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Author Topic: State of the Industry Editorial  (Read 10608 times)
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« on: December 02, 2003, 06:59:10 AM »

Here's an interesting article from The Guild Companion, a free eZine that often has some interesting insights. I'm not sure if I agree with all of the analysis of the editorial, but it's definitely food for thought, and confirms some suspicions.

http://www.guildcompanion.com/scrolls/2003/dec/wordsfromthewise58.html

Discussion? What does Nicholas have right, and what do you think is inaccurate? What about Dancey's position?

Mike
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greyorm
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« Reply #1 on: December 02, 2003, 08:07:51 AM »

The article is spot on for me in places, particularly the change in buying habits -- though my buying habits have changed more due other issues and realizations than those listed in the article (such as the futility of purchasing products I know I won't be using; and the realization that, in many cases, I can simply write it myself if I need it).

In days of yore, I could be found to make at least one RPG purchase a month, often on impulse. Now, with frontlisting pushing new books off the shelf more quickly than I can afford to save up for a purchase has left me spending my money elsewhere.

I can order such titles on-line, true, but knowing a product I found while browsing and tried to put money aside for will be gone when I get to the game store means I don't spare much thought to getting out to the game store to even browse (that I live an hour from the nearest game store is also a factor in this).

So, it has affected my actual shopping habits, even if my spending habits had changed previously -- had the market remained as it was before, and with my realizations of late about why I buy RPG products (for fun, innovation, and light reading), I would likely be moving back into more spending.

In regards to Dancey's proclamations: Ryan, having tied his own dick around d20 and D&D with his stubbornly defended pre-3rd Edition predicitions, as usual can't afford to whore anything else and do anything but paint a picture of "the d20/OGL future" that looks less and less reasonable with each passing year, and in fact appears to be ruining the market.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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« Reply #2 on: December 02, 2003, 08:27:31 AM »

I have to agree with the article that Dancey's ideas, stripped of their heavy D&D focus, might have some merit. Really, Dancey is suggesting going back to the "backlist", just with a d20 focus.

I still make at least one RPG purchase a month on average, but it's starting to come down to "a couple of books every other month".
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #3 on: December 02, 2003, 04:25:20 PM »

I tell you.

First, my buying habits are also like they describe, but not because of frontlisting or any other catchy buzzword. It has more to do with not really having more than a passing interest in any product, really. That and I'm sick of buying new games hoping to find that magic game that will give me satisfying play.

However, this "frontlist" business model can be seen in other forms of entertainment, I think. Novels are published in much the same manner with the same shelf life of about 90 days or so. The difference is a year later the novel is republished in paperback to gain more sales for those who prepare paperback books or cannot afford hardbacks. A similar feature of the motion picture distribution industry when the movie goes from opening weekend, cheap theatre, video/DVD.

Perhaps RPGs can learn a bit from this...or perhaps the frontlisting is attempting to emulate a different business it really shouldn't because it can't.
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Adam
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« Reply #4 on: December 02, 2003, 09:53:06 PM »

Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
However, this "frontlist" business model can be seen in other forms of entertainment, I think. Novels are published in much the same manner with the same shelf life of about 90 days or so. The difference is a year later the novel is republished in paperback to gain more sales for those who prepare paperback books or cannot afford hardbacks.

Guardians of Order has been trying this out with Silver Age Sentinels d20 Stingy Gamer Edition and the upcoming BESM d20 Stingy Gamer Edition. SAS d20 SGE was released about a year after SAS d20, and BESM d20 SGE should be available about 8 months after BESM d20 [deluxe and regular hardback] was released. Both books retail for $10 and are softcovers with limited art, small font sizes, and little in the way of design elements. Some material was cut from SAS to keep SAS SGE more compact [it was too large for the price even after all the cutting] but BESM d20 SGE will be complete.

One interesting twist is due to the timing of the print runs, BESM d20 SGE will be 3.5 compatible while the latest printing of BESM d20 hardcover isn't.

Obviously, this extends the frontlist time for a product; essentially giving the game two runs as a "new release." It also offers a lower priced product for those who may only be marginally interested in the game, or those that want a cheap copy to throw in their backpack and haul around without worries about damaging or losing it. It's hard to say how many sales go to people who already own a previous release of the game, but feedback has been generally positive.

[Edit: typos, typos, typos.]

