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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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