Kickstarter Lesson #97: Delivering on Time

20 May 2014 | 36 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.

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What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

36 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #97: Delivering on Time

  1. Thanks for putting this out there Jamey.
    I am personally all but burned out on kick starter and will only ever back a very select few companies from now on.
    A year late seems to be the norm from a lot of campaigns and this is Unacceptable.
    Naturally after super positive experiences with Viticulture and Euphoria I will not hesitate to back Stonemaier games on kick starter in future.
    I do hope your company grows to such an extent that in time kick starter is no longer needed to deliver new and exciting Stonemaier games .

    1. Mark: Thanks for your thoughts. I’m sorry you’re burned out on Kickstarter–perhaps another way of saying it is that you have become much more selective about the projects you back, which I think is actually good for the platform.

  2. I’ve backed many (over 60) projects on Kickstarter. I’ve been completely burnt once or twice, gotten a lot of stuff late, and gotten a fair number of things on-time or early. Overall, this, along with a few other reasons, has greatly reduced my Kickstarter spending. Late is late. Late for a good reason is still late. I cannot help but make the assumption that the later a project goes, the less confidence I have in the creator to deliver any of what was promised. It feels like someone is in over their heads. For me, it creates a little bit of anxiety, and that is the last thing I need my hobby to give me!

    I do understand the assumption of some risk when Kickstarting, but that also reinforces my decision. I’ve decided I am less tolerant of risk. There is plenty of stuff I can spend my money on with considerably less risk and equal enjoyment, so my money generally goes in that direction. And I am an equal opportunity curmudgeon about this. I refuse to buy anything Early Access on Steam. I’m not a fan of paying for something before it is “finished” and I think we are starting to see examples of games where development stops. Why continue to build and fix when people have already paid for it?

    I love the idea of crowdfunding, but perhaps I am just not enjoying the execution of it. :)

  3. The poll is worded a little too “nicely” for lack of a better word. To me, frustration is not getting the game the month it is was promised. That being said, I understand that a game may not come during its projected month. Things happen and I get that. I’d start to lose faith in/ have bad feelings toward a publisher around 5 months.

  4. I suppose I’ve been lucky with delivery time on the Kickstarters I’ve backed. I normally expect that projects will deliver up to two months late, and that’s been pretty accurate for me so far, unless there’s an update detailing a major issue that’s being reworked. I’ve only backed one project that failed disastrously (almost 2 years) at meeting their expected date, and they’ve failed so much worse at communication that it’s left me discouraging people from even buying the game in stores (which it reached long before the backers).

    Really, the important part to me is communication. I’ve had projects that delivered on time, but still left me with a bad feeling because of lack of or unprofessional communication, and there have been other projects that may end up a year behind, but constantly communicate in a nice and understanding manner, and I’m still happy that I backed them, even if I never see my rewards.

    If I just wanted a product I’d buy something at a store. In a lot of ways I kickstart because of the updates and behind-the-scene insights, so delivery time is less important to me.

    The one thing I did learn quickly after being disappointed a few times: Don’t kickstart something planning on one of the rewards as a holiday gift.

    1. Emilie: I completely agree about the importance of communication. I’m a little different than you (I’d really like to see my rewards at some point!), but communication can bridge the gap well, especially if I get the sense that the project is getting better as a result of the extra time.

  5. Jonathan and Dylan: I think we might have different perspectives on what the word “estimated” means–and I say this as a project creator who has delivered my products within the estimated delivery month. We’re talking about an estimate (an approximation), not a sure thing, nor a promise. I think that’s important for us to remember as backers.

    On the flip side, when a project creator decides on an estimated date, it should be a well-informed estimate, and they should do everything in their power to hit that estimated date.

    1. Jamey, you raise a good point. Estimates are tough – like you noted in your post, many larger companies don’t release launch dates until they are quite firm – software has gone gold, container ship is underway, etc.

