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rob
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Old August 11th, 2018, 09:46 AM
There’s been some discussion between those who welcome the new HLOnline model and those who dislike it, and this dialog has uncovered a variety of areas where misconceptions appear to exist. My objective here is to increase everyone’s awareness and understanding of the path we’re pursuing and how it will work. To that end, this post will hopefully clarify some things, better explain parts of the rationale for proceeding down this path, and provide reassurance in a few places. So, in no particular order, here goes…

1. Our #1 biggest request from users has been Android support, followed closely by support for the full spectrum of device types and sizes (phones, tablets, etc.). We had a huge contingent of consumers telling us that they can’t buy our product until we support the devices they use. Consequently, a key reason we chose the HLOnline model is to make the product accessible to all users on all platforms, including Android and everything else.

2. A second key reason behind the HLOnline model is that we can leverage the server-based model to introduce numerous new features that were simply not practical – or even possible – on the HLClassic platform. We’ve been laying the foundation for these capabilities for some time, but they have not yet begun to surface within the product. That should start to change in the months ahead, especially as we debut aspects of the completely re-envisioned replacement for the old HLClassic Tactical Console.

3. There has been some fear that we would hike the hosting service rates in the future once users are “hooked”. While we understand that fear, we have absolutely nothing to gain by doing something like that. In fact, we would have everything to lose. All of our products have succeeded thanks to word-of-mouth recommendations from gamers. If we don’t put out a product that gamers endorse, we’re going to fail. And I can’t think of a better way to turn gamers against us than to begin extorting them. With HLOnline, we have to keep the servers running and managed, so we need to charge a nominal fee to cover those costs. But there’s no intelligent business case for us to jack up the price for hosting.

4. On the subject of the hosting service, many have been confused regarding whether or not we are actively charging for that service with HLOnline. At this point, those who purchased HLOnline when it first launched should have already had to purchase additional months of hosting service. They haven’t. That’s because we’ve simply been quietly extending everyone’s license and not making a big deal out of it. We have an internal definition of when we feel HLOnline will be substantive enough to justify charging users for the hosting. We aren’t there yet. Until we reach that point, users clearly know when they purchase the product that they will one day encounter the hosting service fee. However, it’s not currently being assessed, and we will absolutely be making an announcement well in advance of when users will begin seeing their existing hosting service periods begin to lapse.

5. The very existence of the hosting fee has been challenged by a few users, since the content is already being purchased. The reality is that, if a user purchases HLOnline today, the expectation will be that the service can be used years down the road – without any further purchases. We have to keep the servers running and properly managed, and that incurs an ongoing cost on our part. We need to pass that on to users in some form. So we’ve split out the hosting service separately from everything else. The hosting fee is independent of how much content a user has acquired. It’s the same amount for everyone, whether a user has purchased a single item or everything we’ve released, since it’s solely a reflection of using the servers.

6. Some users have asked why we don’t just increase the one-time cost of content to build in the costs of hosting. That approach won’t work on multiple levels. First of all, while increasing the content cost might be desirable for some, the majority of consumers are on a budget and would reject a front-loaded purchase model. Consider the number of people who pay for other services on a monthly basis instead of a cheaper annual basis. For many, their budget constraints dictate the purchase model they employ, and we have to be mindful of that to be successful. To complicate matters further, all content is done under license from the publisher, which includes royalties, so building the hosting costs into the content would need to be inflated further to account for the associated royalty obligations. Most importantly, though, the hosting fees are usage based, and there is no correlation between content purchased and frequency of use, so adding the cost to content does not yield an equitable model.

7. Another recurring concern is the lack of internet access that some users experience. Without getting into a debate over how many users fall into that category today, let’s focus on the future. The new HLOnline product is intended to take us many years down the line. Every year, internet access becomes increasingly more accessible and less expensive for everyone. At some point, not too far out, it will be nigh ubiquitous. We have built HLOnline on the premise that those without internet access today will have it in the relatively near future – lonely cabins in the woods, notwithstanding – and that the meager bandwidth requirements of HLOnline today will be perfectly reasonable for the vast majority of prospective users.

