Monday, January 21, 2008

Diversification of Labor

First, I’d like to take a moment to welcome James Ward to this wonderful tea party of ours. James (whom I call Jim) worked for TSR in the early years and is the culprit that brought us Metamorphis Alpha. I’ve known Jim for several years as he has been very supportive of LGGC and Winter’s Dark as well as all things Troll. We finally had a chance to sit down at the Next Door Pub in Lake Geneva this past convention and come up with what we both hope becomes a fruitful arrangement. First on his plate is Crusader. So all you hearty Trolls and Crusaders give Jim a warm welcome as the Company’s new Managing Editor of the Crusader Journal.

Jim’s first goal is to shift Crusader from its bi-annually release to a more healthy monthly release. I mentioned this as one of our goals two days ago and now you know who is going to bring it about. Jim's long time experience with Dragon magazine can be, I have no doubt, put to amazingly good use on Crusader.

This brings me a very important point that is uppermost in many people’s minds. A board entry of last week put it very succinctly:

I noticed that TLG has a lot of stuff in the pipeline - Castle Zagyg, the "A" Series, Cult of Yex, the Siege Engine boxed sets etc, but a lot of is still in production. Lots of new stuff is announced but existing projects are not completed, while further new projects are announced and not completed.

You can see and join the full discussion here.

First, let me give you a brief explanation of WHY we announce products the way we do. It is vitally important that we keep TLG in the minds and eyes of retailers and distributors. Their business models do not depend on revenue generated from TLG, so it is very easy for them to overlook us in ordering and sales. So we have to keep a public face with them, this is best done by new announcements. We officially announce products three months out. Unofficially Davis, Peter, Robert or myself will mention books that are in the design stage. These often get mixed up with what’s on the working schedule.

On a side note the CKG was prematurely announced. When asked by my sales rep at one of the distributors for projects due out the following Summer I put down the CKG with the note that it was not on the schedule and we had no release dates. They or I did not make things clear and it went into Amazon as officially to be released in June of 2006. When it was never intended to come out that early. That left me rather annoyed as it has become popular to say the book is 2 years late.

That said . . .

The writer overstates things a little, much of his understandable frustration coming from the tardiness of the CKG and the Castle Zagyg projects. Aside from the Crusader we’ve established a pretty regular release schedule in the past six months . . . and that will only get better as 2008 unfolds. As to the aforementioned projects, sadly the CKG, falls from my estimation too often. The book is not needed for the C&C game and is really extra material. We made a mistake in calling it the CKG and an even greater mistake in mentioning that it was forthcoming. Not that I don’t think it will be a good book, but its name and pending release have created the idea that the book is part of the 3-book paradigm needed for all RPGs. Its not. CZ has suffered from some major set backs that were only fully understood and corrected in 2007. For the better part of a year now Gary and Jeffrey Talanian have been hard at work grinding out that ancient castle.

In short, our diverse product line and announcements have not been what has caused the problems and delays.

We’ve we’ve always had a diverse line. The GFW series walked hand in hand with our early d20 pubs and we’ve done games like Planet Busters and Troll Knuckles as well as the Seeker magazine, fiction books ( One hand has always fed the other. To do otherwise would not allow us any sustainability. Keeping in mind that this is not a hobby for us. Davis and myself do this full time as does Peter and soon to be Mark Sandy.

2005-2006 was an interesting year for us as we transitioned out of d20 and brought C&C and LA to join the GFW series and surprisingly that best seller the Codex of Erde. This gave us four steady lines by close of the year. To this we added Crusader. An aggressive release schedule kept us busy, but even small upsets, we found, derailed the entire process. Notable instances was the massive problems of the 1st printing of the PH and a practical reformatting of the entire book. This consumed time and resources that could have been better pitched into projects like CKG. That one product remake triggered a whole series of delays, couple this with new announcements to keep the company 'out there' created massive tangled mess.

Throw into this mess a general dissatisfaction with the convention circuit and the launching of LGGC in June, 2005 and its sister con in 2007, coupled with the rebirth of Troll Con (our first diversification) and we had an even greater shortage of labor. 2006 became more tangled as our growth in direct sales both to consumer and sites like Amazon began to consume time and resources (in a VERY GOOD WAY mind you haha). And all this became even harder to do in late 2006 as we watched too much revenue hemorrhage off in needless printing and we opened our own print shop. This derailed us further as we had to slow progress and learn a new trade. More labor. More time. But Davis and I both have always looked to the long term growth of the company and all of these things are essential to out long term survivability. The company now has three, albeit small, heads: The Publishing Division, The Commercial Print Division and the Promotion and Sales Division .

