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General Forge Forums => Independent Publishing => Topic started by: visioNationstudios on October 31, 2008, 06:36:17 AM

Title: On Marketing
Post by: visioNationstudios on October 31, 2008, 06:36:17 AM
Last night I came here intending to ask a few questions about marketing.  But I decided to do some searching through the archives here to see what had already been discussed on the subject.  I came across a number of decent threads on the topic, but noticed an interesting trend- the majority of the good advice was from at least 3 years ago, and sometimes even older than that.  The discussion of "marketing" (specifically the search string I used) has not necessarily been as big of a discussion in recent years.  And, when it's been brought up, the replies really have not changed from those given 3+ years ago.

This got me thinking on two separate subjects.  Rather than discuss both, I'll split my own thought process and start a new thread on the "new idea".  However, here, I'd like to find out what the deal is with the current marketing schemes for indie products/publishers.  Is it simply the fact that the methodology is the same because it works well?  Or does it more have to do with publishers getting set in their ways and not looking for better ways to go about it?

I'm looking for discussion from any/all sides here.  Just curious about an area that my own company is struggling through, and one that looks to have (at least somewhat) been pushed aside recently, but seems to be one of the most vital aspects to surviving and thriving as an indie publisher.

Title: Re: On Marketing
Post by: iago on October 31, 2008, 06:54:55 AM
Honestly, most independent publishers are too small for there to be a lot of drive or budget to do "big" marketing. So I think the reason you see a lot of the advice fundamentally unchanged over time is that when you apply the limits that are in effect for the micro-press publisher, your options get reduced to the same fairly reliable (and fairly low-cost) set.

Title: Re: On Marketing
Post by: visioNationstudios on October 31, 2008, 07:20:33 AM
Yeah, that I can certainly appreciate.  I guess I was just wondering if anyone had come up with some more innovative ways to go about things, or even perfected some of the other suggestions.  And if not, why?

Low-to-no budget is always a concern, agreed.

Title: Re: On Marketing
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 31, 2008, 08:12:14 AM

I think there are two real changes to consider over the life of the Forge, which is to say, the economic blossoming of the independent scene. What matters most for your question is that the advice we typically gave, based on experiences (sometimes simultaneous with the advice), became more relevant and effective without much change in the advised practice. Sort of a shift from "I'm trying it this way" to "Gee it looks like it's working this way" to "Holy crap now it's really taking off," as the 'it' stayed the same.

Although these past two years may have brought yet another shift, but I'll talk about that in a minute. I'll try to present the first two changes I mentioned.

The first concerns the basic failure of the three-tier, store-centric practices of the previous twenty years, on its own lack of merits. It was in decline by the mid-90s, literally failing when the Forge got going, and sometime in 2004, underwent a nasty wet "snapping" that meant the stores and distributors simply no longer called the shots for publishers. There are plenty of really good stores around who've adjusted their practices to serve their immediate gamer community, and also started to maintain an indie-shelf alternative type presence, but even those can't collectively provide the profit margin to publishers to keep our small businesses going.

The second is simply the rise of the internet and its associated, direct-to-consumer commerce, with the literal shift coming in the form of standardized, widely-practiced mechanisms rather than site-specific devices. I don't think this caused the stores' decline, by the way; it's more like a fortunate reality-based opportunity for that creative ferment already present in gaming actually to express itself in real product and real dollars, right when the illusions of an "industry" had finally proved unsustainable.

The initial advice you've seen represents the experiences of those of us who were pretty much the earliest to recognize the situation and in fact, we were ahead of the technological and cultural curve (before Paypal, before Google, et cetera). Those changes did occur, and they were significant, but as it happens, the early-adopter advice turned out to be prescient regarding how things were going to be. So the advice hasn't changed.

Now for this past year or so - when things have changed again, and not in the larger context but right here in gamer-land. Bluntly, we in this very forum got lazy, after IPR got going. "What you do is, you sign up with Brennan," and "Here's what we've been saying about marketing, read it too." In retrospect, I think this hasn't served individual publishers well on the average. Not because IPR or Brennan in particular was doing anything wrong or awful on its own hook (unlike some other fulfillment houses), but because new publishers simply didn't understand what the hell was happening, and didn't make individual decisions that broke into new ground. I am pretty convinced that the majority of new publishers in the last three years mistakenly believe that "get with IPR" is by definitionhow you publish and market independently ... and that's fucked. That's just what people used to say about Alliance.*

I add, yet again, that this isn't slamming IPR, it's slamming myself and other people who broke the new ground over the past ten years for forgetting who we are. Importantly, it wasn't a team or movement in the organized sense, it was the concordance of a few people who independently (no pun intended) realized what would simply make most sense. John Wick did it with Orkworld, brilliantly. Dav Harnish and Micah Skaritka did it with Obsidian. Jeff Diamond did it with Orbit. And lots of others. A lot of us stepped up to serve as information sources and a discourse center to promote and, if you'll excuse the old-school expression, "raise consciousness" about the relevant issues. That's what the Forge is. Brennan started IPR as one service which, as he accurately saw it, would be on-board with what we (including him) were talking about.

