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rob
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Old September 6th, 2017, 12:30 AM
We're getting a bunch of different threads on Hero Lab Online and Starfinder, which is making it harder to keep track of things. Some people are even posting the same things in multiple of these threads, which just muddies up everything. So, in the interest of keeping things more manageable for everyone, I've closed some of the various threads and directed everyone to make further posts in this thread.

Please help us all out by posting your questions and comments here. I'm also going to be posting some of my thoughts on the subject here shortly, including answers to various questions that have been raised.

Thanks in advance for everyone's cooperation!
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rob
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Old September 6th, 2017, 12:34 AM
I’ve been keeping tabs on what everyone’s been saying about Hero Lab Online and Starfinder. While I’ve been disappointed by some of the negativity, it certainly hasn’t been surprising. Let’s face it. A large contingent of gamers react negatively to change. That’s been true for the past 40+ years that I’ve been a gamer, and it’s borne out whenever any company in this industry announces something new that is substantively different from the past. The reality, though, is that change is inevitable, and any business that wants to stay afloat either needs to evolve or die. The latter doesn’t do anyone any good, so that leaves the former as the only viable path forward, which inevitably sparks the ire of those who don’t like change.

With that in mind, I’ve cobbled together some of my thoughts on a handful of the questions, comments, and assertions that I’ve seen presented in assorted threads here on the forums and elsewhere. My hope is that, with a little more context and understanding, some of the negative reactions to change may be allayed. So here goes…


Subject: Why are we seemingly abandoning the desktop?

We’re not. Anyone claiming we are is making significant assumptions that don’t reflect what’s actually occurring.

A few of users have asserted we’re retiring the desktop version because we’re calling the existing Hero Lab product “Hero Lab Classic”. They’ve inferred from the name that we’re going to stop supporting Hero Lab Classic, since that’s the fate of a “Classic” product. That’s simply not accurate. Let’s look at a prominent example in another industry for a more appropriate comparison. Last I checked, Coke Classic is still going strong. We’re merely trying to differentiate the two products. And we expect them to run in parallel for quite some time.

Users have asked why we didn’t call it “Hero Lab Desktop”. We considered that. But what about the iPad version? We can’t very well call it Hero Lab Desktop when there are a huge number of gamers using it on the iPad, can we? We explored lots of names and settled on “Classic” because it accurately embodied the product. Nothing more, nothing less.

We’ll be continuing to augment every game system we currently support on Hero Lab Classic. We have new material in the pipeline for Pathfinder, Shadowrun, Call of Cthulhu, and more. All of that material will be appearing in the Hero Lab Classic product. Once we have those game systems ported over to Hero Lab Online, new material will come out for both products. We have no plans to stop supporting those game systems in Hero Lab Classic at any point.

The real question centers on new game systems. Hero Lab Classic is over 10 years old, so there were lots of opportunities for us to improve things dramatically with the new version. We’ve implemented aspects that customers have been asking about for years. So that creates a problem with entirely new game systems. If we implement a new game system to take advantage of all the improvements we made for Hero Lab Online, then it won’t work on Hero Lab Classic. If we want it to also work on Hero Lab Classic, we’ll need to re-implement major portions of it all over again on the second platform – primarily the interface, which is a major undertaking. Those are resources we could instead focus on either adding cool new features to Hero Lab Online or migrating game systems from Hero Lab Classic onto Hero Lab Online so you can have them in both places.

This is the crux of why we’ve said there are currently no plans to put Starfinder on Hero Lab Classic. We need to focus our efforts on evolving Hero Lab Online. It is entirely possible we’ll get to a point where we choose to put Starfinder in Hero Lab Classic. However, it would be disingenuous for us to say that we have such plans at this time when we don’t, so we shot it straight with everyone and openly acknowledged that we don’t currently plan to do it.

There’s also the question of new features. We’re not planning to add major new features to Hero Lab Classic at this point, primarily because the product is pretty darn complete. There’s not much we can add without introducing a server-based, online solution. Adding the server-based component to Hero Lab Classic is utterly impractical for a small company like us, so we’re going to add those features to Hero Lab Online, where they can be added vastly more efficiently. While this may be perceived as “abandonment” by some, the situation is really a testament to how complete Hero Lab Classic is as a product, in terms of its overall functionality and utility.


Subject: Why are we going online instead of sticking with the disconnected model?

