Thursday, 28 August 2014

Panda GM

Previously I had written about Wargames Factory (link) and how they had  a hand in the delays of several Kickstarters. This time I'm writing about yet another potential manufacturer/middleman that Kickstarter creators may NOT want to work with. 

So let's talk a bit about Panda GM. They're basically a western managed company (in their own words) who have an office in Shenzhen, China. As opposed to say Shenzhen, Texas -_-. They seem to be middle-men who outsource their stuff to China factories to produce or in their own words "Your experience with Panda Game Manufacturing will differ from dealing with print brokers because our exclusive partnership agreement with our production facility has enabled us to offer direct-level pricing as well as maintain 
maximum control over our production and quality control." So remember, at this point they're claiming to have really good control over their production. But let's look at a few cases of what they've really done. 

Incursion was a boardgame kickstarter that reached funding on August 31 2013. It had an estimated shipdate of March 2014 and achieved 208k USD funding out of an initial goal of 75k. Obviously, things went south since the funding of the Kickstarter and they didn't meet their March delivery date. 

The first sign that things are going wrong occurs in their Dec update (link) where they say that "On production: timeline is continuing to slip a bit and March is looking iffy". However, they never really give a concrete day except maybe speculating it may be a few weeks until...the March update where they estimate it'll at least be a few more months because things haven't been done yet. Or in their own words

We completed final analysis on all of the plastic miniatures and are now working on creating temporary moulds for all of the figures so we can make samples for Grindhouse Games to inspect. Typically, a few rounds of iteration are required during this part of the process to ensure that we can produce the figures to match the original sculpts, keeping our manufacturing limitations in mind as well. Each round of iteration takes approximately 4-6 weeks so it is difficult to gauge exactly how much time we will spend in this part of the production process. Sometimes we can get it right on the first try and sometimes 3 or 4 rounds of iterations are necessary.

Uh...So  production hasn't started yet? And this is only revealed in a March 2014 update when the game is DUE in March 2014? Wtf? Considering the general tone of the previous updates, there was no indication that there was going to be a delay of this magnitude at all. I mean, FFS, they were estimating a delay of maybe weeks a month or two past. So obviously, either a) the update writer had no clue what was going on b) the creator lied to us or c) Panda lied to the creators about the progress of the game. Of course, it's hard to tell from one data point. 

Anyway, as of the time of this post, Incursion still has not shipped out and is 'estimated' to ship in September 2014. Which might not even be possible but we'll see. 

Cthulhu Wars
And welcome to our 2nd data point. Cthulhu Wars was another boardgame KS that was funded in July 2013, expected to ship Dec 2013 and still has no current shipment date available yet. The new tentative date is October 2014 but even that's not confirmed. It has a funding of over 1 million dollars, compared to its initial funding of 40k. This was also handled by Panda GM. 

The first hint of a delay comes in September where they say 

"Other bad news is it looks like we may not be able to hit the December deadline as we'd hoped. The manufacturers are meeping and glibbering about a February date and since we're at their mercy we are now aiming for then. If anything can be done to speed up production, rest assured we will take the necessary steps - we want the game published as much as y'all!"

February, that's not so bad. Then February comes along and...
In brief, here is our logistics plan – the factories (in China) are going to deliver everything to a distribution center (also in China). There, the individual orders shall be collated. These are to be packaged into containers, then sent to regional warehouses for dissemination to local carriers, who happily deliver the product to your door. We have received nothing but good news with regard to diminishing the VAT issues in Europe. Right now, we are told by the factory that the game will be released to the distribution center in early April. It should be less than 30 days from then for final delivery.

So...April then? In April...
Sandy and I have been traveling a lot lately.  In fact, I just got back from an exhausting trip to China. We are doing our best to move production along there as swiftly as possible, but we did run into some manufacturing delays which we are working to resolve.  Right now it is looking like a September delivery, but next week we should have final details from the manufacturer and we will make a more complete announcement about this and how it affects the delivery schedule.
Wow, WTF is going on here? Then a follow up update makes things clearer. 