Best,
Adam
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #5 on: December 03, 2003, 09:15:07 AM »

Er. I dunno, Adam. That sounds like discounting to me. One of the only rules that I'm familiar with from my time in retail is that discounting to increase sales is a losing tactic. Essentially you add to the glut instead of reducing it, and don't end up making any more money. After a while it's no longer the inability to buy the products, its an inablility to read them all (much less employ them in any fashion in a game). The backlist idea, if I understand it at all is to have few expensive, high quality items that continue to sell steadily. What you're talking about sounds exatly like a frontlisting tactic to me.

Your games are worth more than $10 without a big book or lots of art. I pay more than that for games all the time, and I don't care one whit about the art or layout (I actually prefer artless PDF files). I bought the Tristat basic rules for one dollar, but would have payed $15. The point is that if it takes putting the art in or whatever, fine. But sell your excellent products for the price that they're worth.

That's just one opinion from a person who is, no doubt, vastly uninformed about the specifics of your situation. If you're aiming for penetration, then maybe your tactic makes sense. I just hope that in the end you have enough of a backlist going to keep you alive for the long run.

Mike
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Valamir
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« Reply #6 on: December 03, 2003, 09:39:22 AM »

I'm actually kind of intrigued by the SGE concept.

Back when I was a lad on a $2 a week allowance and playing wargames that cost $40-$50 even in those days, I often longed for such a thing.

In fact, as that wee lad I said to myself "If I ever grow up to own a wargame company, I'm going to release 2 versions of every game.  One with a nice heavy map and thick cardboard counters in a sturdy box, and Once on a flimsy paper map with thin cardstock counters in a zip lock so that people like me with no money can buy these games"

Of course, now that I have money I say, "to hell with that give me the fancy version", but its an intriguing concept.

Its especially interesting when applied to RPGs...

You're intentionally editing out the art for the game.  Now I assume that the art (and continued use of it) is already bought and paid for.  I'm further assuming that there isn't all that many pages saved simply by removing the art.  So I'm guessing that there really isn't a whole lot of cost savings by removing the art, it is rather a "cripple ware" strategy of "if you want the art you have to buy the full version.

Similiarly you actually paying (with time and effort if not actual $) to have a whole new layout for the book.  I imagine that eliminating attractive formating elements as well as making a smaller font will allow for a smaller book and some unit cost savings...but this is also a form of crippling the product.

I'll be real interested in discovering how this experiment works out.  It seems like theres alot of complex interactions going on here, I hope you're able (perhaps with a survey of some kind) to track some of these.  Such as:

1) people who buy the SGE version who wouldn't or couldn't afford the full version (the market you're obviously trying to tap into).
2) people who would have bought the full version but hadn't gotten around to it yet, or who actively decide to wait for the SGE version (i.e. cannibalizing your full version sales).
3) People who wouldn't have bought the full version but already own a scanned or xeroxed copy of the game acquired through illicit means who decide that kicking in $10 for the SGE version would be a "fair" thing to do.
4) people who would fall into group #1 above, but instead decide that your crippling of the SGE version goes too far and makes the SGE version not worth even the discount $10 price to them.
5) People whose first contact with your game is the SGE version which they rightly judge as being real shoestring, but which leaves them with a bad opinion of your company's production values because they don't realize (or take the time to find out) the difference between the SGE and full versions.

I'm really excited by the SGE idea, because, even though its something I have no interest in at this point (because I'm not a stingy gamer) I think it represents a "new idea" that's worth trying.  And this industry could sure use all of the "new ideas" it can get.  

If you aren't planning on trying to track some of the above, I'd really encourage it so that if it doesn't work as expected (or works better) that you can get a clearer idea of whats going on and hopefully share your findings with us.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #7 on: December 03, 2003, 02:22:27 PM »

Again, the "crippleware" thing is a penetration strategy. The idea being: get to the people and let them see how good the product is so that they buy more.

I'm more ambivalent about that POV. I will be interested in how it works.

Mike
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Adam
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« Reply #8 on: December 03, 2003, 04:17:43 PM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Er. I dunno, Adam. That sounds like discounting to me.

Why? I mean, it is cheaper than the other versions of the core rules, but it doesn't replace them and it's not a "sale price" -- it's good for as long as the lifespan of the book is. I think the Hardback Novel -> Paperback Novel is a very good analogy for it.

