Friday the 13th Luckamancy
I've said a few times that missing updates will occasionally happen, and that I won't always be able/willing to share the reasons for it. This is one of those times. Due to unforeseen circumstances, we won't be able to post an update today.
I realize that's frustrating to hear. If you are concerned, please don't worry. If you are angry, please be kind. If you have ideas for how we should be doing things differently, please express those the way that you would want to receive suggestions about how to do your own job. This was an unavoidable blip, and regular updates will resume on Tuesday. Thanks for understanding, and for reading and supporting Erfworld.
In the meantime, since these have been popular in the Toolbox, here's a for-everybody post of more of my terrible panel roughs from earlier in Book 3. See if you can identify the panel and page they were for.
A suggestion, since it was requested: It would be good to know which it is case by case, "unable" or "unwilling". Because the distinction matters: If it's 'unable', then it's likely to be something we need to be worried about as readers in a legal or financial sense, whereas if it's 'unwilling' it's likely to be a more personal one.
Now we may have small problem in that Rob Balder and friends may not want to leave for North Korea without a little help. So we may need a white unmarked van, several people with free time, a few ski masks, and someone with good connections in smuggling cargo out of the US.
An unmarked van may be less effective than one that has "free candy" written on the outside, and a guy waiting with a shot of thorazine inside.
You know what? I love abstract scribbles. Abstract Vanna/Duncan I'm up for. If done right like Bunny's bundle of strings, it could be an entire page of greatness. But then that's venturing into 'Order of the Scribble' territory so I'd say don't use it for past scenes ha
Imagine Charlie just sending clients pictures of cute Beedogs, units whose basic function is to be cute and is a courtier beast (harvestable for honey and meat rations of course...) to clients. Until someone realised their teeth actually stings quite a bit (defence mechanism against rude people who just wants to pet its black and yellow fur with imputiny, non-lethal incapacitation that heals in one turn) and use them to capture units.
Longtime reader, very seldom poster here. I go back to day 1, book 1. And I read enough webcomics that I don't really get angry at missed updates anymore. But, as usual, there's more to it.
Specifically, this time, who cares? I can't know what those unforeseen circumstances were, and they could be bad (surprise surgery, death in a family, hole in the roof, that sort of thing), so I wouldn't dare criticize.
In general, though? This comic updates at a SNAIL'S pace, and you know it. You have an art team. You have this magnificent, professional apparatus. You have a web guy or service. You're not doing this yourself on a battered old Powerbook. I often go to bed at midnight on Tuesdays or Fridays... and there's no update. Clear cache, change browsers, check on my phone, you name it, not there. That's a missed update AFAIC. Yet you say you hadn't missed in what, over a year? If I can't reasonably read the comic on Friday, to have to wait to Saturday... that's a miss. I'm sorry. It's always there Wednesday or Saturday morning, but still. Claiming to not miss so often and yet seeing that so consistently is kind of shady, especially with regard to the pledge system (more on that below).
But that's even small change. Webcomics miss updates. No biggie, grand scheme of things and all. It's just that you do SO MUCH MERCHANDISING. I mean, SO much. You sell so much stuff. You hawk Toolshed subscriptions, 3D unit renders, books, calendars, physical merch, other games, it never ends. You seem to have all the time in the world to do that - because it makes you money - but not enough to update the comic? Sorry, not buying it.
I don't know how that Toolshed donation figure at the top of the page can be correct. If I had a thing I had to do twice a week that paid me almost $2,000, twice a freaking week... I'd move heaven and earth to make sure that got done, and on time. I don't know how you can afford to miss if that's what you're paid in donations. It would almost have to involve a sick relative or worse to get me to not meet that deadline, for nearly twice my monthly salary in a week! Even if that has to pay the rest of the team... The fact that you claim no "misses" but seem to miss all the time, even if only by an hour or two, makes me kind of suspicious about the toolshed, which is why I don't pledge, pure and simple.
I think you and your team could and should dedicate a bigger share of your resources to getting those 2 measly updates out per week, and maybe seeing to it that they actually advance the plot more than a half a conversation every 90 days, compared to how much time you seem to spend selling things BASED on the comic, but which AREN'T the comic. At this point you're a collectibles store that occasionally posts a comic, rather than a webcomic that has merch. Honestly. It's kind of (slightly) offensive. Wouldn't matter nearly as much if you updated at a decent pace and were seemingly more honest about when you "miss".
I know you gotta eat. Gotta pay the team. I know making the comic is hours-intensive and hard to coordinate. I know you pioneered some of the better merchandising that you do, and there's nothing wrong with it in principle. But other creative teams manage it, with longer and more art-intensive comics than yours. Sales just feels like it's completely taken over your comic. Look at your main page. There's more fan-posted content and "ads" for your other projects and merch and toolshed rewards than there are comic posts, by a pretty big margin. More than 2 to 1, maybe even 3 to 1. 1 to 1 would be more appropriate (not counting fan content, of course).
I hope that doesn't come out too mean, but I've been thinking about this for quite a while, at least since the last site revamp. I love the comic, love your writing and the art, all the different shifts and directions it has taken. I just feel kind of like walking onto a used car lot with how much Erfworld.com wants to sell me stuff, and how little comic it actually provides. Just saying.
