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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 221 - most online ever: 565 (October 17, 2020, 02:08:06 PM)
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Author Topic: An exercise in vanity ? (Mildly communist ...)  (Read 11641 times)
james_west
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« on: May 07, 2001, 10:17:00 PM »

Having read over this forum, one thing I'm not clear on is the -REASON- for charging for your .pdf

As Ron Edwards is quick to point out, the amount of money you make at it is a pittance, and is certainly not your motivation for producing the material in the first place. While this may seem elitist (those $10 add up ...) that's true from the point of view of the end user as well - $10 is real money to some people. I submit that having any charge drastically reduces the number of end users.

Charging for your .pdf strikes me as perhaps an exercise in vanity; you're just trying to see how many people are willing to pay to see your ideas.

You -have- to charge for your books, unless you're independently wealthy, because they do cost a bomb to produce (however, I've always thought publishing your RPG was something of an exercise in vanity as well).

To be explicit: what's your philosophical justification for charging, when there's no apparent pragmatic reason for doing so ?

                       - James West

P.S.: Having said that, I just paid the $10 for Edwards' "Soul ..", even though he pretty much gave away the relationship map idea in the GO discussion forum, just 'cause I thought it was a cool enough idea I would have been willing to pay $10 for it; sort of a shareware ethic there.

[ This Message was edited by: james_west on 2001-05-08 09:44 ]

[ This Message was edited by: james_west on 2001-05-08 09:46 ]
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Dav
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« Reply #1 on: May 08, 2001, 06:14:00 AM »

A few thoughts:

1) I'm a capitalist at heart.  If I put in time, I want to be compensated, and the "warm and fuzzy" feeling of accomplishment just plain doesn't do it for me.  

2) Many people charge low amounts to pay for server space, etc.  Sure, it may only be $5-50 per month, but it can add up fast.  Charging small prices for your products can make a big difference in that category.

3) Why not?  Vanity is the predication for society (don't get me started), yes I'm vain, yes I think I'm the shiznit... I fail to see a problem here.
(It struck me as I was watching "Futurama" this weekend, there was a line where Bender (the robot) says: "Well, I'm having a bad day, and by extension, so is everyone else", I think that about sums it up)

4) Beer money.  Nuff said.


Dav
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james_west
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« Reply #2 on: May 08, 2001, 10:29:00 AM »

OK, so your reasons seem a little lame to me; payment for work done only makes sense if you're routinely willing to work for 37 cents per hour. Financial gain really can't be your primary motivator for publishing games, since, generally speaking, it doesn't work.

Having given it a little more thought, I think it boils down to one philosophical issue and one (perhaps less important) pragmatic issue.

The philosophical issue: there seems to be a lot of concern about "legitimacy" - not just in this field (RPG design), but in any basically artistic endeavor. How do you know when you're a "real" artist, and not just screwing around ? The answer is, when you can get someone else to pay for it.

The pragmatic issue is: if you ever plan to sell a hardbound version, especially online, it's probably
easier if you haven't widely distributed a free pdf version of the same thing.

                                       - James
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: May 08, 2001, 10:52:00 AM »

As the fellow who may have pioneered $$ PDF sales for role-playing games ...

It comes down to what James identified, correctly, as the philosophical issue. Commerce has a fundamental role in artistic endeavors. It's not a DEFINING role, but it's in the "necessary in some way but not sufficient" category.

Does that mean that I don't think Sorcerer would be "a real RPG" or (gah) "real art" if it were distributed free? No. But I do think sales represent an interaction between me and others that CANNOT be duplicated in any other way, unless maybe they flew across the country to help me shovel snow or mop the floor or something. That interaction is a commitment of many kinds, *not the least of which* is the commitment really to try the game, or let it influence them in some way.

I've been underwhelmed with the impact of free RPGs - there are a bezillion; just check out the Forge library for a SMALL sample. What happens? Download & forget. I do not presume to instruct Jared on what he "should" do in any way, but I do think that if he were to offer his "Game Pack" for a cool $10, a lot more people would be playing his games. Less acquisition, but much more life/activity per unit.

Sure, some people buy Sorcerer and never get around to playing it (some day, Ian, some day ...). Still, it demonstrably acts as a wake-up call to many readers, much as Over the Edge did for me (and which I've never played). That too results from the commitment I'm talking about - in a free-download situation, it's all too easy for the thing to sit on the hard-drive until the next cleanup.

The Apprentice aside (and I have very mixed feelings about that, too), Sorcerer has never been a free download. It began as shareware - the user HAD to ASK for it, and although paying me was optional, it was presented as a reality.

There is also more legitimacy to Dav's point about server costs and so on than James acknowledged - given Sorcerer's rather decent sales, per quarter, I paid for its computer-existence. In a purely bottom-line sense, the PDF-game was profitable.

