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Wednesday, May 17, 2017


Steve Cole's thoughts on the game industry in general and on ADB in particular.
1. Steven Petrick has been doing his series of Master Starship Books, and I do the graphics for them. Each ship has a unique picture, which means I have to take the basic hull art and then add or delete greebles (phaser bumps, tractors, hatches, mine racks, sensor dishes, etc.) to create the specific ship variant. The way we did the first few was that Steven Petrick would write up instruction sheets and I would do a few at a time. He would then check them, mark fixes, and wait for me to correct them. The problem was that I kept forgetting to do them, or worse I would lose the handwritten instructions he had spent hours creating. When we did the Lyran book I told him to bring his instructions and sit down in my office and we'd just do them. It took about four afternoons, not all in a row, but they all got done. The LDR book took three afternoons (half of the total hours) because they mostly involved just changing the size of the phaser bumps (one pixel for phaser-3, two pixels for phaser-1/2/G) and adding the LDR emblem. (We added the emblem because otherwise the differences were all but impossible to see.) We're certainly planning to do all future books on the new "do a lot of them at once" concept. I do have to limit the hours because my eyes start to hurt and I get nervous and jumpy, the same thing that happened in high school when I built a three-foot sailboat model for my mother, grandmother, and all three of my aunts. My mother had to limit how many hours I spent doing tedious work.
2. When we took the Starline 2500s to mail order only, it was because the economics (those things are expensive to make) forced us to do this. The price was already high and once we knew the actual production cost we'd have had to raise the retail prices several dollars per ship to keep them in the wholesale chain. It was a tough decision, but we had to make it and still feel we made the right decision. A mail order site called up because they wanted to sell the ships and could no longer get them from the wholesalers. I really had no interest in selling to him as we were barely making a profit on them when sold to mail order and there was no reason to give him a share of that meager profit so he could compete with us. He insisted that we would make more money because he sold to markets we did not. Dubious about that, I said I would consider doing it at a "short discount" which means less than the standard 46% off of retail we sell other products to retailers. After carefully checking the numbers for a day or two I said I could give him 5% discount, and he could raise the retail price for his customers. He balked, demanding 35% as a "short discount" so that he could make a profit. That would mean we'd lose money on every ship we sold him, so I suggested that I might go to 10% (and was thinking maybe I'd settle at 15%). He continued to demand 35%, which he needed in order to undercut our price and take over the market from us (which he thought was a swell idea). I suddenly found myself asking "Am I just trying to make a deal so that I can feel good about making a deal?" and decided that, yes, I was doing just that. I went back to my original number sheet, checked the figures, and told him that I really didn't need to do a deal with him at all. When making deals, you have to be VERY careful that you're just counting the emotional satisfaction of making a deal as one of the tangible benefits. In the cold logic of the conference room with the budget director and the marketing director, it's possible to come up with a discount that makes sense. On the phone with a pushy competitor, it's too easy to get talked into a discount that makes no sense at all.
3. More than a decade ago, we needed a new piece of equipment. There was a $5,000 version and a fancier $6,000 version. Mindful of the bank balance, we decided to get the plain-Jane version. After a year of using it, we knew that the other $1,000 (for automated features that would have sped up the production process) would have been worth it. We came up with a brilliant plan. Sell the nearly new machine for $4,000, come up with $2,000, and buy the fancier and faster machine. We ran a classified ad on the game industry discussion board. The only interest came from a company owned by some friends. (Dozens of companies are; game publishers tend to think of each other as colleagues not competitors.) They offered to buy the machine, but wanted to pay $200 a month for 20 months. After a moment of reflection, I said no, it was cash or nothing. There were no end of reasons for this. First, we needed to cash and were not in the business of loaning money. Second, if they didn't pay, we didn't have the resources to collect the money that a big equipment manufacturer would have had. (More than a few friends in the game industry owe us money we'll never see.) Third, if the machine stopped working, they'd want us to fix it or would stop paying for it, and we had no control over how they used it. In the end, we never sold the machine, still use it, and have gotten quite used to its inefficient non-automated functions. Turns out, we bought the right machine in the first place. We have always used it just a few hours a week; the fancier automated machine would be worth the money to someone who used it several hours every day.
        4. Back in 1979 when we were getting the final fixes made to the SFB Pocket Edition rulebook, there were five or six people sitting at the table. One announced that his father had read a few pages and said we needed to remove most of the times the word "of" was included since it wasn't really needed; for example, "Thanks for all of the help" as opposed to "Thanks for all the help." He insisted that this was "the way real books are done by real publishers" and that we had to comply or look like idiots. I was annoyed, had a lot of real rule fixes to make, but made a few of the changes and ignored others. Much later I came to realize that this is the matter of "writing style" and that there are a lot of correct and acceptable styles. Owning the company, I'll use my own, thank you very much. Many a staffer, playtester, and commentator has been told "Never rewrite for style; leave that to me."
   5. Our SFB scenario "The Creature that Ate Sheboygan III" is a tribute to an SPI game called The Creature that Ate Sheboygan.