Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pre-order Expectations: RPGs vs. Board Games

I have noticed an odd double-standard in expectations in pre-ordering RPG's and pre-ordering board/card games. The most recent pre-orders I have placed were for Icons, Targets of Opportunity and Summoner Wars expansion packs and premium boards. I received Icons around street release date with some extra stuff via .pdf before then. No problems anywhere from anyone or complaints, just a lot of expectation and excitement in the RPG community. Part of this excitement was due to meeting deadlines and great communication.

Targets of Opportunity received a very different treatment. My understanding is that so many copies had to be sold before the book could go into production. I only pre-ordered this book early this spring and was pleased when the .pdf was emailed to me not much later. Opinions vary on how well the publisher communicated delays, and since I ordered so late in the process, I am not going to weigh in on that topic. I was able to pick up my copy at GenCon simply by showing an email confirming my order. I received my physical copy much earlier than many people who pre-ordered before me. Because Targets of Opportunity was on sale at GenCon, many people were upset that copies were slow coming out to those who pre-ordered. People were also ticked that they could have bought physical copies (at GenCon) faster than their year old pre-orders. Keep Reading for more thoughts on this interesting double-standard!

Similar to Targets of Opportunity was a limited stock of Eoris available for purchase at GenCon. I'm much less familiar with this whole tale as I am not that interested in the book personally, but I did notice a lot of discontent about those who pre-ordered the RPG and not having it in hand even though it could be purchased at GenCon (although it sold out on Thursday). In both cases, RPG pre-orderers were very ticked that they did not receive the first copies (Ed's note; we have a huge interview with the Eoris designers coming up soon for everyone to get a chance to learn more about this gorgeous game).

On the other hand, my experience with Summoner Wars and opinions about pre-ordering are the exact opposite. I ordered the new factions and premium boards quite some time ago. When I went to GenCon, I swung by the plaid hat games booth and touched base with Colby (check out the 10 questions interview I did with Colby here to learn more about Summoner Wars). At the booth, you could purchase the premium boards and new faction decks - stuff that I pre-ordered and did not receive until a few weeks after GenCon. In this case though, the board game community consensus seemed to be that Plaid Hat Games should sell as much as they could at GenCon so long as orders were shipped A.S.A.P. after GenCon.

I am not sure how these different outlooks developed. RPGs and most boardgames are niche hobbies with small profit margins and small companies trying to survive. Very often, producing the games is a second job/career because it is not lucrative enough to support a family on its own. I personally side with the board gamers on this one since I would like to see companies with their newest stuff available at GenCon to help with their advertising and to create interest in their products so long as the items are sent out in as short a time period after the con as possible. Pre-ordering a game means you will receive the game, often earlier than most others, but not always.

It entitles you to exactly what you paid for, the game/book. I don't need to be the first one on the block with the new shiny thing so long as I don't have to wait a long time after release for a pre-order. It also seems that many of these games would not even be produced but for pre-ordering, much like a Kickstarter project. I would rather receive something that I am interested in than never have it produced. So what do you think? Do pre-orders entitle you to be the first to get the product, or would you be willing to wait a bit longer, maybe be in the second wave of a product release, and give up your early copy so more people can be exposed to the game and possibly give some legs to the game line over all?

*Not all gamers fall into the rolls described above, but I am giving the overall impression I formed from reading numerous threads recently and for previous preorders.


  1. I don't have any direct experience with the printing side of things, but if I were running a game company of either type, I would do everything I could to get the pre-orders in peoples' hands a couple of weeks before GenCon (or Origins, if I were premiering it there), to allow for word of mouth to spread and thus boost demand at the convention. Is the printing really done so close-to-the-edge that there's no time to send out pre-orders before you're loading the books in the van to take them to GenCon?

  2. I'm no expert, but I do know the process that my boss--El Willy--went through with the WEGS Old Skool release. Things were done so close to the wire that he was literally contemplating picking up the print release in his car on the way to Origins (the print company was in Cambridge, Ohio), on the way through.

    Sometimes, schedules just don't pan out. And the best laid plans o' mice and men gang aft a-gley. Such is life, sometimes.

  3. First of all, I wouldn't praise the boardgame community quite so much about being patient and gracious. If you remember back a couple of years, there was a firestorm about Valley Games selling copies of Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage before fulfilling preorders. And a few other boardgame companies have run afoul of similar practices and fan responses as well.

    And conversely, the same thing happened to another RPG, Rob Bohl's Misspent Youth, when it sold more copies than he expected at GenCon, and some of us that preordered even had to wait for another printing. He, however, sent an immediate appology and provided signed copies as soon as they were available (just a couple of weeks later) along with a little extra something (a page from the original proof copy) to make up for his mistake. But I never heard any real backlash against him or the game because of it.

    Most of us, in either side (or both) of the hobby, understand that particularly with these small publishers, stuff goes wrong sometimes. And that big conventions like GenCon or Origins can be huge money- and buzz-making opportunities for them. So we're patient with them and give them the benefit of the doubt because we enjoy their products and want them to succeed.

    But when something like this happens after repeated other delays and along with poor or absent communication, or if we think that a company is large enough or experienced enough to know better, then our patience tends to wear out a little quicker.

    Oh, and some people are just jerks. But you can't really account for that.

  4. We definitely can appreciate all the different viewpoints on the topic, but I just wanted to reiterate your last comment Chris. Some people are just jerks, but that can go for both sides of the industry supplier and customer.

    Sometimes it's just a gut feeling if you're getting screwed for the quick buck or you're genuinely helping a game company get off the ground with your patience. Then again, some people really go out of their way to make up for it like with your example with Misspent Youth.


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