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General Forge Forums => Publishing => Topic started by: Ron Edwards on November 12, 2002, 09:17:24 AM



Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 12, 2002, 09:17:24 AM
Hello,

I'd like to address the issue of mainstream vs. alternative content in role-playing games.

My views are essentially the same as those expressed by the proprietors of Page 45 (http://www.page45.couk.com/P45main.html), a comics store in Nottingham, England. A few years ago, one of them sent an amazing letter to Dave Sim, author of the comic Cerebus, which was promptly published for readers. I will have to comb my back issues to find the issue number reference, which in post-move chaos might be a while. If anyone can provide it quick & easy, I'd appreciate it. Anyway, this letter hit me right between the eyes and I have been repeating its content to anyone who'd listen ever since.

In Comics
According to the Page 45 folks, comics hobby culture has reversed the two terms, boosting its very local, in-hobby-popular format/topic into the "mainstream"category - which is to say, since "all of us here" are into superheroes, then superheroes must be mainstream comics.

At Page 45, they consider this to be all backwards. Looking at books, movies, or any other medium, they observe that mainstream content includes these features: science fiction, fantasy/surrealism, sex, biography, humor, horror, and drama (or soap opera, if you will). Therefore, it's the superheroes which are "alternative," which is to say, local and specific to a few fans who interact (about their hobby) mainly to one another, and buy their stuff at specialty shops frequented only by members who like that one topic.

The Page 45 store was one of a few pioneers that put this idea into practice. Yes, they sell superhero comics, but mainly  in "pull" format - you have to register for your titles and they're put in a folder for you. This accounts for a fair piece o'change, especially since it removes the cost of maintaining the huge "browse" shelves of X-books and so forth, few of whose sales ever cover this cost. However, no promotional space is utilized for superhero stuff. Instead, the "floor" is dominated by Vertigo titles and softcovers, evergreen collections like Usagi Yojimbo, Will Eisner material, Cerebus phonebooks, and similar. Rather than bins of back issues, they focus on softcover collections. Promotional space is granted to titles that correspond to humor, sex, biography, SF, fantasy/surrealism, biography, and drama. The floor is tended by knowledgeable people who like the hobby, and titles are promoted on an openly biased basis - just like real salesmen do. Rather than try to get insider-hobbyists to buy new versions of the stuff they already like (e.g. more superhero stuff), they try to interest fringe-hobbyists (e.g. girlfriends) in titles that they might like (e.g. Strangers in Paradise, Sandman). They also include a section for really out-there stuff, e.g. undergrounds, zines, and so forth.

The basic idea is what everyone says they want: trying to increase the number of people involved in the hobby, to increase the number of sales through most of society, and to increase the patronage and appreciation of comics throughout more of society. At Page 45, they consider superheroes to be nearly worthless for this purpose - the more we put blowups of Wolverine or whoever in the store, the more standups and foil covers and toy, t-shirt, and action figure crossovers ... the less the desirable goal happens.

[I'd like to paraphrase Dave Sim, author of Cerebus, a bit to make a related point: that movies and TV deserve special note in this regard. The argument here claims that comics can provide meat/content for movies and TV shows, but that doing so has no appreciable positive impact on the comic itself beyond people who are already buying it or similar comics. In other words, an X-Men movie brings comics fans into the theaters, but it doesn't bring theater-goers into the comics store. My observations corroborate this claim.]

The last few years of Chicago comics commerce bears out the Page 45 philosophy in full. Five full-size comics stores exist in plum locations (downtown Evanston, near north Chicago, the Loop, etc) - all of them practice the Page 45 policy to a large degree. This is serious retail space, people; if you can't cut it every month, you're outta there, and so far, all the stores are doing very well. By contrast, three comics stores exist along Western Ave, a much less-strictly zoned and taxed area; all of them practice the late-80s "glut" approach to superhero titles, as well as the bag-and-box approach to back issues. All of them are under-staffed, increasingly grubby (although they did not start that way), disorganized, stuffed to the gills with unsold toys and standups, and inundated by promotional material that's backlogged by two to five years. All of them are struggling and, in one case to my certain knowledge, subsidized by parental funds.

In Role-playing
I consider "D&D fantasy" to be a thing-in-itself with no direct parallel in fiction that's not gaming-derived. In other words, D&D fantasy is not high fantasy, epic fantasy, Tolkien-inspired, or anything else besides D&D fantasy. I do not restrict D&D fantasy, as an activity, to TSR games, but use it as a term for a type of play and game design that has been repeated by many companies.

I also suggest that "D&D fantasy" plays exactly the same role regarding mainstream/alternative in gaming as superheroes do in comics. Therefore, if we take a leaf from the Page 45 books, the terms switch: for gaming, mainstream content includes science fiction, fantasy/surrealism, sex, biography, humor, horror, and drama (or soap opera, if you will), whereas alternative content is D&D fantasy.

I will also go one step further along the comics model, to say: attempting to increase the hobby's presence in current non-gamers by attempting to attract them via D&D fantasy is doomed to fail. New editions of D&D won't do it; you'll get all those aging grognards to buy stuff again, and you might get the gamer-inclined teens to take an extra peek, but you won't "promote the hobby" in the sense of increasing the patronage and appreciation of comics throughout more of society. No, that will occur by one means only: by presenting games with the real mainstream content, and promoting them through knowledgeable and socially-effective play. This point is related to a whole 'nother essay in development about the Social Contract of play.

And oh yes: making a D&D movie is pissing into the wind; if the movie sucks, the hobby-image suffers, and if it rocks, the movie benefits without much impact on the hobby in terms of a wider distribution or appreciation. Such a tactic is a no-win situation, as Hasbro found out last year. You do realize, of course, that D&D is a big stinking albatross to Hasbro right now, and they're almost certainly been looking to shitcan it since last Christmas, don't you? Sigh ... that's another essay, too.

The final point
My goals for the Forge, as well as for the success of Adept Press, are based on the Page 45 model from a hobbyist's and publisher's point of view. My target audience is twofold: (a) the people who are, or have been, involved in role-playing already but are dissatisfied with D&D gaming (and frankly, also with the only real alternative to have come along, Vampire gaming, which I haven't discussed in this essay); (b) the people who are not involved in gaming now, but could very well be if they were to see the real mainstream version.

At this point, my main audience is (a), which is exemplified by the Forge. I have every intention of developing our shared understanding of Social Contract here over the next year of discussion, which ultimately is aimed toward (b) as well. But I have nothing but contempt for the current most widespread tries at (b), which are in my opinion based on a very faulty and demonstrably unsuccessful policy, itself based on a reversed understanding of "mainstream" and "alternative."

Very bluntly, I consider Sorcerer and Trollbabe to be ideal for both audiences, in terms of both content and system (Elfs is for [a] alone). No, they won't appeal hardly at all to people who consider D&D fantasy (or Vampire gaming) to be "mainstream." They appeal very strongly to those who are already significantly dissatisfied, as well as to those who were never interested in so-call "mainstream" content at all (which includes many fans of literary fantasy and horror). Sorcerer sells like a banshee in stores which tend toward a Page 45 model; it does poorly in stores which follow a "what's hot to gamers" model.

Therefore, I strongly suggest that people consider reversing their use of mainstream/alternative terminology to reflect the reality of people's interests and tastes, rather than cling to what amounts to sympathetic magic on gamers' parts to "legitimize" their fringe interest - given that this interest manages to be both arcane and shallow, I don't consider it any great loss. I also strongly suggest that the potential audiences of (a) and (b) are quite large, (a) in proportion to already-existing role-players and (b) in proportion to the wider society. It's not their fault, or short-sightedness, or intolerance, that has not distributed role-playing more widely to these folks; it's ours, for not making this specific shift in our thinking and our actions before this point.

Best,
Ron


Title: Re: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Emily Care on November 12, 2002, 09:41:32 AM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
Therefore, I strongly suggest that people consider reversing their use of mainstream/alternative terminology to reflect the reality of people's interests and tastes, rather than cling to what amounts to sympathetic magic on gamers' parts to "legitimize" their fringe interest - given that this interest manages to be both arcane and shallow, I don't consider it any great loss.


The main gain from this, as I see it, is in re-orienting our own thinking. A useful goal. (I personally have been using the term "traditional" and "mainstream" rpg a lot lately, what to switch to? Marginal-tradition just doesn't have that ring...)

Quote from: Ron Edwards
I also strongly suggest that the potential audiences of (a) and (b) are quite large, (a) in proportion to already-existing role-players and (b) in proportion to the wider society. It's not their fault, or short-sightedness, or intolerance, that has not distributed role-playing more widely to these folks; it's ours, for not making this specific shift in our thinking and our actions before this point.


Good extrapolation, Ron.  Why fight for the lion's share of what is an extremely limited and fairly economically marginalized community.  Games and comics can move from being strictly fan-based to having general interest, if the content reflects the interests of more than those few that it's already aimed at.  The Japanese manga market (which sells to a huge cross-section of the public, and has many, many genres from Miyazaki level fantasy to tentacle-porn to mah jong comics) is instructive to look at.


Here's (http://www.jinjapan.org/nipponia/nipponia9/see.html) a link to a site that talks about this aspect of Manga.

Edited in:
Here's a quote from that site that speaks to this issue, in fact:

Quote
It is not so much that adults have been drawn to existing comic books, but that the industry finds ways to keep adults interested. These efforts have prompted the evolution of the manga, making it a unique and lasting form of expression.


--Emily Care


Title: Re: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Jonathan Walton on November 12, 2002, 09:45:53 AM
I know you're preaching to the crowd (a) here, but I thought I'd add an "Amen."

Comicdom, thank heavens, is finally beginning to see that superheroes are not the be-all and end-all of its existence.  Strangely, it began with the indie publishers and then the realization spread to the Big Two (Marvel and DC), which now, thanks to Vertigo and a slew of more recent Marvel titles, are doing similar things.  However, the tide has not yet turned.  Superheroes still dominate and probably will for a while.

Similarly, TSR and White Wolf are beginning to see the light, but they aren't anywhere close to where Marvel and DC are now (and the Big Two of comics aren't that far along themselves).  I think, as with comics, the pressure has to come from indie games that DO WELL by bringing in an audience that wouldn't normally be interested in gaming.

Another good parallel is the American movie industry.  Does anyone remember the year that the indies completely swamped the Oscars?  (When was that, '98?  I don't remember specifically).  The year after, Hollywood was much more willing to try interesting and non-traditional ideas (Fight Club, American Beauty, Sliding Doors, etc.), mimicking the independent films that had done so well the year before.  Would a film like "Momento" have gotten made 5 years ago?  Maybe not.

That said, it's a uphill battle for mainstreamdom, but boy is it going to be FUN!  Nothing excites me more than the thought of where comics and roleplaying will be 50 years from now.  It's a great time to be alive!

Later.
Jonathan


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 12, 2002, 10:01:50 AM
Hi there,

One quick nuance to clarify ...

On reflection, I should point out that I'm a superhero baby. I inherited a stack of 60s Marvel Comics from my big brother and read them to pieces from age 5 to age 15, as well as buying and devouring tons of my own. Just some examples, out of far too many to admit ... I can still describe (e.g.) the events of the original Ghost Rider series from memory; I am indignant when people confound Peter Parker as written by Lee with the pseudo-character established by Gerry Conway; I'll happily describe the variants in Wolverine's costume from his first appearance in an issue of The Incredible Hulk; I will carry forth at length regarding the transformations of the character of Batman from the 40s to the present; and I will really carry on about how The Watchmen is not a superhero story but how Marshal Law is. Yes, I'm one of those.

