An Open Letter to Magento Extension Developers

Dear Developers;

A few, small pointers on how to actually run and manage your Extensions.

  1. If your extension is not stable; do NOT advertise as Stable.  Stable means when I plug it in to a clean, un-modded Magento installation it works.  I do not have to hack around your code to make it work.
  2. Make sure your documentation lists the steps required in detail to make sure your Extension actually works.   I do not want to wade through 20 pages to find that one line of explanation of why this isn’t working.
  3. If what you”re selling is considered Stable, you should be offering a refund.  If not, I’m not going to trust your extension as far as I can throw it.  Yes, I expect there might be a few small hiccups installing into a modded configuration; that can’t be helped.  But your code should be stable enough to handle the vast majority of additional extensions / hacks.  If it isn’t, then it isn’t very good is it?
  4. Do not turn on auto-updates.  I just spent an entire day hacking around your code to make it workable with my configuration.  I don’t need you to auto-update it just after I’m done to destroy all my work.
  5. When you do upgrade your extensions , inform us.  We don’t watch your blog with baited breath for the next upgrade, especially if we’ve fixed all the bugs already for ourselves.
  6. When you do inform us, do give us a time and date so we can make sure to be around to fix the site when you break it for us. I don’t want to come back on a Sunday evening to find my site broken because you updated the software again without telling us.

Hopefully, these simple, basic customer service suggestions will help you gain more customers and many less pissed off customers like me.   As it is, my experience has made me become very wary about buying any commercial extensions.

Yours sincerely;

A Highly Irate Magento Extension Customer

Turn rates, inventory cost and online stores

I just read an article at Quest for Fun on Turn Rates and it prompted me to write a post that has been bouncing around in my head for a while.  It relates specifically to the place of online stores and our own strategy of tapping into the long tail of board games.

In my view, online stores can meet a need in the marketplace by holding and stocking low-demand games (i.e. low turn rate games).   There are a few reasons why online stores may be better at this than a local store in my view:

Lower Costs

There is a cost to holding stock that sells slowly.  The costs involve include the opportunity cost, the storage cost and the capital cost.  The capital cost and the opportunity cost is generally about equal whether you are a local store or an online store.   However, the storage cost differs greatly.  In my experience, cost per square foot is about 3 times cheaper as an online store.  So it’s cheaper for us to hold a game that doesn’t sell well than a retail store.

Wider Marketplace

Since an online store is targeting an entire country (or countries!), their pool of potential customers is much wider.  A local store on the other hand is generally limited to the market surrounding the store.   This (hopefully) changes a local store’s single turn rate product into a multiple turn rate product for the online store.  More, stock that a b&m store might never carry because there is no demand locally could have an aggregate country-wide demand of 5 or 6 games annually.  That makes it worthwhile for an online store to carry.


If done right, stocking low turn rate products provide online stores an additional source of revenue that is relatively free of competition.  Of course, the danger is  that other online stores will do the same – in which case everyone’s fighting over the same 5 customers in the country.  This then drives down your turn rates – potentially making it just as nonviable as for a b&m store.

Why businesses never launch

A while ago, I wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek article called ‘The 5 Traits of a Board Game Store Owner’.  I even did a Geeklist, which got quite a few hits.    Over time, I’ve met, spoken to and advised a number of individuals looking to launch a business – whether it’s another game store or another type of business.  And I’ve seen so many of them sit in a continuous planning stage or start but never get anywhere.

My guess is, the reason for this is a fear of failure.  Business, any business and especially one as unfinanceable (is that even a word?) as running a game store, is risky at best.  Even if you have the best plan in the world, bad luck could hit and you’re done.

So potential entrepreneurs plan.  They research.  The put together business plan after business plan, do the maths back and forth and do forecasts left, right and center.  They drag their heels at any significant step, putting aside incorporating, hiring, selling till the next day.   They’ll send out letters, maybe once a week or so, hoping to get a reply and pat themselves on the back, saying ‘I did good today’.  When really, all they’re doing is buying time.

Don’t get me wrong – that fear is good.  It’s what makes you work harder, double-check your business plan and your ideas.  It makes you  look harder at it all, but you can’t let it freeze you up.  If you truly believe your idea is a worthwhile one, at some point, you just have to make that leap of faith.

Just make sure you have an exit strategy and timeline in mind.

Stock Levels & Order Delivery Timing

One of the hidden aspects (from customers) of running a game store is the logistics chain.  Specifically, the timing of deliveries from distributors to retailers.  Obviously, the closer your distributor is to you, the faster the deliveries are.  What most customers don’t see is how that affects our stock levels.

We recently went from having 2 day delivery for some games to 2 week delivery dates.  So, instead of being able to stock for a week and a half’s worth of sales, we started having to stock for 3 weeks worth of sales.  Rule of thumb here is stock about half again what you would normally sell within the delivery time frame.

So, as an example, if Heroscape sells 2 copies every week, we would normally stock 3 copies.  However, with a 2 week delivery schedule, we’d have to stock 3 weeks worth of games or 6 copies.  Now, if each game costs us $28 to purchase, we’ve now had to increase our inventory stock levels by $84.  Doesn’t like much does it?

