Monday, November 11, 2013

Honoring your promises: how companies react to mistakes.

Originally, this wasn't going to have anything to do with my own work, and just be a short little article about company policies, but, as luck would have it, this synched up nicely.

It isn't that common that my clients want revisions, but this was one such time. My client from this commission wanted to know if Kaeris's skin was too pale, and if it could be changed. My photograph blew out the skin a little, but I agreed with him that it didn't show enough contrast, so I re-did the skin's shadows (then met some delays) and re-shot the mini, and think it looks much nicer.

I believe in fixing your mistakes. I believe in it from a mercenary perspective of keeping people happy with your work. More importantly, though, I believe in it because it's just the right thing to do. You promised to deliver, and even if it takes more time or resources to get it right, it's your job to uphold your promise.

While this applies to my own work, I was originally going to apply it to the two extreme case studies I've experienced most recently (plus one company that got stuck in the middle).

Wyrd Miniatures, most known for Malifaux, is an odd (no pun intended) mid-sized company, to me. I really like their mini line, but never dived into the game and have only remained a casual player/forum participant. This mostly has to do with their incredibly complex game making me feel out of my depth, regarding the game itself and commenting on it. I'm hoping this will change with the streamlined version 2 rules (I'd like to talk about that some other time) but for now, I'll be focusing on the company's policies, rather than its propensity towards complex games.

The most lasting impression of their policy in my recent experience has come in the form of their
A user's photo,from Wyrd's forums.
mistakenly oversized boxed release. Wyrd pre-releases minis each year at Gen Con. This year, one of those sets was the new Viktorias crew, which, after assembled, people noticed was out of proportion with the rest of the game, notably being comparatively huge.

While it took a while for Wyrd to respond with an official response on the matter (this is fairly typical of their policy), the response was to admit that this was an error, and that something would be one about it.

Fast forward a couple of months, to the announcement of the general release, and the question of the box came up again. This time, the official word from Nathan (one of Wyrd's co-owners and the face of the company) was as follows:

The tooling for the Viks and the amazon Ronin were retooled to bring them back in line with the rest of the line for the general release. For folks that have picked them up early, we'll make a future announcement on them shortly.
Which is as much as anyone could hope for: fixing the problem for both the future and for the people who already have the product. Now, I've recently had a number of weird experiences with people responding to companies with cult-like devotion, feeling it's their privilege or even duty to give them money, which I find absurd (they're just a business, guys) and would never advocate. However, this sort of policy is what  earns my customer loyalty.

The 4th model (with no arms) is from the core game
A coincidentally similar situation came up with the Sedition Wars product line. Their second wave of models included quite a few that were equally drastically undersized (in height and/or general volume).

Mike, the owner and spokesperson for Studio McVey (the game creators) expressed similar dismay at the line, but offered no compensation other than a sincere apology.

Studio McVey's relationship with its publisher, Cool Mini Or Not, is nebulous and I don't believe has ever been discussed where customers can find it (believe me, I've looked). In that case, I'll need to speculate that their relationship is similar to that between most creative entities and their publishers, in that the publisher is responsible for production and distribution and at least some publicity, in exchange for a degree of control over the process and a cut. Until I discover otherwise, I'll need to assume that SMV's contract was the limiting factor, meaning they neither went above and beyond nor did they personally choose that kinda' lame was good enough.

Cool Mini Or Not's response to complaints has been a new Terms of Service agreement for their subsequent Kickstarter products:

We are informing you that the products are in design and as presented are not 100% final and that shipping times are an estimate only, and may ship earlier or later. By clicking the "Checkout with PayPal" button below you agree that the final products may differ significantly in name, appearance, composition, color or other material manner, and that the shipping dates may be earlier or later than the provided estimates, and that you also agree that you will not seek a refund or compensation due to these changes. If you do not agree, do not click "Checkout with PayPal" and instead write immediately to cancel your pledge for a refund.
(Bold added for emphasis.) In short, they don't want to be held accountable for anything.

Compare this to excerpts from several other Kickstarters I've backed:
While we know it’s possible that we’ll encounter other challenges, we’re fully committed to Foodie Dice, and to every one of our backers who help make it a reality.
There are many obstacles when manufacturing a product, and I know this project will be no different. I am used to dealing with these obstacles, and I'm confident I will deal with them well here!
We want everyone working on Arena Rex to get something fulfilling out of it, not just a paycheck. The attention to quality means that sometimes we have to re-boot a process, and we spend a lot of time looking for the perfect solution for the long term instead of what is most expedient. This outlook means that occasionally things take a little bit longer than we would like, but sometimes people get so excited about the project that it comes together faster than expected as well.
All others reference the idea of accountability, while CMON's rejects it wholesale.

I'm not saying that either of these instances wholly defines my perception of the respective companies, but they are parts of a greater pattern. Wyrd has made a habit of decent communication and great support, while CMON is in the habit of not acknowledging errors unless things get bad enough that they're forced to (and SMV's communication and product support outside of Sedition Wars is why I've given them the benefit of the doubt).

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