#NegativePosting – Why I don’t like #Kickstarter courtesy @AdAstraGames #SquadronStrikeTraveller

Call me a sucker. Warning – I write this post in “simmering rant-mode.”

I am a long-time Traveller RPG fan. Part of why I like the universe is the various ship combat systems. From the small-ship Mayday (GDW, 1979) to fleet engagements using Power Projection: Fleet (BITS, 2003) I have tried out various systems – with just as many various  levels of satisfaction.

I was very happy in February 2016 when Ken Burnside kickstarted Squadron Strike: Traveller. Although I was a bit worried about game system complexity, I backed the project because I was hungry for Traveller space combat game. I also recognized Ken from Star Fleet Battles; another game I dearly loved.

It is now 21 October 2017…exactly 19 months after the project funded and I still do not have my game. Part of the delay is because Ken had to get the miniatures that are one of the stretch goals produced. Problem is I pledged for the boxed game only:

This is the Deluxe Edition of Squadron Strike Traveller, as a boxed game. It is the same as Squadron Strike 2nd Edition, only it replaces the Empire/Directorate War content with Squadron Strike Traveller. It also includes the PDFs of all the materials.

I didn’t buy the miniatures but an being held up because of them. FOUL!

Maybe I didn’t read the Risks and Challenges closely enough:

This is a project that uses techniques and components we use for the other Ad Astra boxed games. There is nothing in this that we have not successfully done before.

At the time we launched this Kickstarter, the setting-and-scenario booklet was edited, the tutorial booklet was in final edits, and the SSD booklet had been laid out. The countersheets have been laid out, and the folio cover and box wrap are laid out and ready to send to the printer.

On the first business day after this project reaches its funding goal, I’ll send the print job to the printers to minimize the delay in shipping games to backers.

The project funded Monday, 21 March 2016 making the “next business day” Tuesday, 22 March 2016. Yet today, October 2017, I don’t have my game.

In December 2016 things looked close. In a Backers-only update (#30) Ken provided insight into the print product:

  • Countersheets – “Done and in-house”
  • SSD Book – “needs some cleanup”
  • Tutorial Book – “needs a heavy edit” to get under 64-page count
  • Scenario and Setting Book – “something of a mess”
  • Master Weapons Charts – “done and ready to print”
  • Box Wrap – “Done and in-house.”
  • Maps – “Done and in-house”
  • Tilt Blocks/Stacking Tiles/AVID Cards/RALT Cards – All “Done and in-house”

Then in April 2017 (Update #33), Ken posted about the “RPG/Minis Integration Problem.” Yes Ken, it’s a problem that you knew about from the beginning and was even one of the FAQ Questions:

Will RPG-scale or Adventurer-scale ships be a stretch goal?

No. While we have those in development, they are nowhere near ready enough to be used as a stretch goal for this campaign. There will be a later Kickstarter covering RPG-scale ships.

If problems come up, creators are expected to post a project update explaining the situation. Sharing the story, speed bumps and all, is crucial. Most backers support projects because they want to see something happen and they’d like to be a part of it. Creators who are honest and transparent will usually find backers to be understanding.

It’s not uncommon for things to take longer than expected. Sometimes the execution of the project proves more difficult than the creator had anticipated. If a creator is making a good faith effort to complete their project and is transparent about it, backers should do their best to be patient and understanding while demanding continued accountability from the creator.

If the problems are severe enough that the creator can’t fulfill their project, creators need to find a resolution. Steps should include offering refunds, detailing exactly how funds were used, and other actions to satisfy backers. For more information, see Section 4 of our Terms of Use.

There are some very squishy words here like “good faith” and “transparent.” I am trying to be “patient and understanding” but after 19 months it is getting really hard!

What is Section 4 of the Terms of Service? Section 4 explains the CONTRACT between creators and backers. I am going to quote it in full because it is has remedies for situations:

Kickstarter provides a funding platform for creative projects. When a creator posts a project on Kickstarter, they’re inviting other people to form a contract with them. Anyone who backs a project is accepting the creator’s offer, and forming that contract.

Kickstarter is not a part of this contract — the contract is a direct legal agreement between creators and their backers. Here are the terms that govern that agreement:

When a project is successfully funded, the creator must complete the project and fulfill each reward. Once a creator has done so, they’ve satisfied their obligation to their backers.

Throughout the process, creators owe their backers a high standard of effort, honest communication, and a dedication to bringing the project to life. At the same time, backers must understand that when they back a project, they’re helping to create something new — not ordering something that already exists. There may be changes or delays, and there’s a chance something could happen that prevents the creator from being able to finish the project as promised.

If a creator is unable to complete their project and fulfill rewards, they’ve failed to live up to the basic obligations of this agreement. To right this, they must make every reasonable effort to find another way of bringing the project to the best possible conclusion for backers. A creator in this position has only remedied the situation and met their obligations to backers if:

  • they post an update that explains what work has been done, how funds were used, and what prevents them from finishing the project as planned;
  • they work diligently and in good faith to bring the project to the best possible conclusion in a timeframe that’s communicated to backers;
  • they’re able to demonstrate that they’ve used funds appropriately and made every reasonable effort to complete the project as promised;
  • they’ve been honest, and have made no material misrepresentations in their communication to backers; and
  • they offer to return any remaining funds to backers who have not received their reward (in proportion to the amounts pledged), or else explain how those funds will be used to complete the project in some alternate form.