The answer here is two-fold: device support and new capabilities. Our customers want to run Hero Lab on any device they have access to. Android is a glaring example. In order to do that with the existing product, we would have to create a new instance of Hero Lab on every platform. As a tiny company, we simply don’t have the resources to do that. By going with a web-based solution, we’re able to support all the major devices (desktop, tablets, phones, etc.) on all the major platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, etc.). Yes, there are subtle differences between devices and platforms that need to be dealt with, but the effort involved with a web-based solution is a fraction of what would be required for implementing a native solution on multiple device/platform combinations.

Going to an online model also opens up a wealth of opportunities for us to add new capabilities to the product that have been heretofore impossible (or, at least, impractical). I delve into this subject in a subsequent question below, so please read on for more details.

An additional benefit of going online is that Hero Lab becomes directly accessible to all the various VTTs and other digital tools that exist. Hero Lab Online is built around a RESTful API. This means that other tools can directly communicate with our server. With Hero Lab Classic, users must convert a Hero Lab portfolio for use in a VTT (e.g. d20Pro), and then there is no way to get it back out. And the VTT has to implement all the mechanics themselves that already exist in Hero Lab. With Hero Lab Online, the VTT can make requests to our server and let Hero Lab do everything it does best. Then the VTT can focus on doing all the cool stuff it does best.


Subject: Aren’t we worried about losing customers who object to the online model?

Of course we are. Like with any evolutionary step in any product, though, there’s no way we’re going to make everyone happy, and we’d be insane to try. When an RPG publisher releases a new edition of a game system, does everyone switch to it? Nope. Does the publisher go out of business because of it? Not if the new edition also brings new fans into the system. And that’s the situation in which we find ourselves.

By going with a web-based, online solution, we can support a vast array of devices and platforms. This will yield a lot more gamers that will finally be able to utilize Hero Lab. More importantly, though, internet access is becoming progressively more ubiquitous every year, and the number of users without access will plummet over the next couple years. Many places that lacked good internet access a year ago now provide it, and many that lack it today will have it next year. Therefore, the number of gamers who can’t leverage Hero Lab Online will diminish steadily until that number becomes inconsequential. We’re not quite to that point yet, but we’re also not that far off.

There will definitely be a subset of our existing user base that will be caught in the transition. Those are users that regularly operate in an environment without decent internet service, and that means Hero Lab Online won’t be a viable option for them. I’d love to create a product that is ideal for everyone, but that’s simply not possible, especially for a tiny company like ours. So we have to weigh the tradeoffs and figure out what’s going to yield the best results for the maximum number of users. We believe that an online solution achieves that objective.

The critical detail to keep in mind here is that we’re taking great pains to ensure that everyone who has invested in Hero Lab in the past is in solid shape. Absolutely everything we support right now will continue to be fully operational and continue to be further developed. None of our existing users are losing access to anything with this evolution. And switching to the online model is entirely elective for users of all our existing game systems. If our motives were different, we would have followed the example of many other companies, forcing everyone to switch immediately by wholly abandoning the old product and leaving existing users high and dry. In stark contrast here, we’re taking significant steps to preserve everything for existing users.

The only thing truly impacted by this evolution is the new Starfinder game system. If someone wants Hero Lab support for Starfinder, then Hero Lab Online is the way to gain access. As outlined in a question above, supporting Starfinder on Hero Lab Classic will require a significant amount of additional work that doesn’t make sense for us to replicate at this time. So existing Hero Lab users who also want Starfinder but don’t want Hero Lab Online don’t currently have an option from us. But we’re in no way taking anything away from them. They simply can’t use the new game system.

While being unable to use the new product is certainly not ideal, the sense of betrayal conveyed by a few users feels excessive to me. Our focus is on delivering a product that addresses the needs of the maximum number of users we can reach. There’s no way we can make everyone happy. I wish that wasn’t the case, but there’s no way around it. We’re not obligated to continue doing things the old way when it’s not conducive to growing the product and attracting new users.

From my perspective, this is similar to computer games. When a company releases a new video game, they frequently require users to have a newer graphics card to run that game. If the required graphics card is from the last few years, the vast majority of consumers can play the game without any problems, but there are those with older cards that will have to upgrade their systems to play the game. In our case, the majority of gamers who play RPGs will be able to fully utilize Hero Lab Online, because they have internet access available. There are also those without the necessary internet access, and they will be unable to use the product without first addressing the internet access requirement, just like making sure you have a sufficiently powerful graphics card. For those attending events where there is no wifi, remember that Hero Lab Online caches everything locally so you’ll have an offline view of your character. Plus Hero Lab Online only transmits data that has actually changed, which means it will typically consume less data over the course of a game than browsing your favorite websites for a few minutes, thus making it extremely realistic to use via mobile connections.


