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General Forge Forums => Independent Publishing => Topic started by: lumpley on November 03, 2008, 02:00:55 PM



Title: Have we already reached everyone?
Post by: lumpley on November 03, 2008, 02:00:55 PM
Here's Jesse from another thread:

...what I've observed is a general attitude that "everyone who can be reached, has been reached." 

...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.

My observation is that over the past 5 years, as long as I've been involved in this little slice of the hobby, the audience for our games has been growing steadily and substantially, with no real sign of falling off. Certainly my games' sales point to that. Also my local indie rpg scene, which just grows and grows. In fact, our audience has grown about just as fast as we can logistically support. We have to keep inventing new ways to keep up with demand!

But I hear this too, sometimes, that we've reached everyone we're going to reach, that now we're just selling to each other instead of reaching outward. Am I living in happyland, la la la, out of touch with reality, that I think this is nonsense?

I do. I think it's crazy nonsense. I don't understand why people say it.

Hell, I've heard people say it who first heard of our games less than six months ago. What on earth?

-Vincent


Title: Re: Have we already reached everyone?
Post by: Seth M. Drebitko on November 03, 2008, 03:08:26 PM
I think the problem is not who the movement is able to reach but who the movement is trying to reach. Look at most threads regarding marketing the number one and some times only thing pushed is get active with the indie community itself. It's mostly just a mixture of people being to lazy to aggresivley market to non gamers or "traditional" gamers to instead choose a smaller sure thing. This is just the opinion of a casual observoir though. 


Title: Re: Have we already reached everyone?
Post by: Cynthia Celeste Miller on November 03, 2008, 03:12:12 PM
I've heard people spouting off this manner of nonsense too. Often, the ones saying it are the kind of people who only play games made by White Wolf, Wizards of the Coast, Palladium, etc. and that more or less makes up their mindset about games. If a game isn't a high-budget book sold in all the book chains, then it mustn't be that great a game. So, obviously, small press indie games aren't going to reach new audiences because people want all the flash (with or without substance). At least that's my experience.

But to answer the original question, there will always be new gamers to reach. As long as gaming hobby exists, new people will be attracted to it... many of which will gravitate toward cool niche games that the big companies wouldn't touch. It's like with music. As long as there is underground music (death metal, punk in the '70s, etc.), it will appeal to a certain portion of the masses. The same thing goes with indie gaming.


Title: Re: Have we already reached everyone?
Post by: Cynthia Celeste Miller on November 03, 2008, 03:19:12 PM
I think the problem is not who the movement is able to reach but who the movement is trying to reach. Look at most threads regarding marketing the number one and some times only thing pushed is get active with the indie community itself. It's mostly just a mixture of people being to lazy to aggresivley market to non gamers or "traditional" gamers to instead choose a smaller sure thing. This is just the opinion of a casual observoir though. 

To be fair, it's not always easy to market to non-gamers, primarily due to the costs involved. Aside from going to non-gaming forums and hyping your product or utilizing banner ads, there's really not many ways to reach other audiences affordably.


Title: Re: Have we already reached everyone?
Post by: iago on November 03, 2008, 04:07:38 PM
I think it's worth at least acknowledging the idea that the RPG market is not infinite in size.  That's just common sense.

That said, it might be effectively infinite for a reasonably solid, successful, intrinsically sales-generating property like Dogs in the Vineyard, et al.

To draw first from my own data, Spirit of the Century has sold less than 4,000 copies so far (print and PDF combined).  Given the likely "cap" size of the market can best be gauged in terms of how many copies of D&D sells, 4,000 copies may well be a fairly small percentage of potential already-existing RPG buyers -- and it's taking us over 2 years to hit that mark. 

For the sake of discussion, let's estimate the real size at, say, 40,000 customers (this could be wildly off, but it's solid enough for discussion purposes).  If I've got another 18 years to reach the other 36,000, I'm probably going to feel like the market's infinitely sized, at least in a practical sense.  If I had a kid today, that kid would be in college before the product "saturated"!

