Saturday, March 17, 2012

Ten Things About Las Vegas

So most of my “regular” readers know that I put up something of a travel blog over the course of any time I’m away detailing my various adventures and derring do, and finding ways to make those adventures relatable to games and gaming. This time around, though, I have not had the usual hour a day to devote to writing because I have been incredibly busy from eight in the morning straight until two in the morning most days. If these hours seem skewed to you, it’s because I don’t normally get up until ten and I don’t go to bed until around four in the morning. So I hope my dear readers understand the delay. After all, it’s fucking Las Vegas.

And because I can’t remember ever day in exacting detail (they’ve all rather blurred together in a haze of booze, gambling and shopping for clothes – and houses…), I’m going to be changing up the format this time around. I am not going to be writing a day-by-day account of my trip, but will instead be looking at a theme for each day that I post. And because I almost always do one of these, today I’ll be starting off with my Ten Things About Las Vegas (Since the Last Time I Saw Her).

Ten Things About Las Vegas (Since the Last Time I Saw Her)

1. The money isn’t where it used to be. If you look around America, there is an obvious financial crush going on, and I think that the most obvious place in the world to see that is in the place known for its ridiculous amounts of money. Las Vegas, the City of Lights, uses more power in a day than a third world country does in a year. That’s a statistic I just made up, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to be told it’s accurate. Lights are everywhere, there is money everywhere, and everything is of impeccable quality. Until you get up close. Vegas is starting to show some of the cracks in her make-up, even in the richest, prettiest, most incredibly well kept casinos. The Wynn is gorgeous, for instance, but the paint in the men’s room has been peeling for some time. The Venetian is incredible, but the carpets are starting to look their age. The newest casinos of which I’m aware, the Aria and the Red Rock are in great shape and their newness practically glows off the walls, but the rest of Las Vegas is slowly starting to come apart at the seams. Much like I found in the Palace at Versailles, the floors squeak, and it’s the little details like that which illustrate the full impact of the American economic collapse.

2. I’m particular. I travel in a very set sort of way, and that way is called “ADVENTURE TIME!!!!” which is not in any way affiliated with the children’s television show of the same name. If you would like to travel in a style similar to ADVENTURE TIME!!!!, the process is simple. Every day, wake up whenever the hell you feel like waking up. For me, that’s usually around nine or ten in the morning when I’m travelling, but if I’m at something like GenCon, it’s closer to seven. Then find something to do. At a convention, that usually involves a game I call “Go to Every Seminar.” When I’m travelling by myself or with a significant other, we usually decide between us which thing we’d like to do that day and then we go do that one thing.

And maybe that’s the real kicker for me. I don’t fill my days with stuff. I plan a thing early in the day, and everything that comes after that is just… whatever. I’ll do whatever I feel like doing. If that involves going to dinner at the Crab Shack, well then fuck it, we’re going to the Crab Shack and eating some goddamn corn. If that means going to Castro Street to see the gay partying that is San Francisco, so be it. In Las Vegas, I haven’t had much of a chance for that sort of thing. There hasn’t been a ton of spontanaeity on this trip, it’s all been pre-planned, and usually by someone who isn’t me.

Also, I have some things I love to do when I’m vacationing, and one of those things is partying. I was informed early on that it was not going to be “that kind of vacation,” to which my mental response was “So it’s not a vacation?”

3. I used to have a crush on her, but now I think she’s a thieving whore. The last time I visited Las Vegas, I didn’t have any money to gamble away, which made her seem like a pretty tame place to be. She was open and friendly and weird and flashy and classy and fun and all the sorts of things I look for in a city. This time, I came with dollars, and that was obviously a massive mistake, for two reasons. The first was shopping. See, I don’t do a ton of shopping at home, at least not for clothing. I spend a lot of money on meals out, and I buy gadgets and gifts for friends and family, but since I decided that time share money wasn’t worth time share grief, I’ve been skimping on my wardrobe in a huge way. Coming to Las Vegas was like opening a fashion floodgate for me. I have three new pairs of jeans, two new shirts, a leather jacket, a belt, and some shorts that got forced on me. We got a brand new, never-been-worn, pair of Guess jeans for six dollars. My twelve year old me is kicking the crap out of my incredibly well-adorned ass right now. The second pitfall was gambling. See, I’m not much of a gambler, really. I have an addictive personality, I form habits pretty easily, and I’ve been known to do incredibly stupid things of occasion. That all adds up to “I don’t know when to quit,” and that has become apparent through my gambling this week.
Once upon a time, I would have considered living in Las Vegas full time. As of now, I think I’d probably just end up hating on her. I could probably rock three months at a time. Probably. I’ll write Dave a business plan.

