Publishing secrets (1) – The power of honesty

My colleagues will probably think I am nothing less of a crazy person for sharing publicly the following story and they might be right, this is not what your average publishing house would do, but I believe there is a big lesson to learn from this whole situation… so here we go.

Art in the making by Odysseas Stamoglou
Art in the making by Odysseas Stamoglou

The Story

Exodus: Edge of Extinction was the second Kickstarter campaign of NSKN Games. The project was successfully funded in February 2015 and we managed to deliver 97% of the rewards about a month before the deadline. Everything was going great, the comments and impressions were immensely positive and it looked like NSKN had set a new bar for manufacturing and delivery of a complex product before the deadline (something unheard of before).

Exodus Edge of Extinction components examples

The Problem

Soon after game boxes started reaching the doorstep of our American backers who accounted for almost 50% of our overall support on Kickstarter, we were made aware that there was a problem. A few people wrote to us that they were missing all their Kickstarter limited items (not present in the retail box). We promised them an easy fix and proceeded to pack and ship a few boxes. By the time we were ready to go for a short trip to the local post office, we had already gotten a few more messages and by the time we answered those yet a few more. We decided to wait and first assess the magnitude of the problem. It turned out that more than half of our supporters from the USA were missing the same limited items. A few weeks later, the same problem appeared in Canada, but on a smaller scale.

Exodus Proxima Centauri - base game and the Edge of Extinction Expansion at UK Games Expo 2015.
Exodus Proxima Centauri – base game and the Edge of Extinction Expansion at UK Games Expo 2015.

The Solution

We could go on for a few days about how we managed to get those items to so many people in a very short time, but that would be beside the point. The most important thing is that we did not lose the trust of the community because of this mishap, nor did we have to face a wave of discontent and disgruntled people. The key to this whole epic was honesty.

We could have emailed every single backer in North America signaling the problem and the fix, or we could have posted a private update on the campaign page. Instead we posted a public update asking people to look for the missing components and let us know, thus making sure that every single one of our backers knows this had happened. More than this, we emailed all US backers to let them know that there was a problem and we’re looking for a fix. Some people even wrote back to us saying that we’ve been “too honest for our own good”.

The Lesson

One might think that sweeping this under the rug makes would have been less of a PR problem and more of a logistics quest. But hiding the truth does not make the problem go away, it just creates a boiling pot ready to explode. You simply cannot build a community on a foundation of deception. Sometimes the reality is worse than we’d like it to be. This is the high time to tell the truth. Sometimes problems have solutions, some other times they do not, but honesty is always the key. Everyone makes mistakes (whether we like to admit that or not) and we are also wired to forgive the mistakes of others. Owning up to your mistake without assigning blame and offering a fix is the best possible way out of such a situation.

We were lucky to have the support of an amazing group of people who put all their trust in us and believe that we would fix the problem. We did, but again, that is beside the point. We would have told the truth even without an easy fix in mind, because not having a solution is not an excuse to lie or otherwise obscure the truth. People will surprise you more often than not, and you’ll find support in the most unlikely places. The board game community in particular is one of the most supportive ones I have ever seen and people here know how to handle the truth and fully deserve it.

Honesty is always the key!

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