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Lone Wolf Staff
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 8,232

Old April 25th, 2016, 01:39 PM
The Realm Works Content Market is not out yet, and we’re keenly aware that we’re missing the release date we originally projected. However, we are converging towards a release. The focus of this status update is to outline both what we’ve been working on and what the months ahead hold in store.

Communications Changes

Before I discuss the product status, I first need to outline some important changes. Beginning with this update, we’re adopting a more matter-of-fact approach to our communication. With Liz’s untimely departure, the company is essentially all developers now, so our communications style will understandably be shifting towards simply providing the information you need instead of creating videos, worrying about word choices, and other marketing-focused efforts. More importantly, many things we had slated for the upcoming months will no longer be possible without Liz to execute them. The popular Spotlight Series must be discontinued, and our original plans for detailing the Content Market to everyone must be re-thought. Overall, we’re going to be greatly simplifying – and, out of necessity, scaling back – our communications.

An important change is that I’ll now be taking point on all communications regarding Realm Works. Unfortunately, I also have critical responsibilities on the development side to get the Content Market out, not to mention running the company. So I’m going to be spread even more thinly than I already was. Our responsiveness will take a hit, and we’re working to mitigate the impact as much as possible. Things are going to be a bit rocky for a while – your patience during this period will be greatly appreciated.

One thing we’ll be doing is semi-regular status updates, like this one. This will give me the opportunity to outline where we are in the overall process of getting the Content Market out and provide key details about what to expect at each stage. We’ll also be instituting an experimental Q&A model that we hope will work well. The goal of the Q&A model is to help me identify what information you most want to know, while also minimizing the amount of time I spend answering questions. That’s a critical consideration, since the time I spend answering questions takes time directly away from getting the Content Market out. Yep, it’s a classic Catch-22 situation that all of us simply have to soldier through together. The pieces for this experiment are being put into place now and I’ll provide more specifics in the next status update.


Now that those changes are explained, let’s shift to the product status. We expected to be rolling out the Content Market around now, but things haven’t gone as planned. I’m sure many of you simply want to know what we’re doing to fix things. I’ll get to that in just a moment. However, the reasons for the delay are important to how we’re proceeding, and I’m sure some of you are actually interested, so I’m going to outline the basics. But I’ll keep it short.

A key factor in the delays is the overall complexity of everything we’re doing. Much of the complexity lies under the covers in order to provide all the flexibility Realm Works affords, and a lot more complexity has come into play with Content Market functionality. We’re not just looking to build the means for us to deliver content that we prepare. We’re building a system that will ultimately allow users to share content with each other, merge their own creations with others, fully customize that content, etc. When I look at what we’re striving to do – and in many cases already do – relative to alternative tools, the stark contrast sometimes feels like comparing a model airplane to the space shuttle.

Another factor is that we’re doing things on both a conceptual and technical level that have never been done before. That’s not an exaggeration – we filed a patent application a while back that’s slowly working its way through the USPTO. So we’re constantly exploring new approaches and re-thinking our existing ones to refine them further and come up with even better ways to solve the myriad problems GMs face. Our goal is to ensure that using purchased content is a great experience for every user, from those who just want to buy and run a module as-is, to users who plan to heavily customize purchased content for use within their own world. Those two groups have very different wants and expectations that must both be smoothly accommodated, plus everyone in between.

The biggest factor in the delays, though, has been all the tendrils that extend between features we want to release now and those that are planned for further down the road. This is a reflection of the overall complexity, but the primary problem here is that we often have to thoroughly think through how planned features will work a couple years down the road in order to put a much simpler feature into place today without causing ourselves big headaches down the line.

Taking the Long View

You might be wondering why we’re taking the extra time now to worry about issues we won’t encounter till later, since it further delays the initial release. The more common strategy is to get the minimum necessary product created, sell it to generate revenue, and then worry about fixing and extending it later. Instead, we’re taking the long view. It boils down to a basic philosophy that it’s vastly cheaper in the long run to invest the time up front to do things right the first time. If we don’t do that, we’ll need to substantively re-engineer the product later to incorporate the necessary changes we’re skipping now, and the ultimate cost will be dramatically higher.

On the business side, taking the long view has definite risks. Not having the Content Market in place yet means no extra revenue coming in, which has its obvious drawbacks. It also affords competing products with the opportunity to establish themselves, which is a legitimate concern. However, Realm Works offers vastly more than a tailored wiki or an enhanced e-book, so we believe it would require a massive leap for competitors to close the gap with Realm Works in terms of actual power and utility. We’re betting that won’t happen over the next few months.

