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Author Topic: New Publishing Frontiers  (Read 6095 times)
greyorm
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My name is Raven.


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« on: February 06, 2008, 09:51:48 PM »

We all know the market for intellectual property is changing on a fundamental level thanks to the internet and the ease of copying and distribution of data -- cheap, free, instant duplication directly conflicts with the established criteria on which profitable business is based: scarcity and privilege -- and it occurs to me that we, as a community, are still trying to stumble our way around these issues with ideas in our heads about the way things worked while we were growing up (the old/extant business model) and how they sort-of still work today, and how big companies want them to continue to work, even while realizing that's not how profits are going to be made twenty, ten, or even five years from now.

Kevin Kelly, at The Technium, talks about this issue, the issue of copying in the digital age and how it interacts with profits, and the eight properties of things that cannot be copied. I think this is an excellent article for us, as a community, to at least read and perhaps reflect on, given understanding and coming to grips with issues like piracy and its impact on profit has been something regularly discussed among designers, because we are if not digitally-focused at least digitally-incident, because many of us work on the fringes of traditional publishing already and have (in the past) blazed the way for new ways of dealing with production and profit and visibility in this industry, so why not continue to do so with better knowledge of what we're facing and where things could go?

As an example of what thinking about these ideas entails: I am reading the eight properties and come to "Personalization", and it starts me thinking about Wolfgang Baur's Open Design project which hinges on the old concept of patronage (ie: you do the work a group of interested, paying parties sponsors you to do, and not only do they alone receive the results but have a direct influence and say in the direction and details of the project), and how such is a form of Personalization. The purchasers have direct input on and an investment with the product and results.

Or perhaps a new business model might involve a company/individual creating new games for groups that hire them to personalize a particular gaming experience, via a new game, based on the creator's publicly established style. And that comes to mind because cheap, free, instant production and duplication is a reality, leading to a saturated market (and we've seen this with D20: everyone can be a producer, but it splits up the market). How do you get noticed and step above in a saturated market without constantly fighting to be one of the top dogs? Don't. Be unique. Or even "go niche". Or both. The above indicates creation of a unique, niche market for every personalization-based producer, with natural restraints on over-saturation.

Or maybe that's unworkable crap. It was a five-minute idea, after all. But, that's why thinking about how these ideas work in relation to modern publishing is important. And even when/if we decide to start playing with these ideas as a community, maybe we won't figure out immediately what works, we may sacrifice ourselves on the altar of future successes chasing these ideas around, but we've always kind of been right there at our core anyways (I mean, self-publishing and creator-control? Are we insane? You can't do that!).

Anyways, the link is there for perusal and consideration since we do have to deal with the super-copy machine that is the internet and changing consumer/market culture whether we release hardcopy or electronic. If anyone has anything they want to publicly discus about the ideas and how they might impact the publishing practices/model/methods the community currently utilizes, or how our publishing practices could be affected positively (for more profit, if that's your thing, greater customer investment, or visibility) by some application of those thoughts, or anything designers are doing or have done that maps to one of these (Greg Stolze's Ransom Model comes to mind as a clear example of the value of Patronage) and what we can learn about the market from that, go for it.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio
David Artman
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Designer & Producer


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« Reply #1 on: February 07, 2008, 10:45:52 AM »

Very interesting article. I am tempted to try to extend his Eight (is it REALLY only eight? REALLY?), but for now I want to just think out loud a bit regarding each point:

Immediacy - He uses the model of hardcover novel releases before digest and paperback. While we might be able to plumb that model, our (apparent) audience has established preferences and our print providers are making everything more accessible. To whit: gamers either want their hardbacks or at least want some kind of book (me) or don't care (e.g. PDF would be fine; maybe preferred). So our option to follow in the footsteps of the novel writer are limited: we'd be best served (and serve best) by offering all three formats, with each having the same "IP markup" (profit after production and distribution costs, if any). This breeds trust amongst consumers, when they recognize (hopefully) that we don't gouge on hardbacks just because we can (i.e. because that's all there is available). Also, frankly, do any of us have enough cache to actually pull off such a mark-up-due-to-immediacy game (who's our Stephen King or James Grishom?).

This trust versus markup disparity only gets deeper, when you take into account the fact that we can (and do and should) correct, improve, and re-upload PDFs more or less to our heart's content (whether to be printed or not). So, in fact, we have a Beta Problem, in that those who bite the immediacy bullet and plop down for the "first edition" inevitably are left feeling a bit cheated, when the digest soft cover comes out with correction and expansion. For less. Yuck.

Personalization - Personally (heh) I'd find this to be a nightmare, unless somehow automated. I dig your idea of custom-games-on-demand for groups--in fact, that maps very well with my notions of merging one-shot games with a NetFlix model!--but a LOT of our projects don't marry to that well. Although, as a possible exception, my current business model for GLASS (see sig) entails an additional revenue channel beyond the book(s) sales: I am going to provide a (ad-revenue-generating) database system online for (a) specifying a GLASS game type and (b) managing characters associated with a particular game/series that is using that game type. Bam: personalization, though through a supplemental product or channel. GLASS is well-suited to this channel precisely because it is a generic system--something pretty much eschewed by the indie scene (barring very notable exceptions like Universalis).

Perhaps some other game designers could follow a similar lead, if their game suits. Luke Crane burning worlds based on character profiles; Vincent Baker writing up appropriate, custom towns (or making specific setting hacks, which I have indirectly suggested to him before, in the course of "generic Dogs" discussions)--such games have an element of "genericness" due to their customization for a given session or group, and so maybe that's a channel to explore. Designers as Sales Support Service vendors.

Interpretation - On the one hand, I see how much advice many players need to "play right" in some games, and I think "Yeah, here's a support revenue model waiting to happen." But on the other hand, I see the passion and knock-on sales that free support online has provided to some of the best and most popular designers. Even for GLASS, I have a desire to eventually create setting-specific supplements to sell... but meanwhile, I can't turn my back on the (sadly, two or three at the moment) folks who approach me for advice on my forums. So this is a balancing acts, one which probably has already shown that there's more net value to be gained from giving interpretation away, at least in the short term. On the gripping hand (LOVE my Niven!), most questions get answered early and often; so, over time, the burden of such interpretation support goes way down, if a solid FAQ and list of past threads is maintained by the designer/interpreter.

Authenticity - Given that his notion starts with "copy," this is a bit of a red herring; more so for our particular medium. I doubt someone can "hack" (as in maliciously, not re-skin or system tweak) a game rule book to the point it breaks. I doubt a consumer of such a "hacked" game would (a) notice or (b) much care--easily fixed with a support question, right? ;)

I think this one, for us, comes down to Gamer Pride, which can be fostered in a community of our size. If everyone at your table has the hardback copy, and you've got a scanned-in, shitty PDF printed on your B&W laser printer... well, that's the sort of stuff that gets heckled or discouraged, openly or subconsciously, in a group that truly loves the game and wants success for its designer (see Patronage below).

Accessibility For PDF-only, this one is probably the Single Best New Angle. Consider a "Game Cabinet" site which sells PDFs and also maintains a record of what each customer has bought, so that he or she could re-download (i.e. read) any PDF in their Cabinet, from any PC or device which supports PDF reading. Man, that could be HOT, especially for folks who get into games with a shit-ton of crunch or expansion (great example is D&D, but I doubt Hasbro would ever go this route). But even without such a "store and sort" service, PDF distribution, as I mentioned above, allows for quick and easy routine maintenance... at least, for new buyers, though there's no reason that past buyers of PDF-only books couldn't have them re-emailed to them, when corrected.