Final point, and not really directed as a reply to James, but possibly relevant ... "vanity publishing" has many definitions, but as I understand it best, it involves getting something into book/etc form without any reasonable expectation that someone is going to buy the product. You throw the money into production merely to SEE your product in existence - you are your own "customer" in terms of ego-gratification. (I have heard people say this! "I just want to see it on the shelves.")

I don't think Sorcerer fits this model at all.

Best,
Ron
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Dav
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« Reply #4 on: May 08, 2001, 12:55:00 PM »

I don't know what you live on James, but in my world, making money is the only reason I function.

Art is crap, to be precise.  I don't do it for love, I don't do it for some higher thought or dream.  Hell, philosophy is what happens when you are in the bathroom.  No, I do it to make money.  That said, that is the only reason I stick with Apophis.  The second the work does not justify the reward, I'm gone, even if it is in midsentence.

Besides, where do you come up with 37 cents an hour?  My time is a hell of a lot more expensive than that.

Listen kiddo, I don't really know what the great "philosophical" tradition with all of this is, my whole theory boils down to compensation for time rendered.  If you can meet it, you have my time in a professional capacity.  If not, you just get whatever I choose to dish out.

The reason that so many "companies" fail to hit the waterline in terms of profits is becuase they have the business acumen of insects.  Come on, people, did the whole "net stock" fiasco teach anyone anything?  In order to make it in business, it helps to know what business is all about.  Those who make it know when to hire people who know what they are doing in a professional capacity.  Let's face it, you can point to the big guys of the industry, and of course, they have a staff of (gasp) "non-gamers" who run the numbers.

The littler companies have the multipurpose general business managers.  Take Aetherco, run by a Financial wizard(ress).  They hit waterline almost immediately.  Why?  They coordinated with marketing managers and distribution agents to (gasp!) figure out how to best promote their product.

Everyone gets into this industry and thinks that the business end is easy, it's nothing.  Let me tell you, enter the real world.  Go hardcopy, deal with everything.  You may (and dear god do I stress may) hit the waterline. Give a business manager the same product, the same budget, and by god, that person will make it in more than 75% of all scenarios.  Don't try to tell me that games can't make money.  They can.  They very much can.  I'm in college because they can.  Money is god.  Period.

Dav

[ This Message was edited by: Dav on 2001-05-08 17:04 ]
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Jason L Blair
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« Reply #5 on: May 08, 2001, 01:17:00 PM »

Quote

On 2001-05-08 16:55, Dav wrote:
I don't know what you live on James, but in my world, making money is the only reason I function.

Art is crap, to be precise.  I don't do it for love, I don't do it for some higher thought or dream.  Hell, philosophy is what happens when you are in the bathroom.  No, I do it to make money.  

Money is god.  Period.

Dav

[ This Message was edited by: Dav on 2001-05-08 17:04 ]


I... that...

For lack of a better phrase, that is just ass. No offense to you directly, Dav. But... fuck. I can't even imagine living for money.





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Jason L Blair
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #6 on: May 08, 2001, 01:32:00 PM »

I don't think Dav said he lived for money--he said that he couldn't live without it, and game publishing did make enough money for him to live, and go to college.

I have absolutely no authority to speak for him, but I'm just trying to prevent anything from getting out of control.

I hope this very early warning doesn't drive anyone off the Forge, but as anyone moderating a forum here knows, there are a few buttons at the bottom of all admins' screens allowing you to delete a conversation, move a conversation to another forum, or lock the conversation--that is, prevent further discussion on it.

I'm not accusing anyone of getting out of line, and I think we're all very intelligent people here, which means we can feasibly have discussions on the worth of money and get something useful out of it. I'm just being incredibly up-front about the fact that I will lock down a conversation if it turns to a personal attack immediately. That's a little different than many message boards with their "free speech for all" sort-of-mentality, which is perfectly valid and reasonable for them--I just think conversation here will benefit from a little moderation.

I'm qualifying a lot here, solely because I realize this may have some backlash. If anyone has any questions or concerns, please e-mail me or send me a private message. Thank you all--knowing most of the people here, I really don't think I'll ever need to moderate.

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Clinton R. Nixon
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http://www.acid-reflex.com">www.acid-reflex.com

[ This Message was edited by: Clinton R Nixon on 2001-05-08 17:34 ]
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: May 08, 2001, 01:49:00 PM »

Dav, be nice. James made some good points, and I want to see what he has to say about my reply, so don't piss him off so he won't say it, all right?

Everyone hug or I'll sic my demons on you. (Wow! World peace, or what?)

Best,
Ron
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Dav
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« Reply #8 on: May 08, 2001, 06:34:00 PM »

(Sulky, arms out, waiting for the hug)

Okay...

