Tuesday, April 26, 2011

On NERO National Membership

I know I have a history of starting some serious shit. I am really not trying to do that with this post. Instead, I'm trying to be constructive.

No, it's true. There's definitely been enough vitriol on this topic already, so I don't really need to start shit. Instead, I thought it would be a lot more insightful to talk about the various arguments and expand on them, including what I believe to be valid and invalid points and what could be done to fix the issues.

Here goes...

1.) $15 is Too Expensive!
Validity: Low

One of the first complaints that comes to mind is that some people simply don't want to pay more money. I understand that, as no one wants to pay more for a product/service they've been receiving in the past. But times change and stuff gets more expensive. Sucks.

However, $15 is not going to break the bank. PCing costs money, and almost always more than $15 a day. In addition, you have to pay for gas to go to events, buy/make costuming, buy/make food. With all of those things, it should be easy enough to squeeze an extra $15 for an event. In the rare cases that you don't have enough money to pay the membership even when you just NPC, talk with your local chapter or even national. I'm sure they can work something out.

But ultimately, if you really think that $15 is going to break the bank and choose to go somewhere else, that's your right. I just think that most people use this as a threat more than actually believing it.

2.) We Don't Get Anything Extra!
Validity: Medium

This one is a tough one, and I gave it a medium, mostly because of the next point (see below). However, the claim that they've already got 9th Edition Rules is not valid. This is a volunteer organization, so things happen when the dedicated few have time to commit. This slows down everything. Want faster clarifications and errata? Want racial updates faster? Want new playtests faster? All of these things could be done if there was a modest payment made to the people who perform these tasks.

I'm not saying we pay a lot. I used to write for $5 an article, and that was enough for me to actually write articles bi-weekly. It really keeps people active once they've got enough goblins to last them a lifetime.

Imagine if NERO created a private job board, where people could essentially pick up a contract for a piece of work (racial packet, playtest, website, etc) and they would get a payment if they met the deadline. Congratulations, you just sped up content creation by 1000%.

3. We Don't Know Where The Money Goes
Validity: High

This is where we tread into difficult terrain. NERO is stuck somewhere between a club and a business.

Clubs: Clubs commonly charge membership fees to recoup expenses. This is normally fine for members, as they receive the benefit of those dues. And what's more, most clubs are non-profit, which means there's a paper trail. People know where their money goes.

Business: Businesses charge a membership fee for a specific benefit. You join a gym, and you're essentially renting time on gym equipment. You join a soup of the month club, you get soup. Here, we're being told that we're getting a national database for $15 a month, and some people are saying we don't need it.

Until national requires use of the national database (which could happen), paying this membership is not really needed for people who feel that their character is backed up and safe. There is no paper trail to guarantee that money is being spent on the other things.

4.) The National Database isn't Secure
Validity: Low

Some people are afraid of the national database, because what happens if the person running it stops? Well, in that case, either National can deal with it and fix the problem, give you a rewrite, or give you your money back. Really, claiming stuff like that is an insult, as the same can be said for practically any logistical person in any chapter. There is a worst case scenario that can happen to any database. The difference is that National can will you a new character in a worst case scenario, where a local chapter might not have that power.


In the end, I believe that the membership fee isn't the end of the world. I like the idea of a national database, and while I don't know where this money would go, I would give NERO the benefit of the doubt in turning itself around. I mean they got the 9th edition book out. That's got to mean something, right?

But on the other hand, I can't fault anyone who is afraid to pay into the database due to the fact that they don't know where the money is going or that they already have a reliable database. Unless National starts using teeth to enforce membership, there's really nothing they can do.

But the claims about cost being too extreme or that the database isn't sound are pretty much unsound.

Let's keep this post constructive without dropping into insults people. If you've got a point that you believe hasn't been covered, drop it in the comments and we'll talk about it.


  1. Thanks for taking a more "unbiased" approach. As a former owner, I appreciate it. Me, personally, I think the biggest issue is #3, but it is more an issue of trust.


  2. I've mentioned this before, and for all you folks who are regular players I don't think my particular beef is an issue. But for me who hasn't played much recently, it doesn't really make me enthused about coming back to the game to know I will (theoretically) get slaped with an additional $15 just for showing up once. I'm a grown up with a job, so $15 is not the end of the world monetarily, it's more the idea that people who are new or don't play often have to pay the same amount as people who play every weekend. I think it's a simple fix - either charge $5 per event until paid off or wait until your 3rd game that year. I would just like to see it addressed.

