Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Business Models Help Define Worthwhile Games

I've seen a couple of similar comments in the past couple days concerning business models and RPGs.

Over on theRPGSite, one answer to the question, "Why don't adventure modules sell?" was "only 1 person in any given group needs to buy it."

And on RPG.net, someone asked about POD companies that do boxed sets. One response: "Boxed sets often included two (or more) books, one for players and one (or more) for game masters. Back in the day, that was pretty much all you needed to get started, and the onus was on the GM to purchase any modules and supplements that came out. The players could all share a book. Then someone figured out that there were 4 or 5 players to every GM, and that it made much more sense to sell books to the players instead of the GM. A boxed set doesn't really pull that off well. No group is going to buy 5 boxed sets. So you're selling a product that is designed to sell fewer copies."

I have absolutely no doubt that this thinking, "Make supplements that players need to buy," drives a lot of game design and product development decisions.

I also have absolutely no doubt that games that do follow this player "splatbook" model are awful and the existence of such things is a real obvious sign that I'm not interested in the game.

I don't even see why every player necessarily even needs a rulebook, although with the business model of the clones basically giving the rules away for free, perhaps my judgment is clouded there. Beyond equipment and spell lists, how much of the rules do players really need to keep handy?

(this is one reason my HERO System game in late 07 didn't last long; the system was very cumbersome if only one person, me, owned the rules... which would also be true for any games with extensive skill or powers lists or other things that require character "builds")

So as far as I'm concerned, published game materials are for Referees and collectors as the default condition, really. If that limits the market, well, sucks to be me as a publisher, but if I'm not willing to play games that have this Players Guide to Pointy-Eared Bastards, with New Rules That Make Your Character More Awesome Than With Just the Core Rules So You Want This and Also You Need to Pressure Your GM Into Buying As Well So He'll Allow These 'Options' That Will Be Considered Standard Rules in All Future Adventures and Supplements style of releases, what business would I have publishing any of it?

(and in my experience, players are GMs, if they're very deep into this RPG thing at all, just not necessarily of the same games)

19 comments:

  1. Right On! The only other bit players need is character generation.

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  2. I am sorry but you don't make any sense, at least to me. You want products from publisher, but you don't want them to make products that player would need to purchase?

    "I also have absolutely no doubt that games that do follow this player "splatbook" model are awful and the existence of such things is a real obvious sign that I'm not interested in the game."

    So based on this comment you think it is better for a company to sell to 1 out of the 6 gamers at a gaming table instead possible 6 gamers at the table?

    "I don't even see why every player necessarily even needs a rulebook, although with the business model of the clones basically giving the rules away for free, perhaps my judgment is clouded there. Beyond equipment and spell lists, how much of the rules do players really need to keep handy?"

    When you give away the rules for free who have to make money on the suppliments you sell or their is NO CASHFLOW. This is a similar tactic to what drug dealers do, first hit (or free rulebook) is free to get you interested and hooked on the product. Then after you're hooked you then sell them on the re-up (additional suppliments). If you are confused by this business model, I sugest you watch the US TV Show, The Wire.

    "So as far as I'm concerned, published game materials are for Referees and collectors as the default condition, really. If that limits the market, well, sucks to be me as a publisher..."

    Well thanks for feeling that way to people who provide you entertainment. It is always nice to know that people like and apprieciate all the hard work we do by your spending money to make great product that you use to give away for free. We publisher love to hear stuff like that. If you like something how about actually supporting it with some cold hard cash?

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  3. >>So based on this comment you think it is better for a company to sell to 1 out of the 6 gamers at a gaming table instead possible 6 gamers at the table?

    I'm saying that companies trying to sell supplemental products to everyone at the table most likely has a product I'm not interested in dealing with.

    >>When you give away the rules for free who have to make money on the suppliments you sell or their is NO CASHFLOW.

    The two big commercial clones sell many hundreds of copies of books, for money, even though they give the basic PDFs away for free. Brave Halfling just sold hundreds of $40 (shipping included) boxes even though the game text is identical to what's given away for free on PDF.

    Sounds like cash flow to me.

    >>If you like something how about actually supporting it with some cold hard cash?

    I'm spending damn near 10000€ to bring a game to market with the realities I just talked about. And all the support material will be intended for the Referees, and specifically not for every single person that will play the game. And the rulebook will be available for free online.

