Tuesday, July 30, 2013

An Interview With Steve McLauchlan soon to be formerly of WWPD

Stole this from the interwebs. I didn't even
Get WWPD's permission to use it. Cause
For those of you who pay no attention to the online Flames community you’ve probably never heard of Steve McLauchlan, this also means you likely don’t exist. Steve is one of the founders of WWPD.net and its News From the Front Podcast. Now, he’s moving on to greener hobbit filled pastures, taking a position with Battlefront Miniatures, makers of our beloved Flames of War. Recently, I had a chance to digitally sit down with Steve and grill him on WWPD, his future with Battlefront and all sorts of other good things.

Throck: For those folks who are new to the site it seems like WWPD has always had a special relationship with Battlefront. Jointly hosting the Overlord campaign, free stuff for product reviews and regularly cross posting your podcast are just a few of the examples of that relationship. But, it wasn’t always so. How did WWPD’s relationship with Battlefront begin? How did it grow?

Steve: A fair question!  Honestly, it grew as WWPD grew.  Our industry is small.  It’s a total niche community, and the Battlefront employees work at Battlefront because they’re keenly interested in the product.  So our community grew with them along for the ride, because at the end of the day they want to go home and play with their toys too.  It soon became evident that it made sense for them to expand the relationship with WWPD!  
It really started when me, Sean, and Joe posted our first podcast.  It was novel, and the guys liked it.  Over time, the relationship really grew as a result of Joe Krone.  Smart guy, Joe.  He knew that it’d cost Battlefront peanuts to send us some models for review, but that our enthusiasm was about as good of advertising as one could get.  Smart investment.  We were happy with the arrangement because it generated content for our site that was worth looking at!
He looks nothing like that any more.
Way less hipster now.

T. Were there any bumps along the road?
S. Definitely!  But most of them resulted in Battlefront not really having a point of contact for us.  It was (and to a point still is- this will be part of my new job!) difficult to just establish a steady stream of review material- especially with enough lead time to not totally miss the boat.  None of their guys’ really had a dedicated mandate to do this, so it was whoever we could catch free at the moment.  In recent months, a much better system was worked out.  Kudos to the US warehouse guys who bore the brunt of the work there, and probably dreading getting emails from us!

More after the break!

T. Has Battlefront ever voiced any concern over WWPD’s reviews of Zvezda or Plastic Soldier Company products?
S. Nothing’s ever been said to me.  When a positive review for a competitor goes up, I’m sure some BF personnel squirmed a bit in their seat, but I think in a grand sense WWPD has to do that to maintain credibility.  We (they?- sorry I am between worlds right now) write fair reviews for anyone who wants to establish that relationship.  Wil from Plastic Soldier company is always happy to work with WWPD, and you’ll see many PSC reviews in the archive and coming up.  

T. To be clear, Battlefront exercises no editorial control over WWPD right?
S. Honestly, I don’t think anyone at Battlefront has the bandwidth to exercise any editorial control over WWPD even if they wanted to!  But, no, Battlefront has zero say in anything posted on WWPD.  This is why I have to give up any controlling interest in WWPD- it wouldn’t be fair to WWPD to have my specter looming over their future.

T. How do I get all those cool new products to paint up and review?
S. Up until now, there’s been no formal structure around this.  I intend to change that, but I have not come up with a solid plan yet.  Needless to say, I intend to become to point of contact for that.

T. From the old comments section to the shiny new(ish) forum you guys have always placed a ton of emphasis on growing the Flames of War community. A large and growing number of folks are heading to the boards to comment and converse on all things war gaming. The community has remained largely civil, in many ways more so than the FoW forums (and certainly far more so than TMP). Your guiding principle has always been “Don’t be a dick.” But, that alone does not grow a community. What do you think has led to the growth of WWPD as a source of community engagement without a ton of drama?
S. I think, like anything, communities can be nurtured to grow in a certain way.  While I can’t take credit for how awesome the WWPD forum is, I think our early establishment of our principles (namely, remaining civil) became ingrained in the culture, and so it largely self-polices.  Many of the people on the board are firm believers in the motto, and many push the limits.  At the end of the day, it all holds together only as a result of the people there.  The moderators do laughably little work.  I think we did 2 perma-bans, and less than 5 temporary bans?  The ban-hammer has not been wielded in battle terribly often.

