Meeting of Minds – Sarah Kennington, One Free Elephant

One of my core aims with The Giant Brain is to promote designers and publishers in the UK gaming scene. To this end I’m establishing a new series of articles where I interview various folks from across the UK tabletop gaming scene to get an insight into their games, their thoughts on current events in the industry and anything else that pops into my head. I hope you enjoy it. 

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Sarah Kennington is on the right

Sarah Kennington is the head honcho of One Free Elephant and designer of Ore-Some which had a very successful Kickstarter campaign last year. A follow up campaign for Carcosa designed by her husband Nigel Kennington went on to even greater heights and they’ve topped that off recently with a joint win in the Mint Tin competition on BGG with an excellent beer themed game I’ve had a sneak peek of!

 

Carcosa has hit retail this month and your previous game Oresome is already out in general distribution. How has the journey been from Kickstarter game to retail and what problems have you encountered along the way?

When producing the kickstarter for ORE-SOMEI knew that I wanted to have a retailer pledge. So I reached out to a friend of mine Dave Sailsbury (owner of Fanboy3 in Manchester), on advice for retail pricing. Dave’s advice helped me set a reasonable rate and I ended up with around 60 units of retail sales from the kickstarter.

I was really happy about this and went about compiling a list of stores in the UK, where I didn’t manage to get any sales at all. I was either ignored or told the store only buys via distribution. So I turned to Esdevium to take on my game. This was at the time when Carcosa was going through kickstarter too, which made One Free Elephant more appealing, and I was lucky enough to be offered distribution.

I’ve since agreed distribution in both Germany and Italy and hoping to do more with Spain and France.

My one main hiccup was selling on consignment to a Belgium company Core Origins, who took 60 games and never paid me. This has been tough trying to speak with them, and is both very draining and stressful.

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Do you think that every game should try and get distribution or is their an argument for small outfits doing it direct to the customer?

Distribution offers great benefits for selling single units to stores as well as advertising to a wider retail audience. Direct sales at convention or markets is both great for sales (bigger profit margins) and marketing as it is an ideal way to meet players, create some buzz and get the game out to a wider audience.

Many are concerned about Asmodee gobbling up so many companies including Esdevium the main games Distributor in the UK. Do you think Esdevium are receptive enough to smaller companies, and do you have any tips for securing distribution through them?

Asmodee have owned Esdevium for quite a few years now, its only this year that they decided to rebrand, so the name change has not affected how they do business.

My experience with Esdevium has been very positive, and I am aware of several small publishing houses that distribute via them including Yay Games and Stuff by Bez.

As long as Esdevium buyers like your game then I think it will be possible to get a deal. Approaching them at big event such as UKGE is as good a way to say hello and pass on a copy of your game for review.

Both your Kickstarter campaigns have been very well organised and on time. What would be your top tip for anyone looking to Kickstarter as a vehicle for their projects?

Read lots! Personally nothing beats good planning. There are lots of tools out there that can help with the administration and costing of a kickstarter, so folk should use them.

I would also advise understanding the cost of each stretch goal and investigating with the manufacturers on cost free addons, such as card space remaining on the printed sheet.

Negotiation is always an option as we are the manufacturer’s customer, so publishers should push back on quotes to try and get the best deals or when ensuring their game doesn’t slip delivery.

Do you have any particular articles or resources that you would recommend?

Jamey Stegmaier’s book or his blogs are great resources and are regularly added to as well

Nigel bought me his book Christmas 2016, and I loves it. It is short chunks of great advice and is easy to reread and reference when needed.

What is your opinion on games that only get a Kickstarter release and never come to retail?

The kickstarter market is significantly smaller than the hobby market, so those publishers are losing out. I don’t like this model as it drives a wedge between gamers and retailers, when we should be working together to build up the hobby.

I’m not a fan of KS exclusives either, especially as they always end up for sale afterwards anyway.

Do you think that Kickstarter exclusive addons and games are actively damaging the hobby?

I don’t think they damage the hobby, exclusives are aimed at a specific audience who need them to commit to a game. I think they add extra stress on small publishers though who may feel pressured to offer exclusives.

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You’re the only female game designer I know of and I am sure that is down to my lack of knowledge and awareness. What female game designers do you think I should check out?

Emma May is doing a great job with Quirk, a card game she published last year.

Women have never had the easiest time in gaming circles in general. Have you encountered any particular prejudices as a designer and publisher?

My own gaming circle is 50/50, with almost all the couples both gamers, so I’ve never experienced any prejudices. I also found that at the design groups I attended, I was welcomed with no comment to my gender.

It is beneficial to me being a female designer as I do stand out. Although, I think my project management experience is the most beneficial to other designers as I can advise on project delivery best practice.

Now both your games are in retail, what is next for One Free Elephant?

We recently won (jointly) the 2017 mint tin competition, so were stoked about that.

Carcosa has hit retail stores as of the 18th of January, so promoting that is the next big thing for us.

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