Kickstarter Lesson #53: Replacement Parts

8 September 2013 | 31 Comments

replacement 1This entry is mostly geared towards board game Kickstarters, but it could apply to other projects too.

A game designer recently contacted me for advice on how to run a Kickstarter project. Before I even referred him to this blog, I asked him a question that I’ve started posing more and more to game designers: Do you want to be a game designer, or do you want to run a game company?

Once you decide to run a Kickstarter campaign, by default you also run a company. It’s a lot more responsibility than just designing a game, and a lot of those responsibilities are not apparent from the beginning.

One such element is dealing with replacement parts after your product has shipped.

Panda Game Manufacturing, the company that manufacturers our games, promises a 99% perfection rate. That’s awesome. But that other 1%…it’s quite a hassle. And much more expensive than you think.

Back in May, I got my first replacement part request for Viticulture. It was from a Kickstarter backer in Malaysia who was missing one of the clear glass tokens in Viticulture. There are 60 identical glass tokens in the game, but he was one short. To send him that single token would cost $24 via USPS (that’s flat rate. It wasn’t until later that I realized I could send first-class mail for about $7 for a single token).

I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I’m sure you can tell by the other Kickstarter Lessons and the way I run my Kickstarter campaigns that I aim for exceptional customer service at all times.

However, I struggled with the request. It was 1 token out of 60, and it’s incredibly rare that you’d even get close to using all the glass tokens in Viticulture. It would cost me $24 to send that single token, a token that costs a $.01 to make.

I reached out to Michael Mindes, the president of Tasty Minstrel Games and author of this great article on customer service. I asked him what I should do, and he told me what I needed to hear (even though I didn’t want to): The backer bought a game with 60 glass tokens, and he didn’t receive all 60. I owed him 1 token.

So I sent him the token.

DSC08431
Can you find the missing piece?

Since then, I’ve received about 50 requests for Viticulture replacement parts (that’s out of the 2500 copies in circulation, or 2%). I always reply immediately and get the item in the mail within a few days. Cards are much easier and cheaper to send than tokens because they’re less than the 1/4th of an inch that increases the price for USPS. Sometimes bigger items are needed, like vineyard mats or game boards.

A lot of replacement parts I’ve sent were token issues. For example, a game might have 7 blue workers instead of 6 workers and 1 rooster token, so I need to send the rooster. About 25% of the requests were for parts damaged in shipping. So far I’ve had very few people ask me to replace parts due to spills or damage (which surprises me a bit, considering it’s a wine-themed game). But I’m ready for those requests when they come.

The obvious advice here is to exceed your customers’ expectations when you provide service. Reply to them right away and send them what they need within a few days. People remember great customer service. They tell stories of great customer service to their friends. Whether you’re running a single Kickstarter project or your trying to create a lasting brand, it can never hurt to have people saying good things about you.

Beyond that, here are a few helpful tips and tricks regarding replacement parts:

  • replacement 3Let backers know the cost to you of replacement parts up front. When you finally ship the product to your backers, send them an e-mail telling them that they can contact you for replacement parts. But I think it’s fair to tell them that it’s quite expensive to send certain parts. Maybe then backers–the same backers who believe in you and your dream project–won’t ask you to send the 1 missing glass token out of 60. But certainly don’t make them feel guilty if they make such a request.
  • Request photos for reporting damage to your fulfillment company. If you ship products via Amazon fulfillment like I do, they will reimburse the cost of products damaged in transit if you have photographic evidence. So if a backer contacts you and says that their package arrived from Amazon without any padding and huge dents on the edges and corners of the game, ask them to take a photo of the game in the box for Amazon. Don’t wait to hear back from Amazon to send replacement parts, though–they’re two separate things.
  • Manufacture enough replacement parts to cover every aspect of your product. Companies like Panda will send you a few boxes of overages to use as replacement parts if you request them. You have to pay for them, so make sure they’re included in the proposal the manufacturer sends. Make sure to have replacement parts for any special Kickstarter-exclusive components in addition to the standard version of the product. The only tricky part for board games are the boxes–you’re not going to get replacement boxes. They take up too much space; they might as well have a game inside of them.
  • Seek help from foreign backers. As part of our ambassador program, I have backers around the world who have volunteered to send replacement parts within their country. I usually ask backers about this when they originally request replacement parts, because if I’m sending 1 token to someone in New Zealand, I might as well send a bunch of tokens for pretty much the same price. If that person is willing to help, they can then send replacement parts from that package to other people within their country, which is much more cost-effective than you sending individual tokens to a number of international backers within the same country.

