Indie designers: how long before you give up?

edited October 2011 in Story Games
I've had a bad experience getting a product lately, and looking for some advice. Specifically:
- how long should I give an indie designer to make good on delivery?
- what should I do if I don't get product in that time?

So the story is like this: I bought a PDF for an indie designer and talked it up so much not only did the group decide to play, but in mid-August three of us all all decided to get books at the same time direct from the designer. Because I was going away one of the other guys dropped the order in. The parcel came quickly, but with only one book inside (not colour like the PDF, but that is probably my fault for missing some details on the site). A query to the designer netted a quick response that it was a mix-up and the other two books would be sent that same day. But they didn't arrive and a couple of emails since haven't even been responded to. The worst bit is its affecting our interest in the game: we're sure to be sitting at the table and someone will say "what's the relevant rule" to which the response will likely be "I would look it up if I had a book".

If this was a big corporation I'd be on the phone long before now giving someone a piece of my mind. But we'd like to be supporters of indie designers, and I can think of heaps of reasons a lone designer is being tardy (illness, overload, life getting in the way, etc). What is reasonable here and what do I do? I don't have phone number to call, just a single email address that we're trying again. The only other option I can think of is to hit some forum in a half assed United breaks guitars way to try and get some action or at least warn others not to waste their money.

(I'd rather not disclose the designer if possible, because they've made some damn good games and could have missed this for a legitimate reason and this thread is about getting advice. Whisper me if you think you need to know in order to give me advice and I'll think about it.)

Comments

  • You've written to him several times, at an address you know is working (at least it was), so I suggest for you to consider the money lost. It's not fair, but it is generous, and that may make a difference.

    Write a conciliatory mail, saying that you are committed to support of the designer, and would accept any excuse, even one involving him using up the money you sent, and not being able to print and send the game to you. Tell him that you don't mind the money, and want him to keep them.

    In my experience people will go out of their way to make amends, if someone is showing a truly generous attitude. Such generosity may be exactly what a man needs, when life goes against him, and he is in personal/financial/mental problems. It may help him, and may inspire him to send you the game later.

    It may also have absolutely no effect on the designer.

    But it will have a benign effect on you; you'll be able to let the claim rest, calm your mind, and go on to other games.

    Have a nice day!
  • edited October 2011

    Hey, if you want my advice:

    This doesn't sound like professional behavior. If the designer is expecting to start a business, this is the wrong way to go about it.

    In your shoes I would send the designer a last email. Tell him what happened and what needs to be done to correct the situation (I'm assuming delivery of 3 full-colour copies of the game). Tell him you are giving him 2 weeks to either deliver the package or at least provide a tracking # for a package on its way to you, or give you a full refund. I would be polite but firm in my email.

    The consequences if he does not comply are the same as for any business. You can choose to sue, but for the amount of money involved it is very likely not worth it. Hence, your recourse would be to not protect the designer's identity and instead publicly say that designer X did not make good on their business transaction with you.

    If the game is really great, just print out the PDF yourself and play it anyway--it doesn't matter if the designer is a jerk.

    Anyway, I hope that helps.

    --Jonathan

  • What would you do if it was a guy who made hats? Do that. Somebody made you a promise and took your money and didn't keep their promise. This is shitty behavior, whatever level they are operating at. Regardless of the reason (and I'm sure there is a heartbreaking and perfectly understandable reason because there always is), you've been lied to and ignored.

    We've had some problems with international orders (non-deliveries, mangled packages, stuff held in customs and sent back), but maintained contact with the customer throughout this and made it right. That's the only circumstance I can think of where something remotely close to this has happened.
  • Just to add to what Jason said, if you ever have a bad experience with Bully Pulpit, please let us know. If we don't respond and make it right, find us on a forum and tell us there*. It's possible we've missed the message through other channels, and we'd hate for you to be quietly disappointed.

    * Its a bonus if you can be civil, of course.
  • Honestly, if it's somebody who's pretty well connected to the rest of this community, it's no big deal to say, "Hey, I'm having trouble getting in touch with Jason Morningstar (or whoever) about an order. Does anyone know what's up or how best to get in contact with him?" Because somebody will know how to check in on the designer, see what's going on, and offer help if needed. Sometimes indie designers drop off the face of the planet for a while because they're dealing with serious life stuff, but it's usually okay to raise an issue publicly after a couple of good-faith efforts to resolve the problem. What else can you do, right? And if you do it in a civil fashion and not in an angry way -- less "WTF Jason why did you steal my money?" and more "Does anybody know what's going on?" -- you're more likely to end up with a positive resolution, even if it comes a bit late.
  • My vote's with Tomas.
  • edited October 2011
    I always appreciate it when someone follows up again promptly if I've lost track of something. It's good when they hit me up at, like, all of my email addresses and send private messages wherever they can find me. I don't ever mean to be hard to reach but sometimes it happens.

