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Author Topic: [My Idea] New Business Model- Inspired by Ken Hite  (Read 6245 times)
Troy_Costisick
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Posts: 802


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« on: September 05, 2006, 04:15:14 AM »

Heya,

What a trip my path towards game publishing has been lately.† Recently I read This Post by Ron.† Thereís a road of no return that people walk when they get fed up with RPGs and never want to come back; I almost went down that.† Just for some quick background two of my games Cutthroat and Hierarchy won Ronny awards last year.† I was pumped about getting them tested and published.† Well, I got that done, finished the layouts scooped up all the art I could for them on my budget and had it all ready to go.† Then several things that I wanted to go my way didnít.† I was disappointed, very disapointed.† When my cousin Stacey scheduled her wedding on the weekend of GenCon, I just swore the whole thing off.† I thought I was done.† But, after several encouraging conversations with my wife and a really awesome trip to the Western United States this summer, I came back with a new perspective.† I knew I still wanted to publish my games, but releasing all four (adding Standoff and Holmes Ďn Watson to the list) at once didnít seem right.† I had an opportunity to do something unique, but I didnít know what.† Then I listened to Paul Tevisís interview with Ken Hite on Have Games will Travel.

The idea struck me like a bolt of lightning.† Ken said the gaming industry, specifically the distributors and shop owners, were increasingly looking at RPGs as periodicals rather than books.† His words also jived with what Iím learning in my masters classes about children: attention spans are getting shorter and new stimulation is required *often* to keep their minds focused on something.† So I thought, ďHey!† Why donít I turn my games into a periodical rather than just dumping them on the market all at once!Ē† It was crazy.† And I liked it.† So here it is, my new business model:

I am going to offer customers the opportunity to purchase a subscription to my games rather than purchase each new game as it comes out.† A subscription would include four books that would come out quarterly (every three months) and be complete, self-contained games.† This is not a model where I create one ďCore RulesĒ and release supplements every quarter.† Each game is a unique individual and very fun to play.† As of right now, I plan to offer three different kinds of subscriptions.

The first kind would be a PDF subscription.† This would be the cheapest.† I would just send the customer the pdf over email the day the game is ďreleasedĒ and they would have it waiting for them when they got home.† PDFs are getting increasingly popular and if someone wants to test the water this way, itís good for both them and me.

The second kind would be a Book subscription.† This is kind of the ďnormalĒ subscription.† At no additional cost for shipping and handling, they would receive a new book (paperback, perfect bound) sent to their address every three months.† †International orders would probably cost a little more and take a little longer to ship.

The third would be a Lifetime Book subscription.† While it would cost more, it would guarantee them a copy of every book I release under the periodical model Iím talking about for as long as I can keep it up.† They would never again have to pay another fee for the books, shipping, or handling even if the costs of my other subscriptions go up.† Once that fee is paid, you get one of everything I make.† Period.

I think I would probably also offer to sell ďback issuesĒ if people wanted those.† I wouldnít make them available, however, until the next ďissueĒ came out.† But if someone gets a subscription in the second year of this and wants Cutthroat letís say, then heíd have a chance to get it.† Of course ordering four back issues would be more expensive than ordering a subscription.† Subscriptions are what Iím really interested in selling.

Now I know this sounds a little crazy.† A book every three months!?!?! Thatís nutz!† But hey, Iíve got the first four already written and tested.† Thatís the first year at least.† Iíve got two more games in the draft stage and will start testing them after a couple more revisions.† So for the first year and a half Iím already set.† Plus, if youíve followed my Blog at all, you know that Iíve created a good number of tools to help me write these games.† I now know what it takes to make a complete game and Iíve got a whole wad of ideas just waiting to be realized.

And you know, honestly, the games I write are pretty simple.† They arenít designed on the same level of depth as say Dogs in the Vineyard or the Mountain Witch.† Character creation in each of them is fast and easy.† 5-15 minutes for most of the games.† And they are really designed to give the players a complete game experience in one sitting.† Kinda like a short story rather than a novel.† So imagine a customer gets his book.† Itís 50-70 pages long and takes less than a half-hour to set up and only 2 to 5 hours to get a complete game.† If he and his friends play twice a month, then by the time my next game comes out theyíve had 6 play experiences with it.† Theyíll be ready for something new.† And thatís the idea.† I will provide customers with frequent, new gaming experiences at regular intervals that wonít take up a lot of their time with things like set-up and prep.† At least, thatís the hope.

I will be a little bit before I get this in motion, though.† Iíve got to redesign my website.† I need to figure out PayPal a little better so I can set up a storefront on my site.† I need to revise the covers and touch up the layout on a couple games.† So no sooner than the 4th quarter of 2006 would I be able to get this out the door.† That sounds about right.

