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Author Topic: The importance of play [split from Mainstream]  (Read 11406 times)
mattcolville
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« on: November 20, 2002, 03:57:47 PM »

Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
One thing that seems to be overlooked in this discussion which I think should not be is that RPGs are very different from comic books. That is, COmics are a fairly passive entertainment. You buy the book, you read the book, you put the book in an acid-free back with an acid-free backboard and put it in a box for safe keeping and that's it.

RPGs are a more active hobby.


Lord they should be.

I'm doing a friend a favor and putting a bunch of his RPG collection (which is mighty) up on eBay for him. It depresses me to see the profound # of 128 page black and white softcover books out there from super pretentious games from the mid-90's I can prove using algebra that no-one ever played.

In order to sell really well, people have to play your game. There are enough people out there who collect RPGs without reading them to make a vanity press publisher think that if he keeps it up he'll be able to make a go of it, but it's an illusion. Many people buy and read RPGs without playing them. But not enough to support you and your family.

Also, many vanity press publishers have what they consider a fantastic idea, sure to sell. Time Traveling Cyberpunk Victorians is my canonical example. And some of these people are coming to the realization that if their audience just reads and doesn't play, they won't be able to quit their day job. They need to go one step further. They need to think about whether their really odd idea will actually make *sense* to enough people. It's not enough to decide "We have to get people to play!" you must also think "Is our idea stupid?!"
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: November 21, 2002, 07:55:48 AM »

Hello,

Matt, I hope you don't mind that I split your post off into its own thread. The Mainstream: a revision thread has essentially said its piece, and responses (especially to side points, however important) can be considered spawned-threads, I think. Jack actually split his ideas into their own thread earlier, active vs. passive entertainment.

I think you're nailing the issue that Jack only touches - the key to successful role-playing product sales, over time, is actual and successful play. Several points immediately spring up from that.

1) Conventional role-playing sales wisdom completely disagrees. That wisdom is based on a "hotness" model, in which D&D in the late 70s, Vampire in the early 90s, and Magic/Pokemon are the Grail.

2) Role-playing typically takes a hell of a lot more time for that access to experiencing the medium to occur, in all kinds of ways.

This is what that "active" concept means to me (as opposed to the cognitive superiority or inferiority of one medium to another, which often gets brought up when these terms are discussed).

3) Access to play has an interesting relationship to access to product - as with comics, a person is very rarely going to purchase comics for the first time without interacting in some way with a comic beforehand. Reviews, editorials, mention by a celebrity, advertisement, etc, are all fine, but the surest method is an actual comic in that person's hands, that he or she enjoyed.

I think the problem, historically, is that short cuts tend to remove the very features of the medium that are most unique and enjoyable. Other, related problems are related to design and social issues. I'm hoping that several of the current threads will offer some solutions.

Matt, one thing I'm not seeing, immediately, is what point or inquiry you're driving at in your thread. I saw what it sparked for me, but I want to make sure that I didn't take a sharp left from what you were after.

Best,
Ron
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Matt Wilson
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #2 on: November 21, 2002, 08:48:30 AM »

A few meandering thoughts inspired by Matt's post:

If there are many RPG buyers who buy, read and shelve, are they an untapped market? Were they never interested in playing at all, or is the game just not offering the right information in the right way?

As a personal experience, I was really drawn into the example of Play in Fading Suns, where they parallel a story with the mechanics and game chatter. It made me want to find people to play with, and I did, despite my dislike of the rules. Instead of all the tedious fiction excerpts that add words and money to a game, how about every chapter starts with the play example equivalent?

Chapter Five: Equipment
"Okay, I'm going to check the area for hostiles. I rolled an 8."
"Well, I got a 9. Do you have anything that will boost the roll?"
"I have Scanning skill at +1, and the scanner itself has the 'X-ray' edge, for another +1. That'll give me one success."
"Okay, Dirk picks up a faint reading on the screen, meaning it's either small or far away."

That could be a potentially good tactic for game designers, especially those who sell over the Web. Offer a free sample of play on your site for download. Tool it a bit so that someone without the rules can see how your rules are making a certain kind of play happen.

I think this would also be a useful tool to aid Ron's "show them" strategy. Say I'm trying to motivate some folks here in Seattle to play Sorcerer at a local game store on Monday. I tell them what it's like, then say, "go check out the play examples on the Sorcerer web site." They shrug and say maybe, then check out the site, and think, wow. Then they show up eager to see how they too can have a badass demon for as little as 1 Humanity a month.

-Matt
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jrients
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« Reply #3 on: November 21, 2002, 10:04:39 AM »

Quote from: itsmrwilson
Offer a free sample of play on your site for download. Tool it a bit so that someone without the rules can see how your rules are making a certain kind of play happen.


Hogshead's webpage about Nobilis impressed me because it contained two whole chapters of the core book available for download: the chapter that outlined the campaign world and the lush example of play chapter.  Put together, they give you "Here's what it is" and "Here's what you do with it".  I thought it was a great approach.