Cue the flaming. I'm not mad at Rob or anybody. I don't hate the comic. This isn't even remotely the most crassly commercialized webcomic or overly-beggy creators online (that would be THunt, of course). I'm just disappointed by the direction in general. More and more merch, less and less comic (and the pace wasn't that great to begin with). Not looking to make anyone mad, just my opinion, not that it'll stop me from being flamed anyway. Just wanted to try.
@orobouros - (first off, I like your name!) I would have to disagree on the update misses. In the description of what constitutes an on time update he clearly states on or before 11:59PM EST of update day counts. I happen to be lucky enough to go to bed at a decent time when that happens so I can verify myself. I would not be a tool if I saw missed updates.
That said, I very much understand all of your points. (i'm not intending flame)
How about this idea?
Rob - could you find a way to place the post date and time on the archive page? (maybe modify the fancy website design?) That would make it absolutely clear when it happens and so barbarian moneymancers (like myself) can see everything is on the up and up.
I imagine that he said that in an attempt to pre-empt angry and/or patronising, ill-informed comments and instead encourage people, if they still feel the need to make suggestions about how he do his job better, to do so in a respectful and constructive manner, taking into account that they don't know the details of the Erf team's situation and that commenters here probably have less webcomics expertise than Rob and co do.
As to the actual suggestion of "have a buffer" - yes, this seems obvious. And Rob is clearly aware that this is the obvious solution. I do think it's worth pointing out though that a buffer isn't something that just happens: it has to be built. That means slowing down the update rate, temporarily suspending updates or working harder than usual to gain time on the schedule. Given that the first option is something nobody wants, and the second is entirely pointless, the third is the only viable one. But when you're struggling to post on time as it is, you're in no position to build a buffer: by the time you need it, it's too late to create it.
As such, comments about the necessity a buffer at this point are not particularly helpful, especially since we know Rob is aware that such a thing is desirable and has mentioned it in the past, and we can assume he is doing everything possible to keep the updates on a reasonable schedule.
It's funny that @orobouros complained about Erfworld over-merchandising. I've been saving up shmuckers for a long time, hoping for new stuff to buy, but nearly all of the merchandise is either stuff that's been around for a long time, or stuff that I've already received in supporting the Kickstarters. The subscription system doesn't really create pressure for Rob or the Erfworld team to create new physical merchandise - they're getting my money either way.
But that's just a tiny imposition, really. I'm just waiting, patiently and hopefully, for a Wanda figurine.
My only (small) complaint with a "missed" comic is that the current system incentivizes Rob to immediately push it back to the next applicable launch date, rather than simply launch it late. As a fan, I'd rather have the comic in hand as soon as possible. But a late comic doesn't earn Erfworld any money, so it stands to reason to push it back.
And in addition to THAT is, as a Toolshed subscriber, I don't really WANT my subscription/donation/whatever to be withheld. If there was a "pay anyway" option, I would have it check marked. But Rob has already commented on how the added pressure helps his process, so I respect it. So there's quirks abound with the current system, and I haven't really got an alternative proposal, so I don't complain.
I would say @orobouros that your frustration is justified, so thanks for sharing it. I wouldn't go so far as to say that Team Erfworld's actions amount to anything "shady" though. I'm in a similar situation in a different industry (video games), and stuff like missed launch times and outages always risk seeming nefarious or due to apathy. In my experience this is never the case. Boop just happens.
@Rob Good luck with whatever's gone wrong.
So, if I understand this, really you are never at risk of having a loss due to a late submission. If it is not on time, it will be posted for next paying time. It does reduce your income but also reduces your work. There are no late submissions. All submissions are on-time. So why do you not say that tools will pay for all book pages as delivered. Attempts will be made for Tuesday and Friday, but if date is missed, the page will be released at neat due date. That is more accurate description of what has been happening. I should not be one to complain as I am not paying. I had been facilitating between 0.50 per update actually published (which seems to get me no improvement and $3 per which seems like a lot per month.
In this case, I wonder if the end-of-December problem (whatever it was) affected today's update (seems to coincide with what I imagine to be the time set to create the buffer - 2-4 updates early)
At the end of the day, we don't know (and probably won't know) what the reason is; it's not really fair to say "this is not acceptable" without knowing the "why".
Nobody is being billed for the missed update. It does not affect anyone's lives or income (unless you have some weird... Erfworld Podcast...?). Erfworld is not big enough to have round-the-clock staff that will take care of everything. Breaks/misses will happen.
If you're angry because you want to know what happens... yay! Erfworld fan! Just... take a deep breath and relax. If you're angry simply because there's a break... perhaps other forms of entertainment may suit you better? ^^
If you're angry simply because there's a break... perhaps other forms of entertainment may suit you better? ^^
I think it's more of a case where... in the past, there were suggestions to have a buffer to prevent situations where an update can't come on time due to external factors. This was seen as a good idea and a buffer was implemented. It was even touted for a while prominently on the site. The last time an update was missed, Rob assured us there was a buffer.