Embodiment - SOP, BAU, for us. Though I personally wouldn't pad the cost of a hardback version more than the net difference in production cost--keeping my IP profits static regardless of media--there's no reason we can't. Yep, the PDF is $10... the hard back is $25 (even though prod cost diff is, say, $8). You want the best, pay premium. Nothing new there, for us or any other producer of sensual--visual, aural, tactile--media or goods.

Patronage - Shareware, Ransom Model, celebrity designers, great post-sale support (i.e. build loyalty).... We got this one well covered. Maybe the dude is watching US, to get ideas for this article? ;)

Findability - I suppose this is the notion from which POD RPG providers who vet their product listings operate. Keep the quality of the catalog high, categorize like mad, get the new stuff in the face of appropriate potential customers. For many of us, though, this comes down to a cost of operation, not a potential for revenue. We prolly have to leave this one to larger publishers and retail channels.

My 2¢ (or $2, given the length; sorry)...
David
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Designer - GLASS, Icehouse Games
Editor - Perfect, Passages
guildofblades
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Posts: 309


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« Reply #2 on: February 07, 2008, 07:30:05 PM »

This is how the Guild is adapting to the digital age:

1) Many of our printed products can not easily be duplicated as of yet. Namely, we make our bank on board games rights now. But we also keep our RPG prices fairly low and have a new line coming out with most books retailing for just $2. We figure at that price they'll pay us for the books still because its just less bother than printing them themselves.

2) We're adapting many of our board games into multi player online games which are monetized via advertising and enhanced memberships. This gives us a broader marketing channel and greater ability to reach those customers who still want the hard copies. See 1483online.com for an example of our first MMO game in beta testing.

3) We're going into retail so we can expand the distribution of our games beyond the core audience that is most prone to pursue the cheaper digitally distributed content.

4) At the retail end, we're setting up POD printing, so we'll ultimately be positioned to take that huge volume of content that is going digital and will be able to provide hard copies for those who want it. We're exploring new production methods for POD, such as POD cards, POD comics, POD board games, which are simply things that can't be gotten digitally and easily printed with quality by a user at home.

5) We are GOING to figure out a means to distribute PDFs or e-books that have dynamically delivered advertising in them, tying into the adserver we do through our online games and content.

6) We're going to start focusing more on brand building and story building to build upon licensing revenues that can move our brands into theatres, toys and other things not easily duplicated through digital distribution.

7) We're going to leverage digital distribution as entry points for our products and provide communities online to serve as a nexus point for those interested in that content. Those points will be monetized via advertising, memberships, etc.

I agree, the digital age is among us and I think the value proposition of content as delivered through hard goods is going to decrease over the next decade. I think for content creators, it is essential to have a plan on how to do business in this new landscape.

Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group
http://www.guildofblades.com
http://www.1483online.com
http://www.thermopylae-online.com
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Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group
http://www.guildofblades.com
pells
Member

Posts: 194


« Reply #3 on: February 10, 2008, 01:03:25 PM »

Hi Raven. I'm going to address this issue very seriously, but first, two notes.

- The article is very, very interesting. If I may, I would also recommend this other article and also, this speech on TED. And, by the way, I can't recommend enough TED. It is a wonderful website which presents very, but very interesting speakers.
- This issue you're presenting, this so called "new frontier" has already been discussed here at the forge, on a regular basis. To move from a product based (which can be copied) to a service based (which can't) business is one of my main objective and thought about my own project. But also about other's project, as this issue really interests me. Strangely, David and Ryan take part (or initiate for that matter) in those conservations.

Moving to a service based model might be difficult. Can we do it ? I guess yes. But I think we will need to re engineer our final product. Because we won't be selling the same thing anymore.
I'd like to retake the list and comment on it. I don't think there is a single solution to the issue at hand ; neither that all elements of the list can fit all solutions.
That said, David, I do find your analysis of those points a little "shy".

Immediacy - I do think it can apply to our business (our trade). For instance, take a look at what Troy Costisick does : monthly subscription, you get the game. You want to the game, you'll have to wait a couple of months for its "public" release. The notion of "hard cover" is not that you're paying for the hard cover ; you're paying more to get the book sooner. Hard cover is just a false pretext. Also, about the implantation of immediacy : Avalanche (hep) is meant to be distributed online, sold on a subscription based, but with the possibility to buy the pdf. Now, let's say I plan on releasing an "issue" every three months. But, if you subscribe, you get to see the writing as it goes. You wouldn't need to wait. I could even see putting there (I mean online) sketches done by the illustrators. But, this may part of the patronage aspect ...

Personalization - I don't think personalization is to be understood from a person to person angle, but from an "option" angle. You're selling me a product, but can I personalize it ? Do you have options ? The movie example given in the article seems to me as a good one. The movie could be free, but the options (more/less violence, more/less sex, more/less coarse language, more/less car chasing) would cost something. For instance, look at the mobile phone company (I used to work for them for six years, so it's an example I know well), you can personalize everything, the number of options being enormous, but still, this is not a person to person thing. For Avalanche, and this could apply to many other games, we plan on having various options : systems, dungeons, "sim" (with a lot, but a lot of details) ... This could also be easily implemented for GLASS.

Interpretation - Sorry, I can't see how this could apply.

Authenticity - I guess the world of warcraft here might turn out to be a good example : you've got this powerful sword, but is it "real" ? I think this could apply to any online games, with some kind of community, where having the true/legit stuff is part of the game.

Accessibility - This is already there. And, please, stop thinking about re downloading the pdf !!! 1483online is accessible. From everywhere : you just need a browser and an internet access. This could be the same for GLASS, David. You put everything a player needs on the web. No more need for pdf, nor for paper. It is on your "personal space" on the internet. That's one of our main goal with Avalanche : to provide players and DM alike a powerful tool to prepare, use in play and keep track of everything you need. You're at one of your players' house and someone propose an unexpected game ? Fine !! All the PCs are on the net and everything the DM will need. That's accessibility.

Embodiment - As David says.

Patronage - Beside any model or example, we're right on this one !!!! I believe this is one the main advantage of being indie. Do I want to give money to hasbro ? Pffff ... I would prefer to give it to a small indie publisher. Same thing applies for food, music, movie ... When most movies could be found free over the money, which ones am I ready to buy ? Whom do I have to encourage ? This is the "poor man's power".

Quote
Or maybe that's unworkable crap. It was a five-minute idea, after all.
I don't believe it's crap, but this will need much thoughts and a lot of time. And finding new ways to produce rpg, to find new products. And, in my opinion, it all starts there : what's your trade, what are you selling, how can this properties be applied to it ?

To conclude, I'd say I'm enthusiast about this new frontier and I believe, when I see what the big ones are planning (for instance, for d&d 4e, they plan to propose online dungeon generators. Who cares ?), that the indie community will find its place, and propose products unique of their own.
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Sébastien Pelletier
And you thought plot was in the way ?
Current project Avalanche
guildofblades
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Posts: 309


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« Reply #4 on: February 10, 2008, 01:29:58 PM »

>>Accessibility - This is already there. And, please, stop thinking about re downloading the pdf !!! 1483online is accessible. From everywhere : you just need a browser and an internet access.<<

This is partially true anyway. Through the web page players can login, check their games' statuses, check and send e-mail on our system, sign up to games, post in the forums, etc, but they can't play their turn through any web browser.

