How indie publisher Serenity Forge is shipping physical games during a supply-chain crisis

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How Games Make Money is back to have a conversation with Colorado-based Serenity Forge. The studio develops and publishes games on digital stores like Steam, but more recently it is expanding into the world of physical games. That includes the physical release of Doki Doki Literature Club Plus for PlayStation and Nintendo Switch.

Serenity Forge chief executive officer Zhenghua “Z” Yang explained that he and his team are passionate about physical games. And he wanted to bring that back. To make that happen, Serenity Forge hired a distribution director who previously worked at Sega Sammy. This provided the company with retail contacts to get into Walmart, Best Buy, GameStop, and other major stores globally.

But if that was the easy part, nearly everything else was a major challenge — especially, sourcing materials and manufacturing.

“I can say this is definitely one of the hardest things I have had to do in this career, ” said Z. “The pandemic has really done a number on the manufacturing side of things even today we’re still having trouble finding workers in the factories, so plants are working at minimal capacity or are straight up closed. Or there have been instances where we couldn’t find any cardboard in the country of China, so we had delays.”

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But Z is using his cultural background to his advantage.

The benefit of the situation is that I’m a first-generation Chinese immigrant, so I actually speak Chinese fluently,” said Z. “So it’s actually fairly easy for me to deal with Chinese factories and try to find people that are the right fit for what we need, so that was really helpful.”

But even when Serenity Forge can find manufacturing capacity and materials, it still ends up occasionally having to throw out substandard products. And then when a partner in China does deliver quality goods, Serenity Forge may end up going in a different direction with its next physical game.

“You know the last thing that we want is to have just the same exact thing carbon copied into every single one of our boxes,” said Z. “We have greater ambitions than that.”

Those great ambitions will have to remain slim, however, as Serenity Forge only has a physical budget of about 3 millimeters to work with inside each game case.

“That’s kind of how thick you can put stuff in before the box stops closing,” said Z. “And we think, ‘OK, in 3 millimeters, what can we put in there and that is the most meaningful thing for the fans.”

Serenity Forge just published Death’s Gambit: Afterlife for Steam and Switch. And the plan is to cram those 3 millimeters with cool and meaningful stuff — but just as long as the game still closes.

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