Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Future Face of Gaming

Over at Yog Shoggoth's Dice, Brand responded to a challenge from me on how a games company could publish non-Illusionist games and not go bankrupt. The conversation developed from there to begin just touching on the outskirts of marketing issues the likes of which gaming tends to avoid. These are the issues that I had written that post about but Blogger ate.

At present, the 'Generic RPG Marketing Model' goes thusly: Core Book (sometimes Player Book and GM Book) which generates the majority of the revenue, and Supplements which do much worse, but keep the game 'alive' and the Core Book selling. This is as seen in White Wolf, 7th Sea, GURPS, Rifts, et cetera, with a few elaborations (World of Darkness now has two hardcover player books necessary to play). The Generic model tends to assume play will go for years; the supplements are designed to keep the line going for years. Players buy supplements, encourage their friends in the playgroup to buy their own copies of core books, and even replace their original copy of the core book. There is also the 'Indie RPG Marketing Model' which goes thusly: BOOK! The Indie model defaults to play lasting a couple months; these games tend to be more focused and also tend to generate stories that actually end.

The company (or individual) creating the game, if they have any hope to support themselves on the affair (which is another matter entirely; I should post about the RPG Cottage Industry sometime), need people to keep buying books. They don't actually need people to use the books; they don't even need people to play the game (I have a number of games I've never played; you?). They need people buying books now, and more importantly, they need people buying books next quarter, too. They need people to buy the books they have (so they can stop paying warehouse fees) and they need to generate demand for the books that are currently in development. 7th Sea did this by revealing information bit-by-bit, using a bit of legerdemain to suggest that there really was this gigantic vibrant world that was already established, just not in print, as they feverishly created new content to add. Eventually this imploded. Exalted continues offering bigger, badder, and more ludicrous content, stuff that you just have to have / see / kill. It's doubtful that this will implode any time soon. Generally speaking, Indie games don't do any of this, because there is little long-term planning in indie RPG design; even Sorcerer, which has many supplements, is more a succession of chapters that should have been in the original book and are being published separately as afterthoughts.

What is it that game designers (and game companies) offer to customers that will continue to get them to buy those books? It's difficult to get a handle on this, since once you get down to it, the game designer supplies perhaps a fifth of the actual game experience (and I'm being generous). Most supplements are fluff that never actually gets used in the game; the best of these offer color that informs and inspires actual play indirectly, but even then there is very little 'content' being delivered. Good games offer a sort of blueprint for enjoyable social interaction, but this material is almost entirely included in the core book, and once that sells, what more do you have to offer customers? Maybe you have something to offer to that first customer's friend, but that is not the same thing. Oddly, game companies may have more in common with car dealerships and computer salespeople than with people who sell hammers and dry goods.

I'll cogitate on this and post more later; in the mean time, I'll throw it open to whoever happens to be reading: what is it that game designers offer customers that keeps them buying more books? What do they give us that we support them and their families for?

3 Comments:

At 10:11 AM, Blogger Bankuei said...

Hi,

If any company wants to make a living off of their profits- I'd argue cut down the costs and up, up, up the marketing. Thing is, just like supplements only sell to people already into your game- marketing to gamers is picking a smaller subset than is necessary.

D&D doesn't just market to gamers- the magazines can be found in normal bookstores, along with their corebooks- D&D markets to potential new gamers, and that is where it continues to grow while other folks limit their advertising to people who already ARE gamers.

Linked into the issue is the fact that a nongamer will look at a book and they're not looking for 200+ pages, or how many rules you have, they're looking for cool factor and presentation- which means good art, good layout, minimal typos, something which most companies let slide because "gamers will settle for it".

And, aside from the marketing, lowered costs can make a big difference- Clinton can pay his rent most months on his games alone- and its not like he has lots of games out or lots of advertising. I'd say if that model was followed with a small, but smart advertising scheme, he'd probably have enough a month to not have to work. That's a pretty good deal for a one-man operation.

It's difficult to get a handle on this, since once you get down to it, the game designer supplies perhaps a fifth of the actual game experience (and I'm being generous).

I'd say this- the numbers thrown out by Robin Laws assumes "standard, rules that kinda do what you want, sometimes" games- games that require a lot of drifting and fudging because the rules are eh. I'd say games like Dogs provide maybe 50% or more of your game experience- the rules really make a big difference, and the advice for how to set up towns is dead-on.

For the most part, if you've got eh rules- then the designer is giving us setting as inspiration- which is what I was talking about with Call of Chthulu and L5R. If you've got good rules + good setting, then you've got inspiration + the vehicle to get you there, which, to me, is more than 20% of the experience.

Chris

 
At 2:54 PM, Blogger Joshua BishopRoby said...

Bankuei --

I think 'cut the cost' is a good idea, and I agree, but it's not very specific. 'Cut cost' can mean make fewer games a year, can mean make lower-quality games, can mean producing games with cheaper production values. It can also mean 'abandon the core-book-plus-supplements model' which interests me a great deal at the moment. To tie it into one of your other points, I think a change in format might also attract non-gamers to the product. A stack of books is intimidating to large portions of the population; a bright-colored box with stuff inside is not.

I haven't played or even read DitV yet, so I may just have not seen the light yet, but I don't see how any model of social interaction (which is what RPG rules are) can really be more important than the content of that social interaction. If the form becomes more important than the content, the entire affair becomes... I can't think of a better term than masturbatory.

I'll have to take a look at Dogs, I suppose.

 
At 1:42 AM, Blogger Bankuei said...

Hi,

Cost cutting is best seen as printing less copies. Most companies go for a big print run hoping to lower the individual print costs of each copy, and hoping to make a bigger profit. Problem being, with a larger run, you need larger sales just to break even, much less make a profit. Tie that into poor payment schedules with the 3 tier distribution model and you have a company that ties up all of it's capital and only sees profit a decade later- if that.

The indie folks have been doing the small print run, which assures even if they "overprint", it's not going to be a company sinking hit of cost, and also selling pdfs, which online costs is neglible.

Mainstream wise- enough games already have begun bottoming out on quality, the trade we've seen is quality down for print runs up- a bad choice given the small rpg community and that continued play (and customers) is based on the quality of product + marketing.

I don't see how any model of social interaction (which is what RPG rules are) can really be more important than the content of that social interaction.

Consider this- the model, or the medium, is vital for the content to be transmitted. Try listening to music on an AM radio station, then listen to the same song on a high quality stereo- the content is easier to enjoy with an effective medium.

In the same sense, if our goal is to get some experience of fun play from an rpg- it's a lot easier when we can focus on what we think is fun rather than either trying to understand the rules (because they are complicated or poorly explained), fixing the rules (because they don't do what they say they do or they don't do what we want), or fighting each other because we can't figure out "What happens?"

In other words- good rules make it to where we don't have to think about these things, yet still facilitate us getting there. A grand violinist cannot make music without an instrument- and the rules are the instrument that allow the group to play together.

 

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