Anyway, here is what I want from you guys.† Iím not really interested in comments on why this model wonít work, why the games will suck, or how I canít possibly keep up the pace.† I am very interested in comments that suggest way to HELP make it work.† Iíve discussed this privately with a couple other people.† Interestingly, they had opinions on the opposite ends of the spectrum.† But I am very interested in what do you think I need to do to make this happen and happen well, and even more interested in anyoneís publishing experiences that might be helpful.† How can I avoid potential pitfalls?† What are the good points of selling games in this fashion?

I do appreciate you reading this far and all the feedback you will offer.

Peace,

-Troy
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Eero Tuovinen
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 2591


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« Reply #1 on: September 05, 2006, 06:10:44 AM »

Anyway, here is what I want from you guys.  Iím not really interested in comments on why this model wonít work, why the games will suck, or how I canít possibly keep up the pace.  I am very interested in comments that suggest way to HELP make it work.  Iíve discussed this privately with a couple other people.  Interestingly, they had opinions on the opposite ends of the spectrum.  But I am very interested in what do you think I need to do to make this happen and happen well, and even more interested in anyoneís publishing experiences that might be helpful.  How can I avoid potential pitfalls?  What are the good points of selling games in this fashion?

I've pondered a similar model myself in the past. I don't know if this is so applicable to your situation, but here in Finland, if I was doing this, I would definitely utilize the magazine distribution system, which is separate from book distribution. It's a relatively simple way of getting into a huge number of stores, and many subcultural products are pushed via the magazine rack in Finland, including stuff that only comes out four times a year. Of course, this being my point of interest, I've also pondered the necessities of a (at least) partially mainstream audience a lot. At least here this kind of thing could fly with subcultural audience alone (there is right now one roleplaying magazine that's distributed this way), but I'd be interested in looking into how to get new people to pick up the product as well.

Other than that, I suggest working a bit on creating a brand separate from your person for stuff like this. That way you can later on move into more of an editor position on single issues if the mood strikes you and let somebody else write the game of the quarter. A break, if you will. Doesn't mean that you can't sell with the force of your personality, as it's still you choosing what to publish in your book club, even if you don't write every single game yourself. Also, you will inevitably end up in a situation where you don't have an inspiration for a new game, or your game fails in playtest, or there's other problems. It's easier if you haven't promised your audience that they'll get a game by you, and you can just ask somebody to partner with you for one issue when this happens.

A thought: you probably should work out a firm publishing schedule for yourself, and publicize it extensively. Pick four conventions around the year, for instance, and publish each issue around one. Sell subscriptions and single issues in those conventions. This may enable your audience to reach you, and getting those subscriptions is mucho easier face to face.

Also, a random detail question: what's that stuff about a "lifetime subscription"? You don't want to hear negative attitudes, but that sounds weird to me. Why not a "permanent subscription" (or whatever they call it in America) like they have for magazines, where you bill them every year and ensure that the permanent price is always lower than the current year price. That's how they do it normally. Lifetime subscription sounds like shooting yourself in the foot.

Other than that: a very exciting idea! I hope you can get it off the ground. Let us know how you progress. I have to get going, but lets write a bit more later on.
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Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.
Chris Peterson
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« Reply #2 on: September 05, 2006, 11:20:08 AM »

D&D players have the Dungeon (DM-focus) and Dragon (player-focus) magazines, which have new content (classes, adventures) every issue. (I don't know the frequency: monthly, bi-monthly?)

However, those magazines build on the D&D 3.5E foundation. You usually don't need any previous magazine issues. Your game periodicals would need to be careful about rule or content dependencies between issues, or else new customers might be reluctant to subscribe.
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chris
pells
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Posts: 192


« Reply #3 on: September 05, 2006, 12:04:26 PM »

Hi Troy. Monthly subscription is very important matter to me as it is the way I also want to go. My approach is very, very different, but I think I can give you my two cents. That said, I haven't publish yet, so my comment is worth what it's worth ... That said, I like your idea.

I believe your main objective is simple : subscription, subscription and subscription !!! It has the advantage to "flatten" your revenue and that's what you want to encourage.
The fact that you bring new game at each release is really specific to what you do : this is very different from dungeons magazine or things like cops (monthly scenarios for a core game). So, I think you need to focus on the kind of game you provide : this is what people will be buying.