I’m curious what you think about replacement parts. If you’ve had a great customer service experience with a fellow game publisher, feel free to share it in the comments below. I’m telling you, people don’t forget those positive experiences!

31 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #53: Replacement Parts

  1. I just want to say even though I’ve dealt with a few replacement requests, I was genuinely shocked at your quick response Jamey. I had 2 cards in my copy of Viticulture that had weird ink running or some kind of issue. Bottom line is that they were marked. I emailed you sometime on a Monday evening around 8pm MST. I expected like with most companies I would receive a reply in the next few days. Not only did I get an email back pretty much immediately, but I received the replacement cards on Wednesday morning.

    I am not just writing this experience to build up your ego though, I just want to point out that I was genuinely surprised at how smooth and how quick you were to respond and take care of my issue.

    It’s that kind of customer service that will keep your customers coming.

    1. Thanks, Kolby. I can’t say I’m always that fast (particularly with tokens instead of cards), but I do try to respond right away. I think that makes a big difference so that the person knows that their e-mail was received. You never know if you’re ever going to hear back from someone when you send that customer service request, you know?

      1. I knew that was probably the case, I share my experience more to highlight what you said above that people always remember amazing customer service. It’s like a polar idea – we remember the very best and we remember the very worst, but those who are just “okay” are forgotten. The two experiences I remember with requesting parts is the experience with you which was exceptional, and my experience with Z-Man games still not responding to a widespread issue with Clash of Cultures even though it’s been out of the bag for like a month or so. Really just horrible customer service and the issue is a pretty large one. (one of the four player colors has begun to deteriorate and leak oily goo all over. Luckily mine were bagged independent of any other component or I’d be upset.

  2. While I’m glad you’re so dedicated to service, I find myself sort of shaking with a little bit of rage at the Malaysian backer.

    Maybe it’s just because I work in customer service for my job and thus REALIZE how big a pain in the ass little nitpicky requests can be, but I’d not even let you KNOW if my game was missing a little dinky nothing part like a single glass token.

    (A serious exchange from my job (when I was much younger and more flippant) that almost got me in trouble)

    “You overcharged me by 25 cents on this item.

    “Sorry for that… wait… I see here this purchase was made 20 minutes ago. When did you realize you were overcharged?”

    “About 3 miles down the road.”

    “So… you’ve now driven an extra 6 miles… and used that much gas… to get your quarter back? Well… here you go, sorry for the mistake!”

    Back to the topic at hand… anything that isn’t CRUCIAL to game play and very unique and can be easily replaced by… hell… one of a HUNDRED things in a person’s house really isn’t worth complaining about in the first place.

    1. Justin–I must admit that it unnerved me a bit too, and your story is a great example of the lengths to which some people will go to get what they’re owed. But I think Mindes was right–they bought a game with 60 glass tokens, and that’s not the game they got. That said, I would bet that there are other people out there who counted the glass tokens in Viticulture, realized a token was missing (or maybe an extra one!), and made the choice to let it go. Rather than deride the one guy who asked for that token, I’d rather celebrate those who were happy with 59 slightly oversized glass tokens. :)

  3. A very important part of the publisher responsibility and I agree that you made the right call, Jamey. Great idea on localising spare parts too!

    Fledgling publishers take note – don’t go with an unknown or untried manufacturer (despite ‘credentials’) to keep costs as low as possible. Find a reliable one with a track record and lots of recommendations. It’s worth it. For our first game, all told, we had about a 30 – 35% damaged rate of product that we were unable to claim back and much trouble besides. When we realised we had an issue by the number of replacement requests we were receiving and fulfilling we went through over 4000 boxes to single out damaged parts so this figure is accurate – we had to re-box anyway because the manufacturer had crammed the games into shipping boxes and squashed them, so we just quality checked at the same time. It’s not worth it – better to avoid it to begin with and save you and your customers the hassle and disappointment. You can’t imagine how many hours it takes to re-box 4k of games with multiple parts (or what that does to your fingers when you get up to speed!)