T. Any specific plans to grow the community in the future?
S. I have a lot of ideas, but no specific plans I’d be comfortable discussing yet.  The first few weeks of me being Auckland I expect to be consumed by hammering out my role, and then coming up with a road map forward.  I will also need to immerse myself in the other Battlefront properties to really understand the subsets of the communities I’ll be working with.

T. Discipline on the boards is used sparingly and in some ways the boards police themselves, a testament to the great folks who populate the boards and the atmosphere you all have fostered. But when the ban hammer comes down, what causes you all to use it?
S. Ha!  I should’ve read ahead.  Some people won’t like this answer, but WWPD doesn’t really have a hard and fast scientific, methodical approach to wielding the ban hammer.  We’re more like batman.  Sometimes we’re not the hero the forums want, we’re the hero the forums deserve.  Sometimes we’ve been overzealous, sometimes we’ve really let things slide.  We did have a big kumbaya meeting after some ugliness and put a lot more checks & balances in place.  WWPD largely relied on the community of moderator volunteers to step up, and they’ve done a great job... even if that means doing very little thanks to the awesome community!

T. Have you had to permanently ban anyone in the past?
S. Aside from obvious spambots, I believe WWPD perma-banned 2 people.  Those individuals need to chill out, and aren’t welcome on the forums anytime soon.

T. You’ve also grown your stable of blogs and contributors over time. Was this a planned expansion of content or happy coincidence?
S. I guess it was a bit of both?  Once it was clear that we wanted to have multiple sites, we knew we couldn’t handle it all on our own.  It’s been difficult to keep the content flowing, so kudos to all the guys who help make it happen!  I think there will be a consolidation period for the foreseeable future, with just the 4 sites.  Although becoming a distributor of more and more podcasts was really a happy coincidence that I really wanted to follow up on!

T. How do people get involved in helping out on the main blog or the sister blogs?
S. Just e-mail Jon!  I’m sure he’d be happy to have more writers available. (ED: That’s WWPDDirty Jon on the boards)

T. If you could wave your magic wand and add a new product or stream of content to the WWPD universe what would it be?
S. Oh man, we had so many grand ideas that we struck down.  For a long time we heavily considered running an intelligent webstore.  Specific articles could tie right in- “like this battle report?  Here, pick up the entire German army featured in this game by clicking here!”.  You know, because we were so hyper focused we could really tailor the store to our demographic.  We wouldn’t just be a big box gaming distributor type of deal.
Technology wise, I was always proud of what we were able to accomplish (mostly  due to Arran, but I also did a lot of the heavy lifting backend stuff).  I would love to have a WWPD single sign on- one login for the forum, and the campaigns, and add some more socialization to the site.  Had other big ideas about monetizing services- a battle report service, and tons of other “apps”, but time was always a factor.  Once we sat down and had a “what do we want to be?” chat, we really cut WWPD down to what it needed to be and made that happen. (Ed: Arran “TheSignal” Slee-Smith runs Right Side Creative, a web and graphic design shop in the UK)

T. A post a day was certainly an ambitious goal for the main site and you all pulled it off for nearly a year and a half. What were the biggest challenges in generating that kind of content?
S. The biggest challenge was generating the content!  Seriously, sometimes it took just gritting your teeth and writing an article.  And then saying “is this crap?  Well, it’s not TOO crap, let’s post it”.  Being sure that we had our “anchor” posts- a few really good meaty articles every week to offset the ones that obviously weren’t pulitzer material.  Once we got some other people writing for us though, it really became much easier to handle, and I think the overall quality went up quite a bit.

T. Do you think WWPD.net will go back to a post a day at any time in the future?
S. I won’t speak for Jon, but I’d say it’s probable to come back, but it’ll take some more volunteers.  I accounted for 2 or 3 articles a week.  But hey, with me gone, you can get all kinds of new perspectives!

