Friday, March 10, 2017

RPGs, Deceit, the OSR, Publishing, FUD, and you! - A Rant

  Warning - rant follows.
  My blog's tagline mentions something I don't do enough of - talk about the industry of RPGs. There are reasons for that, the biggest being I am a hobbyist publisher. Not a 'small press'; not an 'indie'. A hobbyist. I strive to generate high-quality work, yes, but I will never, and do not wish to ever, generate a wage off of my RPG publishing.
  But there are people I talk to and interact with on G+ who either do make a wage off of gaming and related activities or wish to. Semi-series to serious authors, artists, etc., too. I enjoy reading of their interactions with and participation in what I will call 'more serious RPG publishing' for lack of a better term in much the same way I enjoy reading about baseball trades; it impacts my hobby, so I am interested.


  I very recently read something by Zak S where he mentioned how it often seems that 'professional RPG makers' (i.e., people whose primary wage is from making RPGs) often cannot be as honest as they like to be and how this must cost them.
  The fact that professionals can't always be as honest and direct as they wish is something that is Obviously True, although it does come in matters of degree. Let me demonstrate some of those degrees with Personal Anecdotes.
  My hobby that generates my primary wage is computers. [Yes, hobby. My profession is theologian]. Sometimes you are less-than-absolutely-direct because of the comfort level, preferred method of speaking, etc. of the client. My example is from a meeting I had about 4 years ago;

  Client CIO: "We want to have an entire new, small data center in our suburban office where we can install a private cloud. We want to be able to stand up virtual servers and desktops very quickly, virtualize the network, and have multiple dev and test environments come and go."
  Me: "We can certainly get you something like that standing within 90 days. A virtualized dev data center is well within our competency; all we need to know are the technical minimums you expect."
  Client CIO: "Good. We are certain a private cloud will reduce our costs a great deal."
  Me: "I hate to be pedantic, but I know your head of development, director of infrastructure, and head of security are already confused by the terminology in your email. Technically 'cloud computing' means 'remotely provisioned computing resources that are configured and provided on-demand and accessed via the internet'. Since this will be directly accessed and not..."
  Client CIO: "The board authorized a $4 million budget to build a 'private cloud', I have no budget for a 'virtualized data center'."
  Me: "Let's build you a private cloud!"
  As you can see, this is really a lot like humoring your great-aunt while you attach her printer. I have been selling, installing, and repairing network-attached block-level digital storage appliances for almost 20 years. Everyone (including me, now) calls them SAN boxes or a SAN, even though using those names make literally no sense whatsoever. It isn't speaking in total accuracy, but it is not sinful or corrosive because it is giving up accuracy for the sake of communication. I could have spent a few days or weeks trying to explain to a bunch of businessmen, lawyers, and such what 'Cloud computing' really means or I could meet their needs in an efficient manner while building a relationship that would allow me to educate them over time. I could correct everyone about how 'SAN box' is silly or I could solve their storage needs and, again, build a relationship that allows me to slowly educate them. It is, in a very real way, an act of charity to lose a little accuracy to help a person meet their needs. We are just obliged to attempt to use these interactions as opportunities to educate.

  Another anecdote, much worse, from 18 years ago;

  Me: The reseller has completely misconfigured our software and the on-site storage. Right now the end user could face a total loss of all business data and a total failure of data restoration at any time. The reseller's errors could put this company out of business literally any second. I have a solution that they should be able to implement in about 4 hours, but the reseller demanded I speak to you first.
  My boss: The reseller called me. They plan on fixing everything in 90 days during the install of new equipment they purchased. They are concerned that if the client learns about the errors it will jeopardize a $2 million support contract.
  Me: Know what else threatens a $2 million support contract? Your client going bankrupt because you screwed them over. Look, the end client paid a premium for a direct support contract with us. We are aware that they face total, unrecoverable data loss and we have a fix. I have to tell them.
  My boss: Wise up. Our profits from the end user last year were only $20,000. Our profits from the reseller last year were $6 million. You are not to tell them the reseller screwed up.
  Me: I need an email from you saying that I am not to contact the client and why. I won't take the fall if they melt.
  My boss; Sent. And if you talk to the client without the reseller on the phone, you're fired.
  I immediately wrote an email explaining exactly what had gone wrong and how to fix the problem and sent it to the client. I then forwarded that, the email from the reseller, and the email from my boss and forwarded it to me and the COO. Then I packed my office and left at 2:30
  I really, really hope I don't need to explain the difference between this and the previous anecdote. I didn't tell the second one to paint myself as a hero - I know what heroics looks like and sending an email isn't close. All I did was the bare minimum of my job so I could look my kids in the eye.

  Here is the funny thing. I didn't lose that job over that. The end user sent a gushing email to the reseller and my boss praising us for 'having a great relationship' and for 'having the courage to admit mistakes'. They were particularly impressed that the reseller let me do it without even trying to justify the error. The reseller got more business from the client for their 'honesty and humility'.

  I did quit not too long afterward. The COO didn't fire my boss, so I got the Hell out of there.

  The reseller and my boss were more than willing to lie and to endanger the livelihoods of others because they were afraid of looking bad. And that is a huge lesson I pass on to my kids - far too many people lie, cheat, and steal because they fear looking bad. They would rather be evil than be thought of poorly.

  So there is a lot of both as well as in-between flying around in a lot of offices. I am sure RPG publishers are no different.

  Trouble is, people in the TRPG space do seem to love us some internet, don't we? Blogs, web pages, forums, social media, all jumbled together as we buy and sell PDFs online and instagram our bookshelves. I do it. We all seem to do it.
  Trouble is, on the internet there seems to be an entire class who thrive on the fact that there are plenty of people willing to be evil to avoid being poorly thought of.