I seem to recall Vincent saying that Dogs in the Vineyard consistently sold around 700 copies a year for four years, so similar math could be inflicted upon that product.

But to get a little understanding of the guys "spouting off this manner of nonsense", if they're doing initial print runs sized at 8,000 to 20,000 (I don't know if they are, but let's suppose they do to get a sense of that perspective), their single print runs and expectation of sales represent a significant percentage of the market.  For them, the market would be a lot more palpably finite.

But to us folks in micro-press land, I just don't expect we'll feel the same as them.

I'm not sure it makes either party "wrong". It just means they're feeling different parts of the elephant.


Title: Re: Have we already reached everyone?
Post by: Seth M. Drebitko on November 03, 2008, 04:39:18 PM
  Well I did not mean so much that it would not be hard to do but the indie “front” is really on the bleeding edge of “traditional” marketing and I have actually found it easier to introduce them to inde games than traditional games, or traditional gamers to indie games for that matter. For example my fiancé who refused to ever consider playing D&D was excited to play Universalis and was interested in mortal coil but is now playing D&D and very pleased with it.
  I think it is just a matter of determining what types of people might be interested in your games design goals and socialize and chit chat with the about it as you get to know the community. Maybe your game has a wicca bend get to know some groups near you go to some of their events (I speak broodly because I don't know much about wicca) and generally socialize about what you do, if they start to get interested they may be able to better help get more wiccans interested.


Title: Re: Have we already reached everyone?
Post by: Pelgrane on November 05, 2008, 04:43:21 PM
Hell, I've had game designers contact me in the past couple of months who hadn't heard of any indie games! Also, a  large proportion of IPR's customers are new customers every time, which might mean something.


Title: Re: Have we already reached everyone?
Post by: Jake Richmond on November 30, 2008, 08:22:26 PM
I've had a lot of luck finding new audiences by making games that do not focus on rpg layers as their target audience. Panty Explosion is very successful because it appeals to (or at least tries to appeal to) manga readers and anime fans, horror and suspense fans (or alternatively, fans of absurd comedy) and (I think most importantly) young women. I've ad similar success with my other games. It's obvious to me that someone who isn't into manga, anime or j-horror might not ever be interested in Panty Explosion. But since there are a huge, huge number of people who are interested in those things, making a game that targets that audience seemed like a really good idea.



Title: Re: Have we already reached everyone?
Post by: greyorm on December 01, 2008, 03:18:39 AM
No, we haven't.

We haven't reached everyone yet. I say this because there has been some talk that the indie scene has reached everyone interested at this point, and that there's no room to grow or new people out there who can or wish to benefit from what we've learned. This is nonsense.

I say it is nonsense because you can still find this sort of thing (http://ergodika.com/reviews.html) on the internet:

Quote
"Ergodika  the Science Fantasy, Role-Playing Game (RPG) was a critical success, but a fiscal failure. After spending (1995-2005) over 10K attending conventions, hiring artists, printing books, consulting attorneries, advertising in magazines, as well as, renting and designing a website, Abbadon sold only about twenty copies of this game (<$300). Fourteen surveys were returned from Ergodika buyers; as rule the game was strongly received. In addition to these meager sales, about 100 print and electronic copies of  Ergodika RPG were given away as promotions. Regrettably, it appears that electronic media (video & computer games) are eliminating table top or traditional gaming.

Face-to-face or pen-n-paper Role Playing Games have had flat and declining sales for years. It appears that Abbadon entered the industry at the WRONG time with a good product. For more detailed philosophical discussion on RPGs one can see the author’s columns in Alarums & Excursions trade magazine. For now, we will cut our losses and not pursue this financial sink hole. Traditional RPGs are being forsaken by such established industry leaders as Fantasy Flight Games and Games Designs Workshop."

