The traffic started pouring in after an hour into the festival. Most of the early visitors consisted of average people who wanted to avoid the crowded main hall. The opening ceremony started off with a bang. If not for the main hall’s excellent isolation, the side halls would have been inundated with music and cheers.
Ves got a notion of how well his show models attracted attention when he noticed a lot of foot traffic heading in his direction. Only around ten percent of the show models in the hall consisted of premium mechs.
The Caesar Augustus drew the most attention, but the Marcus Aurelius also held a certain appeal. A loose variety of visitors arrived at his booth to gawk at the expensive models up close.
“They’re just like the masterwork models at the show halls!”
“What is this design? The Caesar Augustus?”
“Oh. Let’s go then. I heard the Augustus was a flop.”
“Are you kidding? You’re blind if you call this mech a flop! Just look at the detail of this machine!”
Ves couldn’t tell if the X-Factor or the rarity of his show models had a bigger influence on the crowd. Whatever the case, more than two dozen people of varying walks of life quickly congregated around his booth.
To his regret, none of them looked like potential customers. They ranged from couples hauling along their kids to career mech pilots on leave. Their clothing and lack of escorts made it clear that they didn’t have the credits to spend on something as extravagant as a mech.
Even if they didn’t spend a single credit on his products, Ves didn’t care too much. The day had only started and peak time came later.
The constant number of people lingering at his booth attracted the attention others who wanted to see what the fuss was about. His models gained a steady amount of exposure.
The kids and the adults who grew up during the golden period of the last generation worshipped his spin on the Caesar Augustus. The Eternal Edition’s glorious aura infected their minds with fanciful delusions where they imagined playing the hero.
The Marcus Aurelius on the other hand appealed to the older crowd. Compared to the bright and vivid Caesar Augustus, the sage-like mech exuded an aura of peaceful timelessness. That turned off those who craved constant action, but it put the elderly folk at peace as they thought about the legacies they left behind.
Only the Mark II Eternal Edition proved to be a disappointment. Its aggressive aura paled in comparison to glory exuded by the Caesar Augustus, while its inferior quality and cost condemned it to the role of a sidekick.
While Ves found it unfair for his cheapest model, he still hoped for a change in fortune. Once the people with money arrived, its price tag should warrant the forgotten mech second look.
The only unexpected surprise he encountered had to do with his virtual mechs. The recent promotion of his DarkSpear also had a knock-on effect on the recognition of his other designs.
“Will you be selling a dagger assassin like the one you designed for Jarle?” A young man asked.
“Jarle’s custom mech is an exclusive design. He won’t be happy if I make more copies available.” Ves patiently explained. “Besides, I made a lot of expert tweaks on its design that make it exceedingly difficult to pilot for the average player. Only a top pilot with lightning-fast reaction speeds can get a grip on its controls.”
The man and a few other fans looked disappointed at his answer, but Ves had no choice. He signed a contract with Jarle that stipulated that his mech should be the only virtual copy of its design.
Frankly, Ves got a little bored of the mundane questions. Very few festival goers showed any serious interest in purchasing his models.
Occasionally some other mech designers visited his booth. Their jealousy flared up when they watched the steadily growing numbers crowding at his booth. The organizers even stationed a couple of extra guards in the area to keep them well-behaved.
Sometimes they tried to argue with Ves about his design choices.
One skinny designer took stock with one of his designs and made his objections loud and clear. “Hey! You made a mistake with this mech! The arms are protruding forward too much! Don’t you know how to balance a mech?”
Ves grew a little angry at the ignorant remark. When he turned around to reply, Antje quickly held his arm.
“Don’t argue with trolls. You’ll only feed them. You’ll never be able to win a debate against someone who is set out to make trouble in public.”
The reminder cooled his head, allowing him to regain his rationality. Antje had a point. He had everything to lose and nothing to gain by arguing in public. Still, his pride as a mech designer made it difficult to ignore the blow.
Antje whispered something on her comm. “Look. Security is already handling the issue. They won’t allow the festival to be spoiled by ignorant loudmouths.”
A couple of security guards took hold of the designer and quickly hauled him away.
“Hey! Unhand me you muscle heads! I’m a highly successful mech designer! My mechs are up ahead! You can’t throw me out!”
The mech designer threw up so much commotion that the guards injected him with a sedative. That quickly shut him up. Ves and a couple of others shook their heads at the pathetic sight.
“I remember seeing his show models.” One of the visitors remarked. “They hardly amount to anything. I can’t imagine anyone willing to buy those heaps of junk.”
“Maybe that’s why he lashed out. His designs are crap so he wishes that every other design is crap.”
Sadly, other designers kept the unwanted critique going. With hardly any activity at their own booths, they strolled around the halls and let out their frustration at the first decent mechs they encountered. As Ves offered some of the best mechs among the Apprentices, he became a frequent target for snide remarks and discouraging advice.
Only the fact that they maintained a cordial tone prevented security from dragging them out of earshot. Their remarks even had a conspiratorial tone to them as many visitors lacked the technical background to understand the truth of their words.
Many issues in mech design involved complex interconnected design choices. If Ves changed one tiny aspect, then he had to make adjustments to ten different sections of his designs. Sometimes, what appeared to be the most optimal solution turned out to be a trap.
