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Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Steve Cole reports:

Whenever we finish a product (that is, hand it over to the printer and start shipping orders), we do the FLAP (Finish Like A Pro). This originally began as a self-defense system, in that customers were convinced that the day after one product was released was the perfect day to bombard us with requests for various things, submissions of various items for future products, or general requests for attention to whatever thing mattered most to them. The FLAP list meant that we could push aside those requests in order to truly "finish" the product. Quickly, however, the FLAP list evolved in a serious professional management tool and a part of our marketing and management system.

On 16 November, we released Captain's Log #40, Squadron Box #25, Squadron Box #26, Border Box #9, and the Klingon F5W Squadron. These were, in some ways, complex products, since each had many parts.

For the miniatures, we had to make sure that we had enough clamshells, foam packing, and stands. We had to actually get the new and existing minis produced and sent to us. That was complex in that we had to calculate how many we might need for the initial sales, and how many of each we already had (if any). We had to get the cover art done (and done over when we found out that we used the old list of ships instead of the revised list, which also caused problems in that we ordered some of the wrong ships and had to get more ships ordered and sent in).

Captain's Log is of course a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, and we had to get all of the elements and articles not simply done, but tested, proofread, and reviewed. Part of finishing a Captain's Log (usually on the last day) is to figure out the term paper promotion ranks and the campaign ribbons for who worked on the product. After we select the Term Papers, Command Notes, and Tactical Notes for publication, Steve Petrick takes the "approved but not used" papers and puts them into the file for the next issue. (After the new papers are graded for the issue, they are mixed into the file with the previously approved papers, in order of highest grades and then in order by how long they've been in the file. If you had a paper graded for CL #40 which got approved, it might not have been published if you already had an approved but unpublished paper with a higher score or an earlier date in Petrick's file.) He also sets aside the rejected papers (both those that failed due to rules errors and those that were not illegal but just didn't get a high enough grade to be published) for me to use in the Supplemental File.

Somehow, it all came together, and all five products were released on time, on 16 November. That, however, was only the start of "finishing" the products.

We normally put new products on the shopping cart the day that we send them to wholesalers. This is partly a self-defense system, in that if something caused a delay of the products, we don't want orders sitting around not getting sent. We ship mail orders seven days after we ship the wholesale orders, so that in theory no one could get it faster by mail order than in their store. (Retailers are fussy about that; they don't want us stealing business from them.) We don't take orders weeks in advance because it confuses the bank software (we don't want to charge your card until we know positively that we will ship the product on a certain date). As soon as the product is on the printers, we start loading it onto the web store.

Getting new products into the web store is not a simple thing, or a single action. First, we have to create the basic product listing (which is held in an inactive state until finished). Somebody (usually me) has to write the product description. Eric (the Graphics Director) has to upload cover art or other photos. Leanna (who knows more about the shopping cart than I do) then has a ton of work to do. She has to set up the special things, like loose-leaf and hole-punched editions, the large-print edition, packs of separate pages, and so forth. She also has to edit the cart front page to list the new products, and double-category them into the "new products" button. Leanna also files the copyright documents.

I actually have a bunch of work to do in the five or six days immediately after "finishing" a product (and before mail order shipments begin). First, I have to write the "just released" press alert and have Mike Sparks send that to the media, retailers, and gamers. Even though the next issue of Hailing Frequencies won't be sent for two or three weeks, I have to write the "big news this month" part right now and send that to Eric. I also have to send an updated listing of our entire product line to the Greater Games Industry Catalog. They only print four times a year (and we release new products and send them an updated file ten times a year) but at least they always have a file that's less than a month old.

In the case of a Captain's Log, I have to do the large print edition (which takes about a day) and the Supplemental File (which takes at least three days). Those have to be ready to be printed before "Mail Order Release Day". Somewhere during those first frantic days, I upload the text version of the table of contents, and the list of published Term Papers, Command Notes, and Tactical Notes. (People want to know if they got published and got promoted.)

Somewhere in this first post-release week, I have to figure out who gets a free copy or a check, and issue vouchers to have those sent, and confirm shipping addresses. This time, I did that after doing the Supplemental File and large print edition, which caused most of the staff to send frantic emails asking why they had not received an email about their free copies yet.

Somewhere around the end of the first week, we update the website's Just Released page and Product Schedule page.

In the second week, I have more to do. (Some of it even gets done during odd moments in the first week.) I have to update the index of Captain's Log articles and have Eric post the PDF. (This got done on the 24th, 8 days after the "release" of the product.) I have to prepare the Table of Contents, the Input Guide, and the SFBF pages for uploading as PDFs. (This time, those three got uploaded during the first week). I have to update the F&E Ship Information Table and the Federation Commander Master Ship chart and upload the new versions. I prepare any errata and rulings files from the issue and post them (or give them to Eric to post) in the relevant areas. The low-resolution version of the Supplemental File is given to Eric to upload. The text version of the catalog has to be updated and given to Eric to upload.

Just after the product is sent to wholesalers (i.e., just after the official release date), Mike Sparks (who is the Customer Support Director) emails the various magazines and websites that do game reviews to check on the previous products we sent them. If they have reviewed the last products we sent them, we send them the new product. If they haven't, we don't.

All during the two weeks before and the two weeks after the release of a Captain's Log, we're actually starting the next issue. Articles and other items that get "bumped" are moved to the file folder for the next issue as we finish this issue. After it is finished, I set up the page layout files in the computer for the next issue, and go ahead and place in there any bumped items, or overflow items. I also set up things like "ten questions" so that I can accumulate any good questions that show up during the next six months. Traditionally, on the Saturday after a Captain's Log is released (two days before Mail Order Release Day) we have the first planning meeting for the next Captain's Log.