Work Stuff

Speaking at PePcon in Chicago: June 15-18

I’m going to speaking at PePcon in Chicago this summer. This is the fifth Print + ePublishing Conference, hosted by the fine people that run InDesignSecrets and CreativePro. I’ve attended three of the four previous PePcons, and it’s always a smoothly-run show with great speakers and a collaborative, sharing atmosphere. It attracts a pretty wide variety of designers and designer-related people: from government employees trying to efficiently make hundreds of forms that are accessible and meet up with tons of standards, to small newspaper people still working on bridging the paper/digital worlds, to automation experts, typeface designers, and more.

This year’s Speakers List is a great one — including Chris Kitchener, the lead product manager for InDesign; Deke McClelland, trainer extraordinaire (and a fine singer,, too…), and keynote speaker Lynda Weinman, co-founder of Lynda.com.

And me? I’ll be jamming out 20 minutes on automated production InDesign: from spreadsheets to InDesign to the printed page. I’ll probably cover this talking about card game design, with a side trip to the fun of automating contracts (Everyone loves contracts!). And bonus, aside from InDesign, we’ll only use free and/or Open Source tools.

If you’re interested in attending PePcon, let me slide you this nice discount code to save $50: CH23B

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I hope to see you there!

Game Designer’s Workshop: Posthuman Studios Interview

At Gen Con 2013, the owners of Posthuman Studios (Rob Boyle, Brian Cross, Jack Graham, and myself) sat down with the folks at Roleplaying Public Radio to record this episode of Game Designer’s Workshop.

We were a little tipsy when this interview started (it was, after all, after business hours at Gen Con …), and we were moreso by the end of it. The audio levels fluctuate, and Jack Grahaman yells in a way that would be obnoxious if he wasn’t so damned funny.

This isn’t like your standard game-related podcast. We talked about how we all started gaming, how we met each other, how we started working together, and why we’re still working together. It’s hella honest, insightful and even a little bit useful in places.

Making things with people that you love and respect is awesome. I hope you enjoy hearing us talk about that.

Kickstarter Problems That Just Aren’t That Big of a Deal

Here’s a quickie: We let people pick up copies of Tranhuman at Gen Con. In our backer surveys, we asked if they wanted to do so, and from that data we created a handy checklist of people so they could sign off on their copies and I could import that data back by hand into the Kickstarter database later.

Of course, a few people showed up at the booth and wanted to pick up their copies, even though they didn’t say they would in the backer survey.

That was no real problem; we verified that they were backers, had them sign off, and I added that information to the database later.

Here’s the hiccup: one of the people that signed off on their copy has a relatively common first and last name, and there are two people with that exact same name registered as backers. Which one of them picked up their copy? No way to solve this except to go right to them and ask—hey, did you?

In the meantime, I realized that during the first wave of shipping one of those people had a copy of Transhuman shipped to them; and as luck would have it, that person was the one who picked up their copy at Gen Con. So they’ll get an extra book for their gaming group, we eat a few dollars in shipping costs, and life goes on.

Making Announcements: Pitfalls & Products

I started writing this post over a year ago, and have been sitting on it incomplete for a long time. I feel that in the age of Kickstarter and stretch goals and the frenzied changes to publishing and creation, this is more important than ever. But finishing this post has proved troublesome, so I’m throwing it out as part post, part series-of-notes. Maybe with some discussion I’ll rework it into a revised post.

Onwards!

Announcements are fun. They generate buzz and good feelings. So it is tempting to announce many things and announce them early — and also to announce things to “mask” bad news or to cover up a slowness in your production schedule.

But every announcement is a promise. Some announcements have more promise than others — literally and figuratively. Typically, the further in advance an announcement is, the smaller and vaguer the promises are.

Every single announcement you make creates, to using Getting Things Done terminology, at least one “open loop.” It creates at least one — and usually many more — questions that can be asked of you. Each announcement, then, creates more work for you, beyond the actual work in building the project. It also adds more of a mental toll and will wear you down if things don’t go well. There are few things more frustrating and demoralizing than explaining to someone — a customer or some sort of business partner — that a project has slipped.

If you have six different upcoming projects announced, there are going to be fans who only care about one of those projects. They may have cared about projects A and B, but now that you’ve announced projects C, D, E, and F, they have fixated on project E. Anything that doesn’t relate to project E no longer matters. Not only have you created an un-ideal business situation (You want them to ‘ all six projects, not just E!), but any time you post a status update for any of the projects that aren’t E, you’ll be greeted with the question: “But what’s up with E?!?” — and even though that question can be read in a flattering anticipatory way, it can also be frustrating to have spent time and effort on a project to have someone dismiss it with their desire to see the next project.

