Friday, 14 December 2012

Reflections upon product description

Apologies, I'm going to mention my new geomorph tiles again.  Although this time it's more of a lesson in assumptions of terminology.  I was under the impression that the word "geomorph", mainly in the inherited context of TSR's Dungeon Geomorphs, were recognisably distinct from Dungeon Tiles, Floor plans, Battlemats and so on. I am aware that many of these terms are possibly trademarked, but there are also common in the linguistic shorthand that is part of the gaming table.  But then I too have described products as "geomorphic" when I've meant that they tesselate and fit together in a modular way, so confusion abounds, but still the it is refer to the original concept of Dungeon Geomorphs, which weren't always square... or dear...

The original
Dungeon Geomorphs
- not to scale for minis?!
In the OSR community, on blogs and in select forums there is little doubt as to what geomorphs are. Although for many players, I suspect, they seem to be an exercise in tessellatory map doodling and planning, but not necessarily something used in actual play. There are very unlike the 1 inch scale battlemats and 28mm figure friendly tiles - which are the staple of the in-game tabletop.  Geomorphs are fun to draw and play about with - but do you really use them in your games?  Do you know people, perhaps old school players, who use them on the table when other gaming aids are to hand?

In relation to this, my geomorph tiles have had reviews praising the art, but there's also a consistent bemusement at the fact that they are of such small scale.  I'm getting similar feedback on forums, emails and PMs.  This worries me - don't people know what geomorphs are?  It's completely natural, that by looking at my other products to wonder why these are not "1in=5ft" compatible.  Curiously, I found drawing the tiles very liberating precisely because I wasn't concerned with breaking up large areas over several pages.  Have I created an unusable product?  Am I miss-selling my maps?  They are selling well, right at the moment, by the way.  As a result of the confusion (and requests) I've had to add a disclaimer and clarification: Inked Adventures entry: on blogger, main site.

My message to small or indie  RPG publishers is to never assume that your customers are identifying your product correctly based on your well thought out description - even if it's in the right category, cheap as chips, with more pictures than you can shake a stick at.  The customer base may be a lot broader and more diverse in interests than your expert-community-bubble.  I mean, you're probably already publishing within several layers of niche.  Yes, yes, get the description right, this seems obvious, but I'm having a bit of a reality check here.  I'd rather sell almost nothing, then to sell well and disappoint.

Similarly,  I occasionally get queries about how best to print, mount and assemble my (normal scale) Square Tiles and Modular Sections.  I thought my modular sections and square tiles were self explanatory as products - because I was refering to my own almost-ancient gaming experiences, rather than seeing what players are currently doing with tiles.

When I was first playing - floor plans for figures were either on fold-out paper or re-usable designs printed on thin card and sold in a box.  Today, most computer printers can cope with thin white card (-stock) - I'm still fairly impressed about colour printers being in the home. As a teen used to dream of unlimited access to a photocopier or a colour printer.  As a result, I'm replicating 70s/80s low cost printing, when I suggest that products should be printed straight to card and trimmed.  I'm impressed by the result.  Maybe I still find colour DTP as exotic. ;)  Also, I think of print-outs from PDFs as fairly disposable - with my designs you can overlap sections, glue them, print more.  Perhaps I underrate my Inked Adventures tiles - print them, burn them - I don't care.  After shelling out for a downloadable PDF some gamers have told me that they like to have designs printed onto foam card - or they try to recreate the heavy locking jigsaw connections from Space Hulk, Descent' or the WotC's D&D boardgames.  Thin card can overlap without creating a step - some of the 3D-wall effects imply that pieces need to overlap - this falls apart when printed to chunky foam card.   I like the fact that my tiles don't employ complicated (actual) 3D elements (apart a set based on nothing more elaborate than a cube).   I look in astonishment at the fiddly creations of pillars and paper locking systems from other publishers - some of whom seem to be using 3D modelling software and then provide step by step instructions with photos of cutting boards and advice on paper-crafting tools.  Man, these Dungeon Masters are dedicated - after all, it's probably cheaper than Hirst moulds...   Including thorough assembly instructions is both professional and responsible.  There are some utterly amazing and beautiful 3D dungeon features out there, but I prefer to just attack a glossy print out with a big pair of kitchen scissors, so sometimes instructions and eloborate support pages would seem perhaps a little patronising, or am I assuming too much again?  Is this complexity and support customers expect as standard?  Am I belittling the products (or the customers) by not celebrating a world of the multifarious materials and crafting techniques, when my art would work just as well on the back of a cereal packet with nothing more than some dotted lines.  But I digress...

I've lost points in reviews for not using "layers" in my PDFs -I totally get why layers are used- on the right product layers are powerful tools- but just explaining how to use layers practically requires a video tutorial.  Generally I prepare the work in non-Adobe open source software and set them viewable on a majority of browsers and platforms.  Layers and special macros just don't work in non-Adobe browsers.  Why should the absence of layers detract from the substance of the product?  Maybe I will start using layers at some point, but my avoidance of them so far could be deemed a "feature" of usability.

I think the lesson here is that as a publisher I am making assumptions about my products and their audience, whilst the customers are comparing my work to some very high quality products designed for fearless paper-modellers who take pride in their purchases.  I guess it's really important to get the description right, but I get really anxious when I have to say what a product is not.

Heh, I've just remembered that Dungeons & Dragons used to be described euphemistically as "a game without a board".  Maybe detractive descriptions are not so bad?

Insightful or just a bit moany?  I have no idea, I just wanted to share.
Always confused, and perhaps fretful that I could be held accountable for neglect under the trade descriptions act. ;)

Thanks for reading.


  1. I think in the mis understanding you have found a terrific opportunity. If you were to provide a separate upsized set of the geomorphs for miniature play, clearly there is a ready and interested market! Perhaps include 2 normal geomorph sized pages and the 16 miniature ready tile pages as well? Out of adversity comes opportunity! I love the geomporphs and ministure sized tile versions of them would be tremendous! My dollars are standing by...

    1. Ah, you tempt me with the kerching of coinage.
      I will ponder on my next release.
      Thanks for commenting.
      The spirit of capitalism will prevail! :)