Open Communication with Fantasy Flight Games
I am Adam Howland, and am a member of your Star Wars Card Game community. I have been playing the game since the beginning, and though my work prohibits me from much travel for play purposes, I have traveled many places in the last two years to play this game. While living in CO, I traveled to two other states and many other stores to participate in Regional tournaments, and since moving to VA have added a few more. Last year I even traveled to the World Tournament weekend, where I ran the challenge deck tables for 2 extra days past the planned debut.
All told, I have played this game in VA, TX, NJ, AZ, NV, CO and MN; even working to start a group in Oslo Norway while there earlier this year. Additionally, a quick search of my handle across the forums covering the Star Wars Game would reveal that I have hosted multiple events, created my own unique prize support, and am currently the T.O. for an 18 player online tournament with players from 5 countries.
This personal data hopefully reveals that I am excited about the game and avidly promote it wherever I am.
Unfortunately, the purpose of this letter is to summarize some of the current concerns many players have with the release of products in the Star Wars Card Game line, and how it affects the overall health and strength of the game. The community also has some suggestions to remedy the problem.
It is pseudo transparency in the form of premature release date promises, non-current official status pages and complete avoidance of official release statements that moves the community to discontent. Prize support and general promotion are concerns, as well as the question of organized competition.
Suggestions to fix these issues must come from FFG, and married with the current lower-level support systems will grow the game. Transparency, timing and genuine promotion opportunities will work to alleviate these issues.
The remainder of the document is broken down into concerns and their corresponding suggestions.
Transparency of Communication
The largest concern that many players have is the pseudo transparency FFG exhibits in the development, production and distribution of product. This concern ranges from all out frustration about products hitting stores long after projected release dates - leading to an exodus of entire play groups from the game - to mild nuisance issues that consistently enflame and poison community forum topics that otherwise would promote the game to new players. I believe the root of this entire spectrum of frustration is that product is spoiled far in advance of release dates. Further exacerbating the issue is that FFG has developed a reputation among the play base of missing target distribution dates. These two factors combined create a caustic mixture of uncertainty and animosity, which leads to the aforementioned spectrum of frustration.
Anecdotal reports describe the attrition of entire play groups from otherwise healthy gaming communities. I saw this happen at my local Brick-and-Mortar store (BMS) in CO - Petrie’s Family Games. We initially had a healthy play base of 8 - 10 players at our store alone (there were 3 other stores in the area that also had play groups), but delay after extended delay whittled the group down to just two after I moved from CO. The entire process took less than one year, and did not see new players enter the group, with similar experiences across Colorado Springs. This is neither an anomalous event nor the absolute trend, but with high-confidence I can state that a significant number of play groups have suffered degrees of “a similar fate” as my CO patron.
A revised timetable for spoiler release would help in this arena. As a matter of record, something from nearly every Force pack in the next cycle has been spoiled. While the community loves these spoilers, the first was released in July 2014. If pattern holds true (with admittedly non-conclusive but consistent data) we will see this around March of 2015, nearly 9 months after first spoiled! Rather than spoil information so far out, we suggest bringing them a little closer to release. The total number of spoilers is well received - around 60% - but the time between the first spoiler and release is just too much. Additionally, it is my recommendation that no timetable be given on the first spoiler of a Force pack, but the last; which will increase its accuracy and suspense. Nearly unanimously players do not want to see markedly fewer spoilers, just not as long a time period between spoil and release.
Public PR Responses to Player Concerns
The second concern is the amount of official traffic FFG releases about product availability. There are unofficial advocates for the game that individually engage with FFG about issues, but the disparity between the perceived voices of concern and the level of official response from FFG is daunting to say the least. The excessive lag - or blatant avoidance - of concern and resolution sours what should be a positive and optimistic relationship between players and company.
Case in point, the only “official” word about the release timetable for packs in the Echoes of the Force cycle did not coincide with actual release dates. The Core, Edge of Darkness, Balance of the Force, and presuming Between the Shadows also missed the mark. Where were the official statements from FFG changing dates or explaining why delays were experienced? To the best of my recollection not even the quarterly projected release dates on the FFG official “Upcoming” page were altered for much of this product to alert players of later than expected release.
The preponderance of the players are adults who can comprehend the complex world of logistics. This is probably why many view the “Upcoming” page for products a little disingenuous. If a projected release date slips, tell the community. Open dialog with major conduits of information, i.e. those with whom are already entrusted with spoiling sets, and official releases from FFG would dissipate much of this concern in a relatively short amount of time.
