Nov 20, 2009

Rock and a Hard Place

I appreciate everyone's comments regarding the NXT 1.0, 2.0, and Education differences and how we might find some common ground. I also wish to thank many of you for putting together some resources to share with the community - I've not got all them ready to put up yet, but soon.

I had an interesting conversation with an editor yesterday. The issue of how to satisfy the largest group of NXT users and minimize the number who are unable to use a book is a real hot topic. Hopefully you've all seen the image Laurens put together showing the overlap of the 1.0 and 2.0 retail kits - not a lot of parts to build with, is it? If the Education kit is thrown into the mix, the overlap of parts will be even smaller.

I didn't get a lot of feedback regarding the use of the LEGO Education Resource Set in future books, but the ones I did get were not very supportive of the idea (except for those who already owned the Resource Set for various reasons)... but buying the Resource Set simply to be able to build a new set of robots in a book does not appear to be what people want.

So, where does that leave us? Well, we can return to the Upgrade Kit that sellers like Bill are offering - they may include non-NXT-standard colors, and the Color sensor, software, and mat are not included... but the Upgrade Kit is $70.00 - only $10 less than the Resource Set... so my first guess is that if someone is unwilling to buy the Resource Set they're probably not likely to want to buy an Upgrade Kit either... at least at the current prices. I know nothing about the pricing of individual parts, markup, etc... but I can't fault Bill for trying to make a small profit (if any) on his Upgrade Kit - it takes time and energy to gather parts, bundle them, and ship - and if he's willing to do this, then I hope he's able to recoup his costs plus a little extra.

Another option is to continue to write books for the latest version that can be purchased in the stores and online - 2.0. But that leaves a LOT of 1.0 owners out in the cold and unable to use the newer books that will be coming out. I don't like that option, but designing multiple versions of robots using each of the kits AS WELL AS including those BIs in a new book is time consuming, eats up pages in a book, and reduces the number of robot designs that can be included in a book. Yes, I could write a 400-500 page book, but it won't cost $16.99 from Amazon.com - more likely it will approach the $30 range (or higher). And most of the publishers I've worked with prefer to keep the books at a specific price point that they know, historically, contributes to book sales.

My new book "The King's Treasure" uses the 2.0 retail kit. Most (or all) of the robots in that book can be easily redesigned using the 1.0 kit, but it will require some thought on the 1.0 owner's part... I struggled with this, but my publisher wanted the book to use the 2.0 kit and LEGO, while not putting any pressure on me to do so, expressed interest in my writing a 2.0 book. I'll definitely be curious to see the robots that 1.0 owners come up with to solve the 5 challenges I've created.

So, right now... I'm in planning mode. I have a request to do a new LEGO book but nothing is firm yet. Do I do a combo book - with 1.0 and 2.0 instructions? Do I focus on just 2.0? It has been suggested to me to do a book for the Ed version plus Resource Set - that might REALLY open some options for more complex robots...

I've got some thinking to do, but I always welcome input from the community.

18 comments:

Julie1364 said...

One possible answer make the book for version 2.0, but provide a downloadable pdf version of 1.0 equivalent robots. Of course that’s going to make more work for you and I’m not sure if the price of the book would cover the extra work.

Micah E. said...

Perhaps a supplement CD, including building instructions and programing modifications needed to build each robot in the book, but with the alternate kit.

You can pretty easily assume that your readers are going to have access to computers, it doesn't eat up pages, and it makes 2.0 books accessible to 1.0 users. Also, I imagine, significantly cheaper for both readers and publishers.

Only downside I can see is that a lot more effort has to go into the book on the authors' side... but that's pretty much a non-unique disadvantage anyway.

Armagon said...

Rock and a hard place is right. I do like the downloadable supplement idea.

One really nice thing about the Mayan Adventure novels is that they contain a series of challenges, each with a solution provided. The book's usefulness is not diminished much if you don't have the kit required to build the one solution offered to each problem. (Indeed, in some situations it is a bonus, as the builder can refer to existing instructions but must come up with his own solution.)

Lastly, and it is hard to say if it would succeed or flop, but, given permission, the community might be willing to make up instructions for variations on models in existing (and possibly future) books that can be built with different sets than the original.

Jim Kelly said...

One thing I tried (and still haven't given up on yet...) is the Mars Base Command where I don't provide building instructions for a robot but I do provide building instructions for the challenge elements.

The problem is that sales of the first Mars Base Command module haven't been all that great.

Armagon said...

Hmm... I've only been minimally aware of Mars Base Command. It doesn't come up on Amazon when I search for NXT.

This also strikes me as something problematic about using the Resource Kit -- it doesn't show up at Lego.com, and many people don't know they can obtain it from legoeducation.com.

Lego must seem some advantage in segregating the market, but it is unclear to me.

Armagon said...

Here is a thought for a compromise -- mostly it depends on how good the overlap is.

Write books that can be built with an NXT 2.0, an NXT 1.0 + Resource Kit, or an NXT Education Base Set + Resource Kit.

This way, any NXT 2.0 owner can use them, anyone with an NXT 1.0 who bought the upgrade kit or the resource kit could use them, any educational users with the combination of educational kits could use them.

Jetro said...

