Why I Made Challenge Coins for Political Animals

The salmon sushi seen above was excellent, if rather overpriced at 800 Yen.  Unfortunately that's typical of the inflated prices you find in every single airport around the world.  From here we fly to Portland, have another 4 hour layover, then finally take a 1 hour flight to Seattle for PAX.  I wanted to document the trip using one of the challenge coins I had made for the game, hence the "artfully" arranged picture above.  

Challenge Coins

I first heard about challenge coins from the excellent podcast 99 percent invisible.  Essentially they're a way for a military unit to identify and and tell a story about themselves.  They can also be passed on to people outside of the unit as a sign of gratitude, friendship, or to mark any momentous occasion.

These days almost anyone can go ahead and have a challenge coin made.  They're made for schools, companies, sports teams, etc. as a really neat way to show a sense of shared community.

I'd been thinking about getting challenge coins made for a long time.  Video games are such an ephemeral medium, especially in this day and age of digital distribution.  Sure you can "make" a game, but what do you really have to show for it if you don't have a computer screen near you?  A challenge coin solves this problem.  It gives you a physical object that you can look at and say "yup, we went and made this game."  It's a physical manifestation of the hours of stress and sweat and care that went into the production of the game, all held in the confines of a single metallic disc.

Plus, coins are super cool.

How to have Challenge Coins Made?

I wanted to have some challenge coins made before PAX, so my original idea was to order some from a company in the US and have have them shipped ahead.  I sent an inquiry to numerous companies but the quickest one to reply was allaboutchallengecoins.com.  The process couldn't be easier.  You can either download their template and design your coin in Photoshop or Illustrator, or just send them some designs with some ideas and let them figure out how to go about it.  They did a super job, but just as I was about to order the coins, I wanted to test an idea.

I knew that a lot of these websites were basically the storefront, while the actual coins were made in China.  Given that the Philippines was pretty near to China, I wondered if I could figure out a way to order direct from the supplier and save some money that way?

Wandering into the Land of Alibaba

Alibaba is the gateway to the factories of China.  Like a giant marketplace, companies display their wares with slogans and assurances of quality and environmental protection:

"Our factory is approved by many famouns brands such as Walt Disney / Coca Cola / McDonald's etc. To avoid causing pollutants, we obtain the electroplating license from China government and build sewage treatment plant."

Once again I cast my net wide and emailed a bunch of different companies.  My criteria was simple, I wanted a lower price than the US company, as well as a company that could communicate fluently in English.  As a bonus test I sent my original design ideas to them to see how they compared with the US companies.

The first companies were a bit of a bust.  One of them charged almost double the original asking price of the US company.  Another came back with enthusiastic Google translated Engrish.  But one company really stood out and offered rates that came out to almost 50% cheaper than the US company and spoke great English. 

Dongguan Jian Plastic & Metal Products Ltd. 

Dongguan Jian Plastic & Metal Products Limited has the wonderfully succint slogan of "Think of emblems, think of JIAN"  Their original copmany name, according to the brochure they sent me, was "Punctual Company Limited".  I liked them already.  

Their sales agent Ella was super professional and treated me like an important customer even though I know most of their orders were probably magnitudes larger than my measly 100 coins.   She guided me through the process step by step until the final point, which is when they asked me to fill up a form and attach pictures of the front and back of my credit card.

I know, I know, a lot of you must be freaking out right now.  That's one of the things every IT security expert tells you not to do. But I did ask around and at least in these parts this is pretty typical for a company that doesn't have e-commerce built into its online presence.  I was fully prepared to cancel this card in case any funny business occurred.  I sent in the application and waited.  I was informed by my bank that the proper amount had been charged.  Then I waited some more.  About 3 weeks later I got a call from Fedex saying my package was en route!  

So it was a little scary but the final product was definitely worth it. If we manage to make more than one game, I want to start a tradition of having coins minted to commemorate each game that Squeaky Wheel makes, especially now that I'm confident with Jian.

How do you get one?

I've been rather surprised at the amount of attention the challenge coins have gotten.  I guess it just confirms my suspicion that people really do value having some tangible to hold on to (and that coins are cool).  I initially intended for these to be souvenirs for the team and specific people that have supported us along the way to making this game.  We're also looking to give them to the first person at each convention that wins a campaign of Political Animals with more than 75% of the vote. But if there's enough interest we'll definitely look into a way where people can buy the coins, maybe as part of a limited edition boxed set or something like that.  But that'll have to wait until after launch!

If you're looking to get challenge coins made for yourself and you live in the United States, I would highly recommend allaboutchallengecoins.com but if you're outside the US and don't have a local company that makes these coins, I can vouch for Jian Pins.