      I think my concerns over lateness are that, in my experience, stuff isn’t late by a few weeks. They seem to be late by months, and often many months. Maybe I have been unlucky? If I’m being honest, I think also when I look at my one pledge that went bust and several more that were very very late, its sours the whole Kickstarter experience. Several favorable experiences don’t put lost money back in my wallet.

      The more I look in to this, maybe I pick bad projects… I currently have backed 7 projects that are overdue four or more months, four of those are 8 or more months. One theme – projects that expanded their scope too much. Many folks have written about not going “off course” with a Kickstarter – a stretch goal to add painted minis or earthenware mugs or belly-lint doilies might be cool, but it often spells delivery disaster!

      1. Jonathan: I can definitely understand that several negative experiences will sour a backer’s impression of Kickstarter. That’s the main reason I’m hoping my fellow creators will get better at this (and that those who have delivered on time or almost on time will continue to do so). I agree that a lot of the problems arise when a creator adds too much stuff–I wrote about that in the “project creep” lesson.

  6. I’ve only started backing games with more frequency in the last few months and none of them have come up to their estimated delivery dates yet. The one other game that I backed was maybe a month late.

    I would hope that project creators could give a decent estimate when they first launch their campaigns as it shows they’ve done some due diligence when figure out when the game should arrive to the majority of backers.

    Hopefully I don’t get burned on any of the projects I’m currently awaiting!

  7. Great insights Jamey! I tend to get irritated around the 4 month mark. I think exactly like you say, communication is key. One thing I think that Xia did so well, was that Cody communicated the delay BEFORE the funding ended. Many projects don’t do that. I remember during the Cthulhu Wars KS, there was so many stretch goals and extra content added that I was extremely doubtful they’d be able to deliver only 6 months after the funding ended (Dec 13). Now here we are in May 2014 and the company doing the KS doesn’t feel comfortable giving a firm date for delivery, though they say it’s looking like September. 9 months late to me is completely unacceptable, and especially because this game was a HUGE investment. (The main reason this project is such a frustration to me is because the creator’s family and other fans shouted me down when I insisted there was likely no way the project would be on time).

    I think I received Euphoria on Christmas Eve and I just wanted to add that I really appreciated your ability to deliver on time. KS creators need to do some research, and more than just research, they need to be upfront about delays. The second delay in the Cthulhu Wars KS was announced a few weeks before the delivery date, and a few weeks after an update stating everything was going on schedule. If we’re now 3 months later and expecting more delays, it’s obvious that those updates weren’t true.

    Two recent projects I’ve backed Mercs: Recon and Super Dungeon Explore: Forgotten King have both had almost weekly updates about the progress of the sculpts, the tooling, the art etc and I think that’s an important aspect of managing a KS post funding. Don’t just maintain radio silence until a delay, tell the backers what you’re actually getting accomplished.

    1. Kolby: I can understand that the Cthulhu Wars situation is frustrating for you and many other backers. That’s a long time for a project to be delayed. Communicating delays well in advance (and then communicating on an ongoing basis) can soften the blow.

  8. Jamey, I actually couldn’t answer the poll because there’s more at play than just time and communication for me. I’ll give a couple examples.

    I backed Alien Frontiers when the 4th edition and new Factions launched on here. That was plagued from the start with a couple of things – a ton of unlocked stretch goals which needed custom hand drawn art, an artist that already had a full time job, etc. But for some reason their delays never bothered me. I’ve received the base game and am still waiting for the rest of the stuff to be finished up…we’re at six months late as of now and looking at a while yet. But I’m okay with it. They are trying to put out a quality product and handle the fact that they wound up putting more into the project than they can handle. They’ve already had a couple production mistakes based on trying to rush things, and they are trying to make sure that doesn’t happen again. The villagers have their pitchforks out on this one, but I’m not there at all.