T. There’s been discussion of video bat-reps and reviews on the boards. And I’ve seen some interest from mods and others in making it happen. But also a ton of pushback. What goes into doing a video bat-rep and is it something WWPD.net or its sister blogs is likely to feature regularly?
S. They’re hard.  They are seriously hard to do.  They’re hard to set up, they’re hard to execute, and they’re really damn hard to edit!  Plus, in terms of a return on our investment, video battle reports never seem to generate as much buzz as our written ones do.  There are some folks out there doing fantastic ones though!   

T. Tournament play can be a pain, multiple days sometimes, and certainly a time commitment in terms of painting and play testing. Of course a large portion of the community (myself included) does the tourney thing. What (besides going to work for BF) draws you and the WWPD team to tournament play? What pushes you away?
A. We love tournaments still- I’ve played in quite a few this year, and Luke and Jon are gearing up for their next one!  What we are a bit turned off to is the multi-day tournaments at the big conventions.  That’s no real fault of the tournaments themselves, it’s just that we really found that we enjoy hanging out and playing board games.  Plus, there’s so many people we want to catch up with that playing in a tournament makes you sort of feel like you missed the convention.  
That being said, I definitely felt the pull at the nats.  Seeing the tables set up, a huge part of me wished I had signed up for it!

T. Do you have any critiques of the tournament system here in our local meta? (Mid-Atlantic coast for those of you outside the region)
S. Hmm...  Well, I’m starting to think sportsmanship scoring is a bit moot.  I love the idea of it, but I’m not sure I’ve seen an execution of it yet that didn’t either disproportionately make it irrelevant, or make it so powerful that it wildly swings placements.  I love the idea of voting for “favorite opponent” but I am of the opinion that tournaments could do without a sportsmanship score.  Now, this is a still forming opinion so I am open to discussion.  Mostly, I am open to seeing what data can tell me.
I think the level of terrain is something we often discuss.  Because FoW has no defined ground scale, it’s an impossible argument to make from any scientific point of view.  The game obviously places an emphasis on range, though many of the tables here would never allow an 88 to get a shot at 39 inches.
Conversely, big beautiful lush tables are just so much more appealing to the eye, and are really what got me into miniature gaming in the first place.  So I suspect the happy medium is somewhere in between.  But make no mistake- terrain density is a huge factor in any game you play.  But arguing that one way is right and one is wrong is silly.  The terrain should be your enemy and your friend.    

T. One of my biggest critiques of the Flames System is the victory point system. In my humble opinion, close games with few losses are not accurately represented when the winner gets 6 points and the loser 1. Even Battle Front at Historicon Nationals gave the winners an extra point (presumably to spread out the pack a bit). I think that’s a less than optimal solution, do you have any sage advice on how to improve scoring in tournament play?
S. Well, I love math.  I95 gave an alternate system a test run and I really really liked it.  Unfortunately, a lot of other people didn’t.  For now, it works, but it does leave a bit to be desired doesn’t it?
My blue sky solution?  We have an app on our phone.  Tournaments are organized and everyone has their phone or tablet.  Each round they see who they’re matched against, and what their opponent’s army is (all tied into easy army of course!).  Then at the end they both fill out the results on their own device.  If there’s any discrepancy, they’re alerted to it and need to reconcile.  Using this method means we could have any sort of math-nalasys necessary.
But, even adding math still introduces problems.  Do you favor destroying the enemy?  Now recon companies that are slippery are less attractive.  Do you favor keeping units alive (as the system does now?) now big units are attractive.  For now, I think I will leave any alternate system to people with bigger brains than mine!

T. So, you’re moving on to be a corporate shill for our favorite corporation (Ed: it’s all love!). No corporation is perfect, even if I do think the Flames system is the best all-around wargaming system out there at the moment. If you could whisper in Phil’s ear (Ed: creepy) and he would make three changes that you asked for, what would they be?
S. Tough to say!  I think Phil has done a great job so far!  I suppose if I could play king for a day and change 3 FoW rules they’d be: 1) Change “bailed” to anything else.  “stunned”, “shaken”, “stirred” or anything.  Bailed is just too specific!  2) I’d redo the attachment rules.  V3 almost got it right, but the recent changes make it sorta awkward.  I’d like to attach my two HQ HMGs to the same platoon so I have an nice defensive anchor!  3) I would say I’d look at repointing tanks in early war, but it seems like the balance is shifting there so I’m happy to wait and see.  