The most important goal that mech designers had to keep in mind was to complete a practical design. Often times, that meant that the designers had to dial back their ambitions in order to ensure their design remained functionally balanced. Pursuing peak performance in one area often came at a ruinous cost in another area.
These subtleties became lost once you engaged in an argument about specific design choices. The perception of the crowd turned ambivalent once they heard remarks like ‘the arms are too protruded’ or ‘the limbs are too stiff for long-term battlefield deployments’.
Ves tried to be the better man and decided to close his ears to the noise. Despite the efforts of his fellow mech designers, his show models exhibited enough attraction that they constantly drew more visitors.
He even got to meet his first potential customer. The woman looked like a bureaucrat delegated to do some errands for his boss. While she threw an admiring glance towards the Caesar Augustus, its ludicrous price tag almost frightened her to the bones. She quickly diverted her eyes towards the more modest Mark II.
Antje introduced its features. “The Marc Antony Mark II is a major revision from the Mark II, and is currently deployed by mercenaries and companies around the Republic. The Eternal Edition of the Mark II features several enhancements that make it suitable as a display model. The Mark II Eternal Edition is an ideal design to inspire your company and intimidate your competitors.”
“That sounds great, but this mech line lacks compressed armor.” The businesswoman retorted. “At the price you’re charging for this mech, I might as well procure a comech.”
“That’s your decision to make, but you’ll be better off if you procure the Mark II. Display mechs aren’t meant to be deployed in battle. The quality of the armor hardly matters if its role is to impress the people who are working or visiting your headquarters. Just look at the frame and forget about its specs. Feel how it calls out to you. Can you feel your blood pumping faster?”
The businesswoman wavered a bit. “Now that you mention it, this mech does seem to have a motivating effect.”
In the Age of Mechs, humanity worshipped mechs to a degree that elevated them beyond the battlefield. An informal custom emerged where certain companies put mechs in front of their headquarters and important offices to show off their wealth.
The practice caught on, and more companies started putting up display models for various reasons.
For example, an aggressive skirmisher mech encouraged a company’s employees to be proactive and to take more risks.
A mobile rifleman mech encouraged employees to be more flexible in their approach and to head off potential dangers in advance.
A heavy knight proclaimed the company to be an enduring fixture in the market. No matter what its competitors threw at them, they remained unassailable.
All of this sounded like hyperbole, but many academic studies have proven that the custom did indeed bring about a subtle psychological effect. The difference often amounted to a couple of percentage points, but for some large companies that quickly added up to a few billion credits.
Many businessmen still doubt the actual truth of the matter. Only a small minority of companies actually engaged in this custom. The rest considered the practice to be wasteful and needlessly indulgent. ‘Toys for boys’ they thought derisively.
Unfortunately for Ves, Antje didn’t manage to make a sale this time. The businesswoman shook her head after she spent a couple of minutes taking in the Mark II’s aura.
“I’ll have to decline your offer. Your mech doesn’t possess the traits my superior is looking for in a display model.” She turned to the nearby Caesar Augustus. “Your other models look more suitable, but the price”
The Marcus Aurelius would be auctioned in the evening while the Caesar Augustus sold for 80 million credits. Either mechs had been priced out of reach of nearly every company in the Republic.
Even though his first potential customer shied away, a couple of other serious buyers expressed their interest. Ves mainly stood by and let his salespersons do the talking. All of them worked for Marcella, so they possessed ample competence in this area.
Ves only intervened when the more technical-minded buyers started asking complicated questions.
Despite the increasing number of potential buyers drawn to his booth, his salespeople didn’t manage to close a deal. The number one objection raised by these people was that Ves charged way too much for his mechs. His price levels did not conform to the market where people expected a mech that offered a certain level of performance to charge only so much money.
For example, the Mark II Eternal Edition delivered almost the same performance as the vanilla Mark II. However, their prices differed substantially. The Eternal Edition sold for 40 million credits while the regular Mark II sold for only 28 million credits.
Many potential buyers couldn’t accept this 12 million credits premium!
As the afternoon rolled on, his booth still didn’t manage to make a sale. Even as the crowd around his booth grew to more than a hundred, the buyers among them all kept their wallets closed.
Even Antje started showing her concern. She pulled Ves to the side. “I think we’ve misjudged the market demand for your mechs. You’ve succeeded in drawing a lot of interest, but that doesn’t matter if you can’t convert any of that interest into actual sales. I think we should adjust our price levels.”
“It’s too soon to lower our prices. There’s still half a day to go before the first day is over.”
“You don’t realize how important it is to deliver a strong performance on the opening day.” Antje shook her head. “The organizers keep track of every mech designer’s sales record and publicise the list in front of the halls for everyone to see. If you end up in the bottom of the list, you’ll discourage other buyers from taking you seriously.”
Ves forgot about that detail. He showed some actual worry this time. “I understand the severity of the situation, but I’m not willing to budge on my prices. At least wait until the evening. If we haven’t sold anything by that time, I’ll reconsider the matter.”
Even if others thought he behaved excessively greedy, his products earned the premium he charged. His potential buyers might be discouraged for now, but once they strolled around the convention center, they might change their minds.