How not to make your customers happy. . .

There is a game company, which I shall call Amazing Infants. Obviously not the real name, but fans of the company should be able to figure it out.

Anyway, close to two years ago, the company released version 2.0 of it's popular pre-painted miniatures game, "Wizard Warrior" (all names are going to be changed to protect the guilty, just so you know). Now, a lot of players are a little aprehensive, but also kinda exited, since it means a whole lot of new stuff, and hopefully a new, well-written rules set.

Long story short, hopes are dashed, but remain smoldering, as people try to use the figures from the original "WW" game with the 2.0 figures. They're not real compatible, but it's close enough that it can be made to work, and indeed, "AI"does indicate that the two can be used together, via various FAQs, etc.

The problem arises, however, when people want to have big games. Really big games. Games with a couple hundred figures on a side, using s game engine that was designed for armies of eight. Now, the version 1.0 rules had an armies version of the game, that addressed the scale issues and had a reasonable (but not good) solution for most of it. The rules for the armies scale were mostly exceptions to the standard rules, so writing new ones for the version 2.0 should be pretty easy, given that 2.0 is essentially the same game as 1.0 with some new bells and whistles, right?


Eighteen months later, "AI" releases a two page version of the armies rules, failing to address any of the issues which will invariably invite abuse. They claim that the rules are unofficial and unsanctioned, which means that you are basically playing at home against your kid brother. At the same time, there are fans posting coherent, concise rules on various fan sites, and trying desperately to get "AI" to put together something good.

Defenders of the new rules say that, since this isn't a normal game format, there is no reason for the company to put any effort into it. I maintain that there are many good reasons:

Top reasons why "AI" should have done a decent job with Armies rules:

1) Profit motive. Right now, there is little reason to buy lots and lots of boosters. Power pieces are available from etailers, and a couple boosters can generally satisfy the need for a hit of plastic crack. But, by providing a format which actively promotes the use of many figures, "AI" can actually sell more product.

2) Profit motive #2 - it might actually spur interest in all those castles, dragons and tanks gathering dust in FLGSs and warehouses across the country.

3) PR - People have been clamoring for Armies for almost 2 years. With a continual "We're working on it" line, the least "AI" could have done is presented a document which appeared to have been the product of at least a couple days work.

4) PR #2 - Presenting a concise and apparently playtested document would give the impression that "AI" is finally attempting to get things right the first time. Even by releasing it as an unofficial beta, if they paid enough attention to notice that 4" + 4" + 30" > 36" (games are played on a table 3" wide, need a starting area at least 4" deep, and need to start 30" apart), it might have improved credibility.

5) PR #3 - By accepting direct player input, "AI" would have shown that they are interested in everyone's input. Instead, players have to hunt down an opponent, play some games, take notes, get in touch with an envoy and hope that the envoy passes them on correctly, in a timely manner, and accurately. Of course, it would also need to be proven that "AI" actually listens to the players in this case, without waiting a year or more to respond to play issues.

6) Proof of competency. As you said, there are great rules out there. Instead of attempting to incporporate them (and anything posted on fan site or the official site belong to "AI"), "AI" gives us this.

7) Proof of competency #2 - Again, lots of potential problems exist. Even for a ruleset which is apparently always going to be unofficial and unsupported, these are the game designers. Can't they do a job at least equal to that of the fans?

8) Unique hook. D&D mass combat rules are terrible. Don't know if anyone has written mass combat rules for SWCMG. If "AI" wants to distinguish themselves in the CCMG market, a good set of mass-combat rules, coupled with renewed interest in dragons, titans, tanks, etc would have been a good visual sales hook.

9) Great opportunity to reach out to disenfranchised players. By creating a ruleset which, even though it is unofficial, provides complete backwards compatability, older players will be able to use their 1.0 figures. Stores might actually see 1.0 sales pick up, which would be a good thing.

10) Maximum benefit for minimal work. This follows points 1-9, inclusive. For the investment of 16 hours of an interns time, "AI" would pay perhaps $320 dollars (including SS tax, Medicare, etc) - but would probably generate several thousands of dollars of goodwill from former detractors. Many of the dectractors are 80/20 customers and/or alpha gamers. (80/20 customer - one of the 20% who provide 80% of the sales, alpha gamer is a gamer who tends to demo games or otherwise work on getting them going in an area.) "AI" could even blow the $50 for someone to issue a once a month update to a FAQ or provide a minimal errata. These would cost some money, but the returns would outweigh the cost.

The sad thing is that the people that did all the hard work for the company, acting as unpaid sales reps in the field, devoting hundreds of hours to running product demos and tournaments, while remaining essentially unpaid, have largely quit because there is the prevailing attitude that the company does not listen to criticism. In their stead, the company has hired sycophants, who proclaim that all is well, and that there is no decline in sales.

It's sad really. . . I liked the game, and tried to make it better even after they canned me for privately questioning the company line.


Post a Comment

<< Home