. You will save TONS of time when updating your prototypes by doing this.
Consider this example – you need to adjust the strength of all your monster cards based on recent feedback and you also want to update your placeholder icons with some nicer ones you recently found. If you have a spreadsheet that dictates the attributes of each of your card, you can quickly change the values for 1 column with strength and update the links to certain icons in the other columns. Then you can re-export all the cards in a matter of minutes rather than having to manually make changes to 50+ cards and re-export.
Justin AntezanaMemberApril 3, 2022 at 7:18 pm
Thanks Kirk this is really helpful! I appreciate your time and advice.
Kirk DennisonMemberMay 18, 2022 at 6:19 am
You’re welcome Justin!
Kyle BrunerMemberMarch 30, 2022 at 7:04 pm
What is one “advanced spreadsheet tip” that you would recommend everyone learn (for game design use or otherwise), beyond standard competency with spreadsheets?
Kirk DennisonMemberMarch 31, 2022 at 1:03 pm
I love spreadsheets – it is hard to limit to just one tip! I will work off the assumption that “standard competency with spreadsheets” includes an understanding of how to use filters, freeze screen, basic formulas (e.g. If Then logic like this =if(A1=”Cat”,”Allergies”,”No Allergies”) or Simple Math like this =((A1*B2)/2.65) ), and pivot tables.
If anyone does not know how to do those things, I would first make sure you understand those topics.
Beyond this, I would offer a strong suggestion that knowing how to use LOOKUP formulas and COUNTIFS / SUMIFS formulas will allow you to take things to the next level.
LOOKUP formulas allow you to find specific information for a given person / item within a large dataset. You should either use the new XLOOKUP formula in Excel (only available in Excel 2021 or newer versions or Office 365) or use the comparable INDEX MATCH combination in older versions of Excel and in Google Sheets. VLOOKUP or LOOKUP formulas have more caveats and require the user to ensure the data is formatted and sorted properly.
COUNTIFS / SUMIFS allow you dynamically determine how many rows of data (or the sum of values) meet conditions you specify.
Kyle BrunerMemberApril 8, 2022 at 9:22 am
Thanks very much Kirk! I use VLOOKUP a lot but was not familiar with the newer XLOOKUP which looks much more straightforward. Appreciate the tip.
You’re welcome Kyle!
Gabe BarrettAdministratorMarch 30, 2022 at 10:20 pm
What are a few pitfalls a new publisher needs to be aware of so that they don’t accidentally blow things up before they even get going?
Kirk DennisonMemberMarch 31, 2022 at 1:18 pm
That is a great question! I would focus on budgeting / cost containment, effective contracts, and communication with family.
1) For budgeting, you should look at the overall cost of the project before committing to any large expenses. I’ve seen many publishers pay way more for artwork than was prudent for a game and then end up losing money or barely breaking even. Make sure to get solid estimates for manufacturing, fulfillment, and freight and then add 10-20% buffer.
I’ve had to abandon one project because I didn’t take a close enough look at numbers to start with – losing a couple thousand dollars on the designer license advance and the box cover illustration made more sense than spending hundreds of hours to make a minimal profit.
2) Before signing any agreement with a designer, IP holder, or artist, review or write the contract carefully and pay for legal help if you are uncertain. You need perpetual rights to the game, IP, or artwork – whatever it takes (annual sales targets or annual payment minimums are both good options to retain the rights perpetually). If your agreement allows for the deal to terminate while the game is still selling well, then you risk the other party pulling the game and selling to a bigger party or a tough re-negotiation over compensation.
Also make sure that sub-license agreements are covered effectively. You need to ensure you can still pay the original rights holder and make money yourself. Also structure the language so that the rights to sub-licenses revert to the rights holder at the earliest possible timing if the base contract is terminated.
3) Be up front with your family and loved ones regarding the time commitment of your new publishing venture. You will likely spend 15+ hours per week until the game is released and then 5-10 hours per week with ongoing sales and customer service items for another 6-12 months. Assuming that you continue to work your day job while starting your publishing gig, most of your late evenings / early mornings and weekends will be filled with publishing work.
Jamie SutantoMemberMarch 31, 2022 at 5:22 am
What are some of the games that inspired you to be part of the industry?
Kirk DennisonMemberMarch 31, 2022 at 1:24 pm
Robo Rally and Keyflower are 2 of the main titles that inspired me to part of the industry.
Robo Rally because the core game mechanic (movement programming) was the driving force before my first design (Flag Dash).
Keyflower because it was one of the first really good games I played by an indie studio. The production quality isn’t as high as many games, but the game design is amazing. This made it easier to focus on a high quality game design and allow the production aspects to come together organically without over-stressing about the unknowns.