    I'm buying a decent amount of products from a several publishers to sell at Ropecon this year - all of it designed to sell to people running, not participating in, campaigns.

    I put my money exactly where my mouth is.

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  4. Some people think pretty much anything stupid capitalism does can be excused on the basis that you "can't survive" without doing whatever the stupid thing is.

    It's pretty much a universal excuse for every time someone does something stupid for money.

    Splat books? CASHFLOW!

    Lady Gaga? CASHFLOW!

    International arms sales? CASHFLOW!

    -sigh-

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  5. I think the hard truth is that most game books are written (and purchased) to be read rather than played. Sales are not so much about how many copies are needed per group, but how well it works as a book to be read outside of play.

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  6. I think the hard truth is that most game books are written (and purchased) to be read rather than played. Sales are not so much about how many copies are needed per group, but how well it works as a book to be read outside of play.

    This is sadly true for many, many RPGs and has been since the 90s at least, if not before. Getting away from that model is something I'd really like to see.

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  7. I wish that every one of my releases would be played by every single customer.

    But I am very happy with purchases made by readers/collectors. Their money spends just the same.

    Hell, people are welcome to purchase and burn as many copies of my releases as they'd like, as far as I'm concerned. :)

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  8. I understand what you mean by "splatbooks," and I am sure most folks in the OSR share a distaste for product that are just written to fill a pre-determined page count and release schedule.

    But you are forgetting about the game store owners who WANT and NEED to know that there is going to be a line of products to support a popular game. That's how they stay in business.

    Sure, a hobby publisher can sell one item - like a set of rules - and then walk away (or just leave it on the net as a pdf or POD. But the game store owner cannot stay in business just selling one or two brand new games a year. They have to pay the bills as well.

    This is exactly why so few OSR publishers have actually broken into into real distribution - most want to create only one or maybe two products a year (and usually a version of their house-rules).

    But then again, there is nothing wrong with being a hobby publisher - nothing at all. Being able to focus on just one or two products a year lets one "do-it-up-right" and that is one of the best benefits of the OSR (IMHO).

    But we cannot expect games stores to support what we publish if we decide to only publish what benefits us personally and ignores their needs. That is true hobby publishing.

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  9. Castles & Crusades has been in distribution for over 5 years now. The Troll Lords don't publish a lot of supplementary rulebooks for C&C. (Heck, they've been delaying their Castle Keeper Guide for years now.) But the Troll Lords publish a lot of C&C modules.

    So a game + lots of modules strategy can work.

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  10. First off I want to say that I hope I am not coming off as attacking you. That is not what I am trying to do. I am just trying to understand your position and the reasoning behind it.

    "I'm saying that companies trying to sell supplemental products to everyone at the table most likely has a product I'm not interested in dealing with."

    The business model that comes to mind when I think about this is a "fire and forget" model. I make it and if it sell great, if not no worries because I off to the next project. This model to me is very risky because you have to be "highly" successful on nearly every project to keep the cashflow for the next project going.

    "The two big commercial clones sell many hundreds of copies of books, for money, even though they give the basic PDFs away for free. Brave Halfling just sold hundreds of $40 (shipping included) boxes even though the game text is identical to what's given away for free on PDF. Sounds like cash flow to me."

    I don't want to sound cold but those are not really large numbers of sales. If you sold 500 copies at $40 it is only $20,000 which sounds like good money until you add in shipping, writing, artwork, printing and various other expenses. Plus I sure a lot of that money had to be paid up front to cover production cost. Was the cashflow a spring shower or a hurricane?

    "I put my money exactly where my mouth is."

    I think you might have misunderstood what I meant. I meant supporting companies like, for example, Paizo who do quality work and are open about letting people playtest the system before the final version is released. Those are companies you should support. I think there might be a better way to spend your money and even save some from the amount you are spending. It is your money and you can use it any way you want. Just offering another side to the discussion.

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  11. In the old days I had a blast and all I owned was the players handbook. If a company is smart and doesn't try to grow past their market then they should be able to stay afloat on sales from their core product. Game publishers/designers dont get rich. They do it because they have created something that they care about and want to share with others.

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  12. Louis,

    "I think you might have misunderstood what I meant. I meant supporting companies like, for example, Paizo who do quality work and are open about letting people playtest the system before the final version is released. Those are companies you should support."

    I have no interest in what Paizo produces. Their games and the modules for them are not what I like or need, so why should I support them?

