Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Watch Me Kill My Customer Base Right Now

This Swords & Wizardry/Frog God thing.

The announcement (has it already been edited?). Some of the response (here and here and here) has been negative.

But in it's own too-honest-for-its-own-good way, the controversial statement in the announcement was in some ways necessary in order to grab the attention of the customer base they're hoping to get.

This is potentially a big step up, and if Frog God gets a quarter of the market penetration and fan adulation that Necromancer got, this will be huge news for Swords & Wizardry and (hopefully) the OSR.

To stand alongside and compete with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Fantasy Flight, and all the rest, you have to let the distributors, the retailers, and the potential customers know that every release will be quality from top to bottom. You can't appear be a hobbyist, people have to be confident that you're pro. And I suspect Frog God wants Necromancer's old spot in the industry.

I know for my stuff, I've done everything I can to keep the quality high. I fail in some places, some due to budget and some just because I'm a natural fuckup, but you better fucking believe I kick myself in the ass for every layout glitch, every typo, every picture that doesn't look as awesome as the most awesome thing I've ever seen. Every single thing I've ever released, I've looked at after the fact and thought, "Oh SHIT. This isn't good enough. The next thing has to be better."

Think about it. Just looking at production values, The original Creature Generator & Fantasy Fucking Vietnam-> Green Devil Face -> Death Frost Doom first printing -> No Dignity in Death/People of Pembrooktonshire -> Grinding Gear -> LotFP box... why do you think I've developed this way?

If I had the budget, every damn thing I release would be printed on solid fucking gold with unique Cynthia Sheppard work on every damn page. Not because it makes the writing any better, but because if I'm going to do something I want people to marvel at it. Hell, I want to marvel at it.

The OSR has in large part prided itself on things that perhaps it shouldn't. The fact is if you're going to charge money for anything, let alone $20 or $40 or *gulp* $65, you better make damn well sure you've done everything you can to make it special. To make it cool. To make it quality. For something to be special it's got to be something that not anyone could do.

The OSR has promoted the fact that anyone can contribute, and they do. But when it comes to commercial products, is that a good thing for breaking the overall RPG market and attracting players (and the dollars it'll cost for top-quality material)? I say no.

The special part of DIY is the personal attention is supposed to inject the work in question with a personal touch, a personal stake in a job well done and not just making a faceless bland piece of corporate crap. The special part of DIY is not that any old shit gets to be praised just because somebody bothered to do it. DIY is better because people will beg, borrow, and fucking steal to make the project as good as it can be because their pride is on the line.

Presentation matters. That old Creature Generator that I was selling for 4,50€ postage paid? 20 copies sold. FFV, what, a dozen? The Creature Generator got picked up by Goodman Games and has sold many, many, many times the amount I sold. I cleaned Fantasy Fucking Vietnam up and turned it into Green Devil Face #1 and it has sold many times the original version.

Coincidence? And guess which versions bring me greater pride now?

Frog God's put everyone on notice that they're here to deliver top notch stuff, from top to bottom. I know I'll be interested in their modules and will likely buy one or more. Guess how many purchases for personal use I've ever made from Lulu? One. (although to be fair, their blatant disregard for the work people sell through them has more to do with that than anything else. And actually, that one thing was something I requested as a present and so I actually didn't buy it...)

But damn, Frog God had better deliver.

Did your feelings get hurt because of their press release? Or this post? You want DIY to be respected?

Shut your mouth and go do something yourself that kicks the shit out of anything Frog God is going to release.

That's my plan, anyway.


  1. Well put, Jim.

    As a fan of both Necromancer Games', and Matt Finch's material I have high hopes for their co-operation under the Frog God banner. An OSR game under the banner of a mainstream RPG publisher (if you could say there being such a thing in the first place)... This could be big.

  2. Frog God's statement was bold, to be sure, and I'm sure they will be held to scrutiny of the highest order of professionalism, but it's the premise of tearing others down to build themselves up in their initial statement that really rubs me wrong, as it comes across as unprofessional in the extreme.

    I often find myself in agreement with you, Jim, but dismissing their shitty attitude and clumsy marketing tactic as a challenge to the community does not change the way it reads or smells.


  3. Just to clarify, the "offending" statement appears on the FGG website under "About Us" and not the press release that announced their publishing of Swords & Wizardry. (And was on their website prior to the acquisition of publishing rights.)

    It's a non-issue. I've never even seen an OSR product use clip-art (which isn't the same as amateur artwork or public domain Renaissance woodcarvings, etc.). I'm sure that if FGG had as much disdain for the OSR as some people want to believe, they wouldn't have invested in S&W.

