Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Plan B

People said they were looking at me, and I vanished. Not so much – I’ve taken three days out and I’m back now.

I’m pleased that towards the end of last week I was able to make a few points that received some positive reaction ... but it’s no wonder, since I was selling a database, and what D&D-phile does not want another database?

But where I have people asking to be ‘counted in,’ and where we come down to the question of ‘who would be in charge,’ I want to make this most clear: I’m not a candidate for president. I wouldn’t be running for the position. And most of the people here wouldn’t want me.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I would like to build the database (along the very competent suggestions made by Symeon), IF I could find someone who had the necessary technical skills to make it work and to make it accessible. Contrary to Zak’s assertion, I don’t have to be in charge. I’ve worked on a lot of projects with other people in charge – most of them creative – and I am quite capable of working with a team of other people who agreed on a common goal. This is not at all impossible. I have worked on magazines, I have been part of theatre, I have worked in film and it IS possible to gather a large number of contrary people together and produce a final product that is innovative and even astounding.

But ... I am an elitist. I will make things for common, ordinary schlubs, but I won’t work WITH them. Moreover, I have no interest in creating anything in which everyone is entitled to representation. It may have been misunderstood that when I suggested an ‘association of players’ I specifically intended that said association would be highly limited in its representation.

You can’t raise the consciousness of anything by catering to the lowest denominator. Suggested databases would be presented to ‘raise the bar’ and provide a standard which, hopefully, the greater community would wish to emulate. Once that standard was established, membership in the association would be open to all – who measured up. Not by my standards or Zak’s standards, or by any single individual ... but certainly by those who had worked hard on their worlds and who felt they had something to lose by diluting that effort.

So when people talk about an endless list of house rules and hundreds of worlds, they’re really missing the mark. I’m talking about a lot of house rules being thrown in the dustbin, and worlds with them.

And this is why I say, you wouldn’t want me to run this.

Now I have to come back to the subject of money. If I could have it my way, I would fund this entire thing out of pocket. If I could hit on a project that earned me some phenomenal sum (a book made into an ‘A’ film, say), I might do it. That would neatly get rid of the subject all together.

At the moment, however, I’d have to opt for Plan B.

Plan B recognizes that money is necessary for any venture. I have approached people and asked straightforwardly for marvellous sums of money. On one occasion in my life I managed to start a business which succeeded in losing capital for eight different investors ... none of whom, after the fact, blamed me for the failure. I blamed me for the failure. Either way, they declared their losses on their income tax forms and I made a mental note not to put myself in that situation again. It’s more fun borrowing money from the bank.

The bank is out, and investors are out. Option three would be to raise money from the masses, and this specifically I referred to in the last post when I said I had no intention of asking anyone for money. The masses can keep their five dollars for their morning coffee. The very idea of trying to sell any created product to eyeballs for paltry bits of money sounds like a helluva lot more work than it’s worth.

This brings me back to pocket money. People want to know how serious I am. I’ve given it thought over the weekend and I think that I could reasonably commit $500 right now. Which isn’t bad, since I don’t have a thing to spend it on. It’s not enough money to pay a programmer to design anything, but it might buy some substantial bandwidth – if that was the sort of thing needed. I don’t know, I haven’t asked anyone any questions yet. But if you want to know the level of my seriousness, you can measure it from that. Would that I had more money. I find it likely that I will have more money.

If it seems a sad amount to some of you, I tell you right now that I could probably fund a stage play, do rehearsals, advertise and make money on the venture, enough to split seven ways between the cast, myself and the two technicians I’d hire. We’d make enough money to get really drunk on a Friday night. It’s all a question of sensible decision-making.

And if I may continue this digression for another paragraph, I have found that most times, in starting a business, any time you ask for advice you’re going to hear the same four words: “You have to buy ...” This is nonsense. Most anything you have to buy is, right now, sitting in someone’s basement, taking up space that the homeowner would rather have for some other purpose. You only have to show up and haul the thing away.