Another issue I would raise is the fact that some game books are so setting intensive it almost seems that the game itself becomes secondary.  This idea didn't crystalize for me until I read a post on RPG.net spelling it out.  The claim there was that some game designers do not, in fact, really wish to design games.  They wish to write atlases of imaginary places, but there is no market for such things.  They can get paid for atlases plus mechanics.  If there are games that fall into this category (I don't know), then I think such products may not encourage actual play.

Finally, I don't know how many games are actually designed to encourage actual play.  When I was in high school or college, I had lots more time to play.  I loved games that required long sessions to resolve combat, lengthy GM prep time, or a committment to regular campaign-style play.  Now I have a real job, a wife, and a daughter.  I need games that play faster and looser and that I can run irregularly once or twice a month without losing momentum.  I usually have no more than four hours to devote to a session.  As a result, I have sworn off Champions.  It just doesn't work for me.  How many designers actually ask themselves questions like:

How long does it take to make characters?  How long should it take?

How much should a GM have to prep before the campaign begins?

How long should he prep between sessions?

What's the average length of a play session for our target audience?

I have a feeling there are a lot of unquestioned assumptions made by some game designers in these regards.
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Jeff Rients
mattcolville
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« Reply #4 on: November 21, 2002, 11:19:16 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Matt, one thing I'm not seeing, immediately, is what point or inquiry you're driving at in your thread. I saw what it sparked for me, but I want to make sure that I didn't take a sharp left from what you were after.


Designers should design games that people will play. If you're designing a game people will only read, then you're not a game designer, you're a writer. Many, many, many, many designers I know have a really hard time distinguishing ideas that would make a good game from ideas  that would make a good novel. The two are not the same.

I think there are some good questions you need answers to in order to make sure your game will be played. Like; Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys? If your answers to these are 'I don't know, whoever the players decide they want to be' and 'I don't know, whoever the GM decides to make the bad guys' then you're doomed. DOOMED! :) And I've played in a game where those were the official answers. Furthermore, if your answers are so complex that they require specialized knowledge of the setting in order to be understood by the average gamer, again, you're doomed.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: November 21, 2002, 11:25:58 AM »

Hi Matt,

Have you spent much time browsing around the Forge? I invite you to do so if you haven't already. You have found a community of people who, despite our multifarious differences, agree with you in full - and many of whom have published our games accordingly.

There's a dynamic interaction among game design, actual play (and its social context), publishing options (especially self-publishing, which is what we mean by "indie"), and internet presence/marketing that the Forge is all about. You have, so to speak, found the choir.

Best,
Ron
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James Holloway
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« Reply #6 on: November 21, 2002, 02:24:53 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards



1) Conventional role-playing sales wisdom completely disagrees. That wisdom is based on a "hotness" model, in which D&D in the late 70s, Vampire in the early 90s, and Magic/Pokemon are the Grail.


Well, now, to be fair, lots of people play these games. Vampire isn't some game that everybody buys just to read. Tons of games of it get played. The same is certainly true of D&D, and, I imagine of Magic (they play it a lot round here, anyway). Not so sure about Pokemon... I never saw that being played, and I think it's telling that it's the only one of that list of games which was not enduringly popular.

So I agree with you that to be successful, games need to be played, but I suggest that those games are successful for precisely that reason.

- James
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: November 21, 2002, 02:39:36 PM »

Hi James,

There are several aspects of your claims that can be debated. However, to avoid side-tracks, I'll stick to clarifying that I'm talking about broken sales models. Actual play doesn't track the booming sales of a fad in a huge spike. As a retailer, to think that it does is suicidal - you deep-order for time-unit B thinking that all those sales in time-unit A represent instances of successful play. The result of this mind-set is to stumble from anticipated fad to anticipated fad, gazing in rapture at the early stages of each one (if it hits at all), and staring in crushed horror and sense of betrayal, then stumbling to the next one.

All of this overlooks and fails to track the actual play that works - which may or may not continue for a given game which had its day as a fad, and even worse, completely marginalizes games which had no status as a fad at all, but are being played.

Best,
Ron
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James Holloway
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« Reply #8 on: November 21, 2002, 08:56:24 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards

All of this overlooks and fails to track the actual play that works - which may or may not continue for a given game which had its day as a fad, and even worse, completely marginalizes games which had no status as a fad at all, but are being played.

Best,
Ron


Hokay, so "fad" and "played" are not mutually exclusive. Works for me. But I guess the problem from the retailer's perspective is: how do you tell? What distinguishes a game that'll get played from one that won't? Or is the solution to adopt ordering strategies that are more flexible in dealing with steady demand for a particular title?

- James
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Valamir
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« Reply #9 on: November 22, 2002, 06:03:18 AM »

Just to throw a little devil's advocate into the mix...is actual play really an effective yardstick to use as a retailer...

