Big News in Gaming: Fantasy Flight and Games Workshop Part Ways.

Rumours have been circulating in gaming circles for some time now. Games Workshop, the dominant company in miniatures gaming for decades. Lately GW has been a favourite subject of my ruminations, especially in regard to their treatment of The Old World, the most popular grimdark fantasy setting in gaming.

Fantasy Flight is a relative newcomer to the field. It was started in 1995 by Christian T. Peterson and rose steadily in prominence over the last decade or so, often through clever use of licensed IPs, including Warhammer and other GW properties. After a merger with Asmodée in 2014, Fantasy Flight has arrived at the pinnacle of the tabletop gaming industry.

Fantasy flight knocked Warhammer 40k, GWs most reliable miniatures line out of the top spot in the coveted US market in 2015.  This is kind of a big deal, especially after GW has dropped Warhammer Fantasy Battles in an effort to retool their fantasy lines to greater profit.Leveraging the Star Wars license is just the latest and most successful foray for FF Ginto the miniatures space. For years their boxed sets have been fantastic collections of figures while GW charges 40+$ for a single space marine captain.

It seemed inevitable that as FFG rose, its relationship with GW would change. GW has met with success in its re-opened specialist games division, boardgame-like products that it has abandoned for years, that compete with FFG. Then at Gencon 2016 Fantasy Flight announced Rune Wars, a tabletop miniatures that moves directly into the space vacated by GW’s defunct Warhammer Fantasy Battles. This signals that the parting of ways is less than amicable (Though not necessarily sour) and that the two former allies will now be competing directly for market share.

It is hard to speculate exactly what precipitated the parting of the ways, but it is very interesting news.

Here are some of my thoughts on this.

  • Fantasy Flight will ‘win’ this confrontation, at least in the short term. FFG has a good market strategy and holds the upper hand with the star wars license. The real winners will be gamers I think, because both companies will step up under increased competition. GW, in particular, is going to have to take a serious look at the price point of their miniatures — FFG offers much better cost per figure than they do (although Cool Mini or Not
  • The real downside to these two companies parting ways is that some very good games will just disappear. These include Chaos in the Old World by the amazing Eric Lang, one of my personal favourites as well as an extensive list of Board Games and RPGs.
  • Rune Wars is not an especially strong entry into the field (The IP is underdeveloped and pretty generic), but it comes at a time when few companies, none of them with clout comparable to FFG are in the space of making big class of armies miniatures games. Their timing is good here, people are excited, and if they capitalize on early successes and release new content intelligently they will still dominate for a while.
    • FFG is hit and miss on innovative mechanics. They love custom dice, cards, dials, and movement templates and Rune Wars has them all. Sometimes these work such as the Star Wars games or the Star Wars RPG, and sometimes they fall flat. I’m leaning toward functional.
  • Talisman is returning to GW. I preferred the old characters to the new, generic take on the game so I am looking forward to a new release.

That’s all I have to say on the matter now, but it is very interesting.

Musings on user reviews

Reviews are the lifeblood of e-commerce. Without the ability to actually examine the product for themselves consumers are forced to make a judgement based partly on the description of the product, the reputation of the vendor, and the reviews of the item. Yet often these reviews are rife with ideological crusaders, reviews for sale, and odd design choices in the review systems themselves.

As an indy author this is painfully obvious for me at the moment. I have to solicit reviews on amazon because most people who read my work prefer to review it on Goodreads. I have even been tarred and feathered by fake reviewers looking to lower their average score in order to seem legitimate when they give 5 star ratings to their clients. The review system is annoying, and yet I need it to move books and reach potential readers.

The first and largest problem in the review system is that it often reads like any other comment section anywhere else in the internet. I am not popular enough to have this problem yet, but it does annoy the heck out of me when I am reading reviews of games or books and people are using the review system for popular products to push their personal views rather than actually review the product. This can be a fine line, to be sure: should Lovecraft be docked stars because he is racist? for example. Mind you in most cases it is not. I’m sure you have all seen reviews like this, if not go look at the reviews on your favorite (non classic) popular computer game or book. Some are legit, some are lazy, and some people are there to make a point that has little to do with the product itself. I’m not sure how to fix this, yet.

Fake reviews are more sensational. There is a thriving cottage industry in selling fake reviews of all sorts of products, as well as companies putting up their own fake reviews of their products. Since reviews still help drive sales, there is a real economic incentive to cheat if you can get away with it. As I noted these ‘reviewers’ often give crap ratings to low profile indy authors in order to even out all of the five star reviews they give to their clients so that they look like a tough reviewer.