However, I admit it - despite the seminal/germinal brilliance of many superheroes, and despite occasional resurrections of that brilliance, the topic as a whole is arcane and shallow, at this point in history. What was good about it has already been incorporated into mainstream concerns (e.g. action movies have "eaten" much of the flair of superhero comics as well as James Bond; TV has "eaten" the mix of action and soap opera that used to be unique to comics). As soon as movies and video games started to "do" superhero comics (that is to say, to incorporate their best attributes, not necessarily adapting titles), the hobby medium went flaccid.

So please don't read my description of superhero comics as utterly contemptuous. I speak from a strange mix of observation and grief, as well as hope.

I am also writing this post because I do have to cop to real contempt for D&D fantasy. Once it's isolated from appreciation for its source material (and most D&D gamers have not read that source material!), I see no merit in it whatsoever that is not provided by an average shoot'em-up video game. But this is a personal failing on my part - I fully admit to the possibility that others' appreciation for it is a 100% parallel to my appreciation for superhero comics.

So with any luck, the topic whether D&D fantasy is a bad thing can be avoided in this thread. The real topic is, I think, its demonstrable failure to qualify for real mainstream interest.

Best,
Ron


Title: Yee-Haw!
Post by: Le Joueur on November 12, 2002, 10:12:10 AM
Here, here!  [Applauds loudly, whistles.]

My feelings (however nebulous they were) exactly!

Fang Langford

p. s. This has been the orientation of Scattershot all along; to aim for the (other) mainstream.  I'll be damned if I can figure out the market penetration point(s), though.


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Jonathan Walton on November 12, 2002, 10:14:09 AM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
So please don't read my description of superhero comics as utterly contemptuous. I speak from a strange mix of observation and grief, as well as hope.


Again, you're preaching to the choir, Ron.  I'm from a completely different generation of comic book fan (my first issue was X-Force #18, just to give you a frame of reference), but I agree with everything you've said.  I'd love to write an a-typical superhero comic one of these days, but I also grieve that the hobby hasn't taken full advantage of the medium.  Still, every once in a while, some high quality stuff does come out.  I have a copy of "Origin" on my shelf that I bought yesterday.

Also, while I've never played D&D and don't particularly want to, I grew up playing Rifts, so I don't think I can be a game snob either.  I believe in the medium itself, not particular styles of it.  Sorry if all of that didn't come across in my post.

Later.
Jonathan


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: PeterAdkison on November 12, 2002, 01:19:07 PM
Ron Edwards writes:

Quote
So with any luck, the topic whether D&D fantasy is a bad thing can be avoided in this thread. The real topic is, I think, its demonstrable failure to qualify for real mainstream interest.


As one of the biggest fans ever of Dungeons & Dragons it is only with clenched determination and a nervous twitch that I adhere to Ron's wishes and avoid the inevitablely out-of-control spiral of defending the Goodness of D&D. :-)

I agree, D&D is not mainstream, nor will it ever become mainstream.

And when I bought D&D in 1997 I realized this and was quite comfortable with that realization. Many people who have worked on D&D over the years have NOT been comfortable with this. There have been those who wished it was mainstream, those who tried to change it to make it more mainstream, or those who wanted to advertise it to the mainstream by claiming it as something other than what it was.

When we decided to publish a 3rd Edition of D&D there was a strong contingent of people in TSR who were of the belief that D&D had to become more "modern", more "story oriented", more "roleplaying instead of rollplaying" (usually adding extra emphasis to the "roll", as if I hadn't seen this wordplay at least 1000 times already). I said "no." Those ideals are *great* for other roleplaying games and that's perhaps where the rest of the hobby should go. But our goal with 3E was NOT to do all that. I was never under the illusion that D&D could somehow become a mainstream product if only we just designed the rules easy enough, had a great movie (btw, we had no editorial control whatsoever over the D&D movie, just so you know!), had the right "bridge product", and perhaps made the art less edgy, etc, etc, etc.

Blech!  Yuck!  Disgusting!  Not on my watch. (Now? Who knows!)

D&D is D&D. And 3rd Edition D&D is more D&D than 2nd Edition was, perhaps even more D&D than Advanced D&D was (but that's too close to call). D&D is about rules. It's about killing monsters, collecting treasure, and going up levels. Oh yeah, and story too, if you're so inclined...

Doesn't sound very mainstream to me.

Peter Adkison
Owner & CEO, Gen Con LLC
"The best four days in gaming!"
I just got married!  See our pictures on www.davidandkeisha.com, under pictures/melissa's wedding.


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: MK Snyder on November 12, 2002, 02:22:26 PM
I agree completely.

It's a case of the medium being confused with a genre. And, many a visual medium--from cave painting to photography, film, video tape, and digital image media--had their biggest driver in one genre at the time of invention.

Pornography.

They sure'n'heck would not have expanded to what they are today if their inventors had insisted on trying to convert the potential audience to appreciating pornography as a genre as well as accepting the new medium.

We don't have to give up our love for Fantasy to sell RPG's, but we do have to recognize that there are a lot of people out there who will never love Fantasy and would enjoy a *shudder* Fantasy Football RPG.


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 12, 2002, 02:28:18 PM
Hi Maryanne,

Don't shudder too, too much at the Fantasy Football idea. We do have Kayfabe (http://www.angelfire.com/games3/errantknight/kayfabe/), including the Errant Knight Games forum (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=33) ... and I consider it one of the highest-potential breakout games of the whole shootin' bunch.

Best,
Ron


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Tundra on November 12, 2002, 02:32:56 PM
I have to give Peter (was great to see the pics of you and Melissa, btw) and his crew credit on 3rdEd. I think they stuck to the appropriate guns and delivered as promised, unlike TSR did in the Lorraine years.  Well, except for Buck Rodgers of course ;-)

My pragmatic view of this Ron is from the POV of a salesman, go figure. The *best* stores take that approach.  Most stores don't. 95% of the  RPG (focusing on them) game retailers are afraid to take their attention from the top 3 of 4 lines to get enough education to rack the alternatives intelligently.  There is no developement without availability.

Now, nice thing is that the *best* stores are doing well, and can continue.  Another nice thing is that for many of them, there wasn't the need for availability until they created it.  Why? Because if you don't know that "Og: the RPG" is out there, you can't miss it.

The bad thing is trying to stay in business with apethetic retailers.  And now you know why I try to insulate you from them! ;-)

ttfn - woody


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 12, 2002, 02:42:30 PM
Hello,

Boink!! Talk about missing my cue!

Peter, your description about what you (as head dude) made sure to avoid regarding D&D3E, sounds very, very similar to some of my complaints as a consumer regarding Everway.* Holy shit ... are you comfortable discussing the design and publishing issues surrounding Everway, relative to this thread? And I'm sure (eyes narrowed) that everyone realizes that we would be talking about decisions that were made 10-12 years ago.

Best,
Ron

* Bearing in mind that I admire the game very much and have played it a lot, with minor rules-Drifting.


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 12, 2002, 02:46:49 PM
Hi Woody,

I do appreciate the insulation, believe me. As a long-term goal, I think my responsibility as a publisher (with you and whoever else is interested) is to find the retailers who do understand the points I'm making and to strengthen as many personal and professional ties with them as possible. It's a tough task, and I foresee much storm and destruction (paralleling the comics destructo-rama that hit the stores ~6 years ago) before the air is clear enough for "the good ones" (publishers and retailers both) to see and recognize one another.

Best,
Ron


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: xiombarg on November 12, 2002, 02:57:06 PM
Ron, I've been saying this for years. When GMS first posted his "gamers suck" essay on Gaming Outpost, decrying the fact that most gamers don't go for stuff that doesn't have fantasy (read: D&D fantasy, in your mode of thought) mixed into it, I said instead of bitching, he should be aiming at a different -- more mainstream, currently non-gamer -- market. I started several threads on the Outpost on the subject.

(Of course, he ignored me until I insulted him and I never got to engage with him on the subject, but that's a bitter tale for another day, if ever.)

So, yeah, you're preaching to the choir. What we need is a game store like the comic shop you mention. One that concentrates on non-D&D (and non-d20) stuff, but is prompt about ordering it if you want it -- and has a catalog available so the hardcore gamer can "browse".

Problem is, as I see it, we're way behind even the comics industry in this, too. My LGS can't be trusted to order things for me -- if I don't come and get something the day it happens to come in, it ends up on the shelf, and I rarely get everything I order. My old LGS in North Carolina was excellent about ordering stuff (because the owner started out in mail-order-only), but bad in nearly every other way -- the owner, while a nice guy, was literally a fat, smelly gamer stereotype. There were bugs in his store. I came in, picked up my order, and left.

The point of my anecdote is too many gaming stores are run as an outgrowth of the hobby and not as a real business. Until we can get the funamentals right, we can't even HOPE to do something like you're talking about, Ron.

I say put up an essay on this and wait. Unless you intend to run a store like this yourself, it's the best you can do. But don't let the idea just sit the forum -- it should be accessible to, ah, the mainstream.


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: jburneko on November 12, 2002, 04:28:26 PM
Hello,

I have a question regarding how this "Page 45" approach evolves in practice.  I'm not a huge comic book reader and until about a year or so ago I wan't a comic book reader at all.  In fact, I pretty much looked down on those who were comic book readers.  Although, I did enjoy comic book based film and television.  

However, I'm a curious person.  So, when I would come across a comic book fan I would ask them, "So, what's the deal?"  And they'd tell me about this title or that title and so on and so forth.  Eventually, a few particular titles came up often enough that I finally caved and went and picked up the first of the paperback collections of The Sandman, the title that had cropped up most frequently.  And... hey... what do you know, this kicks ass!

So, now I've been collection the Sandman volumes.  I also enjoy some of the darker grittery more pulp-detective-than-superhero reditions of Batman and I just got through the first volume of The Legue of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  In the end, I'm still not a big superhero fan but now I don't ignore something just because it's in comic book format.  Oh, and I DO vastly prefer the paper back compilations over the issue-by-issue format.

My point to all of this is that my transformation from comic book snubber to comic book reader had everything to do with my pet peeve about understanding things.  If I don't understand something I will bang my head against it and question people who seemly do understand it until I understand it too, even if in the end I still end up not enjoying it.  I hold a special chamber of loathing in my heart for people who do not put in a similar effort about things.  Anyway, no amount of comic shop rearrangement would have effected this process, since I never would have gone into a comic book shop in the first place until I knew exactly what I was looking for and I could ask for it by name.

Obviously, the system works because you've sited stores that are thriving off of it, but how exactly does that transformation take place?  Where do the new people come from?  If someone doesn't like comic books because they think comic books and super heroes are synonimous and they don't like super heroes, then how do they end up in these new "Page 45" style shops to see the variety, in the first place?

Just wondering.

Jesse


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 12, 2002, 05:57:11 PM
Hi Jesse,

They thrive on people like you - but more importantly, through the actions of people like your friends. Did they act defensive when you asked? Did they apologize and act submissive? I'm betting not - I'm betting they simply accepted your prejudice against comics and continued, politely, to stand by their judgment that the medium had a lot to offer. Something of this sort must have occurred so that you did go into that store.

In your case, your contribution was the "desire to know." In someone else's case, it might be the desire to placate or put up with a partner's hobby. In yet someone else's case, it might be a desire to prove someone wrong. And in yet another person's case, it might be a response to a cool cover they saw on a comic a friend was reading. The point is that regardless of the "outsider's" prompting behavior, the "knowledgeable person" was able to act in such a fashion about his or her hobby that the other person would - perhaps eventually - go take look for himself/herself.

Now we're in the store - and here's where the Page 45 deal kicks in. Are there are all these grotesque and adolescent dudes in spandex pictured everywhere? (And c'mon, if you're not used to them, they do look fetishist, I admit it.) Are there fraying cardboard boxes full of plastic-wrapped comics? (Comics people never understand that this puts "civilian's" minds straight into perceiving pornography.) Is the proprietor still wearing his Iron Maiden Concert Tour t-shirt from 1982? Is there some picture of some weird unrealistic chick with yard-long thighs doing her Madonna/Whore violent stare?

