Lessons Learned from the Tuscany Essential Pre-Order Campaign

26 July 2016 | 36 Comments

3D box smallFrom July 13-19, I ran a pre-order campaign for Tuscany Essential Edition, as slimmed-down version of the Tuscany expansion pack to Viticulture. I ran the campaign through retailers–that is, 84 different retailers handled the transactions–and we sold 3064 copies of the expansion to those retailers last week.

I previously ran a similar campaign for Moor Visitors, and I detailed the reasons for running this type of campaign here. Below are the primary benefits for each of the parties involved:

  • Individual Customers can choose the retailer (online or local) that is the most convenient and cost-effective for them (especially in terms of shipping), while still ensuring that they get a first-run copy of the expansion.
  • Retailers are given first priority to sell the product since they’re not competing with the publisher via Kickstarter.
  • Stonemaier Games only needs to coordinate and send 84 shipments (and can still engage the greater community of individual customers).

Note that this method is specifically used for a product that (a) has no stretch goals, (b) is an expansion to an existing product that retailers want to continue to sell, and (c) is inexpensive enough that we can afford to make it without raising funds in advance.

I learned a few things while running the Moor Visitors campaign that I applied to the Tuscany Essential campaign. Here are the new elements:

  • I surveyed retailers in advance to estimate the quantity. When we were about to start production of Tuscany Essential, I surveyed the 300 retailers on my mailing list to ask them if they wanted to participate in the pre-order campaign and, if so, how many copies they thought they might need. This helped me solidify the print run at 5,000 copies.
  • I only offered the Tuscany Essential Edition. On the Moor Visitors campaign, I let retailers buy any of our in-stock products. However, this created a bunch of logistical issues and limitations based on the location of various inventory. Also, I learned that distributors weren’t happy about that method. So for this campaign, I I only offered Tuscany EE, and I encouraged retailers to buy complementary products from distributors.
  • I used a Google Doc to organize the retailers. First, I sent a form to the retailers asking them to fill out their information as they’d like it to appear on our website (this reduced any ambiguity), their location, and whether they are a local/online/both store. Second, I sent the results spreadsheet to all retailers for them to input the exact link on their website where customers could purchase Tuscany EE.
  • I limited the number of copies retailers could buy. On the Google Doc I noted the estimated quantity that retailers had previously told me they wanted (it was a range, like 21-40 copies). The upper end of that range became the maximum number of copies the retailer could order. This addressed my previous concern that the pre-ordered games would exceed the number of units I’m already producing.
  • I made sure people knew that the retailer list wasn’t exclusive. There seemed to be some confusion on the Moor Visitors campaign, with some people accusing me of not selecting their favorite retailer. The truth is, we welcome ANY retailer to participate in these pre-order campaigns–this list is limited only by the retailers themselves (many of whom many not even know about it). So I tried to make it very clear this time that the list was open to any retailer, and we encouraged people to reach out to their retailers of choice.
  • I offered promos. I wanted to give people a little extra reason to pre-order the expansion instead of waiting, so we included 9 promo cards. We also assured everyone that the promo cards would also be offered on the BGG store.
  • Retail release: I made it clear to retailers that they could continue to accept pre-orders for Tuscany EE, but the official retail release for non-pre-order customers isn’t until November 1. That should ensure that all pre-order customers get their expansions well before anyone who didn’t pre-order it.
  • I charged shipping (to retailers). On Moor Visitors, I offered retailers free shipping on orders over $100. This turned out to be a poor choice, especially for retailers in hard-to-reach locations. So we charged shipping this time–not much, but enough to cover core costs.
  • I advertised on BoardGameGeek. I paid for general banner ads on BGG, as well as homepage ads the day before the campaign ended. I don’t want to assume that all Viticulture fans subscribe to our e-newsletter, so I thought that would be a good way to reach them.

Also, one of the nice things about this pre-order system is that many of the participating retailers bought enough copies of Tuscany EE to account for additional customers who discover the product after the campaign, and I continue to feature those retailers on our website.

I’m realizing now that this post is more about what I did than what I learned, though I think that’s because I didn’t really learn anything new as compared to the Moor Visitors campaign (other than the fact that all of the revised methods above seemed to work really well). This type of campaign seems to run really smoothly as compared to the tumultuous (though admittedly more exciting) ride of a Kickstarter campaign.

What are your thoughts about these methods and this type of campaign? Back when I ran the Moor Visitors campaign, I hoped I might see another company try something similar so I could learn from their methods. But I don’t think I’ve seen that, so perhaps I’m overestimating the appeal.