8. On the subject of internet access, another claim that’s been leveled is that internet access at conventions is a huge problem, with GenCon being a primary example from past years. At GenCon last week, we ran our entire Character Creation Station (8 computers) on a single mobile hotspot from within the Sagamore Ballroom (Paizo’s Organized Play hall). Our performance was excellent, and other users reported the same experience on our forums, including users who reported using the WiFi service offered by GenCon. Obviously, this doesn’t mean that every convention has excellent connectivity today, but it definitely serves as a concrete example that internet access at conventions is steadily becoming more accessible, just like everywhere else.

9. A few are worried that we could pull the plug on the product at any time and leave everyone “screwed”. While it’s theoretically possible that we could go out of business, the reality is that the company has been in business almost 25 years (founded in 1994). We’ve been creating digital tools for tabletop games for 20 years, starting with Army Builder back in 1998. Hero Lab itself has been going strong for more than a decade. So the likelihood of HLOnline just disappearing is extremely slim.

10. The question keeps being asked whether we will be bringing Starfinder and now Pathfinder 2nd Edition to HLClassic. It’s possible, but it won’t occur anytime soon. Porting those games to HLClassic will entail a significant chunk of work and derail our focus, which is squarely on getting HLOnline into a mature state that includes all the cool features that we have mapped out. Once we get much of that into place, we could potentially port games from HLOnline back to HLClassic. However, those games will then be missing numerous capabilities that are present on HLOnline and not available on HLClassic, so it remains to be seen whether there will be enough demand to justify the substantive development work to do that.

11. Some folks have twisted the preceding position on Starfinder and Pathfinder 2nd Edition into somehow meaning that HLClassic is dead. That couldn’t be more wrong. We’ve got some meaningful improvements to HLClassic – both on the desktop and iPad – in active development and due out soon. All the game systems that are currently on HLClassic continue apace, with new books coming out shortly for multiple game systems. HLClassic is a solid product that remains a core component of our offerings and we don’t expect that to change for a long time to come.

12. An understandable concern that’s regularly voiced centers on how HLOnline behaves if internet connectivity suddenly disappears in the middle of a game. We’ll be addressing this in the months ahead, in a series of stages. The first stage will allow users to proactively “snapshot” their character for offline viewing. This is useful when a user knows he/she is about to enter an area where no internet access exists, or the user knows that access may disappear at any time. When viewing a “snapshot”, the character will remain fully navigable and viewable, although no changes will be possible, as those are made through the server. The second stage will have the HLOnline application constantly maintain a “snapshot” of the character in the background. If internet connectivity ever disappears, the character will still remain fully navigable and viewable, albeit not editable. Further stages beyond this are on the drawing board, but it’s premature to delve into any of them at this time.

13. Various comments have centered on what happens when a user stops paying for the hosting service, with claims going so far as saying that everything is automatically deleted. I can understand how that would cause fear, but it’s far from true. Another claim is that we’ll hold your material “for ransom” and deny all access to it. That’s also absolutely not true. The reality is that, when a user’s hosting service is suspended, that user can continue to access all his/her characters normally, albeit in “demo mode”. That means the character is fully viewable, printable, and will even be exportable once that capability is fully integrated for all users. The key restriction is that a character can’t be further edited if it’s beyond a “starting” character (e.g. 1st level).

If there are significant questions or concerns that weren’t covered above, please let us know. Thanks for taking the time to read through all this. I sure hope it's useful!

P.S. Before actually posting this, I went ahead and numbered everything, but it was only to make referencing specific items in the ensuing discussion easier.
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wheredoigo
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Old August 11th, 2018, 09:53 AM
Thank you for the detailed notes you have provided, Rob. While I am firmly in the group of those who welcome the change to HLO I find it reassuring nonetheless.
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Daijin
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Old August 11th, 2018, 11:28 AM
Need Like button.
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jlong05
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Old August 11th, 2018, 01:53 PM
I agree, we need a like button

The only "hobby" GW is interested in is lining their pockets with your money.
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thaX
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Old August 11th, 2018, 02:06 PM
Rob.