No. It's a neat shop with cool surrealistic stuff. The posters and gear look semi-occult, semi-hip, and classy. The comics look like books (softcovers), not disposable mags. Some of them have painted covers, and when you open them, you see people talking or wild hallucinogenic trippy stuff, not bulging-muscle fight scenes. The guy or gal who comes up to talk with you starts by asking understandable questions, and asks you things, rather than rattling off stupid insider tag-lines.

This is a big deal. Even just the presence of such a storefront can bring people inside, if the urban white-collar employee sees it every day on their lunch hour, and if they see people "like themselves" coming in and out. And once they're in, if they like the feel of the place, then they'll drop back by ... or maybe pick up a copy of something that the nice staff member (who asked questions about their likes and dislikes) recommended, just on a lark.

The key, though, is twofold: the store's identity and style, and the knowledgeable friend's attitude and confidence. I'll be posting about that latter thing later this week.

Best,
Ron


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: xiombarg on November 12, 2002, 05:59:49 PM
Quote from: jburneko
Obviously, the system works because you've sited stores that are thriving off of it, but how exactly does that transformation take place?  Where do the new people come from?  If someone doesn't like comic books because they think comic books and super heroes are synonimous and they don't like super heroes, then how do they end up in these new "Page 45" style shops to see the variety, in the first place?

Ron obviously has a better handle on this than I, but one of the things he mentioned was, essentially, the "girlfriend factor". People who get dragged to the store because an SO or relative is into comics. If those sorts of people see something at the store that appeals to them rather than to the drooling fanboys, that's a hook into the industry.

Plus, don't underestimate people like you who, upon finding stuff you like, could go into such a store and find stuff you'd like that you'd never heard of previously. The fanboys know what they want -- the mainstream doesn't because they don't realize it exists. So it's more important to put the "mainstream" (i.e. non-superhero) stuff out there.


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Seth L. Blumberg on November 12, 2002, 07:28:04 PM
Wow.

I want to print out this thread and staple it to the forehead of my FL{C,G}S owner.  Unfortunately, I don't think that would help (other than by relieving some of my frustration).


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Pramas on November 12, 2002, 08:42:43 PM
Quote from: Ron Edwards

This is a big deal. Even just the presence of such a storefront can bring people inside, if the urban white-collar employee sees it every day on their lunch hour, and if they see people "like themselves" coming in and out. And once they're in, if they like the feel of the place, then they'll drop back by ... or maybe pick up a copy of something that the nice staff member (who asked questions about their likes and dislikes) recommended, just on a lark.


The WotC retail stores were an attempt to do just that. The idea was to put gaming in front of the average shopper by putting nice looking stores in A list malls. The stores carried computer and family games, as well as RPGs, minis, and CCGs. There were big cool statues, the staff were clean and well groomed, and so on.

The only time those stores were successful was when they were sucking in Pokemon money. Since that fad waned, the WotC stores have been in trouble and it's an open secret that Hasbro would like to divest themsevles of the retail division.


Title: Re: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on November 12, 2002, 09:15:35 PM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
attempting to increase the hobby's presence in current non-gamers by attempting to attract them via D&D fantasy is doomed to fail.


Oh, yeah. I've been saying this for a couple years now. Glad to hear it from someone else for a change. Bravo, Ron.


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Jon H on November 13, 2002, 01:12:48 AM
This is fantastic to hear.

A bit of anecdotal.  I have been, on and off, a Page 45 customer for years.  I lived in Nottingham,UK for some time.

Upon moving to a different city, and getting a job as the comics specialist in another comics and games store, I straight away was keen to build on the Page 45 model.  And it worked.  Sales improved seriously.

To break down the version of the P45 model we used, and to relate it to RPGs:

Understanding the realities of the market: Die-hard fans are a dwindling market.  Marvel comics preached to the choir for years through the 90s.  By the end of that time they could have put out blank pages with a number on the front and the hardcore fans would have bought it.  But that was a dead end market.  A constant stream of new blood is vital.

How I personally think this relates to RPGs:  Products that require a vast collection of supplements.  The idea that supplements prove a game is alive.  The urge to appeal to collectors.  The urge to stick to the same old 'geek-genre' approach.  Preaching to the choir.

Cleanliness/organisation: Very important to not put off new customers.  It also goes hand in hand with clear, well ordered presentation of stock.  To me, it was vital to present our store like any other.  Comic stores are all too often dark, smelly places unlike any other kind of highstreet shop - other than games shops and sex shops...

Possible relation to RPGs:  A raise in production values.  Why do many games have such low production values?  (I know there are good reasons for this to do with finance and expertise, but it's a nettle worth grasping IMHO)

Unashamedly targeting new customers:  I always figured that exisiting comic fans could find what they were looking for.  They know what 'DC' means, they know what issue number they want.   They know comics come out every Thursday, and that it's tough to get back issues.  New customers don't know any of this, and the whole industry is quite arcane.  To combat this, we produced a number of large posters detailing what different publishers produced, showed connestions between products: "Like Johnny the Homicidal Maniac comics?  Try Sock Monkey".  I also made posters detailing when comics come out, and the publishing processes that mean if you miss an issue it's tough for the store to re-order it.

RPGs related?: Absolutely.  How many games now rely on the fact that the consumer already roleplays?  Already knows what a polyhedral dice is?  How many new games rely on existing models of play?  When I first picked up D&D 3E I was shocked that the first page told you in very technical terms how to make a character.  Not "what is a roleplaying game", but an assumption that most people wouldn't need to know.  Ok, so the explaination appears on the next page, but the occultism has already occured.  Was this the best move for the product that represents RPGs in the public imagination?  It's easy for us to forget after years of gaming, just what it's like for a new gamer, or worse for someone that doesn't know they want to be a gamer.  How do our products encorage these people?

Promoting more obscure products/giving information:  Comics like Superman and Xmen broadly speaking sell themselves.  "It does what it says on the tin", effectively.  Given shelf space they sell.  Comics like Acme Novelty Library do not sell as well if just given shelf space.  We produced information cards detailing what individual comicbooks were about.  This easily overcame people's reticence to ask the staff.  Comic shops can easily become a breeding ground for cliques of customers, and it's easy to see how a casual browser wouldn't want to ask questions, for fear of looking stupid in front of a fannish audience.

RPG connection:  D&D is a by-word for rpgs in many people's heads.  The format of D&D appears the easiest to explain to a new customer.  But is it?  Why do I think that?  Is using Dungeons and Dragons as a model for explaining roleplaying games reinforcing a certain gamer stereotype?  

Display:  Something that Pg45 has always done in Nottingham was to have very impressive window displays.  Not of product, but (this is hard to explain) large purpose built, colourful 'sculptures', standees and displays that were based on comics.  So the window one month would feature a massive cardboard cut out of Jimmy Corrigan, or characters from Ranma 1/2.  Very attractive, very artfully made, and arty.  In a city with a large art college, and a huge population of students, this strategy was really impressive.

RPGs:  Related to production values, but also about who the target audience is. Are we selling to gamers, or are we selling to everyone? How does the appearance of our games relate to the wider audience.  Visually, do we fetishise a gamer aesthetic?  Does that actually alienate the wider audience?  How do our products reveal their content to the browser?  Artwork appears in a lot of games, and can be the hook that gets the product off the shelf in the initial browsing stage.  How do we use that to maximum effect?  


I could go on, but I'm less skillfully repeating a lot of what Ron has outlined.  My point is that I would love to see the P45 model adapted and used within the roleplay market.  Sometimes I perceive a willfullness on the part of certain gamers to keep themselves seperate, to keep their hobby and obscure and arcane thing.  And that's a shame, and not good for the indstry as a whole.

Another point I would like to stress, as Ron has inferred - Page 45 almost avoids competing with the more regular styled comic shops.  It places itself firmly and unapologetically in a different league.   The Page 45 model doesn't apologise for being different - it confidently creates a new market simply by its form and function.

I often wonder why as RPG producers we accept the 'niche market' and 'small slice of a small pie' viewpoint.  Is that what we aspire to?  Or what we have been taught to beleive by our contemporaries?

I realise re-reading this post, that i haven't offered much in the way of new material to the thread, and I haven't offered many answers, but I'm so keen on the page 45 model that I had to speak up!

(edited for clarity 11/13/02)


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 13, 2002, 07:01:16 AM
Hi there,

Jon, thanks! It means a great deal to me that you contributed to this thread. We might start a new thread about the production-value topic, which is potentially pretty controversial.

Chris, my beef with the WotC stores was that they were all sizzle and no steak, which is to say, middle-class legitimacy in terms of appearance and location won't mean squat if all you offer is D&D fantasy and if your staff doesn't know what it's doing. And yes, I know that the WotC stores carried extensive title lines (Sorcerer benefited from several of their locations, for instance) ... but many of them were staffed with people who knew one line of blurb advertising per game, if that.

Many variables are at work regarding commercial success, and frankly, most RPG-industry folks hare after One to Rule Them All, whether it's a game title or sales tactic, all the time. (That is, between bouts of running around trying to Vulcan nerve-pinch one another in high-school style gossip fights.)

Variable #1: appearance/location. The WotC stores missed the boat entirely on this one - the successful model is the hip record store in an urban strip, not a shoe store in a suburban mall.

Variable #2: staff. The WotC stores missed the boat on this one too - sure, you're not hiring gamer dudes who can't hold down other jobs or find anywhere else to hang out, but instead, you're hiring non-gamers who can say, "Hi! I'm Muffy and I'll be taking care of you this evening," but who can't direct customers to stuff they might like and actually close sales. All pleasantry and no punch won't do it. The store needs to hire hip and personable role-players, not slobby grognards no matter how cheap they are, and not brightly-smiling twerps who can't tell the difference between Zero and Rifts.

Variable #3: plain and simple informed bias in terms of stock. The WotC stores went for a full line, meaning, "We have it all," without concerning themselves with "what it is." The full line appproach means a cluttered kibble of stock and a confused staff who fall back on "top five" sales strategy. The successful model, instead, lets the sales people sell what the sales people bloody well like, as well as who can interpret potential customers' input regarding what they like.

Therefore it seems to me that the WotC stores were not following the Page 45 model in substance at all.

Best,
Ron


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Paul Czege on November 13, 2002, 07:46:40 AM
Hey Jon,

Fantastic post. Having never seen a pg45 style store, it's strange and exciting to see you write of the nuts and bolts from firsthand. Seeing description of the way the posters work, that kind of thing, somehow renders what seems idealistic into thrillingly viable technicolor. I'd love to see even more detail, perhaps a map of the store, with some notes about product layout, and photos.

One thing I'm not sure I'm understanding is how we need to be thinking higher production value is important to a RPG retail translation of the pg45 model. How exactly can a title like Zot be understood as competing in terms of production value with stuff from Image? Zot, in my mind, competes in terms of ambitiousness. It seems to me that the primary job of the pg45 style store is to aid the potential customer in getting beyond surface characteristics as the primary factor in purchasing decisions. D&D3e, for instance, has very high production value.

One enormous flaw in the whole idea of a pg45 style RPG store, however, is the utter lack of appropriate product. Other than Nicotine Girls, I can't think of any game that could be shelved in the "sex" section, and Nicotine Girls isn't in print! Were I to try and run a pg45 style RPG store, anything larger than the size of my kitchen would be too much retail space!

