Thursday, July 19, 2007

Combining products

As a follow up to my last post I thought I'd discuss the argument in question (or at least part of it). From what I can tell the entire thing began because there was some offense take to the combining of different products into a single entry. The particular example used was the Battletech PDF entry, which was a series of free PDFs based on the newest iteration of the Battletech rules. I'm at work right now, so I don't have the actual entries with me at the moment, but I'd be glad to list them when I get a chance if there is interest.

So, here's my perspective on the matter. Please keep in mind that, though I was a judge for this year's awards, I am currently not affiliated with the ENies beyond my status as a volunteer and perhaps a few final duties during GenCon itself (I am, for instance, working the booth for four hours). With any luck, and a little support, I'll be a judge again in the future, but for now all I have is opinion, and the reasoning behind the choices I personally made.

The crux of the issue is this: Several products were allowed to be combined into a single entry, usually at the request of the publisher who entered them. I haven't done any work in previous years, so I might be wrong, but as far as I know it was first brought up in relation to the Dungeon and Dragon magazines. Paizo wanted to know if they would be considered separately, or as a group. This was brought to the judges, and as a group we decided that it would be best to enter the issues together as a single entry. This later became a non-issue because Paizo decided not to enter the entire line, but it did set the stage for what came after.

Next came the Battletech PDFs. I saw the Battletech Quickstart rules and fell in love. I became a huge fan of the newest itteration of the rules, and so I thought it was a shoe-in for Best Free Product. I said as much, and was then told that Fanpro wanted to enter the PDF versions (which included several additional free books, character sheets, and the like) as a single product. The precedent had been set by the Paizo entries, and the rules already had a somewhat related clause (a publisher's website could be considered as a single entry under Free Product), so to me at least it seemed acceptable.

Warlords of the Accordlands is another example. Here we awarded the entire four book line a nomination under Best d20/OGL. Clearly they are separate products, but they fit together so seamlessly that I could easily see them as a single mega-product like Ptolus.

Now here's why I think that's alright:

The Battletech Quickstart was going to get my vote under Best Free Product, no doubt. It's possible that some of the other books in the line may have as well. The Warlords of the Accordlands World Atlas was going to get my vote under Best d20. The Master Codex may have as well. What would be better, to fill up the lists with similar products, or to combine related products into a single line.

How fair is that?

To put it another way, let's say D&D 3.5 (PHB, MM, & DMG) was up for nomination this year. Each book wouldn't even qualify under Best Game. That category requires a complete system, it's why d20 books don't qualify for that award and have their own. What they would do, however, is dominate the Best Supplement category, possibly garnering as many as three out of the five available nominations. By combining the books into a single line, it qualifies them to run under Best Game (where it really belongs), and frees up two slots for other products.

What publisher really wants their own line competing against itself? What voter wants to look at a category full of the same books? Personally I think that combining the line (unless the publisher specifically chooses not to) is the only reasonable choice, so long as enough of the line is represented.

If there was any oversight, I think it's that more lines weren't combined. I wouldn't want that in categories like Best Supplement or Product of the Year, which exist to give props to a single product, but I could certainly see it for things like Best Game, Best d20, or Best Electronic Product. Maybe even Best Setting.

Of course, it's not ideal in every situation. Certainly there will be times when a line will be stronger than a single product that it is competing against, but for the most part I think it would serve to make more room for individual products, not less. In my opinion comparing multiple books against a single book isn't a whole lot different than comparing a 700 page mega-product against a 96 page indie soft cover. You have to weigh the product's individual strengths to see how good it is, not compare it against something else.

If a product was going to win just because it was more complete, had better diversity, or presented more information, you'd be seeing a whole lot more Ptolus on those lists. The awards are about how good a product is, not how well it compares against something else.


Anonymous said...

Okay, let me start off by saying that I'm not angry or upset in any way. This is a highly subjective thing we've asked you to do and I think you've done a bang-up job. If you're ever in Salt Lake, I'd love to meet and make you buy me a drink. :)

That said I've had a lot of very offended friends and fans and they've tried hard to convert me to their side. They do have two points that should really be addressed next year. I don't know if this was covered in that thread I can't find. :)

Let's start with the relevant quote from your commentary. This is the one that has THEM up in arms:

"In fact, had Battletech not entered its line as a single product, or had this line been entered together, I think it would have made it easily this year."