I, and companies I have worked for, have made every single possible mistake when announcing projects. Here are some of them:

  • Announcing something at a time that takes attention away from another upcoming project. If you are planning on releasing a new book on January 15th, announcing on January 8th that will be releasing an entirely different book in August is likely to reduce attention on the shortly-upcoming title.
  • Announcing too many things at once, making none of them seem important.
  • Making announcements too complicated. A complex announcement should be structured in a way that broadly introduces things, then narrows focus to talk about specifics, and in the end sums up the announcements and leads to a call for action (preorder a book, vote in the ENnnies, etc.) If you give people too many choices, they are more likely to make the simplest choice, which is to do nothing!

Here’s some ways to do it right:

Announce consistently. Establish a list of standards — information that you must know before you announce something, even if that information is not yet disclosed. Do not make announcements that are out of scale with the size of the project; t-shirts going on sale is not the same weight as signing a well known author to a three book deal. If you shout from the rooftops about everything, people will stop paying attention. Establish a plan for how you propagate your announcements through your social networks and try to point people towards your “home base” — probably your website, but perhaps your Facebook page, etc.

Don’t make major announcements in a row without actually releasing something, even if that something doesn’t relate to those major announcements. Too many announcements looks like vaporware.

Anticipate questions you will be asked and answer them in the announcement. If the announce/situation is complex, you may want to include a FAQ in the announcement, or have it at ready to dole out as necessary. Quickly update your post (new info where necessary, note at top linking down to change) if necessary.

Proofread that bastard. Three proofreaders, every time — looking for spelling, grammar, wrong/outdated info, bad hyperlinks, etc.

If you are correcting misinformation, do not repeat the misinformation. Especially when posts are often only seen in part (people skimming, partial RSS feeds, those awful previews on Facebook) you don’t want to raise the chances of people seeing only the old information. State the correct information, don’t repeat or restate any incorrect information.

Don’t give people a chance to hop away from the announcement too early.

If you are working with a partner, licensee, etc, give them a copy of the final announcement as soon as possible and let them know when you plan to post it. They can help propagate it, and won’t accidentally spread misinformation.

If this were a finished article, it would have a conclusion. Help me write it?

Gen Con Highlight

On Friday morning, a woman walked up to our booth. She said: “You guys look like you know what you’re doing. Do you have a bandaid?”

And I replied: “Yes, let me get our first aid kit.”

As it happened, I had needed a bandaid myself earlier that morning and had opened the brand-new kit, thinking to myself “Good thing, because if there was an actual emergency, I sure wouldn’t want to be pulling the plastic off in a rush.”

This wasn’t an emergency either, but it felt good to a) be recognized as a place where we would have the necessary supplies, and b) to actually have them, know exactly where they are, and be able to quickly offer a variety of bandage choices to the con-goer—who, like many, had given herself a blister walking the show floor!

Making a TODO list for your next convention? Whether you’re an attendee or an exhibitor or a special guest or anyone else: get a small first aid kit. Hopefully you’ll never need it!

Transhuman Kickstarter!

I’ve been remiss in not posting here about the Transhuman Kickstarter, which is currently running!

Unlike other Kickstarters I’ve talked about here, this one is being run by my company, Posthuman Studios. We quickly funded at the level we needed to print the book ($14,000), and we’ve been working our way through additional stretch goals since then. We’ve added some new projects to our schedule as a result of the campaign, and we’re also paying our Transhuman freelancers a 15% bonus as a result of the Kickstarter’s success!

We have some more sweet things to come that we’ll be announcing early next week, so please check it out! The support so far has been amazing and humbling.

Transhuman kickstarter

Take Your One Shot!

I’ve been on an unintentional hiatus from blogging, but intend to get back on track. Here’s a start: One Shot, by Tracy Barnett of Exploding Rogue has just been released! You can grab the PDF and Soundtrack together.

Tracy funded One Shot via Kickstarter last year and brought me on board to handle the graphic design. One Shot is a 24-page RPG for one player (“The Shooter”) and one GM (“The Forces”)—very different from most of the things I’ve spent the last 10+ years working on! It’s laser-focused on the concept of vengeance and the sacrifices that one must make to obtain it.