The review systems themselves are sometimes even more of a problem. Amazon, the most important reviewer for my career, has some quirks that annoy the crap out of me. They do not amalgamate reviews from all of their secondary sites on my book, even though the product is exactly the same on amazon.com as it is on amazon.ca or amazon.uk. People who have written reviews for me sometimes do not get them approved from various reasons (some are legitimate I suppose, sorry mom!). Even worse is that Amazon owns Goodreads and could easily show the goodreads reviews on a particular title, like Steam shows the metacritic score, but they do not and thus compete with themselves for reviews. I don’t know too many people who are willing to review a product on multiple sites without prodding. This is not to mention the problems with the scoring systems themselves and even how ratings drive searches.

One solution is professional reviewers, people whose job it is to review a product for a trusted third party. Unfortunately in many arenas Professional reviews are missing in action, or lost in the noise. Even if they are easy to find, a professional reviewer often wants different things than the average reader. This can lead to authors skewing their work to solicit favourable opinions from elite reviewers. This is nothing new, but it is still annoying; authors should be free to write for their intended audience, ideally, rather than jump through hoops for publishers and reviewers. Still, hunting down high profile reviewers who will like your work has been a piece of advice that many of my peers have given me.

For now, I rely on fans and organic growth while examining other possibilities.

The Rune: Wrap Up Musings/Links

Last week I finished my Rune short story, and before I transition back to the third Shadow Wolf Tale I would like to share a few thoughts.

Here are links to the collected chapters of the Rune

Rune One, Rune Two, Rune Three, Rune Four, Rune Five, Rune Six, Rune Six part 2 , Rune Seven, Rune Eight, and Rune Nine.

My first comment is an oops. As you can see from the list above I used 1.6 twice… so sloppy.

In no particular order:

  • I’m getting better at writing in first person. I think it is fair to say that these little exercises are paying off.
  • I like the ending to The Rune. I felt having him return to the cell, rewound, worked very well. It should leave most readers wondering. For bonus points. it is a flexible ending: I could pick it up from there as a longer story or I could leave it as is.
  • I like the nomenclature of ‘Amy with the Gun’, it is an interesting way to delineate a character and conveys a lot of personality.
  • My modern action scenes need a little bit of work. I wonder if it comes from the way early RPGs treated guns, which caused me to shy away from them most of the time and then mess up with them when gaming. Come to think of it, the action in my Shadowrun game might suffer from the same problem. Regardless, I think I need to work on gunplay descriptions. I write a decent action scene with other forms of weaponry, but I may need to sit down and really research guns or invent my own gun analogue.

Overall, I enjoyed writing the story, but I think it needs work, especially in the middle.

Stay tuned for The Shadow Wolf Sagas next week.

 

A teaser and a pause for consideration.

I am still undecided on what I want to do for my next serial. Also, Ronan is crawling now, which is too cute to miss. Here is a rough teaser from my next book. Bloodlust: The Seeds of Ruin.

As an aside, I find it interesting to consider the use of language in my world. If I were to describe the towers of Kithkaran to you*, I would liken them to stained glass in an old cathedral or the sun shining through a coloured glass bottle, but these are images that do not leap to mind for a society like Krass.

The same goes for concepts of religion. I cannot have a character exclaim ‘god’ or ‘jesus christ’ obviously, but I also lose out on bloody hell and heavenly, concepts that do not belong in their society.

Instead I tend to focus on the Reckoning, ancestors, the arena, and ocean motifs for the metaphors and exclamations of the people of the Domains.

The towers of Kithkaran shone in the sun*. Many of them were over five hundred feet tall, built from glass, gold and great magic, with lifts and lights powered by the very waters that had been turned against them in the end. Now, at last, they breathed again and people would remember the glory that his people had wrought.

Antilluvius smiled, the thin line of his desiccated lips curling slightly. He remembered the terror of those days, the endless rain, the wall of water that had assailed them. He could feel the horror as their magic failed, slowly and then all at once. He could still taste the bitterness of losing everything he’d ever known and the terrible promise that he had made to his family as they brought forth what was now called the Dark Heart. But now it was tempered, all of it, by the sight of his city once again in the light.

The weight of ages was no longer his to bear. He only wished that he could savour it longer, but just as he could not let his beloved city linger in mud and darkness, they could not suffer him to live. While this moment was wondrous, he had done terrible things to bring it about.

“My king, the Legions have begun to march.”

Moraggi’s voice woke Antidilluvius from his memories. He turned and looked down at this man, a heretic who served him, bound by an oath, in exchange for protection from the Krassians. Although old for this world, Moraggi was but a child compared to him.

Next Serial

The second run of The Shadow Wolf Sagas, Red Fangs wrapped up last week. I am currently toying with what I want to do with serial night (Thursday is serial night). Here are a few thoughts. Feel free to comment if any interest you.

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War

This is the most likely candidate; despite the racy title it will concentrate on the mechanics of power in Myrrhn a seen through the lens of a certain Nordan twiceborn. The conflict centers around who will take control of the Doxies’s Union, the organization that controls Myrrhn’s many pleasure houses. Ragnar is involved because his housemates, the enigmatic twins, are among the contenders.