Quote
After a while it's no longer the inability to buy the products, its an inablility to read them all (much less employ them in any fashion in a game). The backlist idea, if I understand it at all is to have few expensive, high quality items that continue to sell steadily. What you're talking about sounds exatly like a frontlisting tactic to me.

It is to a degree, but it's not "yet another new product" it's "here's a different spin on an already available product."

Also, having better penetration of your core products makes it much easier to have successful backlist products, as you're creating a larger market for them.

Quote
Your games are worth more than $10 without a big book or lots of art. I pay more than that for games all the time, and I don't care one whit about the art or layout (I actually prefer artless PDF files). I bought the Tristat basic rules for one dollar, but would have payed $15. The point is that if it takes putting the art in or whatever, fine. But sell your excellent products for the price that they're worth.

I agree totally with what you're saying. However, if you look at a situation where we may gain customers by offering a cut-down product - and the product itself is still profitable - it becomes kind of a moot point. We can stick to artistic ideals all we like, but at the end of the day we all have to pay rent and buy food.

Quote from: Valamir
You're intentionally editing out the art for the game. Now I assume that the art (and continued use of it) is already bought and paid for. I'm further assuming that there isn't all that many pages saved simply by removing the art. So I'm guessing that there really isn't a whole lot of cost savings by removing the art, it is rather a "cripple ware" strategy of "if you want the art you have to buy the full version.

To a degree, but I do think there's enough savings to make the art removal worthwhile - at least a signature in BESM d20 SGE, probably two in SAS d20 SGE.

Quote
2) people who would have bought the full version but hadn't gotten around to it yet, or who actively decide to wait for the SGE version (i.e. cannibalizing your full version sales).

It's possible, certainly. I don't know, though - I wouldn't wait 8 months to save 20 bucks, personally.

And, given that we've released complete System Reference Documents for BESM d20 and Mecha d20, we've already done some cannibalizing... what's a little more? ;) [Note: This mention of d20 Mecha  does not mean there will be a d20 Mecha Stingy Gamers Edition]

Quote
5) People whose first contact with your game is the SGE version which they rightly judge as being real shoestring, but which leaves them with a bad opinion of your company's production values because they don't realize (or take the time to find out) the difference between the SGE and full versions.

Possible, but I think each SGE book and our promotion of them makes it pretty clear that it's not the norm. Simply looking at any of our other releases would indicate that. :)

Interesting thoughts guys; thanks.

Best,
Adam
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LordSmerf
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« Reply #9 on: December 03, 2003, 04:41:46 PM »

Quote from: Adam
Also, having better penetration of your core products makes it much easier to have successful backlist products, as you're creating a larger market for them.


This really jumped out at me.  As i understand it, backlist products are your high quality, long term sellers.  Wouldn't this imply that your core products are your backlist products, or am i missing something here?

Anecdotally, i wouldn't purchase BESM Tristat hardback, but if i see another copy of the SGE i'll be picking that up...

Thomas
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contracycle
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« Reply #10 on: December 04, 2003, 01:56:56 AM »

IMO, none of this will make much difference, and Danceys idea is doomed.

I agree that I like high production values and am willing to pay for them; but I think the real problem is much moe fundamental to the product.

Yes novels have a similar shelf life, but once they are done they are done.  Then you go back to the shop and fork out another few quid for the next in the series or something else and bobs your uncle.

RPG's are a completely different animal as they do not require further purchases.  And being several times more expensive then novels, are bought much less frequently.  It's quite viable to be playing today with a battered copy of Traveller you bought more than a decade ago, whereas it would NOT be viable today to still be reading the same novel you bought at the same time, battered or otherwise.

The fundamental gap in the publishing model is: modules/scenarios/stories, call em what you will.  The problems surrounding this have been frequently discussed, but IMO an industry that keeps trying to sell you a stand-alone product has to either keep moving onto a new set of buyers, or try to convince you to buy products you don't actually need.

I think much of the change is just numbers.  The small operations like TSR at a start, they could live on the limited turnover that was mostly adults buying books for kiddies xmas presents.  Now we have an industry that much bigger in simple terms, I don't think it can surivive on the intermittent purchases, it needs continuous rolling purchases of much greater volume.  the only solution IMO is to rediscover a form of serialisation or other continuous publishing model.
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madelf
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« Reply #11 on: December 04, 2003, 06:52:57 AM »

Quote
And being several times more expensive then novels, are bought much less frequently.


They're really not several times more expensive though.