    So then we look at several projects from Tasty Minstrel Games. The problems here started with the Belfort and Eminent Domain expansions and have continued on through their current projects. At some point TMG had bitten off WAY more than they could chew…and yet they kept launching campaign after campaign. The problem here wasn’t with the communication – it was with the content of the communication.

    It had gotten to the point where almost every update was filled with information that wound up being incorrect. Things like “the files are done and are being sent off to the printer” and then three weeks later being told “the printer just got the files on Tuesday”. Or “the items have been received in our warehouse” which two weeks later was “when we get the items we will begin fulfillment”. To this day things still don’t add up as far as all the projects that got put on hold while things got straightened out.

    Maybe there should be one more thing added to the list you’ve made – Honesty and Transparency. Tuscany was the first project I’ve backed by you, but it won’t be the last. You’ve been open and honest every step of the way – and made decisions that will put a better product in my hands at your own expense. And that means a lot.

    1. Dan: I’m a little surprised about Alien Frontiers. My impression from the campaign–particularly the low funding goal. In fact, at the top of the project page it says, “This is not a campaign to fund the printing of Alien Frontiers 4th Edition. It’s already at the printers. It’s going to be printed. You can leave right now and be confident that your favorite local game store will have Alien Frontiers in stock before the end of the year.” Was the base game delivered in 2013?

      I see what you’re saying about TMG. I wonder if Michael didn’t quite realize he had bitten off more than he could chew until it was too late. His last campaign was back in January, right? Then he made a bunch of hires after that. Maybe he realized what happened and that was a major catalyst for the hires to make things right.

  9. We were 7 months past our estimated delivery date for Evil Intent, but I tried my best to communicate all of the reasons why, including being hacked by a scam artist and having to personally repair parts of the deliverables ourselves. But more than complaints, we got appreciation and understanding from Backers because of that honest communication. If there’s any one point to take from this post, definitely be honest and open with your Backers.

  10. Oh and as far as Backers asking for the game early, that can be annoying, but I’m personally backing about 40 undelivered Kickstarters right now and am in no way caught up on all of them. My guess is that most of those are like that too. Too busy to keep up with it all.

    1. Christian: I absolutely understand that many backers support a lot of projects. My recommendation to them, though, is if they’re going to write a critical e-mail to a specific project creator, they should check the most recent update first.

  11. Jamey: I strongly agree with your comments here. I am surprised by the different tones of different comment threads on Kickstarter. Sometimes they are productive, helpful and constructive. Sometimes they are mean, snarky pile-ons. I’ve seen both of these for on-time and late projects. Mob mentality I guess?

    Can I ask – when communicating with a project, do you prefer private contact or public messages? What is the right etiquette in these situations?

    1. Jonathan: Yeah, the tone of comments can have a pretty broad spectrum. I was very fortunate on Tuscany to have a very positive, constructive, and often playful group of backers in the comments. I think it helps when the creator fosters that environment, but a lot of it comes from the backers themselves.

      As a creator, if someone has a question for me that could benefit other people, I much prefer for them to ask it publicly. If someone has a question that is very specific to their situation, it’s usually better for them to message me privately.

  12. I actually got my mom to try kickstarter for POOP: The Game. She didn’t 100% the idea at first but the game had such a funny theme she wanted a copy.

    I had to explain to her how the game would take time to be printed, she wasn’t just ordering the game online. She got the idea after a bit and kept her pledge as she really wanted that game!

    She was starting to wonder when the game would get to her, and thankfully those guys came out with an awesome update about how the game would be coming out a month later because some of their colors just weren’t coming out right and they didn’t want to put out an inferior product.

    I had expected my Mom who was skeptical about the whole process of Kickstarter already to be upset, but she actually took it very well. It goes to show that people can accept you being a bit late especially if it is for the quality of their product. Don’t rush your game just to make it hit out on time if it will be inferior.

    1. Thanks for sharing that story, Erik. It’s neat to see someone’s perspective (your mother’s) who is new to Kickstarter, as I bet it’s a pretty foreign concept to them.