Does anyone remember how many books there were for RCX robots? I think at the current count there's probably a multiple of those available for NXT 1. I won 4 NXTs and not a single NXT 2 set, but I would find it more than reasonable if writers decided that there are enough NXT 1 options available and to move on to NXT 2

BTW, I like the idea of NXT2 and NXT1+resource kit

Jetro said...

That should of course be "I own 4 NXTs..."

Armagon said...

One more thought: it doesn't have to be all or nothing. I don't see that it would be a crime to have a robot in a book that required parts from the 1.0 kit and another that required parts from the 2.0 book. Say one needs the zamor sphere launcher or treads and another one needs a turntable. These are parts which can not be replaced without degraded functionality.

In the table of contents, list which kits can build the robot as-is, and, in the introduction for each robots, list a bill of materials and which parts a given kit is short on for building the robot (or provide a link to alternate steps to build it with a given kit using different parts).

@Jetro -- Darn, I wanted to know how you won four NXTs. Sweat and hard work, huh?

L3G0-Bots Lady (;-p) LEG0Bot-Gee a.k.a. V.Greene said...

The NXT 1.0 & NXT 2.0 & Educational kit difference is a predicament, but there is NO ONE solution that will satisfy all of us. Offering 2-3 versions of a book to satisfy all the different kits may be nice, but I would think that is a bit much – I would rather see authors focus on coming up with new, innovative projects rather than changing a few elements & programming of the same idea to satisfy the various versions. Besides, I think most NXT robotics fans, are creative enough to take an idea from one version & figure out how to apply it to another version.

As a NXT fan (and I would think most “true” NXT robotics fans), would feel offering an Upgrade kit would be helpful or like myself would just scrape together my coins & buy the new kit; hey new kits are exciting, the thought of new elements & new features. Plus, like eating Pistachios or chips, you can’t stop at just one; you crave to build a new robots to add to your collection.

LEGOmom said...

Jim,

In your new book, the 2nd one after Mayan Adventure (sorry blanking on the title), we could build the robots with NXT1.0+Education Resource set? What would be missing? The tracks, the thinner wheels, zamor shooter, new color sensor? Hhmm correct me if I'm wrong but I think the wheels in the NXT2.0 kit is in the Education resource set?

LEGOmom

Jim Kelly said...

If you're talking about "King's Treasure" than the differences are as follows:

1. One robot uses the Color sensor but a 1.0 user could change the challenge to use grayscale easily enough.

2. One robot uses the tracks but the robot could easily be modified to use wheels... the tank tracks were just fun to build with.

3. The mismatched quantities of parts between 1.0 and 2.0 was the biggest issue, and 1.0 owners should be able to easily overcome this problem by some redesign.

Jetro said...

Here's a spin-off from all the questions about overlap between sets... would it be possible to post the parts that are missing between sets so people can easily set up BL wanted lists to look for the items?

LEGOmom said...

Good to know Jim. So my take is that given the sensor and tracks, a person w/ a 1.0Kit PLUS Education Resource kit, would have no problem building your designs in King's Treasure.

LEGOmom

Jim Kelly said...

I think so, LEGOMom.

My goal wasn't to make super-complicated robots, but to make interesting challenges to overcome.

The first robot in the book is really a redesign of the Explorobot from Mayan Adventure with a few minor changes to the challenge.

All other robots and challenges are unique and, I hope, fun to the reader to try and solve. Two of the five are, IMO, quite challenging but not impossible.

I'm 99.9% certain I could create 5 robots with 1.0 to do all five of the new challenges.

AndyD said...

I have been following the discussion on authors, writing for NXT 1.0, or NXT 2.0. I can see the need to write books for the NXT 2.0 kit (that is what is now available), but there are many folks out there with just a NXT 1.0. I have both, but I am sure that many don’t.

I can see your dilemma, so (with more work on your part), instead of writing an encyclopedia size book to cover NXT 1.0 and NXT 2.0 how about writing the book for NXT 2.0 and maybe have someone make some similar models that can be built with just a NXT 1.0 and offer these instructions on an Internet resource (maybe for $$) so folks can use the NXT 2.0 book with their NXT 1.0 kit and have equivalent models. I imagine many folks would be willing to purchase the PDF’s instead of a new NXT or an overlap kit, or an education resource kit as a few dollars extra for each book would be much less than a while new kit.

I’m sure I am not the first to suggest this, but maybe if enough folks like the idea maybe the authors of NXT books can find this as an opportunity.

David said...

My question turns the table a bit. I just purchased two NXT 2.0 kits for my son and I to receive as Christmas gifts. I plan on ordering your new Kings Treasure book, but I am also interested in getting your older Mayan book. Would we be able to accomplish the tasks designed for NXT 1.0 in your Mayan book, if we only have the NXT 2.0 kit?

Jim Kelly said...

David,

I may be wrong, but I believe that the challenges in Mayan Adventure are totally doable with a 2.0 kit... the only exception is one robot requires the Sound Sensor but I think you could modify that robot to use the Color sensor to detect a flashlight or laser pen directed at the sensor... but there may be other options.

One possible bit of good news is that Apress has asked me to consider updating the Mayan Adventure book for use with the 2.0 kit... it wouldn't be a total rewrite, but the robots and programming chapters would be new. The story would be the same.
I'll keep my readers informed - nothing is for certain and Apress can certainly change its mind at any time.

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