Subject: Will Hero Lab Online support group play?

That’s a core objective for Hero Lab Online. Having a central server orchestrate everything means that every device can “talk” to each other. I don’t mean a chat system. I’m referring to things like the GM assigning damage for a fireball to four of the five PCs caught within it, with one taking half damage (save made) and another taking none (save made with Evasion). Or a player hitting an Orc that’s run by the GM and assigning 8 damage to it. With the fireball, the player simply acknowledges the damage received. With the Orc, the GM acknowledges the damage. [Note: My examples use Pathfinder, since that game system is by far the most popular among our users, but the concepts apply to any game system.]

Let’s take this a step further. The bard buffs the entire party (e.g. Inspire Courage) and applies that buff to everyone. There’s no need for each player to individually add and configure the buff on their PC. The wizard buffs a few members of the party (e.g. Haste) and chooses which PCs gain that buff. Again, there’s no need to individually add and configure the buff on each PC. Now the bard switches to a different song. Everybody gets swapped over with the new buff instantly. No need for each player to reconfigure things. And if your group is anything like mine, half the time somebody will screw up one of the buffs at this point, when it’s all done independently.

The same logic applies to conditions and effects. The wizard casts a spell that causes a group of creatures to be Dazed, so he designates them appropriately and the GM simply confirms them. Another PC uses an ability to trip a creature, assigning it the Prone condition. The GM has a creature use an ability to Stun a PC. It all works smoothly and streamlines the experience for all involved, letting everyone focus more on the game than the fiddly details.

Party loot is another great opportunity here. How does your group currently manage all the extra stuff they’ve acquired? Imagine having a simple repository where that’s all tracked. All the players/PCs can view it. At the end of an encounter, everything the party finds goes into the “stash”. Gear can then be assigned from the stash to individual PCs, and PCs can put stuff back into the stash. Let’s say the party finds a +2 Longsword that gets assigned to the Fighter. Now the +1 Longsword that the Fighter used to have can be assigned to a different PC that is still using a non-magical weapon. With a non-online version of Hero Lab, the stash has to be managed by a single person, and each assignment of gear must be manually handled by each player or the GM. That’s all readily doable for a simple +1 weapon. But what if the gear involved is more complex and needs to be constructed properly by each user? That gets to be quite a hassle. And what if the gear is such that only certain aspects of the item have been revealed by the GM? That’s entirely possible with the online model and utterly impossible without the central server.

Starfinder introduces the concept of a communal starship for the party. That can be easily shared with an online model. And Starfinder combat has different PCs taking on different roles on the ship. With the online model, there are many opportunities to do things that simply can’t be done with a disconnected desktop model.

We have a variety of other new features planned as well, but this should give you a sense of the opportunities that exist with Hero Lab Online and that we’re planning to bring to life within the product.


Subject: Will group play support be present in the initial launch of Hero Lab Online?

I’ve seen a few people posting that we’ll have all these various group play features in place when Hero Lab Online launches. In the interest of clarity, that will not be the case. As much as we’d love to have all those capabilities in place at launch, it’s completely unrealistic. Our first priority is robust character creation, similar to the capabilities of Hero Lab Classic. After that, will be progressively introducing more capabilities and game systems.


Subject: Why did we dive into creating Hero Lab Online while Realm Works was still not complete?

The answer to this one is simple. Hero Lab pays the bills and there was a solid business case for pursuing Hero Lab Online.

The development of Realm Works is subsidized by revenues from Hero Lab. Until that changes, Hero Lab will remain our top priority, and any other pursuit is inherently secondary. For those who have voiced displeasure about our prioritization of the Content Market over other features for Realm Works, that dependency remains a critical factor. Once the Content Market brings in sufficient revenue to make Realm Works entirely self-sufficient, the dynamic between the two products completely changes. That’s why the Content Market has been our focus.

We’ve been talking about Hero Lab Online for a few years now. We even delayed starting work on it due to my desire to focus on Realm Works, much to the chagrin of some around here. However, we reached a point where the business case for Hero Lab Online trumped my desire to complete Realm Works first, so we had to move forward on it. While the Hero Lab and Realm Works teams are substantially distinct, there is some overlap (our server guru and me). Assigning those two resources to Hero Lab Online slowed things down further for Realm Works. It was a tough choice for me, personally, but it was necessary. Thankfully, we’re almost across the finish line on the Realm Works Content Market, and Hero Lab Online is coming together nicely. So we’re in good shape with both products.


