After the War is Over

I'm fascinated by the business and publishing side of things lately, and feel it's an area where I can provide new commentary. Perhaps not new to the greater world of business, but new for this blog. I try to only write about topics that feel fresh, which is why I'm writing less about design at this moment. Not an expert there either, but I have been writing about that for 3 years.

There's an obsession with Kickstarter. How to prepare for it, how to communicate, really, every detail of it. I think this is well and good, but it's also well and covered. I'm not particularly interested in innovating within the KS sphere, and I feel there is a crystal clear notion of "what good looks like" at this point. I'm not saying I'm a master of it, but there's years of open, free data to be obtained by perusing the site.

Plus, I don't have a Kickstarter on the horizon. I do have to run a business. So, what happens after the war? The war being the big, explosive blitzkrieg that is Kickstarter and fulfillment. What's the daily life of a publisher like then? I've only been "on that job" a few weeks now. I figure if you're in the same boat I am -- new publisher -- there might be useful information here I can share. We can start a conversation. Really, it's good to know what to expect when you're expecting.

Naturally, all of this can be ignored if you don't plan to sell your games beyond Kickstarter, or don't plan to regularly develop new games. But, if you do plan that, well, hopefully this is of some use.

I've fallen into a daily routine. After I wake up, I do a quick loop through things I need to check, which include:

  • Check BGG to see if we've received more ratings for Hocus.
  • Check BGG to see if there are any rules questions.
  • Check email to see if I have any direct orders.
  • Check BGG, Geekmail, Kickstarter, and Email for any customer service issues.

Let's dive into these a little more deeply.

Regarding ratings, I don't really read comments. They'll generally lead me to focus too much on negative critique, which isn't healthy. Therefore, I look to see if we're receiving more ratings and fans (we are) and to see if the general trend is upward (it is).  I also like to check logged plays and the number of users owning. For the plays, do we have multiple plays, or one and done? All good information for checking the health of the product.

Rules questions are inevitable. You should subscribe to your game via BGG so that you are notified whenever a question is posted in a forum, or your game is linked on the site by a blog, video, or otherwise. Obviously, real life gets in the way (day job, relationships, power outage), but you should respond to these queries within hours ideally, same day, at worst. This is the simplest form of customer service. It shows you are a dedicated publisher that supports the product. Ideally, most of your answers will be a reiteration of the existing rules.

Direct orders are a blessing, as the revenue earned from them is much greater than that of distribution. Distribution and retail is the backbone of the business, but getting a handful of orders each week is a nice way to generate cash flow and earn higher margins. Another thing I like about direct orders is that it gives me an opportunity to personalize things. For every order, like with Kickstarter, I send a quick email thanking the customer, providing a tracking number, and linking them to our how to play tutorial video. It's a small thing, but it's nice. We try to ship products the same day they are ordered, which means adjusting my typical commute. Sadly, no mailing solutions are open before 9.

Customer service issues are my highest priority and need to be resolved immediately. In my opinion, you should respond to these within hours at the latest. Even if you do not yet have a solution, acknowledgement of the problem is a must. My general belief with customer service, largely based on the Golden Rule, is to give folks the benefit of the doubt and help them out.

Common customer service issues include:

  • "Where is my order? It hasn't arrived yet." Typically, this merely requires checking the tracking number and comforting the consumer.
  • "Where is my order? It says it arrived, but I don't have it." Sigh. Sometimes, the USPS messes up, or people steal packages. The solution here is to mail a replacement, no questions asked.
  • "My order arrived, but it was smashed." Sigh. Again, sometimes the logistics network messes up. The solution here is to mail a replacement.
  • "You didn't mail my complete order." For us, we botched the wooden boxes on our KS. For some international backers, this cost us $10 (or so) we weren't expecting. The solution is to mail what was promised. Focusing on the short term at the expense of the long term will bite you.
  • "I'm missing a component." There is a 1-2% margin of error for components. Thankfully, the factory mails extras specifically for this. These are easy to fix, as cards fit in a normal envelope. Just remember to buy some nice hard plastic sleeves to protect them.

I try to resolve customer service issues promptly, with clarity, a resolution, and a little humor. Essentially, I often note:

  1. This is lame. I'm sorry.
  2. We'll resolve this immediately.
  3. This is how it'll be resolved.
  4. On the upside, you sorta won a lottery? Only 1-2%!

Really, people just want to be heard, be treated fairly, and get the product they paid for. While some folks begin with hostility, if you respond with kindness and resolve, they'll make a complete 180.

Remember to keep tabs on your Kickstarter, if you used that channel. Some folks will keep using comments and the messages. Assuming you don't turn off notifications, this is a very easy channel to monitor.

Let's review, then, a typical week. For me, currently, it includes:

  • 3-5 Geekmail, email, or KS messages.
  • 1-3 BGG forum posts.
  • Approximately 5 orders.
  • Posting a reasonable volume of social media content about the product.

When you examine the monthly level, a few more tasks are added. Generally speaking, over the course of the month I have a few more duties:

  • Write the monthly Newsletter.
  • Interact with the distributor. This might include answering questions, providing media, providing schedule information, or shipping new product.
  • Contact potential reviewers.
  • Share incoming reviews via social media.
  • Convention planning and sign ups.
  • Keeping tabs with testers for upcoming products. Updating the PNPs. Updating rules.
  • Accounting! This thrilling task includes storing receipts, monitoring expenses, and monitoring revenue.
  • Taxes! This thrilling task includes yearly fees and returns.

Some of these require a few emails here and there. Others, require a bit more.

Finally, there is a long term planning layer which primarily pertains to supporting existing products and developing new ones.

For example, we have approximately 1750 copies of Hocus left. Through Kickstarter, pre-orders, and direct orders, we've sold about half our print run. As this is our first product, we have no clue how long it'll take the rest of the copies to sell...if at all *gulp*. To make matters slightly more complicated, the turnaround time to obtain new product is a few months. We don't need to repeat the proofing process, but they do need to be printed, packed, and shipped from China. We have two conventions in May and we'd really like to not show up without product! Of course, in May, I may be remembering this comment and rolling my eyes as we have only sold 300 and are nowhere close to a reprint.

There's also quite a bit of lead time in hiring artists and graphic designers. I recently spoke to 3 graphic designers for various projects and they were booked for the next 3 months, 3 months, and 6 months. Illustrators of quality also have a similar lead time. We had to book Tiffany Turrill about 3-4 months in advance for Hocus. This means we need to put out feelers now for things we'll likely do later.

The above task also complements nicely the process of obtaining quotes and identifying components for future products. There is a multiple week turnaround, typically, with manufacturing quotes. Furthermore, as the component list may require several revisions, you don't want to start this process a week before you wish to begin art development.

Conclusion. Was this of any use to you? Did this align with your typical week (publishers) or your expectations? Any questions? My hope is that this is useful to you, so please provide feedback as it occurs to you. Have a good week!