T. Tell us a bit about your new gig.
S. Well, part of the excitement is that much of it is left to be carved out!  I think both I and Battlefront only have a broad idea of what I will be doing.  I know I will be overseeing digital properties- the websites and blogs will be my #1 concern.  Generating content is king, and improving the user experience is certainly high on the list as well.  Early on this is going to be about their newer sites that aren’t established yet.  Will the forum fall under me?  I’m not positive, but it seems likely, and it’s a challenge I’d happily accept.
Thankfully, I think Battlefront is already pretty good at generating online content, and so I can focus a bit more on streamlining the process, adding metrics, and improving what’s already in place.  I also plan to dive in feet first with some of their new properties like Dungeons & Dragons and Dust.  I need to immerse myself in them so I can fully understand the products and then help generate some excitement about them.  Like I said- there’s a lot listed her and twice as much that I’m leaving out so this response doesn’t get too rambly.  
Another big piece of the puzzle will be brand work.  I’ve done a lot of learning about developing brand identity both through WWPD and through my real life work, and so have a lot of experience to leverage there.  Flames of War has become an iconic brand, but as Battlefront continues to expand, more exciting properties have united under their banner and could benefit from a second look.
Finally, facing outward to the community will be another of my responsibilities.  Working with sites like yours and WWPD, all fall well within my duties.  So, as you can see- a lot is on the plate, and a lot remains to be hammered out with me, John Paul, and Pete when I get down there.  Thankfully, I’m a work-a-holic so I welcome it all!  All I need is a big white board, my computer, and some good ol’ american drip coffee.  

T. What are you going to miss the most about leaving WWPD?
S. The road trips.  Sitting in the car with Luke and Jon, shooting the breeze during a tournament, and meeting people who we’ve positively impacted is by far my favorite part.  

T. What excites you the most about the new position?
S. Literally every aspect of it excites me.  I am most excited about working with a team who are actually in the room with me.  Coordinating constantly via Gchat is nice and all, but nothing beats brainstorming in person.  I know some of the guys who I’ll be working directly with, and have immense faith in their abilities.  I look forward to meeting some of the other people who will be on my team.  I’m so lucky in that we’re all united by the same interests.  If you can’t tell, I’m really quite excited about this!

T. What’s your fondest WWPD memory?
S. Oh man, that is such a tough question!  So many great times.  I spouted quite a few in episode 60 of News From the Front, so I’ll instead share one that I didn’t talk about.  The first time Battlefront linked our podcast on their front page, I felt like such a bigshot.  I was so proud, I think I told a bunch of my non-gaming friends who of course didn’t understand what a podcast was, much less was what a miniature wargame was.  That helped put it in perspective, but hey I was still proud!

Softball Question Time:
T. Favorite Unit?
S. Such a hard one!  I love a Panhard swarm.  But I guess I’m gonna have to go with US Armored Rifles.  I just love how much of a swiss army knife they are.  Plus, the halftracks look so cool!

T. Favorite era of play?
S. Mid War.  First love.  It just feels so right on all fronts!

T. If you could only play one army from here to eternity, what would it be?
S. Yanks definitely.  And if just one army?  Hell, I guess Armored Rifles!

T. Favorite board game?
S. Tough one!  It totally depends on the group and what we want out of it.  But, I’d say Battlestar Galactica is probably my favorite overall. (Ed: SO SAY WE ALL!)

T. Favorite non-Flames of War wargame?
S. Saga.  It’s the perfect foil to FoW.  Different scale, far more simple, different era, some things have color.

T. Any parting words of wisdom before you go off to the land of Orcs and Hobbits?
S. Keep it real.  Remember we’re all in this niche hobby together, so be cool to each other!

T. Thanks Steve, and remember if someone gives you a small gold ring, you give it right back.
S. What has Throck got in its pocketses?!

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