It's All About What The Audience Sees

One of the first subjects I studied in college was magic.  Specifically, stage magic, as opposed to supernatural magic or Magic: The Gathering.  The latter wasn't first published until a bit later in my college career, and the former didn't offer a full four year degree.  You can get all sorts of degrees in it now, but instead of "witchcraft" it's referred to as "data analysis."*

Anyway, I quickly learned two things about sleight of hand.  First, the texture and finish of the cards significantly impact the mechanics of card manipulation.  Second, the audience's perception of magic is driven by many factors beyond your sheer mechanical skill.

While working on Film Tycoons I've greatly enjoyed the search for a manufacturer -- this has been a great learning experience and now that we're in the final stages the selection of printing materials is a critical task.  A few companies have been very responsive to my inquiries but Longshore Limited of Hong Kong shines.

Not all cards are created equal.  Magicians prefer to use Bicycle and Bee back cards because they have a very high quality air finish with just a slightly rough texture.  In short, they're excellent for card manipulations.**  Even a non-magician can tell the difference between Bicycles and a dollar store deck -- pick up ten cards and fan them.  Bicycles (and Bees) will spread evenly and the cards glide against one another.  Lower quality cards will stick to each other and clump.

Not surprisingly you'll find a wide range of paper and finish qualities when shopping for card printing.  When you're looking at mass production you really want some basis for comparison beyond, "I really like Bicycle playing cards, do you have something like that?"  Longshore has many permutations available and I can't tell you offhand the difference between a 330g black core and 250g white core cards.  Last Wednesday night I mentioned this in an email to Nancy, my brilliant contact at Longshore.  By Monday morning FedEx had delivered a box of samples to my house.***

That's overseas shipping in two business days, and I've yet to actually place an order.  In fact, as potential customers go I'm probably a real pain in the neck.  As we've iterated on the game development process I've updated our component list numerous times and Nancy cheerfully provides me with new quotes every time.  She's also patiently answered two dozen questions about the production process, recommended freight forwarders, and provided suggestions and options. 

Different experience with another company.  (This isn't another manufacturer competing for our Film Tycoons business, it's a provider here in the U.S. with a service that we needed pretty quickly for another aspect of the game development.)  I placed an order with them last week.  The automated reply estimated a shipping date of March 10th.  Okay, we can wait that long.  Last night I thought I'd check the provider's system to see what information I can get about my order status.  Turns out they do have ongoing updates -- my order is now estimated to ship on March 13th.

I'm not happy that my order is now arriving three days later.  My perception of the company's reliability just took a hit.  And since I had to find that information myself rather than being notified, I'm certainly not feeling valued. 

I'm confident that both Longshore and the other company can deliver -- that's the mechanical part of the process.  Longshore, however, demonstrates all those other behaviors which positively influence my perception of the company, and any magician will tell you that both those things are necessary before magic happens.

* When I started college the only computer discipline offered was "Computer Engineering."  Yeah, we didn't even have Business Information Systems yet.  You sure as hell couldn't major in "Creating Gaming Apps for iOS."

** If you'd like to learn some fun card manipulations to amaze your friends, I strongly recommend Jeff McBride's video series.  He's an amazing magician and his how-to videos are actually excellent teaching aids.

*** I was going to share a picture of the sample package from Longshore but I haven't asked their permission, so I decided not to.  Take my word for it that this isn't just an envelope with four or five cards in it -- it's a box full of cards, pawns, dice, a Loot Crate for aspiring game makers. 

Maker Space? What's That?

I'm so glad you asked.  I just happen to have an example.

A friend and I designed a tabletop game and reached a distinct milestone -- the game mechanics had been tested and re-tested (and re-tested and re-tested), the rules were solid, and all the card content was created.  Before sending the digital files to a printer for a production quality prototype we had one remaining step: work with a Real Artist to finalize the color scheme, graphics, and layout for the physical elements of the game.  We really wanted a physical copy of our concept board to examine with the artist.

Challenge: how do you print a 30" x 24" board at home?  We could print on standard 8.5" by 11" paper and piece it together, but the pieced-together look is distracting when you're trying to look at design quality, or sharing the board with people at a game design event. 

Welcome to the North Richland Hills Maker Spot.  This Maker space is hosted at the public library and made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services, as well as other organizations.  The best short description is "community workshop."  Most Maker spaces I've seen focus on two concepts: make available equipment that might be too expensive or otherwise prohibitive to have individually, and to facilitate the propagation of knowledge.

Case in point, our Maker Spot has an HP large format printer.  It prints on 36" rolls of paper, exactly what we needed for the game board.  It's connected to a Mac that has the full Adobe suite, and current price is $1 per linear foot of printing.  That's it -- copies of the game board for $3.  Considering that our next best offer was $40 with a half-day turnaround at a local print shop, this is more than a bargain.  Of course, I'm also unlikely to have a 36" printer at home -- the best deal I see on one on Amazon is $8,500.

Similar situation with other technologies.  The Maker Spot has 3D printers, a long arm quilting machine, an audio/visual production lab, electronics and woodworking equipment, and all manner of learning kits.  And there are classes.  Sharing of knowledge is a staple activity of all Maker spaces, and ours has a fantastic array of free classes -- you can learn sewing, 3D modeling, Arduino, Adobe, Raspberry Pi...not to mention Internet safety, small business start up, electronic privacy, and more.  My daughter and I have taught a few classes there on building devices in both Minecraft redstone and physical electronics. 

Different Maker spaces offer different equipment and classes, depending on the local need, interest, and availability.  I've seen some with full-scale auto garages, others with more electronics than a Radio Shack warehouse, and some offering pottery and crocheting classes.  Ours is definitely an invaluable community resource, especially if you're printing board game prototypes.