Pack It In: vital packaging advice from specialist retailer Becky Ottery of Eclectic Games

Becky Ottery, Eclectic Games

Since we last interviewed you, Becky, the UK’s officially finished Brexit, had a global pandemic, and 14 prime ministers… How’s trade been?!
Over lockdown, Pokemon and jigsaws kept us in business, alongside taking on scarily high amounts of debt via Coronavirus loans. Turnover has crept back up to pre-pandemic levels, but profit is lagging since costs have gone up by varying amounts between ‘some’, ‘lots’ and ‘an eye-watering amount’, depending on which segment of the things I’m paying for I look at.

Yes, it’s not been much fun in retail, has it? What’s been doing well for you since the lockdowns ended, though?
Since lockdown, Pokemon continues to be massively in demand, actually! D&D has been huge… And Big Potato party games have been a hit this past Christmas.

And what about online, Becky? Different story?
Online sales for us are either event tickets, or driven by whatever gets a hot review – such as by SUSD or Dice Tower – or something else that brings awareness of a game to the general public. Once people are searching for a thing, as soon as the discounters have blown out their stock, we usually get a bunch of sales where people have found we have it in stock. Some titles that have done that in the past 12 to 18 months were Kluster, Long Shot, The Crew, the Blades in the Dark RPG…

Quite a mixed bag! So as a social-led store, what games – when you were allowed to host events again – were customers desperate to play in person?
Our collectible card game players were some of the first to come back… Yu Gi Oh and Magic fans were leading the way. There’s massive demand for store-organised D&D sessions, with us selling out all the available tickets – and desperately looking for reliable Dungeon Masters to open up more tables. Everything’s more or less back to pre-pandemic levels of attendance, subject to the usual fluctuations.

Becky Ottery, Eclectic Games

Oh, that’s encouraging! Now… Last time we spoke, I asked what one thing you’d want all inventors to understand about selling games… You gave a terrific answer, which people can read here. You also said there were a few vital things that would make a Do-and-Don’t list! So… Three years on, what would they be?!
I suspected you were going to ask that! So having looked up what I said back then… My advice starts with a don’t: DON’T use a wacky form factor for your game unless there’s a REALLY GOOD REASON… And even then, you may want to put it in a regular box. Dobble is a good example of how to deal with this. Triominoes gets away with it – just about – because it’s ‘iconic’, but even then it’s not great.

Is there a reason for that advice?
Yes… In creating the ‘whacky’, designers don’t always consider the physics of the box sitting on a shelf. And you do need to! If the box is top heavy, for example, it’s more likely to fall over and get damaged. That’s also true if it’s got the shrinkwrap seam on the bottom of the box, or if the box is really narrow. And even if it doesn’t get damaged when it falls over, it’s less likely to get even the basic two weeks of ‘new game facing’ time if it keeps falling over. If it can’t be conveniently displayed, it isn’t going to sell well.

That seems like such common-sense advice… The fact that you’re explaining it, though, strongly suggests it’s not as obvious as it should be?
No, you’d be surprised! Similarly, I’d say don’t make it hard for people to find and identify your game. Don’t call it anything too generic…

Such as?
‘The Game’ is the worst culprit I can currently remember! I also suggest you look at your chosen font and colours, at full size, from at least two meters away – and side on. Are they readable, or at least identifiable? Have you checked the kerning for the font you’re using?

Becky Ottery, Eclectic Games

I thought kerning was a muppet until I started working with Billy Langsworthy… For those not in the know, what does it mean?
Kerning is – well, the spacing, really, between the letters; the font. But it’s about legibility… You don’t want people looking for your game in a store, seeing it and – due to an unreadable font – not knowing they’ve seen it.

Absolutely. And I’ve seen it happen… People staring right at a game and not seeing it; like men looking for stuff in a cupboard!
Ha! Yes! And you do think have to think about how your game’s going to sit on a store shelf… Your ‘ideal vision’ is that it’s front facing, at eye level, in a well-lit environment.

But what’s actually likely to happen is that – after the first week or two – it’ll be out on a shelf with a whole lot of other games, possibly at ankle height. If the title isn’t easily readable on all the sides of the box, it’s harder to find. Also, barcodes! Do… Have one! And make sure it’s easy to scan, and sensibly positioned on the packaging, and that it registers… Some don’t if the graphic isn’t at high enough resolution for the scanner to read it.

Good God! People must know that, surely?
Well… Some inventors have used an ISBN code! Don’t do that, obviously, unless your product’s a book. Don’t, on pain of retailer screams, reuse barcodes for different products. Really don’t!

Oh, gosh… My blood’s running cold! Plenty of food for thought there, Becky; thank you. Also, just to wrap things up… For reasons I can’t quite fathom, I didn’t ask you last time: what’s the most interesting thing in your office or on your desk?
The staff kitchen at the shop doubles as my office if I’m not on the shop floor… So the most interesting thing to me is the really good ground coffee found beside the coffee maker! The cutest thing, though, is probably the articulated, 3D-printed, Chinese dragon that’s lying on top of my monitor.

Becky Ottery, Eclectic Games

Like a monitor lizard… Great answer! Thanks Becky.

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