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Saturday, October 26, 2013


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

1. I was recently offered a deal in which I would get $1500 up front, and then might or might not get $7500 at some future point. The problem was, the deal depended on my doing a couple of weeks of work first, and it had to be the NEXT two weeks, not some two weeks at some future point when I wasn't pushing against a deadline. The bottom line was that I'd break even on the cost of my time, but doing this would delay every product I was working on by two weeks. In the end, the Board voted to prohibit me from working on that deal, requiring me to focus on projects already on the schedule. For anything to get on the schedule and go straight to the head of the line, it has to be some combination of very quick to do and/or making a lot of profit in the very near term. Breakeven deals (or deals that only make somebody else money, which is why that guy was pushing me to do it) do not go to the head of the line.

2. Back when we started doing RPG books I had this vague idea that we'd churn out a book every other month. I laid out detailed plans to do a series of books in a series of game systems, even announcing prices and stock numbers. Then I found out that most of the outside authors never wrote the books, the books we did were awful for a variety of reasons (including dueling designers and editors and a publisher who tried to insert cool rules into a game system he had never played). The whole thing more or less collapsed. Eight years later we have actually released 12 books but we've spent two years on the 13th one (the core book done over for Traveller). I've now learned to let Jean do things one book at a time, encourage others to do whatever preliminary work on several other books, and then sit down with Jean after a book is finished and decide what book to do next. We also don't announce books that aren't more or less complete. Some web stores still list the never printed books from those early days.

3. Part of the RPG thing was to do versions of each book for multiple systems. The idea was that a 144-page book of Klingons only needed about 10 pages of actual rules, so once Klingons was done for one system, we could do the books for other systems quickly and cheaply. Then I found out that those 10 pages were more work than the other 134. Oh well.

4. Still discussing RPGs, everyone told me that the players of each system wanted "their own book" rather than a generic book and a small supplement of "their" rules. This meant multiple low print runs instead of one bigger profitable run. Then we did Away TeamLog on the theory that the book was generic and mostly fiction, with later small PDF supplements for each system. This is basically a test to see if maybe in future we can do one Tholian book with several supplements instead of doing five or six nearly identical books. It also means if somebody says "Hire me to do conversions for system XYZ" we can tell him to try to do the supplement for ATL. This will tell us if that author can produce work accurately and quickly, if he can produce work that doesn't take months to edit and proofread, and if anybody will actually buy System XYZ to play Star Trek.

5. About 15 years ago, some guys came to me with an offer to buy the Star Fleet Universe for a significant pile of money. The money, however, was not a lump sum, but a series of payments over several years. I thought that was fine and sent the contract to my lawyer for review. He came back and pointed out that the contract promised I'd get paid, but did not back up the promise with anything. The promise was made (in effect) by a brand-new corporation with no assets that had existed for only a month or two. If they just didn't pay me, there was not much I could do. I said that in such case I'd just demand that they give me back the SFU. My lawyer said that since they wanted to own title to the SFU IP on the day of signing, they clearly planned to pledge the SFU IP as collateral to borrow piles of money to invest in their plans for a major online computer deal, so if they didn't pay me, they would not be paying those loans, and the holders of those loans would have already confiscated the SFU IP in lieu of payment. I went back to the guys with a counter-offer that the title to the IP would change hands only after I had been paid all of the money, and they refused, which pretty much confirmed that my lawyer's guess about their plans was spot-on. (A further counter-offer, under which they would have to offer other security such as the deeds to their houses, was also refused.) I had considered myself a pretty sharp business man, but blinded by all of those dollar signs I never asked the question: "What if they just don't pay?"