I like this one because it involves politics, economic theory, and institutional conflict.

Space Action!

Ever since my first serial, Nomads, I have been considering how to get back into a serial that involves futuristic action.

I like the idea of massive nomadic fleets, scavengers, and soldiers controlling auxilliary drones.

Making an RPG

My final idea is to make an RPG, is serial, tackling systems and so on each week. I’m not sure if thos would appeal to anyone but me, but I am itching to make a new magicky/cyberpunky game since Shadowrun 5th is starting to feel like pulling the teeth (The system is weighed down by legacy, even if the world is still cool)

I like this idea because I like RPGs.

Review: Yes! Shakespeare

Shakespeare-Logo-345x350

I even like the logo they came up with.

One of the guys in my Saturday game with invited us to watch a play that he was in. (naturally, the best night to go turned out to be on game night, but that’s the modern weekend for you…) Initially we decided to go just to support him, because that’s what friends do. We bought the tickets, arranged who was going to take care of Ronan and fit it into the schedule. All I understood going in is that the play was about high school kids learning Shakespeare, and that my friend was playing Hamlet. The first part sounded, well… kind of like a Jack Black movie, one of the not so good ones; but my friend as Hamlet was something I wanted to see.

To say that I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement.

First off, my friend Ayden, was excellent as Hamlet, displaying both dramatic depth, and since the play pokes fun at the way we all relate to Shakespeare, comedic timing. This was not the surprise, however, although I did feel that he outdid himself.

For a cast mostly made up of high school students and young adults, I thought every single person performed exceptionally well. There was energy, enthusiasm, and effort behind every performance and, because of the play’s structure, almost every character and actor had a moment to shine. The consistency of the acting speaks well to the direction. I did not notice any serious miscues and the players were able to keep the dialogue flowing smoothly and believably, which is tough when you are quoting Shakespeare one moment and then breaking into song the next. It was nice.

But, the biggest surprise was the play itself. Yes! Shakespeare was written by a pair of local teachers. The goal of almost all modernizations of Shakespeare is to show that his works remain relevant. Yes! Shakespeare does this better than most, juxtaposing and even blending famous scenes from the Bard’s best plays with the dramas that many young people have to go through, from young love to broken families. The writer’s love of Shakespeare, and teaching, drips from every scene.

For all that, Yes! Shakespeare worked for me because it was entertaining. The writers, director, and the actors never lost sight of the idea that they were there to show the audience a good time.   I was brutally tired and nodding off before the play started, but by the third or fourth scene I was getting into it. For all of the serious points that were being made, relating the bard to modern life, the play was humorous and wacky, and really went the extra mile to keep me interested.

The ending of the play was quite clever, with the main characters resolving their troubles in a class monologue “exam” using some of the very best of Shakespeare to get their points across to each other. I loved it.

This, more that anything, was the best homage to Shakespeare that a playwright can offer, because, despite the serious intellectual content of his plays, the Bard himself emphasized the value of keeping your audience entertained. You cannot reach a spectator who is dozing, after all.

Reading and Reviews

This has been an eventful week for me, and I wanted to share some of the good stuff.

First up, popping my cherry at the Chi Series Guelph. Public reading has been low on my list as an indy author. Hell, public anything rarely rates high on my priorities, unless it involves politics or written discussion.

Nonetheless, a friend invited me to read at a local event in Guelph, held at the Red Brick Cafe, just down the street from the apartment where I wrote my first two books.

I have to say that while I was nervous, the experience turned out to be very positive, with the added bonus of meeting some lovely people and talking with other authors, face to face. The experienced convinced me that I should stop acting like a hermit and attend a few more events.

And now for a common complaint you hear from authors: that most dreaded of subjects, the Amazon Review.

This week Amazon saw fit to take down my mother’s review of my first book (in which she identified herself as my mother and gave it a less that perfect 3/5). I have no problem with that — Amazon does say in the TOS that relatives should not be reviewing each other’s works, but it does annoy me that a small group of them took the time to mock her before taking down the review.

Mom, it was an honour to have your review.

That aside, the issue did get me to sit down and take a look at my amazon reviews. I have sold a fair number of books, but have very few reviews on Amazon — almost an order of magnitude less than the reviews that I have on Goodreads. This hinders sales a little, I think, but mostly it seems that the review system needs to be reworked and properly incentived. Amazon should do more to solicit reviews from readers or take a page from Steam and post the book’s Goodreads score as a secondary indicator, which Steam does with Metacritic. Amazon owns Goodreads, after all.

I also think that all of a book’s reviews should show up on its page, instead of being divided by region of purchase. More information is better, especially if it is well organized. Extra review scores would help authors and readers and an increased number of reviews helps weed out fakers and reviewers for hire.

Just some thoughts, cheer!