Friday, 15 January 2016

Looking to the Future


Waaaay back in 2009 I started this (well-disguised) Blogger page as a stop-gap whilst a proper new RGCD website was being developed by Elliot, a close friend who helped me start the original disc-based magazine in 2006. However, after making a good start, Elliot became super busy with real life commitments so the proposed work on the replacement site never happened. Until now.

I may have mentioned in passing that Jamie is in the process of leaving his job and going full-time at RGCD. Well, one of the areas we're looking to branch into is providing web design services for people - so the obvious thing to do was to finally give this site a much-needed rework for our portfolio.

Currently Jamie has been going through the process of recreating our site in WordPress, creating his own custom widgets to replace the (surprisingly good) Blogger ones and implementing a lot of new features and functionality. However, one of the issues that has come up is how to streamline our incredibly convoluted 'shopping' system for our growing catalogue of Commodore 64 games.

I first set up the RGCD BigCartel shop as a replacement for the chaotic list of PayPal buttons that I used to have on the original and now-closed shop page. That worked well enough for a while, but then last year due to changes in the EU VAT laws, we had to move the digital products (downloads) to a service that handled the VAT payments for us (itch.io) as RGCD's activities fall way below the ~£80,000 threshold required for VAT registration in the UK. This is far from ideal, but it's not completely impossible to work with... yet.


Later this year, the EU will be discussing what is going to happen with the extension of these complex VAT laws to physical sales. When this comes in (probably over the next 2-3 years, but maybe sooner) it will cause a complete shit-storm (again), just like it did for digital sales. So with that in mind our plan was to migrate all our products, physical and digital, to itch.io.

Not only do itch.io handle EU VAT, but they offer us a fantastic and simple to use system for viewing our sales statistics and finances. The individual game pages are easy to edit, they have a widget we can embed elsewhere and it helps us to get a LOT of eyes on our new releases.


However, although potentially possible, using itch.io for physical sales comes with it's own pitfalls. Currently itch.io is set up only for digital sales, so there is no simple system for handling physical orders (no automatic collation of shipping addresses, discounts for combined postage, etc). We could try embedding their widget into BigCartel or even our own site - but ultimately it's all becoming a little messy.

So I'd like to open the question to you guys, as ultimately it is *you* that this is for - what would you prefer us to do?



Option One - Move completely to itch.io...

...and hope for system improvements down the line(!) At the moment this is one of the more favourable options from our side (looking to the future). Doing this would mean that for each game, prior to release we could build and pack every cart and have them stored ready for shipping - saving us valuable time on 'picking orders'. We'd be able to do this by offering the download of a game at one price (free even), and then having a secondary product price for the cartridges (pay the minimum of £xx.xx to 'unlock'). This 'higher price' item could potentially be a simple form that the buyer downloads (or even fills in online) and sends back to us complete with their address, etc.
Pros:

  • Very quick and easy to implement.
  • Less time spent hand picking orders = faster shipping and more time being creative!
  • Embedded widgets that we can add to our own website (and others).
  • Indie marketplace (lots of eyes on our games).
  • They handle the EU VAT charging and payments (so we don't have to)
  • Potential for support for cart and physical sales to be added properly in the future?


Cons: (not many, but they ARE biggies)

  • No shopping cart and no combined shipping!
  • We'd have to manually collect shipping addresses from customers.
  • Prices are in USD.
  • One postage-inclusive price worldwide, potentially making the games more expensive for people in the EU (there's roughly a ~4GBP/5EUR difference between postage to Germany compared to Australia, for example).



Option Two - Move physical sales back to RGCD...

...and use itch.io widgets on our site for the downloads (thanks to EU VAT). This was Jamie's initial suggestion; if BigCartel is just a fancy looking piece of middleware that sits between the customer and PayPal, then why not just create our own shopping system for buying physical goods direct from RGCD using the PayPal API?


Pros:

  • We'd have full control of how the system worked (and can implement changes if it doesn't).
  • Back to having a 'one-stop shop' for all our releases (thanks to itch.io widgets).
  • PayPal offers a shopping cart and a 'method' for calculating combined postage.
  • Impressive addition to our web-dev portfolio.

Cons:

  • An epic amount of work in comparison to option 1!
  • More time spent getting the implementation/support right = less time spent on making games.
  • More time spent hand picking orders = slower shipping and less time being creative!
  • Potentially a *LOT* harder to get 'eyes' on our products than by using itch.io.
  • With EU VAT for physical products on the horizon, this is just a short term fix.



Option Three - Ditch BigCartel & itch.io and find another solution (BandCamp? Etc.)

Before setting up our itch.io account, I looked into several other options - out of which BandCamp was the only other site that remotely suited our needs (handling VAT payments, physical and downloadable versions of the same product at different prices. We (in theory) could shut up shop at both itch.io and BigCartel and move there.

Pros:

  • Fairly quick and easy to set up.
  • Offers a shopping cart and (possibly?) combined postage.
  • They handle the EU VAT charging and payments (so we don't have to)


Cons:

  • Games would have to be listed as music releases(!) so the soundtrack would be more prominent than the games.
  • More time spent hand picking orders = slower shipping and less time being creative!
  • Potentially a *LOT* harder to get 'eyes' on our products than by using itch.io.



Option Four - Do nothing and just continue as usual...

...yep, this *is* an option of course. We can (and most likely will) just continue using BigCartel, and keep physical and digital sales in completely different places - for now (remember, those EU VAT law changes are coming!) The pros and cons of this are completely obvious - you (and we) have already been living with the current convoluted system for years!


So, there you have it! Any feedback on this brief analysis would be very, very useful. Of course there ARE workarounds for some of the problems that each option presents; please note that I've tried to keep things simple in this post.

Oh, and please let us know if you can think of any additional functionality/pages/features you'd like to see on the new site. Jamie and I would love to hear your ideas and suggestions.