3 May 2018
Yesterday we made our first new-game announcement in over 2 years: My Little Scythe.
If you’re keeping track, we released a new game, Charterstone, 5 months ago. But I actually announced that game in spring 2016. Since then I’ve been honing how Stonemaier Games announces and releases new products.
The My Little Scythe announcement and pre-order launch was unique because it was extremely precise. Every part of the announcement was intended to go live during a 15-minute timespan: website, ads, e-newsletter, Facebook group, teaser trailer on YouTube, etc.
Yesterday mostly went well, but there were a few hiccups I’d like to share so (a) you can avoid them when you launch a new product and (b) so I can read through this in the future to avoid the same mistakes. Here’s what I learned from those hiccups:
1. Double Check All URLs and Look at Things from the User Perspective
I won’t bore you with the details, but basically, something went wrong between Shopify and the Bold app we use for Stonemaier Champion, and it resulted in a link on our e-newsletter that didn’t work. In this specific case, I didn’t realize it because I checked the links while being logged into Shopify, and they worked just fine. But the vast majority of people aren’t logged into Shopify, so the link didn’t work for them.
Fortunately, someone noticed the mistake and told me about an hour after the e-newsletter went out, so I was able to fix it before most people noticed. It was a seamless fix–I didn’t need to resend the e-newsletter.
So the lesson for me isn’t just to check all URLs; rather, it’s to check URLs while logged in and logged out. I doubt that specific element applies to most people, but I think it’s a good reminder to look at things from different angles, especially before doing something that can’t easily be undone (like sending an e-newsletter).
2. Reiterate the Exact Time to All Relevant Parties the Day Before
At precisely 9:30 am, several things were supposed to happen: BoardGameGeek ads should have gone live, our website should have switched over to include My Little Scythe, Tantrum House should have made the preview video public, and Meeplesource’s GenCon pickup link should have also gone live.
Most of that went smoothly, except I didn’t clearly communicate the exact time to BoardGameGeek (not their fault), and I didn’t remind our web dev of the website (he just had a baby). It was a good reminder to me that it never hurts to reiterate exact times when precision matters.
3. Do a Soft Launch Before Becoming Unavailable
I think other creators can relate to the idea of “becoming unavailable” upon launch. By that I mean that when you launch something big and exciting, you’re suddenly pulled in a dozen different directions. Or you have one specific thing you need to focus, and everything else is put on hold.
That happened to me yesterday. I sent the e-newsletter, and then I got on Facebook Live like I do every Wednesday. For the next hour, my entire focus was on Facebook Live. When that hour ended, I had 320 e-mails in my inbox (fortunately, 80% of them were order notifications).
In hindsight, there should have been more of a gap between me telling 34,000 people that we have a new game and me being completely unavailable to fix behind the scenes stuff. I should have done a “soft launch” by posting a note on Facebook and then done into fix-it mode for 20-30 minutes before going on Facebook Live.
4. Pre-Announce the Product in Advance
On this blog I often write about how it benefits creators to build anticipation for their product. However, we kept My Little Scythe a secret because most of the anticipation-building will happen much closer to the actual release. Yesterday’s announcement was the start of the anticipation-building process, not the culmination of it (this is distinctly different than a Kickstarter project).
However, now I wish I had teased it just a little bit in advance, like what I did with The Rise of Fenris in January. Release the name, box art, and short description, as well as a big banner declaring that full details will be revealed on X date. I would do this 1 week before the announcement.
5. Tell Retailers and Distributors Slightly Before the Announcement Day
In a survey I posted a while ago, the majority of retailers indicated that they would prefer to know about a new project 1 week before launch. I’ve strayed from doing that, as I’ve found that if I tell retailers the MSRP and SKU for a game, they will immediately start accepting pre-orders for it. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, except it means that I can’t tell retailers such specific information to prepare them for a future launch.
So what ends up happening that I hear from consumers whose retailers had no information about the game, and I hear from retailers whose distributors didn’t have the game in their systems. This is what happened yesterday.
Next time I think I’ll try to tell the distributors and retailers the day before the announcement. I’m sure this means that some retailers will effectively announce the game slightly before I do, but since I’ll pair this with the pre-launch announcement 1 week in advance, at least I’ll retain control over most of the information being disseminated.
It’s tricky when timing matters in such a precise way. And perhaps the precision doesn’t matter nearly as much as I think it does. It’s easy to get caught up in that sort of thing, when all that matters to me is that my customers are happy.
What do you think about these hiccups and lessons learned?
- Kickstarter Lesson #90: What You Should Do for 30 Minutes After Posting a Project Update
- Kickstarter Lesson #104: The One-Week Checklist
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