Monday, July 11, 2011

Spycraft 2.0 and Print on Demand

The print-on-demand edition of Spycraft 2.0 is a reprint of the last Spycraft product Alderac Entertainment Group produced before they shut down the Spycraft product line. When that happened, the crew behind the Spycraft RPG started Crafty Games in order to continue the line and have since expanded to different RPG genres, most recently developing the Mastercraft game system.

I now have a hardcover edition of the print-on-demand Spycraft 2.0. This version has many fixes from the original run's errata. It also is available in softcover.

This was a re-purchase of the book as I had the original book at one time. A big fan of the original Spycraft, it was difficult for me to let the 1.0 version go in favor of 2.0. The book is rather large. I found it to be too overwhelming and shortly after buying it I shelved it where it sat for many years.

Now my interest is rekindled (I don't know why! I'm quite fascinated with my obsessions coming and going!) and with Spycraft 3rd edition coming soon under the Mastercraft system I longed for this book once again. So here we are. is where I ordered this book. There are many reviews saying how their customer service is great. I'd like to re-affirm this to be true. I made an error in my ordering the book submitting a very old shipping address that was lingering on my account. With one email the issue was resolved and the book was shipped to the corrected location with no problem and rather quickly at that. The whole process took four days- that includes the printing AND shipping.

The hardcover book is an excellent product. It is black and white as opposed to the original's full color production. The paper feels like a lighter grade or weight (however paper is measured) which actually cuts the physical weight of the book quite a bit from what I remember. As mentioned before, the book is updated including errata fixes and a black and white print version of the graphical design. Very well made.

Print-on-demand is an interesting thing. Game books and gamer collectors probably know the frustrations of old and out-of-print books. PDFs are on the rise and probably a majority of gaming products never are even intended to see print. Out-of-print could be a thing of the past (no pun intended), in theory.

My brother has dabbled in print-on-demand with children's books and the market for it seems to be still trying to figure itself out. Here is an interesting blog post about this topic [from The ArtOrder]:

Print On Demand and the gaming industry

Patri Balanovsky -
Leandro A. Pezzente dropped me an interesting question recently concerning Print On Demand (PoD). For those that are not publishing savy, Wikipedia defines PoD as:
Print on demand (POD), sometimes called publish on demand, is a printing technology and business process in which new copies of a book (or other document) are not printed until an order has been received. “Print on Demand” developed only after digital printing began, because it was not economical to print single copies using traditional printing technology such as letterpress and offset printing.
Many traditional small presses have replaced their traditional printing equipment with POD equipment or contract their printing out to POD service providers. Many academic publishers, including university presses, use POD services to maintain a large backlist; some even use POD for all of their publications. Larger publishers may use POD in special circumstances, such as reprinting older titles that had been out of print or for performing test marketing”
PoD sounds like the magic bullet for everyone that doesn’t have the funding or demand to print the thousands of documents necessary to hit the “minimum print run” required by most traditional printers, doesn’t it? And that goes right to the heart of Leandro’s question:
“My question is related to “PRINTING ON DEMAND” concept , like the one Pinnacle Publishing uses for “Savage Worlds” . More throughly i wanted to know , why such a simple concept that could save Publishing companies thousands of dollars and help to drastically reduce piracy is such a hard one for publishing houses to adopt.”
Sounds like a no-brainer doesn’t it? I wish it were that simple. We are starting to see companies adopting e-pub, and PoD strategies, but it is not a decision to jump into lightly. Wizards of the Coast has been investigating all of these publishing options for a while, and I have dealt with the same considerations personally here on ArtOrder. Let’s talk for a few minutes about this issue . . .
Everyone is quick to talk about the cost savings for PoD. There is a little realized fallacy in this statement. Everyone thinks that there is no cost associated with PoD, and that isn’t really the whole story. Yes, it is true that the publisher does not pay for printing – there is actually a cost for printing. But instead of the publisher bearing the initial cost and then passing it along to the consumer – now the customer bears the cost directly from the printer. Many folks tell me “so what’s the difference? I have to pay for the book either way.” So true, but here’s the twist:
Twist #1
Everyone believes that the company is saving money because they don’t have any printing costs – which should result in a saving on the end product. Wrong! While the publisher doesn’t incur a printing cost, the consumer still has to pay for the printing, and they aren’t getting a quantity discount either – so they actually end up paying more for the printing.
Let’s take a real-world example. I’ve got a book for sale on Blurb. The development costs are fixed for me whether I print traditionally or through Blurb. So I didn’t save any money by printing PoD. I have a set “profit*” amount that I need to make for each book, and that wouldn’t change which printing method I use. If I were able to print a minimum of 1000 books, and use my print broker in China on the Lovecraft Creature Lab book I could bring the book onshore for less than $5 each.
$5 for publishing with broker, with volume discount
$5 for profit*
$0 for development (thanks to the volunteer work of Aaron Miller)
$10 Retail Price
Let’s compare that to PoD
$14.89 for publishing with Blurb
$5 for profit*
$0 for development
$19.89 Retail Price
Did you notice anything? The cost to produce the product didn’t diminish in any way, and the cost to the consumer actually increased. Not really cheaper to either the publisher or the customer, is it?
*All ArtOrder products have only a $5 mark-up (whether digital or PoD). This money is used to defer costs of running the blog and community, and to raise funds for ArtOrder scholarships.
Twist #2
As a publisher, when I deal with a printer to print a product I tend to have options. I love options! I can pick certain papers to improve or influence the consumer experience. I can choose print options to affect price, shelf presence, durability, and a million other variables. When I deal with PoD I normally have just a few printing options – sizes, formats, papers stock and finish, cover stocks and finishes, and so many other aspects of the printing process. Because of this, I have very limited options to tailor the customer experience. While this doesn’t really affect my costs, it does affect my perceived value – which in turn affects my ability to set a specific price point on my product. This often directly affects my ability to set a retail price that allows for an appropriate profit or development level.
Twist #3
This is the hardest one to illustrate and get folks to understand. Development costs . . .
Let’s look back at the previous examples. In the traditional model, I would figure out development costs by taking the total development cost and dividing it by the total quantity of books produced to get my development cost per book. Let’s pretend that Allen had charged me a reasonable fee to produce and layout the book. Let’s also pretend that I billed for my time directing, marketing, and various other activities around the development of the book. Let’s pretend that we amassed a development bill of $5000. Modest development costs for a book. So, when I take the traditional model this is where we end up:
$5 for publishing with broker, with volume discount
$5 for profit*
$5 for development ($5000 development cost/1000 books published)
$15 Retail Price
Okay, that probably makes sense right? Not to complicated, is it? I’ve got development costs, printing costs, a target profit level and that gives me my retail price (wish it were that simple in real life…).
Now, what happens when I choose to go PoD. Remember, the reason we are going PoD is usually because we feel we can’t pay the print fees out of our pocket (cash flow issue), or we don’t think we can sell enough copies to hit the minimum print run. In this case we are going to deal with the minimum print run issue. So we don’t think we can sell 1000 copies of the book. Do we think we can sell 100, 200 or 300 copies? We have to decide, and we have to be right. Why? Remember what we need to set our retail price? Print, development and profit numbers. Let’s take a look at an example, and let’s assume we think we can sell 300 copies of the book.
$14.89 for publishing with Blurb
$5 for profit*
$16.67 for development ($5000 development cost/300 books sold)
$35.56 Retail Price
See what just happened to out retail cost? It significantly jumped, didn’t it? Why is this a big issue? If everyone else can produce and sell a similar book with a retail value of $15 (from our traditional model), and we are producing a book for $35.56 – how do we deal with the customers expectations they have for paying twice as much for a comparable book? And what about the risk? I hear you thinking – “What risk? You printed PoD, there isn’t any risk?” Wrong. Remember, I made an assumption that I’d sell 300 books. Let’s pretend that I wasn’t able to convince folks that my $36 dollar book was worth buying when my competitors were selling for $15, and I only sold 100 copies of the book. What does that do to my pricing model?
$14.89 for publishing with Blurb
$5 for profit*
$50 for development ($5000 development cost/100 books sold)
$69.89 Retail Price
But wait, I didn’t sell it for $69.89, I sold it for $35.56. What happens then?
Gross income – 100 books @ 35.56 = +$3556
print costs – 100 books @ $14.89 = – $1489
Development costs = – $5000
profit = -$2933
Holy cow! That hurts, doesn’t it? You did notice the negative symbol in front of that number, didn’t you? Forget the idea of profit. Heck, forget the idea of even covering your development costs.
So, does PoD seem like the magic bullet still? Is it a useful tool? Sure! Is it a great way to develop certain products? Sure! Is it a great way to lose your shirt? It can be. This is the whole reason companies don’t just jump straight into this technology. They have to understand the limitations of the tech, the customers perceptions, and the risks involved. As this industry matures, I except to see more and more publishers move into this technology – but it will not be the massive cost savings that many customers think they will see, nor will it be the ‘get rich quick’ path that many self-publishers hoped it would be.
Great question!

Good Night by Batfish73

Friday, July 8, 2011

[ spooks ]

Espionage drama. BBC's spy show, [ spooks ] (known as M.I.5 in the States on A&E) has been a favorite of ours. We've stayed on board through the many cast changes as many characters simply do not survive the show. There is a lot of drama and action. The show rarely, if ever, goes too far over the top in the spirit of 007. There is a strong sense of remaining as realistic as possible which I appreciate.

