• From Don Scott’s blog

  • An Inventor? That must be fun!

    Posted: 2008-02-08 13:40:16 UTC-05:00
    “I design jigsaw puzzles and games for a living.” When I tell someone that, I know that the next thing I’m going to hear is “Wow! That must be fun!” It’s as though I said “I ride roller coasters for a living.” or “I get paid to watch cartoons.” or “I use my fingers to project little shadow creatures on the wall and the pay is great!”

    Before I launch into a protracted tongue in cheek rant on the life of an inventor, let me first say that by and large, it is fun, at least the inventing part. Unfortunately, you can invent the heck out of something and its not going to make you any money. It’s really only when you sell your invention that a paycheck comes. If you license someone else to produce your invention, as I do, that paycheck will typically come every 3 months. Yep, you get paid 4 times a year. So, you license your idea to someone, who turns it into a product, they sell it for 3 months, and 30 days after that, your paycheck comes. Its different from paychecks you may be accustomed to receiving, and not just because you have to wait 4 months for it. For instance until you open it up, you’ll have no idea how much it will be for. So, its a surprise. Usually though, no confetti pops out. Also, surprise and disappointment can often be synonyms. The words “panic, insomnia, anxiety” plus several choice expletives are also often appropriate synonyms. This is especially true when it dawns on you that the amount of money on the check must pay the bills that were waiting from the last 4 months (the ones in which you made no money) and any bills you might need to pay in the next 3 months (until you get your next surprise). So, if you’re considering being an inventor, be sure to keep about seven months of cash in the bank at all times.

    A few terms: The check you get is a royalty and is based on some negotiated percentage of the wholesale sales of your invention. The inventor is also known as the licensor. The companies to whom you license your invention are called licensees. If you question a licensee about the amount of money on your royalty check, you’ll find that licensees have two different, unequally irritating responses. If you ask “My royalty check seems really high. Is there some mistake?”, the licensee will always begin with “We sold…” as in “We sold a bunch of your product this quarter. You should thank us for our sales efforts on your behalf.” On the other hand if you ask “My royalty check seems really crummy. Is there some mistake?” the response will begin with “It didn’t sell…” as in “It didn’t sell, despite the fact that we showed it to everybody and put a huge marketing effort behind it. You should thank us for our sales efforts on your behalf.” The message is clear: “If your check is a big one, it’s because of us, but if its a pittance, it’s because your invention stinks.” Still, a big check makes almost any answer less irritating.

    I’ve already mentioned that royalty checks show up about 4 times a year because they’re paid on the preceding calendar quarter. This works okay if you’ve invented a product that people use all year round…something like air, food, or toilet paper. It also works okay if your product is more mildly seasonal like long sleeve shirts and clam chowder. If your invention is really seasonal, like parkas, cranberry sauce, and anything purchased as a Christmas gift, it becomes clear that calendar quarters are roughly equivalent only in duration. Many of the items that I work on may as well be cranberry sauce. Sure, someone might occasionally pick up a dusty tin of gelid cranberries for Valentine’s day but for the most part, don’t look for strong sales until sometime in November. Similarly people don’t buy tomato seedlings in January and while puzzles and games are a little better, most of them are purchased around the 3rd and 4th quarters of the year and given as Christmas gifts. In my business, royalty checks from the 1st and 2nd quarters are often referred to as “barely worth the trip to the mailbox”.

    So, to fill in any gaps that your seven months worth of cash don’t cover, the typical game inventor must find other meaningful ways of occupying his time, despite the obvious distraction from the fun that this creates. These distractions take the form of activities like making prototypes, networking, finding new customers, writing blogs to promote your brands, and doing odd contractual work for absolutely anybody.

    I guess the point is that while almost any occupation has its moments of fun, inspiration, and satisfaction, they are all still mostly filled with the drudgery of marketing, brand development, sales, managing cash flow, and collecting receivables. Still, despite all that, I have to admit that cooking up a new game or jigsaw puzzle really is fun. So, until someone hands me a check for making my shadow bunnies, I’ll be having fun…working…on the next greatest, funniest, smartest, coolest thing you ever saw.