  13. Will / do you put backer’s names on a thank you page as text or as part of an image? I’m wrestling with that… Would love your opinion. Thanks!

  14. On the other side, when is the estimated delivery date too far away??
    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/phantasio/skyway-robbery

    This project has a 1 year estimated delivery, and was barely funded with $32,121 for a $32,000 goal. There were other dynamics in play like the stretch goal already included (no stretch goals), and bad trust issues of the publisher.

    Relating to this KS lesson, can a creator put a delivery date too far in advance to lose backers?

    1. Larry: That’s more along the lines of this post’s content (https://stonemaiergames.com/kickstarter-lesson-9-timing-and-length/), but I’ll address it here.

      From what I’ve heard, as long as a project is estimated to be delivered within a year, most backers seem fine with it. I think the sweet spot for a tabletop game project is around 9 months–anything sooner and it’s pretty tough to pull off (unless it’s a light, cards-only game). Anything over a year is probably too long.

  15. I wonder, then, how you’d handle a situation where the stretch goals would intrinsically push the delivery back? For something like a comic where the stretch goals are more pages, or a video game where the stretch goals involve more content that would require more development time?

    I would think the best thing to do would be to communicate that within the stretch goals themselves, but I wonder if that wouldn’t be clear enough? I’m also a bit concerned that this would create a situation where meeting a stretch goal would be the tipping point for someone to cancel their pledge because the delivery is now going to be too long.

    1. NerdyCanuck: It depends on timing and backers. If the project hasn’t launched, then there isn’t a problem with changing the estimated delivery month to account for the possibility that you might reach a stretch goal. If the project has launched and you think of a new stretch goal that would push the delivery back, I’d recommend (a) asking backers if they’re okay with that and (b) making it very clear on the stretch goal graphic that it will change the estimated delivery month. Even with that, there are people who will only ever see the month listed on the reward sidebar, so the more visible you can make the new schedule, the better.

  16. Most KS projects that deliver late seem to fall in one of two categories. The first kind gets funded and the creators just haven’t planned properly and the house of cards they have erected just falls over. The second type are projects that reached a super backed level where the creators could have put most of the work in, but they just didn’t plan for tens of thousands of orders. The time need to manufacturer and then have fulfillment centers ship 500 vs 10,000 is not the same, not even close. Many of these projects start closing off Reward Levels and opening new Reward Levels with later dates. Most don’t seem to have a plan and frantically do this a bit too late, but it seems like the only things you can do. This however always leads to confusion as people seem to assume that they are always in the first group. The creator then has to deal with multiple rounds of delivery and other headaches I’m sure.

    I looked at what you did for Between 2 Cities and Scythe. For B2C, you had over 5,000 backers and gave yourself about 8 months to deliver. Then for Sycthe, you had almost 18,000 backers and this time gave yourself about 10 months to deliver. It was obvious that you thought the numbers were going to be higher for Sycthe and planned ahead to give yourself an extra two months. It got me wondering if you had a number in mind for Sycthe that if you reached it, you might have an issue with getting them delivered on time? It is nice to be able to have past successful campaigns to lean on to help make informed decisions.

    For my project, I’d need about two months for the supplies to be delivered and to set up manufacturing no matter the level of funding. Because I have cushions build in, I feel very comfortable setting a delivery time of 4 months after my KS campaign is over if I end with around 500 orders. However, if I get into the thousands, then that 4 month number gets less and less realistic. Because I want to decrease the chance of having to add new rewards with new shipping dates if my campaign does well, I am going to play it safe and set the delivery date for that 8-10 month window. My question is can you Under Promise and Over Deliver too much? Say I am able to deliver in the 3-5 month window. Would people be upset that they are getting their product too early, would it look like I didn’t do my due diligence? I haven’t been able to find any cases of people complaining about early deliveries but… I also really haven’t found many examples of that happening. The only complaint I can think of is if I have some retail sales, maybe they wouldn’t be ready for the product for one reason or another. It’s not like the cooling wraps are that big and would take up much room. We are talking one or two boxes of product at most. Having to pay storage fees/risk have products damaged doesn’t seem like a good plan just so you can wait around to hit your delivery window.