1483 Online does have a game download as well. That's the program that is necessary to run the game map application. We /could/ have done the 28 player Europe 1483 totally online via flash, but no way that was going to practical for the 95 player Full World version. So we needed the download component.

The download also will ultimately give us far greater marketing reach, since its free. We will be able to place the software into 200-300 software/shareware download sites. That's a lot of exposure that simply having it all web based wouldn't give us. That and the software side makes the game more hack proof.

But since the software is free, yeah, if our users travel, they can simply download and install to the system they are using. When traveling to visit the in-laws in Thailand, a few days I had to play my turns in the beta games I was monitoring via the local internet cafe, since on that island they didn't have internet at the hotel. All customer and game saved data is held at the server level, so any 1483 app from anywhere in the world will do.

When we begin the relaunch of our Dark Realms line, other than the dollar store channel, physical distribution of product and content will actually play a very small role in the overall plan.

Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group
http://www.guildofblades.com
http://www.1483online.com
http://www.thermopylae-online.com
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Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group
http://www.guildofblades.com
David Artman
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Designer & Producer


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« Reply #5 on: February 11, 2008, 12:26:02 PM »

A few redirects and rebuttals:
Hard cover is just a false pretext.
Not true:
1) Some folks want only hardbacks, proving that they have a "real" value above and beyond immediacy, else no one would buy them (ever) once the digest or paperback was available.
2) Authors could release digest or paperback first, but almost never do; and if they did so, they could not easily reduce the MSRP later, (i.e. the "discount" for non-immediacy). They don't (though book SELLERS do, to move stock).

Quote
But, if you subscribe, you get to see the writing as it goes. You wouldn't need to wait.
Much better example, and has actually been done by Tad Williams (among others, I'm sure).

Quote
Personalization - ... could also be easily implemented for GLASS.
Yes, and I said as much; but recall the balancing act: If I am working on, say, a cyberpunk supplement for GLASS, and someone comes along on my forums to ask about how to do a variety of cyberwear abilities, then I have to either (a) give shit advice, saving my best for the supplement; (b) give away a  chunk of my supplement, by providing what I consider the best solution; or (c) tell the person that I won't help or ignore them, while (presumably) happily helping folks setup their Neo-Victorian or Noir games because I don't have a supplement for such genres in the works. I don't like any of those options, but only B builds customer loyalty, so I bite the bullet. (OK, MAYBE I could get away with something like, "I'll have just the supplement you need out in a few months!" and hope for an understanding customer... but risk making him or her think I am doing C to them.)

Quote
Accessibility ... And, please, stop thinking about re downloading the pdf !!! 1483online is accessible. From everywhere : you just need a browser and an internet access.
At the risk of pedantry... how, exactly, do you think a web page--PDF, HTML, whatever--appears on your computer screen, if it's not stored locally already?

Yep, download. New machine, no local copy? Download. Bandwidth? Not free. Hence my idea for the Game Cabinet service, which (yes) would re-download to whatever new device you are using. Yep, just like every page of Avalanche does, when first- or re-accessed.

Quote
This could be the same for GLASS, David. You put everything a player needs on the web. No more need for pdf, nor for paper.
Well, don't tell anyone, but that's exactly how my database tool will work, in the end. You won't need the full book rules any more than you need the (free) shotGLASS rules reference: the database's forms and macros enforce the rules, some Help and the tables describe the rules. My "product" then is online-only... and the revenue channel is banner advertising and knock-on sales. Hell, I am even thinking of allowing GMs to download a specific version of shot GLASS that is built up using only the text for the rule Options and Toggles that they have in use, effectively making "personalized" shotGLASS for each game typoe that is registered on the DB engine. On-demand, on-the-fly. For free.

My money, in the end, will be paid to me for exciting prose, clear and varied examples, and evocative illustrations and photos. Otherwise, someone can just (re)download shotGLASS and start writing up Abilities. Which cost me money (eventually) in bandwidth, which is hopefully (eventually) made up by ad views and click-throughs.
----------
Long story short, the RPG Book is just about as leveraged and digital-aged as we can make it. Thus, it is with follow-up or expansion services that we can really "beat pirating" in the long run, to the extent that we HAVE to beat it, that is. Or to the extent that we even CAN.

I mean, ask yourselves a very serious question: when's the last time you played ANY game in which EVERY player had all the rule books for that game? Me? Never. Can't recall a single time. But number of time's I've used someone else's copy or briefly loaned my copy (say, to make a character): a bajillion. So, in effect, the RPG Book is already suffering severely from a variation on "piracy": lending of something which one doesn't need all the time. In that way, it's a lot like a single-seat software license being used by two or more folks at a company, during different shifts.

What can we do about THAT, as "copying" is a relatively minor issue for those of us selling physical artifacts that aren't trivially copied (Books)? (You PDF-only folks are screwed....)
David
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pells
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« Reply #6 on: February 13, 2008, 11:08:25 AM »

Ryan : my mistake, sorry (which obviously shows I don't play the game) !! That said, I think it still can be considered as highly "portable" : there is no CD needed, nor "heavy machine configuration" (à la WoW).

David : about the first part of your previous post, I think we generally agree with each other. So, let's take a look at the second part. Note that, on purpose, I'll take a "controversial" tone on the subject, but please, take no offense there.

Quote
Long story short, the RPG Book is just about as leveraged and digital-aged as we can make it.
I'm not sure I'm getting what you're talking about. Who is "we" ? You and me ? The indie scene ? The big players ?
Now, let me ask you a couple of questions on the subject :
- When you read the current article, do you feel you missed something ? Like you're not ready for that new age ? What comes to your mind is it "Ha !!! I've missed that !!" or "Check. Taken into account". For me, this kind of article really, but really reinforce my belief in Avalanche and the way I'm adressing this new frontier.
- Do you feel that we're doing enough on the subject ? I'll talk more about this later ...

Quote
Thus, it is with follow-up or expansion services that we can really "beat pirating" in the long run, to the extent that we HAVE to beat it, that is. Or to the extent that we even CAN.
Is GLASS service based instead of product based because you wanted to beat out piracy ?? Hell no for me !!! By incident, a service based does that, but that never had been my main concern, nor motivation. It is because that is what I wanted to design in the first place (well, maybe because I used to work for mobile phone company, a truly oriented service based model and now my brain is used to think in this way). I mean, selling out a service is very different trade than selling products.

Quote
So, in effect, the RPG Book is already suffering severely from a variation on "piracy": lending of something which one doesn't need all the time.
Well, yes, but this is not a new issue ... The same thing applies to boardgames (I do a lot of those) : you'll need one copy for six, eight players, no ? That's one of the reason I would suggest (and will do with Avalanche) to provide a tool that is useful to the DM and the players ; all of them. You can even think of shared paiement of the subscription. Why would all the cost be bear by the DM ?

Quote
What can we do about THAT, as "copying" is a relatively minor issue for those of us selling physical artifacts that aren't trivially copied (Books)? (You PDF-only folks are screwed....)
Yes, and this means a BIG change in the way we design what we are going to sell ...

