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The Biggest Pre-Order & Kickstarter Sin

(…okay, next to taking the money and running.)

The biggest sin I see committed is when publishers sell their backed products to the general public well before backers get their copies.

Seeing the tweets today about the new Kindle, and how people who ordered day one — the alpha consumer base — have not received theirs when peope who have ordered later are getting packages today.

Now, I know enough about dealing with fulfillment when I worked with Indie Press Revolution to know that fulfillment glitches happen pretty often. This is a big, noticeable one, but I’m not surprised. However, it does remind me of the problem I’ve seen with a number of pre-order and Kickstarter campaigns in the RPG world: after your money is taken, you’ll find it available at Gen Con before you’ve received your copy.

When you do that, you’re sending a clear message that your alpha customers are only valuable to you for their money, and not after that. Now, sometimes that’s not the intended message — when I spoke with Graham Walmsley[3] briefly at Gen Con about Stealing Cthulhu being available for sale while my backer copies hadn’t been shipped yet. he seemed apologetic[1]. I didn’t leave the conversation with a sting, but I will think twice now about backing something else he does.

See, backing & pre-ordering is about trust and, in this very small world, relationships. Show that you don’t value them, and see what happens. I had such a reaction at Gen Con 2010 from Luke Crane, when his Adventure Burner was on sale at the show and people had not yet received their pre-order copies. I commented on this and he blew me off, which told me not to pre-order anything of his again. I saw on Twitter that people did get their copies of Burning Wheel Gold before Gen Con, so it’s cool that he learned from his mistakes there.

Unless you have a fan base that will forgive you for your sins[2], don’t do this. It takes a lot of work to repair gamer/consumer trust & relationships.

This happens on accident with people who are new to publishing, because new folks always underestimate the time it takes to do, well, everything involved. If you find this happens, gracefully apologize and explain the situation. And, you know, learn from your mistakes. :)

– Ryan

[1] Or British. I’m not sure.

[2] There’s another lesson in how, if you have a rabid, cultish following or create books that are critical to conversations online, you can abuse expectations and people’ll keep coming back. Hell, I bought Burning Wheel Gold at Gen Con.

[3] Edit: Though, apparently Graham has publicly called me a troll for pointing out my consumer reactions to his Kickstarter fulfillment. That is an unfortunate display of character.

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42 Responses to The Biggest Pre-Order & Kickstarter Sin

  1. Elizabeth says:

    At the very least, have preorder copies available for pickup at the convention and then send out the rest as soon as you get home.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Totally. Rich & Daniel had that for This Just In…From Gen Con! this year, polling people to see who would like hand-delivered at the show versus who won’t be there and would like it mailed.

      – Ryan

    • Cam Banks says:

      Yeah, the pick up option is such a win-win it’s a no brainer.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Some people have awards that make that difficult or impossible. Part of the reason that my copy of Stealing Cthulhu took three months beyond Gen Con was because of the award level I got (if I understand correctly).

      Granted, if I had known that I wouldn’t have ordered that award.

      – Ryan

  2. 100% agree. I have the Shelter In Place PDF ready, have for weeks, but until the books are delivered, signed, and shipped to the Kickstarter backers, it’s not going up for sale. The backers already have their PDFs too. I did the same with Bulldogs!

  3. Jenn says:

    But what about the kickstarters that have the special editions, or the ones where you are getting the patches/stuff that take longer to come in? If I get an email from the designer before the convention explaining what is going on I am way more understanding than all of a sudden seeing it on sale before I even get a copy. Communication is key.

    The problem with bringing the preorder copies to the convention is the shipping charges the designer has to spend to send it to the convention. What if someone doesn’t show up to get their copy?

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      For the first: plan better. Plan earlier.

      For the latter: that’s what polling is for, and the expectation that some people won’t show up. Or, again, plan better and earlier so it’s not a consideration.

      The bonus for planning better and earlier: people creating buzz about your game because they have it in their hands and are playing with it.

      – Ryan

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Granted, I know by saying “plan better and earlier” I haven’t told you how to do that. But that’s a long conversation that’s probably better handled as a panel topic, with multiple viewpoints & experiences sharing what’s gone on in past ventures.

      – Ryan

    • Elizabeth says:

      Personally, I’m working to ensure that the additional rewards for THEY BECAME FLESH are designed and being fabricated at the same time as the book— but if for some reason I couldn’t do that, I would have built in additional shipping costs into the reward tiers. Books go out first, additional swag later.

  4. Rich and I indeed took the backer rewards to Gen Con for priority delivery (actually I had them shipped there). I still ended up bringing like 7 shirts back with me to Miami, but it was less than the entire total, so we cut down our shipping costs. For the others I was super upfront that all would be mailed after Gen Con.