And in 2007-2008, the Forge and this forum dropped the ball. You are absolutely right. In 2005, I could have listed every single organized method of getting your game (a) into published form (i.e. available), (b) into an appropriate economic model of your choosing, (c) into the promotional 'matrix' of gamer-dom, and (d) into stores if you'd like. I could have told you which involved trading off ownership, which ones were rip-offs, and which ones seemed to be working out well at the time. Now, I can't tell you that, and I'm pretty sure that no one else is acting as a meaningful information center about it either. "What you do is, you sign up with IPR." That's been the message, perhaps not explicitly, but as the passive assumption that led to lack of critique, lack of experiment, lack of perceived options, and lack of personal mastery over one's own business practices as a publisher.

I'm treating your post as a wake-up call. It's time to recognize that we are always confronted with a changing marketing landscape, based on those first two ongoing changes, of which IPR is one option with its own specific parameters which may or may not serve a given publisher how he or she wants. And if not, for instance, then what will?

Just because I or anyone can't list "what will" in a hard format right this minute doesn't mean it's not there. Ten years ago, people told John Wick, me, Dav Harnish, et cetera, that we were not only crazy and foolish, but outright traitors to the "industry" for self-publishing and marketing directly to fellow gamers. Who are their equivalents today? And what are they doing? And how can we promote that here?

Best, Ron

* Looking over the post, I should also mention RPGnow and other such things which played pretty much the same role for self-publishers who mostly weren't tuned into the Forge discussions. My point there is exactly the same - as soon as the subculture convinced itself that "what you do is, you hit the buttons at RPGnow," then publishers who entered after that point were basically flies trapped in amber.

Title: Re: On Marketing
Post by: Pelgrane on November 02, 2008, 01:30:52 AM

This got me thinking on two separate subjects.  Rather than discuss both, I'll split my own thought process and start a new thread on the "new idea".  However, here, I'd like to find out what the deal is with the current marketing schemes for indie products/publishers.  Is it simply the fact that the methodology is the same because it works well?  Or does it more have to do with publishers getting set in their ways and not looking for better ways to go about it?

I'm looking for discussion from any/all sides here.  Just curious about an area that my own company is struggling through, and one that looks to have (at least somewhat) been pushed aside recently, but seems to be one of the most vital aspects to surviving and thriving as an indie publisher.

Are you most interested in the mechanics of getting your games in the hands of your customers, or methods of promoting your books? They are related, but not the same thing.

Title: Re: On Marketing
Post by: visioNationstudios on November 02, 2008, 08:27:40 PM
It may very well be that both would be of help to us.  However, I think I may be able to boil down vNs' own quandary into two aspects:

1) How to make visioNation studios and its products known to a larger percentage of the gaming community.

2) How to get those who have been exposed to vNs and its products to move from being interested (and even sometimes thoroughly enjoying the demo) to actually purchasing said products.

In short, finding potential customers, and making the sale.  Now, I also recognize that solving either of those problems could, in fact, be enough of a working solution to get us by for awhile until the other becomes a reality.  I'm a mechanics guy, so let me break down what I mean.  Let us assume that the "average" ratio of consumers exposed to the products to consumers who purchase the products is 50:1.  (I honestly have no actual numbers for this, but it seems an easy number to work with.) 

Solving problem #1 raises the number of those exposed, solving problem #2 raises the number of those who purchase.  Either one, in theory, achieves the goal of selling more product.  At 50:1, it's clear that raising your exposure to 100 gets you 2 sales, while having the product viewed by 500 provides 10 sales.  Raising your number of sales decreases your ratio, so you could be selling at a 25:1 ratio instead.  Which again, achieves the same goal of selling more product.

Some more specific information pertinent to vNs is that we are currently selling on RPGNow (pulling an average of about $50/mo royalties), YourGamesNow (no sales since signing on in August), CreateSpace and Amazon (both carrying our perfect bound book, but sales have only been to close personal friends thus far), to and are waiting to hear back from Brennan regarding IPR acceptance.  Minimal budget has kept us out of the major Cons so far, but those we've been to (and other demos) have seen about 1 book sold per session run.  And I've recently sent out postcard mailers to 100 game/hobby stores in Florida (our state) regarding carrying our books in their stores.  Press releases on all the major gaming online outlets are a given with product releases, and our website averages 124 unique visitors a month.

