Preorders, Promos, and the freaking definition of “Exclusive”!

Why do game publishers have such a freaking hard time getting their heads around things like preorders, promotional items, and other “exclusive” promises that they make?

Think back a few years to the massively epic bruhaha that Valley Games got in for shipping copies of Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage to retailers before getting it to the people who had preordered it.  Were people right to be upset?  Heck yeah!  Their commitment and their money had been used to fund the printing in the first place, and then to have it available on store shelves before theirs had even shipped was quite simply a slap in the face to them.

It’s sort of how I and many others felt after hearing about people buying copies of Eminent Domain at GenCon after we had pledged money through Kickstarter, once again funding the very production of the game, well before our copies were even in the freaking country!  And then, on top of that, the “exclusive” expansion promised to backers ended up being included in every one of the first 5000 copy print run.  It’s like our commitment to the company and this new game, which most of us hadn’t seen or played in any form yet, didn’t matter to them at all.  

Was it the intention of Tasty Minstrel Games to discount our contribution and offend us?  Of course not.  And in reality, I’m pretty much over the actual anger that I felt at one time about this gaffe.  But especially in this age of Kickstarter and all the promos and exclusives and other incentives offered through it, game companies simply must be more careful in the promises that they make.

I haven’t gotten this straight from them, but I’m sure that there were perfectly reasonable explanations for their actions.  GenCon is a big deal, and I’m sure that they wanted to capitalize on the marketing opportunity that having games available there would create.  And I’m sure that it was probably easier and more cost-effective for them to just produce enough expansions for each copy of their entire first print run.

But what they (and other publishers, of course) need to realize is that the real cost for gaining these financial advantages is the goodwill and trust of those people most willing to give it to them in the first place.  Once again, it’s like slapping your early adopters in the face for taking a leap of faith with you.

But did they really have other options?  Of course!  Instead of selling copies at GenCon, they could have made several available to demo with attendees and then taken preorders for those who wanted to buy it.  Heck, I’m even fine with them giving review copies to bloggers and podcasters to generate more buzz.  But random people at a con having the chance to buy a game I Kickstarted months ago just burns my butt.

So, can a company have the sort of integrity that I’m talking about?  Absolutely!  At one time, Z-Man Games ran a preorder system to raise the money they needed to produce the english version of a little game called Agricola.  A set of animeeples was promised as an exclusive promotion for preorders (of which I was one), and to this very freaking day, Zev has kept this promise.  He even passed on publishing the english version of the Goodies Expansion because it contained animeeples.

What then do I want game companies to do? 

1) Consider whether you really need to use a preorder system (especially Kickstarter) in the first place.  If your Kickstarter campaigns are consistently making $50,000 or more, maybe you don’t really need it any more.  I know that there’s a significant security in getting all that money up front, but it also adds all the extra hassle of making and keeping promises like this, and requires that you either get into the fulfillment business as well or trust some 3rd party person to do it for you.

2) Think ahead about what your incentives will be and how you word them.  Do you really plan on never reproducing that “exclusive” promo again?  If so, that’s cool, but then stick by your word.  If not, then be clear about how and when it may be available again in the future.  Are you going to try to make copies available at that huge convention coming up, possibly before preorders are shipped out?  Then say that clearly right up front.

3) If you make a bad decision and promise something that would be inconvenient for you to fulfill, suck it up and do it anyway!  If it would literally be disasterous for you, then communicate with your preorder customers, apologize for the mistake, and explain why you have to renege on your promise.  If you can, do something to make up for it. 

Again, I no longer bear ill will towards Tasty Minstrel Games about how they handled Eminent Domain’s release.  I’ve seen some clear evidence that they have learned from their mistake and are trying to do better.  I really love the game and will continue to gush about it here on my blog, and now I’m about to fall in love with Belfort as well.  However, as many of their games as I may buy and as much as I like the company and its leadership, I doubt that I’ll ever trust them enough to preorder anything with them again.  That’s just the risk you run when you make promsies you don’t keep.


  1. Kearn

    Even though I didn’t pre-order the game, I felt it was fishy of TM to sell ED at Gen Con. The people who backed it on Kickstarter believed strongly in getting the game made. Why did they have to wait while somebody who took no risk could just walk up and buy it.

  2. Ah, how I’ve missed the angry lemon. ; ) Especially when you’re ranting about something I’ve never done…

  3. Chris Norwood

    Yeah, I was apparently pretty ill when I first started writing rants, but then got medicated or something to chill me out for a while.  Now that I’m started back with them, though, don’t make me angry, ’cause you won’t like me when I’m angry!

    And what have you never done? Kickstarted something or preordered at all?

  4. Keith

    Playing devil’s advocate here it seems to me that TMG made the right call all the way through. They consistently chose financial gain over goodwill\respect for Kickstarter suporters and then displayed enough remorse to avoid sinificant loss to the pool of candidates for their next Kickstarter effort. They got to have their cake and eat it too.

  5. Chris Norwood

    Dang.  If that was their plan all along, they’re pretty much downright evil.  Maybe I should still be all mad at them after all…

  6. Keith

    From what I read I don’t think they set out on the path of shenanigans; they were truely inept yet faired well.

  7. I don’t agree with you. They might have been able to have their cake and eat it this time, but how many times will they get to do that? If they keep angering their fan base, they will quickly loose all support. Short term gains do not make up for the long term goodwill of the people who support you. If they do it again then I guess we know what their intent was and is.

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