Finally, to wrap this up, I am the sort of person who believes in the practice of increasing the cost of things in order to keep out the riff-raff. I’ve already said that is my purpose. Here I’ve outlined two specifications.

I said that I was in no hurry, but if anyone wants to take a step forward, I’ll make this offer: If you have a world that you think deserves notoriety, and you are prepared to kick in as much as me ($500), then we can talk. You can keep your money in your pocket (I don’t want it), but if we get enough interest going we’ll arrange to meet in Seattle (how you get there is your business) in about six months. Someone who knows how (perhaps JoetheLawyer) can set up a non-profit and we’ll sign on as partners (after our own lawyers look at it, naturally). We’ll spend a weekend hashing out what we want to accomplish, how to build the site and how to keep it funded. We can elect a president (gawd knows I won’t be running) and establish rules of entry and responsibility.

If that’s not good enough for anyone, then I’m done with this for the time being. I figure, if it falls down, I lose less than a week’s pay. I can live with that.


Zak S said...

Everybody who reads this blog probably reads it because you at least occasionally meet their standards for producing worthwhile GM material. However, I feel like a short (and by no means exhaustive) list of examples of projects or materials -you've- seen that you would deem "worthy" would go a long way toward giving people an idea of what the nature of your standards for other people's DIY D&D stuff.

That might get some asses in plane seats.

We know you think making naturalistic trade tables and siege warfare rules is a worthy project--but what else?

Alexis said...

I've tried to suggest getting together a group of dedicated individuals, willing-to-sacrifice their time and money together, to answer that very question, Zak. I can't speak for the community alone. If there were such a group of people, they wouldn't be limited by my limitations, would they?

Zak S said...

Yeah, but it's your baby, baby, admit it or not. Nobody wants to fly all the way to Seattle to talk to you about your idea if they don't at least have some ballpark idea if what excites them also excites you.

I mean, whether or not you "approve", people need a certain level of enthusiasm over a shared object in order to get motivated to work together.

Alexis said...

And we're back to reasons why things like this never get off the ground.

I advanced an idea. I got interest in the idea, so I'm advancing the means by which individuals could get together and hammer out how to produce the idea. But even as I sit here and write, saying that I am not the one you want to run this thing, you Zak are telling me I already am.

Do I have a hidden agenda?

You know what? Fifty different groups in fifty parts of the world could get together and put fifty versions of this thing on the net and it would STILL be marvellous. It would be impossible for me to be the gatekeeper. I am proposing only that others step forward as would-be partners. But that's lots scarier than saying "I'm in" online, isn't it?

Well, I don't want to be seen as all talk and no action, so I'm advancing a course of action. I'm putting my money where my mouth (or my keyboard) is. I'm not here to 'motivate' anyone. Six months from now I'll happily go on blogging and producing my tables and rules.

Zak S said...

I get it, I do. You don;t wanna be the boss

I'm just saying that, right now, the main element of this project's identity is: "Alexis thought of it and it's about standards".

I feel like other people would be willing to commmit to it if they thought the Venn diagram of what they liked at least overlapped with what you liked.

Zak S said...


Thought about it.

Are you saying, in effect, this:

"I am not ok with a project where we accept anything people send along with no vetting, but I AM ok with doing this project with anybody who:

A) Ponies up the time and

B) Ponies up the cash

(c) and reads this blog?)

Because those two things alone demonstrate a level of commitment that means that whatever that person's standards are, they are committed enough to raising D&D standards that I'd be willing to work with them."

Alexis said...

A & B.

As far as C goes, if you don't read this blog, you're not going to know its happening, are you? I don't promote myself on boards and other people's blogs. But hey, if you want to go find people who don't read this blog, all power to you.

I'd like to believe the last paragraph you wrote, but it fails to recognize that a great many people

A) Have money they don't care about;

B) Have time they don't care about

C) Love to fuck with things.

General respect is also required, and that must be earned. It can't be bought with money and time.

Anonymous said...