Subject: Why should users trust the timeframes we’ve given for Hero Lab Online?

A few users have cited our abysmal history with Realm Works as reason for not trusting anything we say regarding Hero Lab Online. While I can understand that reaction, there are some stark contrasts between the two products that everyone should keep in mind.

The biggest contrast is that pretty much everything we’ve done for Realm Works had not been done before, while pretty much everything we’re doing for Hero Lab Online is well-defined and understood. When you’re doing something truly innovative, the number of unknowns and surprises is astounding, and all of those translate into setbacks from the original plan. That’s life with Realm Works. Fortunately, Hero Lab Online can only fall into that trap with a few aspects. And we’ve done our homework in order to suss out those aspects and avoid surprises.

A few people have also noted that we’re being significantly more cautious in our wording of anything that is more than a couple months out into the future for Hero Lab Online. In fact, those users have taken us to task over the fact that we’re not giving concrete timeframes, and they’re concluding that this means it will be a long time before those features show up. That’s not the case. The reason we’re being more cautious is to avoid giving concrete dates and thereby avoid failing to deliver with Hero Lab Online. We’re limiting ourselves to a couple months maximum so that we can be reasonably accurate with our projections and deliver on them with timing that slowly rebuilds that trust. As objectives are completed and fall off the list, new ones will be announced with estimates. Right now, our focus is on getting the Open Beta launched by the end of the month.


Subject: Why didn’t we do a better job of communicating everything about Hero Lab Online?

As a tiny company, there’s only so much we can accomplish. Could we have done a better job with communicating everything? Absolutely. Unfortunately, if we had, then other things would have been negatively impacted due to a lack of attention. At any given moment, there are some tasks that aren’t being done as well as they could be. That’s because there are simply too many things that are all vying for attention at the same time. It’s all a balancing act, and we’re doing our best to juggle it all and keep everything moving forward. We always strive to find the right balance. Sometimes, we get it wrong.


Subject: Why did we switch to an Open Beta plan after first announcing Hero Lab Online with Starfinder?

The idea of an Open Beta had not been considered when we first announced Hero Lab Online publicly. In fact, we didn’t seriously consider it until shortly before GenCon, and then we didn’t make the decision to go with the Open Beta approach until talking it over with key people at GenCon. Going with an Open Beta is vastly better in a number of ways, the most important of which we’ve already identified in the FAQ. However, it also requires that we do things a bit differently on our end, which forced us to change aspects of our short-term plan.

As we’ve always striven to do in the past with all our products, our overriding priority is to have something solid in place before we release anything. That’s just as true for Hero Lab Online as for anything in the past. So we’re going to do our utmost to get things right on the first try, including things like how best to introduce the product to everyone.
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pauljathome
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Old September 6th, 2017, 07:33 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by rob View Post
A large contingent of gamers react negatively to change.
Do you realize how incredibly arrogant this statement is? If we don't like your new plans we're just immature people who react negatively to change?

Its actually quite possible that we're not reacting negatively to change per se, but rather that we have issues with the changes themselves.

Speaking for myself, I do NOT like the subscription model. I also do not like requiring internet access. That isn't "reacting negatively to change".

Obviously, you have to do what you think is best for your business and I'll do what I think best in response to your plans. But do NOT just dismiss my concerns (because that is what you ARE doing) as "reacting negatively to change".

The rest of your post quite reasonably sets out some of your reasons and answers some of our questions (although it notably totally omits talking about my personal biggest issue, the subscription model). But by the time I got to it I was already pretty darned pissed off by your preamble.

Last edited by pauljathome; September 6th, 2017 at 07:37 AM.
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Toblakai
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Old September 6th, 2017, 09:02 AM
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Originally Posted by pauljathome View Post
Do you realize how incredibly arrogant this statement is? If we don't like your new plans we're just immature people who react negatively to change?
I have found his statement to be very true of gamers, and it would refer to me also.. I resisted the change to D&D 4.0 and 5.0 and still do. Sometimes the truth hurts.
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pauljathome
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Old September 6th, 2017, 09:05 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by pauljathome View Post
Do you realize how incredibly arrogant this statement is? If we don't like your new plans we're just immature people who react negatively to change?
I realized that I left one crucial bit of context out of my rant.