Now, as I said, I believe it and I've taken to telling myself it's his commitment to double-checking every page on the day it goes out that causes these issues. So when Rob says "buffer", he means a different thing from what I think or am used to. Usually when someone speaks of a buffer in webcomics, it's "ready-made pages in advance", where they are 100% complete and can be posted effortlessly on the day an update is due.
There may be some frustration where the definition of "buffer" differs between some/the readers and the Erfworld staff.
It's like coming to an ice cream parlor for a scone, and the salesman says he
A) cannot sell you any scones today
B) definitely has scones in stock
It's confusing, because to some (many?) "in stock/buffer" means that you're able to supply it. And when you then don't supply it, the confusion can give rise to frustration. An update on what the "Erfworld Buffer" means could probably remove these confusions/frustration/pain points.
So when Rob says "buffer", he means a different thing from what I think or am used to.
Yeah, that's the issue. I can understand and don't really mind that the Erfworld Team doesn't have the surplus throughput to keep up with the update rate they are aiming for and, at the same time, build a real buffer to absorb those periods where production goes lower for any reason: holidays, RL interferences, merch campaigns... If they can't deliver two pages per week consistently, well, they can't, no big deal for me.
I have Erfworld in my feedly.com and click the new page link whenever it appears, I am not as starving for an update as to refresh any page to see if one has come up, RSS is a perfectly fine system to keep track of these things.
But I don't understand Rob insisting that they have a buffer, because if they really had there wouldn't be any misses, other than those due to catastrophic server failures. That's the commonly accepted definition of a buffer: finished pages ready for publishing in advance of their due deadline, possibly fed to an automated publishing system so you don't even have to worry about clicking the "Publish" button at fixed times in the week.
So my respectful and grateful observation to Erfworld Team would be just plain admitting that they don't have the resources to keep an uninterruptable bi-weekly update rate and that sometimes there will be misses, and let their audience deal with it however they want. Writing confusing stuff about obviously ineffective kind-of-buffers is just unnecessary lousy Signamancy.
Okay, I admit I could have chosen a few of my words better. I did not mean to imply any deliberate impropriety. What I meant about update timing and the toolshed donations is this: from my perspective, updates VERY OFTEN hit at 11:59 or even appear to miss by a few minutes or more (I got to bed and don't continue to check after that). Even if, by Rob's clock, they're hitting at 11:59, that seems slightly dishonest to me, cutting it so thin, so often. Yes, he's entitled to the donations per the rules he's set up and the donors agreed to. But, realistically, we still don't get to read the comic until Wednesday or Saturday.
If you're gonna consistently post in the absolute last minute of your Tuesday or Friday schedule, then at least call it a Wednesday or Saturday schedule, to be forthright with your readers. Because that's effectively what it has been; you and I get to read new Erfworld on Wednesday and Saturday. Almost all the time.
Yes, I know how human nature and teamwork ends up working. If the "official" date is Wednesday it's just going to slowly slip to 11:59 on Wednesday then. That's all I'm saying: do better than that. Don't promise "updates always on Tuesday" when the number of seconds of Tuesday available for me to read the comic is consistently less than 60. Even if you're not able to post before 10 pm on a consistent basis. Just say Wednesday then. That's all. Doesn't feel so dishonest then, whether it's adhering to the letter of the intended "rules" or not.
Thanks everyone BTW for taking my post in the intended spirit. I expected more defensive venom. You folks are a credit to the community here.
@Orobouros : Rob seems to be suffering from the same type of ailment than I do, meaning I need the pressure of the deadline to call something done. This would mean that, really, it's a choice between the current system and no updates at all. I would guess that a lot of the last minute time is spent bringing in improvements toward perfection, polish and even sometimes last minute ideas meant to either quensh our curiosity regarding one of the specific aspect of the world (Caesar claiming the title "Caesar" seemed that way to me) or giving us some witty food for thought (because, you know, confusing us also seems like a favorite game of his - and we love you for it, Rob, please, keep it on !). These kind of details are not necessary to me (they sometime seem to take the polish out of a potentially previously planned story) but some people love it and Erfworld looks like a success so Rob's choice is probably the right one considering his fanbase ( I'd personnaly take a relaxing evening over the additional stress anyday of the week myself, though)
This would mean that calling it a Wednesday or Saturday schedule would only effectively push the publishing time one day further, and still around 23:59. It also means that a complete directly publishable buffer seems off the charts in the current situation, so I'm personnaly planning more with the occasional missed update (which will probably result in an awesome early next update) than with pre-prepared full comics to fill it early in the morining without more polishing work from the team.
Still, I'm like you, I love my Erfworld and hate to wait 'till the last minute to discover the new developments and the first few witty comments.
@NotABot : that first pannel is pure genious, it HAS to become a thing, it absolutely has to !
@Rob and Team : Thanks for the status report, keep up the good work and enjoy your lives.
@ElKingo : Moar beedogs, plz !
I hope everything is ok in your worlds. My only suggestion would be to post on Facebook when you're going to miss an update. I use FB at my notifier that a new page is up, so that I don't have to be constantly refreshing the site all day long, and it'd be nice to be notified that you've made an update even if it's to tell us that there's not going to be a comic.