Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Customer Service

I have had several experiences over the last few months for which I would very much like to call out some of the excellent customer service I have received.

It's funny - customer service is something that we usually don't think about until something goes wrong. In gaming, that means misprints and damaged/defective/missing components.  When I order a product and it arrives in a reasonable time, it never occurs to me to even think about the customer service I've received, even though it was there.

The gaming industry is small enough that the publishers try very hard not to get a reputation for bad (or even mediocre) customer service.

So how do you ask for help when you want and/or need it?

Before you ask, do your homework - find out who their point of contact is. It doesn't do me any good to ask Atlas Games' web designer for help if I'm missing a pawn from my copy of Recess.

Here are a few simple rules:

Rule One: Be honest, polite, and respectful.

A few months back, my wife purchased for me (as a gift) most of Dominion. She bought it second-hand from a co-worker. There are now only two sets I lack, in fact. At the time she purchased it, there was a question as to whether the included sets were complete or not. So I sent a quick message to Jay of Rio Grande Games.

"My wife purchased (second-hand) a bundle of Dominion along with the expansions. Several pieces may be missing - is it possible to purchase single cards or other components directly through you, as needed to complete the set?"

It was only a few hours before Jay got back to me, asking what I was missing.  As it turns out, the sets were complete - but I am confident that he would have sent me any missing parts (possibly for a small fee, but that's only appropriate when I purchased second-hand).

And it probably goes without saying, but do your homework and ask the right person. Check the company's website to see if they have a customer service contact. If I ask the webmaster for a PDF, it won't do much good. Sometimes, you need to start your e-mail with, "I'm not sure if I have the correct person for this - if you are not the correct person, can you please forward this to the appropriate party?"

Rule Two: Don't be afraid to ask.

The worst thing a publisher can do is turn you down or ignore you. If this happens, you're out the ten minutes or so it took to type the e-mail.

As you may recall, I'm a big fan of the Bits and Mortar program. Now, I was browsing their site, and I realized that I have books from several of these publishers where I don't have the PDF versions. So I sent off some e-mails.

One publisher I contacted is not a current participant in the program, but their game had been distributed by another publisher who was a part of the program.

"I realize," I asked him, "that you aren't listed as a participant in the program, but I was wondering if you were considering membership or if you provide a discount code for DriveThru for people who have purchased print copies of your books."

I got the PDF. For free. It was accompanied by a brief note, "We are not currently running the bits and mortar program. However, as a gesture of goodwill and to say thanks for buying the game, I have sent you a Drivethru link to allow you to download a free copy."

If I hadn't asked, I wouldn't have received the PDF.

Rule Three: Be prepared to back it up.

The publisher may ask for some proof if you're asking for something for free that isn't a broken/missing/defective piece. Sometimes, they may ask for proof of defective or broken pieces.

I asked both Pelgrane Press and Mongoose Publishing for a variety of PDF files. Both are Bits and Mortar participants. In the case of Pelgrane, I'd had some of the books since before the program existed - and I told them that in my e-mail (Rule One). I didn't have receipts for any of these products.

Both publishers responded within a day or two. Both requested photos of the products to prove that I had them. This was easily done.

I had the PDF files within a day of sending in the photos.

Rule Four: Be as clear as possible.

Your e-mail should spell out what you have, then what you want.  Most of the letters I sent boiled down to: "I have X. I would like Y. What steps do I need to take?"

If you send an e-mail to a publisher that says, "I bought a book. Can I get the PDF?" The first thing they'll do is ask you "Which book?"  Or "I bought a game and it was missing a piece," they need to know which game and which piece.

If it's a missing promo, then it gets a bit stickier. Sometimes. This happened to me at GenCon a few years ago:  "I bought Mutant Chronicles at GenCon. It was my understanding that I was supposed to get a promo figure with that purchase - when I got home, I didn't see it in my packaging. Is this piece still available? If so, how do I go about getting one?"

An hour later, I had an e-mail from Fantasy Flight asking for my shipping address.

Some people will say, "I'm missing X, please ship replacements to:"  This is perfectly acceptable - just be polite. And remember that some publishers have a set procedure for replacement that they have to follow.  It's not the publisher's fault things were broken in shipping or misprinted or mispacked at the factory. Sometimes they have these procedures to they can figure out where the screw-up occurred (and prevent the mistake in the future).

I don't always get what I want, but I've found that - by following these four simple rules - I am successful more often than not.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


A quick bonus post for you, because this was too good not to share immediately.

In a wonderful bit of timing, Asmodee has started a series of posts on the process involved with making games.

It links up nicely with last week's post about what I do.

Their first post, "Making A Game: From Prototype to Project," can be found here.

Dungeons and Dragons Memories

Those of you who are gamers and have been under a rock for the last few weeks may have missed that Wizards of the Coast announced that a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons is in development.

ENWorld has the best overview I've seen of news and other information.  It can be found here.

Looking at the design team, I have faith that it will be a quality product.

But I come here not to bury 4e, but to remember my experiences with D&D over the years.

For those of us who are roleplayers, D&D has been a constant. For the majority of us, it was our gateway into the hobby. Even if you've never played it, it has impacted your role-playing in some way - many many games were created to fix its perceived flaws.

