Mailbag… Sorta

There have been two subject that people have asked me a bunch of question about in the past couple weeks: Team Covenant’s move to limit max subscriptions for first edition FAB and my interview on the main LSS page that went up recently. These two topics have essentially zero overlap, but neither is really worth an entire piece by itself, so I’ve lazily combined them into this single article. You’re welcome? But seriously, there is no real connection aside from the aforementioned “people asked me to talk about them” element, so feel free to skip one of the sections if you’re not interested – you won’t miss anything. There’s also a bit at the end about an upcoming contest I’ll be running with some LSS-provided promos.

TC Subscriptions: The Good Times Are Over

One of the big pieces of news in the financial end of the FAB world over the past month was Team Covenant’s decision to add a retroactive cap to their first edition subscriptions. They were previously unlimited and have since been reduced to six cases per person. People who had more on their account had their number reduced to comply with the new maximum. Just so you have context, I’m looking at this change from the perspective of someone who lost several cases as a result. I’ll develop this position more in a moment, but my quick take is that I think the decision itself is fine (it’s seemed inevitable, to be honest), but the rollout kind of sucked.

I’m not sure how many people were affected by this change, but I’m going to guess that it was probably around fifty people, with 5-20% of those being people previously getting 100+ boxes. This is total wild speculation on my part. Despite my best efforts, I’ve been unable to get any sort of reliable data on it, and I don’t expect TC to ever tell us either how many people were affected or how many boxes were redistributed as a result. I do know a decent amount of people who were impacted, and I think most of us have seen the writing on the wall since last winter. The big question was whether it would apply retroactively or not or would just prevent people above the max from adding more when/if TC got their hands on larger allotments, which was something that seemed like it might be in the cards post-Monarch. But, as I noted, the change itself isn’t really a problem in my mind. This new policy seems more in line with how TC operates as a company (I wrote a longer piece of them awhile back). They’re player-focused and not looking at their bottom line as the first consideration. They’re also not oblivious, they know that they could be selling these boxes for 150%-200% of what they are and still sell out with ease and have opted not to do that. Given that decision, it makes sense not to act as a supplier for investors who don’t own their own store or a backroom deal with one. TC subs were free money for Monarch, and they’ll be free money for Tales of Aria too. That is unlikely to be the case forever, but in the interim, I don’t think that they have any obligation to continuously give large piles of free money to a handful of people who made a good call at the end of 2020 and locked in big subs before they closed them out. All of that is fine with me. Like I said, I’m not bitter about the new direction; I expected something like this.

What I’m really not in love with was how it was rolled out, and more than how, when. The change for TOA came pretty late in the game, well after other major sellers had already put out their product and raised prices multiple times. As noted, the TC sub change probably didn’t affect many of us, but for those it did, it has been a pretty a shitty experience to find yourself with few options by the time you found out you were getting cut. Having talked to other affected people, the general consensus is that many of us would have made different choices when $150 and below TOA boxes were still available if we knew we were losing a bunch of cases that we had previously assumed were a sure thing. As I stated in my most recent Rathe Times piece, I think we’re getting close to the point where TOA prices are risky compared to just picking up more MON first off Facebook or Discord where sub-$1000 cases are still a thing. If TOA is a bigger print run than MON, you could definitely get burnt picking up $200 boxes. As a result, I know that I’ll probably end up with less TOA than I wanted. The current prices aren’t appealing enough to go deeper, so I’ll likely just not open much product and buy everything via singles, which sucks, since opening boxes is fun, but I’m unsure that ToA boxes are the best place to put money right now, especially with a lot of older, rarer cards at the lowest they’ve been in months.