On the technical side, the cost of reworking things later is compounded in a drastic way with the Content Market. It’s a distinction between code versus data. Re-engineering the code to change things would be complicated enough, but we’ll also have vast amounts of data to deal with – your data. Re-engineering that data in a way that ensures it all still works smoothly makes future changes significantly more complicated (and correspondingly more time consuming).

From the consumer perspective, re-engineering efforts are also a big negative. While underway, re-engineering efforts look like nothing is being done to enhance/improve the product. With our tiny team, we don’t get the luxury of having some members focusing on a re-engineering effort while others move the product forward. We experienced this just last year, when a major release was focused on incorporating a long-planned re-engineering effort (converting stored data to HTML). That release sparked negativity from some users who lamented that we could have instead spent the time adding features they wanted.

Bottom line: Our goal is to do things right the first time and avoid the need for re-engineering as much as possible.

For those of you who haven’t been around from the beginning, we took this same “long view” approach with the initial launch of Realm Works. Prior to that launch, we took a lot of flak from prospective users who didn’t grasp the complexities of what we were doing. Once we finally got the release out, some of our most vocal detractors became vocal proponents, as they finally realized what was involved. We understand that it’s not easy waiting, but some things are worth waiting for – and we believe that’s true for Realm Works itself and the Content Market in particular.

Corrections in Place

The unfortunate truth is that the process of consistently uncovering new complexities and tendrils has repeated itself many more times than it should have, and that’s ultimately on me. I allowed myself to get overwhelmed with too many competing tasks and failed to stop, assess, and correct that problem. Until early this year, that is.

Over the past few months, we’ve completed a detailed analysis of what’s left to get the Content Market officially launched and ultimately evolved into the full vision down the road. We’ve taken the time to identify and think through all the gotchas and tendrils that lurk in the remaining tasks, figuring out how to solve them up front. I’m sure we’ve overlooked an important detail somewhere – in a product of this complexity, it’s nigh impossible to think of everything up front – but there should be very little that surprises us as this point.

Our projections should no longer be plagued by all the unforeseen gotchas and tendrils. From here, it’s a matter of executing the plan that we’ve detailed for ourselves. And we’re well underway in that effort.

What’s Next?

I’ll be doing another status update in the weeks ahead where I delve into the details of the upcoming Content Market. In the meantime, I’ll outline some of the basics here so everyone knows the general plan.

In a number of weeks, we’ll be releasing a major new version of Realm Works. There will be an assortment of new features included in this release, plus a vast amount of infrastructure for the Content Market will be put in place. However, there will be no Content Market functionality exposed at that time. This major release will likely be followed by one or two minor releases to address whatever niggly bugs slip through our testing. After that, the subsequent major release will unveil the initial functionality of the Content Market.

We’re going to be rolling out the Content Market functionality in phases, adding capabilities in an incremental fashion. We’ll start out with very limited capabilities in the first release, including an initial set of pre-built adventures for purchase. From there, we’ll introduce more and more features in a steady progression of smaller releases, along with more and more content for purchase. The list of planned product features that are tied to Content Market capabilities is extremely long, and a small number of those features will become available within each new release. This stepwise introduction of functionality should ensure that any problems arising in a particular release are limited in scope and can be more readily corrected before we introduce further capabilities that rely upon them. We’ll be detailing each planned phase of the rollout in a future status update, as well as the content you can look forward to seeing.

The lack of specific dates here is intentional. The upcoming major release includes a mammoth number of changes and enhancements. We’ve been testing our changes as we go, but we still need to circle back and do a thorough re-testing of everything, and it’s quite possible that we’ll uncover some bugs that have crept in and need to be fixed. Similarly, the initial launch of Content Market capabilities will include a lot of big, new pieces that require lots of testing. With our track record, quoting dates would simply be tempting fate at this point. That being said, if all goes smoothly, the first major release should be just a matter of weeks away.

That covers it for this update. Look for another status update in the weeks ahead. And stay tuned for the big Realm Works release that will get the ball officially rolling towards the Content Market rollout!

Last edited by rob; April 25th, 2016 at 02:02 PM. Reason: Forgot the link regarding Liz's departure; Some bold/italics got stripped <grr>
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