Sunday, August 21, 2011

Quick Gen Con recap, and EmDo Hullabaloo

I recently went to Gen Con for the first time, and in addition (perhaps related) there has been a lot of Hullabaloo about Eminent Domain on BGG. By way of disclaimer I'll restate up front that this is my personal blog, and opinions stated here are my own, and should not be attributed to Tasty Minstrel Games (with whom I'm often associated).

Gen Con
Michael, Erin and I went to Gen Con a few weeks ago. I have never been, I've always thought of it as more of a commercial event. I don't like he idea of going to (and paying for) a gaming convention and then having to pay extra to play in events, or simply to get into the Open Gaming room! However, this year I didn't attend the con in the capacity I normally attend game cons - We attended as Tasty Minstrel Games. We had a booth, and brought 6 different games to sell, including Eminent Domain, Belfort, Martian Dice, Train of Thought, Jab: Realtime Boxing, and Homesteaders 2nd Edition. Our booth was rather busy all 4 days of the con, and we did many, many demos. Looking up and down our booth at all 6 of our offerings I noted that, while no game is for everybody... within their target demographic, each of our games is really very good. They are the highest quality game, and the art and production (now that we've moved to Panda) are also the highest quality. I felt proud to stand behind each and every one of them! Even Martian Dice, which is the type of game that generally doesn't interest me at all, is really very good for what it is - I heard people saying it was better than Zombie Dice (a similar quick filler).

One of the best feelings was when someone who had bought EmDo or Belfort the day before would stop by and tell us how much fun it was or how much they liked it when they played it that evening! Another high point for me was when 2 different people stopped by our booth with a copy of Terra Prime asking me to sign it, and telling me how much they like the game! We also had a number of EmDo Kickstarter supporters stop by and reassure us, ask us to hang in there, and while they were anxious to get their copy of the game they were not upset about "all the hullabaloo."

Eminent Domain, and all the hullabaloo
Having copies of EmDo at Gen Con was good - we were able to show it, and sell a few copies in order to get the game out there some more. But it had a down side as well. There have been threads and posts all over BGG and on Kickstarter, but in case anyone is unclear on what happened, here's the story. This (the game designer's blog) is not the correct forum for further complaints on the subject, so I won't even approve any comments of that type. Please see the threads on BGG or contact Michael at TMG directly if you need to.

There were 3 mistakes made, and they combined to make for a very rough experience and a customer service nightmare:
Mistake number 1 - Traded limited exclusivity for Utopian planets
Originally Michael made a very big deal about the exclusivity of Prestige planets in the Kickstarter rewards. He wanted them to be entirely exclusive, but I veto'ed that because I did not want a good, useful portion of the game to end up being unavailable to everyone except the few people using Kickstarter. So he ended up saying "exclusive until the 1st expansion comes out" - and then played up the exclusivity part of that sentence quite a bit.

Somewhere along the line, Michael also decided to make the Utopian planets available - he planned to sell them as a mini-expansion through the BGG store. He hadn't actually asked me about it, and when I protested he said it was already done. Except then something fell through, and they weren't going to be a BGG exclusive after all.

I realized that it would be silly to have the Prestige planets given to kickstarters then also include them in an expansion (as was the original plan), because then people would have 2 copies of those planets... At about that time I also realized that it made more sense to combine the 3 Prestige Planets and the 6 Utopian planets into a 9-card mini-expansion and then NOT include them in the actual expansion (which by that time I had begun to work on).

Michael wanted to include these in copies pre-ordered from the Preview night promotion he had put together, and he thought that people would not mind that they were no longer exclusive (1) because this new pack was technically a mini-expansion, and (2) they would be getting more stuff than advertised. He was trading out the limited exclusivity (limited until the mini-expansion, which ended up being coincident with the first print run) for more cards. His thought process was "why would anybody complain about that? They're getting more cards!"

That's the second time Mike has underestimated people's propensity to complain. He said the same thing last year before BGG.con when he decided to give away copies of Terra Prime and Homesteaders - he thought that people would not complain about miscut or misaligned pieces since they got the game for free. Needless to say he turned out to be wrong.

Mistake number 2 - Bonus planets added to all boxes
Now that preview night pre-orders were going to get these Bonus planets, there was some number of Kickstarter boxes getting them (labeled as kickstarter copies), some pre-orders getting them (unlabeled), and some copies not getting the planets (also not labeled). In order to avoid mistakes and make it easier to deal with, at some point along the line Michael told the guys at Panda to just put the bonus packs into all the 5,000 first run boxes.

This was a mistake for 2 reasons. First and foremost, it directly contradicted the big deal he made about the (limited) exclusivity on the kickstarter page. As I mentioned, in his mind he'd already resolved this by giving the kickstarters the 6 additional cards. The other reason this was a mistake was more of a common sense one - unless every single first-run box has been pre-sold, there will eventually be a point where a store will have 2 copies on the shelf, one with bonus planets and one without!

I would have preferred (and I bet Mike would too, in retrospect) if he's instead told them "don't put the bonus planets into ANY of the boxes" - and then when shipping a particular box to a particular person, a bonus pack could have been sent along with it.

Something I have only just thought of right now - since we have a 2nd printing following the first one, we could have potentially decided to hold back the non-KS, non-preordered boxes from the first run (with the bonus planets in them), fulfilled normal orders with the 2nd run, and then sold the rest of the first run with bonus planets included as a separate item (EmDo WITH Bonus Planets expansion) for an additional $10. In fact, I don't think it's too late to do that. I will have to discuss it with Mike.

You see, this is the problem with "exclusive" or "limited" items - once you print them it makes so much more sense just to always include them!

Mistake number 3 - Copies sold at Gen Con
Originally the print run was supposed to arrive in April. When that didn't happen due to delays, it was still supposed to arrive in June or July. When further delays occurred such that the shipment would not arrive in time for Gen Con, Mike decided to air ship a small number of games to the con. I do not actually think this was a mistake at all. As a small publisher, TMG cannot afford to go to a big show like Gen Con and NOT have their new product. However, even though it wasn't promised in any way, some Kickstarter supporters were upset that they were not the first to receive their copies of the game. Like any pre-order, I can see the thinking there - they paid for the game 9 months ago, and especially those that would be at the con could watch another person walk in off the street and purchase a copy. However, I don't think that makes it a mistake to have done this. The delays were regrettable, but there's nothing TMG could do about them. Some of the more vocal complainers in this respect seem to imply that the game was made available to the general public - to everyone except the kickstarters. They don't seem to know (or care) about the facts of the situation and the numbers involved - just the principle that someone else got the game before they did. For the record, the number of people that got their game before kickstarters was about 10% of the number of kickstarters. We sold less than 200 copies at the con. That's not the general public, that's a handful. So, I understand the complaint, but for those who suggested that TMG (or especially ME personally, like it was my choice to make) is smarmy or disingenuous for selling copies at Gen Con before the kickstarters got their copies... I disagree with you. That's not smarmy, that doesn't lack class.

The combination of those three mistakes caused quite a stir in the forums on BGG, and it was rather disheartening to read wave after wave of criticism. The long and short of it is that some of the kickstarter supporters felt like TMG had changed what they were getting (they had - 6 Utopian planets were added) and some even canceled their order because they felt like they'd been lied to. Well, despite what you might read on BGG, Michael and I DO NOT want the kickstarter supporters to feel like we don't care about them or that we do not appreciate their support! As a result Michael decided to provide a new item, completely exclusive to kickstarter supporters, which will be added to their package when it's sent out.

I cannot wait for the people who asked for a refund to complain that they now cannot get this item, as it's exclusive to kickstarters.

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