4. Shopping. I realize that I don’t make this abundantly clear very often, but I actually do know how to dress myself. Dave is of the opinion that I am far fatter than I am and keeps trying to get me into clothes that are XXL or bigger, and occasionally shaming me for it. Personally, I think I’ve been looking like a million bucks lately and my girlfriend agrees. I’m sorry, sir, but her opinion weighs a little heavier than yours most times.
Also, going back to how I’m particular, I have some pretty quirky ideas about how I want to dress myself, and trying to force me into something that I don’t want to wear is only going to make me seem like an asshole because I don’t want to wear those things. I don’t wear shorts, for instance, and I ended up feeling like a total dick that I don’t like, nor do I wear, shorts.

Regardless, I have a bunch of new clothes, and I think they look pretty great on me. I’ll be showing them off at the store damned near constantly for the next little while.

5. She’s not as friendly as I remember her being. Las Vegas in 2008 was one of the friendliest cities I’d ever been to. People would just say hello to you on the street for no reason, and everyone I talked to had an awesome story to tell. Then again, the last time I was in Las Vegas, I was actually allowed to party, and that might have made all the difference. Drunk me is a pretty friendly dude, if a little quiet, and I’m a lot more likely to walk up to a complete stranger and start a conversation than I am when I’m stone sober.

Las Vegas this past week has been cold. Not in temperature – weather wise, it’s been gorgeous – but by the people. They’re distant, they don’t want to talk to you, they’ve got places to be and crowds to hang with. Maybe it’s because this time I’m older and fatter and Las Vegas is a superficial sort of place, very hung up on appearances. Maybe it’s just that America as a whole is under a lot of stress, and Sin City is feeling the crunch a little harder than most.

6. Tits. The first show we went to was a thing called X-Burlesque. I don’t do a lot of burlesque shows in Edmonton, but I know they’re gaining some popularity with the Victorian renaissance that’s made SteamPunk cool, and there is at least one person on my Facebook friends list that invites me to all of the burlesque shows she’s performing in. I am, however, familiar with burlesque and it’s trappings, and what I saw at X-Burlesque was nothing more complicated than a very well thought out strip club show with much more expensive drinks. There were tits everywhere, and one girl, the Asian lady, kept making eye-contact, which was both very sexy and incredibly frustrating. I don’t like being able to see a girl naked without being able to at least attempt to bring them to orgasm. It hits all of the wrong buttons for me, and none of the right ones that make the wrong ones stop.

7. Sleaze Sells. The second show we saw was a thing called Absinthe, and it was brilliant. It was a self-aware, self-referential, sleazy, vulgar circus act. The ringmaster was a slimy grease ball with a vicious smoke-damaged voice and a mean streak. His assistant was a perky, sexually repressed, squeaky bimbo. The acts were incredibly impressive, most especially the Eastern European fellows who did a paired gymnastics routine that was, as the kids say, off the hook. When one 250lb man-slab can hold another 230lb man-slab horizontal from the ground with one hand, I consider that a feat worth seeing.

The second comic shop we visited was also incredibly sleazy. It was in a seedy part of town in the corner of a strip mall, with ugly, hand-painted signage. The interior was murky and dank, there were trees everywhere crowding the space and making the whole shop claustrophobic, with strange reaching branches to lash out at you from nowhere. The shop’s only saving grace was the store-cat, an addition I have occasionally petitioned Dave and James for, to no avail. Dave points out, we have trouble keeping plants alive. That gentleman apparently has no difficulty selling through 200 copies of a comic book we barely carry. Also, he has a porno moustache, thinning hair and a big, pink Las Vegas car.

8. The GAMA Trade Show taught me nothing I don’t already know. It turns out, I’m already really good at my job. I was actually pretty excited to hit GAMA for the seminars. In particular, I was hoping to hit a few by Dave Wallace, who literally wrote the book on making your store successful, but his seminars were late in the convention and I had already given up entirely on the con by Wednesday evening. If you need someone to tell you to get involved with D&D Encounters if you’d like to sell more role-playing games… Well, you’re in the wrong industry, pal. Every time someone asked a question, my mental response was “How the hell do you keep your doors open?” There was one guy who was incredibly proud that he had discovered a prizing system this year that almost exactly matches the one we’ve been using for years. When I found out that an employee making minimum wage in Nevada makes $5, and that the average new house costs $150k, that sort of answered my question. I have to be a lot better at what I do than most of the people at the convention because it is so much harder to succeed in the city of Edmonton than it is to succeed in the city of Las Vegas. For the cost of my rent each month, I could afford to buy a brand new Las Vegas home. If your employee can sell two single-issue comic books per hour, he or she has earned out his or her wage.

