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Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Steve Cole's thoughts on ADB and the future of the SFU.

1. Several times a week I get what I call a "Middle of the Conversation Question." This is one that assumes that I know everything about every product and every decision we ever made and can quickly answer any question on any obscure point. This includes things like these: "Why does this product have more pages than that product?" (I have no idea how many pages any product has without looking it up, but in this case they were both new packages assembled from rules that were in a previous edition and that's just how many pages each one took.) "Why do you charge for some Supplemental File PDFs and not others?" (I really had no idea what, if anything, we charge for any of those. Jean is in charge of PDFs. In this case, it was that the ones we charge for are the ones containing game value content that cost us money to create, while the free ones are just stream of consciousness notes, leftover bits and pieces, and rejected tactical papers.) While all questions I am asked have some level of interest and create some level of curiosity, all of them would be easier for me to answer if they included a "background of the situation which inspired the question" paragraph (or just a sentence). Often, I find that people out there have misunderstood something about why we do what we do and that needs correcting. Sometimes somebody has found something that fell through the cracks and needs to be addressed. All too often, somebody thinks I need to change the rules if I cannot instantly come up with an answer that he accepts. Most likely of all, the question would be answered by the rulebook if somebody consulted it.

2. Somebody asked how we decide which SSD book to upload as a PDF next. That's not the question; the question is which one we are going to upgrade to the current standard. (If we upload non-updated SSDs a few sour grapes condemn us and ruin our average.) Honestly, it's done by an algorithm that accounts for player requests, how hard it is to bring it up to current standard (some were done years ago and take a lot of updating), our best guess of sales potential, whether the product is a gateway to something else, the price of tea in Pakistan, and the number of dust bunnies on Mars on the first Thursday of the month.

3. The biggest problem with ADB is that too many jobs are chasing too few people. What seems to some outsiders as a "lack of focus" or "failure to keep schedules" is simply the result of overwhelming workload. We have too many product lines for the available manpower to support them properly (i.e., put out a new product for that line twice a year), and yet, without the multiple product lines, there isn't enough business to keep the operation healthy. Fans of one product line want the full potential of that line developed, but we don't have the time to develop every product we can think of. Worse, with so few people and so many jobs, when anyone is out for some reason (family event, illness, vacation) it comes out of the valuable design time (since the administrative work cannot be avoided or much delayed) To be sure (and fair), there are mistakes made and too much time put into projects we should not have bothered with. Time and money were spend on products that didn't sell all that well, but then, if you don't try a product, you don't know what it's sales potential is. In the end, what we can do is what we actually do: make a list of things we are partly done with, finish them in a logical order based on required work and potential sales, and be very careful about allowing any new product into the list. Now, recently we added Federation Commander Scenario Log to the schedule and actually finished it before some other things that we have been working on for a long time, but it took less than a day of Steve Cole time and less than three days of Jean Sexton time. The result won't be a million-copy seller, but it will be something a lot of people want.
4. Working on the new batch of F&E counters has inspired some to propose that we immediately replace all of the old sheets (216 counters) with new ones (280 counters). Surely, it is said, the players would love this. No doubt they would, but who is paying for it? Doing a run of new counters (four sheets, minimum print run) is $7,000, it would take at least two of those runs, and contrary to myth there is not a million dollars of unspent money in our bank account. Worse, converting four sheets of 216 to four sheets of 280 would take about a month of SVC time, and mean pushing SFB Module X2 and Federation Commander Fighter Ops farther away. Theoretically we might not get hurt too bad if we could convince players to buy all of the existing counter stock for those sheets (which would pay for less than half of the print run) but the time element isn't workable. That said, now and then we suddenly find ourselves with an out-of-stock F&E sheet but that doesn't mean an immediate reprint, but we need to reprint it as soon as we can, which might be six months or more later. That's good in a way as retailers would be very upset to have copies of Strategic Ops on their shelves with the old counters when customers can buy the same product with the new counters online. The brief stock-out lets them sell the existing copies before new ones arrive.

5. I just had Simone in the office to discuss taking catalog photos of a new miniature, and I taught her some lessons that apply to every catalog photo. First, make sure you have all of the parts and show them in the photo, otherwise customers will assume they aren't buying a complete item. Second, clean up any "mold flash" and "air vent tags" on the pieces so they look nicer. Everybody knows they will have to deal with such things but nobody wants to imagine cleaning up metal pieces before they make a purchase decision. Third, lay the parts out more or less where they go, all facing the same direction, so that players will be able to mentally imagine the completed unit and how cool it is. And fourth, don't shove parts right up against each other but don't leave a lot of room between them. Extra blank space "inside" the picture (between two of the parts) means that the overall picture must be smaller in the printed catalog (and in the online catalog in some shopping cart software) and that will make it harder for the customers to see detail and reduce sales.