  4. I think people are overreacting about this whole thing. The Necro guys were obviously huge fans of indie/DIY efforts going all the way back to Judges Guild.

    This press release seems designed for those OUTSIDE the DIY blogosphere. It's for the people to whom the presentation DOES matter. The people who think they're getting something substandard if the production values aren't AAA.

    To me, it just read as Frog God saying "hey, if you'd dismissed S&W/OSR/whatever, get ready to take another look." It's just standard marketing/positioning stuff, and people shouldn't read too much into it.

  5. It's a shrewd move. As I said on the S&W website, because they raised the bar for themselves - we should hold Frog God to their promise of professional quality:

    - proper playtesting
    - top editing/layout etc
    - great illustration
    - no errata

    Demand the best - Don't let them let you down!

    limited collectors editions though - yuck :(

  6. Ahh... see, that might put it under new perspective then.

    Necromancer lived through that "d20 glut" that wasn't just POD and PDF but in the shops as well. Necromancer always had a reputation for being a cut above what most others were doing.

    Positioning themselves as not just another publisher - be it for d20, Pathfinder, or any of the OSR games - is something they shouldn't shy away from. Hell, shouldn't be something anyone shies away from, but there won't be a hell of a lot of forgiveness if they screw something up...

  7. Thanks for posting this point of view. I definitely have bought some stinkers from Lulu so I think Frog God's statement regarding product QC is welcome.

    I think once people start selling stuff for real money they are fair game for judgment and criticism. If they are too thinned skin to hear others' opinions, maybe they shouldn't be trying to sell their stuff for a profit.

    Best of luck to Frog God for raising the bar!

  8. Matt Finch posted this comment on the current brouhaha on his Swords & Wizardry boards:

    "My electricity was out for about 3 hours, and then I spent another hour chainsawing a huge fallen limb apart, so I only just got back to see the explosion of concerns going on here.

    Mostly this is about the "crappy, hand-drawn maps" comment. That was from before the S&W deal, and was addressed at whatever Pathfinder stuff is currently being sold on Lulu. Not a jab at anyone publishing in the old school universe, but a jab at Pathfinder quick-buck-publishers. If that material is anything like what got sold for d20, then ... wow. I can see why you'd want to get differentiated from the fast-buck crowd.

    That said, given the nature of our crowd, it should have been taken down before the S&W announcement. Because to US, it has an entirely different meaning and implication. We're all about crappy hand drawn maps. Some of us don't even use map grids (Hi, Melan!). We don't need no stinkin' precise maps ... BUT PATHFINDER PLAYERS DO ... or they don't know where to put the miniatures. For that audience, given what they are no doubt being offered on Lulu, it makes a lot of sense for Bill to have been very emphatic about maps.

    Another quick point - I'm not going a different direction - I'm still writing S&W modules and resources, but now I just give them to Bill to finish off. The effort of getting volunteer artists and layout and doing all the other detail-work necessary for completing a resource is very, very difficult and time-consuming. Now I can focus on the writing instead of the things I'm not so good at.

    More later - I will keep reading for other concerns on the announcement thread to see what else I should comment on. But don't jump at first impressions, guys. Most of us ain't exactly smooth, ourselves."

  9. Necro was hardly a fan of DIY/OSR - lest we forget Clark's lovely summary of OSRIC:

    "ORCUS" (aka Clark) - "OSRIC is totally illegal and I wont be associated with it in any way. Please dont bother to defend it by saying they havent been sued. It is illegal and totally unethical. I refuse to be a part of it. "

    DIY is already respected, as evidenced by how far OSRIC/S&W/LL/MF et al have come. It must have been good enough for a publisher to come take S&W and put it in the hands of the "professionals" - wouldn't want the DIY'ers to fuck it up, yannow. That's what bites about this, IMO - S&W was the RPG of the little guy and it feels like it was just traded up and we can go pound sand... or rather go flocking to FGG with dollars in hand.

    Fuck that. Ain't gettin' a dollar from me with that attitude. Let's see if they keep supporting the hobbyists like Matt and MG did in the past.

  10. Extra S&W classes based on the SR are already free online (and available POD) from Salvatore Macri:

  11. You realize that it was Clark Peterson saying that, not Bill Webb, who has since gone his own way with Frog God. And it was said in 2008, when Necromancer was still trying to find a way to participate in 4E, despite the imposition of a bum deal, aka the GSL. That Clark should try to diminish or dismiss OSRIC in 2008 is disappointing but not surprising.

    I mightily respect you, Mike. I understand your anger: something you participated in and promoted, as a hobbyist, is being co-opted by commercial interests. But Matt Finch and others have pointed out that the "offending remarks" are not a slight against old-school DIYers, but were a response to sub-par Pathfinder stuff.