  Which leads me to a tangential but critical sub-rant.
  In the comments of the post that led to this Zak S mentioned a name and I thought,
  "Who?" 
  So I looked them up. It took a while. Turns out it was a rather obscure person who works as a PM for an RPG publisher.
  And that seems to happen a lot these days. Someone will say,
  "Yesterday on [social media] X explained why Y is horrible; Something Must Be Done about Y.""
  After I do some research I find out X is a rather obscure person with no real power or authority, typically no relevant skills, education, or experience, and no real connection to Y. Y is typically a person, position, company, etc. that has done virtually zero that is questionable or dodgy, let alone illegal or immoral.
  My first response is always,
  "Who cares that a British red diaper pseudo-journalist that writes about burkinis claims my wife is oppressed because she wears a wedding ring?"

  But when you look at the two rants, there it is.
  Plenty of people are Very Concerned that they not look bad. Plenty of folks will do all sorts of things to avoid others concluding they are not Good People.

  So obscure, powerless people give themselves a sort of power and erase some of their obscurity by telling strangers they are Bad. Other powerless, obscure people (and sometimes not so obscure people) bandwagon so that they look Good. Before you know it people in Ohio are so worried that a woman in Seattle that they will never interact with might think they are having fun the wrong way that they stop having fun, just in case.

  Just to give you whiplash, let's talk about selling computers.
  I like selling computers. And software. I had a meeting with a client yesterday who teased me because I get legitimately excited about RJ-45 cable orders.
  [it makes more sense than you think - private message for why]
  I like it because I like computers and software, and I like people. Businesses need computers, so when I sell computers I get to help people meet their needs and solve their problems.
  Hey - I'm a simple man.

  But there is a thing in computer sales that you may have heard of. It is FUD. FUD stands for Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. The concept of FUD has been around in a formal sense for about a century. IBM turned FUD into an art form. Ever hear the phrase 'no one ever got fired for buying IBM'? That was the result of IBM sales using a concerted FUD campaign.
  [FYI - I refuse to use FUD]
  FUD was once described by a prominent Open Source guy thus [paraphrase];
  'FUD boils down to using emotional coercion to convince the target that if you buy our product GOOD THINGS! are on the horizon, but if you buy the competition a dark cloud will fall upon you and yours.'
  Properly done FUD can convince people to buy and use products that aren't just objectively inferior, the buyer knows they are objectively inferior. But they have been made afraid of the better solution.
  The D in FUD can also stand for Disinformation. An infamous case of this was Windows 3.1 - when you ran it with a competitor of Microsoft it would throw an error message asking you to call Microsoft support. Nothing was broken or wrong, they just wanted user to associate 'non-Microsoft products' with 'error messages' so they created fake error messages to disinform users.

  How much of what you hear in the 'attacks on RPG x' look like FUD to you? As a guy that has sold against FUD in the Fortune 25 I must tell you - a ton of the kvetching I see online about this, that, and the other looks a lot like untrained, amateur FUD. Especially when it comes from certain larger or better established indie/small/not-so-small publishers. When someone says 'X is problematic; you should avoid problems.' and that someone works for Y, that is a classic part of,
'...if you buy our product GOOD THINGS! are on the horizon, but if you buy the competition a dark cloud will fall upon you and yours.'
  After all, who wants problems? If the person speaking helps make Y, it must not have problems, right? So let's get Y just to be safe.

  FUD has two other typical uses, both personal.
One is to discredit a person by making a ton of Disinformation accusations so they are so busy trying to prove they never did/said X that they don't have time to actually do anything but defend themselves. I am not talking about legitimate,
'Bob shot Susan, here is the police report.'
stuff.
I am talking about the whole,
'Well, I heard from Sally who heard it from Alice that Frank said that Bob said something about being so mad at Susan that he could just SHOOT her and how can you stand working with a man who would shoot a woman?!'
stuff.
  The other is about holding/boosting your own position. You see this is what I call 'nervous salesmen' all the time. They direct FUD and then imply they are the person that can fix it. Rather than use FUD to coerce you into choosing a product, they use FUD to coerce you into choosing them. They talk about the failings and inadequacies of others often. They also talk about their own insights, education, accomplishments, etc. Now, everyone should have and use an elevator pitch resume when they are in sales, and I am not talking about the challenger sales process.
[For all none of you who care, the challenger sales process is where you meet with a new prospect being very careful to say you are there to introduce your company. You describe their industry to prove you know what you are talking about, then describe the typical challenges their peers face and let them confirm their biggest pain points. Then you explain that your firm has a possible solution for their problems, give them your contact information and ask them to contact you when they are ready to hear the possible solution. Then you leave. Negative pressure sales.]
I mean when an employee is constantly mentioning problems, often problems only they can detect, and implies that only they can solve these terrible, invisible problems. The goal is to make their managers fearful of  losing them. It is part of the mentality of 'the squeaky wheel gets the grease'.
I was Army where the mentality is 'the whining bearing gets replaced'.
  So I see a fair amount of 'nervous salesman FUD' out there, too.

  One of the things I like about the OSR [well, the OSR where I hang out] is - virtually zero internal FUD.Sure, some people love 1e, some B/X, some 2e, etc. and the clones are all over the place, but I do not see much 'if you play 2e you are immoral' talk out there.

  So next time some random yarbo on social media attacks, think about it. Is it FUD? Is it an attempt to look good? Is it bandwagoning? Most critically - should you care?

End Rant.