    1. Daniel: I can’t remember the exact reasoning behind the Scythe decision, as both games were pretty much ready to go to print, and the difference in production between 5000 and 18,000 copies really isn’t all that much. It makes some difference with fulfillment centers, but not several months’ difference. For Scythe, the project ended in November, and I estimated an August delivery; we started shipping to some backers as early as May (and most in June, followed by the last few in July).

      I think it’s great that you have some built-in buffers! No one will be angry if you deliver too early. It’s possible that a few people will say that you already started manufacturing before the project and didn’t “need” the Kickstarter, but (if you want to even indulge those people), you can explain the truth. You will want to make sure there’s a buffer between the last delivery to a backer and the first time you sell through retailers.

  17. Jamey, your early delivery of Scythe was the best example I could find of a super backed project delivering significantly ahead of it’s schedule. The only way that’s possible is through meticulous planning and catching the enviable issues quickly, like you did with the Canadian addresses.

    As you suggested, I am a big believer in honesty and plan on using the truth if I need to explain my timeline. I have already had to defend my decision so hopefully those discussions, and your lessons on interactions with backers, will have helped prepare me. The single biggest reason my time frame would be accelerated vs most projects is I am working with a factory in America. Any factory would have a similar set up and manufacturing time but doing it this way I don’t have to worry about initial supplies and then finished products on large slow container ships with the uncertainties of customs. Usually the mention of just these two logistical headaches is enough to get people to agree.

    Besides getting initial quotes and samples, I just don’t have any experience doing it. And like many first time KS creators, I am learning there are lots of important areas I don’t have experience with that need my attention. (If only there was a great blog that had hundreds of amazing lessons busting with great information!) Forgetting any of the other benefits of using a local manufacturer, I know I will be making a quality product and removing for me, the largest area of uncertainty and stress from my post campaign responsibilities. Which if only 16% of projects are delivered on time, that means getting this right might harder than getting funding in the first place.

    I’ll make less profit but I’ll have a better chance of having happy satisfied backers. Which in my mind, is okay. Thanks for another quality lesson.

    1. I like your philosophy and your approach to this, Daniel! I think potential backers will see that you’re putting them first and doing it in a transparent way, which I think are some of the building blocks for success.

  18. I saw a recent campaign where the creator made it clear she was going to deliver to backers at some point after the movie was in theaters. From her campaign:

    “(The download will be delivered at a point in time AFTER the film’s theatrical release).”

    This was true of all levels of backing which ranged as high as $10,000, not just the $20 level. Talk about a slap in the face to those who backed at $50 – $2,500 although I felt it was a slap in the face for those who backed at any level.

    I had planned on backing the campaign until I saw that note.The campaign did hit funding by well over a decent margin, but it could have done much better. Likewise, the cost for a digital download was $20 compared to probably $5 for watching the film during a matinee showing. Granted, the digital download I could have viewed multiple times, but I felt it was overpriced. Especially if I only viewed it less than four times.

    From my perspective, that was a double whammy. I don’t get the product until some future date after the general public and I have to pay a lot more than the price of a matinee movie ticket for something I would probably only watch once.

  19. As a backer I barely even look at the delivery date of kickstarters. If a game is not with me 12 months after the campaign ended I actually check the date and its gone 6 months or so over then I start having a problem.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of my friends who back for miniature heavy projects happily accept projects being a year or more late and I was wondering if anyone thinks that the recent Kickstarter policy change to avoid creators using 3D rendered images is an attempt to bring these sorts of projects back into line because of the negative aspect they have on the whole of KS?

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