Joined: 18 Sep 2008
|Posted: Sat Dec 31, 2011 4:53 pm Post subject: The Year 2011 at ADB, Inc.
|Steve Cole reports:
This was an unusual year for several reasons.
First, most of the new products tended to come out in two huge bursts, one at Origins and the other at the end of the year. That's not the normal way things work.
The deal with Mongoose got signed just before Origins and the unanticipated workload for the joint venture products pretty much destroyed the schedule for the second half of the year. (But for that, we would have seen Star Fleet Marines and possibly Federation Admiral released.)
And that's the second reason why this year was so different. Managing the joint venture deal (we had been trying to get one of these signed for years) completely changed the way we worked, and to some extent it changed the way we looked at the world.
The third reason why the year was so different was that the company underwent a major evolution. Mike Sparks and Joel Shutts proved capable of doing far more than we had ever thought to ask of them, and even Leanna started taking over tasks that had once been the province of her husband. (This resulted from the two spending every Wednesday morning taking classes at business school.) Steven Petrick hardly sets foot in the warehouse any more, and Stephen Cole had not been back there for years (but did spend a day there in December due to the massive sales).
Sales of PDFs on e23 became a major part of the operation. Over the year, we uploaded the GURPS books, a series of ship card packs for Federation Commander, the main rulebooks for each of our games, the first 18 issues of Captain's Log and the first SFB SSD books. We became the second-biggest seller on e23, behind only the store owners (our good friends at Steve Jackson Games).
Our page on Facebook continued to grow, passing 700 in March, 800 in May, 900 in August, and 1000 in October. Companies 10 times our size have only 50% more friends and actually have fewer posts, likes, and comments.
We got word that Federation Commander had won the Gaming Genius fan award for best space game.
More new things happened. The first apps were sold on the Apple iPhone store. Spam (which had always been a problem, with over a thousand such emails per day) suddenly dropped like a rock (to under 100 per day) in mid-February because the hosting company installed better filters. We tried to get out our first Kindle book, but ended up firing the company doing it because they made numerous changes (some of which would have gotten us sued by Paramount) without asking us or even telling us. These changes were discovered by accident at the last second, narrowly avoiding the suicide of the company. Internet piracy became a major problem, costing the company thousands of dollars a month in lost sales and requiring Joel to spend 5-10 hours per week filing the paperwork to have pirate upload sites shut down. Steven Petrick accepted a plane ticket to fly to Council of Five Nations, but spent a miserable day in Houston on the way home when bad weather shut down the national air transport system.
Some things stayed the same, such as Jean Sexton's winter visits (that start and end each years), the Company Picnic in May, and the annual visit to the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary. We actually closed for Labor Day for the first time ever.
The First Half of the Year
The first half of the year was a mess because the three major projects were all delayed. (Federation Admiral and Star Fleet Marines were found to need some major re-design work, while SFB Module E3 Borak Star League was delayed because the outside designer had real-world interruptions.)
One bright note was that Steve Cole completed the Revision 6 versions of all of the Federation Commander products. Another bright note was that the GURPS version of Prime Directive Federation was completed and released. Steven Petrick completed the well-liked Module C3A Andromedan Threat File. The spring finished with the release of Captain's Log #43, including a special fiction story that fits neatly into an existing Trek episode.
Origins: Tour de Force
We released five major products at Origins, including the long-awaited ISC War, Starmada Distant Armada, SFB Module E4, Starship Aldo, and Transports Attacked. Of course, Captain's Log #43 was fairly new.
The show was abuzz (and not in a good way) with GAMA's plan (which they refused to change) to move Origins 2012 three weeks earlier. Over half of our customers said they could not go and many of the rest said that if others were not coming they saw no point. Eventually, ADB was forced to accept that GAMA had destroyed Origins 2012 for us and thousands of others, and we cancelled any plans to be there. Months of considering other conventions produced none worth the time and cost of attending.
The Deal with Mongoose
The first vague hints about this deal appeared in early March. ADB has long complained that 90% of the retail stores don't even notice we exist. They stock their shelves with the top five or 10 companies, and the other 50 companies that do hard-copy products get into less than 10% of stores. Steve Cole spent the last five years trying to get one of the top five companies to do a joint venture deal with us. Not only would that give us an instant best-selling new product line, it would get our company logos into stores (and information about our other games would be included in the books). Finally, Mongoose agreed to give the joint venture idea a try.
The Fall Rocks, or Was Rocky
Nobody had accurately predicted the amount of "Steve Cole time" it would take to do the approvals for the Starline 2500 ships. (Mongoose had also failed to accurately predict the time it would take to do the CGI work and started too late.) This requirement all but destroyed the fall schedule, forcing us to delay Star Fleet Marines and Federation Admiral to next year. In the end, we hope it was worth it.
Despite all of that, the ever-dependable Steven Petrick finished the revision to the Omega Master Rulebook and then moved on with Module E3, the Borak.
One bright spot this fall was Charles Diaz, a high school student who spent seven Thursday afternoons with us, learning about graphic design and general business.
The Final Act
During the second week of December, we shipped a bunch of new products (Captain's Log #44, Booster #31, #32, and #33, Module E3 Borak, and of course the first of the Mongoose stuff). We don't really know yet just how much the initial sales of the Mongoose joint venture stuff will be, or how many new markets the ad pages in that back of the ACTASF book will open. We're seriously questioning the decision we made to allow Mongoose to go ahead with a November release (which slid well into December). Would it have been better to delay the releases to February? Arguably so, but the decisions were made based on what we knew at the time, not what we knew by mid-December. Given a crystal ball, delaying to February would probably have worked out better in some regards.
A Final Analysis
We need to start this part acknowledging our greatest failure: that being that we just did not do a good enough job talking to wholesalers. Between products that got delayed (for one reason or another) and massive work, Stephen Cole (who is responsible for such things) only rarely got that job done. (He clearly has too many jobs.) It's not just telling wholesalers what new products are coming out and when, but they want cover art and complete descriptions 90 days in advance, which is rarely possible. We need to work on this because sales suffer seriously (and we lose shelf space in stores) when we don't do it.
Stephen Cole's time management plan was mostly honored in the breach (i.e., we felt bad about not doing it). Marketing Monday got blown off most of the time (see above), Customer Request Wednesday happened about half of the time, and Business Friday was consumed mostly by Mongoose. (We really didn't want to launch any more joint venture deals until this one proves the value of such things.) Now that we know, we are (cautiously) looking into more of them.