PAX West 2019 - Events, Friends and Networking + a Merchandising Q&A


We've made it through another PAX!

This year was our wildest year for a lot of reasons, all of them very good. To keep things organized, this blog post will be organized into two chunks.

  1. Events and Networking 
  2. Merchandising Q&A

Events and Networking

I (Rowan) hosted a dual-birthday (ha, see what I did there) for myself and Dual Wield Studio itself as the filing for our paperwork was in late August (even Adrienne's was in early August!). Our location was Saint John's Bar and Eatery, an incredible location with a back patio and main front area located in Cap Hill Seattle. They allowed us to do a custom drink menu which you can see here: 

img: drink menu with pricing and details

I also let everyone attending pick a song for the playlist. If you'd like to check out our incredible mix it's here on Spotify

So many wildly talented creators attended the party and we hope you guys had as much fun as we did! 

This party has the following people (including but NOT limited to) to thank for its success, for items given at the location, and so on.

  • Saint John's for hosting
  • Kari Fry - @kee_fry - Kari was kind enough to chip in for drink tickets. She's also been in merchandising for 10 years and works for @Fangamer!
  • Marlee - @baedelus - Marlee was kind enough to chip in for drink tickets. You can check their Big Cartel out here!
  • Josh Boykin - @Wallstormer / @Intelligame - Josh runs Intelligame, a game culture and criticism community dedicated to thinking and gaming.
  • Julie - @tasmen - for drink tickets and generally ruling. 
  • Lá Liath Bakery for the shortbread cookies
  • Tom Dyke - @Dyketacular - events manager, generally awesome person who made a Dungeons & Pokemon zine. "A fantasy roleplay nuzlocke challenge for the pokemon games based on 5th edition D&D." Find it here!
  • Matthew - @NOLAndercast - Matthew has been in marketing/PR/social media for over 4 years and is the creator of the Socky Award. 
  • Kevin Budnik - @knittedsweater - Kevin does lovely autobiographical comics, zines and gave me a copy of "It's Okay To Be Sad" which is really wonderful.
  • Everyone who attended! 

    The remaining nights were just as busy! We attended Ysbryd Games' party which had everything from themed drinks to incredible decorations. 

    After that we set up camp at the Sheraton, mixing and mingling!


      Merchandising Q&A

      Over the days of PAX I posted up in the Sheraton and offered free merch consultations to a variety of devs, streamers, creators, etc. After talking with them, I wrote out all the questions in a Q&A form and I'm sharing it here! 

      1. Is it too late to get merchandise in time for the holidays?
      It's not too late depending on what kind of items you want. It's impossible to go into detail on every item you can get made physically, but if you're looking at getting items in time for the holiday season, plush, figures, bags, and other complicated or high-end items will not arrive on time for October/November. 
        2. What merch would you recommend for an indie game? 
        A difficult question and its answer depends on what your game is about. Different kinds of merchandise fit different games and audiences in different ways. Safe, cheap bets are always going to be printed goods (postcards, art, etc), enamel pins (higher cost but people love them), apparel (in small quantities), and so on. 

        3. How do I avoid doing my own fulfillment? 
        There are a variety of fulfillment companies who can handle your needs at varying sizes. White Squirrel Company, Fulfillrite, Black Box Fulfillment, PMC Fulfillment are all great options with varying requirements. We don't do our own fulfillment; don't feel bad about outsourcing this!

        4. What tier or dollar amount should I start offering physical rewards at for Kickstarter/IGG/etc? 
        This depends on how big your goal is, how much you want to fulfill and so on. In general, your TOTAL reward cost (once all costs are factored in) should be no more than 20% (ideally if you can swing it: 10%-15%) of whatever that tier is. So if you have a $5 tier, you want your cost per item to max out at $1. You lose a certain percentage with every sale due to credit card payment, host fees (KS, IGG, etc), paypal fees, so on. 