Harry Pearce and Ruth Evershed
Only one character has been with the show through all nine series or seasons since it's debut in 2002, the head of Section D, the boss. What a great character he is, too. Serious and down to earth, sometimes coldly so. The agents portray how dangerous the job is as they continually fall and get replaced. The writing draws us in and suddenly we care about them. And just as sudden, they die. We've had several favorite characters. One lately was Beth Bailey (played by Sofia Myles- Madame de Pompadour in Doctor Who- Girl in the Fireplace!). We also like Ruth Evershed very much. She's been in a majority of the seasons. Like most BBC programs, the casting and the acting are top notch.

There was one short lived spin-off called Spooks Code 9 which was set in a near future London shortly after a nuclear strike hit the UK. Didn't care for it and didn't follow after the pilot. Apparently not many others did either since it disappeared quick.

Another show that may be a spin-off is a show produced for younger audiences- M.I. High. I've seen one episode of the show and wasn't impressed as it seemed very over the top and gadgety and very clearly for kids. The secret agents in this series are students in school who are undercover in their school. The bad guys they fight are almost monsters you'd see in Power Rangers, etc. I've taken a 2nd look at the show as inspiration for a Spycraft game along the lines of Ally Carter's young adult book series- Gallagher Girls which Leesha has taken a liking to. The Gallagher Girls are a very similar setting, but a much more realistic take. I've actually read two of the four books and enjoyed them a great deal. M.I. High is a spy show that my  four year old might enjoy quite soon, too.

Neil Burnside - Director of Operations
The other spy show that I really enjoyed out of England was Sandbaggers. This is a very serious spy drama. I discovered the show from Greg Rucka's Queen & Country comic book and novel series. Sandbaggers was truly cold-war espionage. There wasn't a whole lot of action, but a great deal of very clever writing and dialog. On some levels the show was disturbing because our protagonist, Neil Burnside - Director of Operations, was cold and sometimes simply a monster! You wonder if the 'bad guys' were actually better than our hero. I highly recommend Sandbaggers to anyone interested in realistic and dramatic espionage not requiring action and gadgets. The show's allure is complete with it's creator's, Ian Mackintosh's mysterious disappearance.

There is another spy show coming from BBC soon called Morton:

Morton, 8 x 60 series, written by Frank Spotnitz made by Kudos Film and Television
Meet Sam. A spy. A hunter. And herself hunted by an enemy more ruthless and determined than any she's ever known. Sam has been running from her past her entire life but when she returns to Mobius, the organisation that employs her, and begins to pursue her pursuer, she will discover the only way to escape that past... is to confront it. This is the story of a spy with a bull's eye on her back, a human target unable to trust anyone at any time, even the man she loves. She is, quite literally, running for her life. Morton is a smart, complex and contemporary spy series.

Frank Spotnitz was involved with the X-Files and MilllenniuM. Morton may star Gillian Anderson, also from X-Files, but these appear to be rumors at this point.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


I've been on board with Spycraft since it first came out. AEG's 1st edition remains one of my very favorite RPG books in my collection. They published generic espionage books as well as on official setting- Shadowforce Archer, which I passed on, but I owned every book that covered the generic espionage material. When Spycraft 2.0 came out my interestin d20 was waning and the book was overwhelming. It sat on my shelf for a few years before I sold nearly all my Spycraft items. This is one of those things you do that you later regret as inevitably my interest in the game has returned.

It has come back to me in my search for a game system to run some sessions with Leesha modeling a campaign in line with Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls books. One system I've leaning toward is SpyLite- The MicroLite20 Spycraft game. A lite game seems like a good way to start with her and this one should prove to be an easy transition to any fundamental d20 game no matter which version of Spycraft we end up.
Spycraft 2.0 Cover by Chriss2d

A great resource for a Gallagher Girls style campaign is found in issue 75 of a game magazine called Signs & Portents. The article is called Childish Things which covers playing children or juvenile characters in Spycraft 2.0.

The Crafty Games forum has a lot of talk about Spycraft 3rd Edition (not 3.0) which sounds like a slimmed down and improved version of Spycraft 2.0 which was originally still released by AEG. Later, Crafty Games produced an edited second printing. This version is now available again through a print-on-demand method.

A side note here- print-on-demand is a pretty cool thing that could change a lot of things in the gaming industry. Suddenly long out of print books can be available again. Interesting, that.

Anyways... 3rd Edition will be Crafty Games' first real Spycraft game. It has been described as an improvement on 2.0- which is now the Mastercraft system, but more narrowly focused on espionage avoiding the overwhelming magnitude of the 2.0 book. Other genres may be covered in other supplements, for example- for more of a crime campaign than espionage, Crafty Games has the Ten Thousand Bullets line (powered by Mastercraft) to cover that. I think this is a good move. Their Fantasy Craft is where Mastercraft has really seen it's development and seems to have done pretty well.

Espionage roleplaying games are my favorite of any of the RPG genres. Most likely starting with my first real RPG- Top Secret/S.I. I've recently picked up some of the old Victory Games James Bond RPG. Spycraft always felt like the natural next step from Top Secret/S.I. (like Fallout was the unofficial sequel to Wasteland).


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