It seems to me that The Forge booth at GenCon this past summer was an approximation of a pg45 store. The difference being that a great deal of the stocked product was available only then and there. Comics come out with regularity, so customers come back to the store with regularity. A small line of irregularly published Indie RPG's doesn't support serial customers. What we should consider is that the next step forward from running a pg45 type RPG store once a year, as a collective endeavor by the publishers of the product being sold, is a "store" that appears Brigadoon-like to present itself to potentially new customers, a store that travels around, perhaps as a weekend booth at summer art festivals.

Paul


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 13, 2002, 08:29:39 AM
Hello,

Paul wrote,
It seems to me that The Forge booth at GenCon this past summer was an approximation of a pg45 store.

Shit! They're onto me.

Best,
Ron


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: James Holloway on November 13, 2002, 09:55:24 AM
Quote from: Ron Edwards


Variable #2: staff. The WotC stores missed the boat on this one too - sure, you're not hiring gamer dudes who can't hold down other jobs or find anywhere else to hang out, but instead, you're hiring non-gamers who can say, "Hi! I'm Muffy and I'll be taking care of you this evening," but who can't direct customers to stuff they might like and actually close sales. All pleasantry and no punch won't do it. The store needs to hire hip and personable role-players, not slobby grognards no matter how cheap they are, and not brightly-smiling twerps who can't tell the difference between Zero and Rifts.



This is a good point; of the three game stores within a reasonable drive of my old home, I always went to the one whose atmosphere I found least oppressive; one was a big slobby mess, one was a busy hard-sell kind of place, and one was... not, and that's the one I went to.

Now, I have two questions. The first is kind of rhetorical. Where do you find these "hip and personable" intelligent role-players without All The Money In The World (tm)? I love RPGs and I have customer service experience and I reckon I'm a pretty nice guy, but gamestores would have to be paying a lot more than they are to get me to work in one. Some bookstores do manage this, but even then it's a pretty hit-and-miss thing.

The second, more serious question is this: a lot of gamestores carry stuff that's considered to be "related": wargames, CCGs, and boardgames both modern (Settlers of Catan) and traditional (chess). My local one also carried darts and so on. Does this fit as part of the proposed new gamestore model?

Certainly, if you want to attract the diehard fans you'll want to be able to sell them their LotR cards and HeroClix and whatnot (oh, and warhammer of course) in the same venue. But even if you don't want to attract these guys, I bet that a lot of potential crossover gamers are out there playing things like Settlers or Cheapass Games, but are dissuaded from D&D or Vampire by some personal objection -- and don't get exposed to anything else.

Thoughts, anyone?

- James


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: mearls on November 13, 2002, 12:35:53 PM
Interesting discussion. Jared and I talked about game stores and what's wrong with them quite recently.

I think the Page 45 model is interesting, but I think this discussion misses what cuts to the heart of its success. It isn't the genre of comics they sell, but the presentation. Any product can benefit from intelligent, thoughtful sales people.

In most game stores, the owner expects the material to sell itself.

In most game stores, the shelves are cluttered, difficult to navigate, and messy.

In most game stores, the guy behind the counter has no idea what he's selling.

Until running a game store becomes a business rather than a hobby, these problems will persist. It doesn't matter what a store throws on its shelves if the people who run it don't have clue one about how to sell stuff. Hell, even the WotC store that used to be in the mall 5 minutes from my house had all these problems.


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: talysman on November 13, 2002, 01:16:51 PM
here's my observations of the three gamestores I go to from time to time:

store number one is a comic book chain store that also sells RPGs. they are a successful chain: I dunno when the first store opened, but I've been going to them for at least 15 years.

their approach to comics is definitely not PG45. they have the posters of wolverine, the plastic bins of backlog comics, and so on. they do have a lot of shelfspace for graphic novels, however, as well as stuff by wil eisner and alex toth, so you can tell they half-think about marketting to more than just fanboys.

their approach to RPGs is about the same, or worse. they devote less shelfspace to RPGs, of course, but they definitely choose to promote D&D and World of Darkness rather than other games. they used to have a couple shelves of GURPS, but they have cut this way back: you might see one or two GURPS books. there seem to be a couple 7th Sea books on a shelf, too. not much else: they don't even carry WotC's non-D&D materials or WW's Exalted.

store #2 is a genuine RPG/miniatures store with a few shelves of comics and other games. I like store #2, but they are definitely not Pg45-like in their approach to selling rpgs. lots of shelfspace for D&D and World of Darkness. they do carry a better selection of other titles than the comic store, however: Cheapass Games, a GURPS section, Eden Studios... they even had the d20 Afghanistan RPG. I bought Sorcerer through them and ordered Sorcerer & Sword and Sorcerer's Soul. still, unless you are looking for D&D, WoD, or Warhammer miniatures, stuff is not well-arranged. they're fairly clean, however, and have a lot of floorspace.

store #3 is a chain of game stores. they are almost a Pg45-type store, mainly because they focus on regular board games (Monopoly, Life,) party games, host-a-mystery games, puzzles, and the like. very mainstream in their orientation. they carry a small selection of RPGs. here, however, they fail the mainstream marketing test, because the small selection they carry is again D&D, some WoD, the Star Wars RPG, and Hackmaster. they do not carry indie RPGs or non-fanboy RPGs.

I am obviously not entirely happy with the store choices here. I'd like to see a store that marketted RPGs in a mainstream manner. I think the gamestore chain (#3) is close with its emphasis on puzzles and traditional boardgames, but they are a small shop (found in malls) and don't apply their mainstream focus when it comes to RPGs. they would be perfect for non-fanboy RPGs, because having non-rpg games nearby takes the geekiness edge off a game that just might appeal to a more mainstream audience. people just might want to play a game where they pretend to be sorcerers dealing with the moral quandries of binding demons if they don't automatically associate it with D&D, but instead associate with host-a-mystery games and Scruples.


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 13, 2002, 01:36:09 PM
Hi Mike (Mearls),

You wrote,
"Any product can benefit from intelligent, thoughtful sales people."

I don't agree, at least not in the long term. A product benefits in the long term not only from intelligent, thoughtful salespeople, but primarily by delivering what it promises to the customer (i.e. why they bought it). It benefits even more by delivering unexpected benefits in addition to expectations. The in-store presentation is a powerful addition to this concept, but it doesn't replace it.

My primary point in this thread is to examine the concept of mainstream vs. the concept of alternative, and to identify which role-playing content is which. I'm discussing store practices as a necessary adjunct to this concept, in that coupling mainstream content (which Sorcerer is, and D&D fantasy is not) with professional mainstream presentation (specifically, that which is appropriate to a hip/fringe leisure activity) is powerful and long overdue.

I don't think that either the content or the presentation would do very well without the other.

Best,
Ron


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Pramas on November 13, 2002, 04:36:34 PM
Quote from: Ron Edwards

Chris, my beef with the WotC stores was that they were all sizzle and no steak, which is to say, middle-class legitimacy in terms of appearance and location won't mean squat if all you offer is D&D fantasy and if your staff doesn't know what it's doing.  


The WotC stores were the only attempt we're likely to see in our lifetimes to systematicly redefine the hobby game store. Even with revenue streams from computer and family games and hot selling stuff like Mage Knight and Magic, they were not successful.

A "Page 45 Model" store for RPGs strikes me as an interesting topic for debate that would never, ever work in the real world. First, you need to find this mythical staff of hip, hard working, charismatic, knowledgable gamers who are sensitive enough to listen to what the customer wants and charming enough to make their first roleplaying experience memorable. Then you need to find games to stock your store with. If you turn up your nose at D&D, Vampire, Rifts, and so on, what would you sell? Now assuming you had enough stock and this staff and they worked real hard one day and conviced two new people to buy one core rulebook, your store would make about $25. Even with regular customers with pet game systems, the ecomomics of RPGs do not support this kind of store.



Quote
Many variables are at work regarding commercial success, and frankly, most RPG-industry folks hare after One to Rule Them All, whether it's a game title or sales tactic, all the time. (That is, between bouts of running around trying to Vulcan nerve-pinch one another in high-school style gossip fights.)


What do you mean?


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Eric J. on November 13, 2002, 08:00:45 PM
I don't know about you, but I'm planning to live for a LONG time.


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: greyorm on November 13, 2002, 08:11:20 PM
First, to Chris
Quote
you need to find this mythical staff of hip, hard working, charismatic, knowledgable gamers who are sensitive enough to listen to what the customer wants and charming enough to make their first roleplaying experience memorable.

Yeah, but...pg45 does it.
A couple of my local Insurance Agencies do it.
The local car lot does it (no jokes about car salesmen, please).
Many door-to-door salesmen do it.
The local colleges do it (in their recruiting depts).

So I'm wondering why you think a staff with the qualities you mention are in any way mythical, since I see exactly this sort of staff working in every successful business every single day?

Considering this is the way to run a successful business: personable, knowledgable staff who can sell anyone anything, and MORE importantly, figure out and sell that individual what they actually WANT -- not just iceboxes to Eskimos.

Now on to Ron's lengthy dissertation...
I'll be the first to admit I don't get mainstream stuff...that's all there is to it.  I don't understand the appeal of things like "Seinfeld," "Friends," soap operas or sitcoms, the WWF and watching sports (not playing, but watching), or things like mystery/crime or general "true-life" fiction books.  I find this stuff dreary and uninteresting in general.

I'm not saying this to insult anyone who digs any of the above -- I'm pointing out that it is because of this that I don't comprehend the appeal on a personal level, though I can intellectually understand the appeal to an extent.

Now, given the above, I may not understand what "mainstream" means at all as you present it for this specific topic.  Thus, what do you consider mainstream RPGs?  And what are the actual, definitive qualities of a mainstream RPG?

How would I actually design a mainstream RPG?

I think you were meaning to say Everway is an example...but I'm confused, how the heck is it mainstream?  You also mention Kayfabe, which I understand has this appeal since it's wrestling, and wrestling is mainstream.

To clarify my confusion for you, I'm sitting here wondering: ok, wrestling = mainstream.  Does that mean you have to design the "Friends" RPG or "Sitcom: the RPG" in order to be mainstream?  Yet, when I consider that "Sandman" has been stated to be a mainstream comic I wonder how the heck it is.


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on November 13, 2002, 09:53:45 PM
I know what you mean, Raven. Thing is about mainstream is it tends to change over time. Baseball used to be the national pasttime, now football is much more popular and NASCAR and WWE is also carrying a decent-sized media clout.

So talking about mainstream RPGs is a lot like a bit a comedian riffed on once. Paraphrasing:

"People are always talking about alternative comedy and how to make it more popular. I know how to make alternative comedy more popular. Make it more mainstream."

I think that, to a certain exstent, saying mainstream is as helpful as saying realism in regards to RPG design is. It can be slippery.

That said, I think that what seems to be the topic here is not so much what mainstream is or is not, but just realising that D&D fantasy, and I think it is worth mentioning that this does not necessarily mean D&D itself, while it may be a dominant product in the RPG hobby (please stop calling it an industry, folks) is definately not mainstream as per the bulk of human being crawling about out there. Only gamer geeks "get" D&D fantasy. Just like how super heroes are not mainstream even though they dominate in comic books.

Also, there are many lobes to mainstream it seems. I don't think too many people with mainstream tastes would appreciate Sandman, but if they're into fantasy of a more mainstream variety, not D&D fantasy, they will. You see?

I don't know anymore. It's late as I'm writing this. But I think the idea is to make games that appeal to a more mainstream audience because this is the only way to broaden the appeal of RPGs, to break the gamer geek image of it. Or such is what I'm taking away from this. And if that means a Seinfeld RPG. Why not?


