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Sunday, 23 July 2017

Spartan redefines stupid with Firestorm Strike Force and Kickstarter

Well, it's been a very busy month for me of late with work - end of quarter, commercial training for my European Team, PMDs (Performance Management Discussions - those 6-monthly reviews everyone loves) and lots of travel - Copenhagen, Barcelona, Darmstadt.....

It's been busy out of those times too - birthdays, keeping the garden under control, working on the house - all stealing time from hobby (apart from our regular Friday night 5e D&D session). I started several blog posts, but haven't had the time to complete them - until today.

Checking through my emails, there's the (ir)regular Spartan Games newsletter. A while back they announced v3.0 of Firestorm would be funded through Kickstarter. That made me exasperated, because I know some people are still invested enough in the universe to fund it, and I believe they're throwing good money after bad. I read the blog which "explained" some of their reasoning - which turned out to be "Neil wanted v3 of FA" so that's why they're doing it. Stupid reason, but still, I'm divested enough from the game to make some commentary on Facebook and leave it be.

Then today what do I find but an announcement for "Firestorm Strike Force" - a fighter combat board game....WTF?? The  I remembered a couple of conversations I'd had with Neil 18-24 months before where he talked about wanting to do a fighter combat game in the FA universe. I eluded to the fact that that would be difficult with X-Wing dominating the market, and maybe as part of the extended game it could work, but there was still a lot of stuff to do in the FA universe first.

Unbelievable. Trying to cram in a board game in that hugely saturated market, and a board game of fighter combat - which as I already mentioned is pretty solidly blocked out by X-Wing anyway, seems insane. Launching it within an existing franchise is smart, but only if that existing franchise has some market presence, which FA really doesn't. So GW would make this work in 40k (as they did), but even they have rolled aerial combat into their core rule set.

So is it really that unbelievable? Well, I don't think so. Let me go back to the point above about why v3 of FA is coming - because Neil wants it to happen. Why is Strike Force coming? Because Neil wants it to happen. Why did SG restructure the "working pretty well" structure of FA/DW? Because Neil wanted to.

Now all of that is fine - Neil Fawcett is the creative director of SG, after all - it's his company, he can do whatever he likes with it. The problem I have with that is the good people who have genuine faith in his words that will waste good money on these products and get taken down with the good ship "HMS SG Titanic". Spartan Games is clearly in trouble - companies doing well with increasing market share don't suddenly switch from a standard retail model to Kickstarter to fund their core IPs.

That's a big problem for me. I have a team of 16 people reporting to me, and decisions I make often have a direct impact on their lives. Neil has a company with about the same number of people (maybe a few more) who absolutely depend on his decision making abilities for their jobs - and he makes BAD corporate decisions. Creating new games and changing direction and structure because of personal whims is fine when no-one cares or depends on you. Doing it when that is the case is a massive arrogance, and shows an underlying ego which borders on the pathological.

In big companies (or small companies that get big and sustain themselves), these huge egos are often used but tempered - so the role of a Creative Director is balanced by the business manager and the CFO etc - committees and reviews, checks and balances that stop companies slitting their own throats when it comes to their direction. Sometimes they still get it wrong, but the risks are less, and usually have countermeasures in place for the "what if this doesn't work" scenario.

The problem with Spartan is this is not a company that has learned from prior mistakes of this kind - the 15mm DW Kickstarter that never was comes to mind - indicating a directive force that was so out of step with its customer base it was shocking. Now SG are here doing it all over again.

So what does this mean for SG long term? For me, I don't see a Spartan long term. The ego that drove the company to prominence in the early days is now driving the company to more erratic and ever-wilder decisions, and negative feedback is not only ignored, but countered - SG were actually arguing on Facebook with their customers, FFS!!! Neil, who was the initiator of the company because he wanted to make himself nice models, has now donned the grim reaper robes and scythe for exactly the same reason - because he still thinks that SG exists to make nice models that he likes, rather than build excellent games with integrated universes that serve people.

For me this is the problem with SG, and its the difference between management and leadership. Anyone can tell someone what to do when they've authority over them - that's management. Not everyone can tell people their vision and then demonstrate that in a way that makes people want to follow it. Spartan started back in 2009 by leading, now they're just trying to manage. Unfortunately they've no authority over their customers, which is why I can't see them existing in the mid-long term. Hell, even the short term is looking chancy.

Apologies for the long monologue, but I've been involved in business improvement since 2007, and it makes my blood boil when I see companies pressing the self-destruct button, especially when they've good products. I'll post something more positive next time...until then, have a great summer everyone....and don't buy Strike Force or fund Kickstarters for games with player-bases that are dropping like stones.... :-)

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