The Bucket

It’s been a while since I posted. Long story for another post.

I came across this post on Adventures in Gaming. And, I have to admit, I think Mishler is right.

There is one core issue that keeps adventure game industry small and micro press role-playing game companies from being able to charge what they need to in order to be able to afford all the bells and whistles much larger companies can afford: the price sensitivity of the gaming consumer.

The RPG industry is slowly dieing. Local gaming stores are difficult to operate without losing money or having another source of income. There’s a solution.

Grow the market.

The market is too small to sustain the companies in the industry. Growing a market is hard work, though. I’m not really sure anyone working in the industry is going to put aside their livelyhood today in order to save their job five years from now. From a consumer and corporate viewpoint, building the market up will cost more money. Money that people will say they can’t afford to spend.

So, in short, if you aren’t willing to spend money just to grow the market, you are essentially saying you are fine letting the RPG industry die a slow and painful death. This means spending more money for consumers by purchasing RPG materials from gaming stores instead of online, direct from distributers. It means companies trimming production costs and spending money on gaming stores and advocacy.

The music industry is currently going through a huge upheaval. A good summary of their new gameplan is given by Michaek Masnick from techdirt.

Connect With Fans (CwF) + Reason To Buy (RtB) = The Business Model ($$$$)

I bring this up because it’s a simple concept of how to make money. And, while it’s fun to play RPGs, the only way to keep getting great RPGs and new RPGs is for people to make money publishing and writing RPGs. This formula is very simple and easy to understand, and I can say that in the past several years, the RPG industry has done almost nothing but try to put their biggest connection with fans out of business. The direct sales model has pulled an end-run on the RPG industry’s largest fan building system, which is the local gaming stores. I’m not going to say that going back to that model is the only way to connect with fans, but it’s a good start in lieu of a better idea.

The other half of this equation is the reason to buy. In the context of the music model Masnick is talking about, the music is usually given away for free and you have to find a reason for fans to give you money. Often in the context of value-add that is original, unique, and highly desired by fans. So, why not apply this same concept to an RPG? Give the core mechanics away for free. The meat of the game. Free. Allow it to be downloaded in PDF for free to anyone who wants it. But what could you sell? Maybe a black and white, soft-back version of the rules for $15. And a full color, hardbound for $40. And a limited edition signed by the authors/artists for $130, of which you only have fifty copies. You could sell miniatures if the game needs them. You could sell modules, adventures, tools, etc. Maybe you give modules away for free, but you charge money for printer copies like your core rules. These versions for sale could include color maps, etc. This kind of model offers options for people across a wide swath. People looking for a new game might download the free version, then order a black and white copy for play. Dedicated fans might purchase the hardbound version. And your rabid fans who mail you their panties could purchase the signed copy of the core rules. Options are always great!

If the music industry is any indicator, this model could possibly make money and grow the market at the same time. Worst case scenario, you get a great game out into the public and build your market at the loss of some revenue. Revenue that you are going to lose over time regardless. Any market is like a bucket with a hole in it. You are always losing customers. You have to keep adding water to the bucket!

One Reply to “The Bucket”

  1. First of all, I agree with you. If there were something I didn’t agree with there, I’d tell you. I’ve done that plenty of times before. 😉

    After digesting the discussion from last night (well the relevant part of it anyway) and reading your post, I’ve also been thinking about the size and shape of this bucket you’re talking about. I’ve had two main lines of thinking:

    LINE 1: What’s the potential maximum market for what we’d call RPGs, and how can we increase it?

    The size of the bucket has changed for better and worse many times since my personal golden days of the early 80’s, but it’s difficult to see where it compares now. My hunch is it’s smaller – a LOT smaller – and it’s shrinking.

    One limiting factor is that RPG publishers have never been good with marketing their products. The big hits like having the kids play an RPG in E.T. weren’t driven by one or more publishers. The game happened to fit the characters, time period, and setting. It was a lucky break. Other than that nearly all of the marketing has been fan-driven. Like you said last night… putting the small gaming stores out of business is akin to committing slow suicide in that marketing environment.

    Another limiting factor is the stigma. Face it, there has always been one. People associate the whole role playing thing as something attached to the off-beat crowd. How do you mitigate that? Exposure. When people see their friends or other “normal folks” playing and having fun, they’re more prone to drop the stereotype and open their minds to what’s going on. Double-whammy on the local shops closing there, folks!

    The third limiting factor is that RPG publishers are horrible at getting along. They don’t tend to work together to form a cohesive industry or market.

    In a cohesive industry, your market becomes clearer and efforts to grow it yield more success. There’s a shared interest in creating a bigger pie while everyone fights for their piece of it. In that climate, certain information is shared for the good of the market in general.

    RPG publishers have traditionally been more interested in creating their own little pies. This kind of self-serving attitude has acted to limit their reach as they repeatedly make similar stupid decisions and stifle a market that WANTS TO GROW. (I sincerely believe there’s a larger market there!)

    So, there are three of the big limiting factors. There are lots of ways to fix them if the industry would wise-up, some of which become immediately obvious when they recognize the problem.

    LINE 2: This one can get a lot more abstract. How do you lower your barriers to entry for the consumer? (Make it easier for them to become part of your market, and entice them to dive in your bucket.)

    Since I’m lazy and this is WAY long anyway for a comment, here are a few thoughts…

    Advertising! Advertising! For goog’s sake, ADVERTISING!
    – A good idea: Get kids into it! They’re your best shot at growing quickly.

    Simplified games.
    – What’s the minimum it takes to call it a role playing game? How can you make them minimalist yet fun? Gary Gygax had the original idea with D&D Basic… but it could go further/differently.

    Don’t piss on your existing fans!
    – Honestly, should I need to elaborate? It feels wrong that I even need to say it.

    So uh… anyway… thanks!

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