Timing of Product Release Relative to Competitive Seasons
Hand in hand with the previous concerns is the timing of product release. Many in the community feel that product release is very ill timed. The community writ large understands that delays happen, and no one is advocating that cards be released prematurely, especially at the sacrifice for adequate play testing. I can say with absolute confidence that the community as a whole wants a balanced game without NPE driven by game mechanics. That being said, when product is released is only slightly less important for the overall health of the game than what is released. If it is FFG’s intention to release a deluxe expansion and a pack cycle every year, then when those items are available on shelves is important to competitive players. The general consensus is that there should be new product being released during the season leading up to National events, and product released between the National events and the World event week.
The timing of product release could also be adjusted to coincide with the event seasons. Seeing Force packs released reliably through the Store Championship season and culminating during the Regional season would go “parsecs” for the community; promoting attendance across many events because the meta would be in motion. This would allow for the National events to have a fairly stable but still fresh environment, and give FFG time to adjust prior to a deluxe release. For the same logic above the release between National and World events would maintain momentum and excitement and promote attendance. If the deluxe expansion was coupled (potentially as prize support) at National events, it would even allow adequate time for FFG to adjust rule/gameplay -wise prior to the World event.
Promotion of Star Wars LCG as a Competitive Game
To accompany this concern of product release, is the general promotion of the game as a competitive vice casual one. The players believe that all of the afore mentioned issues, coupled with the redundancy of the prize support and lack of general promotion of the game, demonstrate that FFG looks at it as a casual game. I would challenge FFG’s PR folks to skim the major Star Wars forums for the number of threads that devolve into dismay for the actual health of the game. Despite what was reported in the FFG State of the Union Address at the World Event weekend this year, the perception is that though sales may be up, the game is not growing. I believe the community equates the size and number of centers of play to a measure of health and strength. For competitive games - vice casual ones - this is a solid measure.
General Promotion & the Role of the Brick and Mortar Store
Players the world-over have commented that very little is done to promote the game; leaving it to local BMS to promote, grow and maintain their play base. Some look at things like the Plugged-in Tour for Android: Netrunner and wonder why this type of event is not organized for the “#2 seller” at FFG. Others look at the non-presence at the many Cons worldwide or small group inability to connect with FFG sanctioned prize support as shortfalls in marketing strategy. It is my opinion that the community’s current feelings for this are not significantly lower than their displeasure with product release but rather the persistent lack of timeliness keeps that issue in the forefront.
General promotion of this game needs to be a partnership with BMS, online supporters and FFG, not rest on their shoulders without “top cover”. This might be remedied by promotional team work at smaller Cons or tours from FFG. With the diaspora nature of many of the established nexuses of support, these type of promotional events could even be hosted by them (with your support of course). This would increase solidarity among the existing play base as well as promote growth of additional nexuses specifically and overall growth generally.
(Tiered) Prize Support
Directly connected to general promotion the game is the type of promotional product at various levels of play. With high-confidence I can state that the play community was disappointed with the prize support at the World event week this year: it absolutely missed the mark. The number of byes went down - an ambivalent point in the community - but the scale of prize support was smaller than at the National events while the price per player increased. For an unknown reason (pseudo transparency) the type of prize support was not released at all, the sum result being most of the community saw what the prizes would be from pictures posted by others. There is no definitive data on the number of people who did not attend for fear of sub-par prize support, so to help, I created a poll on FlipTheForce.com (http://fliptheforce.com/forum/index.php?threads/poll-did-the-non-disclosure-of-prize-support-influence-attendance.1123/) which will run for 7 days starting 7 Dec. While the data shows that it only influenced about 29% of the people polled, another 30% said the prize support this year will affect their decision for next year.
Prize support still needs a scaling adjustment. It is my opinion that the community feels the prize support at the Store Championship and Regional levels is appropriate, but that the high-end events of Nationals and Worlds still need work. Organizationally, I would also fix the prize support for the high-end events and broadcast it in enough advance to allow players swayed by the prizes opportunity to plan: prize support at these events should not be contingent on attendance.
The type of prize support is also of minor concern to the community, and the only uniform suggestion is variance; players want to see something truly unique at the big events. This will increase both prestige and attendance.
Fortunately the feedback from the community is not all bad, and despite the issues presented here there is a (waning) air of confidence about the game. The game mechanic and art quality continually are praised. The response - though slow in the opinion of many - to deck construction issues has been appropriate. The steady recalibration of tournament play lines organized play concerns with hope. The touch points with the community (speaking specifically of spoilers and articles) that are in place are well received. I perceive the game - play wise - in a good place, and am not alone. We look forward as a whole to the cards being released, but loathe the consolidated issues discussed above.
Please understand that we want to support the game, and this feedback is designed to voice the opinions of a broad spectrum of players as I understand them. We hope to grow the game together, led by the company that has brought us this great game. Response is warmly welcome, and May the Force be with You (even if it is only once per turn)!