We only send out major updates via email. It prevents us from ever hedging into spam territory.
I appreciate that. However, I think "we won't make the promised date" (in March) is major news, in the way that it prevents the "you expected to have you book by now. well, uh, just wait another two months" (in early June). In the latest mail you don't even offer an explanation; if I had not been reading here, that would be frustrating.
Note that I don't object the delay -- I know what you have spent the time on -- but the lack of communication for non-forum-readers.
Are you speaking of the email that was sent out tonight? If so, which version of the game did you purchase? We're seeing a weird thing with the Digital-only customers in that at least some of them appear to be getting what appears to be nothing more than a "thanks for your purchase" note. We included a broader explanation of everything and it seems to have simply been left out. This is why the news will also be going up on our front page, but not until everyone has received their copies - because we've been down that road before too, and there are only tears at the end.
We've updated posts before and receive complaints that we didn't send out a completely separate update. We've sent out completely separate updates and been accused of spamming, or worse, drawn more ire than we would by simply staying quiet until we have an update.
It's unfortunate that some folks don't seem to appreciate an honest update. Of course, admitting management mistakes will always hurt to some degree; imho, doing so as early as often it the most professional and courteous way. But then, I am no professional so I can't estimate the repercussions.
First, those last two words in the quote here from me probably should have read "concrete details" (as in, "drawn more ire than we would by simply staying quiet until we have concrete details."). Sorry about that. I was clearly tired, or drunk, or both.
As to the frequency and nature of updates, we're honestly trying to do the best that we can by all of you. This was a particularly problematic release for reasons I'll reiterate again below, but putting that aside the big issue is that given the lack of concrete details we always have until... well, until we have them (which is pretty much always at the very end of the process), we're forced into one of two stances: either we make the best estimate we can, knowing it'll probably shift and hoping it will shift favorably; or we can tell folks "we don't know," which in gaming pretty much means everyone starts crying "vaporware" immediately and the project dies on the vine.
Yes, we can get around this, but the solution is the one thing we keep telling everyone we'll start doing, and that everyone seems to be unhappy with. The solution is to stop talking about project release dates until they're well and truly done, and all those unreliable factors are out of the way. Unfortunately, this brings us back at no post-production proofing and really, no involvement from the readership at all. You get what we deliver and everyone has to hope that the in-house editing and playtesting is enough.
You see the dilemma.
We like the benefits of post-production review as well, but the reality of that scenario is that the finished books wouldn't arrive for months afterward. Even if we instituted a rigid schedule and stuck to it, I'm not sure we'd come out ahead. In this modern age of immediate gratification, anticipation fatigue comes on very quickly and has a dramatic impact on the health of a brand.
no one accepts that they have to wait more than 4-6 weeks for something they've paid for.
You opened preorders in August 2011, five months before expected shipping which was originally January 2012, iirc. That's already well over four to six weeks, so that time frame seems to be a non-issue at this point. So you opened preorder to early; as far as I can tell, at which point this happens is largely independent of the development process; that is, you can do the same process as for MAG but just open preorders later, and you are golden.
This is the "particularly problematic" part I was talking about above. I've talked about this before but I'll explain again here for clarity and to help frame the conversation, hopefully to at least showcase that this didn't go quite the way we would have liked even if the post-production proofing system were spot on.
There was a time, way back in the late spring or early summer last year, when Alex and I took a hard look at what we had for the Mistborn Adventure Game and asked ourselves whether we could get it out in time to take advantage of the Alloy of Law release. Stupidly, we thought we could, and more stupidly, we committed to it with a pre-order at Gen Con. Had we been sane, we would have said, "it's not finished, we can't take those orders," but when you're on the inside of a project the remaining work sometimes seems far less intimidating than it should, and you pull triggers that really ought to remain untouched.
Had we been sane, we would have said "no, we're not close enough - because it's not done
(at least in terms of text revision) - and we would have opted to merely talk about the game at Gen Con, and then waited to take pre-orders until we had near- or completely finished documents to work with. We weren't sane, and we made an insane choice, and so the game was delayed a few times before finally coming out in December, and the tenor of the release was already set. Then
we followed through with the entirely separate post-production proofing experiment, but that didn't even really get started until January (as the book came out during the holidays, and no one really reads much of what they buy or receive until after Christmas).
So that explains this madness at the front end of this particular project. As to the specific quotes you're pointing to above, I still believe that less than a quarter of public proofing for a book this big is meaningless. That's twelve weeks
- and I really think even that's pushing it. The average reading speed isn't all that high for many people, groups don't always get together every week and even when they do it may take them time to get to a new game, and the most elusive revisions sometimes require fairly involved discussion out here before Alex and I can even start to consider official revisions.
This isn't just about copy-editing. If that's all we were after with post-production proofing, then yeah, we could slap a deadline of 2 to 3 weeks on it and call it good. If we really want to dig in and make a book better
though - that takes time, and time is apparently one of the things that folks simply aren't willing to offer us. That's what we hear every time we see another email complaining about the delay.
