Friday, January 23, 2009

RPG Publishers & Keeping Their Release Schedules

Inspired by this thread, I wanted to chat a bit about RPG Publishers and their release schedules. Most will admit that in this hobby, vaporware is not unknown. The question is, how much does a publisher's adherence to a promised or projected release schedule bug you or turn you off from supporting that company?

I want to look at a couple of different publishers for my answer on this. In gaming, Palladium Books and Eden Studios are known as two of the prime offenders in this area (though there are certainly others). Now, of the two, I tend to be more forgiving of Palladium, because a) I know a lot of the folks working on the titles, and b) it's Palladium, and I've gotten used to it since Junior High. Palladium also has a much larger back catalog to keep me occupied while I wait. If anything, Eden is probably slightly better on delivering, but I cut Palladium the slack, and not for any really good reason--just my reasons. I suspect I'm not the only gamer to forgive because of a relationship with personnel or the talent at a gaming company.

In another vein, Wizards of the Coast has been slow--not in their RPG releases, which are very regular--but in their promised support, such as DDI and pushing out the GSL (and the revised GSL). I'm probably even more critical of WotC because, hey, it's WotC. They're the presumed big kid on the block, the holders (legally, if not spiritually) of D&D. Given the public nature of their series of support debacles (which appear to have been calming down as of late, happily), it really drew attention to all the miscues. Silly as it is, the notoriety of a slowdown or delay seems to magnify it, and I think that's what's happened to WotC.

Despite my griping and sniping at the above examples, I'll be honest: except for a brief flare-up, most delays don't bug me too much. I know for many of these folks, it's a pure labor of love, and they still have families and day jobs that take priority. The instances that really get me is when I waiting for a promised additional product to make a complete game (which is a model I've gotten away from, so it doesn't really happen much anymore), or when a trilogy or series is cut off incomplete in the middle (Land of the Damned, I am looking at you here).

All in all, I think gamers are a pretty forgiving bunch, so long as you don't compound delays with P.R. miscues, poor customer support, or leaving us in the lurch with less than was promised for a core game. Do it too often, and you're going to hear some jokes and frustration. Stick to a solid schedule but put out mediocrity, and folks will still wait for your peers to finish up. I could be wrong, but that seems to be the majority view from where I'm sitting.


Bonemaster said...

I think most gamers are more savvy than your average Joe. I think we understand that the RPG business is not an easy thing and publishing is tough. In publishing there are going to be things outside of your control. You may send your product off to be printed, but hey look the printer had a major problem and can't print your product on time.

I agree, bad customer support is a major issue and more likely lead to bad feelings against that publisher. Canceling promised projects can also be bad as you pointed. I could just imagine the havoc that would ensue, if Paizo cancel on of their AP's in the middle (AFAIK that's not going to happen).

So in the end, I think you are correct we are a pretty forgiving bunch, until we get burned by the company in question pretty bad.

Zweihander said...

I wait for Mechanoid Space.

I am thirty years old and I still wait for Mechanoid space.

Thats a shade over 30% of my life that I have lived so far.

I guess I'll still be waiting tomorrow. :D

Evil Hat Productions said...

Well, my company is one of the biggest offenders there is... at least on one particular project. :)

I will say that the errors we've made were the errors of rookie publishers. And error compounds error like nobody's business.

Stuff can be planned around, and schedules can be padded, but at the end of the day, 90% of the folks in the industry are hobbyists/fans first, and businesspeople second. (For rookie publishers such as we were when we first got the DFRPG license, that dichotomy is extremely... exacerbated.)

Whenever you have that situation, you're bound to have a lot of folks goofing up the timelines. Then, beyond the publisher-centric mistakes, there are all the moving parts involved. Say you're getting a book printed overseas (because the economy practically mandates it for some publishers). The amount of time it'll take the printed book to actually make it to a US port and through customs is nearly unpredictable. How do you plan for that, other than to either a) state a release date that's potentially months or a year past the mark, or b) refuse to state a release date at all?

Instead, publishers state a date, and they hope all the moving parts will not make them liars. But without a ridiculous amount of padding, as often as not, they'll turn out to be. Nature of the beast.

clash bowley said...

As my Glorianna has been waiting for three years, I'm an offender. I have given up actual dates, in favor of saying "I hope to have this out this year." What happens to me is I'll be working on a game - usually with a collaborator - and that person will drop out. Then I'll get discouraged, or have another game idea pop into my head, and I'll run with it. I'll come back to the original game eventually, maybe with new concepts or with a new collaborator, and get going again, but it's very difficult sometimes.

Joseph said...

I've had my blow-ups about products being late, but what irks me even more than blowing a scheduled release date (or even scheduled release year) is a lack of communication.

I don't mind waiting longer than originally expected. I only ask that I be _told_ that the wait will be longer, and preferably why, without having to endure stony silence (or worse-- endless chatter on message boards by the company's principals without mention of the delay).

I've already written off one publisher completely because of this behavior. I could name names, but what's the point?

Bill Corrie said...

HinterWelt has these issues as well. Britannia and Tern languish at about 80% done and other books like Future Skein and Atlantis Found hang around as covers for years. The biggest problem for me is that you need to go where the money is. Squirrels pay the bills. Roma conversions to True20 pay the bills. So, I am more than sympathetic with long production cycles. Ahem, Historical Cast, ahem...;)

Zachary The First said...

Bill cuts me to the quick. :)

Johnn Four said...

I would ask publishers to consider why they post release dates, and the cost of not delivering on this tactic. If you can't meet a date, consider not posting one. If a date is based on speculation or a project plan with a lot of contingencies, consider not posting the date.

You can still get great PR and build customer awareness without a release date.

With WotC, I plan and budget my purchases because I trust their date. With other companies, not so much, and they only get my money if the timing is right or long after the initial release date.

Perhaps consider publishing a release date when nearly all contingencies have been met. Such as the final draft is in the can and it's T-2 months or so.

Another part of the equation is building a trustworthy content pipeline. Delays, errors, and miscommunications are costly in terms of lost opportunities, sales, time, and other factors.

I guess my main point here is that shifty release dates are costly to small publishers, and they don't do the industry's reputation much good.