Archive for the 'Commerce' Category

Deadbeat Kickstarters

December 22nd, 2013 — Wordman

Kickstarter has now added a feature where you can mark delivery of projects you have backed, so I’m going through my list and verifying delivery. Since I’ve backed 400+ projects, this will take a while, and I’ll update this post as I go. Along the way, I discovered some projects with…oh…let’s call them “unreasonable delays”. I thought I’d mention them here for posterity.

I should start by mentioning that, at its core, Kickstarter is a risk transfer machine. The financial uncertainty of a project traditionally borne by the creator (or, perhaps, a publisher) is moved to the backers. This works because a) the meet-your-goal-or-get-nothing approach protects the backer from projects that can’t gather enough interest to be viable and b) because most of the time the creator delivers. (Given the number of projects I’ve backed, it should be obvious that I like this system quite a bit.)

The flip side is that, should the creator not deliver, the backers are left holding the bag and, realistically, there isn’t much they can do about it. Oh, you might entertain fantasies of some sort of legal suit, or punching the guy in the face or something, but neither is really viable. You know this going in. That’s why it’s called “risk”. I’ve not come across any cases of genuine fraud; usually a failed creator had the best of intentions, but couldn’t see them through. But the creator runs a risk as well, not financial, but of reputation. No one backs a failed creator twice.

Which brings us to the following projects (note: the “prognosis” section are my own opinions, not official project statements):

e20 System Evolved

Creator Gary M. Sarli
Funded 16 Mar 2010
Category Role-playing game
History Based on the strength of Star Wars Saga Edition, I backed this heavily. I even lobbied for it on my blog, which I almost never do. The project’s last update is from 27 Dec 2011. The creator’s last update to his own forum was 4 Dec 2011.
Prognosis This project will never be delivered. The creator had some sort of a financial/mental breakdown and has more or less vanished.

Aruneus

Creator Ben Gerber
Funded 23 Aug 2010
Category Role-playing game
History Last update made on 10 May 2012, releasing a supplement to the product not yet completed. Prior updates mention problems, including shoulder reconstruction.
Prognosis This may still deliver, but I’m not holding my breath. The same creator has since run another Kickstarter which already delivered.

Powerchords

Creator Phil Brucato
Funded 1 Oct 2010
Category Role-playing game
History While updates have been constant (and overly abundant), they haven’t consisted of much other than mentions of endless tinkering with the text.
Prognosis This project has become the poster child for flaky role-playing projects (and has led to a good rule of thumb for such projects: only back projects that have already been written). It may ship eventually, but I’m past the point of caring.

PeriodicTable of Elements Dice

Creator Andrew Inaba
Funded 28 Mar 2011
Category Dice
History According to updates, the dice were produced, but most were destroyed during shipping. Refunds were promised, but never delivered. The creator’s web site no longer exists.
Prognosis It’s possible this was just all bad luck, but it smells more like fraud. Either way, no dice.

Wreck Age

Creator Hyacinth Games
Funded 28 Dec 2011
Category Role-playing game
History Last update on 28 Feb 2013, still talking about completing a few chapters.
Prognosis This smells like it will probably ship eventually, but not in a hurry.

Quantum Roleplaying Game

Creator Joshua Frost
Funded 30 Dec 2011
Category Role-playing game
History Last update on 6 May 2014, calling the project “dead”.
Prognosis Creator used the project funds as venture capital or his roleplaying company (and, possibly, to pay rent and such). The text of the project may see the light of day, as it was largely completed.

Warren C. Norwood’s Double Spiral War RPG (Savage Worlds)

Creator Battlefield Press, Inc.
Funded 31 Jan 2012
Category Role-playing game
History Though it ran into a number of delays, this book was apparently done by the end of 2012. Then it looks like the licensor hated it and went all prima donna. It has been revised for her approval, but none has been forthcoming. In the meantime, the creator has run six other Kickstarters, including this same setting for a different system (Traveller).
Prognosis Since it appears that the licensor doesn’t really know what she is doing, I’ll be stunned if this ever gets released, even though the creators seem good.

RISUS Free Adventure Project 2012

Creator S. John Ross
Funded 1 Apr 2012
Category Role-playing game
History What started as a pitch for a single adventure for RISUS has been basically sabotaged by feature creep. First by stretch goals that turned one adventure into five. Then by the creator using the adventures as a springboard for creating a new edition of the entire game, plus supplements, and insisting on finishing them prior to finishing the adventures.
Prognosis Since all this looks like it will be released for free fairly soon, its hard to get hugely bent out of shape about it, and, it probably really will be awesome whenever it is done. Still, probably good object lessons in here someplace.

Dwimmermount

Creator Autarch
Funded 14 Apr 2012
Category Role-playing game
History Update from 13 Mar 2013: “Dwimmermount’s creator James Maliszewski signed a contract with Autarch that transferred the money we raised on Kickstarter and the responsibility for delivering the promised rewards to him. We understand that James is grieving for his father, but we have to confront the fact that he is currently not living up to this responsibility”. Since then others have taken over, with updates coming progressively less frequent.
Prognosis I’m guessing this will eventually deliver, but not until the very end of 2014, at least.