    The most important thing is to create the right expectations: promise little, deliver a lot. Or as Scotty said (paraphrasing), say it’ll take three times as much as actually needed. That’s why they called him a miracle worker.

    • Graham says:

      Daniel, it’s interesting you say that. I was one of your highest backers and, for various reasons, wouldn’t back you again.

      Which is to say: these things are difficult to judge, aren’t they?

  5. Another related feature: people have been asking me where they can get a Bulldogs! captain’s jacket. The answer is, you can’t! That was my top reward tier, people who got that gave me $500. If you didn’t contribute during the Kickstarter, it’s off limits. That’s what makes it an exclusive premium.

    I may offer it again as a reward in another Kickstarter, but that’s going to be the only place it will be available.

    (See, I’m commenting on your blog like you want! I was about to post to Google+ but clicked over.)

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Brennan,

      That’s what makes it an exclusive premium.

      Yeah, that’s one of the reasons I’m not sold on the “I’ll run the game for you” award. I don’t want see that as a premium, because I do that at conventions often. But that’s me and how I roll.

      (See, I’m commenting on your blog like you want! I was about to post to Google+ but clicked over.)

      I’ve disabled comments on my blog post bits for that reason. :)

      And maybe I’ll make why I did its own post. That’s what I have the site-meta category for.

      – Ryan

    • I think running the game for people is a premium for those who buy it. If I’m likely to run into you at a con and have you run the game, I won’t buy that reward, but if I rarely go to cons and haven’t met many or any game designers, it’s pretty cool.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Huh.

      Okay, yeah, true, people who get that are getting it because that’s their opportunity. Point. I’ll have to rethink on it.

      I still might not do one, but I get it now.

      – Ryan

  6. Keith Davies says:

    Honestly, if I had to do it, my preference would be:

    * plan to complete everything early enough to ship to backers and preorders before *anyone* else. They deserve it for 1. ordering before people who just show up, and 2. providing funds before release, potentially making it *possible* to release in the first place. You take care of them first. Frankly, I don’t care if they get it before the planned release date; if I’m planning to release at GenCon and they get it at the beginning of July, awesome for them.

    * if someone has a reward that isn’t ready in time (say they backed at a high enough level to get an extra product that isn’t yet ready to ship, or a personalized product that takes extra time) I would contact them and let them know what’s happening, and give them the choice of single-shipment when it’s all ready (and I know people who would prefer one awesome shipment rather than two partial) or split shipment as the primary product is available and I’ll complete the shipping when the rest arrives. If it’s a big enough deal (say I’m doing a special hardcover version for the higher-reward backers) I’ll send the softcover along in the meantime, still signed and whatever, and the hardcover when it comes in.

    People who back you deserve better than they sometimes get. I’m prepared to lose profit or even take a small hit to keep them satisfied. They not only earned it this time, I’ll also be looking to them to provide support later, be it direct in the form of later backing, or indirect in the form of word of mouth.

    A large part of my job is providing support to clients and managing their expectations. Most people are pretty reasonable when you’re straight with them, even if it’s something they don’t want to hear.

    Regardless of who screwed it up, you’re still responsible. Don’t dodge it, do explain the situation and what you’re doing about it, and when they can expect it to be fixed.

    As a customer I’ve rarely had issue with a note saying something like

    “The order has been delayed because the product delivered to me was not of acceptable quality. I have sent them back to the printer to be redone, and expect delivery by the end of the month. You should have them in-hand within a week of my receipt of an acceptable copy.” (or even “I will courier it to you when I receive an acceptable copy”)

    That alone usually appeases me. Mistakes happen. I might not be happy, but I can accept it. If I also see

    “Please enjoy this free copy of the softcover in the interim.”

    I move closer to happy. Perhaps not as happy as if I’d received what I expected in the first place… but perhaps more. Of course I prefer things go smoothly, but someone who steps up and accepts their mistakes, is honest about what happened, explains how and when it will be fixed, and follows through? I am delighted to see that level of service and integrity, even if it means my original expectation was not met.

    That’s someone I’m prepared to back again. Anyone, in principle, can get it right. Only someone principled can get it wrong and keep me satisfied.

    Keith

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Good stuff. One thing in particular stands out:

      I’m prepared to lose profit or even take a small hit to keep them satisfied.

      Rather than looking at it as losing profit, look at it as investing in a core audience. Money spent is not always money lost.

      – Ryan

    • Keith Davies says:

      Rather than looking at it as losing profit, look at it as investing in a core audience. Money spent is not always money lost.

      True enough, and that’s why I view it this way. Also, fairness. I make a mistake, it’s not fair that my customer eat it. My provider makes a mistake, it’s not fair that my customer eat it. If it’s bad enough I might go after the provider, but that’s between me and the provider.