However, multiple that over 100 games and suddenly you’re looking at real money –  $8,400 to be exact.  Obviously, not every game sells 2 copies a week, but the concept holds true.

It’s one of the reasons why it is sometimes more important to be able to get your games fast than it is to get them cheap.  I’d give up a few percentage points of discounts to reduce my stock levels significantly.  It’s also one of the reasons why distributors continue to be important.

Mission Red Planet : A Game Review

Mission Red Planet has players attempt to gain control of one of 10 designated zones of the Red Planet by launching their astronauts into space via a series of steam powered spaceships. Mission Red Planet is designed by Bruno Faidutti, the creator of Citadels – a highly popular card game that uses a development and role choice mechanic. Playing through Mission Red Planet, you see some of the same role choices, but with the introduction of area control to the game and it is a very much under-rated light to medium strategy board game.

Appearance: Mission Red Planet’s artwork is very steampunk, with characters all drawn from that genre. The only real artwork in the game is in the character cards which are great to look at and the main game board which is mostly functional. I definitely like the artwork, but there’s not much of it – and the tokens and astronauts are your standard Euro fare. Overall, the game’s functional to good in this category. I will say the use of the external board for placing cards requires you to have a lot of table space though.

Rules / Ease of Learning: Mission Red Planet’s rules are actually very simple and quite clearly covered. The game lasts a total of 10 turns with 3 scoring rounds on turns 5, 8 and 10. Players attempt to have the most astronauts in one of the 10 locations on the board, with additional goal cards providing bonus points as well. To get their astronauts onto Mars, players have to fill up the spaceships awaiting launch. Each spaceship has a unique capacity for astronauts and a destination on Mars, so choosing the right spaceship to board is very important.

At the beginning of each turn players choose one of their nine (9) characters to play. Play order for the turn is in order of the characters in-play as each character is numbered 1 to 9. This part of the game seems very familiar to players of Citadels, though in Mission Red Planet, every player has their own identical set of character cards.

The characters all have special abilities, ranging from the Soldier who allows you to add two astronauts to a spaceship and kill another astronaut on Mars to the Travel Agent who sends three (3) astronauts onto a spaceship.

Additional minor rules also deal with scoring, discovery cards (which can alter how the board is played) and the special abilities of the characters. Overall, it took me 5 minutes to quickly explain the game to my group and then we were off.

Gameplay: The first time we played Mission Red Planet, we had to replay it a second time, so you can guess how much we liked it. It’s a fast playing game, but strategies slowly become clear after a game or two. We are all fans of the role choice selection mechanic, so we all enjoyed the choices we had while trying figure out which spaceships to populate and which areas to control.

Mission Red Planet’s use of spaceships that populate area’s is particularly interesting. The spaceships only launch when they are full (normally) so you have to plan ahead to get your astronauts to the right location on time, while making sure you don’t launch with too many of the other player’s astronauts. In addition, characters like the Pilot and the Saboteur make putting too many astronauts on one spaceship dangerous. On the other hand, because players can only regain cards once they play the Recruiter card, tracking what cards have been played is an effective tactic.

For what seems like a relatively light strategy game, Mission Red Planet has a lot of strategy to it while reducing the amount of luck its predecessor Citadels had.

Conclusion: Mission Red Planet is one of those solid games that just did not get as much buzz as it should have last year. It’s a good, solid game that I would not hesitate to pull out with gamers and non-gamers alike.

The Marketing Project Equation

When I’m taking on a project and most commonly a Marketing project; I like to weight a few factors in my mind – the time, money and expertise I have on hand.  It’s almost as if I have an equation in my head… this one:

Result = Time x Money x Expertise

As an equation, to keep the same level of results, you can decrease any one aspects (e.g. time) by increasing the other two (money or expertise).  Another way of saying it is that you can have a project be better, cheaper or faster but not all three.

A real life example of the use of this equation is in the design of our banner advertisements.   Now, I have mild expertise with Photoshop; no money to throw into producing it and a highly flexible schedule.  So; to generate the banners, I could probably waste an hour fiddling in Photoshop and get a decent banner advertisement.  For a good looking advertisement, I figure it’d take me three hours.

I could on the other hand pay someone (money) for their expertise to create a banner advertisement, and it would take them an hour too; but it would be a good advertisement.  More importantly, my time is only 10 – 15 minutes in briefing them.  So I’ve decreased my time allocation for this by increasing both the expertise and money thrown at it.

The Marketing Project Equation is also the reason why you often see a number of great suggestions not taken up.  The amount of time / money required to do them is often not available.  In addition, when weighing multiple projects, I often have to prioritise them based on the significance of the final results.

Citadel Citizenship Reward Program

Well, after months and at least 3 unsuccessful attempts, we’ve finally got the Customer Rewards Program up and running on the site.  Each attempt to fix it has taken at least 4 to 5 hours, maybe even 8 hours.  A significant chunk of time on my side, never mind the developers we worked with.

Our first attempt was using the software built into the site already, attempting to use a variety of system options.  Unfortunately, the only way to do it that way actually broke the site. In addition, it wasn’t automated and once we got to a few thousand people, it really was a problem.  In this particular case, it was just me.