    I've already got my S&W stuff (including your awesome reference sheets) so buying S&W stuff from FGG will be a luxury, not a necessity. Hopefully this deal will put S&W into stores, and generate more interest in old-school gaming.

  12. Most of us have been through what professionals did for D&D. And, most of us, have chosen to reject that. Why should we be happy or proud or even interested that a company touting its professionalism has picked up Swords & Wizardry? Seriously now. Your stuff is well produced and very interesting and you have some good ideas, but this whole touting of professionalism just sits outside of what the OSR is and should remain.

  13. Mr Raggi, have no fear of driving off this customer. I bought the LotFP boxed set. You asked me to pay a professional product's price and you delivered a professional product.

  14. My comments on the topic here:

  15. Wow.

    Its the place in the music scene where a local garage & club band actually gets a real contract - and all all the bitchin' about them being sellouts starts.

    One can easily be amateur and home brewed and still not just produce crap for a quick buck; and conversely, crap isn't ennobled by being labeled amateur. The current market for both Pathfinder and D20, and quite honestly 'real' D&D is suffering from a surfeit of crap, and it doesn't help the hobby as a whole. It occurred in the "olden Days", too, the difference was, there was less opportunity to make some money by putting out a hasty slipshod piece of crap, nor was there a venue like LuLu or DrivethroughRPG to distribute it.
    So, Sorry Chigwiz et al, you are wrong, both about the post, the earlier posting, and the attitude you think you see. Crap is crap, and if you don't see it in the market, you're either lucky or sheltered; Put the quote in the context of what it was aimed at rather than your own personal part of the hobby, and back off; or alternately, keep on and do as much damage to the product and companies and producers that your apparent sense of entitlement requires.
    If you want apologies from people, you may want to think about starting the ball rolling by apologizing, or at least acknowleging your (I hope unintentional) out of context and incorrect reporting of the situation.

  16. The target market for "retro" products that mirror the originals in both content and appearance can't be that broad - most of us interested in that sort of thing have the originals.

    As I said elsewhere, I'm sure it hasn't gone unnoticed that LotFP is getting attention from outside of what most publishers perceive as the OSR ghetto. There's going to be more of this kind of thing, not less.

    And since when do DIYers give a shit about what "the industry" says? :)

  17. I dont think anyone is arguing that there is a problem with proclaiming high production values, Jim. The problem is stomping on other people to do so. You generally shouldnt insult people in the community you are selling to on your public website. It is just bad form.

    They should have said something like "we are dedicated to high production values" or something. Hell, my game is free and is nearly 300 pages with higher production values than a lot of commercial stuff on the market. I certainly appreciate the importance of production values.

    It is the stomping on others that is pissing people off, not the insistence on high quality.

  18. Whew, I was despairing of anyone not just being a whiney bitch about a random minor accidental slight on a Web page. Thanks for being the official Sack of the OSR!

  19. Yeah, the problem is, they will fail, even without this insult. So, don't worry folks.

    There is no significant audience, and no value proposition or true differentiation in this crowded space.

  20. I just don't want the new S&W book to look like another derivative 3e product (and the book covers for existing Frog God products are not encouraging in that regard). The current S&W products have done a good job of walking the line between originality and nostalgia with their typography and artwork.

    LotFP material has certainly established its own look. Would you ape the circa 2001 d20 graphic design in the hope of greater exposure? Aren't even Pathfinder players sick of that?

  21. I don't think this as a bad thing, Necromancer Games had some pretty quality stuff coming from them during the so-called D20 glut.

  22. >>Most of us have been through what professionals did for D&D.

    Put it into such a position of awareness and popularity that over a quarter of a century later its momentum is still carrying an entire industry?

  23. Put it into such a position of awareness and popularity that over a quarter of a century later its momentum is still carrying an entire industry?

    It was the same burst of popularity in the Silver Age that killed the Golden Age. Gary and TSR won out over the hobbyists and professional AD&D was the pre-eminent game for a decade. But by the end of that decade it was a barely recognizable hull of itself, tied to bloated settings and novel lines with a bare resemblance to what it had been. Dave Cook, who worked on the excellent Expert set, was the same guy who wrote 2nd edition AD&D. TSR's victory was a Pyrrhic one, and it's a lesson we should learn from.

  24. ... I think we're just going to have to agree to disagree about interpreting what happened to TSR. Or really, why it happened.

  25. "Most of us have been through what professionals did for D&D"

    Made it into the RPG I'm still playing here 30+ years later, those filthy bastards!