All of these entities took shape in 2006-2007. They now have some organization to them with small crews working them, something that has taken us several years to achieve (this includes weeding out people that were unreliable and finding good people with confidence in the endeavor).

And that my friends has always been our Achilles Heal. Labor. Getting jobs done quickly and efficiently requires people, for TLG is people. IT IS PEOPLE!!!! Haha By and large 2005-06 was Peter Bradley and myself working this party.

With all this in mind I stopped announcing any new books in 2007, at least for the first 5 months. Those we did announce were small items or reprints. This allowed us to close out the year with many projects wrapped up and able to gear things back up again all the while keeping ourselves in the public eye. We brought on more folks to help and were able to free up everyone’s time. The benefits of this began to show in November/December of last year as projects were hitting very close to their release dates.

2008 has begun better, by far,than 2007 and here’s why.

In many respects the labor issue has been or is being addressed. We have weeded out some rather unreliable folks and replaced them and we now have a nice pool of folks laboring on these multitudes of projects. Here’s the breakdown:

Manager: Stephen Chenault (full time)
Art Direction: Peter Bradley (full time)
Art: Peter Bradley, Jason Walton and Bryan Swartz (with Sarah Walker and Meghan too)
Print Shop: Mark Sandy (full time as of March)
Media Room: Mark Sandy, Steve and Davis .
Conventions: Stephen Chenault and Richard McBain
Tech Support: Jason Alexander (something we lacked for years, so our systems were a mess and bogging us down)
Webmaster: Brian Kowalski
Editing: Cory Caserta (he’s even begun combing the webpages for mistakes) & Liz Stewart

Brand Teams
C&C Development and Writing: Davis and Stephen Chenault, Robert Doyel, Jeffrey Talanian, Casey Christofferson, Casey Canfield, and Mike Stewart.
CZ: Gary Gygax, Jeffrey Talanian and a host of other writers.
GFW: Gary Gygax and a host of writers
LA: Gary Gygax, Chris Clark and a host of writers.
Crusader: Jim Ward and all the above

The only two people who have their fingers in everything are myself and Peter.

And we have expanded the field. The boxed sets are not taking energy from any one place other than Peter, myself and Mark. But this is our job. Davis the architect of C&C is wholly unaffected by these announcements. IN fact the whole C&C is wholly unaffected by Josh Chewning’s StarSiege Event Horizon or Mike Stewart’s Victorious. Only Peter and I are affected by this in so far as advertising, support and layout are concerned.

Castles and Crusades will be the first line to benefit from the new diversification of labor as Jim and McBain free up my time to help Davis and Liz takes over layout of Crusader, keeping that bundle of joy off Peter’s desk so he can focus on C&C and LA and helping me with advertisements.

With all this in mind, Castles & Crusades will not see any decrease in releases. Gary has turned over 20 something CZ manuscripts that are in need of final editing and layout (these are already hitting the floor). I have a line of modules partially written in the Darkenfold. Jim Ward is turning the Crusader into an even greater support vehicle for C&C starting with issue 8 and Gary has just put together another team of writers to work on adventures for the CZ setting. Through into this mix that Mark Sandy has developed over half the magic items for Monsters & Treasure of Aihrde and I've written about half the monsters AND Robert Doyel has finished all the monsters for Monsters & Treasures II....and so on. There is plenty coming, being worked on and coming to your shelves soon....the CKG being the one that myself and Davis are at last able to focus on the most.

Of course this is the plan . . . .

Now for those who have a mind for some good music from one of the greatest Sci-Fi movies of all time (Dark Star) listen in!Thanks for playing.

Steve Chenault


James Mishler said...

Hey, don't forget about little ol' me!

The first issue of Adventure Games Journal is at the printers. The first Wilderlands of High Adventure Campaign Installment should go out in February. The first Sandbox Module is in the works. One release a month or more, God willing and the creek don't rise.

There's plenty of Castles & Crusades goodness coming from Adventure Games Publishing, too!

Zudrak said...

Hey, Steve,

I appreciate your taking the time to explain your position and plan for the future. It's not easy nowadays to come clean, it seems, but I am a loyal customer.

I may be the rare breed (patient), but when a company treats its vendors and customers like people and not numbers or wheelbarrows full of money, it makes it easier to want to do business with that company.

Keep up the good work!

Michael / Zudrak

durendale said...

Few customers would give their customers such an insight into their inner workings. If you were a public company I would buy stock knowing that you know what you are doing and that you are committed!

durendale said...

And yes I'm hoping you will throw Tolvar some XP because of that last comment!

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