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Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Steve Cole responds to Jean Sexton's call for a blog about the company.

1. A guy called me one day offering to sell me a software system where all of the mail orders on my webstore would be forwarded to local game stores. He could not understand why I told him "no thanks." Let me try again. First, anybody who wants to "order online and pick up in person" is already doing that because the local store has that on their own website. Second, we don't want to send orders to stores because we would lose most of the profit and go out of business. (His theory that we'd sell more total games this way ran into the reality that there just aren't enough wargamers in this world to expand the customer base at will.) He theorized that it would be swell to do this because the stores would be forced to stock every product we had in order to take advantage of orders that might appear. I advised him that every game store was a mom-and-pop operation and did not have the cash or space to stock more than they are stocking.

2. Someone asked if we were interested in outside game designs that were not Star Fleet Universe. Basically, we're not. We cannot get all of the SFU games done and don't really see any non-SFU game that would sell better than SFU.

3. I have an annoying tendency to get to a deadline for Captain's Log without inventing something I know needs to happen. So I announce it in broad terms, knowing I have plenty of time to actually do it before anyone notices I haven't done it yet. The problem is, I forget the whole thing because it never got onto the "to do" list. An example is the Rangers. We announced how that worked and what Rangers got, then when people did demos and sent reports, I filed the reports but never took the day it would take to invent the system to record and reward their efforts. So, now, I'm getting carbon-copied on a string of emails from Jean (who took over as Commandant of the Ranger Brigade) listing combat action bars I need to award in Captain's Log #48 and gift certificates she's passing out to people who did demos two and three years ago.

4. Recently I was negotiating a potential business deal for a joint venture game with someone. As happens most of the time, we could not agree on several key points and he walked away. I came to find out a month later than he wasn't even the owner of the company he represented and had no authority to make a deal anyway, and that in fact the real owners still wanted to do the deal (which is impossible without the non-owner being involved) but the non-owner had never told them why the deal crashed. I guess the bottom line on that one is to be sure that you know what position the other guy in the negotiation actually holds, and that his bosses are given true copies of your comments.

5. Games have to work not just mechanically (that means there is never a situation in which the rulebook doesn't tell you what happens or what options you have) but the game has to be fun to play. For example, consider the card game Spades. Why does this have a Nullo bid? Well, two reasons. One is so a person with a really awful hand can still participate in the hand. The other is so that someone desperately behind in points has the option to "go for it" and catch up. A lot of Spades players I know aren't aware that you CAN bid Nullo with several high cards in your hand as long as: none are spades, you have low cards of the same suit to hide behind, you have a short suit you can use to dump (ruff) the most dangerous cards. I have seen game designs submitted to me in which the player had no decisions to make, but just did whatever the die roll (or some other random generator) said to do. The rules may "work" but the game is playing you, not the other way around. I have seen games (and new SFB empires) submitted that are just no fun to play as the only tactic that works is "get close and shoot."

6. A constant danger in small business America is the idea that anything that CAN be done SHOULD be done. The list of ideas and requests is longer than the time available, and some really good ideas and valid requests just won't ever happen. The problem is when one of the principle "doers" around here allows some request (or some bad review or snarky comment by someone on some website) to reset the priority.(Or, worse, one of the principle "doers" focuses all of their time on the jobs they enjoy and not the jobs that make money. We're all guilty of that one, myself more than anyone else.) The heck of it is, the priority has to be (first) whatever will produce the most profit in the shortest time, followed (second) by long-term things that will produce a specific profit (not a general concept that if we do something then someday some profit might show up somehow). A certain amount of each day's work by a principle "doer" (unfortunately, about half of it in a business this size) goes into non-revenue items (tax forms, customer service, secondary projects that feel good but produce little or no revenue) and semi-revenue items (marketing, recruiting and managing demo teams, etc.) that produce some kind of revenue that's hard to track and slow to arrive.