I was interested in getting Herolab support for Starfinder. Was disappointed by the fact that I'd have to use the new HLO for that. Telling me that the only reason I don't like HLO is because I'm afraid of change was not the right approach to mollify me :-). Its insulting and false.

As long as you actually continue to support HLC I don't really care what you do with HLO as its a product I won't be buying. I'll admit to being sceptical that ongoing support for HLC will continue at its current level (as you say, you're a very small company and when you don't have time to do everything I suspect that HLC is what will take the hit) but I'm certainly willing to wait and see.
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Toblakai
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Old September 6th, 2017, 10:07 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by pauljathome View Post
As long as you actually continue to support HLC I don't really care what you do with HLO as its a product I won't be buying. I'll admit to being sceptical that ongoing support for HLC will continue at its current level (as you say, you're a very small company and when you don't have time to do everything I suspect that HLC is what will take the hit) but I'm certainly willing to wait and see.
Since HLC is currently paying all the bills, I suspect HLC will be supported for quite a while. If HLO starts making more money that HLC, then you might want to start getting worried about HLC, but that would probably need to be like 3:1 ratio or better before you should be concerned. {Speculation of course }
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Winterfyre
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Old September 6th, 2017, 04:56 PM
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Originally Posted by Toblakai View Post
Since HLC is currently paying all the bills, I suspect HLC will be supported for quite a while. If HLO starts making more money that HLC, then you might want to start getting worried about HLC, but that would probably need to be like 3:1 ratio or better before you should be concerned. {Speculation of course }
HLC supports the company via the data packages I suspect. Once they convert a system to HLO you they will still make the money of the data packages, but it sounds like they will now need to develop two version for each release, but intend to only charge us once. In essence there development cost will increase, so either our cost to buy needs to go up or they need to sell a lot more copies or discontinue one of the 2 lines, which would obviously be HLC.

This tells me the entire point of HLO is likely to force every member of the gaming group to buy HLO, all of the data packs the group is using and pay a monthly subscription fee in order to drive the number of data packs sold.

Does anyone really think it would be a good idea to tell a new player at the table, thanks for coming, but you need to dump $200 on a program & data packs and pay a monthly subscription fee in order to play with our group?

I've yet to see anything addressing multiple players in the party and how much each person has to pay via program / subscription / data packs to play via HLO.
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nylanfs
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Old September 6th, 2017, 09:06 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by pauljathome View Post
Do you realize how incredibly arrogant this statement is? If we don't like your new plans we're just immature people who react negatively to change?
That isn't fair, he didn't say that anyone was immature, just that they didn't like change. Which quite frankly a LOT of humans don't like change.

Edit: and I started to reply and then had to do some work stuff and then replied after you clarified.

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Last edited by nylanfs; September 6th, 2017 at 09:13 AM. Reason: Time delay reply
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MNBlockHead
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Old September 6th, 2017, 10:30 PM
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Originally Posted by nylanfs View Post
That isn't fair, he didn't say that anyone was immature, just that they didn't like change. Which quite frankly a LOT of humans don't like change.

Edit: and I started to reply and then had to do some work stuff and then replied after you clarified.
Exactly. It was an observation, not a judgment. There is nothing necessarily wrong with being resistant to change. But if you need to change to meet your goals, you may have to leave behind those that are not interested in making the change with you.

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EightBitz
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Old September 6th, 2017, 11:55 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by pauljathome View Post
Do you realize how incredibly arrogant this statement is? If we don't like your new plans we're just immature people who react negatively to change?

Its actually quite possible that we're not reacting negatively to change per se, but rather that we have issues with the changes themselves.

Speaking for myself, I do NOT like the subscription model. I also do not like requiring internet access. That isn't "reacting negatively to change".

Obviously, you have to do what you think is best for your business and I'll do what I think best in response to your plans. But do NOT just dismiss my concerns (because that is what you ARE doing) as "reacting negatively to change".

The rest of your post quite reasonably sets out some of your reasons and answers some of our questions (although it notably totally omits talking about my personal biggest issue, the subscription model). But by the time I got to it I was already pretty darned pissed off by your preamble.
He never said immature. He never said reacting negatively to change is unjustified or a bad thing. And he never said it was all gamers. He said it was a large contingent. In my experience, the statement is generally true. I know it's true of me.
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