What’s been odd to me is some mild backlash directed at TC from people who didn’t lose any subs. People seem upset about how quickly the new subs went out of stock once they went up for sale. What did people expect? TC was posting product at like 50% of its current market value, of course it was going to evaporate. There was never going to be a scenario where everyone was happy because there was always going to be much less product in TC’s hands than people who wanted it at MSRP. That said, Team Covenant is likely putting more first edition product into player hands at MSRP than any other US retailer (probably more than most of the rest of them combined to be honest). I’m kind of at a loss as to what people who weren’t cut expect out of them? Is it just an even more stringent limit? While that is a thing they could do, I do think that there is some merit to cultivating a degree of loyalty among your customer base. Cutting everyone down to a box or a case probably hits a much larger number of customer than this move did. But, you don’t really want to alienate or piss off a big portion of your customers. Right now people with subs aren’t going to cancel them no matter how low TC puts the maximum or how short notice the cuts are. Everyone will take whatever we can get as far as MSRP boxes goes, but that might not be the case forever. And if it ever ceases to be, TC doesn’t want to be in a position where their subscribers were just waiting for the first chance to jump ship and go somewhere else.

The Interview

It feels weird to write something about an interview since it’s literally almost an entire article of me talking, but I woke up the day after it went live to a deluge of Discord and Facebook tags and private messages that were a mix of people who were just saying “congrats” or that it was cool that I got interviewed and people who wanted to know about things I’d said in it or what the process itself was like. So I’m just going to try to write up a little bit about what it was like on my end and touch on some of the things people have asked me about the most.

Like, Like, Like

Yeah, so reading the interview pretty much had me dying inside because it’s direct transcription and I say “like” a while damn lot. Some people remarked on this in the terms of LSS “doing [interviewees] dirty,” which I don’t know that I’d agree with per say. In general, I feel like direct transcription always reads rough because we all have hesitations, false starts, and other disfluencies in our speech, but we don’t really focus on it in a conversational setting. However, it’s super obvious when you’re reading it. One of the challenges of interviewing people is whether you transcribe things exactly, lightly edit responses for a “cleaner” presentation, or edit but do it via judicious use of “[…]” and “[sic]”. It’s not really a clear cut choice, so while I personally would have vastly preferred a cleaned version that took out my hesitation words, that’s clearly rooted in my personal desire not to look dumb and inarticulate whereas the choice to include them could have been made around a desire to preserve things exactly as I said them. And, to some degree, what actually is the best representation of me? Is cleaning out the “likes” the same as a Photoshop touchup on a picture? I mean, I also wish I had the Photoshop skills to touchup my pictures, so there’s a definite through line there on me wanting to present a controlled image of myself.

That said, the “preserve things exactly as they were said” theory does run up against an issue that happened several times in the piece where they opted to make changes to avoid mentioning any other games by name. I referenced Magic, Netrunner, and D&D at various points in the actual interview, and those never appear in the LSS article. I didn’t record the interview so this is partially from memory, but the final paragraph is actually a longer discussion cut up a bit in ways that aren’t entirely obvious to the reader. I don’t know if the “…” indicates I paused there of it it’s showing an omission. Usually […] goes in for speech that has been omitted by the person writing it up whereas “…” is sometimes used that way, but also can indicate the speaker paused. I do know that I 100% namechecked Spice8Rack, whose video is the one referred to in that final paragraph. An obvious instance of this sort of change is “I feel like there’s just been a lot of overall shift in the industry- [tabletop RPG’s are] a great example.” Here, “[Tabletop RPG’s are]” was originally “Dungeons and Dragons is”. 

To get into the weeds here, this is actually a meaningful change to me personally because what I’m talking about isn’t precisely RPG’s across the board. D&D, specifically, looks way more diverse in terms of who is playing it these days than when I was growing up. The reason that tieflings are a core race in the Player’s Handbook (and that their celestial counterparts, Aasimar, didn’t show up until Volo’s Guide to Monsters) is in no small part due to how they had long been popular among players who identified with their in-game status as “others” or “outsiders” (LGBTQ people, for instance, love a tiefling). As these groups of people became increasingly visible as content creators –and they were definitely a major part of the D&D renaissance and its current popularity– D&D being a game that gave a shit about people who weren’t just white dudes became apparent in design changes (even if they’ve been clumsy at times). Meanwhile in my experience, Pathfinder, which had previously been primarily a home for people that didn’t like the mechanical changes from D&D 3.0/3.5 to 4e, has become the chosen refuge for a lot of salty people who don’t like diversity and just want to go back to the the aforementioned all-white dude tables they remember playing at in high school where women existed solely as objects and they never had to think of things like “is it maybe racist that dark-skinned elves are evil as a racial characteristic?” (some thing the author who put the Drow on the map even acknowledges is an issue). On the other hand, “there is a large game out there” actually is a thing I said. Since I knew they weren’t going to print “Magic,” I framed that bit somewhat jokingly.