Yeah, sorry about all that.  My bad.

I'm not trying to say that James didn't have good points, I was trying to show that I had a valid point-of-view as well.  (Yes, I look back on it and see that long rants do not necessarily make my point more "valid" per se :wink: )

Please continue, I'll sit quietly in the corner and work now...

Dav (the slightly chastened)

Seriously, didn't mean to jump at you like that James.  No harm no foul, eh?

(oh, and, if you were working on a game in the early to mid nineties, James, chances are, you aren't the "kiddo" between us, eh?  I got 23 years on me, so maybe I should just go choosing another nomenclature, thingy)  'Nother sorry.


[ This Message was edited by: Dav on 2001-05-08 22:37 ]
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james_west
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« Reply #9 on: May 08, 2001, 09:53:00 PM »

You're don't have a trust fund, Dav ? Who let you in here, anyway ? :smile:

One of the things I do is work as a court appointed special advocate in the juvenile justice system. In popular conception, this means I steal babies from their mothers' arms. So, as you might imagine, I have an extremely thick skin. The way I tell when people are trying to offend me is when they throw something heavy at my head. I wasn't at all offended.

I was being deliberately inflammatory, actually: an unspoken assumption in several of the fora seemed to be that making money at game design was not only an admirable goal, but a necessary step in extensive game development.

However, both one of the essays on the Forge (Applecart?) as well as popular conception (everyone goes bankrupt and out of business, including TSR) seem to indicate that it's a fundamentally unattainable goal, at least in large scale publication; in the Applecart article, Edwards proposes a new business model, but it is one that is largely untried.

I think Ron Edwards, who seems to be among the most succesful online RPG vendors, stated somewhere that he sold about 40 copies per quarter. If you assume he spends about 3 hours per day working on the game in one way or another to sustain that sales rate, that works out to $1.46 per hour. That's not really a rate at which financial gain could be anywhere near the top of his list of priorities (even if I'm off by a factor of two or three in my memory of sales).

So I'm just not sure that it's possible to make a consistent living off of RPGs; while Dav seems to think he's got a long-term workable model, the lack of any real examples in the past makes me dubious. I must imagine Avalon Hill had accountants.

Very brave, incidentally, the declaration of being primarily motivated by profit. Hard to imagine many people willing to say that, even if it's true of them (I suspect it isn't true of Dav, anyway; if he was that interested in making money, he seems a smart enough guy that I'm sure he could find a better way of doing it than designing games, no matter how well his company is doing.)

On a different line, one of my original statements was that charging even $10 reduced the number of end users. I find Edwards' claim that charging for it increases the extent to which people take it seriously, and thus -increases- the number of end users interesting. I find it plausible. I'm not sure it's a testable hypothesis, though, and anecdotal evidence seems mixed.

For instance, Sorceror apparently has a large following for an independent game. However, it seems possible that this results from Edwards' intensive support of the system rather than from the fact that he charges for it.

It also seems possible that the fact that he charges for it makes -Edwards- take it more seriously (implied obligation for support, etc.) and thus causes him to support it so extensively, which makes people like it .... I suspect that most people who publish free rpgs kind of throw them out there and let them fend for themselves, which is going to play hell with their impact.

                                - James

P.S. I have nothing in particular against either greed or vanity as motivators, so long as they don't cause you to do anything unethical. I rather think that these motivations are behind much human progress.
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Mytholder
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« Reply #10 on: May 09, 2001, 01:13:00 AM »

I was far more shocked by the idea that Aetherco can break even than I was by anything else Dav said. Continuum...the roleplaying game that I'm not smart enough to play.
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Dav
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« Reply #11 on: May 09, 2001, 06:24:00 AM »

James,

I don't think I have a sustainable product, or company.  All gaming companies follow a fad marketing model (see, my schooling in action :smile: ).  This means they spike early, plateau for a month or two, then plunge into nothingness.  

Of course, that all assumes that you don't do anything else on top of your one product.  

I think Apophis (which, being fair, I am only part-owner of, one of two people) has probably a six-year lifespan.  (I hope it has another year-and-a-half, that's how much school I have left)  If we ramp up the production, exapnd into new product lines, sure, we might even extend it to 10 years (dear god, it's Methusalah).  Let me put it to you this way, Micah (my partner) loves the "game" aspect, has the vanity aspect in spades, and is generally able to talk distributors and people out of their money with great efficacy.  Myself, I don't sell stuff.  I know I can't.  I handle the business.  I handle the other end of things, crunching numbers behind the curtain.

Micah loves the product, I love the bottom line.  Together, it works. (I do stress "together")  Motivated by profit I am, where Apophis is concerned.  I do stuff for Sorcerer and other games because I like them.  Apophis is my cash cow.  A bit lean, perhaps, but I live.

