Friday, August 2, 2013

An open letter to Mike Nystul

Let me address something really quick and get it out of the way: You're right, Monte Cook is a gold standard, and it is unfair to expect you to run a fledgling business the same way that an industry veteran will run his. That being said, I don't think it's unfair to compare the kickstarters that you both created given that yours ended a month before his, you both started from the same position of having a solid premise but nothing written, and your stated goals at the beginning of each were both for one book. Despite the fact that Cook's project ballooned into enormous proportions and added supplement after supplement (and then a video game) the initial goal of the project is being delivered only one month later than originally projected. It's not a one-hundred percent fair comparison, and I think I account for that in my brief commentary explaining the differences. There's a term being thrown around called "feature creep" and it mostly applies to video games that get kickstarted and balloon into bigger projects, every single one of them has been late because they add features they weren't expecting to be able to afford and it quite rightfully extends the workload of the project. Numenera had extreme feature creep and yet is still being delivered very close to the original projected release date, and your project begged for feature creep yet still hasn't produced anything other than a tattoo.

You wrote: The point by point "take him to the mat" comparison seems a bit mean and I'm not sure what the point is. Does anyone not know the deal by now? I'm public about all of this. He's not breaking any ground here.

What's the point? To understand. I want to know what is going on in your brain. And if you are public about all of this and I'm not breaking any ground with my analysis then why do you feel the need to comment on it at all? No, I think I did point out something that nobody else had, and I did it without being angry or insulting, because if you've been reading other blogs like you say and haven't been commenting it's only because other blogs haven't tried to give you the benefit of the doubt and look at the project from your perspective. I did, and in doing so I struck a nerve.

Having access to your facebook is the only reason I have any sympathy for you at all. When you lamented that people should just follow your facebook page instead of relying on kickstarter updates, that is what I did. You like to dance around your reasons for not completing the project but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that you're unemployed and that it probably happened either during or just after the kickstarter ended. There's no shame in being unemployed and most people would understand if you just came out and explained that it was a factor in the delay of the project. I know what it's like to finish another string of job interviews and have nothing to show for it. I was unemployed for a total of almost two years before I found my current line of employment and I know all too well the apathy that can set in after you feel like you've hopelessly exhausted all of your options. A friend of mine once told me that looking for a job is your full-time job when you're unemployed, and in your case you've got a part-time job alongside it of trying to deliver a role-playing game book. That's an unenviable position to be in.


However, it's very frustrating from my perspective to see you posting pictures of cats, Cthulhu cakes, reviewing movies, and talking about attending conventions incessantly on facebook. Every time I see you spending money on something I think "Was that spent with backer pledges?" and every time I see you planning for a convention I think "What the fuck? Conventions are EXPENSIVE! Why aren't you writing the damn book already?!" I think the last straw was your pictures of running a D&D game on Gary Gygax'es birthday. My immediate reaction was "GMing takes a lot of work, so why isn't he running Axes & Anvils?" That's when I really started to look through your posts because I wanted to know if I was just being annoyed because I wasn't seeing results or if I had a legitimate reason to feel like I did. To look through these frivolous posts on facebook made every day coupled with repeated posts on kickstarter saying "I promise the preview is coming" really paints a picture of incompetence. It made my feelings legitimate.

I only have 18 regular readers, and one-half of those are people I game with every week, and I only update maybe once every week or two. In terms of blogging in general, and gaming blogs in particular, I'm not popular. So why respond? Why try to defend yourself? Why not just ignore it like you've ignored some other more popular blogs? Because they were lashing out in anger, but I'm saying things that are reasonable assessments. I'm sorry if any of this sounds harsh, but if my criticism stings then I think you know it's true. I'm only trying to be honest with what I see and my reaction to it. The only thing I can say to console you is that I'm not really angry with you like some people are, I've never insulted you or debased you (and I never will), and I have tried to give you the benefit of the doubt every step of the way. You make it really hard to do that though. The tattoo, for instance. At the time you were posting about it I didn't think much of it, and it did cement your commitment to the project in a very tangible way. In retrospect it looks like a waste of money. The tattoo should have been the prize for finishing the project, not your prize for collecting the money. You're right, it was fun in the moment, but it was your dessert and now you ruined your supper.

As for the issue of thanking the backers, it was just something I noticed. It's why I made a point of saying that Monte Cook was overwhelmed by the popularity of his project, because when you read the Numenera updates one after the other it's clear he had no idea how his project would grow and warp into the monster it is now, and he constantly tells the backers how awesome they are for supporting his vision. When I read the Axes & Anvils updates one after the other I see a man who is hopeful of success and eager to hit each goal but mentioning the backers is noticeably absent in comparison. If I hadn't been comparing the two kickstarters I might not have noticed it at all.

Why did I compare your campaign to the Numenera project at all? Because it was reasonably close in the time period of when you had run your project, I felt like both projects started with similar goals and ended completely differently. And they were both late. At first my comparison was only for my own edification and understanding, but if Numenera hadn't also been late I never would have published it.

