14 March 2016 | 45 Comments
In 2012, early in the design process for Viticulture, I started looking into how we would manufacture the game. I explored bespoke options, US manufacturing, and Chinese manufacturing.
The latter was the most daunting to me, as it seemed an insurmountable task to coordinate with several different factories halfway across the world in a language I don’t speak to make various components that needed to come together in the same box.
Fortunately I found Panda Game Manufacturing, a Canadian-based company that not only specializes in coordinating and vetting factories in China, but they also have their own facility in Shenzhen (primarily for printed components and assembly). I’ve worked with them ever since.
Panda is one of a growing number of companies in China that provide these all-in-one services; check out James Matthe’s list for the others. Even with the best of these companies, there’s still the potential for a lot of mistakes, confusion, and miscommunication. Billy from Liminal Games (which currently has a team-deception game on Kickstarter called Emergence) has lots of experience working with companies in China, so I asked him to write a guest post on the subject.
At some point during the creation of your product, you’re going to have to make a tough decision. You are most likely to have this thought: “I should get my product made here in the U.S? It would be so much easier… but China is so cheap!”. If you chose to go with the latter, I am here to give you a set of guidelines to make your life easier and make sure you have a fewer grey hairs.
Tip 1: Beware of Yes-Men
People often underestimate how similar Chinese business culture is to Western culture. You get the typical manufacturers who are your overenthusiastic Yes-Men. I call them Yes-Men because no matter what you say, they say they can do it, no problem. Want an adamantium box cover? – Yes we can do that. Want a transparent wooden cube? Of course! Want a battery that last longer then 48 hours? – Boy, you won’t believe what we have for you!
Tip 2: Beware of Cool Chads
Then you have your, “Cool Chad” who are apathetic to your project and treat you like they are doing you the favor. Instead of them responding to your emails, they play hard to get and you are left working on their schedule and force to appease their demands. Stay away from them too.
Tip 3: Don’t Only Communicate via Email
You can learn a lot from a video call. I’ve rejected manufacturers simply because they couldn’t hop on a video call. You can assess the person’s character, patience, and communication skills. Once you are on a call simply engage in some polite small talk, and then get down to business. No need to try and impress them. Save the real talking for details. Within a few minutes you will be able to feel them out. Trust your gut.
What about the language barrier? Let me tell you this, having a language barrier is the best thing that can happen to you on a video call. You get to see how the manufacturer works out misunderstandings.
For example, does he just accept everything you say and respond “no problem, we can do that,” or does he take the time and ask clarifying questions? Those who brush off misunderstandings will have a harder time fixing errors later in the process and will often prevent you from getting the exact product you want. If you can work out a language barrier, you can work out any future manufacturing misunderstandings.
Tip 4: Always Be Specific
The one biggest regret I hear on most people’s reviews after their crowd source project on manufacturers is “I excepted ____ but I got ____ I guess i should have specified.”
Never assume anything, even down to the smallest detail. Chinese manufacturers get a bad reputation for using cheap materials. However, if you don’t request it specifically they will go with the option that makes most financial sense to them.
If you want ivory core cardstock 350gsm instead of grey core, request it and have your manufacturer send you sample. If you want a 2.0mm thickness box, request that. If you want a specific Pantone-coated red, request that Pantone code. You get the jist.
And sometimes you don’t know what you want. In those cases, ask the manufacturer for the available options and choose from them.
The greater the precision with which you communicate, the more the final product will be what you want. For example, in Emergence, we use of 10mm acrylic cubes as resources. I wanted to make sure it was the right clear color and acrylic. (It was an important aspect based on the theme of the game.)
It was difficult to describe that I needed the cubes to be translucent, so during a video call I dug up my copy of Pandemic to show the plastic cubes to my project manager. I then asked him to show me on camera what he thought I was showing him to make sure we were on the same page (we went through wooden cubes, plastic ones, and finally got the size that I wanted).[Note from Jamey: I recommend that you ask the manufacturer to summarize any decisions you discussed via e-mail immediately after the video call. That way you have the chance to clear up any confusion while it’s fresh on your mind, and you have a paper trail to refer to later.]
Tip 5: Minimize Changes
Most manufacturers operate like this: The account manager will get your project requirements and propose it to their boss. That person will approve it before sending it to someone else to create the exact quote. So manufacturers prefer that you consolidate changes to the quote instead of sending tiny tweaks every week.
I learned the hard way when first dealing with an overseas manufacturer. I wanted to make full zip-up hoodies, and I kept having better ideas every week. Eventually the manufacturer responded slower and slower to my emails and at the end downright dropped me. It wasn’t worth their time to deal with someone who didn’t have a clear vision.
I am still learning. I am by no means business guru, but I found out with some patience, precision, and willingness to focus on details, working with a manufacturers in China has saved me a ton of money.
Thanks to Billy for writing this post! If you have any questions for him or want to share your experiences working with manufacturers in China, I’d love to hear your thoughts.