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36 Comments on “Lessons Learned from the Tuscany Essential Pre-Order Campaign

  1. Juma: That’s somewhat similar to what I did with Scythe (I think it’s in one of my postmortem posts about it). For both Funagain (US) and Starlit Citadel (Canada), which were my fulfillment centers in those regions, backers were given a promo code to use on their websites as a signal to those companies that their order was to be combined with their KS rewards (they got free shipping since they had already paid Stonemaier for the shipping costs).

    Now, that’s me working with 2 retailers in 2 key regions. Working with 30-50 retailers is an entirely different question if all of them are handling fulfillment. I would recommend instead looking at regional fulfillment centers that also happen to be retailers. Consolidation will make your life much easier.

  2. Hmm, lesser known designer/publishers may still need Kickstarter but here is my idea:

    Before the kickstarter I make an agreement with one big onliner retailer in each of the countries I want to deliver to. Remote locations or very small countries might be needed to be skipped.

    I run a normal kickstarter but won’t ship the games to the backers but I freight ship to each of the retailers I made agreements with. They let the respective backers know their kickstarter game is ready to be shipped to them and if they want to order anything else (without additional shipping fees). Retailers can cross-sell (they are not really selling the kickstarter game, they are just shipping), the publisher only needs to ship to let’s say 30-50 retailers at max. (should cover 80% of the target group) and can avoid bad fulfillment companies ;)
    The publisher pays a certain amount for each parcel that the retailer ships for them.

    These retailers could be guaranteed to be the only retailer for a bit so they have a strong incentive to actually engage in such a scheme. Reaching out to the retailers and convincing them does cost a bit of time but it is well worth it because one has built a retail network.

    What do you think?

  3. Understood your position – distributors are guilty… I’m just pointing the fact that demand of viticulture in Europe is times higher than supply. There was restock 2 weeks ago but sold-out in a few days. Biggest UK online shop says their supplier has no idea about next VEE restock. Now you concentrate on expansion and existing Viticulture owners ignoring the fact that a huge amount of people cannot get the main game and that they are potential buyers of TEE too. IMHO it’s a strange supply policy rather than distributors problem. I’m glad I bought scythe on the first day as few days later it was gone too :)

    1. Can you let me know the name (and contact info, if you have it) of that shop? Just last week I sent an e-mail to all 350 retailers on my list informing them of the restock date.

      Tomas, I appreciate your feedback, but I’d ask you to phrase it in a more informed manner–fewer assumptions, please. We make a LOT of copies of Viticulture, and we sell a lot of copies. Just because you’ve found it difficult to find does not mean that I’m ignoring people or demand. The “policy” that you speak of simply isn’t accurate.

  4. You could run times more. No sense to buy TEE when it is not possible to get VEE. At least in Europe VEE was sold out during one week. You are not capable to satisfy demand or this is done on purpose to keep constant hype :)

  5. Jamey, I would guess part of the reason you haven’t seen other companies try this method is they don’t care as much about the retailer level, or are big enough that this type is irrelevant. Many stores feel alienated by KS games, as so many gamers want everything, so it’s back the campaign or nothing. I know you don’t do exclusives, but a lot of people won’t do that differentiation.

    The owner of my local store isn’t even a boardgamer, he does RPGs and a bit of minis; he does no research on boardgames(even talking with players for ideas), but instead has this insane loyalty to his rep at the distributor, who’s steered him wrong multiple times. He doesn’t like KS games because of exclusives, which I don’t fault him for, but he truly knows zip about upcoming games outside of what ACD tells him.

  6. Hello! I’m new to game publishing and business in general. I don’t think my husband and I would have taken this plunge without the information you provide, Jamey. As a customer, I would appreciate being able to choose my retailer and might even ask one to participate so I could get my copy… :)

  7. @ Paul – from my (Australian online retailer) perspective, the method set up by Jamey definitely makes it easier for me to get games to ‘the outback’. And slightly beyond ;)
    The additional publicity and advertisements backing these campaigns, and large mailing list of Stonemaier Games, means those not in the inner city can be notified of the game and receive it in advance of any retail release. So in that way it is very inclusive for those in more isolated areas, and actually helps them feel like they are part of the launch excitement. They are able to get their hands on the game as the first reviews are coming out, rather than 6+ months later…
    It may be worth noting that I was able to offer a more competitive discount than usual, as direct shipping from the US did end up reducing my normal costs. This also benefits those in rural areas who typically have to pay a premium on ‘essential items’ (board games :)

  8. Just wonder if this method is viable for people not living near a game store in countries outside the US or perhaps even in more rural parts of the US?