You have no doubt seen update 126 announcing the game will be available in September. Here is the backstory. Not long ago, we were told by the factory that they couldn’t ship the game until October. Up to that moment, we had been told it would be significantly earlier. So this was a pretty big shock. We did not take it sitting down. First, we offered more money to get it out sooner (from our pocket – not the Kickstarter). But the delays were real, and couldn’t be fixed, at least not by that means. I then flew my business manager out to China, and we began shopping around the game to other manufacturers, trying to find someone who could bring it out earlier, with comparable quality. What I am trying to say is that the delay frustrated and embarrassed us, and we fought like fiends to improve the situation. While we aspire to be as transparent as possible to our backers, we wanted to know exactly where we stood before posting another update.Let me make this clear – I was (and am) willing to mortgage my house to get this game out as early as possible. You guys and gals deserve it.We did manage to make some improvement. We are now told it is shipping in early August, and should be arriving four-to-six weeks later, assuming Cthulhu doesn’t swallow down the container ship. And, as we announced in the last update , I decided to unlock ALL the collectibles for all backers at Cultist level and beyond. It turns out we are a pack of completists when it comes to Cthulhu, so I suspect this is good news. Incidentally, originally we had been planning to produce the collectibles in their own unique color, but now they will be in their faction color. They will still be easy to distinguish, though, because they will have special collectible bases.
So it seems like Panda has been fudging a bit on its delivery dates. Otoh, it's really just the creators words against them but at this point, it's another data point in a pretty damning picture of Panda GM. 

By the way, the latest release date is still October so I'm guessing Panda lied about the early August shipping. Good job Panda. 

Wow, I didn't know Panda did Myth at first until I went to their website and saw it listed in their portfolio. I guess this explains where there were so many production fuck-ups with Myth. Let's explain this. Myth was funded April 24, 2013 and was supposed to deliver by Jan 2014, which it didn't really manage to do. Basically, there's a huge number of issues with Myth, some of which probably aren't Pandas fault but some of which probably are. It hit a funding goal of 926k out of an initial of 40k. 
International customers will receive one shipment in April. We are very confident in where we are now.
Basically, customers were supposed to receive everything by April 2014. Seeing as how it's August 2014 and I haven't received anything yet, I think we can say this was bullshit. 
Inventory has been done. We are missing several entire runs of the wave 2 stuff. We had asked that they try to do the entire run and put some of each type into the container. It appears, they were not able to do this.
Even in March, they were still saying the shipment would be coming in Late April. This sounds familiar doesn't it? The constant shifting of delivery dates? And all by the same manufacturer as well.  Of course, it gets worse as once the shipment arrives they discover that the shipment is missing quite a fair bit of stuff. WTF, apparently the manufacturer had not produced some of the stuff. Good job Panda. 

It has been two weeks since our last update, but only 10 business days. Email communication with China is an interesting thing. It often takes several days to get to a final answer. Questions lead to answers which leads to other questions and clarifications. In some cases, answers had to be figured out. In others, it was clear what had happened.
This is an interesting comment because if Panda IS western managed like it claims, why the fuck is it so hard to get answers? What's the whole point of saying it's western managed if customers are going to communicate with it and get the shitty chinese cultural experience (am chinese, have dealt with chinese factories before. This is a very sad but true reality).

We don’t have someone like that for the miniatures. Our contact is the owner and an employee who is with the plant. This is important, because apparently they haven’t quite followed our instructions in terms of production of all the miniatures. From emails, it is clear that this request of ours never made it to the production floor.

So...where's the western management in this? It sounds more and more like they're just a middle man and not even a really good one if there so much trouble getting answers or not having instructions passed down. 

In the end, the orders are supposedly being fulfilled right now as I write this, so I guess it's a delay of 8 months or so. Which is still better than WGF at this point. 

Of course, there are a few other KS that Panda GM is involved in and it'll be interesting to take a look at those to see how they play out and if they experience the same 'sudden' delays and so on. One of them is Fireteam Zero, which is due in October 2014 and supposedly on track in terms of production at this time. Another is Demigods rising, which is at the moment in the last few hours of its Kickstarter campaign. 

Overall, I'd say that publishing delays are becoming way too common in Kickstarters now and it's pretty shameful how people think it's normal just because most Kickstarters are delayed. However, what really gets me about Pandas delays is how they seem to continuously shift the production date. And not in a good way either. It's almost Palladium-ium in a way how they can suddenly just tell you in the very month that the product is supposed to be released in that it's been delayed to another month. Then on that month, oops another delay. That's just pretty fucked up especially when such delays are known at least a month/s before hand at least.