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Saturday, February 06, 2016

How Not to Get into the Game Business

Steve Cole writes:

I constantly see things on industry mailing lists and in my email where people want advice on entering the game business. The best advice I have is my free book which you can find at www.StarFleetGames.com/book as a nice multi-chapter PDF.

In one recent case, an individual wrote to say: "I just lost my job and have decided to be a game designer for a living. I need a stable income of $4,000 a month. How long would it take me to get there? Three months? Six?"

I laughed and cried at the same time. For one thing, I don't make $4,000 a month now and I've been in the industry over 30 years. (A few years I have made that much, barely, but not in the current market.) The sad fact is that except for the lucky three or four, game designers won't ever make that much. Worse, you probably cannot make a living as an independent game designer at all, since game publishing companies were (99% of the time) created to publish the owner's games because no other company would publish them.

In another case from some time ago (I'm going to blur some facts here so that nobody can tell who I'm talking about), a young game enthusiast decided to quit his day job and focus his full time efforts on game design and publishing. His wife said that she would allow this only if he "brought home" a paycheck of a defined amount each month. He had some money from an inheritance which was separate property and his wife allowed that he could use this. Well, he went through the nest egg, borrowed money from savings without telling his wife, maxed out the credit card he got for the business, and then got two more cards (those offers in the mail) without telling his wife and maxed them out. All the time (his company lasted 18 months and did a dozen products) he was "bringing home" the required paycheck. His company was making a profit beyond expenses, but not enough to cover the paycheck, but the paycheck continued because (a) his wife insisted and (b) he was sure he would start making more sales any time. One of the credit cards was a $5,000 cash advance spent on advertising (which produced few if any new sales). Every month, he wrote that paycheck but came up short elsewhere. He had established credit with the printers and with the companies that sold him advertising pages so he ended up deeply in debt to the printer and to advertising publishers. Worse, his first product (which sold well enough) ran out of print, but it was going to cost $20K to reprint it and the dwindling rate of sales (nowhere near as good as it had been 18 months earlier) would not support the debt load, but he "had" to reprint it to avoid looking like a company on the way out. Finally, with no more places to borrow money and creditors threatening legal action, he took the case to his wife for a home equity loan. She, of course, had no clue that his company was $40K in debt (for which he was personally liable) or that most of the family savings account was gone. It's a wonder she didn't kill him or leave him, but she did force him out of the game business immediately. He sold out for what he could get and applied that money to the debts. Moral of the story, if you are married, make your wife a part of every business decision and do not keep secrets from her about family money.

In another case (actually, there are four or five of these I have seen, all about the same), an enthusiastic game designer who knew nothing about the industry but was sure his game was the next big thing got a home equity loan, printed thousands of copies of his game, and THEN (and only then) asked other game companies how to contact stores and wholesalers to sell his game. He had no clue what size the market was (few games sell over a couple of thousand copies) or who the wholesalers were or what it would take to get them to buy (some now demand that you pay them $500 for advertising before they will carry your game) or even what the discount structure was (which meant that his cost per game was fairly close to the 40% of the retail price he had printed on the games). Moral of the story, learn as much as you can about the industry before you spend a dime getting into it. GO READ MY BOOK FIRST.

I see lots of gamers who think that running a retail store, and online discount store, or a game publishing company involves low work and high reward. It does not. If it did, a lot more people would be in this business.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Last Words of Famous Captains, part 1

What do you mean, I forgot to power the tractors?

How many weasels do we have armed? None? Really?

It's a pseudo-torpedo. I just know it is!

Give me the weapons readout on a Stinger? No, not the whole squadron, just one Stinger. Oh, that is just one ...

What do you mean: "The racks are empty"?

Captain's Log #17 (c) 1995 Amarillo Design Bureau, Inc.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Projects Continue Apace With New Headaches

This is Steven Petrick posting.

SVC is producing more graphics for the Romulan Master Star Ship Book (he just finished the King Condor and its variants, to include the King Shrike), and I am generating new graphic requests (I just sent him the SeaHawk files).

However, today we discovered a couple of boo-boos.

One of these that no one had reported was that the listing of the various SeaHawk variants had the wrong rule numbers (found by accident while creating the "request for graphics" file). This has been fixed.

The other is that, while I had created the file a while ago, somehow I had never sent the file of "Romulan Generic Units" out for review. The product might have gone to press without that file being reviewed (and as the SeaHawk error above demonstrates, I am not perfect). Fortunately one of the checkers asked, in essence, why I had not sent the file to him, which revealed the error. The file has been sent now.

