Game Design: Shipping Costs

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Two factors go into estimating shipping costs when shipping games: weight and size. This article will look at the different sizes and how they affect shipping costs when comparing UPS/FedEx to USPS.

Box sizes

If you’re creating a game and you have the option to keep it low profile or make it high profile, you may be tempted to make it a higher profile for shelf visibility and potential sales. But if you’re planning on fulfilling a Kickstarter yourself then you’ll likely need to make the shipping process as painless as possible. Low profile games are much better suited for this. If you can, you should attempt to fit the game into the dimensions of shipping via USPS regional and Flat Rate. The rates may be comparable to UPS or FedEx, but shipping via USPS regional and Flat Rate means you get free boxes and in most cases 3-day delivery. UPS Ground can take up to 5 days.

Weight

When choosing Flat Rate or Regional boxes you should know that you’re still paying for Priority Mail. The only difference in using those services is that you must use their boxes and you’re only paying for 2lb packages regardless of weight. That means if your package is greater than 1lb in weight and can fit into the Flat Rate or Regional boxes then it should go USPS.

All mail carriers treat weight the same way. They usually only charge you by the pound. So anything that says it’s 2lb could in actuality be 1.4lb and they’ll still charge for 2lb. In short, 2lb means UP TO 2lb for the package. UPS and FedEx, in my experience, don’t actually advance to the next pound unless the package is .2 greater than the pound, but USPS is a bit of a stickler, forcing you to up to the next pound even at .09 over the pound.

Lowest Cost: First Class (USPS)
Examples: 
Pixel Tactics, Tiny Epic

USPS offers First Class Parcel shipping for anything weighing 15.9 oz or less. First Class Parcel is something I would recommend to any and all smaller boxed games that are only ever as big as the Tiny Epic line. That would include any card game that comes in a tuck box, or any other low-component game. Here is where envelopes come in.

Evelopes

When using envelopes your two concerns are the safety of the package and the weight of the packaging. If you created your game to be exactly 15.9oz, then you’ll have to go Priority Mail. The weight of the packaging must be included and you don’t want heavy packaging to bump you into the next bracket. Envelopes like these are great because they weigh little (about 3oz on the left and .4oz on the right) and either have bubble padding or are quite rigid to absorb impact when the shipping company you choose handles it roughly. The Envelope on the left costs about $.50 each and the envelope on the left cost about $.16 each and the savings on postage can be great. At the time of this writing, a 15.9oz package will cost $4.30 to travel First Class Parcel. A Priority 1lb package costs $5.95. Saving $1.65 per package is significant across even a 500 parcel shipment. When you put in the cost of the packaging the savings is still very significant at $1.49.

Regional A (USPS)
Examples:
Theomachy, Don’t Turn Your Back

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USPS Flat Rate Medium and Regional A and B boxes get you the best bang for your buck. If you’re sending things that are small enough to send via Regional A the most you’ll spend on a package is $9.99.  Regional boxes are priced per region and not on weight. This means that if you have something small but weighing more than 1lb then you should try to go Regional A. Regional A Boxes (like all Priority boxes that I’ll be talking about) are free. Free boxes are the main reason you’ll be wanting to use USPS in the first place. The Regional A boxes come in two sizes: The top load is 10″ x 7″ x 4.75″. The side load is 11″ x 2.5″ x 12.75″. Note that the top load is a box you will have to build using tape while the side load is self-seal. If you have the choice, self-seal will save you more time and money than you’d think.

Most Common Option: Flat Rate Medium (Standard game size: Mistborn: House War, Mysterium, Letters From Whitechapel)

If you do decide on Flat Rate Medium, you only really need to know the dimensions. The cost is (at the time of this writing) $12.40 per package to send anywhere in the USA. Flat Rate comes in two sizes: 11″ x 8.5″ x 5.5″ for the top load and 14.5″ x 3″ x 16.25″ for the side load. The most common board game size fits into the side load very easily, but if you have a thicker box that is a little smaller (like the Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game), the top load may suit you better.

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Keep in mind while shipping Medium Flat Rate:

There is another box you should also be using if you decide to go via Flat Rate Medium. The Regional B side loading box is slightly larger than the Flat Rate Medium box.

