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Friday, 25 August 2017

The Demise of Spartan Games

Well, today is the day....I came back from the beach and opened my laptop to look at emails, to see a tide of messages and tags on Facebook. I read the news, and posted a couple of responses, replied to PMs and such, then went to cook dinner.

Why the nonchalance? No fan-fares? Well, of course not. The demise of a gaming company is never a happy event, even when it is so blatantly obvious in coming as this.

Who is to Blame??

Alex, the Spartan-Slayer?

No, of course not. I'm actually very sad that Spartan has come to this - especially when it was definitely avoidable. I could point the finger at individuals who were instrumental, but that would be as childish and stupid as those who have already gone onto social media and essentially said this was my fault (which I could potentially use as evidence of cyber-bullying, were I so inclined - I'm not, of course, I blocked their puerile blither long ago).

Of course blaming me is also ridiculous. One person (or even a group of determined people) writing a blog cannot bring down a company - even one as badly organised and run as Spartan. People would not read this blog (or at least not more than once) if there wasn't truth in what I said. All I do is hold a candle to what companies do - if they weren't doing stupid stuff (or people didn't agree that it was stupid), my writing would gain no traction.

It's easy to understand why people jump to these conclusions - a lack of facts and/or understanding is common, and I'm very vocal (deliberately so), so in the tin box of social media (which amplifies such wittering), it seems like I'm making the difference. I'll let you into a secret - I'm not. Retailers and distributors do not make their business decisions based on some random guys internet scribbling. If you really believe that this did not have more to do with Spartan's business model and approach to the market than any fan-based discussions (positive or negative), then you should never consider starting a business yourself - seriously.

I've used the analogy on Facebook, but I'll reiterate it here for the hard of understanding. The guy standing by the snake-oil salesman's pitch saying "that looks like snake oil" is NOT the bad guy, Spartan were selling The Emperor's New Clothes - here's a Wiki if you don't know the story...(what are you, kids?!?)

Now, in case you still don't understand, the bad guy in this story is NOT the one who first says "but the Emperor isn't wearing any clothes". It's the one's trying to sell you something that doesn't exist - a false promise. There's another phrase that's appropriate here - "Don't shoot the messenger".

So What Happened?

Well, only Spartan know the exact reasons, but it's a pretty easy trail to follow if you want to. Essentially, Spartan tried to do too much too fast, started too many things without building up support for them before moving onto the next thing - that doesn't win permanent customers. In essence it's like doing the same with a tunnel - dig too far without adding supports and sooner or later the whole thing caves in. Burning their bridges with rules writers and contributors along the way also doesn't help your cause, nor does over-promising and under-delivering to your customers.

This makes the "personality" of your company seem a little unhinged, and less trustworthy, meaning people think more before parting with their cash. Take Prodos, for example - that name likely fills you with some unease, or "nice minis but I'd not buy from them" feeling, because they've developed a similar sort of reputation with their AVP game and other projects (like the White Dragon Kickstarter project Shattered Void, where Prodos were supposed to be making the master minis for them).

But aside from that, Spartan did not build an appealing global distribution model - it was often hard for customers to get product from anywhere but Spartan, and Spartan did a lot of "order from us" exclusives which sidelined distribution - this approach, together with its haphazard releases and ADHD personality made it a pretty unappealing partner. This effectively self-limited Spartan's reach to us customers. Whilst customer service when you were dealing with Spartan as an individual was often great (probably because you were dealing with one person, Lizzie, at the company), this wasn't the overall experience.

Customer experience is a HUGE thing in most big global companies - at my company it forms part of the metrics and KPIs of most leadership and a lot of the coal-face customer-facing people too. It's reviewed in leadership meetings, it's pored over and analysed, and action plans put in place to prevent decline, and to drive positives. This is because most companies understand that customer experience is a massive part of customer retention and it goes beyond just how customers find dealing with those at your company directly, but all the dealings with your company - whether that's delivery (which is most likely through a 3rd party you have little or no control over) or stocking (does my local store have your product?). If their delivery is late, or the shop doesn't have your stock, saying "it's not our fault" no longer cuts it in modern retail.

Fundamentally, Spartan failed to really grasp what a wargamer in 2017 wants to be happy. They had a window of opportunity back in 2010-2016 that they only partially exploited, and instead of shoring up and building on a few internal franchises, they kept creating new projects - splitting resources, baffling retailer and customer understanding / support, and ultimately killing their business. No one but Spartan's leadership is responsible for that.

So What Now?

Spartan is going - sad but maybe not without a silver lining. As you'll all undoubtedly know, I've been very critical of SGs (entirely unnecessary) "new direction" for Firestorm. I hope their v3 stuff does NOT make it out of Evercreech, and instead the franchise is picked up by someone who really understands wargames, miniatures, community support and business. I hope they re-engage the community and get Firestorm back to where it belongs - as a great and fun game up there with X-Wing, 40k and the like.

Of course, I'm still going ahead with Fanstorm, that hasn't changed. Whilst on holiday I've actually put a lot more work into my mammoth Firestorm valuation spreadsheet (which has been several years in the making). It's shaping up really nicely because I want to use it to re-cost the ships in the Firestorm universe to more accurately reflect their game value - which of course means you have to have a way of properly assessing their value in an unbiased and scientific way....turns out that's a LOT harder than you first imagine, especially with all the options in Firestorm v2.

As I think I've mentioned before, this Excel document assesses every ship and squadron's survivability against every other ships weaponry, and vice-versa, to give both offensive and defensive values based on statistical probabilities (at every range band, with every Hardpoint and Option, direct and indirect, accounting for MARs, damage etc). Funnily enough, the great majority of ships in FA are very closely pointed to their actual potential, with only a few types and individuals being obviously outside the norms and needing significant adjustment (battle stations - we're looking at you!).

Anyway, don't be glum about Spartan's demise - the people who used to work there are the ones who deserve more, as do all of you paying customers out there. At least they pulled the plug before the Kickstarter funded, as there would have been a lot of people losing money if that had been the case. Look at it this way - Spartan had produced very little for Firestorm over the past year, so what have you lost? OK, if you're a Halo GC player you've probably lost out more, or are a DW Kickstarter funder who still hasn't received their pledge, but if you're a Firestorm or Planetfall player, you're not in any real different position than you were yesterday, only the future is now a little clearer. I'll continue playing Firestorm and continue working with TheoryMachine to produce Fanstorm to keep all your models relevant and the game as vibrant as it ever was.

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