Another reason I wanted to understand what was going on was because I'm writing a game myself. I haven't looked into creating a kickstarter for it, I haven't contacted artists, and in terms of publishing the only thing I've done is look at the publisher contract on drivethrurpg. I might not ever finish it. This is the way of all design. Ideas are great, but most of them don't work in practice. For the last two months I've worked on it, off and on, and I feel like it's playable right now, though not finished. If you asked me to put up a preview for playtesting I think I could hammer out a pdf file in less than a week. Now take this into consideration as well: last week my house flooded, I had to move the entire contents of my house into my and my neighbor's garage, my wife and I have been couch surfing and staying at hotels, spending way too much money on food, and we can't move back into our house and settle back into our routine until next week some time, and while still having to go to work and deal with the stress of not getting enough sleep and being generally crabby at everything. I'm not in the best place right now. Yet I could still hammer out a playtest pdf for the game I started writing two months ago in the next week. Meanwhile in Austin, how is your work coming along?

Does that explain my reasons for criticism well enough? I hope so, because the gloves are coming off. Yes, all of that before was me being nice. When you take money and fail to deliver you should expect some healthy doses of criticism from the people who invested in your idea. If you can't take the heat then don't go in the kitchen. At least I don't call you names.


Last I checked nobody forced you to add anybody as a friend on facebook. Even Monte Cook added all of his backers as friends and only recently converted his profile into Monte Cook Games so he could have more than 5000 people added. He always conducts himself very professionally and rarely talks about anything not directly related to his job, and when he does post something unrelated it's usually about something that happened to him personally. Have you considered that this might be a big factor as to why he's so successful? He doesn't waste anybody's time sharing silly youtube videos.

And since you called me a stalker creep I would like to point out that it's fucking impossible to stalk somebody on facebook who is posting more than a teenage girl. Yes, there are teenage girls in my family and they don't share stupid shit as much as you do, what they do share is sometimes actually more constructive and personal like graduation photos and feminist essays about rape culture. Sharing fan art for Adventure Time seems banal in comparison.

But you were posting a few constructively personal things for awhile, so let's talk about selling your gaming books. Yes, I'm going there. And I wasn't planning on bringing this up, but it's been preying on my mind for some time and your behavior yesterday to my legitimate criticisms prompted me to bring it up. When you posted a lot of pictures showcasing gamebooks and boardgames you wanted to sell, you happened to have one I was looking for: Block Mania. You were also selling a copy of the 1982 Judge Dredd boardgame and I thought I would help you out with your financial woes and decided that if the price matched the price I saw on ebay that I would just take it off your hands. You said $60 and even sweetened the pot by telling me Block Mania had the expansion. I said "How should I pay?" and I was quick to pay, eager even, and you took my money but then, nothing. I had to email you three times, and then after a month of waiting it was only when I said "I would like to know when I can expect to see them arrive or if I can get my money back." that you made some effort to mail them to me. It still took another three weeks to get those games mailed out. When I finally opened the box and looked at the boardgames I looked at the date and saw that a full two months had passed since I sent the money via paypal and I immediately thought "If this is how long it takes him to deliver on something he HAS, then how long is it going to take for him finish Axes & Anvils?"

You did throw in an extra game: Red Empire. Which was a nice "I'm sorry" surprise. So it did tell me that even though you're going to be horribly late and incredibly disorganized, that if you can do so you'll try to make up for the tardiness. But I have to say, honestly, it doesn't really make up for the aggravation of handing you money for something you have and being forced to harrass you in order to see some results. Maybe you should rethink this whole ignoring criticism attitude you have, because a good swift kick in the pants might be just what you need to keep you on track. Maybe you should get somebody in Austin to be your boss for finishing this project?

Hey! That was constructive criticism! How about a little more instead of just criticism? Why don't you set up a preview and playtesting blog? Blogs are really easy to create and if you have a gmail account you get a blogspot connected to it for free, you can set up all of your comments to go straight to your inbox. If you want to put up a few more barriers you could get a wordpress account, they have an option that locks out anybody from commenting who doesn't also have a wordpress account. You can set up your living campaign backers to be able to post to the blog, then they could post play session reports and you could use the really epic events of those sessions as background material for your campaign world. Rule changes could also be debated or discussed. Then you also have a living document on the internet that people can put their 2 cents into. But maybe you don't want people seeing your rules, afraid they're going to steal them or something. That's cool. You can do the same thing on facebook, just set up Axes & Anvils as a group that members can post into, just like the Tabletop Role-Playing Games group that you frequently share posts from. Verify accounts and connect them to their kickstarter accounts to find the living campaign backers and set them as moderators for the group.

But you know, this is a lot of work. You might not have time for it. You're really busy performing improv comedy every week and trying to get a ride to GenCon and making a big show of purging your facebook account but only deleting 6 people from the 772 "friends" you had so, shit, maybe you should either just make time for finishing this project or cancel it already. Because it's really fucking obvious that your priorities seem to be elsewhere.

UPDATE: Mike Nystul's fanboys tried to create a false image of myself as some sort of stalker, creeping through Mike's facebook feed. I got pissed off at those comments and deleted them. I tend to think if somebody is publicly posting crap that shows they are not working hard then that's not stalking, that's just being aware of what your FB friends are posting. Mike has since blocked me and anybody else he suspects of being connected to me. As a customer, I have every right to know what happened to my money and as an investor I feel like I should have a voice about the progress of the project that I helped fund. I don't understand why it's okay for someone to pretend they didn't just take thousands of dollars and have nothing to show for it.