    But we replaced every damaged or missing part as requested. Recently, we even sent out a missing card to a player who’d picked up a second hand copy of our game even though the game has been out of circulation for about two years. Why? Who’s to say that card wasn’t missing from the game originally. But we simply did what I think is the ‘right thing’, giving the player the choice and following it through.

    1. Lloyd–That’s a really great point about the impact of the manufacturer on the number of replacement parts you’ll need to send out. It can be a HUGE expense, as you indicated, if you go with a subpar manufacturer. That’s why I’m sticking with Panda. :)

  4. Right answer, unsurprisingly.

    Something to consider is bundling some spares in the base product, it may wind up being cheaper.

    Given your experience with these incidents, how would the math work?

    1. Steven–That’s a good idea. Someone asked the same thing on Facebook yesterday, and here’s what I wrote:

      Usually there are two types of components, though: Types where you need exactly X number per game (i.e., 6 workers) and types were you just need a lot of them for all players in case they all get used (i.e., coins). In the former, if you included 7 workers instead of 6, you’d have a ton of people wondering why you included 7 workers if they can only play with 6. With the latter, because it’s an approximate number in the first place, the exact number doesn’t actually matter unless someone is really picky. So either way, although I like the idea behind the solution, I don’t think it works well with games.

  5. Customer service – and I’m a vet of small businesses where it’s totally essential – is always and will always be an interesting beast to wrangle. Jamey, I must say you took that request in stride and definitely good that Mindes gave you that no-nonsense advice. The thing my granddad told me is to “always respond with courtesy, quickly, and with gusto. The next time that customer comes in he could buy even more or bring a friend. Good service is good business.” Kudos to you, Jamey!

    Anyway, questions for you. How difficult is the process of reimbursement with Amazon? And as for recruiting locals, what have you learned and when did you decided to create the ambassador program? (maybe deserving a new post?)

    And P.S. – so we’re NOT supposed to have our workers foot-press grapes on the board?? ;)
    And noticed a couple typos – “I’m read[y] for those requests..” and “Manufacture[] enough replacement..”

    1. Adam–That’s great advice from your grandfather. :)

      As for Amazon, it’s surprisingly easy if you have photographic evidence that it was there fault. If you don’t have a photo that clearly shows the subpar packaging and the damage, you won’t get a reimbursement.

      I like the question about the ambassador program. I’m still learning about it, though–that might be a good post for a few months from now. :)

      Sorry, I should have been more clear in the rules that you should not crush real grapes on the board when you make wine. Rules…they get you every time…

      (Also, thanks for catching the typos–I appreciate that help!)

      1. Thanks for your reply – very fitting on a post in regards to customer service!

        I’ll keep that in mind in re: Amazon. Thanks again.

        And if the question about the ambassador program warrants a post, I’m looking forward to reading it! By the way, how are pre-order sales of Euphoria going? Got my confirmation two weeks ago – excited to play with the gang!

  6. I have to say i had the best replacement service with you Jamey. To be sure to get an excellent service is even more important when we kickstart something. When i see my so awaited game broken or with missing pieces, it’s good to know that i will be able to get the part to complete it. i now have a small internet boardgame online store and be sure that i will have your products in stock and will always be happy to foward peices to canada for you.

    1. Thanks Francis, that’s really great to hear, and very generous of you to offer to do that! Could you post a link to your store for my readers?

  7. I think parts replacement is so very important, regardless of the reason. One thing I’ll say, for my personal feelings on the matter, is that I don’t mind being asked to pay postage for these things. Obviously if half the game is missing maybe not, but $7 if I want to waste your time getting a token sent out, I don’t mind.