Quote
Well, don't tell anyone, but that's exactly how my database tool will work, in the end.
David, why are we doing this, hiding the service based strategy ? I mean, I can find a lot of things about GLASS, its design, but how come I can't find (or so I think) information about the services you're designing ? Honestly, the same thing applies to Avalanche. I'm ready to give away the structure, the design, a lot of texts and illustrations, but good luck with finding out exactly what are my plans about the services. Maybe some pieces in various threads, but not much. So, why do we whisper each time we're talking about this issue ? What are we afraid of ?
Now, take a look at the current publishing page of the forge : there is at least two other threads directly related to the subject (Moving with the times and A Web Site--What's Needed?). How come when we take part in those subjects, we only adress general issue like you could do that kind of thing ...
So, David are we doing enough ? Should we try to encourage that type of product (that would fit a service based) ? Shouldn't we be, somehow, the "torch bearer" (you can say this in french, not quite sure it works in english) on the subject ?

Now, there is no hand waving from my part, nor any elements about complaining. I think those kind of projects are pretty not common ; and this is not a problem for me. And I'm not saying we are the only ones working on that kind of projects neither. Here, I'm really talking about true, honest help on the subject. And even among us ? Are we really helping each other on the subject ?
Because, and let's remind us that very important point, building a service based, web hosted, model is very, but very costly, takes a lot of time and need some very specific skills.

Well, Raven, I'm not quite sure this thread is heading in the direction you intended ...
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Sébastien Pelletier
And you thought plot was in the way ?
Current project Avalanche
David Artman
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Posts: 606

Designer & Producer


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« Reply #7 on: February 13, 2008, 12:24:06 PM »

I'll try to reply without breaking into a point-by-point digression. A lot of what I'm gonna post is likely pointing out a bit of a language disconnect.

First, by "we" I mean "folks who make RPG books--physical products--and publish them with the intent of charging for them." You know... the folks on this site.

Second, GLASS is both product- and service-based: the former is a real, physical, hard-bound or soft-cover book you will be able to buy. The latter is the database engine, which is all that a GM needs to manage a GLASS game (except for "plot stuff," towards which GLASS is "agnostic"). Did I elect to do either to beat piracy? Well, no: the former can be easily scanned and made available online (as is every core D&D product); the latter is a loss-leader which I hope to eventually be a revenue channel (loss: db setup and bandwidth and maintenance as rules change; revenue: more and more ad views and eventual click-throughs, as the ad revolver "figures out" what interests GLASScutter.org users).

For GLASS to truly become a "service-only" model, I'd have to (a) give every version of the rule books away and (b1) offer myself as GM or Host for games or (b2) make myself available to write and tune game types for a particular play groups. That's what, I feel, would be "true services" for a product like GLASS, beyond the providence of online tools.

Third, my use of "don't tell anyone" is facetious, given that I am posting on one of the more popular game design sites. ;)
But the reason I'm not pointing folks to such a database and trying to use its service as a springboard to book sales is... well, the DB doesn't yet exist, nor does the book whose sales it should drive. :) But, you know... all in good time.

Finally, I doubt we're the only ones in the "RPG Scene" looking into multiple, secured revenue channels. Although I find many developers are content to sit on their laurels, once a book is out and making some money. Rarely does the "indie scene" provide new source material (or, hell, even design games which can be drifted or re-skinned to new source/setting material). Rarely are knock-on products explored. I'll give ya two, rather recent examples:
* Posting to Vincent's forum, talking about "Generic Dogs" as either (a) a new section in the Revised Edition to give GMs all of the steps to take to drift Dogs to a new setting, or (b) a private tool he could use to re-skin and release new setting games, or (c) an actual product in which the group sets up the setting and genre before even making characters or "towns" (a la Universalis). While, on some levels, Vincent does this (viz Afraid, which could be a "Dogs Expansion with New Setting") but nowhere near the level of, say, Hero System's bajillion expansions, supplements, and setting material.
* Hoping to find a "POD" dice provider -or- to help initiate some kind of arrangement for Burning [whatever] dice was met with what seems like little enthusiasm, in spite of the fact that some fifteen people were trying to setup an (expensive!) group-buy for custom Burning dice... that didn't, in fact COULDN'T, use the Burning logo or Vaylen worm art or (possibly) even the variations between black, gray, and white dice. Now, this could still be in the works... but it would have been about Job Four, for me, if my resolution mechanics involved a look-up chart or "translation" of the numeric values on a die to abstract notions of "partial or full success" (or whatever the jargon is, in Burning).

In the former example, Vincent could have leverage the "Dogs Engine" either internally--to crank out new products to suit popular trends--or externally as a "Generic Dogs" product which carries a play group through the re-skinning of escalation and the hierarchy of sin, etc. Now, SHOULD he have done as I (and others) advised/begged? Well, "should" is a shitty term. It's his to do with what he will. However, I'd argue that he'd (a) sell more books and (b) sell books to folks who dismiss the Mormon Gunslingers setting. For whatever reason, he is reducing his revenue channels by not fully leveraging the variety of play styles he could serve with such a powerful, flexible basic system.

In the second example, it could just be a case of not being interested in taking time to exchange emails or work out a business arrangement with a dice provider. Fair enough. But custom dice for a game is one solid way to avoid "piracy" or "copying": you got one supplier, and even if folks are willing to pay 3x or 4x as much to "re-do" them custom, you have the best price, being associated with a POD or short-run warehouser/retailer. Everyone wins: the designer (whose IP is inviolate and "protected" by market prices), the die manufacturer (who sells more plastic), and the customers (who have easier-to-use and cheaper dice with which to play). Something could still come of this notion, but it seems completely stalled at the moment, for want of a few emails and a (probably standard) consignment or royalty contract (if not POD, which would be trivial to setup with no risk to assign or share).

So maybe that's a third and fourth vector for getting through the digital age:
* Leverage work already done (reusing source, single-source) to make complementary products.
* Provide more, harder/impractical-to-copy, physical artifacts as product offerings to customers.

Anyway, just blabbing along a bit, now... Raven, are we drifting, here? Did you have some other focus--say, how to transition to digital-only products while not being copied to death, maybe?
David
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« Reply #8 on: February 15, 2008, 12:32:00 PM »

David,

No, I honestly didn't expect this many replies, so I'm ok with wherever it gets dragged. I was posting mainly to see what thoughts would come out of the wilds on the subject, and honestly, this is some good stuff here, guys. Thanks for discussing it, and keep at it if you feel so inclined.

I will throw in a couple of things that I think would be valuable to consider: I personally think there's too much focus of thought on both 1) "profit" and 2) "stop the pirates".

1) I'm interested in hearing ideas how it might be leveraged into non-profit-oriented benefits for the publisher.

As an example, Ron's use of the Sorcerer forums here is an excellent implementation of the ideas -- his availability to ask about the rules, bounce ideas off of, and even engage with regarding supplemental development for the game are all value-added things that drive visibility for the game -- and yes, this can increase profits but isn't, I think, only useful for that.

Another example would be Evil Hat and the free availability of the FATE rule-set, which drives familiarity and thus usage -- and again has the potential to increase profits by increasing its visibility/use as a game engine, but which is not the only benefit that could be talked about.

I think it is important to consider and understand the non-profit benefits that can arise from pursuit of any of the eight, rather than a more straightforward "How can I leverage this to make more money?" considerations.