The above is from a company (which looks instead to be an individual presenting himself as a company) that pulled its RPG off the market after they lost 10k trying to sell it, and did everything you shouldn't do when you try and publish an RPG as an independent. Sadly, their conclusions based on their experience and the results of their own business mistakes are just utterly wrong, especially in light of their idea that selling twenty copies of their game over ten years and a handful of glowing customer surveys qualify as "a critical success".

Now, the above is a small, unknown company with a poorly designed site that screams "unprofessional" -- which isn't an attack, just an observation for my next point -- but even small, professionally-conducted companies who seem to know what they're doing haven't been reached either, as evidenced by the same (http://forums.redspirepress.com/viewtopic.php?t=639) claims and behaviors coming from places like Red Spire Press, who recently announced:

Quote
"...the gaming world has changed a lot since the initial release of the Player's Guide. There's not much room for small publishers and the CRPG market continues to eat away at pen & paper products. Anyways, RSP is shutting down."

There are so many problems with claims like these.

Not much room for small publishers?

I see successful small publishers everywhere! From "indie" publishers associated with the Forge to "indie" publishers elsewhere. Just take a look at the list of publishers on RPGNow! Many of those are small or one-man outfits, and many of them quite successful. To say nothing of the one-man publishers associated in common perception with the Forge, and the success of the so-called "indie alley" at Gen Con. There is a thriving market of small publishers.

Other markets eating away at pen and paper gaming?

You know, I heard the same excuses over ten years ago when Magic:the Gathering came out and an RPG product failed. That CCGs were "eating the PnP market". And I heard the same sort of excuses back in the days before CRPGs and CCGs, when other reasons were found to explain the supposed end of the RPG hobby/market. Yet, "somehow", the hobby is still here, going as strong as ever, with numerous small press companies making decent money selling their games and products, existing in the black or better, year upon year, and doing better than basement start-ups have ever been able to do previously in such large number.

I further note there is clearly a thriving market for pen-and-paper games, and though most of that market is untapped by small press companies, many small presses do fine on the relatively small share of that market aware of them. But despite all this, small-press companies still find excuses for failures despite our knowledge that a creative can make money writing and producing gaming material, without breaking the bank and without needing to throw in the towel for bullshit reasons like "the gaming industry is changing and computer games are stealing our market share".

It isn't and they aren't. We know this. The numerous successful indie games that have come out every year for going on the last decade have proven that. CRPGs and CCGs only "steal" your market shares if a small press follows an out-dated, broken model of production and distribution. Which (clearly) many creatives are still doing!

Thus, equally clearly, we haven't reached everyone we can. There are still people out there dumping tens-of-thousands of dollars into a product, and upon failing to make that amount back or gain a break-out success that out-does D&D itself or even just pays for itself, declare the RPG scene is dying and that small presses can not help but be failures, blaming everything from video games to card games to current economic conditions or the price of tea in China.

First, if you're a small publisher, that isn't the way it has to be. Don't be the guys above, and don't do things that way. Second, if you're a small publisher, help others discover the way it used to be done is not the best route to success as a small publisher, and help explain how to succeed, starting with how success is not defined as how well a publisher does compared to the 800-lb gorilla in a niche hobby industry, nor especially by trying to do things the way the gorilla does them.

Consider: the fact that I, a relatively unknown creative, can pay my web-hosting fees and still have money left for a couple of RPG-related buys with what I am making from one product shows that small press games can and do sell and don't necessarily bleed the creative's bank account dry. The fact that my other product, which is again relatively unknown and isn't hawked at conventions or through expensive advertisements, sells enough every quarter to pay printing costs for itself shows the same thing.

Yet in the above examples I cite we have products, one supposedly professionally produced and cared for given the amount of money spent on it, the other an award-winning design crafted with professional detail and care, abandoned because they aren't making money for their creators. What?

How can I make money doing what I'm doing, and these guys not doing what they're doing? How can they NOT be making money in this market?

Clearly, we have not reached everyone we can.