Nystul’s Infinite Dungeon

Creator Mike Nystul
Funded 3 Jun 2012
Category Role-playing game
History About a year after funding, the creator handed over the responsibility to produce this product to someone else. They seem in no hurry to release it.
Prognosis This will likely ship eventually, but not by any predictably time.

Auror’s Tale

Creator Leo Kei Angelos
Funded 6 Jul 2012
Category Web video series
History One episode of this three-episode series was produced, then all updating stops. Given the creator moved and the series may possibly (reading between the lines) have had some legal trouble with Warner Brothers…
Prognosis This reads very much like the creator just didn’t know what he was doing, mostly in terms of fulfillment. The rest of these episodes will never be created.

Charity 2012

February 21st, 2013 — Wordman

According to justgive.org, the “average American gives about 3.1 percent of his or her income to charity (before taxes). That’s well below the 10 percent tithing level recommended by religious institutions.” The Chronicle of Philanthropy breaks that down by zip code, which leads to inevitable political commentary. Personally, I came in well below the average—and far below the religiously recommended—for 2012 (around 2.5%). I did, however, donate to a wider variety of places this year:

I also helped kickstart quite a few projects this year. I get a product at the end of most of these, so they don’t really count as charity. A few, however, are either structured mostly as charities or I funded without selecting any “rewards”, such as the low cost land mine detonator, an Arduino-based public access satellite, something that may turn out to be the next generation of manned spaceflight, rescuing out of print science fiction and turning old shipping containers into farms.

I hope, by posting all this, you’ll find at least one thing you’d be interested in helping with a few bucks. I aim to do better myself next year.

The unequal spaceship

October 26th, 2011 — Wordman

Imagine you are a member of an alien race that lives on a big arcology ship. The million of you on the ship mostly have jobs, and earn quatloos in exchange for work. Your society is divided into castes, depending on how many quatloos you earn. Most people are “betas”, and they live throughout the ship, some parts better than others. The top 10% of the earners, however, are “alphas”, and live in a special, luxurious compound within the ship. Since the alphas, even though a small portion of the population (100,000 out of the million), control half of the quatloos, they live really well.

One day, the ship-wide newscasts show you something odd. A small, but vocal portion of the alphas are protesting about income inequality. You watch the story, figuring they will talk about the big divide between the alphas and the betas, but they don’t. Instead, they are complaining that 1% of the other alphas control too large a portion of the collected wealth of the alphas. In other words, there are 1,000 “alpha primes” that have really pissed off the alphas.

Now, given that you are a beta, how much do you care about the plight of the alphas?

Translated to our own world (via the Global Rich List), if you make at least $25,140, you’d be an alpha.

A pitch for HGTV

October 14th, 2010 — Wordman

Dear Home & Garden Television

It is with some concern that I note that no HGTV program appears anywhere near the “top ratings” lists in the late night time slot. In fact, late night HGTV programming consists of little more than repeats of episodes aired previously in the day. While traveling recently, I hit upon an idea for a show your network could create that could provide some ground-breaking late night content (and, likely, more than a little buzz for HGTV).

The background of this idea comes from an experience in a hotel, but it can be universalized to homes, apartments and so on. When people walk into a room that they and their significant other will sleep in, such as a hotel room, they spend some time looking around, noticing the furniture, closets and so on. Somewhere in the back of their heads, one of the things they are evaluating is if and how they will have sex in that room (though some will probably not admit this). Is that table strong enough to sit on? Is that ottoman the right height? Once you start noticing this, you will quickly realize that private spaces, including people’s own bedrooms, are often set up totally wrong for this kind of activity. Here is an example:

In a large hotel in Las Vegas, a room contains a bathtub constructed for two. It looks like this:

Tub

Now you might think that, being a bathtub built to be used by two naked people, there would be some possibility of those two people, naturally, having sex in that bathtub. You could argue, in fact, that this is the whole point of such a tub. But take a good look at the photo. Do you see the problem? Why is the faucet exactly in the spot where one of the occupant’s head would be? Any fantasy you might have about fun in a tub for two is totally ruined by the harsh reality of smashing your head into a piece of metal that should have been placed a meter to the side. And why is that? Why was the faucet placed so stupidly? I submit it is because there is no source that trains designers to think about this kind of thing. It is a real concern people have, but it is never talked about openly, and therefore, not noticed as a need worth serving.

A late night show on HGTV could change that. As a working title, I suggest something like How Are We Supposed to F*$k on That?, though you might want to go with something less provocative. The format would be much like other design shows on HGTV, except that content would be exclusively devoted to design for “personal spaces and needs”. To gain an odd sort of credibility, hosts for the show (one man, one woman) might be drawn from the adult film industry. You are virtually guaranteed to find adult stars with design experience. (A quick Google for “porn star interior designer”, for example, finds this article from ABC news.)