Is there any plans for having a mini app to just view a character instead of logging into HLO? Ofcourse, one would need to use this with the export feature that is upcoming, perhaps something that would use less power and resources?

Thank you for listing these concerns, and I believe I will eventually purchase this product at some point. Hopefully, the ability to print a filled out character sheet is on the horizon.
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rob
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Old August 11th, 2018, 02:20 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by thaX View Post
Is there any plans for having a mini app to just view a character instead of logging into HLO? Ofcourse, one would need to use this with the export feature that is upcoming, perhaps something that would use less power and resources?
I think the "snapshot" feature we'll be putting into place shortly (#12) ought to provide almost exactly what you're describing. You'll be able to bounce around the existing character freely, with all the data cached locally. So there should be very little power or other resources utilized.

Quote:
Originally Posted by thaX View Post
Thank you for listing these concerns, and I believe I will eventually purchase this product at some point. Hopefully, the ability to print a filled out character sheet is on the horizon.
Printing is already in place, although it's still a bit rough in places, and there are plenty of improvements we have on our todo list. In the top right corner of HLO, click on the gear icon. You should see a Print option there.

Fair warning: Firefox has some glaring bugs in their printing that Mozilla has elected not to fix for a very long time. Consequently, printing on Firefox is not nearly as nice as on Chrome/Edge/Safari. If you are a Firefox user, like me, you may want to do the actual printing with one of the other browsers. You'll likely get significantly better results.
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flyteach
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Old August 12th, 2018, 05:21 AM
Rob,
Thanks for posting. However,
#7. Your wording tells me that you don't have and don't want to know actual numbers of people who don't have internet access. You don't want to argue about it. You just state as a fact that everyone will eventually have it, but you're unwilling or unable to back it up with proof.
#8. There was a 3 hour or so outage during Gencon. It was reported to the forums. Part of the problem with this model is one can't report issues directly when the server is down.
#1. What it boils down to with this is that the rest of your customers get taxed to support Android instead of creating and supporting a tool for that user group. It seems like the licensing cost should go down since your customer base has increased dramatically. But my cost goes up and I get no benefit......I'm not an Android user (anymore).
Bottom line: I can create anywhere with Classic. I'm limited with Online. And, for that, I have increased cost.
Flyteach
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jlong05
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Old August 12th, 2018, 07:53 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by flyteach View Post
#1. What it boils down to with this is that the rest of your customers get taxed to support Android instead of creating and supporting a tool for that user group. It seems like the licensing cost should go down since your customer base has increased dramatically. But my cost goes up and I get no benefit......I'm not an Android user (anymore).
Bottom line: I can create anywhere with Classic. I'm limited with Online. And, for that, I have increased cost.
Flyteach
Question, if you have the license for custom content in classic, nothing really stops you from creating the Starfinder ruleset yourself in classic and using it as you have indicated offline, when no internet is available. Is this not accurate? Is there something that would prevent creating HeroLab in Classic(sans the shared Starship functions?) as a character creation tool?

The only "hobby" GW is interested in is lining their pockets with your money.
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rob
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Old August 12th, 2018, 10:38 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by flyteach View Post
#7. Your wording tells me that you don't have and don't want to know actual numbers of people who don't have internet access. You don't want to argue about it. You just state as a fact that everyone will eventually have it, but you're unwilling or unable to back it up with proof.
There's an old adage about "lies, damn lies, and statistics" (popularized by Mark Twain). There are different statistics on how pervasive the internet is today, and there are even more diverse statistical projections on how the internet's reach will grow over time. If I picked one projection to "prove" our position, I'm sure someone else could readily dig up a different projection to counter it. So any attempt to “prove” our position would likely devolve into a counter-productive debate that neither side would ever "win".

At the end of the day, we have to pick a path forward. Every company on the planet makes its best guess based on the data that it has available, and we’re no different. We use whatever hard data is available, anecdotal evidence, and anything else we can get a hold of. In the end, it all comes down to a gut check. Sometimes, those guesses are wrong. We've done our homework, we’ve chosen our path, and we're banking that our "educated guess" is right. Only time will tell.