Contrary to Applecart, Ron, and past models, I feel that one can sustain a company, merely that one cannot sustain a product.  TSR went bankrupt because they didn't listen to reason.  I know, Crowe-Chizek & Co. did their tax analysis and financials, as well as consulting for them in a marketing capacity.  (I have a history with Crowe)  Crowe set up a twelve year goal for them to follow if they wanted to reamin solvent.  It basically boiled down to "make new products that aren't D&D".  They failed.  Not because they didn't try, but because they stopped thinking things through.  They made games *they* enjoyed playing.  Good, I guess, but not necessarily marketable.  We all make concessions.  They didn't make enough.  They paid over $250,000 for consulting services, then said "screw you, what do you know?"  Then they were eaten.  There is a lesson here that I think Jonah could have learned from.


Mytholder,

I agree that Continuum is a nightmare of mechanics.  They break even not because they have a good product, they have a good marketing scheme.  They put in about $25 grand, all said and done, yet do you know a single person who hasn't heard of the game?  They have somewhere near an 80% saturation rate in the market.  If only one-fifth of that market buys the game, that means 16% of all gamers own Continuum.  That's a lot of gamers.  Figure, conservatively, 100,000 gamers for their target market.  16,000 sold.  40% direct sales.  6,400 direct @ $25/unit.  Pay off their people, and they still laugh all the way to the bank.

I should stop with the math stuff, it seems to irritate people.


Dav
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: May 09, 2001, 06:38:00 AM »

Hi James,

Whew! Everyone's hugging.

"I think Ron Edwards, who seems to be among the most succesful online RPG vendors, stated somewhere that he sold about 40 copies per quarter. If you assume he spends about 3 hours per day working on the game in one way or another to sustain that sales rate, that works out to $1.46 per hour. That's not really a rate at which financial gain could be anywhere near the top of his list of priorities (even if I'm off by a factor of two or three in my memory of sales)."

Couple of clarifications, before the main issue: (1) Three hours a day is way, WAY more than I spend on role-playing endeavors of any kind, Sorcerer included. (2) My sales are lower than that on the average; 35-40 is my high point, and the average is more like 20.

"So I'm just not sure that it's possible to make a consistent living off of RPGs;"

Ah-HA!! Here's the issue - there is a big difference between sustained profit from selling something and making a living from selling it. I *do* intend the former, and if Sorcerer didn't achieve it, I'd stop selling it. The game needs to pay for itself, case closed - if it fails to do so, I close shop. I have no intention, ever, of making a living from role-playing publishing, even the book form. I think the latter is nearly entirely misguided and misinformed, when it comes to RPGs. One of the points of the Applecart essay was to explain why, although I think a 2001 version of that essay is long overdue.

I like to think of my website-sales as a nicely-profitable lemonade stand (whose only goal is to pay for its lemons, etc), and my current endeavor as a perhaps Quixotic attempt to show that going mass-market does not mean you have to water down and fuck up your lemonade. Time will tell.

"I find Edwards' claim that charging for it increases the extent to which people take it seriously, and thus -increases- the number of end users interesting. I find it plausible. I'm not sure it's a testable hypothesis, though, and anecdotal evidence seems mixed."

I do not claim that my tactic increases the number of end users. It increases the commitment of its few users, and thus the proliferation of the game to other, similarly-committed users. The final numbers (comparing what plain old download gets me, in terms of people playing Sorcerer, with what sales get me) would be pretty hard to compare, for exactly the reasons James cites. What interests me, though, is not the raw numbers but the impact on people's actual play and concept of role-playing.

Great discussion, James - with any luck I've clarified a few things about my views and we've made some sense to one another.

Best,
Ron
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He who is Q
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« Reply #13 on: May 09, 2001, 01:19:00 PM »

As an artist I believe that if you want something, then it has enharent (spelling?) value and you should pay for it.

However, charging a lot of money for a .pdf format only REALLY works one of two ways.  #1: If the PDF was a reprint of an OOP hard copy.  I.e. a gaming magazine that you just can't find any more.  #2. You have a name brand that registers in peoples minds as cool.  Vampire, Warhammer, D&D- those are quality names that people trust and would plunk down the cash for.

Paying more than $1-2 is a real turn off for most gamers unless it's REALLY flashy and packed with art.  You run the risk of discouraging folks.  
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The King of Thursday
Jared A. Sorensen
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« Reply #14 on: May 09, 2001, 01:37:00 PM »

Hey, Q...man, I hope you're wrong about that. :wink:

(Ladies and Gentlemen, my art guy)

Heheh.
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jared a. sorensen / www.memento-mori.com
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