  3. I think the biggest problem is going to be that some chapters also charge a local fee and some don't. And that fee is sometimes based on whether you declare them your home chapter and sometimes based on whether or not you actively play there and thus need their insurance. Over time the first one is going to lead to all sorts of angry bitterness as players simply declare their "home" chapter to be a non-fee one and play elsewhere regardless. This in turn will probably cause various local chapters to switch to a fee based on playing there, or otherwise cause strife between chapters.

    The insurance based one becomes more problematic in that, theoretically, it means a player might have to pay a local fee to every chapter they PC at. That makes chapter hopping less attractive and unless a chapter is willign to suck up the cost, makes cross-chapter *NPCing* less attractive.

    On the flip side, that is theoretically a problem right now, but I haven't seen much evidence of people having to pay multiple fees so I'm not sure if local chapters are just eating the insurance costs of chapter hopping players or what. But I suspect we're going to see less of that as my hunch is that chapters have been relying on people paying a membership to them based on "home chapter" status and as that goes away like I mention above, chapters will have to switch more and more to charging a fee based on actual attendance.

    Or... it'll all blow over. I'm not a finances guy at all.

  4. This seems like a pretty fair rundown of the complaints.

    For #1, I think you're objectively correct. On the other hand, if making the cost $5 would make more people pay with less complaint, there's some sense in starting there, and raising it as the organization shows that it is being spent well. Micropayments are a thing for a reason.

    I think #2/3 could be addressed with some kind of articulated spending plan, rather than vague statements of "we're going to pay people to do things." When many people are doing work for free, it is frustrating to think that somewhere in the organization, some guy might be getting paid for the same work, and you wouldn't have a shot at it.

    Of course even that is partially undermined by a meta-argument: whatever justifications national has for levying the fee, the organization as a whole cannot be trusted to deliver what's promised (other than the rules set, which is ostensibly what's paid for by the 7%).

    That's the one that is obviously hurtful to volunteers who are trying very hard to make the organization reliable. Clearly some of what was promised has been delivered. And nobody's perfect, right? Even top-notch companies push back release dates and such.

    But the membership issue grates some, in particular, because the service that was formerly promised in exchange for it was revoked with no notice. The chapter I played at the time was running an event the weekend following the announcement, and it was a huge and expensive scramble to find last-minute insurance for the upcoming event. So I think it's possible to mean no disrespect to the database folks but still be skeptical as to whether sudden, inconvenient stoppage of the promised service will occur, simply because that's what happened last time. If you think that a bought service will suddenly be yanked and cause you a lot of inconvenience, it's not entirely unreasonable to just want to do it yourself.

  5. Yeah 2 and 3 for me too. Particularly given the rumblings I've heard for years that there are chapters out there not paying their royalties. If thier "business" isn't important enough to enforce the payment of their core revenue stream, then why should anyone feel comfortable that they will spend this $15 wisely, much less enforce it? I'll give that there could be a few shady individuals that don't pay the royalties because they think they can get away with it, but if this problem is more than one or two chapters, that tells me that National is not providing their end of the bargin. It's been implied that these "hypothetical" chapters that aren't paying were doing so because they were promised a new rules edition years ago, and National didn't deliver (until now). Maybe they will start paying now, but honestly, I don't see a chapter that's been breaking the rules for years suddenly saying "ok you can have your royalties now." And I agree with Bakeneko...it's a lot easier to just do it yourself than to have someone else do it and then fix their mistakes.

  6. @Cora
    5.) Membership makes taking the plunge more difficult.

    I think that's a valid point, but it comes down to a business decision. Under the current royalties structure, it takes a player about 3-4 events for the royalties to meet the value of the membership. However, the people who won't play because of the cost most likely don't attend many events. In order to actually lose money on it, National would have to lose almost 3 people to every one that stays. But it does severely affect the ability for the game to draw dabblers and cross-gamers.

    On the other hand, since the $15 theoretically goes towards the database (only physical benefit of membership at this time), it would make sense to charge everyone the same as the resources required are identical for each player. If you rent a storage unit, it costs the same amount if you only put one thing in it as it does if you fill the unit up.

