20 May 2014 | 35 Comments
A few years ago, CNN reached out to the Top 50 most funded projects on Kickstarter to see how their actual delivery date correlated with their estimated delivery date. The data revealed that only 16% of projects delivered on time. The other 84% ranged from “a little late” to “really, really late.”
Now, before I talk about this, I want to be very clear about something: the words “on time” and “late” are pretty misleading when it comes to Kickstarter. All reward levels clearly say “estimated delivery: (month/year)”. It’s an estimate, not a hard and fast date. Can something be “late” based on an estimate? That’s for you to decide.
Is It Important to Deliver on Time?
Yes and no. Yes, you should do everything in your power to deliver your product within the estimated month. It’s good for you as the creator to deliver on time because it builds confidence and trust, and it’s good for backers because, well, they get the thing they pledged to receive in a timely manner.
However, you should not deliver on time if your product isn’t ready. Backers would much rather have a great project delivered late than a half-finished project delivered on time.
Is It Possible to Deliver on Time?
It is possible–as the stats indicate above, it happens every now and then. Viticulture and Euphoria delivered early to many backers, on time to most backers, and a few weeks late to a small number of backers.
However, let’s look at the greater context of delivering on time. I’ll use board games as an example, but this applies to any product. Most large board game companies don’t release delivery dates until the games are actually on the boat from the manufacturer (or very close to it. Why is that? Because it’s really, really hard to correctly estimate dates many months in advance, even for major publishers who have way more experience than you or me. Thus the difficulty in delivering on time isn’t so much your physical ability to finish the product and deliver it, it’s your ability to correctly estimate the delivery schedule.
Under Promise and Over Deliver
The #1 thing you can do to increase your chance of delivering on time is to under promise and over deliver. Estimate your delivery date, then add 2 months to it. Continue to operate as if you promised to deliver during the actual estimated month, and if you pull it off, awesome. But having some buffer room to account for all the things that can go wrong when developing a project can be huge.
Consider the Time of Year
I wrote about this extensively on this post under the “Scheduling and Timing” section, but in short, do not attempt to deliver a project in December. There’s simply too much happening that month in terms of retailers, shipping companies (freight and courier), and backers going on vacation. It’s great to get games on shelves for the holiday season (after delivering to backers), but if you want that, you should eye October as your delivery month. Maybe November. But not December.
Deliver to Backers First
There is no better way to lose future backers if you deliver on time to retailers and late to backers. Don’t do it. If you’re working with other parties who have control of when your product is released to retailers (like a distribution broker), make sure you have a very clear, written understanding that they cannot release the game to retailers until you authorize it.
If You’re Going to Be Late, Communicate
I’ve talked about post-project updates here and here, but I’ll reiterate my point under the context of product delivery: Good communication will make backers care a lot less that your project is late. They just want to know that you’re doing something and that the project is moving forward in some way.
A great example of this is Xia. Xia was originally scheduled to deliver in December 2013, but during the project some stretch goals were added that bumped the date forward to March 2013. Currently the estimated delivery date it closer to July or August. But Cody has done a fantastic job of keeping backers updated every step of the way with a look behind the scenes about the development and manufacturing process (with lots of photos). That’s key. Give backers something interesting to read while they wait for the project, and it won’t really feel late anymore.
Backers: Read Updates Before Complaining
I love my backers, but if there’s one thing that gets under my skin a little bit, it’s when I post any update that is very clear about the project’s status, and then I get a message from a backer a day or two later asking me why they haven’t received their game yet (usually I get these messages a month or two before the estimated delivery date). Backers often have plenty of legitimate things to complain about, but before you put a project creator on edge, check the most recent update to see if they’ve already addressed your question. I ask this on behalf of the sanity of all project creators. :)
Finally, Realize That Delivering on Time Isn’t Just About You
I was recording an episode of Board Game University with Tom Vasel this morning, and this subject came up. Tom said (and I’ve heard this from others) that some of the people in his gaming group are so fed up with projects delivering super late that they’re no longer going to back Kickstarter projects.
Now, I don’t think it’s quite fair to lump all Kickstarter projects together like that, but they have a point: If 84% of projects deliver late, why not just wait for the retail version?
So here’s my call to action to my fellow Kickstarter creators: We need to get better at this. We don’t need to necessarily deliver on time, but at most we should make sure our projects are delivered within 1-2 months of the estimated date. It’s not just about you–it’s about peoples’ perception of Kickstarter projects as a whole. If we want this incredible platform to persist, we need to do our part and show people that they’ll have a much better experience by backing a project instead of waiting for it to hit retail.
What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.