Elder Dice Manufacturing - A Retrospective

With Elder Dice now out of China and on boats headed around the world, we thought it would be a good time to look back on the manufacturing process, what caused delays, and what might be the lessons learned. Elder Dice was not my first Kickstarter campaign, and so I brought to it all the knowledge from the campaigns that had gone before, including the knowledge of manufacturing times. I looked back on all of my projects to determine how long it took from the day we submitted the final files to the manufacturer until:

  1. we received the manufacturer’s sample,
  2. manufacturing was complete, and
  3. Kickstarter rewards were delivered to the backers.

     Here is how that all breaks down:

     As you can see, WinGo had previously been able to manufacturer (and I had been able to deliver to the backers) entire board games that included custom miniatures (plastic and metal), custom dice, punchboards, and everything else, in less time than it has taken WinGo to complete the manufacturing for Elder Dice. Being that custom dice were a part of the board games I had designed and published, I had no reason to expect that Elder Dice would be more complicated and time consuming than the creation of whole boardgames that included custom dice and miniatures.

     To start, the first round of samples arrived a full three months after we turned in the final art files for the project. That took much longer than normal. The second reason the project was delayed was because we rejected the first round of samples. The color of the plastic that was used was nowhere near what we wanted for Elder Dice. The colors of the samples were too opaque and “flat”, not the richly swirled gem-like look we wanted for Elder Dice. So, we asked for another round of samples. Shortly after the request for new samples we met with WinGo face to face in Indianapolis to make sure that our request was fully understood. The meeting was very productive and left us with a good feeling that everything would be handled to our specifications.

 

     The staggering part of this process was, however, that after taking nearly double the usual amount of time to get the first samples for Elder Dice, it took another 8 weeks and 4 days to get new samples. We basically reset the entire sampling clock on the project that was already running at half speed.

     Of course, with the delays getting the colors of the plastics right (and then later with mold creation), there were several backers who wanted us to pull the whole project from WinGo and take it to another manufacturer. While we understand why backers might recommend that, such an action would have truly been a “nuclear” option and would have further delayed the project by many more months—if not another year, as we started from absolute zero with a new manufacturer. Plus, the root cause of the delay was not WinGo, but rather the subcontractor/supplier for the plastics and the injection molding.

     WinGo, like many board game manufacturers, does not manufacture the components themselves, but rather sources them and coordinates with multiple subcontractors to create the game. Then, they do final assembly and packaging at their warehouse. WinGo was not mixing the plastic for the dice or creating the injection molds in-house. That was done by a subcontractor who specializes in that.

     Therefore, even if we had decided to pull the entire project from WinGo, and go with another manufacturer, there is no guarantee that the new manufacturer would not have gone right back to the same subcontractor for the plastic and molds that was causing problems for WinGo. In fact, I have a reason to believe this might have been likely.

     My first board game, War of Kings, was manufactured by WinGo and required custom dice. Early last year I received a brochure from LongPack, another board game manufacturer that was in the running to create Elder Dice. To my surprise, a battle die from War of Kings was featured in their brochure.


      If WinGo manufactured War of Kings, how did one of it’s dice end up in the LongPack brochure? It seems like there would be no reason for it to, unless both WinGo and LongPack use the same subcontractor to create dice. The subcontractor may have given LongPack a bunch of samples of the dice they have produced, which included War of Kings dice, and then LongPack used them in a photo for their brochure.

     You might be thinking: “Why not request that WinGo use a different dice supplier?” Well, we did and to WinGo’s credit, they contacted several other suppliers including ones that were not located in China. For various reasons, none of those suppliers were a good match for the project. In the end, we pushed WinGo as far as we could and ultimately it paid off. The fourth and final round of samples were perfect and worth the wait.

     So, what are the lessons learned? 

     First, I think there is just the realization that there are a lot of people and companies involved in the creation a project like Elder Dice, and a weak link in any of them can cause the project to become delayed. Even when you have prior experience with a manufacturer and have manufactured similar products, one project can all the sudden take an unexpected turn. The delay on the Elder Dice project has set back the timeline for everything we want to do with Infinite Black, and so if you are trying to get a game company off the ground, you may need to plan for possibly extended delays.

     Second, it is very important to have everything ready at the end of the Kickstarter campaign. As I wrote on my personal blog, we have a rule that our part of the product needs to be 95% finished before the Kickstarter campaign begins, and that we like to have the final files in the hands of the manufacture a couple of weeks after the campaign ends. We followed this rule with Elder Dice, so the delays the project encountered were not because the manufacturer was waiting on anything from us. If you run a campaign where you still have to complete a significant portion of the project before it can be sent to a manufacturer, the potential for delay only increases.

     Third, I think this also emphasizes the difference between a Kickstarter campaign and a pre-order campaign. There is often a lot of talk about using Kickstarter as “just” a pre-order mechanism, but that is not the case with us. A Kickstarter pledge is not a pre-order. If I were to run a pre-order campaign, it would not be until everything was ready and manufacturing was about to commence. That way it is not possible to sell-out of a pre-order, but there would be far less interactivity with the community about the project and also no exclusives for them. Speaking of Kickstarter exclusives….

     This process has made me very happy that we have Elder Dice Kickstarter exclusives. Kickstarter backers are very special people. They are willing to front money to make something that they want to see exist. They are the ones who are willing to go along with you on a potentially wild ride to get the project done. In the case of Elder Dice, it has certainly been that, and that is why we are very glad that we have Kickstarter exclusives for our backers. We will bring Elder Dice to retail, but only the Kickstarter backers had the opportunity to get the Doom Edition slipcase and the Doom edition playmat. They are absolutely beautiful and no one but our Kickstarter backers will have them. Thank you to everyone who came with us for the campaign!

Note, this is the third in a series about making Elder Dice happen. If you enjoyed it, you might also want to check out:

What do you think are the most valuable takeaways from the above?

Heath Robinson
Follow me on Twitter: @EHeathRobinson

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If you were not in on the Elder Dice Kickstarter campaign, but want to buy Elder Dice, make sure you sign up at this link. We will have some for retail sale online, but quantities will be very limited and we expect them to go fast. Sign up on the list to be notified as soon as Elder Dice are available for purchase.