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Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Steve Cole writes:

People often try to convince me to publish some particular product. (It's how we select a lot of the products that get printed, but there are advocates for many more products than we can actually print.) Sometimes this is a gamer who wants to buy the product; sometimes it's an outside designer who wants me to publish the product.

The way you convince us to create and publish something is to prove that the sales (in dollars, not just units) exceed the costs. Some products are easier to do than others. (Federation Commander Klingon Ship Card Pack #4 took less than a day to do; the revised rules for Federation & Empire Fighter Operations or A Call to Arms: Star Fleet Book #1 took most of a year.) Obviously, you have to convince us that there are enough people who will buy it to generate enough money to pay us for doing it, but that number is key on several levels.

First, you have to meet the minimum print run. If you want die cut counters, that means 1000. If you just want laminated cards like Federation Commander, probably half of that. If you want PDFs, then the minimum run is one.

But, second, you have to sell enough not just for the minimum print run, but enough to be worth the payroll time to create the product. Obviously, I cannot do a month of work to create something that sells one copy, even if the minimum print run is one. And the time that my employees (and myself) have to do products is limited and finite. Doing one project literally means not doing another one (at least not yet). A project by an outside designer should take less time than one done by myself personally, but I've rarely seen that actually happen. We spend more time fixing and editing to make sure it works and fits inside the universe than you'd think.

Then third, you have to look at what is best for the specific product line. Doing any significant work on Federation Commander Early Years delays the already announced next project (Fighters Attack). Can anyone tell me that Early Years will outsell Fighters Attack? I just don't think you can. On the other hand, something that would take an hour to do won't slow down the next major product significantly.

Then, fourth, look at the whole company. Doing a product for Federation & Empire may mean not doing a product for Star Fleet Battles. A new module for Starmada might mean not doing a new book for A Call to Arms: Star Fleet, and so forth. We got a lot done in 2016, but some of its schedule remain unfinished and we will have no trouble finding more projects for 2017 than we can complete.

A key point is die-cut counters. Currently, the system that produces them produces four 8.5x11 sheets, which means that any product that requires counters either fits into the next sheet or waits for the one after that. All four sheets (which could be from two to eight products) have to be ready at the same time, which may mean that we have to stop everything and complete a low priority project so that the combined print run of counters can go to press. It might also mean that a very important product has to wait months or a year for a spot on a print run, or that adding a product that takes little work but needs counters means delaying a product that also needs counters.

And of course, sometimes my hands are tied. I cannot do a product which exceeds our license, or one that requires parts that cannot be economically produced.

Since we've just started work on Captain's Log #52 I should comment that sometimes the thing people want is not a product at all, just a few pages of the next Captain's Log. That makes the minimum print run irrelevant, but also means it cannot include counters. While Captain's Log is a zero-sum game (with 144 pages, anything we do means not doing something else) and cannot accommodate projects of more than a few pages, it does use work resources already on the schedule.