        5. What if I don't order enough physical rewards and items are lost in the mail after shipping?
        A good rule of thumb is to order around 15% more than what you need and bake that into your margins/costs. This allows for you to re-send packages. Many items cannot be ordered individually and will cost more to do another bulk order of. 

        6. Should I send business cards out with my packages?
        If you'd like it's an option; it can cost less than doing, say, custom sewn tags on t-shirts. Another cost-effective measure is you up your branding presence on all items. Got a pin? Ask for the back to be stamped with your logo. Have a shirt? Look into printed neck tags.

        7. I'm a streamer with a small (under 500) audience, is merchandise right for me?
        This depends on your budget, time, and so on. Cool, unique merchandise is its own kind of branding but has its own cost. If you have the budget built in for it, sure, go for it! If you're trying to keep it small, think about printed goods rather than large overseas items and try to tie it to rewards for subscribing or something similar. Pre-orders can also be super helpful.

        8. What kind of margins can I expect when creating merchandise?
        The fun thing about creating your own merchandise is that it costs a ton of money and your margins will pretty much always not be great unless you mark it up a good deal. With fulfillment costs, importing, artist pay, fees, etc, in some cases you might only make 10%-30% of what your MSRP is. Ultimately, your job is to find a middle ground between making a profit and selling at a cost that your fans will purchase at.

        9. What items can I get manufactured locally? 
        Not...many, actually. Prints/paper goods can be done domestically. Apparel, jewelry, dice, can all be done domestically as well. Pins, plush, etc. are basically impossible to find within the US. 

        10. What if I make an item that doesn't sell but another similar one DID?
        Hey, it happens. Try to think about WHY it didn't sell. Do you have any similar ideas to compare its sales to? If you have two pins but one vastly outsells the other, look into cost, color choices, what the pin is "about", when the releases happened, etc.
        11. I made merchandise, but it didn't sell. Why?
        Let's say you're a streamer and your fans ask for merchandise. You go through the trouble of making it, didn't sell. Why is a hard question to answer without knowing details, but something to keep in mind: for every ten people who ask for merch, maybe only one will actually buy, or has the ability to buy. People ask for merch all the time because they want to see it. Actually purchasing it is another thing. Take every request for merchandise with a large grain of salt and try, where possible, to do pre-orders or other interest generating/gauging ideas.

        12. I want to order merchandise, but I only need a few units. Where can I get that made?
        Many items can't be made in units under 10, but more realistically, under 50. Think about looking into alternative avenues for merchandise like:
        Pins - look into people on Etsy doing woodburned pins, or other sustainable, small quantity items. 
        Posters/prints - check out sites like Catprint, or other printing sites that allow for individual orders. 
        Dice - look into commissioning independent creators who already have the setup able to handle small orders. 
        Apparel - look into print-on-demand options. The quality is often less ideal, and the shirt ranges are more limited but they're a great one-off option. 

        13. What merchandise do my fans even want?
        Impossible to answer without us knowing your audience. Two great way to source this info are:
        1. Looking at their social media - what are they already buying? 
        2. Poll your audience with options you can afford - keep in mind that many who answer won't actually purchase.

        14. Should I make t-shirts for my next convention?
        Only you can answer this question based on your audience, but a good rule of thumb is just because you can get 100 shirts for cheap doesn't mean it's a good investment of your marketing budget. 100 shirts for cheap probably means they're made of cheap material. If your shirts are meant as marketing collateral and for promotion but no one wears them, how good was that investment?

        15. How many items should I bring to a convention if I have a booth? 
        Impossible to answer as this varies depending on con size, booth size, booth location, popularity, so on. If you're testing bring enough to more than sell out by 3/4ths of the way there if you're on a budget. Bringing less (and offering a way for attendees to get those items after, maybe with a discounted shipping coupon code) is always better than having 10 boxes to send back.

        Did you find this helpful? You might like our PDF on merchandise creation: Merch 101
        That's a wrap on PAX West of 2019. Thanks everyone who attended the birthday party, who attended the Sheraton meetups, who asked questions and said hello. Your support means the world. 
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