So, take that as my roundabout way of answering your question, Pelgrane. :>

Title: Re: On Marketing
Post by: Pelgrane on November 03, 2008, 03:40:53 AM
First, I'd say spend no money on banner ads and the like, nor print ads, not any traditional marketing. Second, make useful contributions here, on the story games forum, and even on What appears to have happened recently is that "social proof" of your personal status amongst designers has become an important factor in getting your game into the public eye. Now, I'm not suggesting you are cynical about it - it's mutually helpful in any case to have a relationship with other designers. Your games will speak for themselves, but they need to be heard. Second, don't expect to make more than a small hobby income from your games, however good they are. Yours might be the surprise breakout game, but all but a few of those only earn a hobby income.

A few more very basic pointers. Have you sent your comp review copies on Have you solicited the top ten reviewers to offer them review copies (with an undertaking from them to review it)? Are there page samples available for download (I couldn't see any)?

The most important thing is to show what is unique about your game. I'm sure you game has unique selling points, but reading your text, I don't know what they are. You are telling me that is "the future of roleplaying", but why? How is different to the many other fantasy games around? If you had to pitch it in 25 words to a potential face-to-face customer, how would you do it in a way that excites interest, and demonstrates this USP? What does the book look like? Is it a hardback, what size is it? Are there any actual play reports anywhere?

As an aside, I think perhaps your tagline is a little hubristic, if ambitious. Forgive me if this is a little harsh. I hope this was helpful.

Title: Re: On Marketing
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 03, 2008, 08:17:01 AM

I'll modify one of Simon's points a little:

What appears to have happened recently is that "social proof" of your personal status amongst designers has become an important factor in getting your game into the public eye.

This is true as far as it goes, but I think that "the public eye" is limited in this case to friends, on-line associates, and clique members of the designers. In other words, as the independent scene rapidly expanded in the last four years, it also became insular and prone to marketing to itself rather than continuing to focus on constant outreach. This effect is, I think, due both to the IPR phenomenon I wrote about above, and also to the status priorities that have become overwhelming at Story Games. Somehow "community" has transformed from a diverse hodgepodge of priorities that share or significantly overlap regarding a common goal, to a clique to which people are added if they can score enough points in a playground social scene.

I don't think it can last; such things tend to blow apart after a couple of years. Therefore I think that promotion at is actually more useful in the long run. Popularity among "story gamers" (a clique label with no content-meaning) will guarantee sales at the outset, but I think this past GenCon showed its economic limitations, which will quite likely become pits soon.

Best, Ron

Title: Re: On Marketing
Post by: jburneko on November 03, 2008, 11:36:12 AM

That issue of "outreach" is really important to me, even just in terms of my immediate local SoCal vicinity (I rarely travel).  However, I am forever lost on how to do it effectively.  Despite having design projects in the work, they really aren't my primary interest.  I tinker with them when I'm in the mood.  I really consider myself more of an enthusiastic marketing tool since I like promoting other people's work through play and discussion.

However, what I've observed is a general attitude that "everyone who can be reached, has been reached."  Locally, there has been a trend of no longer running public games in favor of setting up private games by word of mouth.  This has been a factor of two things.  The first is unfortunately the presence of certain regular but high profile attendees who simply are no fun to play with.  There are even certain games I've stopped running because they attract these attendees 100% of the time.  But the second is the growing attitude of, "Well, I"m just going to playing with the same six people anyway."

However, just last con I ran a game of Primetime Adventures and had 5 people who had never played before.  About half had heard of the game and owned it but just hadn't played.  That game generated at least one highly enthusiastic sale from someone who hadn't ever heard of the game and wandered in on curiosity from the description I put in the con book.

That happens about once a con for me.  By no means am I reaching people by the droves.  However, I continue to do this is the face of growing resistance.  I am repeatedly told that I'm fighting a losing battle.  That's there's no one left to reach.  That I'm opening myself up to disappointing play for no good reason.   It's very disheartening.


Title: Re: On Marketing
Post by: Cynthia Celeste Miller on November 03, 2008, 11:40:16 AM
I won't claim to be a marketing guru or anything like that. However, I have learned some marketing techniques over the years that cost you absolutely nothing. Keep in mind that these techniques (if you want to call them that) aren't going to make your product suddenly fly off the shelf, but they can definitely help get your product recognized, at least by the internet crowd.

