As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, I get closer and closer to the day where I shave my head–a measure I didn’t think would be necessary until my male pattern baldness had progressed to critical levels.
But it’s not just my barber that has faced business disruptions as a result of COVID-19. We’ve already heard that Catalyst Game Labs, beloved caretaker of all things BattleTech, has been forced to delay the launch of the Clan Invasions’ first wave to later this July. I recently sat down with former BattleTech Line Developer now Art Director Brent Evans to get an update on how Catalyst is dealing with the coronavirus outbreak and how it has affected the Clan Invasion Kickstarter.
Sarna (Sean): I don’t really have a delicate way of broaching this subject, so let’s get right to it. How have things at Catalyst changed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic? What was Catalyst’s day-to-day operations like before, and what are they like now?
Brent (Catalyst): That’s an interesting question because there are many nuances to it, so I applaud your concern in asking it. The creative side of Catalyst has always been ‘virtual’, and since we all work out of home offices we’ve been able to keep cranking away without much of an operational hit. With that said though, there is an emotional aspect that the whole world is going through right now, as we all emotionally process what’s going on around us. Everyone has been touched by this in some way, from Randall’s daughter falling ill last week and waiting anxiously for results (which thankfully came back negative and she’s recovering well), to my wife’s grandmother catching the virus and passing 24 hours later. Every member of our great “BattleTech Family” – fans and creators alike – are going through something unprecedented and I’ve been really touched by the support the whole community has shown each other as we all face a challenge even ‘Mechs can’t fight.
“The creative side of Catalyst has always been ‘virtual’, and since we all work out of home offices we’ve been able to keep cranking away without much of an operational hit.”
Sarna: “My condolences” sounds so terribly insufficient at a time like this, but you have them anyway. Has the pandemic affected Catalysts’ sales at all or is it still too early to tell?
Brent: With the shutdown of distribution, the hit to sales has been severe to all companies in the industry of course, and Catalyst is no exception there. The next couple of months cash-flow is going to suck, but CGL has run very lean since the beginning, so our operations are better able to withstand such events than many of our fellow game companies.
Our real concern is for the smaller companies within the industry who bring great players to the hobby but who might not have structured their businesses like we have. As such, we’d just like to encourage everyone to support their favorite game stores and companies, large and small alike, as best we can. We’ve all got to look out for each other and there are a lot of great gamers, retailers, and creators out there who are going to be feeling the strain in the very near future. There are sure to be tough decisions for everyone over the coming months, and Catalyst is well-positioned to weather the storm because we are lean and very agile.
In fact, one of the first things we did was task Ray with overhauling a couple of product lines we already had in the works – redesigning them to be delivered as electronic products in the coming weeks. EPubs are something we do extremely well at Catalyst, and in no time Ray’s team had the content split into two new lines of PDF products which will begin releasing in the near future (even while printing and distribution are on hold). This content is great and ties in perfectly with the plots and storylines we had underway to make sure everyone can get their regular BattleTech fix.
You’ll see news about all that soon enough, but for now, I’ll just tease you all with the line I’m most excited about: an upcoming series of merc-focused PDF products which starts with release from two of BT’s most prolific creators. Jason Schmetzer will be bringing to life new content to expand the legacy of the Raiders from his novel Embers of War… and Blaine Lee Pardoe will at long last expand on the legacy of Snord’s Irregulars! Whether you’re an old fan who enjoys delving into the classics or you’re a new fan sinking your teeth into some legendary gameplay, these products are going to be a great combination of story and adventure. Get your dice ready MechWarriors, because some ****’s about to go down!
Sarna: We know that global supply chains and logistics have all gone haywire at the moment due to the pandemic. Did you expect things to get this bad this quickly with regard to shutting down global commerce?
“There are sure to be tough decisions for everyone over the coming months, and Catalyst is well-positioned to weather the storm because we are lean and very agile.”
Brent: I don’t think anyone “expected” an emerging virus to take off like that – or for things to escalate as they did, beyond the scope of intriguing story scripts of worst-case scenarios we didn’t really think will happen. Knowing it could happen is a far cry from expecting it to happen. I can only imagine how the people in charge of things had to emotionally process the impact which their decisions were going to have. Trading lives for livelihoods is a hell of a thing – and such events are truly unprecedented.
I don’t honestly think the opinions of a few game designers matter in the scale of such events, but one thing has truly resonated with me. I am impressed that mankind has been able to identify a potential threat of this magnitude, model a global pandemic with a reasonable amount of accuracy, and effect drastic social change to make a significant difference and save lives. Evaluating the global impact on commerce is really only something we’ll be able to fully assess in hindsight once we’re through it. For now, it seems the smart strategy is to just hunker down, play games, and try to stay healthy.
Brent: Yes, we are getting updates very regularly and staying on top things with the intensity of 6 cooks watching 1 pot come to a boil. But that doesn’t mean such updates are fit for sharing or public consumption. There are lots of moving parts in play which all have fits and spurts along their way through the process. When playing poker it’s best not to count your chips every hand, and getting products through production is also best tallied at the end. Just know we’re on it, we are getting updates regularly, and yes things are moving.
Sarna: Let’s go back in time to before we were living in a global pandemic. The Clan Invasion went extremely well, according to the Kickstarter stats. Would you guys do something similar for future BattleTech expansions?
Brent: Oh heck yeah, Kickstarter is a fantastic vehicle for gathering fan support behind a specific product line, and measuring how many units should be produced. We’ll probably not go quite as extreme with all the add-ons (because that really bogged down the logistical side of the Pledge Manager), but KS is a great way to make cool specialty stuff accessible – like items typically reserved for Convention Exclusives – to the whole fanbase. The Clan Invasion Kickstarter may have been a beast, but it was a fun beast.
Sarna: What’s the biggest lesson you (or Catalyst in general) have learned from doing the Clan Invasion Kickstarter?
Brent: Hmm… there were several, from logistical limitations around things like t-shirts, to the incredible passion folks have for the UrbanMech. But I think the biggest lesson we learned was just how greatly the BattleTech fanbase will rally around the game line when you take the products in the right direction. Overhauling the line may have been years in the making, but it was SOOOO worth it! Best fans in the world.
“For now, it seems the smart strategy is to just hunker down, play games, and try to stay healthy.”
Sarna: Now perhaps the most important question: when are the UrbanMech plushies shipping? I ordered two, and I could definitely do with squeezing an adorable plush Urbie right about now.
Brent: Hah! Oh man, I have no idea. I spent so much time proofing mech designs and finalizing Tukayyid maps, I wasn’t watching Loren’s progress on that front. We’d better go check… ;0)
Stay safe out there everyone.
And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.