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Wednesday, September 06, 2017

SHAPEWAYS: The Fourth Mile

Steve Cole writes:
On August 2nd, I walked into my office and finalized a memo to the staffers creating a priority system for new miniatures. Every staffer was consulted about what he wanted to do and could do, after which Jean and I selected the ships for release on September 1st. The point was two-fold: First to make sure we got the most important ships and second to establish that once we had about 30-36 ships for the next release we would upload more when we had a chance to do so without delaying non-Shapeways projects.
Every sculptor was assigned an easy-kill ship or two and asked to get them in by the 10th and a priority ship to be delivered on the 20th, after which they could create and send whatever they wanted to based on our prior guidance of their priorities. The sculptors are creative guys and sometimes during August they got inspired and created ships nobody put on the schedule. They were officially told that we would still accept and eventually upload these extra ships but that we would first process their priority and easy kill ships. Extra ships might be delayed to the next month if we were busy.
The system recognized a salient fact: just because a sculptor can do it doesn't mean that Steve Cole, Jean Sexton, and Chief Engineer Will McCammon have time to deal with it. Jean and I got almost nothing done except Shapeways during July because we allowed the schedule to grow from 30 ships to 55. I have my projects (countersheet reprints, Federation Commander Scenario Log #2, A Call to Arms: Star Fleet Book Two, Captain's Log #53, and Federation Admiral) while Jean has hers (marketing, revising GURPS Prime Directive, editing Traveller Prime Directive, and proofreading Master Starship Books). Will McCammon (besides a daytime job and a family) has his own ships to do; scaling the first ships of a new empire can take more time than creating several new ships. With the ships coming in early we could all get the key units done, then focus on non-Shapeways projects and work a few extra ships into the store during odd moments. The easy kills and priority ships would never be the only thing that got done, just as far as we could afford to give Shapeways total priority over all other projects.
If any part of me expected the sculptors to push back and want to do more ships, not less, I was wrong. They quickly joined into the team effort, working on what they were assigned first and everything else later, fully expecting that just because they sent six extra ships didn't mean Jean was willing to delay the GURPS Prime Directive revision to process them immediately. Jean actually set up a system to do a ship a day and on the 17th commented that she was uploading the 19th ship for 1 Sept (the last one she had) and would I please "guide" the sculptors to send a few more. They did.
Will McCammon had an easy ship (the Federation Galactic Survey Cruiser, since Jean wanted a Federation ship and Will already had the Federation cruiser) and had a priority target in the B10 for 1 September and the key drone-armed fighters for 1 October.
Matthew Lawson, who has years of ships already done and on file, selected easy kills from Omega, the Seltorians, and the Frax, then focused on the Falcon Mauler for 1 September and the King Condor battleship for 1 October.
Steve Zamboni already had four Tholian carriers sent to us during July, but those were all extra ships. He had an extensive bank of freighters already done and we had already scheduled the two empty civilian tugs. His priority mission was the WYN dreadnought Nancy, which he had already finished, giving him time to work on the Tholian dreadnought for 1 October and some other projects.

WYN Auxiliary Dreadnought in our store on Shapeways.

Gary Pollock picked off a couple of Hydran frigates as  his easy kills then got quick scale approval for the Paladin Dreadnought as his priority ship. He also finished the Hydran gunboats.
Chris Nasipak picked off the Lyran gunboats for his easy kill and the Lyran dreadnought for a priority target, then moved on to the Lyran light cruiser (which will be uploaded on 1 Oct).
It was a good plan, and deserved to work, but we all knew by the time the plan was down on paper that something would go wrong and some opportunity would come up. But nothing went wrong that could not be dealt with. The sculptors took quickly to the idea of having a plan instead of a vague outline.
One question that came up many times was whether we could have the sculptors do flight stands for the ships. (Not just gamers asked this. Leanna was having trouble finding the commercial stands we have been using.) A few people even wanted the old Zocchi stand that had to have a firing arc overlay card. The problem is that Shapeways cannot compete with a mass production injection molded process using a very expensive mold that paid for itself a decade ago. The best approximation we could make of such a stand priced out at $2.67 per stand in trees of six or twelve. That was of course too high, but other people were selling similar stands for higher prices on Shapeways.
One aspect of the overall plan was to get the rest of the fighters and gunboats done. This worked amazing well with Lyran, Hydran, Orion, WYN, and Romulan Centurion gunboats showing up from the sculptors, some of which were even on the schedule!
In the end, the number of uploads steadily climbed from 36 to 56. These included the B10 booms and B10K which were cloned from the B10B model, some 3125 scale Omega ships that players asked for, the stands and toppers, and a few other odds and ends. (We will get the rest of the 3125s Omegas up next month. We just ran out of time.)
At one point during the month we contacted Karen Schnaubelt, the daughter of Franz Joseph, who graciously changed our license to allow us to put the official Franz Joseph models on Shapeways. We'll have the destroyer next month, and the scout after that, with the tug and dreadnought for sometime this winter.
Someone asked us why we were doing so many non-television ships but only a few Federation and Klingon ships. The answer is that the Federation and Klingons ships have to be created, while two of the sculptors have dozens of ships for the Frax, Seltorians, freighters, and Omegas already done. (They did them for their own collections a year or two ago.) We see no reason not to proceed with uploading those as, well, they're ready. That said, we are working on more Feds and Klingons. We uploaded three Klingons (variations of the B10, each in two scales) and the Fed galactic survey cruiser this month. The schedule includes a new Federation ship and a new Klingon ship (in both scales) every month. Sometimes we'll even have two or three.
Monsters are a special passion of mine, and we want to get a new one out every month. This time, Matthew Lawson surprised us with the Space Manta.
People often ask when we're going to start doing Gorns or Kzintis or Andros or the ISC. The trick is that every time we start a new empire it takes a ton of work to dial in the scale and the features. At best, we can do one project like that a month. For October 1st, that project will be to get the drone-armed fighters scaled, matched, and into the store. Sometime after that, we will decide what new empire will come next. This will probably be Kzintis but we will get around to all of the others, including the Carnivons and Paravians sometime in 2018.
The same answer applies when people ask when we will do elite-scale (1/7000) and mega-scale (1/2500) ships, X-ships, Early Years ships, RPG figures, and other things. We need to finish a few empires before we launch some big new project. Nobody wants a product line that includes only half of each category.
Let me conclude by mentioning that we did the B10 this month. The Shapeways store began as a way to get the missing 3125 big ships into production. A metal B10 in 3125 scale would have retailed for at least $60 and we'd have never made a profit on it because it would take at least seven, maybe ten, molds to cast parts you would have to glue together. Now, you can get it all in one piece! We do still have metal B10s in Starline 2400 (3788 scale) for sale and will continue to have them for at least a year.

The B10 is the first of what we consider the battleship of the month club. The Romulan King Condor will be next. Later this year we will have the Tholian, Lyran, and Hydran battleships, and next year, we'll do the rest of them.