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: talysman on November 13, 2002, 10:03:03 PM
Raven,

I think Ron means that Sorcerer is mainstream in comparison to D&D, which is fringe. D&D and Vampire/Werewolf are the most popular RPGs (some would say) and definitely get a lion's share of the shelfspace, but what would be their equivalent in, say, television?

the D&D cartoon and Kindred: the Embrace. and not much else.

... whereas supernatural horror outside of RPGs is pretty popular, even among non-geeks. and people we would regard as "normal" went to see Star Wars. Excalibur and Ladyhawke aren't just for hardcore fantasy fans. science fiction, fantasy, and horror are somewhat mainstream: most people don't devote their life to those genres, but they like to entertain themselves from time to time with serious (or even frivolous) fantasy.

compare that to Vampire. you pretend to be a vampire. with the exception of a few Anne Rice novels, not really considered a mainstream topic.

"do you have anything written from the vampire's point of view?" Otto, from TV's "The Simpsons"

and compare it to D&D: hack-and-slash fantasy. listen to some comments people make about UO or Everquest, sometime... comments abouut geeks running around collecting suits of armor and magic swords, or logging onto a computer system to chop wood for several hours.

compare that to a game where you pretend to be in King Arthur's Camelot. that doesn't sound as fringe, does it?

superhero RPGs are in the same boat. Ron has already pointed out the superhero comics aren't mainstream, although gritty detective-style graphic novels about the Dark Knight are more palatable outside of fandom, as is a graphic novel about the holocaust written from the viewpoint of anthropomorphic mice (hey, Time and Newsweek did feature articles on it, so it must be somewhat mainstream...)

but consider this possible inventory for an "RPG45" store:

  • d20 Afghanistan
  • apocalyptic rpgs like The End
  • GURPS WWII and Godlike
  • TOON
  • Transhuman Space
  • a selection of Cheapass Games
  • supernatural horror RPGs, including Sorceror
  • some movie/tv tie-ins (Buffy, Star Wars)
  • D&D and World of Darkness corebooks, one short shelf (but the store will be happy to make individual orders...)
  • [/list:u]

    there are certainly holes in the list, because the financial realities of the RPG industry discourage anything that isn't a clone of D&D/WoD or some superhero game. I know there was at least one film noire RPG ... so where are the rest? where are the the rpgs that let you pretend to be Billy Jack, defending the commune against rednecks? where is Shaft, the RPG? and where
is the sitcom rpg?


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: joshua neff on November 14, 2002, 12:04:07 AM
Wow. Great stuff, Ron. Not surprisingly, I agree. I've been saying for a while that what the "gaming world" needs is less "gamers" & more "people who like playing RPGs."

(And I agree regarding comics, too. And I'm a HUGE fan of superheroes as a "genre." In fact, it's the fringey weirdness that I love the most. Let's face it, superheroes are fucking bizarre. Outlandish costumes, stupid names, weird-ass "super powers"--at their best, superheroes are acid-trippy & surreal-as-shit. I love that. Interestingly, I'm coming to think of D&D in the same way. As Ken Hite noted--& someone quoted this in the Sorcerer thread about Lord of the Rings--D&D is one fucked-up collage of a version of Fantasy. It's a confused hodge-podge. And I sort of like that. Not played as comedy, not as hipster irony, but as a sort-of-Dada take on Epic Fantasy slammed head-over-ass-first into Sword & Sorcery. D&D is to Lord of the Rings what Jack Kirby's "Fourth World" is to Greek Mythology. At least, when it's at its best. At its worst, it's as bad as...I dunno, Secret Wars II or some such. With as much appeal as crappy superhero comics to people outside of the small circle of inbred fanboys.)

I'd LOVE to see more mainstream stuff in comics & RPGs. No, Raven, not "Friends: the RPG", but an RPG for people who like Friends. Or The West Wing. Or ER. Or All My Children. Or James Joyce. Or Toni Morrison. Or Nora Roberts. Gaming is a fun & interesting way to spend time. There's no reason to limit it to "like D&D." In fact, there's every reason not to. And there's every reason to include D&D, as well. Roleplaying game is vast, it contains multitudes.


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Pramas on November 14, 2002, 12:47:24 AM
Quote from: greyorm

Yeah, but...pg45 does it.
A couple of my local Insurance Agencies do it.
The local car lot does it (no jokes about car salesmen, please).
Many door-to-door salesmen do it.
The local colleges do it (in their recruiting depts).

So I'm wondering why you think a staff with the qualities you mention are in any way mythical, since I see exactly this sort of staff working in every successful business every single day?


Your examples are mostly salespeople. Good sales people are a) hard to find and b) usually work on some sort of commission system. I'm sure there are some people who fit Ron's profile, but it would be difficult to find a whole staff of those folks in one geographic area. Even if you could, then you'd need to find a good way to compensate them. You are not going to get a highly motivated sales force for $8/hour, at least not one that's going to last.

And again, even if all that were to occur, the RPG store Ron outlined is still not viable economically. I just don't think you could bring in adequete income to pay for rent, stock, staff, utilities, and so on selling RPGs, especially if you specifically do not stock the best selling RPG titles.


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: greyorm on November 14, 2002, 03:43:35 AM
Hrm...

Josh...that's my question, though...how do you write an RPG like that, or rather, to appeal to that?  I don't get it.  Heck, I didn't even recognize any of the people on your list, and I don't know what the heck The West Wing is (hospital show? show about the government?), so that should tell you where I'm coming from.

And just so no one gets the wrong idea, I'm not arguing that RPGs should be limited to be "like D&D," far from it!  I agree, this sounds like a good idea.  I just don't have the faintest clue what it MEANS, in actuality, as definite product (not talking sales here, just the actual, physical product and idea).

Chris,

That's the point though...what are the best-selling comics titles?
Well, the superhero comics, of course!

...

But wait, those aren't really the best-selling comic titles outside the established fan-base for such things...that is, they aren't the mainstream titles that sell well.

Compare Ron's examples of mainstream comic shops, like pg45, to the grungy traditional comic shops...who is outselling who?  It's precisely backwards of what we think it should be.

In the RPG hobby, the current bestsellers are the bestsellers precisely because that's what the fan-boys buy...just as it is (was?) in comics.

Compare:
Superheroes are your bestseller because fan-boy comic-geeks buy superhero comics...but that isn't the mainstream market and doesn't have mainstream market potential, whereas other products which are and do outsell it as mainstream products.

D&D is your bestseller because fan-boy gamers buy D&D...but that isn't the mainstream market and doesn't have mainstream market potential, whereas other products which are and do would outsell it as mainstream products.

So saying, "It won't succeed because you aren't stocking the best sellers" misses the whole point behind not stocking niche-market titles (regardless that they are bestsellers in their niche).  The market bears out that you won't succeed by stocking the best-sellers because they are of niche-value.


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: joshua neff on November 14, 2002, 08:39:50 AM
Raven--

You don't know what The West Wing is? Damn, son, you need to get out more. Or...stay in, rather. With the TV on. Uh...anyway. (The West Wing (http://www.nbc.com/The_West_Wing/index.html) is a drama set in the White House, featuring Martin Sheen as a way-too-liberal-to-ever-really-be-elected-these-days President of the US. It's one of my favorite shows.)

The point is, I think one way to bring "mainstream" people into RPGs is to offer RPGs that are more mainstream: Mystery RPGs. Drama RPGs. Science fiction RPGs (that offer neither "kewl" abilities nor lots of chunky mechanics.) Historical RPGs without the occult stuff. Stuff like SOAP, only minus the camp (which it doesn't have to have, I suppose). Or Wuthering Heights. Or fantasy stuff that, unlike D&D, is actually based on mythology & folklore, with the system to back up that kind of thing.

Now, granted, I like weird occult stuff. But I also like reg'lar ol' dramas & stuff. I like (some--admittedly, very few) sitcoms. There are a lot of people out there who, I think, could very well get into RPGs, if it were for the "geeky D&D" stigma. A lot of that is misplaced. But having been to two GenCons now, I can attest that a lot of it is spot on, too.


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Paul Czege on November 14, 2002, 09:00:50 AM
Chris,

And again, even if all that were to occur, the RPG store Ron outlined is still not viable economically. I just don't think you could bring in adequete income to pay for rent, stock, staff, utilities, and so on selling RPGs, especially if you specifically do not stock the best selling RPG titles.

All good points that are addressed, I think, by the Brigadoon store concept. Last year my girlfriend and I went to a local city's annual Home Expo event. And among all the retail booths displaying vinyl replacement windows, floor coverings, mini blinds, hot tubs, and kitchen refinishing services was a guy selling leather wallets, and a woman selling Jose Madrid gourmet salsa. As Kirt suggested, the pg45 model is based on capturing the mainstream "girlfriend" who got dragged along to the store by a boyfriend with an interest in comics. The problem, quite honestly, with RPG's is with the lack of a series model of publishing there's no good way to have a "pull" system in the back of the store that brings mainstream folks into the place with any regularity. So what you need is a store that magically appears in a context like home expo shows where friends and girlfriends and folks otherwise marginally interested in the larger event have been drug along. This is an occasional store, without ongoing overhead or staff costs.

Paul


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: James Holloway on November 14, 2002, 09:38:09 AM
Quote from: Pramas

And again, even if all that were to occur, the RPG store Ron outlined is still not viable economically. I just don't think you could bring in adequete income to pay for rent, stock, staff, utilities, and so on selling RPGs, especially if you specifically do not stock the best selling RPG titles.


Hmmm. But is anyone suggesting not stocking D&D at all? I agree, that seems pretty unlikely to succeed. I'm sure pg45 or other alt-comics shops still carry Superman. If we follow that model, the D&D stuff should be available, it just shouldn't dictate the attitude of the store, or be pitched as "the big thing."

But I think that the broader point is that things that seem "alternative" or "fringe" in a hobby where D&D dominates might seem "mainstream" if you come at it from a different perspective. Which is probably true enough, though I have my reservations about it from a retail perspective.

For example, comics have spent years trying to get out of the "dumb superheroes for kids" stereotype, even when it wasn't true. It's only in the last few years that non-supers comics are starting to get broader media attention and people who don't read supers comics are starting to read things like Ghost World in numbers. I don't know if gaming has had anywhere near the opportunity to avoid the "dumb games for dorks" stereotype.

Or in other words, while I think there's probably a lot to learn from this model, I think that for a variety of reasons comics don't map to RPGs terribly well.  But that's just me.

- James


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 14, 2002, 09:56:24 AM
Hello Chris,

ONE
As a rule, I mean exactly what I say. In the quote you pulled from my post, I state that RPG insiders (retailers, distributors, publishers) tend to seize upon "one thing" which is magically supposed to benefit "the industry" (which I translate as "me," referring to the person speaking) if everyone simply does it. Such discussions are wholly empty - they always translate as, "If everyone acts to benefit me, I'll benefit." Furthermore, the evidence or basis that the thing-de-jour will actually work is dubious at best, since it almost always involves deep-ordering a particular product.

By the Vulcan nerve-pinch comment, I think it's easily understood. You're on the industry mailing lists and forums just like me, and you can, I'm sure, identify any number of instances in which recrimination and backbiting overrides whatever topic is at hand - and I suggest that such activity serves as a defense against further investigating uncomfortable thoughts. I won't provide examples here because we're not supposed to make those interactions public.

TWO
Now to the more trenchant points of your last post. You seem to be under the impression that I'm proposing this sort of store as a possible real thing. I'm not. Again, I mean exactly what I say and nothing more, and you can re-read my posts on this thread and the companion thread accordingly - I am saying that we, meaning myself and similar publishers, need to reconsider the meanings of "mainstream" and "alternative" as I've outlined.

The store issue is a bit of a red herring, although only a bit. Page 45 did very well as a store by considering this terminological distinction, and by walking the walk that it implies. But that's as far as I go; since I'm not a retailer, I'm not interested in duplicating Page 45, but in learning and applying its lesson in my terms. I think we apply it as publishers in terms of interacting with our market.