    Personally I think it’s important to offer replacement parts for parts damaged by use. While it’s obviously completely acceptable to ask to charge for these, I think it’s certainly a service which should exist. I recently had a few started cards damaged for a game at a public event, so I sent the game company an email requesting some replacements (And even saying I’m happy to pay) only to get turned down, that they wouldn’t replaced damaged parts, only missing ones. Am I expected to pay £50 for 12 cards as punishment for advertising their game to people? :(

    1. smoothsmith–That’s an interesting thought that perhaps people should pay for shipping if they damage their own game. My philosophy for now is that regardless of why something needs to be replaced, if I can replace it, I should do so. I consider it my responsibility as a publisher to make sure people have the best possible experience with my games, and it’s tough to do so if you spilled wine all over your player mats. :) Fortunately the player mats and board are double-sided in Viticulture, so perhaps it’ll be rare that anyone needs to replace those parts even if one side is damaged.

      That is nice of you to say you’d pay for shipping, though!

    2. @smoothsmith: I really agree, paying for shipping is my personal rule, too. Sadly, I’ve had to do that for a few games, including major publishers, but I only request parts when the lack of useable pieces affect play. Sorry about your dealing with that game company – they should have at least explained more about why they have the policy they have rather than merely turn you down.

  8. My upcomming kickstarter game will have allot parts around 400 maybe even more, not to mention streach goals. One aproach i am taking here regarding missing parts is to add more items in base game that will be needed for worst case scenario long hours games or also if there are some parts that are missing or damaged. Respond asap to any request for replacemt of game parts and to ask them if that is ruining their game play or they just want parts because they payed for that. If its not ruining game play and they hear how expensive it is to send it they will probably drop it or at least become like you say ambasador for that country for sending spare parts to other backers. How I know they will act like this is because 95% people i met via kickstarter were awesome, friendly and very helpful. At the end if they just need to have all 150 tokens its our job to send them replacment token that is missing right away.

  9. It is true that people remember great service FOREVER. Two stories.
    Our copy of Belfort (TMG) arrived with two cracked wooden tokens. I emailed TMG, and someone responded that same day and we had replacements in hand ALONG WITH TWO EXTRAS (“just in case,” the Post-it said) two days later. :-) Dang.
    We scored an in-shrink 1980 Parker Brothers Can’t Stop set at a yard sale in 2010. Yes, it was THIRTY years old before we ever opened it (and we paid $5 for this treasure!) Tragically, it was missing a green piece. Thinking there was no chance in hell of them honoring the “We will be happy to answer questions about this game.” directive with an address in Beverly, MA Attn: Consumer Response Department at the end of the game rules from thirty years ago, I sent them a hand-written letter begging for that piece. I included my email address. I got an email two days after I mailed the letter (which must have been the day they received it) asking me to double-check the components so they could send everything I needed. I emailed Michelle back to thank her and confirm that we were missing only one green piece. She emailed me back to let me know she’d mailed what we needed, please confirm its receipt, and congrats on such a great yard-sale score!
    How did Parker Brothers even HAVE those sets still laying around to send me a green piece? I dunno; they are a big company. But Michelle’s email also made it clear to me that there were at least a few people working there that actually cared about their games and people’s enjoyment of them.
    I also admit that I would hesitate (usually) to beg for replacements of parts for a Kickstarter campaign’s game. I know makers are running to tight margins. But Saturday I received a card deck that was packed really badly and the tuck box was nearly destroyed. I hated to ask the creators of the Ganjifa cards to spend money sending me a new tuckbox, but I was also paying for a unique item that we will play with for years, and I want it to deserve a place on our shelves. So I asked. Their update this weekend made it clear that I’m far from the only one who got a badly-damaged tuckbox and hopefully they have learned something.

  10. Hi Jamey, hi commentators,

    I have recently successfully ended my first Kickstarter campaign for a board game*. I am still figuring out how many spare copies I might need to fulfil requests for damaged parts, missing parts etc. We have to fulfil approximately 1000 copies of the game and will probably order 1500 anyway. But despite that we are going to have a reserve from the extra games we are ordering I’d like to know how many you usually calculate for reserve. 5%, 10%?

    According to the numbers in the article 5% might be sufficient? I think it read it somewhere (because I am an avid reader of your lessons) but I wasn’t able to find it today.

