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Subject: Estimating Release Dates - what gives? rss

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Gar Per
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I'm curious as to why it seems so difficult for game publishers to present accurate release dates for games. And to be clear - my meaning of accurate is to deliver on or before the advertised date. I understand that plans change, things fall through, things out of your control get delayed, etc. And to that I say "So what?"

I do project estimates and schedules and these are all factors that anyone who does such things must deal with. What you do not do is:

Step 1 - 1 week
Step 2 - 5 weeks
Step 3 - 4 weeks

Grand total - 10 weeks. The product will be delivered in 10 weeks!

You miss schedule approximately 100% of the time when you do this, yet it seems to be what the preponderance of game publishers do. How many times do you hear "such-and-such was late, so the game will be delayed".

What you do is:

Step 1 - 1 week, but could be delayed to 3 weeks
Step 2 - 5 weeks, but could be delayed to 10 weeks
Step 3 - 4 weeks, but could be delayed to 7 weeks

Grand total: 10-20 weeks. "The product will be delivered in the best case scenario in 10 weeks, in the worst case scenario in 20 weeks."
Or simply: "The product will be delivered in 20 weeks"

When you do these estimates, you make damn sure that he "worst case" number is truly a date you won't miss without extreme unforeseen scenarios. However, it seems like game publishers consistently give the "best case" answer and are delayed at the first setback. If you figure out and advertise your worst case scenario, then people will celebrate you when you come in "early" at 17 weeks. Instead, they frustrate the crap out of everyone involved by consistently missing. So I ask - what gives? What is the element I am missing that is so infernally difficult to project that it can't be scheduled and compensated for with reasonable "slack" in the timeline to address problems?

More frustratingly - What is the deal with publishers who give no information or expectation as to when an item may be released? I understand that it is a "safer" play to not publish any release date so you can't miss it, but I am of the opinion that anything can be estimated with higher levels of certainty and tighter schedule bands as you approach the release.

I will throw out that most movies, books, video games (to a lesser extent) etc are released on or before their published release dates - especially those release dates that are generated after the "design" is complete (which is when release dates are most often talked about for board games). I fully expect a slew of anecdotal examples that did not release on time in these categories, but though there are exceptions, I assert that most do. And your confidence in that date can increase as the date approaches because the companies involved try to save some cred by getting the word out as early as they can if they expect issues. Why do board games on the other hand slide past their release date, often with no notification by the publisher until someone e-mails them to ask?
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William Boykin
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Board games are dependent upon multitudes of small contractors. A given game requires at the very least about 3-4 different subcontractors to make different things- and this could be more, depending upon the game.

This alone makes it very difficult to get an accurate estimate. Then add in the fact that a lot of times board game companies are VERY under capitalized, meaning that they're having to wait until they have the money to fund the next stage of the production.

Long release times are par for the course in the game industry. Z-man was almost 8 months overdue with Agricola. Pandemic has been completely unavailable for long stretches of time, even after its release date.

The lack of funding in the board game industry means that direct comparisons with other industries don't work. Movies, books, and video games all have MUCH more funding available to them, and even THEN, their products are very often released later than expected. Only the most well funded movies are released 'on time', and even then there can always be surprises. "Titanic", for instance, was pushed back at least once due to a desire by Cameron to get some key sequences done properly.

Making games isn't that easy, and there sure as hell isn't that much money involved. Sometimes, I'm amazed that there are as many games released in a year as there are......

Darilian
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Boards & Bits
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My question is "Why is this important to you?"

Just trying to get some context.

Btw, if you think this is bad for consumers, try being a retailer

Tom
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Kirk Thomas
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BoardsAndBits wrote:
My question is "Why is this important to you?"


I wonder this as well. There are so many great games to play on my shelf right now that I don't really pursue release dates for new ones - I'm just happy when they show up. I don't even have that much interest in "Most Anticipated" lists, etc.
 
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Gar Per
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BoardsAndBits wrote:
My question is "Why is this important to you?"

Just trying to get some context.

Btw, if you think this is bad for consumers, try being a retailer

Tom
Boards & Bits


It is a good question, but I think mainly it just irritates me on a number of small levels.

1. The act of scheduling is just not that difficult for something of this scale (or what I might mistakenly perceive as the scale). When you have seen multi-thousand line schedules involving hundreds of people, deadlines and deliveries - estimating when a board game will be available seems an elementary task. Being elementary, it is more frustrating to see people fail at it repeatedly.
2. It just seems like poor customer relations. At the end of the day, it is a comittment/promise that is broken. It probably doesn't cause more than annoyance to the customer, but do game publishers really not care if they consistently mislead their customers through scheduling ineptitude? (I am not calling these people generally inept as I know there are very competent people involved in what amounts to many self started/run companies. Just that most are not good at scheduling.)
3. It does impact purchasing in a small way. People like to give suggestions on what to buy them for gifts, and you almost can't pick a game before its release, since it will be late and nobody wants to watch you open a pre-order.

When it comes down to it, does it matter much? Not really. It's bad relations and annoying, but it isn't really hurting anything but the publisher's rep.
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Gar Per
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Darilian wrote:
Board games are dependent upon multitudes of small contractors. A given game requires at the very least about 3-4 different subcontractors to make different things- and this could be more, depending upon the game.

This alone makes it very difficult to get an accurate estimate. Then add in the fact that a lot of times board game companies are VERY under capitalized, meaning that they're having to wait until they have the money to fund the next stage of the production.

Long release times are par for the course in the game industry. Z-man was almost 8 months overdue with Agricola. Pandemic has been completely unavailable for long stretches of time, even after its release date.

The lack of funding in the board game industry means that direct comparisons with other industries don't work. Movies, books, and video games all have MUCH more funding available to them, and even THEN, their products are very often released later than expected. Only the most well funded movies are released 'on time', and even then there can always be surprises. "Titanic", for instance, was pushed back at least once due to a desire by Cameron to get some key sequences done properly.

Making games isn't that easy, and there sure as hell isn't that much money involved. Sometimes, I'm amazed that there are as many games released in a year as there are......

Darilian


Thanks for the thoughtful post. I can halfway agree with these issues, but I don't see them as insurmountable obstacles. Yes, having multiple subs and deliveries outside of your direct control greatly increases your schedule risk. But you just assume everyone delivers late by whatever historical data you have, or based upon your best guess.

Similar story with cash flow. It seems such a recurring and repeat problem - you just assume it is going to happen and add it in to your estimate. to some extent you may never be able to estimate these impacts. But you can look back and say "last year we had cash flow issues that delayed some games up to 2 months. Add two months "fudge" to all our projections."

Now maybe these things give you a ridiculously long timeline. In that case you have to wait for a few things to finalize to reduce your schedule bands and then release a date.

The thing that I find really unacceptable is the radio silence from many publishers. Advertised release dates come and go with no word. Then some curious soul contacts them directly and gets an excuse and a revised release date. Bad news doesn't get better with time. As soon as you know you are off, you should be communicating it. Don't bury your head in the sand and hope people don't notice.
 
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