As for reaching that market itself, that's a big toss-up. I am not proposing that the cure is to set up a new kind of store; I agree, it seems daunting. I also agree that the current stores, with some exceptions, are not helping. Perhaps the typical retail store is not the best venue for Sorcerer, for instance (bearing in mind that my game makes money, and that Adept Press operates at a gain).

If the kind of store that we're battin' around cannot occur (as you claim), then yes, different modes of marketing, promotion, and distribution are necessary. And, smiling innocently but a little threateningly, I've already gone and done that: by literally inventing, for RPGs, a new approach to internet sales and a new approach to convention play. Adept Press and the Forge exist for that sort of innovation. Paul's comments seem right on the money to me.

Best,
Ron


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: xiombarg on November 14, 2002, 01:18:00 PM
Quote from: Paul Czege
This is an occasional store, without ongoing overhead or staff costs.

Interesting model. However, I kinda wanna defy Chris and claim that that sort of store IS viable as an ongoing concern, as long as you're willing to do orders. Remember the smelly guy I mentioned whose store was full of bugs? He didn't stock very much stuff, in reality. He has a lot of display space he didn't use. He just ordered what you wanted, and had regular customers who came in to get what they'd ordered. That store was economically viable enough that he was able to sell it and move away, and the store still exists under (cleaner) ownership. Now imagine a store that uses that sort of model (supplemented, perhaps, with mail orders) to maintain a clean, hip store on the Page45 model. I think it's quite economically viable, especially as even the hardcore gamers would be more likely to stay and browse in such an environment, and wouldn't be ashamed to bring girlfriends/relatives along to the store.

And the "pull" model is viable for most gamer-intensive RPGs. While the stock would concentrate on stand-alone games with less supplements, the store could make plenty of money on hardcore "supplement junkies". "Yeah, if it's for Mage and it's new, I want it." (Don't tell me these people don't exists... I know for a fact they do. I used to be one of them.)


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: talysman on November 14, 2002, 02:27:05 PM
Quote from: xiombarg
Quote from: Paul Czege
This is an occasional store, without ongoing overhead or staff costs.

Interesting model. However, I kinda wanna defy Chris and claim that that sort of store IS viable as an ongoing concern, as long as you're willing to do orders. Remember the smelly guy I mentioned whose store was full of bugs? He didn't stock very much stuff, in reality. He has a lot of display space he didn't use. He just ordered what you wanted, and had regular customers who came in to get what they'd ordered. That store was economically viable enough that he was able to sell it and move away, and the store still exists under (cleaner) ownership. Now imagine a store that uses that sort of model (supplemented, perhaps, with mail orders) to maintain a clean, hip store on the Page45 model. I think it's quite economically viable, especially as even the hardcore gamers would be more likely to stay and browse in such an environment, and wouldn't be ashamed to bring girlfriends/relatives along to the store.

And the "pull" model is viable for most gamer-intensive RPGs. While the stock would concentrate on stand-alone games with less supplements, the store could make plenty of money on hardcore "supplement junkies". "Yeah, if it's for Mage and it's new, I want it." (Don't tell me these people don't exists... I know for a fact they do. I used to be one of them.)


yeah, I believe the Pg45 store Ron mentioned ordered superhero comics, so it's certainly part of an established model. make a good store. stock interesting stuff that could potentially interest people who have never played D&D, WoD, or Champions. have the core books for those major fringe products, but just don't push them. I mean, you aren't going to get very many new D&D players or WoD players; fringe groups recruit their own.

here are some more ideas:
  • carry games, not just RPGs.
    like I said, there's a chain of mall gamestores that almost follows the Pg45 model, but they only carry a few shelves of RPGs and stock the wrong products. the idea is to get "normal" people to browse RPGs. "normal" people will go to a game store, if there's more than just fringe stuff there. they will go for Monopoly and custom chess sets.
  • have an in-store game database.
    maybe an internet-enabled terminal that searches for reviews on a couple prominent RPG sites?
  • let the fringe people know they're still welcome.
    put up a new releases board; no gaudy promotional materials for WotC/WW, just some good descriptions of product releases. put up a prominent sign that says "we can order games and game suppliments".
  • hire non-surly employees.
    everyone's been making a big deal about the impossibility of finding knowledgeable sales staff. well, guess what? good sales people become knowledgeable. you would hire people who are friendly, know what an RPG is, and know that they have to keep up on press releases and reviews. they don't need encyclopedic knowledge of every RPG ever written; they can look stuff up in the game database. they just need to keep up-to-date on what's happening. when I worked in tech support, I was expected to keep up-to-date on technology; I didn't have to get a certification for everything that hit the stores, but I was expected to read slashdot, wired, zdnet, and other tech sites to get a good idea of what was happening in the computer world.
    [/list:u]

    of course, Ron's not actually talking about starting a store. he's talking about us working towards redefining the backwards definitions of the RPG industry... and perhaps also encouraging designers to to seriously consider the question "what is a mainstream RPG?" and fill that void.

    it's kind of weird. the Forge, in part, is supposed to be devoted to pushing the limits of RPG design, testing experimental RPGs... but because of the backwards definition of "mainstream/alternative", a mainstream RPG is experimental. designing a serious drama RPG that would interest people who watch "St. Elsewhere" and "The Practice" would truly push the limits of the hobby.

    want a comparison? what about computer games? the computer gaming industry has been catering primarily to males who like war and lots of sci-fi/fantasy chrome. there were, of course, women playing these games, too, but it was an overwhelmingly young male market. the popular "female games" or "older male" games are things like tetris -- but you rarely hear about the latest exciting "puzzle game", nor do you see a major tv ad blitz for "rubik's cube for playstation". the ads focus on the fringe, not the mainstream.

    but what's the number one computer game right now? The Sims. a game that is attracting a more mixed market, both gender-wise and age-wise. The Sims is a "mainstream computer game". it may help restore some balance to the computer game industry.

    we need "The Sims" for RPGs. not literally (although I have ideas on how to do that...) but we do need more games that aren't all about dungeon-crawling or collecting gewgaws or dark imagery or hip cynicism. these all have their place, but where are the mainstream games? how can you have an alternative to the mainstream if there's no mainstream?


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 14, 2002, 02:34:49 PM
Hi folks,

This might help with John's conundrum ... remember, surrealism, fantasy (non-D&D), science fiction, adventure, historical, biography, sex, and humor are all mainstream.

So Toon is a mainstream-content game; so is (wait for it) ... Over the Edge. So is Zero. So is InSpectres, and so is Sorcerer.

Some of you might now be confused, because mainstream = "what everyone does," right? Wrong. It's what most people like. A given business, the RPG one for instance, may be saddled with practices that literally stifle the ability of mainstream-content consumers to perceive the mainstream-content products. It's exactly what happened to comics.

Nowhere in my definitions does it say that mainstream = sells widely for current games. I do suggest that certain modes of getting mainstream content to mainstream customers are currently largely untapped.

Best,
Ron


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Pramas on November 14, 2002, 02:54:14 PM
Quote from: Ron Edwards

ONE
As a rule, I mean exactly what I say. In the quote you pulled from my post, I state that RPG insiders (retailers, distributors, publishers) tend to seize upon "one thing" which is magically supposed to benefit "the industry" (which I translate as "me," referring to the person speaking) if everyone simply does it. Such discussions are wholly empty - they always translate as, "If everyone acts to benefit me, I'll benefit." Furthermore, the evidence or basis that the thing-de-jour will actually work is dubious at best, since it almost always involves deep-ordering a particular product.


Afraid that wasn't clear. Thanks for clarifying.


Quote
I am saying that we, meaning myself and similar publishers, need to reconsider the meanings of "mainstream" and "alternative" as I've outlined.


Do you really?

What you are talking about is expanding the roleplaying market, so why not talk about in those terms? All this talk about how the "world is upside down" and how the minority is really the majority sounds like an empty discussion to me.

The crux of your argument is that there is a large, untapped part of the general population that could get turned on to RPGs if exposed to the right game or games. Fair enough, I agree. The crucial question then is not, "Who's the real mainstream?" it's "How can we reach those people?"

The traditional three-tier system won't do it because it is designed to serve the current gaming market (and that market belongs to D&D/d20 and to a lesser extent the World of Darkness games). Again, I agree that most current retail stores are not ideal places to recruit a new kind of gamer.

The actual design of these games is a secondary concern to delivery. You can design the best, most engaging intro RPG in the world, but it won't find a new audience unless you find a way to get it front of its target audience. To me, that's the challenge.

With Mutants & Masterminds, I hope to expand into the comic market. That was foremost in my mind when I decided to make it a complete OGL game rather than a strict d20 game and when I made of point of getting name comic artists to work on the book. Now the comic market may seem like a close cousin to the game market, but few attempts to crack it have been successful. Diamond has gotten behind M&M and initially signs are good. We'll see how it goes from here.

We have another game scheduled for next year designed with the book trade in mind. It's going to be a gamble, but I'm willing to take it if it gives us a shot at finding a new audience for RPGs.


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 14, 2002, 03:03:44 PM
Hi Chris,

You wrote,
"The crucial question then is not, 'Who's the real mainstream?' it's 'How can we reach those people?'"

I agree. However, the mainstream/alternative distinction offers an excellent way to reorient game folks toward this goal - which is to say, it's not the world which is upside down, it's our own terminology and concepts. Worked for Page 45 (in that they walked the walk); might work for us (ditto).

The other useful part of re-examining the terminology is to identify the "those people" you refer to. It's probably a little surprising to some people to see me say that Over the Edge, for instance, is mainstream content (surrealist modern fantasy, subset satire). Dread is too (action/horror), as are Kayfabe (pro wrestling) and Soap (soap opera). I am absolutely pining for the RPG which takes similar topics as comics like Strangers in Paradise and Box Office Poison.

In other words, in my view, geek/gamer culture tends to forget that the "straights" like a lot of weird stuff. Defining "mainstream" on the Page 45 basis gets us around that problem.

Best,
Ron


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Pramas on November 14, 2002, 03:08:22 PM
Quote from: greyorm

So saying, "It won't succeed because you aren't stocking the best sellers" misses the whole point behind not stocking niche-market titles (regardless that they are bestsellers in their niche).  The market bears out that you won't succeed by stocking the best-sellers because they are of niche-value.


Geez, I feel like an economist in this discussion. Crikey.

Leaving aside the theorizing, the hard numbers just don't add up to success.

In most typical game stores these days, RPGs account for a quarter to a third of their revenue. The rest comes from minis, CCGs, LANs, and accessories. D&D/d20, World of Darkness, and Rifts probably account for 80% of RPG sales. Now if you remove that, you can see that the revenue stream is going to be really small at base. Now maybe you can increase that with snappy presentation, faux hipness, and a good salesmanship, but I still don't think you could make enough money to survive.

As to the selling of D&D and the like as special orders, sure, you could do that. But most D&D fans would go to typical game stores or their local Borders/Waldnebooks, where the books would be in stock and immediately available to them. Why would they want to patronize a store that is trying to marginalize them?


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on November 14, 2002, 03:59:07 PM
Hi Ron,

A question for my addled brain:

Could we take a moment and remove the words mainstream and alternative from the discussion, and replace them, respectively, with "set" and "subset"?

I ask because a) "mainstream" and "alternative" seem loaded words for several reasons, and b) because that seems to be what you're saying.

Super hero comics are essentially a subset of SF genre, when we allow SF to be as friggin' broad a genre as it is.  When anyone assumes that they're favorite style of SF (comic book heroes) is all that matters, and builds a store as a shrine to that subset, they of course are cutting out anyone else who might be interested in *anything else* outside of that subset -- who still might be interested in SF.