Regional B, can cost up to $17.05 to send to the far side of the country, but shipping within the first 4 USPS zones from your shipping origin can save you tons of money over the Flat Rate boxes. For instance, shipping next door should only cost $7.17 so Regional is something you should be looking into to cut down your costs for those that are geographically close. You should check out the USPS website to look up what the zones are for your shipping origin ZIP code. It’s different depending on where you start, and some locations that are in the middle of the USA have a lot of money to save if they ship Regional B. If you’re using a bulk label printing software (and you should be), look up the way to quickly manage the shipping methods. For instance, using Endicia PRO I am able to upload all the orders via spreadsheet, designate them all to be Regional B, then select anything that costs over $12.40 to send, and edit them to be Flat Rate Medium. Boom… instant savings of thousands of dollars depending on how many orders you have. Anything more than that and you might as well ship UPS or FedEx as their prices begin to overtake the USPS’s, especially since you’re not getting free boxes if you outgrow the Flat Rates.

Other Flat Rates and final considerations for USPS

Flat Rate Large is $17.05 but I’ve seen UPS and FedEx become quite competitive at that level. Flat Rate Small is just plain too small. The box itself is about the size of an old VHS tape and could only hold a small number of tiny games. Small Flat Rate costs $6.45 to send anywhere but at that cost, you may be better off sending it First Class if it is a light package.

And remember what I said about the weight: If you’re over 1lb you’re going for 2lbs. A 1lb package going first class costs only $4.30 maximum, but if your game weighs 1.2lbs (including the packaging) the cost can become $6.52 per package minimum. So by making your game only 3.2ozs too heavy (about the weight of a standard deck of cards), you’re making your game cost $2.02 more to ship than it needs to be.

UPS/FedEx options (Larger games: Cthulhu Wars, Scythe, Kingdom Death Monster)

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But let’s say that you want to make a huge game. You want to create the next Scythe/Cthulhu Wars/Kingdom Death Monster. This likely means you’ll be looking into large brown boxes. At this size and scope, I would recommend UPS or FedEx. Here, your box size can mean a major difference in shipping. When Amazon and eBay began to get really big, companies like UPS and FedEx found that they couldn’t keep up with the parcel shipping needs versus their own costs. So they implemented a system to calculate dimensional weight. This program would look at a package and charge for its dimensions if it’s weight was light. Meaning that if the package was light but took up a lot of room, then that parcel should cost more to ship because the driver can’t ship as many as if they were smaller packages.

To calculate dimensional shipping they use the following formula (L x W x H)/139 = LB. For the super large games that I mentioned, this means little as their weight is larger than their dimensions. As long as you have a box that is exactly the size of the game. But what if you’re shipping supplements as well? Each item that you add to the box has the potential to change the dimensional weight and add dead space in the package. The biggest offenders are things that are exceptionally long or wide. If there’s an item that happens to exceed the length of all other items, then your minimum length is at least that items length while the rest of the items sit in dead space with packing material. Dead space in a box is space you’re paying for. The largest of boxes in the top picture is 20x20x20 (the one to the far right – Flat Rate Medium box for scale). The dimensional weight for that package is 57lb. While shipping games with tons of add-ons this should matter to you deeply. It can mean a package that only weighs 30lb will get charged almost $10 more if it’s that big.

The best way to skirt this issue is with multi-depth boxes. Multi-depth can be cut down and folded in inch increments saving you some space and making the edges straighter than if you just cut them down yourself. They’re a little more expensive but they save a ton of time if you plan to cut boxes down depending on the number of unique orders.

Don’t forget to consider the weight of the boxes as well. At this level, the boxes themselves cost money to ship and it’s not a small amount. From left to right we’re looking at 12in cubed, 14in cubed, and 20in cubed boxes. the 12in weighs 1lb, the 14 weighs 1.5lb and the 20in is 2.8lb

USPS Media Mail (Books only)

As I side note I feel like I should mention media mail. Media Mail in the gaming industry may only apply to books, but it’s worth mentioning. If ever you’re shipping a book, and a book ALONE (maybe an RPG, or rulebook) you should always consider Media Mail. You’ll have to buy the boxes or the book sized envelopes, but the savings are immense. These only go by weight and not the destination but a 5lb package of books still only costs $4.59

Ask yourself what kind of game you’re creating and try to make it fit the standard modern size of about 11x11x3. That will make it fit in the Flat Rate box, and by default the Regional B box. Add supplements lightly so they still fit within the dimensions of the Flat Rate box (11.75×3.4×13.5). And if you’re going to go bigger than that (brown boxes) go a lot bigger and a lot denser to make sure your packages aren’t shipping air at 7 lbs per 10 square inches.

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