      I am… not happy, exactly, but I accept that money out of pocket to maintain or enhance customer satisfaction is almost always worth it — if not just because the customer is happy, then my own pride of workmanship. If it leads to repeated sales or new sales because of word of mouth, so much the better, but my own pride demands that I make sure I do the best I can.

      K.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Totally.

      Communication is also a big deal. When you don’t hear from someone, that’s a problem. It’s similar to other aspects of life: when someone owes you money for work done and they never return calls or emails, they’re saying that the work you did is valuable but you aren’t. Communication alone can solve a lot of things. You’ll have disappointment when you communication disappointing things, but it does maintain reputability.

      I recall one thing I pre-ordered years ago, maybe the Wild Talents first edition book? I think so. I remember pre-ordering it, and then it being so long that I forgot I had when I received the package nine months later. At that point, it went from annoyance to forgotten to a surprise when it came. Not that I would order from them in that situation again.

      – Ryan

    • Keith Davies says:

      One of the cool things regarding Kickstarter and other pre-orders: unless I’m involved in the product’s development (as I am with Ben Gerbers Encounters ~ Plots ~ Places), I like to forget about it after it’s funded.

      It does take away a bit from the anticipation, but when it arrives in the mail?

      GLEE!

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Sure, that’s one consumer mindset. There are others. The wise publisher takes many into account.

      – Ryan

    • Keith Davies says:

      Certainly, to both parts.

      Mind you, I’ve been watching my son wait for Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and he’s about to burst. Been there, done that.

      I like pleasant surprises, even if I have to arrange them myself, so… what KickStarter project?

      However, if I found it in the FLGS and was reminded of it and that I didn’t have it, then I might have some sharp questions to ask.

      K

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Part of my annoyance, and why it continues to stick out, is that I’m possible moving to another state soon, and I backed Graham’s book months before, so every trip to the post was a reminder than I have packages that might suddenly be a hassle to deal with. (I have a private mail box I use for packages, which is a touch more of hassle to do forwarding with, and not free.)

      Jeremy Keller’s TechNoir also took a bit, but since he was constantly communicating (and there wasn’t the sting of seeing it at Gen Con when I didn’t have a backer copy), that was a pleasant consumer experience.

      – Ryan

    • Keith Davies says:

      btw, speaking of

      It does take away a bit from the anticipation, but when it arrives in the mail?

      GLEE!

      I got a phone call from my dad last night. We share a mailbox and he told me there was a package from ‘Gamerati’ and, being close to Christmas, he wasn’t sure if I wanted him to hold it until I could smuggle it into the house because it’s a present for someone else.

      Oh yeah! my Loot! order

      … and as it says at the bottom of that post, I forget if I ordered another one there that looked interesting… but I’ll find out soon, won’t I?

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Keith,

      Nice! We’re not on topic anymore, but hey, sweet deal. :)

      – Ryan

  7. Gareth says:

    This is the reason why we’re not even contemplating a for-sale version of FAR WEST until mid-2012, well after delivery to backers.

  8. Ryan Macklin says:

    Another question: how long is too long if what you’re expecting are bonus rewards in addition to the basic content? One month? Three, in the case of my Stealing Cthulhu experience? Six months? A year? At what point do we say that we’re done waiting and are disappointed in the publisher’s apparent disregard of his or her core backers?

    – Ryan

    • Keith Davies says:

      This comes down to expectations management again. If I’m told that things are behind schedule for whatever reason and given a new date, I’m usually reasonably satisfied. Tell me it’s delayed by a month or three months, but deliver on the new schedule? Initial disappointment, but still trust. Deliver, and that trust is validated. Offering me something extra for my patience (such as the free copy of the softcover that was delivered on time) isn’t needed, but is appreciated.

      Leave me hanging, don’t respond to my questions, don’t rectify or address the situation? I don’t have much patience for that at all. The situation is not being handled well, so unless there are extenuating circumstances it won’t be long before I try other means to get the problem addressed… and failing that, further backing from me will be unlikely.

      K

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Hah! We totally just cross-commented (see my reply to you above).

      – Ryan

  9. Gareth says:

    Not to get too personal here, but given a certain blog post you did regarding ICONS a while back, is it possible that you might just have a hang-up about pre-orders?

    Coming around on another tack, speaking for myself, there is just way too much kvetching (not just in the games business, but the wider publishing field right now) about How The Other Guy Does It. Not sure if it’s an attempt to genuinely sway opinion towards the Not How The Other Guy Does It way of things, but it’s getting pretty thick on the ground.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Gareth,

      I pre-order/Kickstart fairly often, and normally I get pretty good service — enough to where the crap ones stand out.

      And there’s also a lot of “let’s disregard negative consumer opinion” in the hobby games industry. A LOT of it.