    More generally, I don't need a lot of supplements to play and see no reason to buy them just because they are produced. I don't buy games that I know are going to be a supplement mill either. I could care less if the companies producing these RPGs fail or succeed. I have many commercial RPGs and hundreds more RPGs can be downloaded from the net for free. Heck, I could play for the rest of my life if all I had on my game shelf was OD&D or the D&D Rules Cyclopedia.

    I don't need to support companies who put their need for steady cash flow over my need for a good, solid game that isn't constantly asking the players and GM to buy more splatbooks to keep up with the latest "core" additions to the system (and the GM to revise his campaign to accept whatever they publish so the players will keep buying). If all the RPG companies that followed this model all died tonight, I doubt I'd even notice they were gone tomorrow. Perhaps that's harsh, but it is the job of a business to meet my needs a a price I'm willing to pay if they want my money. If they don't or can't, then they do deserve my money (and do not get it).

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  13. I've always thought the "modules don't sell because only one player buys them" bit was b.s. - because in my experience only one player (the GM) buys anything (except the PHB, and sometimes not even that).

    My players - who I've been gaming with my entire life - LOVE to game; but they're not interested in reading much of anything outside the PHB (gamebooks-wise, I mean).And as the GM, I neither need nor want a million player splatbooks filled with rules, any one of which might unbalance or mess with the flavor of my game.

    Setting books? Awesome. Modules? Always helpful (don't have as much free time as when I was 14)- and always fun to read. But if I want rules - new rules, houserules, whatever, I'll do that myself, thanks.

    So...as the only one in my group who buys anything, I can tell you that I've spent far more on modules than anything else. But that's just me.

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  14. The only thing most of the players in my games buy are 1st edition AD&D Players Handbooks, gamescience dice, and occasional miniatures.

    @Zak S: CASHFLOW = Skynet...

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  15. The whole "Adventures don't sell well" is a mythos.
    There are a lot of companies who have a lot of success with adventures.
    Necromancer Games, Goodman Games and Paizo come to mind.
    And even WoC saw that adventures do sell well and started producing adventures in the end days of 3rd edtion and continue doing so in 4th edition.

    "Splatbooks" can be of high quality, giving the Player more Options for his game of choice without "powering up" the game. For 3rd Monte Cooks "Books of Eldritch/Hallowed Might" are good examples.
    Even the OSR produce(d) Splatbooks: Brave Halfling's "Delving Deeper" Line and Black Blade's "Eldritch Weirdness" line for example can be qualified as Splatbooks.

    In the end it comes down on how the GM and his group play the game. My group mostly uses PHB only (and sometimes obove mentioned Books of Eldritch Might). And we play the game since 00'.

    As gfar as I know 4th edition is a different beast altogether. But I do not play 4th, so can not comment on it.

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  16. >>But you are forgetting about the game store owners who WANT and NEED to know that there is going to be a line of products to support a popular game. That's how they stay in business.

    Modules. :D

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  17. My local game store makes more money selling soda and snacks than on rpg products. kids these days use Amazon and Ebay as their game shops. Sad.

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  18. Maybe I misunderstand, but perhaps you and some posters are off base on this one.

    Many players may aspire to be DMs. And, by the time we Gen Xers are in our 30's or beyond, we all have double-dutied at some point. I think the lesson is, market to everyone please, but just core rule books and modules!

    The argument should be against schlock - a players handbook is not a "splatbook" - e.g., a complete grey elves guide, or a players handbook 4.

    The idea that we are looking to recruit exclusively newbies to the games and hold the keys to the kingdom exclusively in the hands of a DM and undercutting sales is an interesting proposition.

    And, referring to success stories as "hundreds" is... well, just hundreds.
    You guys who want to make money doing this, but then don't want to make money, I find it intriguing. Wish I could sprinkle in the idealism, it is too bad I lost it.

    Remember, a player love the gaming materials too in their own right. Share the gift with them too.

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  19. >>And, referring to success stories as "hundreds" is... well, just hundreds.

    In the Brave Halfling case, no distribution, just sold off his website, was intending to just offer 50 and they kept selling out every time he upped the print run...

    ... and in the scene at large, no real art budgets, pretty much nothing as far as marketing ability, nobody is starting with any money at all, very limited retail penetration (the vast majority POD and PDF)...

    Yeah, in this situation hundreds is a success. The question is how to take that next step forward without having to become something else.

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