    I live in holy dread of losing track of something to the point where someone can do Tomas' trick to me. Someone does that to me, they own my soul, pretty much. I'd work my ASS off to make it up to them.

    -Vincent
  • edited October 2011
    I had a similar problem. I ended up tracking down the designer on facebook. Turns out his website wasn't notifying him of purchases. Innocent mistake. Be patient with the one-man-shows and try other routes of communication.
  • The email address is correct, so I've taken Tomas' excellent advice and gone back to the designer using what I hope is a generous approach. My example is not really the point of the thread, but I will report further progress.

    The thing that was really getting to me was that I have other positive experiences, but this is the first experience for the person who put in the order. I thought about it overnight and I wanted to redress the balance a bit by talking about some positive experiences and hopefully getting people to pitch in their own. Ironically the first two I thought of were for Bully Pulpit and Lumpley, which I guess is Jason, Steve and Vincent's comments above showing through.

    So two positive experiences I've had:
    - I found the international package order option for Fiasco Companion a little unclear (because of the limited characters in the drop-down list). After placing it I emailed to check my order was OK and Steve got back to me within a couple of hours confirming that I'd ordered what I wanted, that they had fixed the text to make it clearer and checking whether there was anything else I needed. He even emailed me later to check I downloaded the PDF OK. In other words: great customer service.
    - I've always had a great experience with Lumpley. Their international shipping costs are low and I'm always surprised how fast I get my books. I swear Meg is using her Maestro D "Finger's in every pie" power in reverse, because my books show up as if by magic.
  • Good news today: two replacement books showed up that the designer sent out a couple of months ago!

    Still a little disappointed that we had emails not replied to along the way, and I can't believe how long the postal system took, but the relief of getting home washes away most of the pain of the journey. I'm also relieved I can explain the delay in postal delivery and not in the actions of someone I respect and admire.

    I'm happy to keep talking about what expectations we should have in terms of indie designer customer service, and especially sharing examples of good customer service. But not the same urgent need for advice for me now so this might be an appropriate place to end this thread.

    Thanks all for your advice and support.
  • edited October 2011
    Posted By: WightbredI'm also relieved I can explain the delay in postal delivery and not in the actions of someone I respect and admire.
    That is so good!

    As for expectations; when dealing with individuals in an artistic line of work, you are bound to be dealing with some people who have "sore spots", and that may have problems making systematic work in production, delivery and public relations. They may be ingenious designers all the same, and good people, trying their best (most people do).

    I believe it will be better, for both parties, to have a great deal of patience. I'm not saying you should not expect delivery within reasonable time (1-3 weeks), but if it drags out you should try to be polite and positive in reminding the designer about your order. Try again and again, reminding him. Asking about your order 2 weeks into waiting is ok. It gives the designer the opportunity to tell you the game is underway. And if it fails to materialize, asking a second and a third time is ok too.

    And if that fails; be generous. Tell him you'll let the claim be, and donate the money, no hard feelings. Most indie-games is so cheap it's next to robbery anyway, buying them.

    Leave that game be, and go on to other designers and games.
  • Glad you got your books!

    But I have to disagree, Tomas - if you take money for your work you are, at least in part, a businessman, however unsavory that is. If you don't want that responsibility, don't charge for your stuff. If you want the money, keep your promises and answer your email.
  • On at least one occasion I had someone email me asking where the hell their game was (well, more politely than that, but y'know), and it turned out that For some reason I never received the Paypal notification. So, I really appreciated that they contacted me instead of assuming I was an asshole who stole their money. And now I know to check Paypal every so often in case it hapens again. In that case it was a PDF, so it was pretty clear that it was my fault (and not lost in the mail or whatever), but I think the principle broadly applies.

    One strategy, if you don't want to "out" someone who isn't answering their email, is to privately contact folks who you think have a relationship with that person.