Title: Re: Have we already reached everyone?
Post by: guildofblades on December 01, 2008, 12:25:12 PM
The existing games marketing is darn near infinitly large in relation to the marketing power that most any small press or indie company can wield.

Here is an example. Our leading board game, The War to End All Wars has now topped 8,000 sales (over several editions) since 1998 and all the games of the Empires of History game line are collectively hovering at about 80,000 sales. That's not shabby. Now, having opened the new retail store, right here in the Guild's virtual backyard, of all the customers who have wondered into the store, about 3 of them had even heard of the Guild of Blades previously and only 1 of them was familiar with the Empires of History line.

So at 80,000 sales collectively for games in that line, we've penetrated so little of the overall player base for games that only 1 customer who has walked in our store in over 6 weeks had any familiarity with the line. And we opened up in a metro area that has something like 4+ million people within a 30-45 minute drive.

That means 80,000 sales is barely scatching the surface of the overall active player base for games and the overall active player base for games has barely scratched the surface of the overal potential player base for games amng the broader populace.

Reached everyone that could be reached? I would bet every penny I own that would be impossible. But one might have to conceed that its possible a majority of people that could be reached easily may have been reached for a particular single venue. Which simply means its time to broaden the venues for marketing said product.

Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Retail Group - http://www.guildofblades.com/retailgroup.php
Guild of Blades Publishing Group - http://www.guildofblades.com
1483 Online - http://www.1483online.com


Title: Re: Have we already reached everyone?
Post by: Jake Richmond on December 01, 2008, 04:16:48 PM
Quote
But one might have to conceed that its possible a majority of people that could be reached easily may have been reached for a particular single venue.

I think that's true. I think that just publishing a game, talking about it on your blog, hanging out at a few different community sites and going to a few conventions can only get you so many customers. If you want to move beyond that then you must try a new approach to find a new audience.



Title: Re: Have we already reached everyone?
Post by: greyorm on December 01, 2008, 05:41:11 PM
I think that's true. I think that just publishing a game, talking about it on your blog, hanging out at a few different community sites and going to a few conventions can only get you so many customers. If you want to move beyond that then you must try a new approach to find a new audience.

While that is true, I don't think it is true in this case. That is, I don't think we've completely tapped the venue. Especially small presses such as the one I indicated above, who think the market has dried up when they haven't even penetrated the existing small-press gamer market (let alone the larger gamer hobbyist market).

I think "moving beyond" is a slippery slope that should be avoided in the "we've reached everyone" discussion, because it is too easy to say, "we aren't selling well, so we must have reached everyone in the current market, we should expand" when that is likely not the problem.


Title: Re: Have we already reached everyone?
Post by: Valamir on December 01, 2008, 08:59:17 PM
I don't think the current "indie-market" has been saturated.  But I do think its become more discrimenating.

I've been saying for the last few years that the "If you build it they will come" era of indie design is over.

The "holy cow I've never seen that before" effect now requires something a hell of a lot more than it did back when Universalis, Dust Devils, and My Life with Master were new.



Title: Re: Have we already reached everyone?
Post by: guildofblades on December 01, 2008, 09:09:25 PM
>>I think "moving beyond" is a slippery slope that should be avoided in the "we've reached everyone" discussion, because it is too easy to say, "we aren't selling well, so we must have reached everyone in the current market, we should expand" when that is likely not the problem.<<

I'm not so sure its a matter of "expanding" per se, but rather trying to market to a "different" group of people or venue instead. For instance, when we first began our Empires of History line of games we marketed them aggresively at players of Axis & Allies, since the games were essentially A&A variants. In reality, the games were sort of a mixture of games like A&A and more traditional hex and counter wargames. They made some in roads to the A&A player base, sure, and they made some inroads to the hex and counter players as well, but they never did a whole lot more than scratch the surface of either consumer group. Not crunchy enough for the hex and counter group, no fun plastic minis and toys for the A&A crowd. Was there a market there within each group for the games? Sure. But was it the most fertile ground for them. No. That proved to be a broader base of consumers who were interested enough in history to be interested in historically themed games, yet not yet wedded to either of the above mentioned formats.