My first experience with D&D was around my tenth birthday. It was still First Edition at this point. I saw kids playing on the playground, and wondered what was going on. "It's a game," one of them told me.

"Do you have room for one more?"

He looked around at the other players, "Erik's not here. Maybe we can let him try?"

"Sure," said another, "he can use Erik's character."  The DM shuffled through his folder and handed me a scuffed-up piece of paper with numbers scrawled on it and crossed out and re-written and erased.  In short, a well-loved character.

I was completely lost. I had no idea what any of these numbers were or what they meant. "So ... " I said, "When is it my turn and what can I do?"

"Anything," was the answer.  "You're an Elf, so you can even do some magic." He turned to the DM, "And he can find secret doors.  Don't forget to tell him if he finds any."

Even with this in-depth introduction to the hobby, I watched for a few minutes before contributing. The party was in a room with a throne at one end. "I approach the throne," I said.

"You die," said the DM. "A pit opens under your feet and you fall onto spikes and die."

"This is stupid," I informed the group. And I gave the sheet back to the DM and wandered off to play kickball or something that wasn't stupid.

A few months later, my best friend (Chad) was drawing something. When I asked him what it was, he told me that it was a dungeon map. "For D&D," he informed me, gravely. Not wanting to start an argument, I didn't tell him that D&D was stupid.

"What are all the marks on the map?"

"This is a trap," he said, "and this is a secret door.  The treasure room is over here."

"If you put the trap on the map like that, won't they just go around it?"

Chad looked at me for a long minute. "The players don't get to see the map," he eventually informed me. "Only I get to see the map."

That conversation was why I am a gamer. In large part, that conversation is why I spent twenty years as a DM. Because I wanted to see the map.

My parents were (and, to a degree, still are) anti-gaming. They were caught up in the anti-D&D hysteria of the 1980's, so I had to hide that I was playing. And I definitely couldn't buy any books.

The first gaming book I ever purchased was the Star Trek: The Next Generation Officer's Manual for FASA's Star Trek rpg. I didn't know it was a game book. Had my parents known, they wouldn't have purchased it for me. As it is, I figured out it was a game book pretty quickly - but I couldn't figure out what the game was. After all, those weren't D&D stats.

The first game book I knowingly purchased was the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition Player's Handbook. I still have it. In fact, I think it's the book my wife will eventually be making an AD&D character from. It has the old square TSR logo. I bought it with my first-ever paycheck in 1992.  By this time, I was already playing (regularly) several games, including my friend Lee's Dark Sun game. Most of the games were one-shots and short campaigns, generally lasting a few sessions before the DM lost interest or had another good idea ...

When 3E came out, I hadn't played D&D in several years. I was into several other games - but 3E with its promise of being a universal game via the d20 License drew me back. I called my friend Aaron and informed him that I was "putting the band back together."

The campaign never went anywhere, and the players had no idea what they were doing on the map. The first session was so bad that I actually reset a combat to the beginning. "Now that you know what flanking and attacks of opportunity are," I said, "let's try that again. This time without the TPK."

The first gift I bought for my wife (then my girlfriend) was the 3.5 Dungeons & Dragon's Player's Handbook. I didn't even have one for me, yet. And, to go with the PHB, I got her a set of dice. In purple.

Her first session was - for me - a bit of a test. Would she throw her hands in the air, declaring it to be "stupid," or would she come back?  We're married, now, so I'm sure you can figure out the answer to that one.

Somewhere along the way, roleplaying took a back seat to boardgaming. Until 4E brought me back to the table - as a player rather than as a DM. I'm currently in two campaigns (one of which is on hiatus while the DM figures out the best balance between gaming and his small child).

I don't get involved in the Edition Wars. I have fond memories of collaborating with Chad on elaborate dungeons for 1E. I smile when I remember the 2E games with the high school crowd. I can't dislike 3E, either, as it confirmed for me that my wife was The One. And 4E brought me back to the table.

The 5E development team looks solid. It looks like people who know 1E and 2E and 3E and 4E. People who enjoyed all four versions, and who are willing to make sure the fun comes before the rules.

The announcement has turned the Edition Wars up a few degrees.  There is a lot of anger coming from both the 3E and the 4E factions - before any of them have seen the rules or what's coming.

I don't know how deeply I'll invest in 5E. I'll get a PHB for sure. Probably a DMG. Or their equivalents, if WotC throws a curve ball and does something weird.  If they're good, I'll get some more.

We'll see.  Either way, it'll be an interesting ride.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What I Do

Every now and again, I am asked just what exactly it is I do for Asmodee (other than demoing their games).

I can't share specific examples, but I can - in broad terms - explain the process.

My role is "localization."  I was, at first, credited as an Editor, but I'm not comfortable with that credit, as I'm not necessarily grammatically correct when I finish.  In fact, while grammatical correctness is a goal of the revision, it's secondary to clarity.

The process is deceptively simple. Originally, I worked only on games which had previously been released in French. These days, most of Asmodee's games (and those which they distribute) seem to be shooting for simultaneous release.