A hard cover novel will run about $25-$30 these days. Not that much cheaper than a game book. (and with no art or extended usability)
A paper back is certainly cheaper at $7-$9 generally.
But compared to Adam's $10 stingy gamer books, not much savings again.

I think cost is not the issue with RPGs at all.
I suspect your point about length of usability is much more central to the issue. Which is where the idea of higher priced quality products with a longer shelf-time becomes more sensible.

In my personal opinion, the cost of core books could be driven up substantially without hurting sales all that much (though it would have to happen across the industry with the big companies starting it first), simply because of the long-term payoff you get from them. At the same time, modules and such one-shot supplements should be priced much cheaper than the core books and treated as disposable, much like the paperback novel.

As general concept, it seems like it would make sense. In actual practice...who knows.
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Calvin W. Camp

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Valamir
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« Reply #12 on: December 04, 2003, 06:56:50 AM »

I think I understand what you're saying Gareth, but I'm not sure I agree with the premise that the company needs ongoing regular sales. of a certain level.

Personally, I think the game publisher should be much more project revenue oriented than annual revenue oriented.  If a project earns enough revenue over its life cycle to pay for itself (printing, freelancer, and advertising costs) and earns what the publisher would consider an acceptable return on the capital invested, there's no need for ongoing sales of that product or new products to keep a revenue stream up.

Each game book is an investment.  You put money in, you pay expenses, you collect revenue, you're done.  Any revenue that continues to trickle in from future sales down the line is gravy, but hardly necessary.  You can calculate your annualized return on investment rather easily.  A profit oriented outfit like Hasbro will demand a higher ROI than a guy doing it for love in his garage, but the principle is the same either way.  Only the threshold as to what is a worthwhile project and what is not changes.

The problem that game publishers ran into is that they got this crazy idea that they were a corporation with salaried employees and leased office space and such.  Once you start heaping fixed expenses on the business instead of variable you open up a whole new set of cash flow problems.

It simply isn't necessary to go there.  There is no aspect of the game industry that requires salaried employees or leased space with the exception of large scale centralized distribution and fulfillment.
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Adam
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« Reply #13 on: December 04, 2003, 07:10:01 AM »

Quote from: LordSmerf
This really jumped out at me.  As i understand it, backlist products are your high quality, long term sellers.  Wouldn't this imply that your core products are your backlist products, or am i missing something here?

The idea is to have a wider penetration of the core books,  making it easier to have multiple long term selling "core supplements" and the like.

Quote
Anecdotally, i wouldn't purchase BESM Tristat hardback, but if i see another copy of the SGE i'll be picking that up...

There is no BESM Tri-Stat hardback; currently only the Revised Second Edition [softcover, black and white] is in print.

Quote from: Valamir
The problem that game publishers ran into is that they got this crazy idea that they were a corporation with salaried employees and leased office space and such.

Crazy Idea - a game company acting like a real business! ;-)

Quote
It simply isn't necessary to go there. There is no aspect of the game industry that requires salaried employees or leased space with the exception of large scale centralized distribution and fulfillment.

And when possible, game companies minimize this through the use of freelancers and telecomuters. But the simple fact is, there are many advantages to having as many people as possible - especially the production team - in a single location.

However, that's an entirely different topic, so I won't stray too much.

[Edit: Fixed quote tags]

Best,
Adam
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #14 on: December 04, 2003, 07:43:19 AM »

Hi Adam,

The term "real business" in your post fascinates me.

Your use:

Quote
a corporation with salaried employees and leased office space and such


Ralph's use (and mine): make more money than you spend, and sustain the play/use of the game, using that to create more customers.

Both of our businesses, Adept Press and Ramshead Publishing, are extremely successful in the second sense. I consider nearly all of the participants in the so-called industry to be unsuccessful in these terms, especially the ones most widely perceived to be successful. I consider the so-called industry (the three-tier relationship centered on traditional distribution) to be, for role-playing, a rather pathetic network of mutually-supportive delusions, which has already collapsed in the face of reality.

I do not consider your definition to be the mark of a "real business." I consider Ralph's and mine to be. Your little smiley would be funny and mood-lightening, except that the phrase it accompanies really does seem to be held as an actual value by many game publishers. I think it's astonishingly stupid.

Before anyone gets confused, the term "corporation" is a red herring. Adept Press is a corporation, for instance. The key issues are effort, overhead, actual sales, actual play, and profit.

Best,
Ron
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