    1. Paul: It’s a worldwide thing–if you take a look at the Tuscany Essential page, you’ll see retailers listed from around the world. Also, it’s open to both online and local game stores which covers pretty much every location everywhere. :)

  9. I think you’re over-estimating the quantity of people in your position.

    FFG, no, they don’t need something like this, they’re too big, and if they did their distributors would be furious for bypassing them.
    Kickstarter publishers, no, retailers don’t care about the vast majority of them enough yet to bother supporting them in this way.
    Stonemaier is all of the following: huge, newly huge, and a veritable hype machine. As a result a lots of eyes are on you, EXPECTING you to try new things, so they like it when you do. Big guys trying this would look like they’re trying to bypass norms for profit, small guys trying it would be largely ignored by the retailers.

    What could promote it, and I’m the type that nuts enough to try it with enough reason believe it might work, is if you polled your retailers as to their interest in supporting people like Gate Keeper Games, Action Phase, Green Couch, etc who are still establishing their permanency in the market if we were to do the same thing. – Stonemaier brand is a sure sell for them, of course they buy it direct from you when they can.
    Would they take the risk on the up-and-comings?

    1. That’s an interesting question. The thing is, retailers don’t have anything to lose by doing this. It’s a pre-order, so if no customers order from them, they don’t lose anything. At worst, they spend a few minutes setting up a widget that no one uses. At best, they get included in a first-run supply chain that they’ve been cut out of because of Kickstarter.

      I think you might overestimate Stonemaier’s size and clout, but that’s a different matter. :)

      1. Jamey, I agree that they have nothing to lose. That’s really clear. But we also have nothing to lose to by sharing a Kickstarter campaign we backed on facebook, but we still don’t all do that either. – It’s a weird thing what 30 seconds of effort might deter. : P

        As for Stonemaier’s size and clout, I’m sure it’s more than you realize, and possibly less than we think, but nothing to shake a stick at. : D

    1. Peter: With the Scythe expansion, we’re making so many of them that I’m just going to put them directly into distribution. People shouldn’t have a problem getting them. :)

  10. So you pre-sold 60% of the print run. Is that what helped you decide on the print run size? What are the plans for the other 2,000 copies? Will they go to retailers eventually or will you sell them online? I’m interested from a nuts and bolts standpoint. That seems like a lot of copies to be stored, even if they are slimmed down expansions. Thanks.

    1. Jonathan: Well, at the point the campaign as running, we were well into the print run, and it would be too late to change the quantity at that point. It was really the poll we ran several months ago (with retailers) that helped us determine that quantity. At the time, we had an estimate of how many we might sell via pre-order, but it was just an estimate.

      The other 2,000 copies will enter distribution, to be sold to retailers on November 1. The’ll take up 4-5 pallets at our warehouse.

  11. I think it worked pretty well. I preordered both The Moor Visitors and the Tuscany EE.

    One thing I did notice a bit was that a few of the online retailers offered discounts, and free shipping on large orders. So it did take a bit of clicking and research to find the best deal, but if it makes the retailers happy and is easier for you, I don’t mind at all.

    I chose Cool Stuff Inc for Tuscany EE, and as they offered free shipping for large orders decided to pick up some additional games from my wish list.

  12. Agree with The Ludoquist. If I were a game retailer (I’m not) I would hesitate to have my competition know in advance what my inventory would be.

        1. I can see where that instinct comes from, but let me offer a counterpoint: knowing what your competition ordered can help you both avoid flooding the market and not being able to sell it for anything profitable (nothing to do with quality, of course; you just don’t want more copies of the game in your market than there are people in your market who would be interested in it at a profitable price); additionally, if you run out of copies and can say that you know that the other store across town ordered some, that’s actually really useful from a customer service perspective – even if you didn’t get the sale this time, you’re more likely to get the next one because you’re the person who was so helpful (so this comes down to caring about the customer relationship versus caring about the immediate sale).

          Without a way that this can be used against you, I can understand the initial reticence, but I think it would actually help more than it hurt.

  13. As a (new) retailer, the only comment I would have is that having the Google document available to all retailers meant that it was…available to all retailers. Which meant that I could see how many copies other retailers had ordered, which was…well, odd. I’m not entirely sure how I (Or anyone) could use that information, but it was a level of commercial exposure I’m unused to.

    PS I am moving from providing IT services to games café/retail, so my perspective may well not be typical of other stores, but may be worth asking the question.

    1. Yeah, I was very curious about that. I figured if someone was concerned about it, they would opt out, but that didn’t happen. I was concerned about that, though, and I tried to assure retailers that only other participating retailers would see the document.

  14. I think it’s a good model. It’s good for the stores, as they get a potential new client, it’s good for you, as it’s much easier to manage your logistics and it’s good for the consumer as simpler logistics should equal fewer delivery issues. I didn’t preorder Tuscany, as I already have it, but I did preorder Moor Visitors and have no complaints whatsoever.

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