I'm currently involved in a Pendragon campaign...but when I sit down to play it doesn't put any money in a retailers pocket...or Green Knight's for that matter.

Sure, if and when the next supplement comes out I'll be buying it.  But that would be true if I were playing the game or not.  And for years was true.

I can sit down with Avalon Hill's Advanced Civilization and play 8-12 hour marathon sessions of one of the greatest games of all time...but that wasn't enough to keep Avalon Hill in business or keep AH games on the shelf in retail stores.

I suppose that successful actual play might encourage fellow players who don't already own the books to go out and purchase them...but that hardly seems the norm to me.

So perhaps it would be useful to identify in what ways specifically actual play leads to retailer / publisher profits.
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jrients
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« Reply #10 on: November 22, 2002, 07:24:30 AM »

Quote from: Valamir
I suppose that successful actual play might encourage fellow players who don't already own the books to go out and purchase them...but that hardly seems the norm to me.


To my eyes, that seems like the fundamental way games are sold.  

How many games would have been sold by now if the grognards had just read their Little Brown Books and then put them up on a shelf next to Panzerwhatever?

Would I have bought a second, third, or ten millionth RPG myself if I had never tried playing the Basic set I got back in '82?  I doubt it.  I could have blown the money on more comic books or action figures.

And my friend David, who grew up less spoiled than I did, would never have saved his hard-earned money in order to buy any gaming products whatsoever if he hadn't first played D&D with me.

To me the aberrant behavior is that of the hobbyist/collector, buying another game just to buy another game or because it got good reviews or because it's another product in line X.  Writing games and marketing primarily to such freaks (and I include myself in that term) is ultimately a defeating strategy.  Yet game companies and game stores seem to pursue us deviants as their cash cows.  I don't know why.  Maybe because it's easier to sell me Yet Another Superhero RPG.
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Jeff Rients
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« Reply #11 on: November 22, 2002, 07:38:57 AM »

I would like to throw out a theory that playing games actually decreases sales of game products.

For example, I buy Game X and get my group to play it on a weekly basis. Game X's newest supplement detailing Kingdom A comes out 2 months later. For 2 months I've made up my own details about Kingdom A and I am not about to spend money to purchase a product which will retcon the games we've been playing so far.

Same thing if Class Book E came out several months after we started playing. We're not going to rewrite all the characters and NPCs to fit the new additional rules from the supplement.

Now if I bought Game Y and our group wasn't going to be able to get to it for a few months and a Kingdom B supplement came out in the meantime I'd be more inclined to buy and incorporate material from it.

So groups actively playing a game are less likely to bring in new material which would change the game they are currently using? So games which sit on your shelf have greater potential to be joined by supplements?

Any thoughts?
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Alex Hunter
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: November 22, 2002, 08:48:05 AM »

Hi there,

You are all saying golden things. My mantra for the last year has been, "Most retailers do not track sales in such a way as to perceive which games work for their customers' enjoyment." I've brought this up at the retailer level several times, usually to encounter blank looks and a few enthusiastic agreements, but never any kind of reasoned refutation.

How would they do such a thing? Should they, in terms of sustained sales or profits? These are excellent questions. I have my notions for the answers, which I'm sure are clearly born of personal self-interest. I'm curious as to others' input about them.

Best,
Ron
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b_bankhead
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« Reply #13 on: November 22, 2002, 10:38:11 AM »

Its amazing, I see shelves of these non standard rpgs (anything Non D&D is in my opinion Non standard) and for the most part when you ask store owners who is playing them and how, I get the Zombie look.  Dead blank incomprehension.  Unless it is actually happening in the stores they have no idea about what is happening with the games they sell. Another 'brick in the wall' for my theory that to much of the fortunes of rpgs are tied to the shops.
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b_bankhead
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« Reply #14 on: November 22, 2002, 10:48:20 AM »

For my part since I have largely given up on the local rpg culture, I have largely stopped buying rpg material since my long term 'good' gaming group collapsed almost a decade ago.  I have been banned from a local game shop because I just occasionaly come in and read thing and disconsolately look  around without buying.  I'm not interested in collecting much, the last rpg material that I bought at full retail was ConspiracyX for an abortive game that I made the mistake of trying to play at a shop mostly devoted to cards and miniatures four years ago.  I have 3 board feet of rpg material gathering dust that is unusable because it isn't D&D, why add to the stack?  Since the rise of D20 it has become fashionable to write of people like myself as to marginal to consider, but honestly,how do they know?  If they have given up like I have they won't be seeing them so they wont be on the radar.  How many of the 'I outgrew it' former rpg types are simply disatisfied with thenarrow range of actual options the rpg crowd presents (as opposed to the optical illusion presented by the large number of rpg games on the shelves or they highly atypical gamers that post on rpg.net or the forge) .  Nobody knows, and the status quo is too smugly satisfied to really consider the question themselves.
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