Quote:
Originally Posted by flyteach View Post
#8. There was a 3 hour or so outage during Gencon. It was reported to the forums. Part of the problem with this model is one can't report issues directly when the server is down.
When the server went down on Saturday, we knew about it within about 1 minute. We have various mechanisms in place to automatically detect and notify us when something goes sideways. Unfortunately, our messaging to users in those situations is poor. That's something that was sidelined in the push to get PF2 into place for GenCon, and it’s near the top of the pile to address now that we're back. We were just discussing it on Thursday.

The problem that hit us on Sunday was the epitome of Murphy's Law. There had been a subtle issue lurking for a while that we had not properly identified. The issue could have just as easily struck a week earlier or three weeks from now, but it chose Saturday afternoon at GenCon to rear its ugly head. To compound things, the developers who needed to identify and fix the problem were both in the booth at GenCon when everything went down, meaning we had to scramble to rearrange schedules and get people back from breaks so the developers could go tackle the problem. Then those developers only had their laptops from hotel rooms to operate from. The net result was that it took us significantly longer to sort things out than if we’d all been at home in front of our development machines.

There are days I'd like to strangle Murphy for that stupid law!

Quote:
Originally Posted by flyteach View Post
#1. What it boils down to with this is that the rest of your customers get taxed to support Android instead of creating and supporting a tool for that user group. It seems like the licensing cost should go down since your customer base has increased dramatically. But my cost goes up and I get no benefit......I'm not an Android user (anymore).
On this point, we may just have to agree to disagree. But allow me to ask a couple questions first. Do you intend to only ever use a desktop or laptop for your gaming from now into the indeterminate future? Do you have no desire for a more connected and streamlined experience with the other members of your gaming group during games? If your answers are both yes, then what we're doing with HLOnline doesn't match your personal requirements, and that’s unfortunate.

Just about everyone I see at Cons, the FLGS, and in local games is abandoning bulky equipment in favor of tablets and even their phones. The HLOnline model allows us to readily support all of these devices with a responsive UI design. On top of that, the HLOnline model fundamentally connects all players and the GM, which lets us streamline the overall experience. For example, a fireball damages multiple participants in an encounter, or a Cleric's Bless buffs the entire party, etc. Those are things that would never be achieved with HLClassic but that we'll be able to make available soon within HLOnline. And those are things that every gamer I've ever spoken to has been excited about. So that's where we're headed with HLOnine.

Quote:
Originally Posted by flyteach View Post
Bottom line: I can create anywhere with Classic. I'm limited with Online. And, for that, I have increased cost.
As above, we may have to agree to disagree here…

You can create anywhere with HLClassic, provided you utilize devices (desktops/laptops) that are cumbersome to transport and that are used less and less by the overall gaming population when playing. For the vast majority of gamers, HLOnline is undeniably more accessible, as they can use just about any device they want to use.

You are limited with HLOnline to areas with internet access, and we believe that limitation will diminish greatly and in relatively short order in the years ahead. For a large number of gamers, we believe it’s already a non-concern.

You have increased cost, but only once we start actively charging for the hosting service, which we have not yet done (#4). When we begin charging, users should start seeing added value to the product in terms of nifty new features, which add value beyond just the device accessibility offered today. And that added value should continue to increase from there. So the increased cost of roughly $2/month should, from our perspective, be offset by increased utility provided by the product. At that point, users will be able to make their own informed assessment of whether the added cost is worth it. We believe they’ll feel it is.

Thanks!
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rob
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Old August 12th, 2018, 10:44 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by jlong05 View Post
Question, if you have the license for custom content in classic, nothing really stops you from creating the Starfinder ruleset yourself in classic and using it as you have indicated offline, when no internet is available. Is this not accurate? Is there something that would prevent creating HeroLab in Classic(sans the shared Starship functions?) as a character creation tool?
That is absolutely correct. Using the Authoring Kit, anyone could create their own version of the Starfinder game system (or Pathfinder 2nd Edition). And those data files could then be shared with other users. So there is nothing stopping a user-created version of either game system on HLClassic.

That said, I'm guessing most users that are asking for HLClassic support would prefer us to do the work, since it would be a significant effort to put it all together. If it was fast and easy, we would have done it ourselves.
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