18 January 2018
This past weekend I played a game called Dinosaur Island, and I was absolutely obsessed with one of the components. It looks like this:
The first-player “token” in Dinosaur Island is a slap bracelet! And not just the cheap slap bracelets I remember from elementary school–it’s quite nice.
What really got me thinking, though, wasn’t the slap bracelet itself. Rather, it was the concept of “fast pass.”
There are iterations of fast passes in various industries (including toll roads), but the one I’m specifically thinking of is the Disney FastPass. Disney realized a while ago that people don’t like waiting in lines for 3 hours to spend 3 minutes on a roller coaster, so they sought to solve the problem.
Think about this for a second: If Disney’s amusement parks weren’t successful, they wouldn’t have an issue with lines. Have you ever been to an amusement park with no lines? It’s amazing. I went to one in Japan about 20 years ago, and we probably road 20 roller coasters in 5 hours.
Rather, this is a problem Disney wants to have–it’s the result of its popularity. But it may have struggled to remain popular if people stopped going to Disney theme parks because of the long lines.
So they invented the FastPass:
You can use Disney’s FastPass system to sign up in advance for specific timeslots for attractions. You show up at the time you reserved, and your wait time is significantly shorter than if you waited in line. Remarkably, Disney offers most versions of FastPass for free.
I haven’t been to a Disney theme park in many, many years, so I’ve never personally used FastPass. I’ve read that it’s not a perfect system but that things would be a lot worse if it didn’t exist. Overall, I love the idea that Disney created a clever solution to a problem created by popularity.
What does this mean for Kickstarter creators?
Most creators don’t know if their project will be a success until it actually becomes successful, so the key is to plan for the possibility that your project will be so popular that you start to have issues that wouldn’t arise if you barely reach your goal. That’s why I recommend planning for different funding scenarios.
One notable, very successful project that planned well for popularity is Kingdom Death: Monster. Rather than promising delivery of the full game during the same month to all backers–which would have created immense manufacturing and shipping issues–they created a detailed plan for staggering shipments of the game, expansions, etc from 2017 all the way through 2020 (see the bottom of the project page for this).
Is there a more direct corollary for the fast pass system and how it solves a problem created by popularity? One example that comes to mind is the Kickstarter campaign I ran for the first treasure chest. For $33, a backer could get the treasure chest delivered in January 2015 (1792 backers chose this option). Or for $39, you could get the same treasure chest, but it would be air freighted from China to ensure delivery in December 2014 (441 backers chose this).
What does this mean for other companies?
I think the key is to look at the side effects of your potential popularity, especially in terms of its impact on customers. I think sometimes this means saying no to certain opportunities to maintain core excellence.
For example, I was just talking yesterday to the CEO of a company that makes custom inserts for board games. He was saying that there was a time when he sold thousands of custom inserts into distribution each year (distributors sell to retailers, retailers sell to consumers). But the result of these bulk orders is that wait times for direct customers went way up, which detracted from their experience. So eventually he stopped selling to distributors, and his customers were happier.
What does this mean for tabletop game publishers?
Well, the main issue that comes to mind when I think of a product being too popular is that the publisher doesn’t make enough of it, especially in the first print run. For most games, this doesn’t spell disaster, as scarcity can just increase the anticipation and excitement for the second print run, but there are examples where a severe disparity between supply and demand can damage the longevity of the game (Dice Masters comes to mind).
So what can a publisher do when a product ends up being far more popular than anticipated? One option is to try to stagger the release so a wider variety of retailers and consumers have access to it (sometimes a hot product can quickly be bought up by a few big retailers). A version of this method is used at conventions: A publisher may have 200 units of a hot game, but they only make 50 available each day.
I’d like to hear your thoughts about this as well, as I’m learning as I go with our games!
What do you think about the concept of the “fast pass”? How have you seen a business solve a problem created by popularity?
This is a series that will feature innovative strategies from non-Kickstarter, non-tabletop game companies as they might apply to other businesses. If you have any recommendations, please send them to email@example.com.