    I agree with the fact that there is probably a sweet spot between $15 and free that people would be more willing to pay. In fact, they should have probably chosen $9.99, $4.99, or $2.99, as those are psychological thresholds of pain in pricing models. That's why most micro transactions cost less than $5.

    And one of the big things about number 3 that wasn't specifically spelled out is the issue of trust. Based on past experiences, National has betrayed the trust of a lot of people. Because of that, no amount of "Here's what we're going to do" is going to convince them otherwise, unless there's a contract that has teeth - a punishment for not meeting expectations.

    Companies that push things back and continue to be successful tend to have a track record of giving the customer what they want. National's track record is somewhat shaky, but in my opinion is working it's way back up. That's why I currently support membership fees.

    It is worth noting that there is currently no teeth the other way as well, as I have not seen a "You cannot play if you don't get membership" yet. So if you don't feel like paying, then the only loss is the national DB. This may be subject to change in the future.


    I am not sure as to the validity of chapters not paying. I've heard it a lot over the years (and may have even believed it for a bit), but I expect that there would be yanking of contracts if that's true. I believe that they might have been withheld at times in order to leverage a response to some other issue from national, but I doubt NERO wouldn't go after anyone who regularly doesn't pay royalties.

  7. @bakeneko

    And let me be clear. I am extremely grateful for the people who dedicate their time and volunteer to make the game better. The problem is that with no stake in the game, burnout will occur, and National doesn't have a good history of mitigating the effect when burnout happens.

  8. On the data base, I think you are misrepresenting the argument. It is not that the data base might mysteriously disappear. It is once your character is in it and all of your history of events is in it, and then the competent guy that is running it goes away, it might go back to what was just 1 or 2 years ago, which was an unmitigated disaster.
    Once that happens it is not as simple as just "getting your sheet". You might not have the proper build because the competent guy got pissed and left and you were never told. Ten you have to prove this and that and it becomes a pain.
    I have lived this as a chapter owner. I have had payers come back to the game whose sheets were in the national data base and not updated. We had to jump through hoops to get them up to date and in our data base.

    Your other point that it could happen to our logistics guy is also incorrect. It could not. If our logistics guy decides tomorrow he hats me and deletes everything he has, I have every sheet in my data base. I would know it right away too and could take steps to make sure sheets were updated properly. It is also backed up on a server I have access to at any time.Not copies of the sheet in PDF, but the actual sheets.

    So paying to have a national data base maintain sheets is a concern when you are the person responsible for making sure your players have what they pay for.

    Then there is the limitations. No local options. Not just playtests, but things like Noble Influence pints I use for my nobles. The national data base cannot track them. Even legally submitted and accepted playtests done by the rules cannot be tracked in the national data base if they effect build in any way.

    I have an email full of bugs and errors in the data base just over the last month. At a guess I would say 20-25. They were all fixed and quickly so. What if the new person can't? Who knows how right now if the current guy goes away suddenly?

    Finally the data base is required. All players will participate in the data and pay $15 a year. that is what came down from national. So if you pay, you go into that data base. IT is pretty good and getting better. But a few short years ago, well think back to it and tell me how it was then. When that volunteer burn out occurs to the guy running it, their better be a back up already trained to deal with the things he is dealing with every day. To my knowledge there is not.

  9. First, the contrast between your local system and the national one is not really accurate. You are asserting that the local system is superior since you, the owner, can act as an emergency backup for your character records staff. Joe V and myself (as the IS Director) can both temporarily manage the national character system if Bill would unexpectedly quit, and would very quickly appoint someone to replace him - which is an exact analog to what you would do on a local system. The database is externally hosted and backed up very securely, so that is not an issue. In order to lose access to your character sheet the entire national staff (including Joe) would have to quit, and all of the host's servers would have to burn down to the ground, all at the exact same time. That is simply not going to happen.

    Also, your example of returning players having problems with the national system happens even more frequently at the local level. Back in the 90s, PRO in particular was notoriously bad at keeping track of characters properly. My friends Kim and Brian have messed up sheets to this very day due to bad local character systems. And for what it's worth, National offered to fix them up with no fuss, while their local chapter insisted that they somehow produce every single receipt for every event they've been to in the last 18 years. So if anything, the national character system is *less* painful.

  10. The information that you guys can handle fixing the problems with the data base needs to be out in the public, it would help.