I am still working on the Lyran Master Star Ship Book, which is in pretty good shape as a draft, and am  going through the Lyran Democratic Republic, which despite being a smaller empire is actually harder to do. The problem is that the Lyran Democratic Republic's smaller fleet is spelled out, year by year, in Module C3, but since that was published . . . well things have changed somewhat. As an example, while it does not impact the year-by-year lists directly, the entry for the "Light Monitor" in Module R11 specifically notes that the Lyrans gave a light monitor to the Lyran Democratic Republic in Y163, later taking the ship back and replacing it with a regular monitor. Not a big deal, but the entry on the arrival of the Monitor in the historical background had to be modified to reflect the arrival of the light monitor and the subsequent exchange. Add to this,  however is that the Lyran Democratic Republic Monitor has its on (R14.0) series rule number (because it was unique, i.e., the only monitor the Lyran Democratic Republic ever had), which has led to that rule number being expanded and subdivided to account for  not just the monitor, but the light monitor and the consideration of converting the monitor into a fast monitor (never done).

Of course the Lyran Democratic Republic also had one specific rule for "bases" in its (R14.0) rule numbering sequence) which has been expanded to cover (conjectural) stellar fortress, (conjectural) advanced technology starbase, (conjectural) starbase, (conjectural) advanced technology sector station, (conjectural) sector station, (unique) advanced technology battle station, battle station, (conjectural) advanced technology base station, base station, (conjectural) advanced technology civilian base station, civilian base station, systems activity maintenance station (because of the UIMs), and ground based defense disruptor stations (because of the UIMs). All other Lyran Democratic Republic bases are handled by the rule "same as a Lyran base of the same type."

And then there is that specific rule number for Lyran Democratic Republic auxiliaries that will have be dug into (has to cover those auxiliaries that get phaser-Gs, the others are the same as a Lyran version).

There is also the question of what to do with the "conjectural Lyran Democratic Republic fighters."

So if you think my job is often easy . . . see the title of the last blog I posted (GRIN).

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Play Online

Many people do not know that you can play either Star Fleet Battles or Federation Commander online in real time against live opponents.

Ten years ago, www.SFBonline.com was created to provide players of Star Fleet Battles with an on-line gaming experience. It was a smash hit as hundreds of gamers joined the battles. Tournaments and other competitions, plus general opening gaming, have gone on around the clock since then. It since expanded to include Federation Commander!

Now you can play with real live human (not to mention Klingon, Romulan, Kzinti, Gorn, Tholian, Orion, and other) opponents all over the world in real time 24 hours a day! The computer automates many functions and acts as a friendly assistant for mundane chores.

For the modest subscription fee of less than $6 a month per game system, you have access to most of the ships in the Star Fleet Battles/Federation Commander game systems as well as new ships still in playtest and development. The Java Runtime system is compatible with Windows and Macintosh systems.

Never worry about a lack of opponents. Never worry about opponents who don't show up for games day because of silly reasons like family reunions or their own weddings. Don't be cut off from your regular gaming group while on vacations or business trips.

Even better, you can join in online tournaments and campaigns, and your victories will add up to a higher and higher average score!

The system also allows you to chat with friends, taunt your enemies, and watch other players fight their own savage battles. (Why learn from your own mistakes when you can learn from someone else's?) This "observer" system allows players of either game to learn the ins and outs of the other game before deciding to invest time and money in it.

We continue to develop Federation & Empire for an online environment and have playtesters working out the kinks. We'll let you know as soon as it is ready to release.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016


Steve Cole's thoughts on several subjects that came to mind at various times.

1. If you're taking a bunch of medications, you need to have a written list of them on your person at all times. (This could be written in the back of your appointment book, or typed on a piece of paper.) Anything that happens to you is going to involve a doctor wanting to know what medications you are on, and this way, you have all the answers.

2. If you are responsible for a parent or other loved one, you need to have a similar document about them, but include such things as medical history and doctor contacts.

3. Recently, one of the software programs I used suffered a fatal corruption and had to be reinstalled. During that process, I had to go back through the "settings file" which I had not seen since 2002. I discovered several places where clicking on a little box would make the program stop doing some stuff that had annoyed me for over a decade. I feel stupid for not having sought solutions to those complaints. Instead, I just grumbled and lived with them.