So, a "different" venue proved the better venue for us. That is not to say we now ignore the wargamers or Axis & Allies players, but we know where to focus the bulk of our energies for continued growth. It could very well be the publisher in question made some inroads with the indie consumer base, but to really hit their stride they might have to keep searching a bit to find a different venue they may be both more fertile ground and a larger park to play in.

Going to sell your product where all the other small companies have trodded before might seem like good common sense on the surface and it likely is, at the start. Its tried and true. But if all 500-800 companies are hitting that same target, as you might imagine, no matter how fertile ground, that's a lot of noise in the pipe to compete with.

Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Retail Group - http://www.guildofblades.com/retailgroup.php
Guild of Blades Publishing Group - http://www.guildofblades.com
1483 Online - http://www.1483online.com


Title: Re: Have we already reached everyone?
Post by: Jake Richmond on December 01, 2008, 11:54:46 PM
Quote
While that is true, I don't think it is true in this case. That is, I don't think we've completely tapped the venue.

Of course. And we all do a lot more then what I described to promote our games.

Quote
I think "moving beyond" is a slippery slope that should be avoided in the "we've reached everyone" discussion, because it is too easy to say, "we aren't selling well, so we must have reached everyone in the current market, we should expand" when that is likely not the problem.

I think what I'm trying to say is the opposite. Not  "we aren't selling well, so we must have reached everyone in the current market, we should expand", but " the current market is a great place to sell our games, but it's not where our target audience lives. We need to find our audience and market to them directly". This is truer for some games (mine for example) then others. Matt and I never really tried to market Panty Explosion to gamers. We focused all our energy on pushing the game to anime, manga and j-cinema fans. And that payed off. Panty Explosion sells really well. It sells well in the traditional gaming market as well, but that was never our priority. This wasn't a case of Matt and I trying to break into a mainstream market (or, I guess, a different hobby market). Instead we identified where our customers where and went directly after them from the beginning. If we had just stuck to the gaming market Panty Explosion would have never been more then a marginal success.

Now what you're sayiong is that the gaming market definitely has sales in it, and it's foolish for us to think there's nothing hear and try to move on to greener pastures, right? I agree with that. Totally. But there are plenty of games which are going to find a much larger potential audience outside the traditional gaming market then in it.


Title: Re: Have we already reached everyone?
Post by: jburneko on December 02, 2008, 01:24:59 PM
Raven brings up an interesting point.  My original comments were largely about the ideology of socially aware play from the more universal issues of healing gamer culture social contexts down to hocking my own play preferences as "an interesting thing to try."  Gamer culture is still infused with so many broken ideas about role-playing being a social dodge if we all just "stay in character" and GM does a good job of playing social nanny.

But Raven's point is about the commercial ramifications of independent publishing and it's probably one of the major faults I have when I play games at cons.  I forget to mention that detail to people who aren't familiar with the game.  It harkens all the way back to Ron's "Nuking The Apple Cart Essay."

But that raises a question in my mind.  Most people self publishing still have day jobs.  Even the creators of Spirit of the Century, Burning Wheel and Houses of the Blooded still generate a personal income from some where else even though those games appeal and sell well among core gamer culture.  I wonder how many of the people who sink 10k into a game and then fail would want to continue to publish their game if you took away the dream of generating a living wage from their company?

Jesse


Title: Re: Have we already reached everyone?
Post by: greyorm on December 02, 2008, 09:08:53 PM
But there are plenty of games which are going to find a much larger potential audience outside the traditional gaming market then in it.

Total agreement. I didn't mean to imply otherwise.

I wonder how many of the people who sink 10k into a game and then fail would want to continue to publish their game if you took away the dream of generating a living wage from their company?

Excellent question, Jesse, and it makes a great point.