At a guess, the show would likely target a younger audience than some other HGTV programming. I think you would find fairly long list of sponsors as well, looking to get their products noticed in a legitimate venue. An obvious choice, for example, would be Liberator, Inc, who produces furniture intended entirely for sex, but I’m guessing a lot of less overtly sexual products would be interested in buying time or product placement on your show.

As an example, search the Linen & Things web site for “waterproof mattress pads”. You can walk into any L&T and find these in stock, in all sizes. Why? Well, some of it might be for people with bladder problems, such as kids wetting the bed, but in a king-sized bed? I’d wager that the population of people who both have bladder control issues and sleep in a king-sized is vanishingly small, certainly not enough to warrant stocking stocking products for it in every L&T in the country. No, the reason they are there is because lots of people buy waterproof mattress pads to protect mattresses from sex (and not, as you might guess from the pictures, from mysterious blue water). These products are not marketed as such, of course, but that is the reality, one that this show could bring to the public’s attention through product placement.

Naturally, I’m sure you all can think of a number of other ways to push the basic idea of the show, which is why I’m giving the idea to you. Think about it.

(By the way, if anyone feels like designing the title graphic for this show, please put a link to the result in the comments.)

An observation on the state of the gaming industry

September 9th, 2010 — Wordman

The recent reboot of the Gamma World role-playing game flicked a switch in my brain, tuning me on to something I should have noticed sooner, and that we’re going to see a lot more of: mainstream role-playing game makers have turned the corner on what they do. Going forward, their core business will be less and less about producing gaming rules (with supplements ad nauseum) and will instead center on producing gaming artifacts. That is, games that, like board games, revolve around fiddly bits that are difficult for the average player to produce by himself.

For example, in addition to its 160-page rulebook, Gamma World, now comes with several decks of cards. None of the previous six editions of the game used cards, but now they are required for play. While it is possible for the end user to produce card-like artifacts themselves fairly easily, the end result is not particularly satisfying or sturdy. Producing actual cards is fairly difficult, requiring specialized paper, techniques and equipment. Why would you bother going through the expense, when you can just buy the professionally produced artifact for cheaper?

And that, really, is the point. It’s an end run around the electronic age. Rather than combat the bittorrenting horde, gaming companies will just build products that can’t be replicated in a satisfying way from an electronic copy, at least not without spending more than it would cost to just buy the original.

Cards are only one option (and we’ll see how long it takes before making quality cards at home becomes painless). Gamma World also comes with “two sheets of die-cut character and monster tokens”. These are, in effect, a cheaper version of miniatures but, even so, they are still artifacts the home user would have to do special work to replicate themselves. This would be easier than making cards, but still a hassle that many would be willing to pay to avoid. Plus, even more would rather use real miniatures anyway. If Gamma World is anything like Dungeons & Dragons 4E (and, being rules compatible with D&D4, it is) it relies heavily on tactically maneuvering pieces on a map, creating a market for the miniatures artifact. It is probably not a coincidence, for example, that the Gamma World setting can make use of many of the figures in Wizards’ Heroscape line of miniatures that would be out of place in D&D (such as the omnicron snipers).

In a similar vein, the $100 game Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is based entirely around custom made dice and comes with “more than 300 cards”. (No doubt it will find uses for the extensive line of Warhammer miniatures as well.)

None of this is particularly new. Games like BattleTech, which is more of a board game than an RPG, have long offered game artifacts, like the old Reinforcements boxes, with card stock versions of most mechs with little plastic stands, and recently their map packs have become a bit more interesting. But RPGs used to focus mostly on books. Those days, it seems, may be ending.

Ending another era

February 23rd, 2010 — Wordman

Reaching the conclusion that I have no more use for my Exalted books, I am auctioning them in a large lot. The starting bid is $1 and there is no reserve. When you consider that the cover price for the bunch is over $500, that’s should turn out to be a pretty good deal.

As with my earlier auction, I am keeping a couple of things: the gilded Limited Edition and the Dreams of the First Age box set.

(Also, I’m selling a surplus microphone as well, if that interests you.)

Globalization rules

February 19th, 2010 — Wordman

The life-altering news is apparently not new, but I only learned of it last night, when my wife returned from a routine run to Target. She said nothing, only smiled, reaching into a environmentally irresponsible plastic bag. From the bag she pulled pure joy, and then the incredible message was clear: Arnott’s Biscuits, the Australian cookie maker, now distributes (through Pepperidge Farm and Target) Tim Tam cookies in America.

Let me say this again: you can now buy Tim Tams at Target.

Some readers may not appreciate the importance of this news. Perhaps they have never been in an international airport in Australia and witnessed the stores containing nothing but Tim Tam cookies, and watched as visitors buy cases of them for their return home, or open their large carry-on bag to reveal only an empty void they then fill to the brim with Tim Tams. Perhaps they have seen this, but never have done a Tim Tam slam with tea, coffee or hot chocolate so don’t know what all the fuss is about.

On the other hand, maybe you do know about Tim Tams, but think the American versions are inferior. All I know is that even if that is true, the American versions still induce involuntary biological reactions. I had nearly repressed the memory of Tim Tams to avoid the pain of not being able to get them locally.

Repress no more.