If you’ve been following our adventures, and/or if you backed us on Kickstarter, you might have noticed that the shipment of the shirts we promised has been running ridiculously late. Some of you have received everything in order, but a large portion of you haven’t. We think we owe you an explanation. And because it’s so late, we’ll post an extra detailed one on top of that as well as an apology.
But before we begin, we want to stress that nobody has been forgotten, the shirts are safely in our possession, and everything will be fixed in the next few days.
This said, here comes the big question: Why aren’t the rewards all shipped? How hard can it be?
The answer to this is: it becomes hard when unreliable people and a few evil corporations are thrown into the mix.
Now, for those of you who would rather do something else than read this endless wall of text, here’s the TLDR version:
We’ve been chasing after our precious t-shirts for the better part of the last 6 months. After the company that printed them, and was supposed to ship them. After a company that has run out of business and no longer has a fixed address. Since we make video games for a living we lacked the business sense to see this coming, and were majorly let down as a result.
We hope this will be an enlightening read if you ever intend to crowdfund a project and hope to give out physical rewards. Like the proverb says: “If you want a thing done well, do it yourself” (or even better: hire someone whose business is specifically what you want done).
The beginning, Kickstarter’s end
Let’s start all the way at the beginning of this tremendous saga™, shall we? The kickstarter had ended, and we now had more than 10 times as many backers as we had anticipated, so we needed to find a solution to get all the t-shirts and posters we needed made. We had nine different pledge levels for physical rewards, so we had at least nine types of shipments to do. That in and of itself is a challenge, but it’s nothing compared to what we’d encounter later.
The search for a t-shirt company begins
We needed to find a t-shirt company that could produce a massive quantity of t-shirts inexpensively while also delivering a quality shirt. We had no prior experience coming into the project, so we had to quickly learn all about manufacturing costs and printing options. There are multiple types of printing that can be used, and we wanted something that would look nice, feel nice and be durable. We wanted those shirts to not simply be throwaway items, but rather shirts everybody could proudly wear from day to day. After a few calls, taking the time to explain our situation to several companies, we finally found someone that told us he’d be able to provide what we were looking for. They manufactured quality garment with eco-friendly fabric, the cost wasn’t greater than other places and they were based not so far away in Toronto. What could possibly go wrong?
Finding a good combo
Alas, the communication with our chosen company wasn’t as good as it could have been from the get-go. It took a long time before we could finally come to an agreement on the t-shirt quality, the type of ink, and the method used to print them because creating and mailing the samples took forever. As we later learned, they were more of a garment company than a print shop. It took several back-and-forths to get the print quality we were looking for, and since we’re talking about Canada, back-and-forths between cities can be reeeeaaaaaly long.
Kickstarter’s survey system and how it let us down horribly.
Meanwhile, things got really challenging on another front. We needed a rough estimate of how many t-shirts we needed of each version and size. So, we sent out the first survey through Kickstarter. We got the results we wanted from that first survey, and prepared to send a second to gather more detailed information.
“Aha! It cannot be this easy!”, Kickstarter replied, at the same moment we realized we were not allowed to send a second survey. Nowhere was it written that we could not send more than one survey, so obviously, we fell for it thinking it was too good to be true. This created a ginormous problem for us because we wasted our only chance of sending an in-depth survey through the Kickstarter site. We had not asked for addresses or names, just sizing preferences. And, on top of that, we learned that European and American sizing standards are quite different, so we received a ton of e-mail from our backers asking us for the actual dimensions of each t-shirt, if we had male and female versions, etc… Requiring us to ask our shirt company that information in return.
Finally, we were able to place an order on those rough estimates, but we still needed to find another solution for our backers to provide their whole address for shipping and their selections for t-shirts and posters. There were several survey systems available on the internet, but after testing almost all the ones we could find, we came to the conclusion that for both security and flexibility, we’d need to do it ourselves. The site http://backers.castlestory.net was created for and only for that purpose, and programming the whole thing took more time than we expected. It was essential that only backers would have access to it, and that they could add and modify their choices. Once the system was done, we sent an e-mail to everyone with a redeem link and left it open for a couple of months before closing it and collecting all of the data. But why not do it gradually, you’ll ask? Well, the answer is in the next paragraph…
Finding a shipping company (or: swimming with the sharks)
Getting a shipping company in Canada that could understand and work with our situation was incredibly difficult. If someone ever tells you that it’s a simple as calling them and asking them to pick everything up from your place, they couldn’t be more wrong…
First, they obviously won’t do the handling, where you need to put together the packages from all the collected information. Each package was unique and had to be put together individually. Some backers didn’t want their shirts signed, but only their posters, others prefered signed shirts, but not posters, etc… So, we decided that we would handle everything that had a poster involved internally, but everything that only involved t-shirts would be handled by the shirt company. They keenly accepted that agreement, and sent us an invoice for the shipping and handling costs. That was great news for us, since that meant we didn’t have to concern ourselves with half of the packages, which meant more time to work on the game.