If this is your gambit, Alexis, then well-played. You've at least upped the stakes to see who is serious. I suppose, then, I'm now questioning my own seriousness.

Alexis said...

That's exactly what I did. And the sound of crickets was deafening.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough. I wonder, though, in examining your previous posts more closely (and trying to find a place for myself in it all) how such a database would directly improve the game. The worth of such a thing to me personally and probably many others is without doubt. But for those games struggling... for those players and DMs unsatisfied with their current lot... how would the results benefit them and therefore the overall state of the game, which I believe was the stated purpose?

Alexis said...

I have the opinion that a great many players do not have a better game to play in because they don't know what a better game is. To raise the bar, something must be there for people to point at and say, "There, I want to play THAT."

Educate by example.

Anonymous said...

In regards to content, how should this differ from what is currently available online... or is it the organization and vetting of what is currently online that is the primary advantage of what you propose?

Given what I understand to be the generally accepted and so far unchallenged interpretation of WoTC's OGL, posting D&D rules and derivative variants in such a manner shouldn't pose a problem (lawyers?). As for worlds, are you (we?) considering "home-brewed" worlds only?

Alexis said...

Now we're just going in circles. I answered those questions on my last post ... and I would think some of it was common sense. If you can't figure out what I meant, James, just scratch your head and shrug your shoulders.

I am really, really done with this. I've made my proposition, it's failed, I'm ready to move on.

Anonymous said...

Don't be so prickly and nothing has failed yet. They're legitimate questions, though maybe premature ones. I'm not expecting you to have all of the answers, you've made that much clear, I'm just getting a jump on that meeting in Seattle.

Would you consider San Diego instead? I suspect the weather will be more agreeable there in six months time.

Alexis said...

Seattle is 1200 miles from me now, and not in my country; and fairly central. That's why I proposed it.

Believe me, Seattle would be warmer than where I'll be coming from.

Anonymous said...

I have to warn you in advance, I will be of no use to you as a programmer. I bring my money, my energy, my writing skills, my world and some rules. If that gets me in the door, consider me committed (pun intended).

Alexander said...

Alexis, what you are proposing has been done for massively multiplayer games, where communities have self-organized to create exhaustive collections of maps, play guides, best practices, raiding tactics, and so on. I personally ran a site like that (WarCry) for many years.

One lesson we learned over time is that a Wiki was a better way to organize the data than a database. With a database you have to know the structure of the data in advance, and while it is definitely easier to search and manipulate, it is harder to create and vastly harder to adapt and grow. With a wiki, the growth can be purely organic, it is easier to solicit user expansion, and far easier to adapt to reinforce the areas where you are growing.

I think I could set up a wiki on a server with essentially unlimited bandwidth and data crunching capability and can maintain and administer the list of registered users with a complete permissions systems. It would be the same back-end that powers The Escapist and our internal wiki, but I'll set it up with no branding (apart from any "assocation" you come up with) and no ads, etc. Just a private wiki for this project.

So, take cost of software, hardware, and bandwidth out of the equation. Would people donate the time and creative energy to add data and manage the wiki?

Alexis said...

I'm convinced that some kind of wiki is the practical choice ... with a methodology to still organizing the data base so that an overview can be found.

I think it's likely that any number of people might donate time and creative energy; presuming we're not all too busy making our worlds.

I'd be interested in knowing why you left WarCry

Zak S said...

Alexander: Alexis, Alexis: Alexander.

Be nice to Alexander if you can, he signs our checks.


Alexis, if this thing does happen, I suggest your Commitment=Power idea should be the organizing principle.

A rotating ring of 2-12 editor/curators. Each having final say and responsibility for a chosen number of months each year. Like editor A could have February and August, Editor B could have March, September, and December, etc.

If there's a conflict, everybody gets a number of votes equal to the number of months they've edited.

Alexander said...

Alexis - good to meet, long-time lurker on your blog.

I didn't leave WarCry, I actually still own it; but the MMO Dbase space got really competitive and I saw more opportunity in another website, The Escapist.