By this light, when you set up poor ol' little D&D Fantasy against SF, Sex, Melodrama... And so on... Of course it's out matched.  But I'm not sure if the comparison is of much value.  D&D Fantasy may be specific to itself, but its clearly a subset of the SF/Fantasy shelves at the local B&N.

When it comes to RPGs, many people do assume that AD&D is RPGs (litterally, you can find dozens of people at any con who will claim this.)  And if more people don't like D&D, then they're never going to play an RPG.

So, I think an important question is: is the issue simply to open up the designer and retailer imagination to the larger set of genre/color elements than the redoubtable "Gather a Team, Loot Stuff" model.

That, to me, is a matter of sets and subsets, and leaves behind the murky claims of mainstream and alternative.

Also, I need to add that D&D is specific not only in it's genre conventions (a specific stew that might be classed within or agains SF, Sex, Melodrama...), but as a game itself.

The arcana of the spell lists, die modifiers and such make it the game it is... And a lot of people love it for that.  A game like Sorcerer doesn't have that, and a lot of people love it for that.

This then, moves us past genre and into mechanics -- which no one has addressed yet (if I recall) -- in part, I think because of the genre stuff at the head of the thread.

But, if most people might not like the rules arcana of D&D, but might like a cool, social storytelling-improvisation-thing (and who knows?), then that has nothing to do with genre, and everything to do with the difference between an art store stocking both charcoal and oil paint.  

I understand your point about flipping things over -- people who love D&D assume that Sorcerer doesn't sell as well because who needs that little game anyway, while you'll see Sorcerer just needing to get out to the world... But I don't think this has anything to do with genre and everthing to do with what the players are doing.

That to me seems to be what needs flipping as a standard assumption.

And this point isn't about sets and subsets.  This is about apples and oranges.  Or rather, G and N.

Take care,

Christopher


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: talysman on November 14, 2002, 04:23:03 PM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
Hi folks,

This might help with John's conundrum ... remember, surrealism, fantasy (non-D&D), science fiction, adventure, historical, biography, sex, and humor are all mainstream.

So Toon is a mainstream-content game; so is (wait for it) ... Over the Edge. So is Zero. So is InSpectres, and so is Sorcerer.

Some of you might now be confused, because mainstream = "what everyone does," right? Wrong. It's what most people like. A given business, the RPG one for instance, may be saddled with practices that literally stifle the ability of mainstream-content consumers to perceive the mainstream-content products. It's exactly what happened to comics.

Nowhere in my definitions does it say that mainstream = sells widely for current games. I do suggest that certain modes of getting mainstream content to mainstream customers are currently largely untapped.

Best,
Ron


thanks, Ron. I did remember that you mentioned the point about humor, surrealism, etc., being mainstream (right in your first post!) and I would agree that TOON is mainstream. but, as I'm sure you'll agree, shelf space, marketing, and product development in the RPG industry concentrates on clones of one of the fringe games. I see TOON on the shelves only once in a great while. why? judging by the popularity of Powerpuff Girls, it should be a lot more popular. and why aren't the stores and publishers concentrating on getting more games like TOON and Sorcerer out on the market instead of the next WoD or D&D suppliment?

and when someone does promote a mainstream game, they tend to exaggerate the elements that would appeal most to the players of fringe games. even with all the mainstream RPGs that could be marketed better, I still think we could use more of them, and a greater variety.


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: talysman on November 14, 2002, 04:31:38 PM
Quote from: Pramas

As to the selling of D&D and the like as special orders, sure, you could do that. But most D&D fans would go to typical game stores or their local Borders/Waldnebooks, where the books would be in stock and immediately available to them. Why would they want to patronize a store that is trying to marginalize them?


because it's clean.

because the salespeople smile instead of being surly.

because your girlfriend will go in with you instead of getting pissed and staying in the car.

maybe that's not enough, but it's a start.


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 14, 2002, 05:23:53 PM
Hello,

Chris, you seem to be missing, or ignoring, the point of this thread. It is emphatically not to propose that "the mainstream store" come into existence. Page 45 is used as an example for its approach, not as a retail outlet per se. I've explained this already at least once.

Therefore, your plethora of reasons, some of which are valid and some of which seem questionable, for why such a store can't work, aren't to the point - no one is suggesting one or proposing to start one.

If you'd like to start a thread about this issue, please feel free, especially if you can articulate something to propose or suggest, rather than arguing against a nonexistent opponent.

Christopher, your "set" and "subset" are fine, but it's exactly the loaded nature of the terms mainstream and alternative that I'm proposing we exploit - especially because in this case, in doing so, we would not be lying.

Best,
Ron


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: C. Edwards on November 14, 2002, 06:32:58 PM
I want to offer up an example of a very similar retail approach, namely Criminal Records in the Little Five Points area of Atlanta, Georgia.  I don't have any "insider" information; I was simply a customer while I lived in Atlanta.

Criminal Records sales three things: compact discs (new & used), magazines, and comic books/graphic novels.  In each of these three categories they carry a very purposeful selection.  Purposeful in the sense that the items carried promote a certain in-store atmosphere, customer base, and overall store image in the minds of the consumer.

The store has a fairly small retail space, with a more or less equal distribution of that space among the three categories.  In the comics area there is space for the "standard" titles but at least half of the comics space is taken up by what most comic aficionados would consider very "fringe" titles.  This same pattern is seen in the cd section, a few "well-known" titles mainly surrounded by, well, the "cool" stuff.  The magazine section is built the same way, some more wide-spread titles amongst a more eclectic, and I think much more interesting, selection of magazines ranging from cardstock "punk" manifestos to high-gloss alternative art mags.

The store is clean, well organized, has knowledgeable and personable staff, and an amazingly diverse customer base.  I think that a good deal of the store's appeal is due to customers knowing that they don't have to settle for the same old thing, the staff can be frighteningly helpful, and that while some items may not be up your alley everything in Criminal Records is interesting enough to make you stop and go "hmmm".  All this gets passed on to friends, relatives, co-workers, etc., many of which at least stop in to give the place a look.

A store modeled like this could easily have a section of RPGs at least as interesting and diverse as the other sections, and they would sell.  While that may not be anyone's idea of a "game store", who cares?  These kinds of stores are as much about culture and lifestyle as they are about schlocking cd's to the masses.

And now inevitably, I'm rambling...

-Chris


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Pramas on November 14, 2002, 06:39:32 PM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
Hello,

Chris, you seem to be missing, or ignoring, the point of this thread. It is emphatically not to propose that "the mainstream store" come into existence. Page 45 is used as an example for its approach, not as a retail outlet per se. I've explained this already at least once.


Yes, and that's why I didn't mention it in my last response to you. However, several other participants in this thread had specific comments and questions about the retail model. I thought it would be polite to answer posts directed at me.


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: greyorm on November 14, 2002, 07:41:51 PM
Chris,
Quote
Leaving aside the theorizing, the hard numbers just don't add up to success.

I think you're missing the point here -- yes, 1/4 to 1/3 of the revenue comes from "mainstream" RPGs and similar, and 80% of that comes from D&D and WoD.  Turn it on its head: D&D and WoD are responsible for 80% of the sales by alternative shoppers at a game store (1/4 to 1/3 of your shoppers), not the mainstream shoppers (the other 3/4 to 2/3).

If you go mainstream, your revenue INCREASES by promoting product lines that appeal to a larger percentage of the population than the few who are buying that 80%...because you're selling a different product in a different atmosphere which appeals to the larger segment.

It isn't feasible?  The hard numbers don't add up?
Yet...page 45.  Again, I'll say it, page 45.
It's a successful business model...not a fluke.

Think about it: "Mainstream" comics aren't sold at page 45, "mainstream" comics which provide 80% of a regular comic store's revenue aren't sold at page 45.

The hard numbers DO add up...else please explain why the page 45 philosophy is successful and works, when they avoid/ignore (except for special orders) the product which produces 80% of the revenue for the regular comic-book store?

For a game store, you don't lose sales by cutting out the 1/4 of the market you're currently pitching to, you gain sales of a similar sort from other items which actually interest the mainstream shopper, not the niche market shopper.
In total, your RPG revenue totals increase, no longer being restricted to that 1/3 to 1/4 of your shoppers, because you aren't selling to just that 1/4 of the shopping population of your store anymore, you're selling to the greater amount.


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 14, 2002, 07:52:14 PM
Hi there,

You know, Chris (Pramas), you're right. I was pegging you as the "won't shut up about the store guy," and I was wrong.

Chris E and Raven, check out my previous post, above. C'mon guys - it's not about the store. It's not about the store. If you wanna talk about that, start another thread, please.

Best,
Ron


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: greyorm on November 14, 2002, 08:13:58 PM
Sorry, Ron, feel free to break it off into a seperate topic.
I felt it was relevant since we're talking about numbers and audience here, regardless of the idea of the store itself.


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: talysman on November 14, 2002, 09:53:56 PM
Quote from: Ron Edwards

Chris E and Raven, check out my previous post, above. C'mon guys - it's not about the store. It's not about the store. If you wanna talk about that, start another thread, please.


in a sense, though, it is about the store. or, at least, changing marketing and publishing in such a way that such a store doesn't seem so fantastic.

even if you switch to talking about a purely internet/mail-order model, you're still talking about changing the website design and product inventory to reflect a similar change in the way "fringe" and "mainstream" games are sold.

the way I see it, RPG publishers who want to expand sales need to focus on "going mainstream". how do you do that?

make more mainstream games.

market those games as if you were speaking to the mainstream, instead of to the fringe.

if possible, broaden your inventory to related items of interest.


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Jon H on November 15, 2002, 01:32:26 AM
This maybe an oversimplification, but I think what Ron is getting at is this:

Pg45 took something marginalised and 'fannish' and blew it wide open, attracting a much wider clientele than their competitiors (apparently).  

We as RPG producers work with something marginalised and 'fannish'.

What can we learn from Pg45?


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: quozl on November 15, 2002, 05:49:12 AM
Maybe I'm being simplistic but if you want to change how your game is perceived ("it's not a niche product, it's mainsteam"), then why not change the label which is making others perceive you as a niche product?

In oher words, don't call your game an "rpg".  I think White Wolf actually did this by calling Vampire a "storytelling game" and it seemed to work.  Why can't we do the same?  If we want our games to be carried with the mainstream games, we should label them like the mainstream games.  (ie "Frankenstein's Monsters: Horrific fun for the whole family" rather than "Frankenstein's Monsters: A roleplaying game".)


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Walt Freitag on November 15, 2002, 07:21:44 AM
Marketing and store-presentation and delivery and labeling are all well and good, but isn't there a more important issue here?

Quote from: Pramas
The crux of your argument is that there is a large, untapped part of the general population that could get turned on to RPGs if exposed to the right game or games. Fair enough, I agree. The crucial question then is not, "Who's the real mainstream?" it's "How can we reach those people?"


I agree too. But I think the crucial question is, do "the right game or games" exist?

My considered opinion is that if it has a "rule book" that weighs more than two ounces, it's not going to appeal to large new parts of the general population, no matter what "it" is or what its subject matter. (Personal computers are a notable exception. But they were adopted with great reluctance and out of necessity).

Hence, my interest in RPG designs that shift the bulk of the content out of the "system" and into runtime situation-building tools designed to be handled individually and independently, like the cards in a card game (but without actually being a card game in the sense of Magic or Munchkin).

(The only difference between Trivial Pursuit and dozens of trivia games that preceded it unnoticed by the general population was all the others had [or in many cases were] books of questions, instead of questions on individual cards.)