Quote
How can I avoid potential pitfalls?
You've already got four games ; and that's very important. This will give a year to manage your first subscription without the stress of the three months delay. And that's good news.
I'd say, like Eero, that "lifetime" subscription is a bad idea. Why ?
First : what is it worth ? one year ? two, three ? hard to tell ... I'm not even sure you want to sell those !! Maybe something like a year subscription for a discount is a good idea...
Second : it might be hard to stop ... what do you tell those peope if it doesn't work after two years and you want to stop ?
Third : I'll even say this is counter productive. You want to sell monthly subscription but you seem ready to abandon it for a "big" cashdown ? This is not good in the long term. Either it is too expensive and nobody will want it, or it is too cheap and everyone will buy that instead of subscription.

Quote
But I am very interested in what do you think I need to do to make this happen and happen well
Eero's idea of conrtibutors, where you take the role of editors is very good. Your bussiness might even come to that, who knows ?
Speaking of contributors, you might even want some people, in the long term, to work on some project for some supplements (not sure it would work with your game, but, what about scenarios ?). The idea is to be able to provide as much as possible with your subscription.
But even better, it would be for you to be able to define a added value service related to the subscription, a reason for people to keep their subscription other than just "buying" games. Given what you want to do, this might be seen in the long term. I'll stop talking about, since this is the way I've chosen and I don't want to hickjack your thread. But, I recommand you give it a thought.
About previous issues :
Here's what I think : don't sell them at all (not really, I'll come back to that) !! Since you want to encourage subscription, how about this : the first month of subscription, you get the current issue. At the release of the next issue, you receive it, but also get a choice (for free) from any back issues. So, let's say someone subscribes after you have launched for two years : he now gets two goods reasons for subscription : two new games a month !! If you want to sell the back issues, associate their selling with subscription. You want to buy a copy a cuthroat ? Alright, it includes in the price a one month subscription.
Given your current model, I don't think what I propose should be applied that way, but try to think of something along those lines !!!
And remember : you want to sell subscriptions, not pdf nor paper !!!
Last thougth : how about, after a year subscription in pdf, you can get a paper copy of a past issue for free ? That would be another reason to keep your subscription.

I hope this could help you. I believe monthly subscriptions are the key, so be sure I'll keep an eye on this thead and your project.
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Eero Tuovinen
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #4 on: September 05, 2006, 12:34:12 PM »

I think the idea would be to be publishing very much games, not snippets of material for other games. Every book it's own thing. Like a "book of the month" club, not a magazine that references it's own back issues. Although I'd certainly work in some graphical similarities into the books to make them look like a series.

The main challenge of doing something like this is to really get some benefit out of doing "periodical publication" instead of just putting the books out in regular intervals. The main difference and benefit of the model would seem to be that it requires the subscribers to effectively preorder the books; you get a lot of marketing synergy for the later books, as well as immediate cash flow and a degree of immediate sales for the later products that wouldn't perhaps have happened otherwise. The drawbacks are significant, though: you lose the freedom of publishing when you like, and you have some moral accountancy to your readers to not write shitty games when they've already paid for it. From a customer viewpoint the main benefit is ease of use, as they don't have to make a new buying decision every time you publish a new game. The drawback is, of course, that they're buying without seeing, pretty much.

Considering those benefits and drawbacks I suggest taking a closer look into the "book club" model, as opposed to magazine subscription. What you have here seems like it would fly better if you didn't require a subscription so much as a membership: send all members of your book club an email newsletter a month before the next book comes out, and let those who are not interested in that particular book opt out this time. Send the bills for the books with the books, like a book club, instead of selling subscriptions. I think this is much more like a deal the larger audience would be interested in, as it doesn't require buying games sight unseen. I would probably get a subscription for your games, but game junkies like me aren't that common, most people don't even necessarily want to buy that many games a year.

From this perspective, it seems that the main benefit of having a series like this would be in marketing: with a healthy subscription / club membership base your new projects would have a direct venue for marketing them to people who were interested in your previous works. I suggest that you shouldn't just fire and forget, though; even books published primarily through book clubs are also available through other means, you shouldn't rely only on your increasing customer base.

To collect my thoughts, here's the benefits:
- Branding, with some assumed brand loyalty and collectibility value
- Old product creates a targeted marketing venue for new product
- Possible to get into new markets and marketing venues with a serial product
And, the drawbacks:
- Hard deadlines, have to design even if you don't want to
- Product loses the opportunity to stand on it's own, losing independent sales
- Higher investment threshold for customers, losing impulse sales

Looking at those benefits and drawbacks my first question is, "How is Vincent Baker not already reaping those benefits?" Thinking like that, the answer is that the seriality is really the only benefit you can't reach with a loosely branded, good quality publishing program. From that viewpoint what you really should focus on are the special benefits available via the serial format, because otherwise you're just tying yourself into a strict schedule for no good reason. How to benefit from having a strict publishing schedule?