Things I’m bringing home with me from the convention: Um… A new appreciation for how incredible my store is.

9. Shoes are of the utmost importance. In 2009, my ex-girlfriend bought me a pair of incredible shoes with incredible liners in them. I am still wearing those shoes, and they have never failed to be the most incredibly comfortable pair of shoes I have ever worn. If you would like to get shoes that are perfect for your feet, you need to go talk to Holly at Totem Outdoor Outfitters in Edmonton on a Saturday. You will not be at all disappointed.
Yesterday, I bought new shoes because I’d left my dress shoes at home. Having a whole schwack of new clothes didn’t mean a thing, really, because my shoes were looking pretty ragged after three years of continual beatings, and they didn’t really match anything I’d just bought. So I picked up some new shoes, and they look good, but they feel like crap on my feet. I’ll be needing to go in and pick up some new Super Feet insoles from Totem soon.

10. Couches. So, when I said that I wanted to come on this trip, my understanding was that it was just going to be Dave and I. When I heard his mother and her friend were coming along, I was a little surprised, but it was certainly manageable. I like his mom quite a bit, and while I’d only met her friend once or twice, she seemed like a nice lady. When I heard Ida from Warp Two was coming along, I was a little confused but figured she’d be bunking with the ladies or we’d have a room with three beds.

That is not what happened at all.

I have spent this week sleeping on a couch. Dave offered to share his bed with me, which is a thing I chose to not do mostly because I am uncomfortable sharing a bed with a dude and partially because, as much as I love Dave, I don’t really want to ever be in the same bed as him. I have a pretty solid reputation for being a very sexual person, and that mixture of traits – sexual dude plus sleeping in the same bed as your boss – comes rife with jokes and innuendo. So the first night in Las Vegas I “slept” on the floor. That’s in quotation marks because there wasn’t really a lot of sleeping to be had. Since then, I’ve been sleeping on a couch in our upgraded room. The couch is not long enough to fit my body onto, it’s more of a loveseat really, but it’s a far cry better than sleeping on the floor or in the same bed as my employer. My knees, for the record, are not happy with me, and if there’s one thing I’m looking forward to about getting home to Edmonton, it’s sleeping in a bed.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

In Response to Matt James

So, Matt James* suggested that the good folks at Wizards of the Coast should start using Dungeons & Dragons Insider to provide new content for older editions of D&D. Personally, I disagree. I also disagree with the whole horde of people who think that Wizards should release their backlist of older-edition D&D material (including, yes, Zak Smith). A lot of the reasons for this are based in my understanding of how publishing works. According to a good chunk of the internet, I am deeply wrong, but no one has yet given me a really good reason as to why my position is incorrect.

The way I understand Mr. James’ proposition working is this: Wizards of the Coast would pay freelance writers, editors, developers, and a manager to oversee the creation and promotion of new material for Dungeons & Dragons editions one through four. That product would be published on the Dungeons & Dragons website as part of the company’s subscription site, Dungeons & Dragons Insider. It is his thinking that the amount of money brought in through new subscriptions to the service would more than pay for the cost to create that material and would provide a hefty boost to the company’s profits.

So about how much would the thing cost?

Let’s start with the freelancers. A new author makes 2-3 cents per word when freelancing, and most of the D&D insider articles are in the 5000 word range. An unproven author writing an article for Dungeons & Dragons first edition would make about $150. That might not seem like a ton of money, especially for a huge corporation like Wizards of the Coast, but there are other factors we’d need to be looking at.

How much does it cost to edit an article? First of all, you need to pay a slushpile editor to go through the manuscripts. Obviously, Wizards of the Coast already has a slushpile editor or three, so it wouldn’t be that hard to have them go through a few more manuscripts a week, yeah? Let’s assume our slushpile editors read a bit faster than your average reader, and clock them in at 300 words per minute. Let us also assume that these slushpile editors are getting paid minimum wage, and that they will go through four bad manuscripts before they reach a good one. Let us further assume that the slushpile editor will only make it 1000 words into an article before determining that it is bad, but will have to finish a good article to ensure that it is quality throughout. It would take about a half hour, getting paid $9.04 per hour (Washington State’s minimum), so we’ll tack on $4.50 per article. If wizards of the coast uses unpaid interns for this, shame on them.

Then it needs to be edited, which will probably take a little longer. For the sake of brevity, let’s just say that it takes an hour to edit an article (not counting rewrites, chatting with the author, whatever else). Let us further assume that this editor is getting paid a bit more than the slushpile editors. Let’s go with $12/hour, which is paltry and far less than Glassdoor would have you believe.