      – Ryan

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Gareth,

      Thinking more, another way to say it is: I’ve dealt with this before. There are good ways and bad ways to handle it.

      With the feedback I’ve gotten on this, I would amend my original statement to “…without apology, explanation & courtesy.” Or something like that.

      – Ryan

  10. Anthony says:

    Nitpicking:
    The Adventure Burner pre-orders had shipped before GenCon 2010. You’ll find reports of the books arriving starting here:

    http://www.burningwheel.org/forum/showthread.php?9276-This-years-surprise&p=96018#post96018

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      That didn’t change Luke’s cold, asshole response to me, or the fact that I didn’t find out until I saw it at Gen Con and commented.

      – Ryan

  11. Phil says:

    This happened to me with the Dresden Files RPG. I saw the pre-order announcement within hours of its release and ordered immediately (saw a tweet, clicked the link, paid with PayPal, all while on my phone; living in the future rocks). Several weeks later Evil Hat announced that they would be doing in-store pre-orders with game stores, I didn’t really think anything of it except to be a little sad that I didn’t get to support my FLGS with my pre-order. I happened to be at my FLGS when the owners got back from Origins with stacks of DFRPG books for the people who had pre-ordered through them. I didn’t get my copy for another two weeks. That left me feeling pretty salty for a while. Still, I do love Evil Hat’s stuff and I’ve actually only followed them more closely since getting my DFRPG books.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Yeah, we were pretty pissed about that, too, coming from the perspective of watching orders flow through.

      When I said in the post that I was well acquainted with fulfillment screw-ups? That was due to the warehouse IPR* used wasn’t ready for that volume, which also lead to Fred hookup up with larger distribution.

      So, yeah, I totally hear you, and I can tell you that Evil Hat will work to not make that mistake again.

      Mind if I ask which FLGS?

      – Ryan

      (*And as General Manager of IPR at the time, I got heat from IPR customers and from EHP fans, since I was involved with both. So man alive, do I hear you.)

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Incidentally, I am by no means slagging IPR here. Fred, the warehouse folks & I worked hard to minimize the problems caused by, well, too much of a good thing. And much of that credit goes to Fred for being transparent and vocally sympathetic about it, treating it like his problem and not just the customers’.

      – Ryan

  12. Phil says:

    It was Chicagoland Games: The Dice Dojo. I was pretty pissed for a day or two but Fred was very open and transparent through the whole process. That helped quite a bit. If Evil Hat or IPR had just ignored the situation I probably wouldn’t be a fan today. There are a lot similarities between this type of fiasco and the way companies handle being hacked. Look at the reactions from consumers to the Sony and Steam hacks, for example. How a company handles a flub is extremely important.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Totally. Screw-up happen. Can’t plan for a perfect execution. You can, however, do a good job of how you handle it. Things like apologizing, keeping in communication, not being a cockbite or a passive-aggressive jerk, things like that. :)

      – Ryan

  13. Graham:
    And I would love to know those reasons so oth Rich and I can learn. We are aware that in the end things didn’t go exactly as planned, but without the constructive feedback we can’t know where we failed and what we’d need to improve should there be a next time. Could you perhaps email me and be brutally honest in your feedback? Thanks.

  14. Graham says:

    Ryan,

    My comment, “Don’t feed the troll”, was on my Twitter feed for about a minute, before I realised it would cause trouble. You must have gone to some lengths to locate it.

    That said, it’s not a bad label. You’ve always been transparent about your desire to create an Internet presence by posting provocatively.

    I’m always available, on email, for people to contact if they’re unhappy about my books. I’m good at responding, too. In the past, I’ve refunded people, sent duplicates and enclosed additional things. I like to keep people happy.

    Lots of people have got Stealing Cthulhu now. Generally, people seem very appreciative. If anyone isn’t, they are more than welcome to contact me and we’ll sort things out.

    Graham

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Graham,

      My comment, “Don’t feed the troll”, was on my Twitter feed for about a minute, before I realised it would cause trouble. You must have gone to some lengths to locate it.

      Like following you on Twitter at the time? Come on, Graham.

      That said, it’s not a bad label. You’ve always been transparent about your desire to create an Internet presence by posting provocatively.

      Actually, in this case it is. The word you might be looking for is “asshole.” I didn’t go to forums and shit on Stealing Cthulhu threads with this. just posted it in my house. But hey, it’s just the English language. ;)

      And if posting a consumer reaction on my blog about a product you made is “posting provocatively”, perhaps you’re too delicate to be a publisher. I didn’t cuss you are or resort to ad hominem crap, I just detailed my experiences. Welcome to selling things to people. Call me when people make death threats to you, and then we’ll talk about unreasonable reactions to publishers & creators.

      I wasn’t posting this for you. I was posting this for people in the future who should know that this is a very poor performance issue that they should not also cause.

      – Ryan