2) As to "stopping the pirates", you can't. Really. You can't. Stop trying. Stop setting "traps" for them. Stop worrying about it. Stop thinking about features in terms of "will this make piracy less commonplace/harder to pull off".

It is more important, I believe, to think in terms of "will this add value for my customer?" Stopping the pirates is a dead-end street because it stops being about real sales and useful product development and starts being about revenge/protection that simply does not benefit the consumer (not even by "protecting the producer's assets").
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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David Artman
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« Reply #9 on: February 15, 2008, 02:16:07 PM »

IP protection is not a trivial issue, though. Perhaps we've seemed over-focussed on that aspect (not surprising, given it's the premise from which that article begins) but at the end of the day, if some can steal a product while others pay, those who pay are in fact accounted amongst the "losers" in the deal (the writer and publisher are the obvious losers). Further, I think I did give sufficient attention to the post-sales service element of Sorcerer (see Interpretation above).

But, OK, let's talk value-add.

Custom dice for a resolution system that requires a translation is definitely one: it saves players time, if nothing else, as well as being evocative and aesthetically pleasing.

All the sales-support stuff (answering questions, errata releases, etc) are good, too (but review my concerns for generic products, which might have to give away valuable IP to maintain good will and, thus, Patronage).

And let's hammer on the Ransom Model again, for a moment. That's a win-win-win, to me; and I am going to employ it for some GLASS supplements: there's no glut of supplements with no market, users get content for "free" once the ransom is met, and the designer can set the ransom to provide whatever "wage" or "per-word payment" that he or she requires for compensation. Obviously, a free ransom--a giveaway supplement--fosters Patronage as well.

I still think my idea for a NetFlix model for one-off games (or modules) is an untapped potential market (I proposed it to much guffawing at Story Games). When a gaming product is a "use once" item--a module, a host-your-own murder mystery, a one-off parlor LARP--it's value to the customer is diminished, even as the production costs remain the same as for a highly-reusable core book (per page, at least). Only collectors or folks who play with many groups can happily absorb the outlay: the rest might appreciate a rental model. Does this deal with issue of folks copying the products? Not really. But why copy something you're going to run once? The Kinkos cost could (should!) be higher than your monthly NetGamez fees; and I, for one, can't stand to read things on-screen at the gaming table, so PDF copying is, for me, not an option--others might, of course. Obviously, this is not an especially trivial business to setup....

We could get weirder, by offering "craft" products. For instance, a custom cover bound to a (short-run) print, for each buyer. Pair with a painter or other craftsperson (Ooo! Woodcarving, woah!) and sell truly unique books: not one single copy of the book is identical to another; each is, in part, a unique work of art. (I thought Vincent was going to do this, when I saw his posts about the new DitV "quilted" covers--I thought his wife was gonna be quilting dust jackets for each copy! I'm a dumbass, sometimes.)

"Utility Products" like books of beautiful, color character sheets or laminated reference cards (something that I think would be GREAT for GLASS, being a LARP system!) or even playing mats like those that came out for some CCGs (say, for something like DitV, where dice are evoked and rolled and saved and put forward and sometimes set aside for Fallout).

(Can you tell I'm at the pub, with leisure to brainstorm? :) )

OK, let's go afield: how much would a player pay to have Chris Moeller or another great artist (*ahem* Raven) do a character illustration? An artist-designer could run an auction model on that: "I'm ready to do a character sketch, and here's the link to my eBay auction!" This is similar to the service model where Vincent makes customized Towns or I write up a complete game type--Templates, Toggles, Options, and all--for a LARP group.

And I'm spent.... More to come as I ponder it: this is actually a no-shit issue for me, as I am hoping to take the LARP and paintball worlds by storm with GLASS and, thus, I want every possible means of promoting it, supporting it and my customers, and keeping its long-tail alive for years (if not decades, like Hero has done)!
David
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« Reply #10 on: February 23, 2008, 08:11:37 AM »

Just a quick aparté : David, I believe there is always (well almost) a product and a service. This is true for GLASS, but also for Avalanche (yes, there is a physical book) ; and even more. For instance, mobile phone company. There is still a product, the phone, the sim card. But they don't sell them anymore. There are ready to give them away as to sell the services. And when they do so, their trade change. But they might sell phones to people who do not want the service, but a high price. Free is different.
Maybe the exception would be things like facebook ... but even so. Could space disk be a product ? I don't know.

Raven, thanks for the information about the direction. Like David, I think I'll be on the brainstorm mode and, well, you tell us what you find interesting. And I must admit, I'm giving a lot of thoughts into this thread. But, where to begin ?

Quote
1) I'm interested in hearing ideas how it might be leveraged into non-profit-oriented benefits for the publisher.

I'm not sure I'm understanding you well on this one. Are you talking about things you do before publishing (for promotion, offering a teaser, for instance), after publishing (to sustain the customers' interest and assure a kind of after sale service), both, or something else (I'll talk about it below) ? Well, I'm not even sure it is necessary to distinguish them ... Well, I guess I'll a take broad look at this !!!
But before going into this, I want to mention something : whenever I'm talking about payment, it might be a direct one (money goes from the customer's account to the designer's) or indirect (as a consequence of hits and sales thru ads). I won't distinguish them in the coming post.

I think too that sales support are good, but do they consist of a service by themselves ? Do they provide us with a real edge over physical product ? Not quite sure ...

As to understand where I will be heading I have to explain that I'm thinking in term of layers of services. But what is a layer ? Given you have your core product, and your main service attached to it (for instance, a phone and voice service), then, any other services you add upon it is considered to be a layer. And layers can, either be prerequisite between them (most Data options need some kind of connexion), or completely independent (sms and data, for instance).
Let's talk rpg now. I'll take GLASS and Avalanche as examples ; and, beforehand, David, I'm sorry about my misunderstanding of your project !!!

What's the main trade of Avalanche ? Plots management. What's the main service ? A graphic interface to access the elements of the plots and manage them. What could be a layer ?
Systems. I intend to provide, at least, three different systems for Avalanche (i.e. character's sheets). Now, having a graphic interface that allows someone to change system with a click is that a service that add value ? I'd say yes. And do I have to charge for it ? It depends. Could I provide those sheets for free ? That might be good for Avalanche, but also for the system.
So, I intend to have the system aspect open. You're a designer, you have a system, you're looking for some kind of plots, then just provide what you want and charge, or not, your customers for it. And, for instance, I could provide it with a graphic interface thru my website.
A systemless plot now can offer a new system and a system has now a plot to offer. What defines a layer is your trade. So, my trade might becomes someone else's layer. When is GLASS's Avalanche version coming out (or Avalanche using GLASS version) ? Okay, I'm far from there, but I guess you get the idea. And we would cross referenced each other. And, more important, one of them could be free, the other not.(1)

Another free action : offering your service for other designer. Building the service around Avalanche is quite a costly and long process. One of my objective would be to offer this tool to anyone who wishes to use it ; that is, as long as they as they use Avalanche's structure. Would it be good for them ? I guess yes. Would it be good for me ? yes. My take is that David as something like this in his sleeve for GLASS.
For this idea, there is a strong prerequisite : you, as a designer, have to come with some kind of generic service (which might be structure specific, but not product specific).