At this point, I think it’s really important to point out that I’m going with incredibly conservative numbers, here. Slushpile editors are probably getting paid more than minimum wage (unless they’re unpaid interns, in which case, they’re getting paid, well, nothing). Wizards of the Coast doesn’t tend to hire people without degrees, and people with university education are usually able to pull significantly more than nine bucks an hour. Wizards of the Coast’s editorial team likely make good coin. It isn’t Oprah dough, but it’s a sight better than $25k a year.

But so far it has cost us $166.50 to make this article. That is $166.50 that could have gone to pushing the product that is already the focus of the business.

Oh, but there’s more!

D&D articles have art in them. Your average illustrator makes some $24.34 an hour, though if you’re working with beginners, you could be paying as little as $10.08 per hour. How many hours does it take to make a publishable illustration? Well that’s going to change from illustrator to illustrator, but from the few reports I’ve heard, a few. Let’s call it 2, so $20.16 per picture. I’m sure the rates are actually quite a bit more expensive than that, but we’re being really generous with our estimates, here.

According to Glassdoor, the Wizards of the Coast graphic designers make between $46k and 51k per year. That’s about $23 an hour at the low end. Graphic designers lay out the articles so that they look pretty on the page. The only example of layout I’ve had the benefit of seeing myself took about four hours, but most of the layouts in D&D articles are a lot simpler than the layout of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, so let’s call it two hours. That’s another $46.

I’m sure there are people I’m missing, and costs I haven’t accounted for.

We’re sitting at $232.66 on a very conservative estimate, for an article that isn’t related to the main push of our business right now. How many people need to sign up for D&D Insider because of this one article to make it a worthwhile investment? It would take roughly thirty people to break even. In order to be able to expand (by making enough money to publish more articles) and turn something of a profit, it would require closer to 80 people at 7.95 per month (the average of the three plans). You’d have sixty people paying for the article you’ve already written and another in the future, with $160 to go to other expenses such as servers, rent, and the heating bill.

I can’t think of a lot of industries where you can get nearly a hundred people to buy your product based on a single article. Obviously, I don’t know how many subscribers D&D Insider has, but I can’t imagine a hundred people reading Jared von Hindman’s article preview and immediately hitting the Subscribe button.

For most, the reason you join up with D&D Insider is for the cool toys you get to play with. I mean, Dungeons & Dragons Insider is offering a lot of tools (character builder, monster builder, that sort of thing) to people who currently play D&D 4E, which provides a much better reason for subscribing to the service than any single article could. Without a better reason to join up, the vast majority of consumers are going to shuffle right past your article and read some of the absolutely free material available online.

Even if you were publishing two articles per month, you’d be asking each subscriber who was there specifically for older edition material to pay $3.98 per article, and you’d be doubling the costs of getting the articles out there in the first place. And that’s before we start factoring in the costs of taking resources away from the horse Wizards already has in this race.

There is no good business reason to focus on anything that isn’t D&D Next right now. It’s their flagship, they’re building hype for it, they’re trying to convince people that it’s going to be worth buying, and they’re going to need people publishing articles about that. Publishing new product for older editions would be stealing thunder (and staff, and dollars) from the game they actually need to carry right now, which would hardly represent a “minimal impact to their current brand.” Every single page on the Daily D&D should be somehow related to how wicked-cool D&D 4E is, or how wicked-cool D&D Next is going to be.

Allowing other companies (like Paizo) to cater to the core audiences that believe a previous version of D&D is the “gold-standard,” makes much better business sense than spending their own resources fishing to get lost customers back. The majority of people who already play D&D will buy a new edition, and new editions serve as a great jumping-on point for new players, something that the Wizards of the Coast brand team has been pushing for a while now. D&D Encounters has brought thousands of new gamers to the hobby, and each of those gamers represents hundreds of dollars in the sale of new books, D&D Insider memberships, and word of mouth advertising.

And that word of mouth advertising carries to even more new players, which is worth way more than whatever good will Wizards could drum up for catering to a very vocal minority of players who believe the company abandoned them with Edition X. Whether or not your 2nd Edition buddy would take a glance at what Wizards is putting out right now doesn’t matter half as much as a university kid who has never played D&D before excitedly telling her not-yet-gamer friends about this kick-ass new thing she’s found. Those friends will spend money, and they’ll spend it on the edition that Wizards of the Coast is backing at the moment.



*Yeah, I did read your article, I just didn’t see how it made any sense at all.