Results of Scythe’s Money-Back Guarantee

19 September 2016 | 42 Comments

One of the foundations of Stonemaier Games that we’ve offered from the beginning to the present is a money-back guarantee on Kickstarter rewards. Today I’m going to talk about the results of that offer for Scythe.

Now, before I share the numbers, I want to say that I almost didn’t write this entry. The goal of this blog is to help crowdfunders. Does it actually help other creators to know how many backers used the money-back guarantee for a game that raised $1.8 million on Kickstarter and is ranked #13 on BGG? It’s an outlier, for sure.

But I decided to write it anyway, because like any product on Kickstarter, some people don’t like the game (or what the game represents: me and/or Stonemaier). Plus, people paid a lot for Scythe. They stand to lose more than usual by keeping a game they don’t want.

And yes, anyone can try to sell Scythe on the secondary market. I think the money-back guarantee is more geared towards people who don’t want to deal with the hassle of reselling something. If they’re done with Scythe, they’re done with it–it’s much easier for them to put it in the mail to me, no questions asked, and get a full refund (including return shipping).

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Here’s how our money-back guarantee works: If you pledge to receive one of our games or products on Kickstarter, starting from the moment you make the pledge and extending until 1 month after you receive your reward (I’m not particularly strict about the date range), you can return it to us for a full pledge refund for any reason, including return shipping fees.

For all of our fulfilled projects to date, we’ve had a total of 37,823 backers who received physical rewards. A handful of them canceled before even receiving their rewards. As for the ones who received their rewards and chose to send them back, here are the totals:

  • Viticulture: 0
  • Euphoria: 2
  • Tuscany: 3
  • Treasure Chest: 2
  • Between Two Cities: 6
  • New Treasure Chests: 2
  • Scythe: 7
  • TOTAL: 22

I usually don’t ask backers why they want to return their reward, though sometimes I’ll ask in such a way that gives the person permission not to answer at all. Here are some of the reasons I got (some of which were unsolicited) from backers who returned Scythe:

  • “I returned it as certain events came up in my life and needed some extra money.”
  • “It is all about translation, I do not mind playing game in English, but my gaming group does, even if this is only small amount of writing.”
  • “We’ve had it for almost a month and found it’s just not for us.”
  • “After playing it two times I’ve realized that it’s not for my gaming group.”
  • “This combination of euro and area control just did not work for me.”
  • “The only reason I am returning is that someone else got me the game as a gift and I don’t need two copies.”

I have replacement parts helpers in Japan, Australia, Canada, Spain, the UK, Germany, and the US, so the returned games were usually sent to the closest of those locations. Also, I did two things differently for Scythe than I have for other games, both with a common theme: I didn’t always ask for the backer to return the game to us.

  • I asked the backer to hold the game for a few days while I found a new customer for it, which wasn’t difficult given the demand for Scythe. I would sell the game to the new customer and have the backer mail it to them. If I did this, I included the game in the data above.
  • I recommended to the customer that they sell the game and make a profit. Of course, I assured the customer that if they’d rather just mail it back to us, that was totally fine. I just had a feeling that some of them didn’t realize they could make money off of it, and I wanted to let them know about the potential. If I did this, I did not include the game in the data above. I have on record 2 instances of this.

There were only a few hiccups in the returns process for Scythe. These aren’t big problems, but they’re things that I wasn’t overly pleased with.

  • One backer received a game and immediately requested a return. This is the customer who said, “I returned it as certain events came up in my life and needed some extra money.” I politely asked the customer why they didn’t just cancel the game before it was shipped, and they said they don’t check their Kickstarter e-mail address or subscribe to updates–they didn’t even remember they were getting the game.
  • One backer in the US spent $42 on return shipping (it should have cost $20 at most via USPS). This was a signal to me that perhaps I should create the return label for backers instead of asking them to do it on their own.

But overall, I thought it went very well. I’m glad our backers have the option of returning our games to us. After waiting 8 months to get their Kickstarter reward, if it turns out to be something they don’t like, they had the freedom to return it. I’d prefer that than for them to begrudge us every time they see Scythe taking up space on their shelf! :)

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I know it’s scary for creators to offer a money-back guarantee. I’m not saying it’s a good fit for you in the same way that it’s a good fit for us. But I want you to have some data for one company (Stonemaier Games) that has consistently offered this guarantee on our campaigns so you can make an informed decision.

What do you think about these results?