    As to the basic point, again, not I or any is saying the sheets will disappear in a puff of cyber smoke.
    My point was if the number of bugs and issues I see in notices from Bill goes answered for any length of time the system will have problems. Ever week I get more than few. IF yo are saying you are versed in the data base and able to handle that, that sir is god information to have gotten out early and is still good information to get out to the public at large.
    It is good to know from my perspective.

    The local thing is I suppose depended on the who. I have never suffered under a bad system and ours I believe is pretty good as is Cincinnati's and WAR's.

    Another issue people are having. The premise is we need this operating cash. Some of the justification is we know there was some lack of follow through and organization in the past, but we are going to do better, we are better. But the very release of the membership fee was horribly done. It should have been sold not demanded. First to chapter owners, who are partners not employees of NERO, second to the players with the owners. Instead it was simply demanded, which will always lead to back lash.
    Had it been implemented in a better way, it might have gotten a little better response, but the one thing that is clear is it does not speak to a well organized business that gives players confidence in the new NERO order.

  11. Noah, I thought you resigned? (i'm not saying this to be mean, that's what was posted on the national forms)

    But I agree with Mike, "if you are saying you are versed in the data base and able to handle that, that sir is god information to have gotten out early and is still good information to get out to the public at large."

  12. Karin,

    I think you have a really valid point. How about a compromise...you wouldn't pay a membership fee until your second event. That way if you didn't like it and didn't want to become a member, you weren't out the extra money...

  13. @Mike

    The issue about operating cash and how it was implemented is somewhat based on number 3. We need cash and we need it now, but we can't guarantee where it goes.

    And as to tracking local specific stuff, it really doesn't have to be on the national database anyways since it has no effect outside of your chapter. You can still track it locally without having to track player build. This has the surprise benefit of being able to track character status without having that information readily available to the character (if you choose).


    I believe I read somewhere about a 30 day trial period for new players where they don't need the membership, but it doesn't really address the casual, once a year player. However, that does help new people and allows them a chance to try the game before joining.

  14. Just for clarity, I did resign but I signed back up shortly thereafter in order to help Adam, Heidi and Dan finish the rulebook. After that I stayed on and decided to help reorganize our infrastructure and update our various IT systems. I currently am, in fact, a member of national staff.

    As far as how the fee was sold, I do believe that several chapters started public discussions about the fee before National ever announced it. Our original intention was to work out all of the organizational changes first and launch this alongside the new web site as well as a parallel major volunteer drive, but we got preempted by a few chapters and had to address the issues they were bringing up.

  15. That is unfortunate. I assume that happened in another chapter somewhere that got word before us. NcN received the National Policy from Shelly Hollen on April 11th in a mass email to chapter owners and in that notice were told-
    "we do need to make sure that everyone is aware of the new policies that were effective as 3/24/11."
    Our discussions on our forums started April 12th.

    So as a chapter owner I for one was told of a major national policy in an official email one month after it was apparently implemented for the first time and added it to the discussions on my forums the next day. There were no prior notifications or discussions on this as far as I know.

  16. Not that this is a major issue, but yes, I'd feel satisfied if it was pay at your second event of the year or pay $5 per event until it's paid off :) I am not saying this is a major business decision for NERO, obviously most business comes from people who play more often, but in the interest of fairness to all types of players it seems an easy thing to "fix"

    Also, just a thought - if National is getting paid to do stuff, what about paying your hardworking local staff and owners? Sounds impossible, and I'm not saying it can or should be done, but thinking about it - aren't they contributing to the game just as much, if not more (based on people's complaints), than national? I'm not an expert on what National does, but I know that running events and handling even local issues takes a lot of time, effort, and even money out of pocket. I'm assuming national gets the same benefits as your WAR owner/coordinator so those are already equal, though again I don't know. It'd be nice to have gas covered or something :) Just an idea!

  17. Hopefully, the new NERO online character database web site that has been running for almost a year now disproves many of the misgivings related to in this topic. Members are able to access and modify their characters interactively, print character cards, update characters after events, enter character background/history, upload a character photo, track character goals and group affiliations, transfer silver between members, copy their characters to other chapters, register and pay for events online, renew membership, purchase character build and spend goblin points on a whole host of things.

    I hope that you feel the $15 per year membership fee more than covers the functionality of the web site, as well as the the other benefits listed in several of the comments above.