Zak - your idea makes great sense. Given that different people have different interests, it probably means different areas of the wiki would get fleshed out at different times, but that's probably a good thing...

Alexis said...

Thinking this through.

I see the very generous offer of setting up a database out of the backend that powers the Escapist and your internal wiki, along with the offer to ‘set it up with no branding and no ads, etc’.

I am always leery of generosity.

Alexander, anything that would be set up through your website would become, in fact, your property. It would be hard to produce a contract which would not only allow me to continue publishing freely material I had put on your site, and which would also prevent you from doing so. Thus, for the generous offer you make, you’re in a position to co-opt any material I give you.

Very nice of you to offer to take the cost of software, hardware and bandwidth out of the equation. You already possess that, as you said, in your present system. And no doubt it is a fine opportunity for me to add data to your system (for free, I take it), while providing labour (also free) to manage the wiki that has now become yours.

Or are you offering me a salary? Because I will discuss a salary.

I’m sorry, Zak. He may sign your cheques, but at present he hasn’t signed one of mine.

Alexander, I think Zak’s idea of an editorial staff makes some sense.

I personally am not looking to endlessly edit other people’s worlds and ideas. Perhaps I have not thought the wiki through. My speculation has been that individuals would provide their own worlds and perspectives, fitted into a format that would allow comparisons ... and to aid individuals in knowing what to work on in the fabrication of a world, and what would be a waste of their time.

That is, here is an atlas of world maps. Here are various interpretations of Elven culture. Here are dungeon design tools. And so on. Twenty experienced people sitting down to take a crack at how to build a town adventure. Not two hundred people spitting out paragraphs that must be cleaned up for language.

Now, what have I misunderstood?

Zak S said...

See this is why I keep pressing you for details--so we aren't assuming all over each other.

If I may temporarily adopt the role of Alex's character witness:

Based on business dealings with Alex (and on the reams of real-military-experience-and-historical-study informed houserules he emails me and posts on-line), I believe he is the kind of gamer with whom you could successfully wall off your project from any shadow of "official"ness or owenership. He's a hobbyist.

Or, more cynically: Alex's money doesn't come from D&D campaign material, it comes from video game stuff--which is a much bigger pot. He doesn't have any motive to own this stuff.

Caveat emptor and all that, but y'all can probably work something out, is my guess.


As for the actual form of the thing, picking those "twenty people" is then the crux of the thing.

If commitment=power and (if) money is out as a commitment measurer, then you'll need an alternate instrument to measure commitment.

Alexander said...

Alexis, no, no salary, but no intended ownership of anything, either.

I wasn't envisioning that the material would go up on "my" website (The Escapist). I'm assuming material would go up on a to-be-named website, at another domain name, unaffiliated with The Escapist (wiki.DandDAcademy.com or whatever).

It would simply run on spare bandwidth and capacity that we have on The Escapist - Basically we pay a lot of money every month for a server and database capable of handling a million people downloading videos on Wednesday morning, which means that the rest of the week we have lots of idle capacity, and there's nothing this wiki could do to put a dent in that.

My own personal website runs this way, and you'd never know it had anything to do with The Escapist.

I'm also not envisioning that I'd do this were I not involved in the project as one of the 20 contributors. I think I can hold my own expertise in D&D up there against anyone. That said, if I was't to be involved, it wouldn't be very interesting to me -- I'm not someone who is going to bring my ball and bat to a softball game where the other players don't want me to play.

So my interest here is not in promoting The Escapist, my interest is in participating in what I think is a good idea for the hobby.

As Zak points out, on a personal level, I'm a hobbyist who loves D&D, and on a professional level, I don't think this would be a profit center for anyone. We make our money from doing 10 million streams of game trailers and video shows per month.

Alexis said...

Fair enough.

But I'm going to have to run it past smarter people than me.

Alexander said...

There are smarter people than you and Zak? Now I'm worried. You guys are my go-to for high IQ D&Dology.

Oddbit said...

While some DnD players think they are lawyers, that doesn't make them such.