The creator is solely responsible for fulfilling the promises made in their project. If they’re unable to satisfy the terms of this agreement, they may be subject to legal action by backers.

This is all good information that I really didn’t want to know. A real reminder that Kickstarter is the ultimate “buyer beware.” I really like the boardgame hobby and it makes me sick to my stomach to think that I may be joining a lawsuit in the future.

Truth told, I actually am not very anxious for this game to arrive. Two years ago I thought that I needed games like Squadron Strike: Traveller to satisfy my gaming urges. You see, back then I was a “simulationist” gamer – the more “real” the game the more I wanted it. A system like Squadron Strike with its 3D, vector movement and realistic firing arcs seemed just the thing to make spaceship combat gaming worth it. I wanted to play it now (i.e. back then). But I have “grown up”, and out, of simulationist gaming since then. The very complexity that makesSquadron Strike: Traveller “realistic” means it has a very low chance of ever landing my gaming table.

I honestly want Squadron Strike: Traveller not for the game, but simply because I PAID FOR IT!

#TravellerRPG and #OGL

I recently realized that the new Mongoose Traveller Second Edition is a closed license. On page 2 of the rulebook it states, “This game product contains no Open Game Content. No portion of this work may be reproduced in any form without written permission.” This is in stark contrast with the First Edition, which used the Open Game License (OGL). [For a good backgrounder on the OGL, see here.]

In a move that I am sure Mongoose thought would alleviate gamer concerns, and working in conjunction with DriveThruRPG, a new Traveller’s Aid Society was created. However, there is a major legal snag in the Community Content Agreement:

Settings

You are allowed to use the Traveller setting as presented in the current Traveller edition books published by Mongoose Publishing as well as any Mongoose-published book covering the official Third Imperium setting (for example, Spinward Marches). This includes the names of all characters, races, and places and all gear, equipment and vessels; the capitalized names and original names of places, countries, creatures, geographic locations, historic events, items, ships, and organizations presented in those books.

What does this do to my favorite non-Third Imperium settings, like The Clement Sector by Gypsy Knights Games or Orbital by Zozer Games? GKG is in the process of moving all their content to an OGL version before the Mongoose Traveller First Edition license sunsets (which apparently will happen very quickly).

Dale McCoy Jr. of Jon Brazer Enterprises summed up the many “gotchas” in a Mongoose forum posting:

The “Gotchas” seem to be that when you publish via TAS you give up your Intellectual Property rights to what you wrote and that DTRPG (and Mongoose) take an additional 25% of the sale price – you get 50% instead of the usual 75%.

The IP thing isn’t a big deal if you just publish an adventure or a one-off, but if you want to develop a setting, by giving up the IP others can write stuff in your setting and you can’t control it; also you are limited to only publishing via DTRPG, so if you wanted to do a print version, you can’t; except through DTRPG and their Print on Demand. So no store copies.

Also, no Crowdsourcing or giving away free copies – it is all controlled by DTRPG.

As I said, for some things, it is fine, but for SETTINGS other than the OTU, it is not such a good deal. Unfortunately, that means that settings will be using the OGL rules (1st Edition Mongoose) and don’t get to take advantage of the new rules and “balanced” weapons systems.

SO good and bad depending on what you want to publish. OTU stuff is now available to publish, so if you want to write that epic campaign where the Chamax invade the Spinward Marches and fight it out with VIRUS, you can – through DTRPG.

I don’t know how I forgot this, but this is the one that sent my wheels spinning when I first discovered it: books produced through TAS do not appear on the front page of DriveThruRPG and the publisher has no way of putting it out on the front page as a feature product. This means that it is substantially harder to just run across my book by accident and discover it. Being on the front page is a real driver of initial sales, a driver that anything in the TAS does not have access. Will that mean that those initial sale will be spread out of weeks and months as those customers go looking in Mongoose’s and/or Traveller’s categories, or are those sales simply gone? I cannot say for certain, but i am willing to bet that it is going to be somewhere between those extremes.

But one scenario leaves the publisher with a lower initial return, which is generally used to pay writers, artists, etc. The other scenario just leaves the publisher was an overall lower return. Either way, the budget I use to produce all my Traveller books has just gone down.

For a very lively (educational and entertaining) discussion see the Citizens of the Imperium forum here. Once again all I can say is that I strongly support John Watts of GKG and Dale McCoy Jr. of JBE and will continue to support them, even as they might be forced to step away from the Mongoose Traveller Second Edition rules.

From what I can see, the greatest impact of the new Traveller’s Aid Society Community Content Agreement (TAS-CCA) is that third-party publishers with non-Third Imperium settings are being shut out of the new rules. Given my personal unfavorable feelings regarding the new system (see here, here, here, and here), I will not suffer greatly.

Bottom Line: I am a strong proponent of IP rights and don’t like what I am seeing. For third-party publishers to lose control of their IP is unacceptable. I also don’t see how the CCA helps brick-and-mortar stores (digital sales only) and has no crowdfunding option. Seems like Mongoose actually wants to strangle third-party publishers.