Our second attempt was a minor rehash of the first, attempting to use a hack around on the code to get it working.  Again, it didn’t work, though we had the developers working with us on this at the time.

Our third attempt, again with our developers was with a module load-in.  Now, this was supposedly a stable module that would work well and give us a customer rewards program with points instead of a fixed amount discount that the above two attempts were based on.  It was also more flexible, with the ability to discount specific products, provide variable points for all orders and even go backwards to older orders.  It was a great system – and incredibly broken once the developers started looking into it.  That took an business day, hacking around the system in an attempt to get things working before we threw our hands up.

The latest (and final) fix only took us 6 hours.  Quite an expensive module was purchased, which was supposedly all fixed up.  Guess what? It wasn’t – and we had to hack around the system again, loading up the actual points system and then fixing errors as they cropped up.  Including, worst of all, in our checkout.

Still, our customer rewards program is finally up and running.  We unfortunately do not have the ability to go backwards to give customers reward points for previous orders, but the system we did purchase actually has a bit more flexibility going forwards.  Among other things, we can:

  • give reward points for tagging and reviewing products
  • give variable rewards points for specific board games
  • award points for specific instances in the shopping cart (e.g. 2 of the same kind, or 3 games of a type)

And even better, points can be spent in a variety of ways including:

  • on specific products at a variable rate at a variable price (so points could be spent at a higher discount rate)
  • in the shopping cart to discount the entire order
  • for shipping – potentially allowing us to offer a second free shipping option

And those are just the one’s I’ve figured out.  The system is quite complex, and I’m sure I’m missing ways of giving points and spending them.  I’m quite excited, and I hope you are too at the ways we can improve our service.

Beyond Settlers of Catan – A Game Guide

So, we just finished writing an article entitled – Beyond Settlers of Catan. It’s a quick guide to board games after Settlers, for fans of that ever popular modern classic.

Personally, I could keep adding games to that list, but I wanted to focus on relatively easy to learn board games that were suitable for those who had an introduction to Settlers. So games like Agricola and Puerto Rico didn’t make the list because in my view, they are just a touch too much of a gamer’s game. What do you think of the article and list?

Board Game Restock : March 4, 2010

New Board Games

Battleground Fantasy Warfare: Elves of Ravenwood Reinforcement Deck

Battleground Fantasy Warfare: Elves of Ravenwood Starter
Call of Cthulhu LCG : Journey to Unknown Kadath
Cheeky Monkey
A Game of Thrones LCG Ancient Enemies Chapter Pack
A Game of Thrones LCG Battle/Blackwater Chapter Pack
A Game of Thrones LCG Battle of Ruby Ford Chapter Pack
A Game of Thrones LCG Calling the Banners Chapter Pack
A Game of Thrones LCG A Change of Seasons Chapter Pack
A Game of Thrones LCG City of Secrets Chapter Pack
A Game of Thrones LCG King of the Sea Expansion
A Game of Thrones LCG Raven’s Song Chapter Pack
A Game of Thrones LCG Refugees of War Chapter Pack
A Game of Thrones LCG Scattered Armies Chapter Pack
A Game of Thrones LCG Secrets & Spies Chapter Pack
A Game of Thrones LCG A Song of Summer Chapter Pack
A Game of Thrones LCG A Time of Trials Chapter Pack
A Game of Thrones LCG War of the Five Kings Chapter Pack
A Game of Thrones LCG Winds of Winter Chapter Pack
A Game of Thrones LCG Wolves of the North Chapter Pack
Humans!!! 2 – Sea Food
Ninja versus Ninja
Phantom Leader
Pursuit of Glory
TOMB: Cryptmaster Extra Dice
Warhammer : Invasion LCG Deathmaster’s Dance Battle Pack
Yucatan Token Set

Restocked Board Games
Battleground Fantasy Warfare: Men of Hawkshold Reinforcements
Battleground Fantasy Warfare: Men of Hawkshold Starter
Battleground Fantasy Warfare: Monsters & Mercenaries Reinforcements
Battleground Fantasy Warfare: Monsters & Mercenaries Starter
Battleground Fantasy Warfare: Orc Army Reinforcements
Battleground Fantasy Warfare: Orc Army Starter
Battleground Fantasy Warfare: Undead Army Reinforcements
Battleground Fantasy Warfare: Undead Army Starter
BattleLore: Creatures
BattleLore: Scottish Wars
Cash ‘n Guns
Citadels Card Game
Cutthroat Caverns
Empire Builder (New Ed)
Game of Thrones Boardgame
Illuminati Y2K
La Citta
Last Night on Earth
Name of the Rose
Once Upon A time Card Game
Owner’s Choice
Downfall of Pompeii
Ricochet Robots
Settlers of Catan Pre-07 Adapter Kit
Shear Panic!
Talisman: The Dungeon Expansion
Through the Desert
TOMB: Cryptmaster
Totally Renamed Spy Game
Warrior Knights
Warhammer LCG: Invasion Path of the Zealot
Warhammer : LCG Tooth and Claw Battle Pack