Giving away free stuff. Well, this is easier when you are selling a service !! I want to attract people to use the service, so, I'm ready to give away some parts of the product ; big parts. In fact, as Avalanche will grow, we'll give away past 'modules'. But even so, and this is very important, Avalanche, without the service is, let's say, difficult to use. It can be used, but it's harder, because it is written to be put down into a database. Also, the database is used to have inputs from the DM and players alike. You can do without it, obviously, but the experience is not the same ...

Who's promoting his game ? Who's giving free stuff ? Who's helping out the other ? This is unclear to me.

Concerning the ransom model, I do have some doubts about it ... well, let's say I do have doubts about its specificities. Can I use the ransom model for something like Avalanche ? Let's say people "give me money", in exchange I offer the service and the product, and once I've reached X dollars, it becomes free. I know this is not how the model is supposed to work, but if it can be used that way, I'm not sure it is that specific. I don't know ...

As for utility product, I think sky is the limit. If I can sell (I mean, if there is a demand) for Avalanche with a knitted cover, then I guess I could sell it. But, to do this, someone would need a core product that sells already. Beyond that, there is no limit, including any kind of derivative products. But, then again, utility products, as David proposed them, suppose some kind of collaboration (between designers, designers and writers, designers and illustrators, designers and knitters).

And, as David, I also hope to set a new standard for my own niche (plots management), and I think that providing a service with it can give me a edge. For instance, dogs set a standard for that type of game, which could be reused for other purposes (jedi dogs, as an example). But, as the main product is not service based, any use of its model is not "adjacent" to it. I really hope that, after I've published myself, others would like to use the model, and thus, the service. Which would give a strong proximity to any reuse of the model.

Well, I guess there would be other things to say (about the ransom model, the design for service based, how to mix product sell and services ...), but I'll let Raven lead the way.
---
(1) I want Avalanche to be based on a paid subscription, no ads. I don't want a single ad on Avalanche's interface. Now, let's say that you're a Avalanche's subscriber, you get the GLASS version free. As an option, if you want. There are links for any special rules and character's sheet. You're one click away from it. But you pay a subscription. Or ...
You go, for free, on the GLASS site, where you can find Avalanche (a quick note : Ryan is almost convincing me to go for a ad revenue model). For free too. But, there is a lot, a lot of ads. And the graphic interface is not the same, as the ads take a lot of place. And you don't have access to other systems than GLASS. And maybe you may not write in it. It relies depends, but this is not the same experience.
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Sébastien Pelletier
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« Reply #11 on: February 23, 2008, 10:09:02 AM »

>>(a quick note : Ryan is almost convincing me to go for a ad revenue model). For free too. But, there is a lot, a lot of ads. And the graphic interface is not the same, as the ads take a lot of place. And you don't have access to other systems than GLASS. And maybe you may not write in it. It relies depends, but this is not the same experience.<<

A quick note about the ad model. You need some fairly respectable numbers to drive it. Both in unique users and page/ad impressions per user. For 1483, we get the impressions per user easily enough. The "average" player is in about 4 games which leads to about 20-30 page views per game day, or roughly one players generates about 120-160 ads views per day. The challenge after that is setting up a system in which you can monetize most of those impressions. We get about 70-80% monetized currently.

The 1483 business model is built around an assumption that we will be able to eventually attract an active user base of 100,000 active users per day. To reach that point, we'll ultimately have to give away 2-4 million copies of the game softwares and expand the network beyond just 1483, eventually to include a WWI game, WWII game, Pantheons Online and a couple more flagship games and upwards of a dozen smaller format games and variants. By the time we achieve 100,000 active users we should be able to drive about $3,000,000 in annual ad sales with total extended revenues driven by that business reaching 8-10M annually.

Monetizing our Dark Realms RPG. The numbers work fairly similarly here. In order to reach that 3M mark in annual revenues from that venture, we expect we'll need between 70,000 and 80,000 active users on the Dark Realms site. With the massively shared world environment we plan to build for it, with lots of game rules in html format and ultimately tens of thousands of pages of world content online, we expect the per use page count to be significantly greater than what 1483 generates. However, beyond a certain point you begin to hit diminishing returns on page counts also. So after the monetized inventory drops below a certain thresh-hold the remainder inventory will be used aggressively in any and every "exchange" that can be viably used with other inventory traded directly for other media opportunities to spread the brand. Since Dark Realms won't be a "computer game" we can't just shove it into a couple hundred download sites as a primary means of attracting persons to the site, so that's where the dollar store distribution of the core game books becomes an important aspect of our outreach. From there we figure we're going to have to aggressively manage a marketing presence through the social networking systems.

With services like Skype out there now, it will also be extremely easy to build an online a RPG desk top utility that players and Realm Master will be able to log into to share cool graphical stuff like maps, character sheets, character icons (which can be built to include a graphical element much like the modern MMORPGs), which can also include random adventure generators, random NPC generators, random city and town generators and give the Realm Master and players complete access to the entirety of the shared world content held on the site. Access to that kind of awesome game play utility allowing traditional RPG gaming played online, could be sold to players for as little as $20 a year. And if we have 100,000 active daily users and 250,000 active annual users, through the course of a year, getting just 25,000 to buy a subscription to that software would yield an additional $500,000. At the end of the day though, I see no reason why the online RPG business model can't also be a multi million dollar a year enterprise. Between ad driven revenue, PDF and book sales, software sales and subscriptions, and ultimately if it is successful enough, licensing revenue, there is a mighty business there to be had. And the barriers to entry are the mere cost of a web site hosting plan (that will eventually have to migrate to its own server and then its own network, but a hosting plan at the beginning should suffice) and a lot of sweat equity.

In the future, the RPG business will NOT be about how many books you can sell...

Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group
http://www.guildofblades.com
http://www.1483online.com
http://www.thermopylae-online.com
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Ryan S. Johnson
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« Reply #12 on: March 03, 2008, 11:29:37 AM »

I have to apologize for not being more active in this thread. I'm still trying to get my head around what I think of this and where it could go and so forth, so I don't have any ideas, really. I'm just looking at it thinking, like the ape with the bone trying to puzzle out the idea of a tool from it.

But Ryan's right when he says the future of RPG publishing will not be how many books you sell. Or at least I think he's right, because I think it will have more to do with managing the tribe. What's really interesting here is I think both IPR and The Forge are doing what is being discussed in that article, and doing it really well. And yes, Seth is talking about music, but I don't think the environments are all that different between the two.

We have our silo of interested people, with the Forge acting as a beacon to other interested people, gathering us all together where we can communicate and be a part of the culture, and both discover and produce the material we are interested in right here. And someone who wants those sales, or rather attention, from this silo need to tap into it for just a minute.

However, I wonder sometimes if this is really what the Forge should be doing, or if it ends up shooting itself in the foot as a design-oriented site because of the social effects of being a silo: we LOVE this stuff, so stuff that isn't what the silo as a whole LOVES gets pushed outside, even if it shouldn't. And we get a published-book-designer clique mentality: publishing is a status symbol in the silo, just like snarking about this silo is a status symbol in certain other venues.

Or maybe I'm completely wrong on any of this. But I do think the article ties into what we're talking about here in a very important way. There are all these new revenue streams -- the new frontiers above, the new ways of making profit or driving IP identification -- and now here is the environment they exist in: the landscape all those ways are contained within and affected by. This is more knowledge about what the future of the economic side of RPG publishing is, both in terms of "things you can do" and "the environment you will be doing them in", because I think being blind to one makes the other useless.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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« Reply #13 on: March 04, 2008, 04:07:36 PM »

I spent the day thinking about this and I guess I had a bit more to say on the subject and why I think it is important in our context here as designers and as members of the Forge community. And here's what I want to say -- which may not cohere well if you haven't read the article.