How to benefit from being serial instead of individual:
- Get into those magazine racks and let people find you that way
- Advertize back issues in the newest one, supporting sales for old issues
- Sell advertisements; if you're going to be a magazine, then be a solidly financed one
- Sell books in advance via subscription (for the magazine model) or committed buy-in (for the book club model), as already discussed

Personally, I think the last bit is the one that really floats most magazine and book club systems: it's pretty nice if a thousand people have already paid you for your work, and willing to continue paying as long as you produce quality content. It has pretty serious problems for rpg publishing (quality control, usability for the customers and so on), but if you think you can get over them, then that part is probably what you should concentrate on benefiting from.

By the by: personally, what I view as the hardest part of an idea like this is producing the content. Three months is a really short time when you don't feel like designing. Even if you're doing small games or skimping on playtesting (which you really shouldn't), there will be times when you simply can't do it. What do you do then? Compensate subscribers? Get somebody else's game (my solution)? Delay publication? Better think this part through pretty carefully before doing anything else.

Second hardest? Why, getting people to buy into the scheme. Having a good reputation as a quality designer would make it easier, as then you could offer deals like "buy my latest game for $20 or get it for $10 and join my book club" and people would actually take the offer, because they knew that they like your work. Much more difficult if you don't have an existing fanbase, I imagine.

Pells has a good idea about what to do with back stock in this kind of project. Games are cool, so I imagine it'd be a powerful incentive for new subscribers to continue subscribing if you threw in an old game or two every year, enabling them to complete their collection.
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Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.
Troy_Costisick
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Posts: 802


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« Reply #5 on: September 05, 2006, 03:19:52 PM »

Heya,

Thanks for your reply guys! :)

Quote
if I was doing this, I would definitely utilize the magazine distribution system, which is separate from book distribution. It's a relatively simple way of getting into a huge number of stores, and many subcultural products are pushed via the magazine rack in Finland, including stuff that only comes out four times a year.

-Well, since I will be self-publishing I doubt I will go through any kind of distribution channels.† The complexity and headaches that go with that model just aren't worth it to me.† Yes, I might sell more books, but the chances of me getting ripped off or in over my head are very great.† It's a good suggestion for this sort of business model, but not something I would want to do for myself.

Quote
Other than that, I suggest working a bit on creating a brand separate from your person for stuff like this. That way you can later on move into more of an editor position on single issues if the mood strikes you and let somebody else write the game of the quarter.

-That is a very good suggestion, and something I probably will do.† My name will be prominently featured on the books, but the name of the publication will likely involve the name of my game company.

Quote
D&D players have the Dungeon (DM-focus) and Dragon (player-focus) magazines, which have new content (classes, adventures) every issue. (I don't know the frequency: monthly, bi-monthly?)

However, those magazines build on the D&D 3.5E foundation. You usually don't need any previous magazine issues. Your game periodicals would need to be careful about rule or content dependencies between issues, or else new customers might be reluctant to subscribe.

-Dungeon and Dragon magazines are an example of a publication model, but they are something completely different from what I am doing.† Let me try to say this as clearly as I am able, "each of my games is a completely separate and unique game.† none of them require knowing the other.† Each game is stand-alone.† They are unrelated to each other.

Quote
First : what is it worth ? one year ? two, three ? hard to tell ... I'm not even sure you want to sell those !! Maybe something like a year subscription for a discount is a good idea...

-I'd want to sell it because it is great for me and simplifies the buying experience for the customer.† I doubt I'll sell very many lifetime subscriptions- if any.† But I do want the option to be there for those who might be so inclined.

Quote
Eero's idea of contributors, where you take the role of editors is very good. Your business might even come to that, who knows ?
Speaking of contributors, you might even want some people, in the long term, to work on some project for some supplements (not sure it would work with your game, but, what about scenarios ?). The idea is to be able to provide as much as possible with your subscription.

-I am self-publishing, so guest writers is not likely at this point.† It may change, but I'm looking to produce my own games.

Quote
But even better, it would be for you to be able to define a added value service related to the subscription, a reason for people to keep their subscription other than just "buying" games. Given what you want to do, this might be seen in the long term. I'll stop talking about, since this is the way I've chosen and I don't want to hickjack your thread. But, I recommand you give it a thought.

-This is a great idea.† I can see including articles from my Blog and stuff like that.† I'll have to give it more thought, but adding something in the books besides just a game might be good.† I'll have to see.