    But yes, people should answer their email, in general.
  • Regardless of what the situation actually is, I feel sorry for the game designer or publisher when I see their name plastered over RPG.net because of a single bad transaction due to a comms failure. 99/100 I imagine that it's some tech malfunction that has caused the issue, or something beyond the publisher's control. Complainers on RPG.net are not backwards in coming forwards, even when they haven't yet bothered to contact the publisher directly.

    So whilst I'm glad the situation has been resolved, I'm doubly glad that the publishers' name wasn't disclosed.
  • edited October 2011
    Posted By: Jason MorningstarBut I have to disagree, Tomas - if you take money for your work you are, at least in part, a businessman, however unsavory that is. If you don't want that responsibility, don't charge for your stuff. If you want the money, keep your promises and answer your email.
    I'm quite in agreement with you on this, Jason; it is exactly what I advice game-designers to do, if they are to sell their games.

    Still; the world is not perfect, and this is a thread about how patient you should be with game designers that don't deliver. I say; ask them to make good, and if they still don't; release them (and yourself). Be a "mentsh"!
    Posted By: GB SteveSo whilst I'm glad the situation has been resolved, I'm doubly glad that the publishers' name wasn't disclosed.
    So am I. "Outing" someone is bad. When something goes wrong, it is too often the "fault" of some circumstance outside of anyones control. And if it's a case of someone being "under the wind", it is quite cruel to out them.
  • Mensch, you mean? :P
  • No, mentsh, as it is spelled in yiddish. :P

    (meaning: a real human being)
  • As far as I know, yiddish words are spelled in Hebrew. :P
  • I had a bad experience turned good with an indie publisher. I had purchased a book. Not for myself, but as a gift for a friend who is excited about the game.
    They were out of the book. They said they could refund money or I could wait a couple weeks. I said I'd wait. I waited. Friend waited expectantly.
    We waited and waited.
    A couple months go by. I email a couple places before I get a response, a couple weeks later. Says they'll fix it.
    A few more months go by. Product doesn't show up.
    I'm getting cranky. I email them and get a little cranky. They send the book out that day, and refund all of the money I paid for it, and apologize. That's all I can ask for, really.
    I feel lots better and will continue to purchase from that indie publisher.
  • edited October 2011
    There are some people in indieland whose books I'll only buy from a con or store because they're abysmal at shipping books (in time spent and in frequency of damanged books), and it's part of the reason that I don't trust the Unstore and am starting to distrust Kickstarters.

    - Ryan
  • edited October 2011
    Posted By: Ryan Macklin...and am starting to distrust Kickstarters.
    Hmmm. Kickstarters is a whole 'nother thing though, right? I haven't yet seen a "take the money and run" scenario, but I have seen "Sorry, book is still in progress, but delays abound for these detailed reasons" scenarios*. (if such a thing has happened, please LMK! I am still googly-eyed with Kickstarter and want to hear more peoples' experiences with this model, both good and bad)

    -Andy
    (* also seen: A large project get funded, posting along the way as if it was almost finished and just needed a little more... then funding finishes - tremendously - and the email updates going out indicate that "it was finished in our heads" and not a lot of real work or writing had been done at that point. Totally valid for a Kickstarter, IMO, *as long as you make that fact plain and clear when asking for money*, and not obfuscating it until after the confetti falls!)
  • I try to avoid doing fulfillment myself whenever I can.
  • Posted By: Ryan MacklinThere are some people in indieland whose books I'll only buy from a con or store because they're abysmal at shipping books (in time spent and in frequency of damanged books), and it's part of the reason that I don't trust the Unstore and am starting to distrust Kickstarters.
    I only use the Unstore when no other option is available. In my experience, typical PDF order fulfilment takes 2-5 weeks, and hard copies 3-10 weeks.

    However, there are some small print publishers with great distribution models. I am always amazed by how quickly I receive products from Open Design.
  • Posted By: AndyKickstarters is a whole 'nother thing though, right?
    It is, but you get similar. Friends & I have dealt with "take the money and then act fucking suspicious like you're not going to deliver" and "take the money and only deliver excuses after a year." Sometimes with games, sometimes with other projects.

    So, different, but the problem still exists. There are people I won't back now because they have toxic track records.

    - Ryan
  • Posted By: jjafullertypical PDF order fulfilment takes 2-5 weeks
    Taking weeks to email a link or attachment is pretty damned ridiculous. And what I tend to expect.

    - Ryan
  • Hmmm!

    Each time I've ordered a PDF through the Forge Bookshelf, I've received the product within a day or two.
  • Agreed. Taking any longer than a few days to fulfill an electronic order is lame.
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