Basically, a translator is given a draft of the rules. They then translate those rules and send them to me, along with images (if possible) of the game.  Usually I am working from a Word document with "track changes" running so they can see what I tweaked.

I read the rules and make sure that they make sense. For my first read-through, I'll not make any changes, I just leave comments that are often answered later in the rules. On my second read-through, I'll clear these comment (if they were answered), and will actually make changes.

I ask questions for clarification, and tweak the wording as appropriate. Sometimes the games will go through multiple cycles. To give you an idea what the rules look like when someone don't localize them first, check out Mall of Horror (if you can find a copy). In the case of Ghost Stories, for example, the game itself (and components) was changing faster than we were getting it translated.  This led to a great deal of confusion and problems with the final translation. In fact, these two games (more than any other) have driven me to ask more and better questions.

In the time I've been doing this, I have become quite familiar with how French can break when it is translated into English.  The easiest example of this is the word "Precision" - when you see "Precision" in the rules for a game that was originally in French, the word that should be there is "Clarification." It took me a few games to figure this out, by the way.

Now, this localization doesn't catch everything. Claustrophobia, for example. The original French rule book said that the Demon player could use certain abilities "once." Somewhere in the translation process, that was changed to "once per game," when, in reality, it should have been "once per Threat Phase" (the equivalent of once per turn). Takenoko has one action available in which you draw two tiles and choose one. The French rulebook then states that you place the remaining two on the bottom of the deck.  The English rulebook says you place them back on top of the deck.  If the translation I receive is wrong, then the suggestions and corrections I provide will also be wrong, which then leads to errata.  And no-one likes errata - not the fans, not the publisher, not the designer, and really not the translator or localizer. I learned recently that they tend to use English as the basis for other translations, too - so if a mistake creeps into the English version, it'll also appear in the German and Spanish versions, compounding the need for accuracy.

I've seen several games that haven't been released yet. In a few cases, these game will never see English-language release. Renaissance, for example. Others go through multiple translations - Helldorado is an excellent example of this. I saw no less than three official translations of that one - and then Asmodee cancelled it and another publisher in the US decided to step up for an English-language release.

Some projects have required group discussions, either via Google Chat or Skype. That way, the conversation can include my wife (who has helped on a number of games, both credited and not) and more than one of the translators if more than one are working on a project.

I know I'm not the only translation localizer in the industry, but I don't know any of the others, so I can't speak as to their process. It's not hugely time-consuming, but it is a necessary step in getting games to market. And I'm often under a time crunch.  Le Donjon de Naheulbeuk, for example, was finished less than a week before GenCon, and they wanted a prototype at the convention.  It involved a 3am Skype call with the translator so we could make sure were on the same page in terms of humor and other nuances.

It's worth noting that humor is difficult to translate int he first place.  Many of the jokes we slipped into the English version of le Donon de Naheulbeuk won't make sense to the French. Some of them won't make sense to the British, either. We tried to make it as universal as possible.

And, before you ask, I don't know when (or if) this one will be released.  It's a fun game, but it's also a weird one and it's based on a French podcast so some of the jokes won't make sense unless you have heard the podcast (or are familiar with it).

It's not a perfect summary, but it explains what it is I'm up to when I have projects in front of me.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Intersecting Hobbies

People who have just met me tend to think that I have only a single hobby (gaming). And, while that single hobby is basically all-consuming, it's not my only hobby.
Christmas 2011 and New Years Eve 112
I really have two active hobbies - gaming and photography.  I collect a few things, too, but I generally don't consider collecting to be a hobby (with a few exceptions).  For Christmas, I received a few photography toys that I hope will make my blog more entertaining.

Shortly before the holidays started to roll, I managed to get an old camera of mine working again - a Polaroid Land Camera Automatic 210. There's just something real about working with film. I've had much better luck with the black & white film than I have with the color film, but I may scan some of my photos and throw them up here, as appropriate.  Obviously, I won't be posting pics of (for example) football games unless I'm posting about a football game and tying it (somehow) to tabletop gaming. That'd just be silly.

Christmas 2011 and New Years Eve 110I have a Lensbaby, and have had for several years. All three of my gifts were lensbaby-related.  The one most likely to impact my blogging was the Lensbaby Macro Kit, which will allow me to take ever closer images of game components and games in play. Maybe next year, I will make it into the Top 300 Images list on BoardGameGeek.

I also received the Telephoto and Wide Angle adapters for the Lensbaby, which I put to good use on New Year's Eve at Phoenix, where we had fifty or so folks turn out for one of the most entertaining evenings I've had in a very long time. Thank you, by the way, to all who attended.  I saw dozens of games played that night, and had another chance to play Eclipse.

At least one significant event occurred at the festivities, but it's not my place to share that one, as it's not my news. Congrats, by the way, to all involved.

I took several hundred photos, all of which can be found in this set on Flickr. I haven't weeded out the less-good photos, so be aware that that set is a blend of good and bad.

Meanwhile, 2012 looks to be a strong year game-wise. I've seen several previews and have other bits of information from several publishers that tell me so. And that's before looking at my preorders ...

I can't wait to get things rolling.