    Thanks and all the best
    Daniel

    *Heldentaufe

  11. Daniel: 5% should definitely cover it. In my experience, by far the most common replacement parts we send out are custom wooden tokens. So if you just have cards and tiles in your game, you probably only need 1-2% for replacement parts.

    1. Thanks Jamey. I have done a little more research and 5% should definitely be enough. We don’t have wooden meeples. Thanks for the help and keep up the good work.

  12. Coming in a bit late about the Malysian backer’s request for replacement parts and the comments about it, I thought I would share some experience I had while in Malaysia (I’m working in nearby Indonesia now where I was introduced to your games :D)

    I’m glad to hear SMG did what they did. My family was in the food business and having seen all kinds of custom requests and complaints, I know the difference of service can be a review that goes “Great food and atmosphere, but they refused to replace a few of my burnt fries! Never going back again!” and “Great food and atmosphere, they gave me a whole new plate of fries when I pointed out a few of my burnt fries out! Best customer service ever <3" or even "Mediocre food and atmosphere and a few of my friends was burnt, but they replaced it with a whole new plate. I'll give them another try next week. #hopeitsbetterthen"
    This review may be on twitter/fb/tripadvisor and can magically find its way to the top 5 results of your restaurant search results.

    Coming back, SMG is right in doing that for its backer, much more the international backers. In Malaysia, their money is 4x weaker than the USD. The USD79+USD5(shipping) they are paying is RM336 to them. Before Forex/Customs costs. For reference of buying power, McD and Starbucks pays RM5-6 per hour for part-timers. A happy meal or a venti-whatever is about RM10-15. (Cheers for McD and SB outlets here) A boardgame is not a small amount of money in this part of the world.
    I'm always amazed how much they spend on their passion for boardgames based on their economics.
    And if they can fork out so much, that one token can be quite dear to them.

    If there is anything you can do to gain more traction from the international backers, is that you are willing to make good their purchase from all the way across the world. By all means tell them its USD24 (Or RM94) so they will tell everyone else too! Thats like 8 starbucks cups right there, do you know how many caffeinated man-hours worth of work can be generated by 8 cups? :D They know the costs to you, and its magnified to them.

    Do not ever doubt it is the right thing to do. They will continue backing you and tell their friends of your replacement policies.

    Zav

    1. Zav: Thanks for sharing this! It’s helpful for me to have people like you offer this international perspective.

      I’m glad we were able to create a good experience for that customer. That said, I do have a note on our replacement parts page to remind people that not every component is crucially important. Like, in a game where you receive 80 cardboard coins, if one of those coins goes missing, there’s literally zero impact on the game. So while we won’t turn down a request for it, we hope people take that into consideration before they ask for it.

  13. I’ve been a reader of your blog / website for awhile now and have used a lot of the info to launch my own crowd funded board game project successfully.  The process has mostly run smooth, however after the games were manufactured fully, I noticed a printing error emerge that would effect my already packaged game shipment (a token sheet where shapes were misprinted and reflected incorrectly in the rules / character sheets).  This error is mostly cosmetic and doesn’t hinder game play, but I understand that backers shouldn’t have to settle for less.

    I plan to order replacement sheets, however my question is:  what is the best way to get these replacement sheets into boxes that are being sent for retail?  I will be able to package the replacement with all online and crowd funded orders, but will not be able to monitor retail sales.

    Would opening the boxes, replacing the sheets, and then attempting to re-shrinkwrap the games at home be a valid solution?  Do you have any experience with this?  Or would it be acceptable to rely on routing customers to my website for replacement information?

    Thanks for your reply!

    1. Ron: Thanks for your questions. I’m sorry to hear about the printing error–I’ve had that happen too. For the retail games, who is handling your warehousing and distribution brokerage? They can simply send the replacement sheets to distributors along with the games, and stores can give the sheets to customers. It’s an imperfect solution, as some distributors and retailers won’t get the message, but it’s not completely unlike including some promos with a distributor shipment, which they’re very familiar with.

      As you suggested, I think it’s also prudent to give customers a chance to get the replacement sheet from you as well, just in case they didn’t get it from their retailer. Good luck!

      1. Currently I am self-fulfilling and have a few local stores and small shipment online retailers lined up, so being able to personally deliver the message and replacements isn’t too far fetched

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