That seems to say that if I'd entered the line as a single product, I'd have likely gotten a nomination, and it leads to those two points:

1) Nowhere in the rules does it say that I COULD do that. If it had been in the rules, I certainly would have. Since it was a decision made DURING judging, it gave those who went beyond the rules as stated and asked for special permissions an unfair advantage. As you said, if I had done it, things might have turned out differently, but I was never given the option.

2) All of THAT could have been corrected if the judges had done it for me. It was in the rules that you could assign or reassign my products at will, as outlined in the question they ask about any products I DON'T want in certain catergories. Since you guys had the ability to rearange the enteries as you seen fit, you could have easily changed my entries to be considered as one product. By NOT doing it, one could argue that I was not given the same opportunities as Battletech.

That said, I could have thought of it, which is why I don't hold it against you guys. As I said, I have no hard feelings and I've defended all the attacks against you that have come my way. I intend to continue to do so, because I think you all sacrificed and slaved to do the job you did. I only mention this because you seem to want input on improving the process. :)

I think there is so much heat because of the stakes for some of the smaller companies. I know my close friends want to see my company succeed, and a nom here could have greatly effected the course of the next year, changing my chances at distribution, my sales in print, etc. Let's face it, the odds of a company my size and in this field succeeding are very slim, and in their minds, I've just lost an opportunity to greatly improve those odds.

So again, I'M NOT ANGRY. I'm happy. I hope you make judge again next year and I intend to vote for you. I hope they decide the changes I've made in the print version are big enough to allow me to submit them as new versions if only so you can all get free copies. :)

I don't know why those people who had the blow up were so angry, but if they were anything like my friends, they were trying to defend someone and something they love. If anyone gives you too hard a time, try to remember that. :)

Anyway, good job. I hope you continue with the commentaries. I won't be at all upset if you say that Accordlands only beat me for the Best Setting nom because they submitted as one line and I didn't. :)

Now everyone who reads this, go to and buy all my products. I have artists to feed. :)

(Did I use enough emoticons in this comment, do you think?)

Anonymous said...

I made it clear I'm thankful for all the hard work you all did, right? I just found that thread and not I feel bad. :(

Unknown said...

Thanks Robert, but don't feel bad.

You're not wrong really, and neither are your friends and fans. I just read a great email from Tim, and I don't entirely disagree with the points he has to make, most specifically those you pointed out in your post.

I believe that a mistake was made. I don't know what it would have changed, since I don't know how the other judges would have voted, but regardless there was a breakdown in communication.

I believe that combining the entries was the right call. I do, however, think that there should have been a way to let everyone know that the decision was made. Honestly, I don't think anyone considered what problems it might cause. In nearly every case it would have made no difference. Most combined products were going to be on the nominations lists regardless. The problem lies in the fact that not everyone considered that combining their entries might be an option.

When asked about combining products it seemed a simple choice. The groundwork is there in the rules, even if it isn't spelled out. Making those kind of calls is exactly the reason judges are allowed to alter the rules.

What is missing is a good way to let publishers know that these kinds of decisions have been made. Writing every company to let them know about every minor decision is impractical, but the idea of a simple webpage or something with frequent updates that publishers can refer to might go a long ways toward keeping people informed and making the system as fair as possible. Perhaps it's something that should be looked into.

I also think that a central email address that goes to all judges and board members might not be a bad idea. One or more of us always seems to be busy and hard to get a hold of, but we do communicate with one another frequently. Emails that go to everyone would at very least ensure a quick response, even if it is, "We got it, but you'll have to wait until ---- gets a chance to see it."

Don't feel bad about saying you disagree with choices that were made, especially not here. I started this blog specifically for that purpose, so people could see what was going on, and let future judges know if there is something that needs to be changed in the years to come.

This is something that needs to be changed.