Doing a “real-world” edition with physical feelies isn’t something most people are going to want to tackle nowadays I think, due to costs and logistics. But I do have some recent experience with this I can share.
For my forthcoming PunyInform game (just wrapped beta testing, yay!) I have assembled some physical editions which include a complete set of feelies. But the goal wasn’t to make copies to sell – let’s face it, if Zarf’s audience doesn’t make it feasible what sense would it make for the rest of us? Rather, the copies I’ve made are for me and my beta testers to have keepsakes, and also to distribute to some friends. That made the feelies project worthwhile and lots of fun.
I am lucky that I could call in some favours for the printing, so I didn’t have to spend $1,000 to produce a small number of copies of the game. But I did have to give a lot of thought to what would be feasible to send by post, especially since I’ll be sending them to beta testers who live all around the world.
Something like a coffee cup would introduce packaging and shipping size issues that would have greatly inflated the cost. So I focused strictly on “skinny” feelies, with the specific goal that the final package could be sent in a bubble mailer envelope.
The feelies I made include postcards, a bookmark, letters, a fold-out map, etc. Since the game is very much an old-school offering (it’s an Apple II game, though also includes the raw .z3 file) I opted for packaging in a baggie rather than a box, which also massively reduced costs. The only “thick” items are an enamel pin and a tiny usb thumb drive printed to look like a 5-1/4 floppy disk, so everything still fits neatly into letter mail options.
The feelies are used to solve some in-game puzzles, so the restriction on the kinds of items I could work with also helped inform (ha) some of the game choices too. It was all made easier because the game itself is about attending a retro-computing event (essentially, KansasFest) so it made sense for the player to receive a welcome package with an event guide etc. I’m not sure what I would have done for a game with a more esoteric setting.
Anyway, if someone is going to produce a game with real-world feelies, I would urge you to think backward from your final shipping size first, along with making a list of the people and materials you can draw upon to reduce or eliminate costs. Like, if I had a friend with a button making machine then my game’s feelies would have included a button. But I don’t, so it didn’t.
All of which was a long way of saying, if anyone out there has a button making machine, would you like to be my friend?