What I specifically don't think we'll be able to do much anymore is post-production proofing. I'd love to, I really would, but it demands that a product essentially be trapped in that limbo between digital and print for what the market is telling us is an untenable period.
I see the problem. What about you release your "beta" version properly, but digital only with guaranteed updates? That would be different from what you did with MAG mostly by name, but still. Imagine you had started "presale" when you had the first document. You would have been on the market, people had play"tested" and then you could have done the revision on the market. Of course you have to communicate that strategy to early buyers so they know that glitches are expected and they should report them. This way, you might be able to combine immediate gratification ("Oh, cool, there is MAG! Pay! Download! Play!") with a more slow-paced, community-supported refining process that leads to a (better) printed book.
we're talking about the same thing here, at least in terms of what we had planned for the Mistborn Adventure Game before we went mad. Release the Digital Edition and let comments roll in, fold those into all versions, and then send out an updated Digital Edition and send the companion print book(s) off to press. This last step is exactly where we are in the process right now
BTW, with updated Digital Editions having gone out earlier tonight and the physical editions spewing forth from big inky behemoths as I type this.
It solves the extra long period we suffered with this book (see above for the madness and such), but it still doesn't offer what I consider enough time for a massive book to go through a meaningful proofing out in the wild, and it doesn't solve the even greater issue that the very second you mention a product to anyone with anything resembling a "release stance," the clock starts ticking. Distributors, retailers, and customers start looking for where they can buy the product, and if there are multiple versions they demand bundles, and the second you sell them a physical copy that 4- to 6-week delivery countdown starts, and...
Yeah, such much for proofing.
This is my first experience with Crafty and you come out of this on average scale. I like the product, I like the participation, I don't like the (in hindsight) impossible shipment dates. I think you tried to tread a middle ground that does not work; you announced early, at a point where you did not even have a beta product, but promised dates, too. From my experience (as a customer), if you announce early everything but "it's done when it's done" has to fail (note how exceptionally well Blizzard has been doing with "it's done when it's done"; they have built a reputation for taking their time but always delivering quality). The opposite approach is to announce only when you have something to put hands on. If you want community participation, it has to be the former (unless you start using for instance some private forum for community testing).
We already do private playtesting, both in- and out-of-house. It works well enough but no version of it can compare to the massive swell of attention you get with a full release. Unfortunately, you only get one of those, and if you "waste" it with a digital only arrival you never really get the momentum back for the physical products (and that's just not tenable from a business perspective).
There's a third option, and it's what every other RPG company out there does. They encourage participation but since they can't both incorporate it into the finished work and get that work to market in what the market considers a reasonable time frame, they issue errata. We don't like errata, but we accept it as a necessary evil. We'd always hoped that we could build in a step to help prevent as much of it as possible, but, well, that's dicey, for all the reasons we mention here.
Like I said, I'd love to try this again, though probably not initially with such a high-profile product and certainly not in tandem with the madness (see above). That madness has passed BTW, which is why neither Alex nor I have spoken of release dates in anything more than "gee, wouldn't it be nice if..." terms for months. Even if we do attempt some kind of public proofing system again at some point, you can be absolutely sure that we'll never
- not ever
- speak to a product's release again until we have assets in hand. It doesn't matter what the product is, who's asking, or why it matters, looking at releases before all assets are done is a disaster waiting to happen.
I can only speak for me, but I would have liked "Here you can preorder, here you can participate in the process, it's done when it's done" way more than what happened now -- happily waiting for the promised dates, telling other Mistborn fans they can expect playing the RPG by then, and being disappointed.
(Note also the difference in perception of the final shipping date: "Well, finally, it's about time!" vs "Oh, cool, it's there already?")
We get that. See above. Our current solution is not to talk about product release dates at all until they're finished. We'll see how that plays out, and down the line we'll see if we can maybe
resurrect the public proofing thing. Time will tell.
Note again that I am not pissed and not even really disappointed. I approve of publishers taking their time to do it right; I have played to many (video) games that sucked until months after release (and patching print books is horribly hard). I just think you should be upfront about that from the start.
As I've said, that's a dangerous road. Companies like Blizzard can pull it off because they have rabid followings in the millions. We're not quite that lucky, though we do have what I'd call a "rabid following" and they're both pretty spiff and big enough to surprise us every so often. It's harder for us to maintain interest over long periods while we tinker, and so the gap between "official-like" talk and actual release needs to be as narrow as possible.
Like I said, this won't stop us from talking about products in development - we like the conversation, and it's part of who we are to stay as closely involved with those playing our games as possible. It just means we have to be extra careful not to project the idea that a project "is coming" until it actually is, and to make sure that coincides with certain behind-the-scenes milestones to minimize the chance that any dates we offer may slide off target.
PS: I don't even know whether the instant gratification paradigm applies to your target group. P&P RPG is, after all, the opposite of instant gratification as far as gaming goes.
You'd think, but our experience sadly says otherwise.