If we ask the field of literature how many writers would continue to write if you took away the dream of making a living wage from writing, what would the answer be? Well, in the literature field, a minuscule number of writers make a living from writing, but it is furthermore common knowledge that you don't make a living from writing. You write because you have a need to write.

If someone doesn't know this, and thinks that being a published author means they can quit their day job, they are quickly set on the straight path by a more experienced and knowledgeable author. So how many potential authors give up on writing because they know they can't make a living doing it? I confess I don't know. I'm just gazing into my magical navel.

(I do wonder though, how many of those who would sink 10k into their product, once appraised of the realities, would be willing to sink a few hundred into their game instead and make steady money for gas and soda, rather than an outright living?)

Regardless, I think one important bit to note is that the literature field tells its members the truth about writing and making a living, and doesn't tend to let misty-eyed dreams of self-sufficiency linger within its populace. Which, as Jesse points out, is exactly the opposite of what is found in the tabletop game field where the same idea is widespread but rarely shot down by established "pros", and when the reality is stated, it is often disbelieved and even argued against (as we've seen here on the Forge more than once).


Title: Re: Have we already reached everyone?
Post by: eyebeams on December 06, 2008, 05:58:19 AM

Regardless, I think one important bit to note is that the literature field tells its members the truth about writing and making a living, and doesn't tend to let misty-eyed dreams of self-sufficiency linger within its populace. Which, as Jesse points out, is exactly the opposite of what is found in the tabletop game field where the same idea is widespread but rarely shot down by established "pros", and when the reality is stated, it is often disbelieved and even argued against (as we've seen here on the Forge more than once).

Actually, I write for a living. As a field, writers get together and talk about how to write for a living. We even discuss standards for the rate you need to write for a living, and often belong to organizations where membership is divided between those who make a living and those who don't.

Anyway, 10K? It's nothing. It's enough for a group of guys to publish ashcans and get wasted at half a dozen cons, rent booth space and then write it off. 10 grand, easy. And since you have to have your public statements jibe with your balance sheet, that's what they say.

A better test case for a high end new entry would be Mind Storm Labs, assuming that the RPG isn't an IP test for other media. They spent an epic amount of money on Alpha Omega, including their site,  a full fledged ARG, SEO, social media campaigns and demons in go go boots rocking the con booth, all for a game that breaks many trade standards and general ideas about what's supposed to work.

To my mind, the key to sustained success is to create *autonomous* play networks. That means people are playing your game who you haven't met, and forming communities you don't necessarily know about. This is where you have to develop your agenda. Are you interested in selling the game, or an inroad into an existing scene? Which comes first? If it's the community first, you're depriving your audience of their creative agency and putting the emphasis outside the natural social medium of play, away from conventions, meetups and other forms of contrived social interaction.

At this point you will look at the username and figure this is a mere broadside, so allow me to give you an example from D&D (I could pick WW too, but there are two examples I can think of, and I couldn't choose as of the time of writing and express my thoughts with economy).

It's no secret that almost every iteration of D&D has been less of a boom and relied on more and more organized play to support it, reaching the zenith (and apparently, failure) of DDI. Organized, sanctioned play is kind of like that alien in Cosmic Encounter that beats you by giving you a lot of useless presents. You're burdened with the standards of the community and marketing's expectation of a demonstrable return, and your wider network includes experts and sub-moderator figures. Your character moves from a hero to a chump in Adventurer City, you have to buy books just to have a conversation and the combined effort cuts into play time and enjoyment, and you lose touch with that segment of the population that doesn't know what a "Gish" is.

If you set the context of play as something you pay to do and follow an extra layer of mediation to do, those elements will dominate and contain the game. At the same time, you want to help these communities grow on their own, find people and bring your game into a normal social milieu: the same one that has card games, movie nights and pub trips, along with maybe a bit of IM on the side. The trick to making this happen is something that people (and companies of all sizes) generally have a hard time getting the hang of. Brick and mortar stores help. So do university groups and more hand-off setups, like Facebook groups. Get away from mentoring, and stop trying to convince RPGNet that you should be loved. Instead, get your new customers to talk to each other *without* your continued help and advice, so that they can take ownership of their community and define it in their own terms, instead of replicating yours.