Haunt all the gaming-related forums that you can find, seeking out existing threads in which you could pimp your game. You need to be careful, though, as this can get annoying if overused and could tick the admins off. When i first started using this method of self-promotion back in 2002, I went overboard. Just about every thread that I could even remotely connect my product to, I would be there with bells on, pimping away like Huggy Bear. As time went on, though, I learned that moderation and timing get better results than flooding forums with pimp-posts. You have to pick your spots wisely.

Post on forums as much as possible, even when you aren't pimping. But the trick is to have a catchy/informational signature, complete with your company name, your URL and even a blurb (e.g., "[insert game] coming in 2009!"). If you have freebie PDFs available, the specific URL for them can be very helpful to include. Every post you make while using a promotional signature is like a mini-billboard. Use that billboard to its fullest extent. Make it stand out, too, by using different colored text, larger fonts, etc.

This is a given, but reviews (good or bad) can really drive interest in a product. People can get a taste of what the product is all about without purchasing or downloading anything. Better still, they're getting a "real person's" opinion on it, which is far more credible to most than your own sensationalistic hyperbole. So, don't overlook the notion of selecting a few good reviewers and asking them to review your product.

Haunt Related Non-Gaming Forums
This is really just a slightly different take on "Forum-Pimping". It just requires a defter touch. If you have a game based on soap operas, find the best soap opera forums and make a few posts there, pimping your game. Be careful in how you pimp in non-gaming forums, as most of the denizens aren't going to be familiar with RPGs. Make sure that you don't use a bunch of jargon that will read like Greek to them.

Advertise on Related Non-Gaming Websites
Find non-gaming sites that have similar themes or subject matter and contact the owner, asking him to advertise your game on the site. I've done this before and it does draw in new customers at a higher rate than you might imagine. For example, I asked the guy who ran to advertise the original Cartoon Action Hour rulebook. He posted stuff about it on the front "news" page and I received quite a few queries from folks who saw it there. Most of them ended up purchasing the game.

I hope this helps.

Title: Re: On Marketing
Post by: visioNationstudios on November 03, 2008, 09:25:00 PM
Thank you for the breakdown.  It does seem to get directly to the point of my initial question.  It sounds like that's still the best way to go about things, for the most part.  I appreciate the more detailed information, and for bringing them more into the current web mentality a little bit.  It's something I've been harping on for months now with the rest of my team, and for people to reiterate the exact methods/ideas that I've been promoting is at least a confidence booster that I'm on the right track.  Now if I could only get them to buy into the ideas as well...

Thank you for the honest assessment and advice.  I can answer a few of your questions.  Yes, I've sent comp copies to the RPGNow reviewers (2 or 3 times in the last year), and have had no takers on actually reviewing the product.  We've been reviewed by Megan Robertson (now a staff reviewer for RPGNow, and hosting her own UK site), and we're waiting on reviews this month from Mark Gedak and Chris Gath.  I'll definitely look into more reviewers though.  And, though we have a flash preview of some of the pages on RPGNow, I've always felt a "quick guide" for a 436 page book was a little daunting.  Nevertheless, it certainly needs done, so thanks for pointing that out as well.  As for the other stuff, well, suffice it to say we're still trying to figure out how to cast our vision over the community in the most palatable (but intriguing) way possible.

Title: Re: On Marketing
Post by: Pelgrane on November 04, 2008, 03:59:57 AM
Thank you for the honest assessment and advice.  I can answer a few of your questions.  Yes, I've sent comp copies to the RPGNow reviewers (2 or 3 times in the last year), and have had no takers on actually reviewing the product. 

The reviewers are notoriously bad at getting reviews done. I'm going to give OBS another kick about this.

It is the top ten most prolific reviewers who are the most important. Ask them if they are willing to review before you send your work.

Title: Re: On Marketing
Post by: B. Charles Reynolds on February 20, 2009, 07:10:33 PM
Market your web site independently from your products.
Make certain it is both search-engine-optimized and friendly and remember that the two are NOT synonymous.

If you have failed to submit a sitemap.xml file to Google, Yahoo and MSN Live, you have essentially failed to market your product/site on the web. Be sure to do this. Be sure it gets updated every time something new appears on your site. Be sure it gets re-submitted every time it's updated.

Go ahead pay for click advertising. A small budget of $10-20 can go a long way at Google if you target the right keywords.

Search engines LOVE frequently posted, fresh content. So... get your playtesters to blog about their sessions on your site. You'll get lots of the relevant content that search engines love without having to do any typing. (be sure to moderate, though, to stamp on spoilers)

Enable trackbacks and pingbacks for free external incoming links to your site. Again, search engines love these. Encourage your reviewers to link back to your web site catalog page for the product they're reviewing.

