We have been talking quite a bit about our products on press right now and how we make sure the right ones get on a boat before the potential new policies on tariffs take effect. It would be one thing to be worrying about our normal product schedule—and we are—but we also have a few products that have experienced delays. Those projects are in danger of being tariffed, creating extra costs that are out of our control purely due to the fact that they are running a few weeks late. It is potentially a real bummer.
These important conversations got me thinking about delays in general, how they happen, and ultimately the cost they incur to a game company and everyone connected to that product. For the record, when I say delayed I am talking about the delivery date according to the internal schedule or the promise made to customers about a delivery date. A lot of delays are unseen by anyone but the staff and freelancers working on a project, but they are happening. I realize that this blog post is sort of a PSA for company owners and managers to our teams, freelancers, and partners, but it might also put things into perspective for folks considering game publication now or in the future.
Before I talk about the cost of bad delays, I know I should say that there are good and prudent delays that companies decide on. In a perfect world a delay is something the company decides on because it is best for the company or product, not because it has been thrust upon them and they have no other choice. I am in no way suggesting that a schedule should inform decisions about the quality of work or the quest to make a game better.
There are so many reasons a board game can go off schedule. Before press you could find holes in the design, art can be delayed, graphics, mistakes in back-ups, version control, I could go on forever. Then after it heads to the printer, a whole new realm of possible issues could pop-up. From supply of components, to quality control, to the amount of work that printer is being asked to produce under deadline. Then there are the logistics, shipping, or surprise customs checks where your product sits for weeks waiting to clear, or it just gets lost.
Needless to say, delays happen especially when working to a schedule.
In a bubble, a product that is delayed from, say, May to June (one month) might not have any effect on the company selling that game. But as part of a bigger schedule of releases, development and business management, the costs—not just in dollars—add up.
Let’s start with the obvious costs.
If a project takes an additional month to get to press, that is both extra costs associated with that game and lost opportunity cost of what is not being worked on. If you are the first person in the chain and you miss your deadline, this has detrimental issues down the line.
- Either the entire schedule moves (loss of income, extra costs)
- Someone down line must now do their job under duress (potential QC issues and stress)
Companies count on cash flow from budgets, and budgets are derived from schedules. You get the picture. That game that was supposed to release in May was supposed to bring cash into your company in June. No products = no cash, which puts stress on other products and the people responsible for sales and paying the bills.
Delays screw with the biorhythm of a company and its partners. If you have a window to release a game and it is moved and must share time and space with another project, the reality is that someone somewhere is going to pay less attention to one or both of those products, be it staff, distributors, retailers, or consumers.
There are real additional costs as well. As we all prepare for Gencon, I imagine that my near-peer companies are all having similar conversations about Gencon releases and restocks. Will product arrive in time? Will we have to air freight in inventory? I know we continue to be guilty of it every year. We discussed today which things are on the Gencon bubble and how much it would cost us extra if they miss the boat.
And then . . . the dreaded reset. After everyone has been fighting to make up for the lost time, inevitably a reset will happen. For us, it is usually on the yearly calendar. We put the mistakes of the past year behind us and try to make better plans for the new year. This is important and it relieves stress. I am a believer in fresh starts, but this is also where the opportunity cost and real cost collide, and you decide to eat it and move forward.
The biggest cost of delays, in my opinion, is stress. The last I checked, there were not a lot of enlightened buddhist monks making games, so the result of the delays, extra work, cash flow, emergency decisions is a stress ball that no one signed up for when they chose gaming as their profession.
How is AEG trying to combat this?
To start with, we are trying not to develop games to a specific schedule. Rather, we want to have them in what we call the development wheel, and when one is ready its spins off into the final development cycle. This is easier to do with fewer new games, but even as I write this I am stressed about an impending deadline for a big expansion to one of our games.
With printers and outside vendors we communicate as often as possible, we have learned to ask specific kinds of questions, and we try to foster a relationship where they can give us bad news as long as we get it early. We also try to build extra time into the schedule because we realize they are fighting this battle as well and problems will occur.
We try to listen. I SWEAR THAT I’M TRYING!! When we are building the schedule, we try so very hard to listen when someone says that something is going to be hard to do. I am so guilty of hoping that we hit a tight deadline date that I make the mistake of turning that hope into a hard deadline and bad things happen when the person approving the schedule does not listen.
This means that people who can do high quality work on a deadline are like gold. This is not a unique thing but it is often harder to find people who can consistently deliver quality to a deadline in a creative driven industry. We put a high premium on anyone who is able to bring this to our company.
In the coming weeks I am going to be talking about things that we must address in our industry for a company trying to do fewer new game releases to be successful. In this case, maybe we can work together to fix one of these problems. Fewer delays means less stress for all of us and more time to play games or at least enjoy making them. At the very least, as an industry we could have a Gencon where the biggest benefactor of our work is not FedEx.