4. Back when I was in college (early 70s) one of the more popular songs (we had record players back then, tapes did not appear until after I graduated) was MacArthur Park. It was haunting and sad and nobody really even thought of trying to understand what it meant. It was (as one might guess) a guy who just broke up with his girlfriend and misses her and the relationship, but knew it was what it had to be. It was 40 years later before I understood that the opening line (Spring was never waiting for us, girl) meant that their relationship was doomed because it lacked at least one of the necessary elements to make a marriage work, and thus could not go on. The songwriter ate lunch in that park with his girlfriend for about two years, and stuff in the song is stuff they saw every day. Families often had birthdays, and the city often had sudden rainstorms. As people gathered their stuff and ran for shelter, now and then some family would abandon the birthday cake which was then ruined by the rain, causing everyone who passed it on the dash for shelter to feel sad for them.

Monday, February 01, 2016

This Week at ADB, Inc., 24-30 January 2016

Steve Cole reports:

This was a week of steady progress. The weather this week was cool.

New on DriveThru RPG and Wargame Vault this week was Captain's Log #18 and Star Fleet Times #36-40.

Steve Cole kept up to date on routine stuff, worked on fiction (finding and editing a story that will go into a future Captain's Log), talked with a potential author for a new Prime Directive series, got the new Traveller book from Mongoose and put Jean and Mike West to work on the PD version, did a bunch of art for SFBOL3G, and did some art for the Romulan Master Starship Book. His exercise program moved forward; most days he was able to walk half a mile.

Steven Petrick worked on fiction, Captain's Log #51, the Romulan Master Starship Book, and the SFB Module C2 update.

The Starlist Update Project moved forward with five new entries and one updates.

Leanna kept orders and accounting up to date.

Mike kept orders going out and rebuilt the inventory.

Simone did website updates and some graphics.

Jean (mostly) rested at home and went to doctor visits but did manage to get into the office for two brief and productive periods. She got PDF uploads restarted, took a fiction story home to read, and mapped out some other projects.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

On Work and Planning and Volunteers

Jean Sexton muses:

I love working for ADB. The work is challenging enough to keep my interest. It varies from day to day, so it isn't boring. Much of it is interacting with people on various social media and forum platforms. A good amount of it is making our products a better experience for gamers.

I've worked part-time for ADB since 2007, transitioning to full-time in 2013. I started with proofreading and moved more into copy editing. I took on administrating the BBS and the FC Forum. Slowly I took on more responsibilities, easing the more mundane tasks away from the Steves and Leanna. Planning for the StarBlog posts was one of the first things I took on. I pushed for a page on Facebook and we got that. We added a Twitter feed. We started posting PDFs on DriveThru RPG and Wargame Vault. I looked at how to get the word out and started making posts in appropriate places. Little did I realize that my little empire was growing.

I believe in planning. Before I left my position in North Carolina, I did a lot of training so someone would know how to do what I did. I left instructions on how to do a bunch of reports I was responsible for creating. All the personnel reports were done prior to my departure. Everything important was on a flash drive that I gave to my supervisor.

At ADB I made a mistake. I was healthy except for a few well-controlled problems. I had taken things over from other people, so I "knew" they knew how to do them. I had written some guides and had them on my computer in case I needed them. Where I failed is I forgot to tell people how to find the guides. The password to my computer had gotten lost except in my head, so no one could get to the documents.

The consequences were that blog posts weren't made regularly, publicity didn't get out, PDFs didn't get uploaded regularly, Facebook and Twitter didn't get updated as frequently, and spam got through to the BBS and FC Forum. I am already taking steps to make sure some of these don't happen in the future.

Still, the problems were alleviated by some people who volunteered to help us get the word out about the newsletters, who minded the BBS and Forum, alerted me when a problem had to be dealt with, and reminded us when things were slipping through the cracks. I am so thankful for the people who stepped up.

What can you do in your own workplace? Take the time to create guides to what tasks you do and how you accomplish those goals. Then kidnap someone and have them use the guide while you sit there. Maybe the task needs to be done on your computer or perhaps you need to include a website and login information. It is easy to skip something because you know it all too well. If there is something in your personal life that needs taking care of (bills, homeowner's rules, etc.), try to have a list of those in a calendar where others have access when needed (everything you need is in the turquoise calendar by my recliner). While your family and friends can "get by" in an emergency, it is a weight off your mind if they don't have to stress and neither do you.

Learn from me; don't go the hospital for two weeks to figure it out. Tackle something each week until it is done.