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That downhill slide to oblivion…

Over on the ICE forums, the following was posted this as part of the December Director’s Briefing (personally, I find calling a monthly update/newsletter by such an officious title to be a bit egotistical, or perhaps more like a little kid playing at being an adult).

The Waiting Game

One of the downsides of being a small publisher is that everything depends on freelancers – writing, artwork, maps, editing and layout. Even as far back as the original 1980s and 1990s incarnation of ICE, freelancers were contributing significantly across multiple gaming lines. The problem is that all freelancers are at the mercy of events in their lives and we’re enduring a thoroughly awful and prolonged period where multiple freelancers are taking hits. The related problem is that creative tasks do not readily allow for swapping people in and out of projects – two artists given the same topic will draw very different illustrations, writers cannot easily carry on where someone else has left off, and so forth. The software industry has had its mythical man-month issue crystallised for decades. Nevertheless on several projects, we are moving into the position where Plan B actions must shortly be executed.

Let’s take this comment apart a bit and see if we can parse out some of the meaning behind it….

One of the downsides of being a small publisher is that everything depends on freelancers – writing, artwork, maps, editing and layout.

In here, he listed just about every job required in an RPG company. The problems is that he is running said company, and in the same post where he made this statement, he goes on to talk about how he is about to do an editorial run on a specific project.

So, if he is doing editorial work on some projects, and farming editorial duties for others out to freelancers, that basically says that he is only focusing on those projects that interests him, rather than focusing on the company as a whole.

To me, that sounds ominous for those projects farmed out.

Even as far back as the original 1980s and 1990s incarnation of ICE, freelancers were contributing significantly across multiple gaming lines.

Now, this line is nothing more than smoke and camouflage. Every game company relies on freelancers, and they use contracts which include deadlines as well. And while a company should be willing to work with a freelancer a little bit in the face of real life events causing issues, companies do expect those freelancers to hold as close to those schedules as possible out of simple professionalism.

The problem here is that the current ICE isn’t working with professionals for the most part but with amateur volunteers, which he has previous referred to as his “elite team of volunteers” or words to that effect.

Another main difference is that the original ICE had in-house editors and layout. None of that was ever farmed out to freelancers. Even for the incarnation of ICE that I worked for, editing and layout was always done in-house, never through a freelancer.

The problem is that all freelancers are at the mercy of events in their lives and we’re enduring a thoroughly awful and prolonged period where multiple freelancers are taking hits.

And again, this is an issue of having contracts with enough time built into them to allow for minor set backs. However, from the way this sentence, taken with the rest of the excuse….errrr… paragraph, it sounds as if there are major issues with said freelancers ever completing the projects that they are working on.

The related problem is that creative tasks do not readily allow for swapping people in and out of projects – two artists given the same topic will draw very different illustrations, writers cannot easily carry on where someone else has left off, and so forth.

In regards to artists – yes, each artist will interpret a given topic differently, but then again, so what? A professional company produces an art list, a listing of each piece of art desired for a project with a general description of what that piece should be. And this description should then be sent to the artist. Thus, while the interpretation may be different, getting the basic scene desired should be easy.

Then again there is the whole issue of why does it even matter? If your artist backs out, so that he isn’t sending you any art, then you really have nothing to compare another artist’s work to in the first place.

As for authoring of projects – any halfway decent author should be able to take an incomplete manuscript and finish it up. He may want or need to rewrite some of the already completed section to better suit his own writing style (and it is part of the editor’s job to make sure that the whole thing uses the same tone or voice throughout), but it can be done. Especially with gaming books.

Spider Robinson once famously finished a novel started by Robert A. Heinlein. While nowhere near the same league as those two, I have personally taken a half completed manuscript and not only finished it, but also rewrote most of it in the process. The result was a setting book called Cyradon. I have also, as an editor, had to rewrite portions of other books as well. It comes with the job.

To claim that nobody can be replaced is pretty much just plain bullshit. What is a more likely scenario is that many of the freelancers/volunteers got fed up with micro-management and passive aggressive crap from those in charge.

After all it has been 2 years and then some since the first incomplete Beta version of RM Unified was released, and it has yet to be completed, let alone an updated draft being released. Even over on the ICE forums, the few folks who still hang on talk in terms of years before it is finished.

The software industry has had its mythical man-month issue crystallised for decades.

This is nothing more than a non-sequiter. Trying to equate the development of software (which is a job I have worked in the past as well), with the development of RPG material. It doesn’t track, and is only meant as way of trying to lower the expectations of readers.

Nevertheless on several projects, we are moving into the position where Plan B actions must shortly be executed.

Plan B? Plan B? Oh my god! Any company that has EVER admitted having to go to “Plan B” has usually folded not long after. This is one line right here says it all. Basically, they are telling you that they are falling apart internally and that they have no idea what to do, but try to come up with some way to attempt to save their bacon from their own arrogance and over-reaching promises and vaporware projects….

Last company I remember saying something along these lines was Gold Rush Games, just before they fully imploded……

To recap — The paragraph I quoted at the top of this article is essentially a death knell announcement. It may take a couple of years to fully die (mostly to an extended ability to limp along with internet sales thanks to online stores), but it looks like the ICE is melting….

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