Leave a Comment

42 Comments on “Results of Scythe’s Money-Back Guarantee

  1. Hi, I love the idea of a money back guarantee but don’t know how to set one up so that it has some sort of legal meaning behind it, can you please give guidance on how you did so? There have been projects mentioned in this post that gave these guarantees but lacked the funds to fulfill them ultimately, so how can you cover your guarantee against that happening. If the purpose of such a guarantee is to increase backer confidence and its just a promise from you to them then doesn’t it only have meaning if they already trust you? So its sort of a chicken and an egg thing without legal coverage isn’t it?

  2. Interesting post as always – thank you. We have had a very successful campaign and are now finalizing our return policies, warranties, etc. We too are being very generous as our philosophy is that if you have superior customer service and satisfaction (incl. the ability to return a product that just isn’t for you), you can’t go wrong! As you know, I’m not a gamer (might become one now that I’m following you :)), but sure do appreciate the personal as well as public advice you offer. Have a great day!

  3. I think not only is the return policy good for us customers/backers, it’s also a great motivator for you: when you know that a dud could cause a flurry of expensive returns it must really put the pressure on to create the best possible product you can.

    Somebody mentioned Charterstone. Do you think you’ll offer this money back guarantee with this game considering it is a ‘legacy’ game? It means you could get back spoilt games and it could also mean people post the game and then return it when the campaign is finished. That’d worry me.

    1. We’re not putting Charterstone on Kickstarter (or any kind of pre-order), but hypothetically, if we ran a Kickstarter for a legacy game, we would still offer the money-back guarantee. We could use returned games for replacement parts. And sure, someone could run through the entire game in a month and return it to me. I would consider that a violation of trust between me and that backer, as it’s clearly not the intent of the money-back guarantee–but under the guidelines of the guarantee, they could do that.

  4. I don’t think offering a money-back guarantee fits for the spirit of Kickstarters. If one pledges, he shouldn’t ask a refund – almost never. People shouldn’t even pledge in the first place if the money is too tight and they have no money in a reserve for unexpected issues. The only occasion I would ask to honor the full refund promise is if the company cannot deliver the product in a timely enough fashion (I can bear with 2 years long delay if progress truly happens and shows). On the other hand if the product is significantly delayed, most of the money is probably invested into the production or burnt to learn the process. In this case even if the company had promised money-back guarantee, they have no money left to do so any more. For example Demigods Rising has a money-back guarantee. They couldn’t at least make a refund during the development (I didn’t ask for myself, but seeing from comments of others) since money is running low. Though amazingly it looks like they’re able to pull this out with Prodos even though capital would normally have ended by now. So I never trust a promise of money-back guarantee. I usually think that creator shouldn’t make a promise like that – they cannot live up to it. I might even see a money-back guarantee promise as a negative point.

    Regarding Scythe, I actually never paid attention that it had a money-back guarantee. I sold mine because there was demand for it and I wasn’t completely sure whether I like the game as much as my friends (they seemed to like it when I asked). If I couldn’t have sold Scythe, I would have probably ended up buying the expansion. Well I can always buy the game back if feeling to come back to it within a couple of years, but I will miss the faction dials – I think it’s essential every faction to have their own for players.

    1. “I usually think that creator shouldn’t make a promise like that – they cannot live up to it.” Certainly, if a creator can’t actually follow through on their money-back guarantee, they shouldn’t offer it in the first place.

      As for Scythe, you can buy the faction dials individually–we sell them through Meeplesource. “Essential” isn’t the correct word, though, as it indicates necessity. Only 2 power dials are necessary.

      1. And most multiplayer games where two player can engage in combat with each other will only include the necessary components for exactly two players. If a 5 player game resolves combat with a simple roll off, highest number wins, each player rolls a six sided die, most games are going to provide 2 dice, not five (And some will be stingy and only provide one die). Passing the common components for systems such as combat resolution that aren’t is the standard in my experience, even if each player having one each is more convenient.

        We don’t have power dial drawers, like some (but not everyone – not every board gamer has a bunch of dice lying around to remove the need to pass the dice between turns or pass the dice to the players currently engaged in combat) have dice drawers, mind, but if the game has custom dice that doesn’t help at all.

        1. *that aren’t collected throughout the game, like a small deck of cards for resolving combat that you accumulate as the game progresses, ala Sid Meier’s Civilization 2010.

  5. Jamey – Thank you so much for all your information on this practice! Because of you, I solved the concern I had with Stellar Armada. Which was, “How do I get backers to take a $1 game seriously?” And it wasn’t just my imagination. I have seen tweets to the effect of “I need to know if this is a good game or not!” (Which resulted in a podcast interview to answer that very question.)

