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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Products, the Future, and Jean

Steve Cole reports: 

We're in a situation in which we need to "transition the company" into a new form for the future. We need to be doing games with "four pages of rules, a mounted board, a deck of cards, and some toys" if we want to thrive in the current market. That transition will not be a mere flip of a switch, but will involve considerable effort. We have to learn new skills on many levels. We need to start immediately on new projects such as TRIBBLES VS. KLINGONS.

But Murphy's Laws include one particularly haunting one: Whatever has to be done immediately, something else has to be done first.

And the first thing I had to do was get Jean Sexton moved to Amarillo. It was the worst possible time, given Origins staring us in the face and my broken leg, but it had to be done now for Jean's safety (not to mention her mental health and general well-being). She was in a situation that was not just toxic but dangerous, and she had to leave there as soon as she finished her 30 years and her retirement kicked in. She could not leave earlier and needed to leave as soon as she could.

It would be great if moving her was over when we got back to Amarillo with her and a huge U-Haul truck full of her lifetime accumulation of everything you can imagine, but there was more to it. We had to get a new office built (which was still not quite finished when she got here) and trying to add new phone lines revealed the collapsing state of the Civil War-era phone system in the building we bought. So, time and money had to be spent on a new phone system (something we have known for years had to be done). Even that was not all of it it, as we have to help her get everything into her new apartment and sorted out so she can live there. As anyone who has moved knows, the first day in your new home has a lot more to do with stacks of boxes than it does with throwing a housewarming party. She cannot empty a given box because she cannot get to the place where stuff needs to be put away because of other boxes stacked in front of it. So, we pitched in (as much as she would allow) to move boxes around to clear a few square feet of floor space. She then began processing boxes on the edge of the empty spot. If something could be put away (in a closet or cabinet) it was. Otherwise, the box had to go to the far side of the empty spot. Everything put away was a victory, and the empty spot got bigger every day as she worked through it. (She couldn't even sleep in her new apartment for almost two weeks because there was nowhere to set up her bed. Leanna made our guest room available for as long as she needed it.) Every now and then she found something that the moving crew loaded that should have been left behind, and that item has to be returned to its proper owner in a tense exchange with an unhappy ex-boyfriend for something of Jean's that the packing crew accidentally left behind.

Carl von Clausewitz (the greatest military theorist of all time) said that you should never change anything, but if you do, you should not be afraid to change everything. So, Jean's arrival means a lot of things will change. She will take over answering the telephone from Steven Petrick, the Rangers from Steve Cole, the e23 program from Leanna, and convention support and customer support from Mike Sparks. We bought an answering machine, so from now on during meetings the phone will go to voice mail so that we don't have four people doing nothing while the fifth takes a phone call. We will be hiring one or two new employees (one to help Mike with inventory and orders, another eventually to replace Joel Shutts, our graphics director who went to his first grown-up job last week).

Origins is looming. It's only 29 days away as I write this, and none of the new products are ready. Captain's Log #47 is the highest priority, and that (at least) will get done. We've become experts at doing those and in two or three weeks we'll be printing copies. That doesn't leave a lot of time for anything else. The Federation Master Starship Book will be released, at least in an interim form. It's done except for art and whatever reports show up, but reports show up every day (and more will show up once it's released). I've decided that whatever state it's in a few days before the trip is what will be on sale (at the show and on the cart) and will be frozen for at least six months or maybe a year. If we keep fixing trivial details on the Federation book, the Klingon book won't ever get started. The amount of work that will take the Federation MSSB from 90% to 99% finished would take the Klingon MSSB from 0% to 90%. SFB Module C6 (Paravians and Carnivons) was derailed by the fatal crash of Steven Petrick's computer. That is being replaced, but even so, doing and checking 120 SSDs in 29 days is going to be a severe challenge, especially given that Captain's Log #47 is in line ahead of it. I have not officially given up all hope of finishing it, but reality is biting. In theory, the Federation Commander Tactics Manual only needs page layout, as Patrick Doyle has written all of it. In theory, once Captain's Log #47 is finished, I'll jump into the FCTM and whip it into shape quickly. Well, everybody needs to have a theory. Speaking of theories, Ken Burnside says he can whip up an SFU version of Squadron Strike, but I suspect that only happens in time for Origins if we allow him to take universe-violating liberties with the database that have gotten us into trouble with other joint ventures. That won't be allowed, and whether Ken can produce a viable product in the time available is not known.
And even if work on those products must begin immediately, other things must be done first. Old friends visited for one day, and since one of them is working on a vital part of Traveller Prime Directive and we can get a lot more done at a table than over the phone, we have to take advantage of a rare and unplanned visit. The spring trip to Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary was 11-12 May and had been scheduled for so long that we could not cancel it. The annual company picnic (a local trade show where we get enough free office supplies and chocolate to last a year) will wipe out one day of this week. For some strange reason, the other 10,000 people going to the show don't care if that is inconvenient for our schedule. We managed to upload something to e23 during Operation Fetch and the week before, but nothing was ready for the next week. Jean is going to push hard to get at least a couple of items (that I did two months ago) checked so they can be uploaded. When she finishes checking them, it will take me most of a productive day to make her corrections. Oh well.

After Origins, we get to the real future. TRIBBLES VS. KLINGONS needs overseas production (which I have no idea how to do) and a Kickstarter launch (which ADB has never done and could not be done until Jean was here to manage it). Traveller Prime Directive won't need Kickstarter but still needs to be finished. (The space combat system has never been finalized, players want to be the television deck crew and rules must be written for that, and of course 12 sets of deck plans must be done (half of which exist in some form). It's one of three planned joint venture lines with Mongoose. The other two are the Starline 2500 series miniatures (we have told Mongoose not to send us any new ships to review until every ship from Book One is on the market) and the ACTASF rulebook (which was done in such a rush that major revisions must be made before it can become an online PDF or a second book can be published). It remains to be seen if the rules problems in ACTASF and the production problems with the 2500s have fatally wounded those product lines. We're basically going to have to reboot them to make them the success they should have been. We have several more games with a few pages of rules, a deck of cards, and some toys in our future, including Merchants of the Federation (with Jay Waschak of VBAM) and Battlestations Star Fleet (with the Siadek brothers of Gorilla Games). The components of TRIBBLES VS. KLINGONS will give us a start on KRAG (Klingon Rapid Assault Group), the inside-the-ship man-to-man combat system. There are new card games and dice games out there, as well as (you guessed it) STAR FLEET MARINES VS. ZOMBIES.

The future does not by any means include abandoning the existing product lines. Over the next two years, SFB will get X2, F&E will get Minor Empires, FC will get X-ships and go beyond the Borders of Madness, Star Fleet Marines will get a third (armored cavalry) and fourth (monsters) module, new RPG books (Orion Pirates, Feline Empires, Gorns) and new game engines will be done, the long-awaited expansion deck for SFBF will happen, Starmada needs another couple of books, and more Starline 2400-series miniatures will be done. Those won't be the only products released for existing lines.

We hope you will come with us to this exciting future.