Now does the swap from “D&D” to “tabletop RPG’s” matter? It depends. If you are invested in that nuance I discussed above, it matters. If you aren’t, it doesn’t. Part of the challenge of an interview is that you’ve often got parallel or even competing interests – I, the interviewee, want to look smart/interesting/whatever or, at least minimally, I want to not embarrass myself. LSS presumably has some goals as well both in selecting me as a person to be interviewed and in picking what elements of the interview to present to their audience. They have more power than me in this case because they get to choose how to edit the article. For instance, it’s pretty clear that one of their goals is to scrub discussions of games that aren’t FAB (which, fair, not giving you competitors namedrops on your company page isn’t an unreasonable approach). The actual interview as a fair bit longer than what made it into the article. Some of that shows up in summaries between quotes and some of it is entirely absent. Is that bad? Nope! Some of the things that didn’t make the article are also bits I left the interview feeling like I didn’t give a great answer to, and I’m glad they didn’t show up in the final product. So, it’s a complex set of choices that I don’t think has a discreet right or wrong approach. My personal desire for precision and control is why I write content as opposed to streaming it. It’s why, if I ever do add video to the site, it will be scripted.

One thing that didn’t make the final interview (I assumed it wouldn’t) but that I do want to note is that I do appreciate that LSS hasn’t just straight up blackballed me. I think the FAB fandom overall is what I would characterize as “aggressively positive” about the game. I, by contrast, feel like I probably put out a higher percentage of critical pieces than most content creators. This isn’t to say that I’m not emotionally invested in the game (I wouldn’t be writing these articles if I wasn’t), but we’ve definitely seen critical positions lead to content creators getting snubbed by other companies. The obvious one is the Professor not getting a Strixhaven preview card –like the biggest Magic channel on YouTube whose channel is themed on college, didn’t get a preview card for the college set. That’s a hell of a “screw you”– In my head, I’m always one article away from them blacklisting me, but they haven’t yet, and that’s cool. If it’s not already apparent, I’m not really moderating myself to stay on anyone’s good side. As a non-monetized content creator, I’m kind of in this nice space where I’m not really beholden to anyone since I run this entire operation at a cash loss of about a couple hundred dollars a year. So, there’s no real money to lose if the content I want to create turns off some segment of the player base. That LSS has given me some visibility via a Monarch spoiler and the recent interview is definitely neat, and I appreciate it, but I don’t really write things with the thought of “is this going to get me in trouble?”

Comin Soon

On the topic of LSS not blacklisting me, they actually gave me some promos to hand out. I’ll be having a contest to distribute these shortly (hopefully posting it sometime mid-week). I had an initial idea of how I was going to do this, but they gave me a lot more promos than I imagined they would, so I’m trying to figure out the best way to adjust my initial plan so that it makes sense with this volume. Most likely, I’ll be handing them out in playsets. Anyway, more details to come on that front, but for now, I can tell you that: it will cost nothing to enter; you won’t need to subscribe to anything; you’ll have to do something creative; and it will intersect with some of the topics I’ve written about before.

Oh, one final interview note: I was really tempted to give LSS an outtake picture from the same shoot in my dining room as the one I used, but I ultimately went with the one in the actual article, because I am a coward. Now I regret not using this one because I hate all pictures of me anyway, but this one is at least funny

Yeah, so one of our cats is off frame about to take out the improvised lighting we set up. Good times. Anyway, contest soon; see you then!

*Header Image – The Pits: Criminal Underground by GRAFIT Studio

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