Obviously, people like me find your community (and please, lose the reflexive handwringing about how it's All Individuals - it is, and it's still a community) alienating - but I own a number of games from it because they have real artistic merit. You don't have to take my word for it; you just have to read the results of one of your sorties into other RPG communities. This is not because these people are stuck, set in their ways or suffer from brain damage, spiritual pollution or a profound separation from God. It's also not because of *you* - not directly. It's because this is the natural effect of communities. Your challenge, as I see it, is to create avenues where customers can create places apart from you, develop their own ideas about your materials and run with them, turning the game into a medium for expression, instead of an affiliation with an entrenched scene. One way to do this is to get serious about building communities game by game, instead of by school of thought. Another is to provide extended support, even if informal, for existing games, and use email and other tools to get the word out about updates. I've already mentioned some more "hands-free" forms of social networking, but there are others, and they can be defined outside of your internal categories to jibe with a game's content.

Failing to do this has been a problem for most game companies. This is not some special failing on your part. People want their hands on the tiller, and want to really tell everyone what their game and scene is all about, but mentoring is something adults ask for - not what you pull them to. Create, provide the tools, make introductions, and become the audience of your audience.


Title: Re: Have we already reached everyone?
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 06, 2008, 07:35:57 AM
Hi Malcolm,

I see no broadside. That is a wonderful post and I agree with every word, especially this part:

Quote
To my mind, the key to sustained success is to create *autonomous* play networks. That means people are playing your game who you haven't met, and forming communities you don't necessarily know about. This is where you have to develop your agenda. Are you interested in selling the game, or an inroad into an existing scene? Which comes first? If it's the community first, you're depriving your audience of their creative agency and putting the emphasis outside the natural social medium of play, away from conventions, meetups and other forms of contrived social interaction.

Unless the independent scene can sustain what it achieved in 2000-2004, and continue to operate as a wave-front "out there," then it's bullshit. My criticisms of the Play Collective and Story Games are based on exactly that point. I include websites and forums in your category of "contrived social interaction" too.

I've made a lot of decisions about running this site over the last two or three years, all of them based on full agreement with what you're saying. The result doesn't surprise me: newcomer-activity has jumped up a quantum in quantity and quality, whereas insider-indie reaction has included goosed shock and high-school level perceptions of betrayal (OK, to be fair, a lot of great and constructive responses too, but not from the same people).

Thank you for posting that. I hope it becomes a reality check for those who need it.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Have we already reached everyone?
Post by: guildofblades on December 06, 2008, 09:37:21 AM
>>Which, as Jesse points out, is exactly the opposite of what is found in the tabletop game field where the same idea is widespread but rarely shot down by established "pros", and when the reality is stated, it is often disbelieved and even argued against (as we've seen here on the Forge more than once).<<

As one of those established pros, who started, well, lets just say at a much more basic entry point, I would have to argue the case that it IS totally possible to make a living in the hobby game industry. Killing peoples ambitions by arguing otherwise doesn't really help anybody or the industry. It is totally possible, just not easy. And it should always come with a bit of factoids such as:

1) It almost doesn't matter how much money you throw at trying to grow your hobby games publishing company, it WILL take time to grow. It takes time to learn the mistakes that you need to avoid, it takes time for your first game to enter the market and for word of mouth to help it grow. It takes time for your company to develope a recognized name within the industry. And it takes time to establish sales channels and reliable production processes. Throwing a lot of money at it to speed things up _can_ speed things up a bit, but frankly, not a lot, and it simply makes every learning mistake more costly along the way.