    I have to believe that my campaign is doing so well because of the No Questions Asked, Money Back Guarantee. I didn’t even wait until the end of the page. I put the guarantee immediately below the summary, even before I talked about the components! That was my opportunity to convince backers that I’m serious about this game and that it’s a good game regardless of cost.

    Of course, I do have this irrational fear that there will be a backlash after it’s shipped and everyone will return their games on principal. (And then I wake up. :p) It was a fear echoed by my fellow designers at Protospiel when I mentioned the irrational fear of not having tested the game with a wide enough audience. There was a lot of unexpected nodding when I made that comment, so I’m glad to know it’s not just me!

    In any case, I wanted you to know that your idea of a Money Back Guarantee is a good one and I really appreciate all the data and opinions you’ve provided us with!

    (For those interested in seeing what I did, just search Kickstarter for “Stellar Armada”. I’d put a link, but I feel like that would be rude. It’s not hard to find!)

    1. As a consumer and someone who’s backed various projects, I don’t think I’d ever return a $1 or £1 product if I didn’t like it – especially not by mail – unless it was actually faulty or there was a recall on it or something.

      The money back guarantee would still increase my confidence in backing a $1 Kickstarter (And I’ll check out your game later), but… It just isn’t worth my time getting a $1 refund in the vast majority of cases.

      1. Hi Stephen! I think what you’re saying is well understood by everyone involved. The time spent on the return isn’t worth it economically even if you get shipping back for both directions. Even if you’re backing the $5 deluxe, there’s still little economic incentive to return.

        That being said, it creates a protest option for the consumer. If they feel cheated or feel like they were sold a false bill of goods, they can “stick it” to the seller with the return. It’s not about the money at all. (I personally think this is true even for the more expensive board games.) It’s about having options as a consumer.

        Which is why I feel it’s effective at making backers feel more confident.

    2. Jerason: That’s very clever of you to feature it so high up on the page. While I agree with Stephen that such an inexpensive game wouldn’t warrant anyone to return it, it does speak to the confidence and trust you’re building with backers. I’m glad it’s working out for you!

  6. Jamey: The statistics are great! The money-back guarantee is very scary for me! Just this horrible thought what will happen if everyone will send their games back! But the reality is different, and I know these are only my emotions. I like the idea of money-back guarantee because it motivates me to create a perfect product!

    Den: I think if a creator will make a great product, there is no problem with a money-back guarantee. There will be no harm if a creator will have to pay $50 for shipping to send back one game of 1000 back. Even five games wouldn’t be ok to pay.

    1. Mateusz: “I like the idea of money-back guarantee because it motivates me to create a perfect product!” I really like that perspective. It certainly is an extra nudge to make something awesome. :)

  7. Jamey, Let’s imagine that a game is shipped from some distant country, like Russia. If a customer wants to return it back, he/she must ship it back to Russia. It is like $45+ from the USA for a 2 lbs game. The game itself may cost $20-$50. No sense.
    I think there is no place for a money-back guarantee in such a case. Is it right, at your opinion, or probably I’m missing something important?

    1. Den: There are a few factors in play here. The first is that it’s very rare that all games are shipped from a single remote location. It’s become much more common to use regional fulfillment centers. Second, returned games don’t need to be sent back to the original fulfillment center at all. We have replacement parts helpers in various locations around the world, so we usually have returned games sent to the closest helper. Third, as mentioned in the article above, sometimes we find another buyer in the same country.

      So I don’t think country of origin has anything to do with whether or not a money-back guarantee makes sense.

  8. Fantastic results Jamey! Your comment “I’d prefer that than for them to begrudge us every time they see Scythe taking up space on their shelf!” resonates particularly strongly.
    As an online retailer, I’ve been wondering about whether I can offer a similar guarantee? At the moment, I have a 100% refund on sealed games and 50% refund on opened games (a token “buyer’s remorse” insurance policy). It always feels like a full money-back guarantee could be heavily abused in the retail space (pick up a few games for a games night then send them back?) but I wonder how often this would happen in practice?
    Any observations or experiences from your readers on this would also be of interest.

    1. Steve: Well, here’s one way to look at it: I think Kickstarter is a bit unique in that customers have very little information to go by, even on projects that provide full art, early reviews, and access to the rulebook. It’s just not even close to the amount of information you can find after a game is released. So I think the responsibility shifts away from the publisher/retailer to the consumer after the game is released.

  9. We’ve been doing the same for all our projects (except the first one in 2011) at Van Ryder Games and have similar results. In fact we’ve only ever had 1 instance of a requested return, although we haven’t had quite the volume of backers as you :)

    I admit it was scary at first, but your original data helped show that if you make a good product you stand behind, this policy is a no-brainer.