Try to have at LEAST one mass-market product available. Let's face it, RPGs are not mass-market products. They're a niche within a niche within a niche = very limited market. Having a product with more mass appeal gets traffic and traffic gets customers.

Title: Re: On Marketing
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 21, 2009, 07:27:34 AM
"Paraplegic Racehorse," please provide examples of real role-playing games which have benefited from those techniques. I'm not saying that they haven't nor am I challenging you. I'm saying that the advice is pretty generic, sort of a standard consultant's textbook that might be titled Optimize Your Business on the Web (I just made that title up). In other words, whether each bit applies to role-playing publishing is an open question. In my experience, only a small part of what you described actually pays off. That doesn't negate your point, but it does make me interested in what games did benefit from each tactic you describe.

Best, Ron

Title: Re: On Marketing
Post by: B. Charles Reynolds on February 21, 2009, 11:30:28 AM
I certainly don't have any such web-search trends and site data available. However, the fact still remains that on the web traffic = sales. Also, at least for Google, the combination of lots of (frequently updated) content and inbound links = higher rank/result = traffic.

I think that Guild of Blades is doing a wonderful job of marketing their products using, particularly, the also-mass-market product technique (board and card games in addition to RPGs). I've also used my browser's "view code" menu item to look at their site. While there are improvements which could be made, generally it's very well set-up and available to the search-spiders.

Goodman Games and their products get high listings in the search engines, though I'm not sure why. I haven't looked at their publicly consumable HTML/CSS. I can only guess that the reason is they have an optimized (enough) and friendly (enough) web site. It certainly doesn't hurt that they have a few popular and well entrenched titles, though.

Currently, my personal core business is taxicabs with honeybees rapidly rising in importance to my revenue stream. Games and game authoring have always been hobbies for me. I have started several businesses in various fields (one of which was education, so I know a thing or two about "advice") over the last fifteen years. I have watched the advice given to newcomers with a keen interest for the last ten years. Universally, the "basics" are not covered in that advice.

I'm not saying that lots of time and effort needs to go into this, but it certainly is something that should be addressed or you are likely to miss the impulse- and curiosity-buyers from outside your niche, whichever niche that is. The small-guys - most of us (I use "us" but I'm still in early business-formation stage and have only a few scribbled product outlines) - should be particularly concerned with bringing new "blood" into the market. In my various rovings through forums across the internet, I see a whole lot of names of games and companies crop up. Guess which ones I see the most? Those guys can sell just about anything on their name, alone.

We, on the other hand, need to be found. Somebody pretty much needs to be looking for exactly what we can provide, or at least something substantially similar. If we fail to make our product easily findable (read: indexed and relatively high-ranked within our niche and genre), then we essentially fail to market our products.

So, yes, the advice is very generic and does come across as textbookish. Many companies, and niche companies especially, often forget to do the basics or they just look at the "standard" industry advice and act on only the points raised in that advice. Well, the more generic marketing action-items such as the friendly handshake, press release, business card, logo emblazoned t-shirt (and other con-swag), interview, web site optimization and so on are simply not mentioned in these topics because the experts and "old-timers," if you'll forgive the phrase, assume that these are things already being done. Some of your best and most loyal customers may come from generic marketing techniques.

I guess my whole point to this response is just a reminder that the "generic" marketing advice remains every bit as valid and relevant in this industry as in any other. Also, in the era of rapidly-rising importance of the internet, being easy to find on the internet really should be considered one of the "basics." The purpose of marketing is not actually to sell products. That's just a convenient benefit because your marketing does not make the sale. Your sales pitch makes the sale. The real purpose of marketing is to be seen by potential customers.

Title: Re: On Marketing
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 21, 2009, 08:24:19 PM
We're more in agreement that my post might have looked. I certainly agree about the search engines.

I do stress that the advice needs to be tuned to every business. As far as I can tell, click-through ads aren't effective unless they appear in strongly-related sites, much like the old webrings used to do. I also think "traffic = business" is too simplistic, and that attracting engaged traffic, as well as repeat visits, are the better priority.

Best, Ron

P.S. I have sort of a thing about cute internet handles. This is not an official moderator request, merely a request from me to you - can you provide a human name, maybe just your first name if you'd prefer, for me?

Title: Re: On Marketing
Post by: iago on February 21, 2009, 09:18:33 PM
Ron, I'd concur on the point about click-through ads. I experimented with some for Spirit of the Century, and didn't really see any effect result from 'em.  At the end of the day, it's word of mouth and actual play -- surprise! -- that act as the prime drivers of products I've had a chance to watch sell.