2) Its amazing easy to blow through money if one is not operating from a base of experience that has learned to balance capital against realistic returns. In my  time in the industry I have seen a good couple hundred companies come and go, all spending a disproportionate amount of money trying to drive rapid rowth, relative to expected growth on what would be realistic growth. It is for this reason, other than someone with the experience of Steve Jackson, Peter A and the like, anyone starting a company in this industry is usually going to be better off starting small and growing slowly as they expand their games catalog, publishing experience, distribution vehicles and brand presence.

3) Its very unrealistic that anyone is going to grow themselves a pull time paying gig in gaming through the self publication of a single game or a single game line.Unless your game is one of the seldom few to catapult into the top 5 games within the category it sells under (RPG, Card, Board, etc). Even strong sellers like BESM which topped over 30,000 units in sales with the last edition released by Guardians of Order wasn't enough of a base to sustain that company. I would say an independent designer can make some decent money with a successful game or game line, but to operate a stable company that can pay them a living wage year in and year out, the company needs to operate a whole catalog of games and it needs to market and sell them in cost effective ways. I don't care if a single game was the greatest thing since sliced bread, its just not going to sustain a whole company by itself.

4) If you want to publish a game and make a few bucks, there are plenty of resource here at the Forge and a few other places to set you on the right path to self publishing without mortgaging the house. Unfortunately all too often I have seen folks express the sentiment that they want to publish games full time for a living, but they don't want to do those pesky non game design tasks like accounting, production management, marketing, pick and pack for shipping and order management, etc. They just want to "design games" and "be in charge". Honestly, even should somebody start with a 10 million dollar capital reserve, if they want to run a company as above, I think they will eventually fail. If you want to run a publishing company, then YOU need to run the publishing company. You need to understand its core operations and nearly every nut and bolt therein. And without a doubt, you have to have an intimate relationship with all aspects of the financials. Even a couple of the long running, well established RPG publishers in our industry tried handing off the financials of their companies to employees so they could focus on game design and distribution and in both cases that decision about tanked the company. If "employees" could be trusted to operate and grow your business for you so you could just do "game design", odds a pretty darn good those employees would be operating and growing their own business instead of just working for you.

A designer needs to make a choice. Which is more important. Designing for fun and maintaining their exacting vision for a game and perhaps making some nice side money in the process. Or operating a company for a profit and perhaps for a living. Thw two goals aren't always mutually exclusive and they sure can intersect a lot of a company is structured properly for that purpose, but I guarantee there will always be a point where these two priorities conflict in interest. Prioritizing the vision over the business necessities too often might very well mean achieving or maintaining a company able to support its staff will be impossible. Prioritizing the business needs over the game design elements might mean you have to make compromises on how the game is designed and/or published. Chosing one priority over the other is not wrong. Its a personal choice based on the goals of the individual and its up to them to decide where their priorities lay. I just think it is important to recognize the points of conflict that can sometimes exists between these two priorities because I guarantee its sure to happen at some point (and likely at a lot of "some points").

Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Retail Group - http://www.guildofblades.com/retailgroup.php
Guild of Blades Publishing Group - http://www.guildofblades.com
1483 Online - http://www.1483online.com


Title: Re: Have we already reached everyone?
Post by: greyorm on December 07, 2008, 10:25:24 PM
Actually, I write for a living. As a field, writers get together and talk about how to write for a living. We even discuss standards for the rate you need to write for a living, and often belong to organizations where membership is divided between those who make a living and those who don't.

Malcolm,

"EXACTLY!" Very illustrative of the difference between writers and their communities/lists and the willfully-ignorant dreaming (young) designers will often espouse and viciously defend in their communities/lists, even to older and wiser heads who know you aren't going to go out there and write the next D&D overnight, or create a stable full-time business with just one game product you do nothing but "create" for (and ignore the complexities of the business and networking sides).

Also, not sure why any of your statements would be considered a broadside; it's an absolutely great post! Very much in-line with the thoughts and arguments I've been making in other (non-gaming) communities about the way to create and maintain audiences in saturated and poorly sifted markets.