    Thanks for continuing to share this data!

  10. Thanks for your honesty and openness when discussing this. It must be an incredibly stressful challenge dealing with these kinds of situations. I’ve had one (continuing) horrible experience with Kickstarter and have requested a refund several times as the game and rewards still haven’t been fulfilled after around three years. I wish the had a policy like yours!

    1. I’m sorry to hear that, Charles! I would say that I got about a dozen refund requests from backers before we shipped, and I was happy to refund any of them. Kickstarter makes it really easy to do, so it isn’t a hassle at all.

      1. Unfortunately this is not the case for me and most of the other backers of the game in question. Some have gone as far as to contact the BBB and other legal avenues. I’ve been denied at least once and another request was ignored. Many in the comments feel like there are no protections or options to sort this out. Honestly, your backers are very lucky to have you!

  11. Congrats Jamey Great numbers. I think it’s working for you. Just wondering if lack of a gurantee would affect sales negatively. Just speaking for myself, I don’t expect a money-back guarantee on stuff I buy on Kickstarter. It wouldn’t sway me either way. Taking a chance on a product is just part of the deal. I think it’s a nice to have, not a need to have. Just my opinion.

    I also say that because I was recently selling cards on eBay. I intially included shipping in the price, until I noticed that cards were selling regardless. So I started charging for shipping. Sold every card. Not apples to apples, but it made me realize that there are things that fly under the radar that people just don’t seem to care about. Maybe a gurantee is one of those things. Kudos to Jamey for creating a product people want to keep!

    1. Troy: I think it can have an impact on sales. While I don’t necessarily think a customer would make a decision solely on that, Kickstarter is largely about trust and removing barriers, and the money back guarantee does both. I think it’s just one cog in a much bigger machine, though–remove that cog and maybe you lose some backers, but not a significant number.

      1. While I don’t think I’d ever back a game based on the presence, or lack of, a money back guarantee, what it does signal to me is your confidence in the quality of the game, which is definitely a selling point, especially on Kickstarter.

        Heck; if you translate your money back guarantee for kickstarter to one on direct sales on a future product I’m unsure of, that’s liable to trigger the same selling point if I buy from my FLGS where your money back guarantee doesn’t apply; it signals the same confidence in your product, weather or not I can personally take advantage of the policy.

        (Granted, it’s also easier to research the quality of the product for prior published games, however they’re published, than games that have ongoing KS projects for them, since there are simply more reviews flying around for them, so that sort of ‘the publisher has confidence in this product’ selling point would likely have less of an impact, but there’s still an emotional value in knowing that a publisher has enough confidence in a product to give such an offer, rather than thinking it’s a decent game that happens to fall nicely into their line that may also happen to correspond to my tastes enough that there’s a place in my collection for it – yellow lights, by the On Board Games traffic light system)

        Incidentally, there seems to be a game coming out at Essen that when I saw it’s name, and some photos on an All The Meeples Of The Rainbow blogpost, I immediately thought of you: Cat Town. Not a clue how it plays, or if it’s any good (one rating on BGG so far, zero reviews), but it appears to have lots of colourful cat meeples in various poses.

  12. Thanks for sharing, Jamey. With over 17,000 backers, the fact that only 9 people contacted you requesting a refund is pretty amazing, but also consistent with what I know of other Kickstarter campaigns that have offered money back guarantees. While there are a few notable exceptions, most backers are very willing to keep what they back. That’s something that new project creators should take comfort in knowing.

    1. Green Labor: That’s a good way of putting it. I know I’ve kept (or given away) games that I backed that didn’t appeal to me. At that point it wasn’t about the money–I was happy to have helped someone create something, and I’m fine with not liking everything I buy. :) Though I wonder if I would consider it for something that was both (a) very expensive and (b) had no resale value.

  13. The confidence you have in your games is decisive. And it is justified. Your games are incredible both in gameplay and in production quality. I venture to say that most of the backers do not even know the money back policy , the Stonemaier brand is so strong that many people will subscribe blindly what is released on kickstarter . We will see it soon with Charterstone . Bring it on !

    1. Miguel: That’s a good point–it’s possible that some (or many) backers don’t know about the money-back guarantee policy. I’ve talked about it in project updates, but not everyone reads those.

  14. Thanks for sharing this stuff. The money back guarantee is something that I think helps makes you the most well thought of games publisher that uses KS. I can’t see anyone else offering this, but clearly it works for you. The fact that you make great games helps :)

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