Secondly, different packages with different destinations means different prices. And sometimes you can’t really make any sense of it. Here’ a picture of the two different tubes we used.
Tube #1 (left): 2 posters and 3 t-shirts.
Tube #2 (right): 1 or 2 posters only
So obviously the first tube is both bigger and heavier, so you would expect it to cost more to ship. Well, according to UPS or FedEx, you would be wrong. The smaller and lighter tube could sometimes cost up to four times as much as the big one! WTF! Sometimes we even ran into prices that were higher than the backer actually paid for their entire pledge! It was getting truly ridiculous… Again, just for the information, shipping costs also change depending on where you’re shipping from. We ran a comparison between American and Canadian prices and there was quite a large difference between them.
And finally, those companies rarely do things in batches for people like us. We had a pretty massive amount of packages to be handled at the same time, and it got very complex for multiple reasons. Everything that had to ship outside of Canada required a commercial invoice. Each company has their own way of doing it, and some of them insist that their own label system be used, while others don’t really care about the labelling but require that the commercial invoice information be entered manually. Just imagine filling up several hundred web forms with people’s arbitrarily complex addresses using an archaic 90s era website. Madness!
So in the end, we selected two companies to handle our shipping. One that would handle all the ground shipping and wouldn’t care about the dimensions of the packaging, and another that would do the international shipping at a fair price. After weeks and weeks of phone calls back and forth (mostly spent waiting in line on the phone), we were able to create a batch of labels and the commercial invoices, with all the problems they come with. We even talked with the engineers for their system so they could help make a piece of software that would hook up to their system and let us send the data they want and produce everything needed for the bulk shipment. It was a one-time deal, and it took a lot of manpower to achieve this. Pascale lifted a lot of the work from our shoulders by handling all the packages and labeling. So, at this point we were ready to send everything to our backers. But almost a full year had passed when we reached that point. One company came in and took all of our well labeled packages, though the other could only do a couple at a time. But, in about two weeks, it was all finished on our side.
What happened with the other shirts then?
Back in June 2013, we received a call from the owner of the shirt company (we had started to call him Mr T-shirt amongst ourselves) and he said everything was ready, and that the packages were being sent. However, a couple of weeks later, we still weren’t receiving any feedback from our backers who should have started receiving their shirts. We contacted Mr T-shirt again to ask how the shipping was going, and he told us that it was still going along, but that with the whole handling thing, it was taking longer than expected. Okay…
So, we waited a couple more weeks, and we started to get really anxious. Obviously something was wrong now, and our messages were being answered less and less. Finally, we were able to get in touch with Mr T-shirt, and he explained what had happened. Apparently, his employees just never did the shipping, stole from him, and just hid the fact they weren’t doing their jobs. The shirts were made though, and the packages were ready, but nothing else had been done. After firing a couple of employees, he assured us that things would get done now. But no, they weren’t, and communication went silent again for awhile. After a long discussion, we decided that this company was a lost cause, and we decided to bring the job in-house. We spent months trying to get all the shirts to our offices, and finally received them a week ago.
So what happens now?
While it’s true the packages were already put together, after all the epic problems we’d already had with the t-shirt saga™ we needed to be sure there weren’t any mismatches on the shirts. We did not trust anything Mr T-shirt or his acolytes have done, and we fully expected the packages to contain random shirts or crazy stuff like popcorn or whatnot. So, we started opening a few of them, and after a short bit, we found an error factor of 12% on the batch we opened, which isn’t awful considering the circumstances, but completely unacceptable. Pascale is already on this quest, and is making all the proper labels so they can be sent. This time, we will be doing them methodically in smaller batches, but it shouldn’t take more than a couple weeks to get it all handled and shipped out.
Over the next several days, Kyle will be going through our list and contacting every backer that pledged for physical rewards to verify mailing addresses, since it’s been so long since we took the address survey. We’ll be shipping things out as we get the verification from each backer. We want to be sure everyone gets what they backed for, so please keep an eye out for your message if you’re supposed to get something.
Here are the packages that we need to open, check and reseal, just to make sure.
Here are the t-shirt boxes, neatly organized and labeled, like it should have been done in the first place.
If you ever carry out a Kickstarter campaign and really want to add physical rewards to it, be sure that you are prepared for that situation. We had contacted companies similar to J!NX before the start of our campaign, but were turned down because they did not believe our campaign would succeed. In hindsight, we should definitely have contacted them back again after it was over.
Other Kickstarters have had similar problems along the road, and at that time there wasn’t really a good way to handle it. Hopefully, there are now a couple of fulfillment companies that specialized themselves around handling Kickstarter physical rewards, so people like us can benefit from that. The road may be less rocky, but we are all now aware of the difficulties that come with physical reward tiers and learned a serious lesson from it.
All we can do at this point is sincerely apologize for the incredible delay, get this stuff shipped out ASAP, and continue focusing on the development so we can bring you the great game we all want to see Castle Story become.
Thank you for reading!
– Thierry, Germain, Kyle and the rest of Team Sauropod
8 Comments for The t-shirts: What went wrong, and how we’re fixing it.