As designers, creators, whatever, up to now we've all been hoping that our tribe will find us, because that's the way it worked before, or seemed to work, or we were told/believed it worked. You did stuff and then that stuff was so good that people told other people and found their way to it and other people interested in telling people about your stuff would tell people and send them your way, but basically, your tribe found their way to you.

The reality is that today's changing marketplace, where everyone can be a creator, functionally means that any individual creator will become lost in a crowded sea of creators. Added to this, there are no longer any gatekeepers at the door of content as there have been in the past, building barriers to would-be creators such as money, limited exposure, and (to be really specific) publishing houses selectively choosing which content to mass publicize and which to allow to slip into obscurity.

What we have is the web. A nigh-eternal library of exponentially growing content almost entirely without gatekeepers, and child businesses embracing the same DIY-dynamic such as Lulu that allow anyone to do what it used to take thousands of dollars and a contract to pull off. What all this means, is that if you can get access to the web, you can publish and you can publish what you want, how you want, when you want.

Of course, there is a down-side to this content-creator's paradise.

The obvious one is the loss of gatekeepers. At least we'd like to think that is a loss. Gatekeepers used to serve the function of limiting what content the public would see ostensibly to the best and most capitvating content they were given. How well they did at such is a question for future societies to debate, but it did have its pitfalls: people fell through the cracks; art was sacrificed for profit; only material (perceived as) desired by the culture was let through, and therefore people could neither find such material, or even know any particular niche existed to be explored.

But, ironically, another loss is that of talent to noise. With the gates wide open, no single individual today can trawl through all the content being produced by the citizens of the global internet; as such, stuff they might really, really love is -- and even people who might be the next Stephen King or William Shakespeare are -- being lost in the avalanche. This is not to say, "Oh noes! Turn of teh intarwebs! Restrict! Restrict! Restrict! Raise the entry bar again!"

This happened under the gatekeeping system, too. Even the giant publishing houses with hundreds of employed staff weren't able to manage that trawling in the pre-internet days: there were still too many creators then, and many greats would end up lost along the way, forgotten until future generations made them gods and forgot their old and transient demigods (as examples of this whole dynamic: think of Howard and Lovecraft; think of Eva Cassidy; do you know who P.H. Newby or Gabriel Marlowe are?).

This is more true now than ever before because of the dynamics of the creator-culture whose birth we are experiencing: anyone can publish, anyone can design, anyone can create music. ANYONE. And more to the point, anyone DOES. Literature. Political columns. Philosophical treatises. Music. Software. Games. Even guitars and sprockets and computer chips and lasers.

Just look at a place like deviantArt or ConceptArt: you can find hundreds of incredibly talented artists and graphic designers and so forth that you will really, really like. How do you even begin to sift through them all? Even if you just restrict the set of possibilities to those found one website of thousands?

It used to be the gatekeepers would decide who among those you would see, and a dozen names at best would rise to the top and be well-known, with a second-tier of a few dozen lesser known artists. The rest would be waiting tables wondering why they weren't good enough. Now, with the creator's paradise of the internet, you can find them and decide for yourself where any given artist belongs.

The gatekeepers would like to claim they did a better job at this than we can do out amid the noise, but like I said, the truth of that effectiveness is something for future societies to discuss. I'll only point out gatekeepers are remarkably limited in their own manner, by being economically forced to allow through only that which they feel has the best chance of success in a broad market. They're often right, more often wrong, and sometimes they manage to catch a flash in the pan and strike gold with it.

Ultimately, it doesn't mean the old system is broken, or a terrible troll cackling under the bridge, eating various hapless travellers and letting others by based on its own arcane criteria, because it worked for its time, when anyone couldn't be a creator without spending a lot of someone else's time and money. That part has changed, but we have simply exchanged one set of problems for another.

However, I at least would rather have too much content to sift through than be restricted to whatever content the gatekeepers decide to allow me to sift through. Meaning this is a problem I am willing to embrace rather than reflect on the good old days when shit didn't stink and women didn't vote.

Because if we look at content as a giant pool of paper money bills ranging from $1's to $1000's, then I am free to sift through all that to find what I want to hang on to. Yeah, I'm going to run into a lot of $1's and $5's and $10's and so forth, but I'm still going to find a lot of $100's, too. Maybe not as many as under the gatekeeper system, but enough...and I might even find a $500 or $1000 that I wouldn't find under the gatekeeper system! With the gatekeepers in charge, they decide they are only going to allow $100 dollar bills through. It's a safe bet for them. Sure, I will probably like most of what I come across, but what about those gems that really speak to me and my little tiny niche? What about that stuff I LOVE. What about that stuff that isn't like a $100 bill, but is way, way better? The ones that might not be profitable for the gatekeepers, but are like a $1000-bill clenched in the fist of my experential joy?

Ok, it's just a metaphor, and it falls apart if you try to examine it too deeply, but hopefully you understand the point of it (likewise, you know a turtle shell will not display the properties of granite upon examination if I try to explain it to you as being hard as a rock): I don't mind sifting through more content if there's more personally meaningful variety for me to find.

But this steadily increasing landslide of content also has one major downside, as mentioned: the amount of noise we have to cut through both as creators and consumers to find signal. Of course, that "noise" I'm cutting through is likely good stuff to someone else, but it is still in our way -- even stuff that is like what we want but-not-quite-it is in our way. So we have to have a method to make ourselves known and/or to find what we want, depending on whether we are acting as creator or consumer in that instance.

As creators, this is an obstacle of some measure. Let's face it, not only Neil Gaiman but many other highly successful authors (and other creatives) will tell you there are many great and gifted writers (or so forth) who haven’t had his (or their) luck. Make note that this is something they have openly stated happened under the gatekeeping system, and whose loss will not make disappear or lessen its effect.

And despite this reality, both before and now, as creators we cling to the idea that we, too, can make it if we just do something cool and work hard. Well, you can't. You have to do more than work hard and be cool. Because being successful, being known, being admired has nothing to do with being good at what you do.

Why?

Being good or being great is a bonus for the consumer, but being good or even great won't get you noticed and won't keep you noticed, as history plays out time and again. If all you can do is create, you will fall by the wayside and you will be lost in the increasing noise, found only by a daring few intrepid explorers who have managed to stumble across you amid a thousand other flashing, brightly shining lights in the creative wilderness. Today, more than ever, you have to be noticed, more-to-the-point: you have to get yourself noticed, and you have to keep yourself noticed.

Let's also face that there is a component to luck to all of it, too. Some people will argue that influence is big, some will argue it is small, but what is undeniable is that it is there. Luck, however, isn't controllable, so we won't discuss it further except to note it does have an effect, and I will use it to point out commercial or pop-cultural success is a bet you make.

Because of luck, we can only stack the odds in our favor to some unknown degree -- success is not a given no matter what formula or method we follow. Creating is a black box. There are no promises, and -- importantly, which is why there is a paragraph here devoted to it -- we should not function or run a business on such broken ideas (such as our false cultural expectations of hard-work, networking, skill-based success-as-a-reproducible-method) as we currently do by believing we will just make it by doing X, Y, or Z or following a plan, or that anyone who didn't make it screwed up or did something wrong somewhere along the line or wasn't really any good after-all.