Quote
To collect my thoughts, here's the benefits:
- Branding, with some assumed brand loyalty and collectibility value
- Old product creates a targeted marketing venue for new product
- Possible to get into new markets and marketing venues with a serial product
And, the drawbacks:
- Hard deadlines, have to design even if you don't want to
- Product loses the opportunity to stand on it's own, losing independent sales
- Higher investment threshold for customers, losing impulse sales

-This is the same sort of cost-benefit examination I did before I went public with this.† I agree with you that all the benefits and drawbacks you mention are real.† And I believe I can live with each, no problem.

-Thanks for your feedback guys!† I appreciate it.† Feel free to ask any other questions you might have.

Peace,

-Troy


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komradebob
Member

Posts: 462


« Reply #6 on: September 05, 2006, 07:16:58 PM »

Have you thought about where you want to distribute this?

I ask because I ran across a publication a few months ago ( sorry, didn't buy it) that listed all sorts of funky bookstores and outlets that were supportive of indie/small press magazines and books. Mind you, this wasn't gaming stuff-more politico-alterna-hippie-commie-anarchist-punk-stuff- you know, the kind of places I hang out at!

Anyway, I'm not sure if anyone has checked out these kinds of outlets for developing new markets. I'm not sure that you'd get a big response, but you are talking about places that are at least friendly to the overall idea of small press and DIY businesses. Hey, maybe they'll trade you for some incense or homemade soap ( I kind of like those, actually...).
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Robert Earley-Clark

currently developing:The Village Game:Family storytelling with toys
MatrixGamer
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Posts: 582


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« Reply #7 on: September 06, 2006, 12:47:54 PM »

Troy

This is a sound business model. In ways it comes back full circle to how amateur miniatures wargame rules are broadcast.

Strategy and Tactics magazine featured a game in the magazine each month for years. It was done as a slick glossy with mass sales (100,000 print runs) but it showed that full games would sell zines.

A more realistic production level (say shooting for 1000 subscribers) is what wargame magazines went after in the 1980's. The Midwest Wargamer's Association Newsletter would feature full rules sets each issue. The Solo Wargamer's Association did the same thing in England. These magazines got more and more professional over the years. I put out a newsletter in this vein between 1989 and 1994 called Experimental Game Group EGG (which can be read on Mag Web). I had about 100 subscribers.

Of course putting out a quarterly publication is challenging due to writing but it is the proof reading and quality of production that is really tough. You should strongly consider bringing in someone to share the labor. A reliable partner (or coalition of editors - who could get one of their games on the roster to be published) is worth searching for.

After all the work of getting the item out is done and equally important task is marketing the service. The limiting factor of the old paper newsletters was that we only preached to the choir. I loved getting to know all the old miniatures gamers - it's a great fringe society - but getting wider readership was elusive. I think the internet and PDF distribution holds much greater potential to get beyond the pond of true believers.

This means getting out on the lists and forums and tooting your horn. It may sound crass - but until I started doing that here how much did you know about Engle Matrix Games? Probably not much...


Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
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Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
http://HamsterPress.net
sean2099
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Posts: 182


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« Reply #8 on: September 06, 2006, 06:20:19 PM »

Hi Troy,

I think you have a decent buffer timewise.  You would have to keep up the grind on an almost daily basis.  I think it is doable, at least for a while.  Hopefully, with your success in the first year, perhaps you could hold some sort of contest where the winner's game would be featured in your magazine.  You would probably (if you think the contest is a good idea) feature in issue 2 or 3.  Or perhaps you could let people start voting...saying they like x kinds of games...solict data and make games off that basis.  Eventually, you would have to hire freelance talent or find a partner to ease the stress a bit.  That would be a good sign of success though. 

In any case, good luck with that idea.

Sean
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Troy_Costisick
Member

Posts: 802


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« Reply #9 on: September 08, 2006, 03:51:40 AM »

Heya,

Quote
After all the work of getting the item out is done and equally important task is marketing the service. The limiting factor of the old paper newsletters was that we only preached to the choir. I loved getting to know all the old miniatures gamers - it's a great fringe society - but getting wider readership was elusive. I think the internet and PDF distribution holds much greater potential to get beyond the pond of true believers.

This means getting out on the lists and forums and tooting your horn. It may sound crass - but until I started doing that here how much did you know about Engle Matrix Games? Probably not much...

-You make a good point Chris.  And your knowledge of wargamming and its history never ceases to amaze me.  You are right that if I want a large audience I'll have to get out to several websites, talk with people, occasionally mention my stuff, and develop a real net presence.  I agree that pdf publishing holds great promise for self-published authors like myself.  I really hope we see a lot of growth there, and perhaps my new project can open a few doors for people.  Thanks for the feedback!  My wheels are churning :)

Peace,

-Troy
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