Oneshot cover

Leah Huete’s photography in this book deserves extra praise—photographs as RPG art has often been half-baked. Her work is a full, delicious, evocative meal. If One Shot were a typical 160 or 300 page RPG, using photographs as every piece of art would probably be cost-and-time prohibitive, but in this case it works perfectly.

If you want to check out the text of One Shot before buying the PDF, you can read the entire game here.

Kickstart Narosia: Sea of Tears, one of my upcoming projects!

One of my projects this fall is the HERO System fantasy game, Narosia: Sea of Tears. The Kickstarter launched on August 1st and closes on August 31st!

Narosia is a gritty fantasy RPG, designed by Shane Harsch of Legendsmiths and Marc Tassin, with artwork from Universe M, and contributions from Kenneth Hite. I’m especially excited because this is actually the first project where I’ll get to work with Ken!

I’m also excited about seeing what sort of new graphical takes I can do on a HERO System game, without alienating the diehard HERO fan base … I do suspect some samples will end up hitting this blog over the next couple months!

Narosia: Sea of Tears will be published by Silverback Press, the new publishing company run by ex-HERO Darren Watts. The core rulebook will be complete with HERO System rules and setting information, not requiring a distinct HERO System core rulebook to use!

Affordable Interlocking Convention Floor Mats

This is one of those posts that I started last year … but I’m buying more today, so I’m throwing this post up as-is!

I’ve been shopping for interlocking convention mats over the last few days. These mats are also used in playschools and martial arts studios and all sorts of places. They’re a couple feet wide, they link together to form a complete floor, they come in a variety of colors … and if you’re going to spend hours a day standing in a trade show booth, you’ll understand why they’re worth well more than their weight!

The companies that sell “convention” fixtures really like making money. If something is a “convention” supply, it automatically costs more than the exact same thing sold to a different market. They thrive on customers who need something yesterday and on those that have marketing budgets that must be spent in full.

And if you have to rent convention supplies, you’re basically boned. Rentals often cost more than buying the same thing.

Back, specifically, to tiles. I have a 10’x10′ booth; it needs 25 2’x2′ tiles to cover it completely. Over time, the tiles will become damaged due to the weight of tables or other displays on them, and of course, you may lose a couple, spill a drink on them, or otherwise need to replace them. So while I was tempted to simply buy 96 square feet of tiles (they are typically sold in increments of 24 square feet) and hide the “empty” square, I instead decided to buy a few more than I needed.

Looking at a typical convention supplies site, the price per tile is $6.56, or just under $200 for 30 of them. I nosed around a few sites, and the price is pretty close to the same. Some of them charge shipping, some offer free shipping. Depending on where you are in the country and how you transport them to and from your convention, this will of course add extra costs on a per-use basis. So keep that in mind.

After browsing the convention-specific sites, I checked out Amazon, and sure enough, there are tons of vendors selling basically the exact same product—just aimed at people who want them for their home gym or kid’s playroom. I had to compromise on the colors (I wanted black tiles and red tiles) and ended up buying 120 square feet of red tiles from this vendor, a pack of 24 and a pack of 6. For a total of $103, after shipping costs.

Shop around, and look for deals that you can get by buying things early—slower shipping instead of overnighting things to the hotel to pick up the day of convention setup can save you money and stress.

Dwimmermount Preview and Kickstarter!

It’s going to be the most elegant and epic heavy metal dungeon crawl ever, isn’t it? It’s like a 3-hour Kirk Hammett guitar solo sending the party to war with the power of a hundred bards!1 Hell yes!

Several years ago I sent James Maliszewski the above, as I asked him if I could work on the eventual publication of Dwimmermount, his long in-progress megadungeon campaign.

And now that’s reality. James is working with the folks at Autarch, creators of Adventurer Conqueror King, to run the Kickstarter campaign and project manage Dwimmermount.

We are late into the Kickstarter campaign; it ends on Saturday, April 14th. And the campaign has reached the initial funding goal and three bonus goals, but we’d be very happy for more funding in these last few hours so we can push to make the book even better!

We’re still tweaking the graphic design of the book (most notably, some icons to help convey info in the sidebar), but here’s a two page preview of Level 1: The Path of Mavors. James has also posted a different preview of the same chapter on Grognardia. Check them out, let us know what you think, and remember: the Dwimmermount Kickstarter finishes on Saturday the 14th of April! As I post this, 30 hours to go!

1. I am not one of those “Heavy Metal is the music of D&D” guys … but neither is James, so that made it funny to me. To me.