That's stupid, childish, unrealistic thinking and it is best we disabuse ourselves of it immediately, because it is poison and it is destructive to making it. You can't play roulette and blame yourself when you don't break the bank. You can only "blame yourself" for trying in the first place and putting your bet down, which is a ridiculous thing to blame yourself for. You make the decision knowing it is a bet, and if you don't know its a bet, then someone led you astray. Now you know it.

However, since we can only discuss the factors that we can control and have some measure of say over and which may lead to success, or which increase our odds of attaining success, we should discuss what methods the ones who do succeed are doing to help them make that mark and how to do similarly, as well as what the landscape looks like amid all this noise and how we can use that to our advantage.

Check out Luke Crane and Burning Wheel as an example of a man who knows how to do it. He's successful not because BW is good, but because he can network and socialize and sell it. Look at what happened to The Riddle of Steel: Jake had the passion and ability to do the same, and was, but Driftwood didn't and suddenly it fell flat; not because everyone jumped ship for other games, but because Driftwood didn't know how to leverage or perpetuate selling itself as an on-going marketing strategy.

A big part of success and failure sits right there.

If you can do what Luke Crane does, you can sell shit wrapped in a napkin and have people go nuts over it. Of course, that isn't a guarantee, it's just one good method for significantly stacking the odds in your favor. Especially given the amount of other stuff people have to wade through to find your stuff to even begin to decide if they like it, it is more important now than ever before as a simple matter of numbers: making yourself prominent, approachable, friendly and getting out there to "press the flesh" means more people will see your stuff and thus have the chance to evaluate it.

Today, we are lucky enough to not have gatekeepers either birthing our creative work or killing it in utero; but we're also unlucky enough that there are no gatekeepers thinning out the tide of content. Is it good or bad? Given you can make enough noise to attract the necessary attention and make valuable connections if you know where and how to make that noise, and realize that you're going to be doing it as long as you want people to keep seeing your creative work, I'll argue this is good.

You can make that noise and set yourself apart because the landscape is such that the consumer operates by creating silos: communities formed around core concepts the entire community jives with, enjoys, and riffs off. Silos help the consumer filter out the surrounding noise and let them peruse materials they are likely going to be most interested in, thus serving as gatekeepers in their own way, at least if the consumer can find the right communities; silos also help the creator get in touch with more potentially interested consumers, if they can find the right communities to get the attention of for a moment.

That is what we're looking at: finding the silos. And then, positively interacting with them.

How to do both is something we can focus on as a community. So that's where I think this puts us: the next revolution will not be showing everyone they can publish or how to publish, it will be showing them how to find their silo of people who love what they did, how to leverage the power of social networks to establish a name and public "brand identity" in order to draw potential viewers to their work, to help guide interested parties towards them who might otherwise never know they existed.

I say that is what we can do as a community to help each other as designers is to codify and teach what Luke Crane does, allowing other designers and creatives to benefit from the same if they don't know how. But the other part of that is even if and when know how to reproduce that skill, some of us just aren't going to be all that good at it, creating an area where the community can help out IF the community wants to be serious about getting good designs to the wider public.

We do so by taking up one of the other functions that the gatekeepers used to have: selling the product for the great writer who could write but could not sell or connect or something-else-required that they don't know how to do or can't do very well.

As an example: if you haven't been reading Keith Senkowski's LiveJournal recently, get thee hence; check out his ruminations on and suggestions for the next wave of design, and think about those ideas. Some of those might be things you have no clue how to create or manage. That's where the design community comes in: any silo can become the "new gatekeepers", with the difference that these gatekeepers are no longer keeping things out but instead helping along those things the community loves and cares about.

What the new gatekeepers do is fill the holes left by the fall of the old gatekeeping system. Things the old system used to handle, such as helping out with tribe management and tribe finding, will be the role of the new gatekeepers in a functional post-internet creator's paradise. And we need to, because those are very important pieces of the entire process that need to be filled and can't be shoved aside and filed as "now it's the creator's job entire". We can't do that or think that because some (even most) creators, as in the pre-internet days, will simply not be any good at those things and yet need a way to accomplish those things.

Now, whether these holes are filled by the community gathering and writing tutorials on those subjects for creators, actually doing the legwork of (some of) these roles for the creator as part of a community service, creating pointers to and evaluations of individuals/businesses who specialize in taking on those roles for the creator as a surrogate, or all three remains to be seen, but that is where our successful continuation as a designer/creator-oriented community lies.

There is also one more thing I think we should recognize, tangential perhaps, and that as a species we used to have cultures of creation: each indiviudal creating what his family and his tribe needed, designing our own fashions and tools and so forth, making our own cookware and storage pots, writing our own books and stories, building our own homes. And we would decorate the heck out of all these things according to our own culturally-derivative but-still-personal style; it was part of what we did as people. We made jewelry, we carved wooden pillars, we painted designs, we wove fabric, and so forth. We didn't buy most of it from a factory or a jeweler or a dress-maker.

If you've studied history and anthropology and people in general, it's no surprise that the oldest surviving artifacts of mankind happen to be artwork. It seems almost as if we started making art the moment after we climbed down from the trees. Fire? Tools? Agriculture? The wheel? Distant grandchildren to the mother. We were painting on cave walls before we made pots to hold our paint, and then we painted those, too. We were always about form in addition to function as human beings.

But what it means is that we were all artists, and we are today, everyone, creators and artists at heart. We're born to it. It's in the genes, even your Aunt Kathy who claims she couldn't draw a straight line to save her life is an artist at heart. Our modern culture, however, devalues that personalized spark by training us to think we must be famous creators to be creators, we must BE a thing to DO that thing. That is, we must be creators for consumers or the creation is not worthwhile.

I think this new cultural revolution, where everyone can be a creator, has a good chance of returning us to a culture of creation rather than a culture of consumption, or it at least has a chance to do so if we don't let ourselves get bogged down in the idea that being a creator of certain stuff for certain people is cool, or that having a status mark in one or more of our communities -- like "published" (ie: wrote a whole game and put it out on Lulu and got signed up with IPR and etc.) -- is the important part of this process.

If you want to be published that way, go for it, but what happened to the "Here's a bunch of crap I thought of that I'm putting on my webpage for everyone to read and maybe play if they want to. I did it because I did it and it was fun." That is, not everything we design needs to be designed towards the goal of eventually publishing it just because publishing it is the thing to do or because we want -- deep down in our needy hearts -- that status mark "I published X role-playing games and they sell X number of copies!"

I think we should be careful and recognize that some amount, probably a good amount, of the stuff we put out is stuff we would be happier tossing up on a webpage for no good reason except "because we create stuff that makes other stuff -- ourselves, this thing over here, that landscape there -- look neat and that's what humans do."

This was written in a fit of passion over the last day, so I'm sure there are things in the above that I seem to imply that I in fact am not implying or that are terribly unclear, so if anything sounds weird or you disagree or see some other angle, please bring it up, and I'll either try to clarify the expression of the idea or confirm that we disagree. (For example, I am not trashing the gatekeepers of the old system or calling them bad, wrong, stupid, or evil, though I'm betting there are going to be folks who will believe that is exactly what I am inferring. Well, I'm not trying to, but if it sounds like I am, I apologize for the poor phrasing on my part. You'll have to work through it from there.)
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio
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