- Walt


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 15, 2002, 08:11:04 AM
Hi there,

John (Talysman), dude, please, all that belongs in another thread. I'd rather not have to lock this one, but I don't think I've encountered this much resistance about very basic Forge practices in a long time.

Jon (Hodgson), yes, that summarizes my position very well.

Quozl, I'm a little dubious about changing the names or terms for a given product, again, using comics as the example. All the pompous insistence on the term graphic novel, for instance, served no purpose but to alienate both comics readers who might like the real-mainstream content and non-comics readers from the medium. The effect was compounded by Marvel and DC pumping out hundreds of hastily-produced 128-page softcovers (effectively five-issue miniseries) and calling them "graphic novels," full of plain old standard superhero stuff (and bad at that).

Vampire's use of "storytelling" in its promotion, in my view, not only killed the validity of the term for potential new-to-RPG folks, but also for existing hobbyists. "Story" has taken on a bitter and unhappy connotation in our hobby. Despite all of my definitions and thousands of words and hundreds of hours spent on the topic, the casual role-player equates Narrativism with navel-gazing, non-dice-rolling, talky role-playing, specifically using White Wolf games. That's the result of the tactic you're describing, unfortunately. The mainstream vs. alternative distinction I'm talking about has to be backed up by the games' actual content and the experience of playing them, not by further terms.

Walt, I do think the right games already exist. A lot of them are slimmer than the RPG-ideal (in three-tier terms), yes. Many of them are right here on the Forge, although I can cite games back to 1980 or so. I also think you're throwing out the baby with the bathwater when you talk about slimming down system, in that the basics of (say) a Fortune-heavy role-playing system aren't as off-putting as many of us think - we are merely scarred by System-oriented Simulationist design, which, despite its virtues in its own terms, is not very effective for mainstream-friendly play. Games like Dust Devils and Universalis are exceptionally System-dependent, but they are also very accessible and intrinsically interesting, in terms of system. The more-or-less desperate "throw out the dice and numbers" trend in the very late 80s and early 90s is, I think, more of a punt than anything else and not necessarily the most mainstream-friendly approach.

Best,
Ron


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on November 15, 2002, 08:16:58 AM
Hi Ron,

Yes.  As I was retiring last night, it occurred to me you wanted to do exactly that with the terms.

I get it now.  Thanks for the reply.

Christopher


Title: They have marginalized themselves.
Post by: b_bankhead on November 15, 2002, 09:13:43 AM
Quote from: Pramas

As to the selling of D&D and the like as special orders, sure, you could do that. But most D&D fans would go to typical game stores or their local Borders/Waldnebooks, where the books would be in stock and immediately available to them. Why would they want to patronize a store that is trying to marginalize them?


   You've missed the point of Rons discussion dude.  The dungeonheads are ALREADY marginalized, D&D type sword and sorcery is a marginal genre as far as the mainstream is concerned.

  Really, look at movies, in the last thirty years there have been dozens of  successful SF films ,but how many successful sword and sorcery films have there been in that time frame?  Lord of the Rings is almost the only real example and its the best of the best of the best of the genre. The D&D movie was a flop.

  I believe any discussion of marketablility of RPG has to begin with a clean slate.  Clearly the status quo has no idea of how to market to the outside world. After all if they did they'd know how to market THEMSELVES and the stereotype of the RPG gamer would be much more palatable to the outiside world than that of the obsessive smelly geek.

Indeed I'm quite sure that a major portion of the gamer crowd actually ENJOYS  it's marginalization.  How often have I seen on rpg.net the declaration that rpg's CAN'T be mainstream, supposedly because the mundanes are too uncreative to take any form of entertainment not handed onto them on a silver platter, only we the truly creative can possiby 'get it', mostly because of the fact that D&D (in direct contradiction to the oft repeated claim) ISN'T  producing new gamers at any great rate.

   This insularity has really bad effects.  How much of the bad press about rpgs would be regarded as believable or palatable by the mainstream if they had any idea about what rpgs are really about?  And why don't they know?  Because WE AREN'T TELLING THEM!!!!  We are too busy hiding in the gaming shop, using it as a refuge from the world rather than a gateway to it.

In fact although I am working on a long essay on the subject (based on a quarter century of watching the rpg subculture) dealing with a really radical premise "The gaming shop is the last place we should try to advance the cause of rpgs" and 'What gaming needs most is to move out of the hobby shops".


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Walt Freitag on November 15, 2002, 09:13:58 AM
That's just it, I don't really want to throw anything out. I want to reconfigure it so that less of it is represented as "system" (read: stuff somebody has to read before you can start playing) and more as content that directly contributes to run-time play (like the questions in a Trivial Pursuit game).

And I don't mean just hiding the rules somwhere else and creating "such-and-such just happened, now we have to go read the rule for how to resolve it" situations either. What I have in mind might be more like "such-and-such just happened, so draw a such-and-such-type card and read the resolution listed for your character's such-and-such requisite score, filling in the blanks as you choose." (Except I don't want many different types of cards either.)

Some of the slimmer systems on The Forge are indeed good models for the abbreviated system component I'm thinking of. But what's missing is the runtime assistance to take up the slack of no longer having specific options spelled out by the system to default to. From an (admittedly exaggerated) mainstream point of view, Universalis is analogous to if the Trivial Pursuit designers had decided to avoid awkward question books by asking the players to make up the questions themselves during the game. (It's not that most people couldn't do this. Most people could. But for most people it would be too demanding to be fun.)

I like Universalis, it's a great system for me and thee, but my nephews aren't going to play it. It's a matter of how much participants are being put on the spot and expected to perform creatively. Somewhere between Mad Libs ("Pick any adjective") and improv ("invent an element and incorporate it into the scene"), mainstream participation falls away. The key is finding the sweet spots along that continuum. Most people are highly creative, if you give them sufficient constraints. (Paradoxically, the constraints encourage creativity by limiting expectations). Mainstream party games from Charades to Pictionary show this. But the Dictionary Game ("invent a fake definition for this unfamiliar word") is out of mainstream. So is "narrate what happens next." Shadows' "narrate what you/your shadow wants to happen next" nudges it just within range, for some participants at least.

- Walt


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 15, 2002, 09:27:08 AM
Hi Walt,

Good point. I'd put Dust Devils exactly in that sweet spot, given a role-player who can be involved in the introductory process.

(Which, I think, is a necessary assumption. As with comics, people rarely latch onto them in the utter absence of a friend who likes them, so let's include the handy and personable role-playing friend who serves as a door to the mainstream-content role-playing experience. This assumption dovetails with my post to Jesse, above.)

Best,
Ron


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Walt Freitag on November 15, 2002, 09:49:29 AM
Hi Ron,

Good point. The role-playing friend does indeed shift the mainstream-accessibility sweet spots and more than a few indie games are within that range (though I'll have to take your word for it on Dust Devils specifically).

When I said "the right game or games" don't exist, I was reckoning in the absence of the role-playing friend. And since on your side you regard the friend as "necessary," I think we're in complete agreement.

Given the (at least current) necessity of the role-playing friend, it sounds like the most valuable thing to do next would be to ask role-players what they think their non-role-playing friends would be most interested in playing.

- Walt


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: quozl on November 15, 2002, 11:01:55 AM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
Quozl, I'm a little dubious about changing the names or terms for a given product, again, using comics as the example. All the pompous insistence on the term graphic novel, for instance, served no purpose but to alienate both comics readers who might like the real-mainstream content and non-comics readers from the medium.

Best,
Ron


While I see the potential for a name change to come out badly, I also see the potential for it to break through the stigma of D&D for mainstream consumers.  Using your example, I am not a comics fan.  I think the story is lacking and the dialogue is insipid.  Now just from the name "graphic novel", I would pick it up because that name seems to address the thing that I find lacking in comics.  I assume (but have no data) that the term graphic novel brought in people like me and that's why they sell.

I think White Wolf did something similar.  They brought in lots of people who thought that rpg's were lacking "strorytelling" so they picked up White Wolf's storytelling games.

If I'm a non-rpg player and walk into a game store (let's do some roleplaying now!), I am not going to go to the rpg section.  (Actually, in my mind, it will be the D&D section.)  Why should I?  Those games don't interest me.  I'm a non-rpg player.  I go to the games that me and my friends play and I see there's a LOTR Risk game now available, and what's this?  Something called Dust Devils.  It's a little book on playing games like you're inside a Clint Eastwood western movie.  My buddies and I like westerns and it only requires a deck of cards.  I'll pick it up and try it out.  But I would never try it out if it had "rpg" on it since that word is stigmatized and is a type of thing I will never play.

That is why I think a name change may benefit games that want to go mainstream.  For mainstream consumers, D&D is rpg's and all rpg's are D&D.  If you want to be different, you need to get rid of that perception just like the term "graphic novel" got rid of the comics stigma in my perception.


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on November 15, 2002, 12:46:03 PM
Quote from: quozl
Maybe I'm being simplistic but if you want to change how your game is perceived ("it's not a niche product, it's mainsteam"), then why not change the label which is making others perceive you as a niche product?

In oher words, don't call your game an "rpg".  I think White Wolf actually did this by calling Vampire a "storytelling game" and it seemed to work.  


Uhmm... this has already been addressed by others, but no it didn't and no it doesn't. Pacesetter's Sandman Map of Halaal RPG was dubbed a "Dramatic Entertainment Game" and this fooled no one. If anything such things make the publisher out to be pretentious. Ron is pushing it by calling Sorcerer "An Intense Role-Playing Game" no matter how many people say "that was intense" after their first session of it.

Quote
just like the term "graphic novel" got rid of the comics stigma in my perception.


For maybe about five seconds until the person flipped through it and then realised "Hey! This is a comic book!" What I mean is, changing the name, not calling it an roleplaying game will do no good. This is actually a surface issue and won't change people's perceptions. Behind the name, whatever you call it, it's still a roleplaying game, right? It seems to me that changing the name for RPG on the cover is wasted effort when it's the substabce inside the book that matters. I mean WoTC could slap a spiffy new term for RPG on D&D if they wanted to. and it will have pretty much the same effect as putting it on any other product.

TBH IMO the only really reason to use a different or adjusted term from RPG is to placate the D&D fanboys who will look at a game like, say Sorcerer or Universalis or whatever and complain loudly to whoever will listen that it is not a RPG...like its up to them to decide.


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on November 15, 2002, 01:21:10 PM
One thing that seems to be overlooked in this discussion which I think should not be is that RPGs are very different from comic books. That is, COmics are a fairly passive entertainment. You buy the book, you read the book, you put the book in an acid-free back with an acid-free backboard and put it in a box for safe keeping and that's it.

RPGs are a more active hobby. It's more akin to modeling in that effort is expected from the hobbist. You don't just sit down and play an RPG, like you play a boardgame or a video tape. There is preparation involved. Even the act of playing requires effort.

This is one thing about RPGs that keeps it out of the mainstream, I think. Like Raven had said. People like watching sports, not playing. We're a society of voyeurs, it seems.

This said, I do still believe that there is a potential market in the mainstream that is thus far untapped, it's just not quite so big since more people seem to prefer passive entertainment.


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 15, 2002, 01:31:14 PM
Hello,

I think we passed the point when this thread should have spawned daughter threads quite a while ago.

Unless anyone has any questions about what I mean by "mainstream" and "alternative," and why, it's time to close this one down and bring all related discussion into new threads.

Best,
Ron


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: talysman on November 15, 2002, 01:37:22 PM
oops, sorry, Ron, I was working on my post when you ended the thread. we can continue any subtobics to some other thread...


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 15, 2002, 01:58:06 PM
I split it out, Jonathan, 'cause I think you're asking the right question.

New thread's live, folks.

Best,
Ron


Title: Mainstream: a revision
Post by: Jonathan Walton on November 15, 2002, 02:02:48 PM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
The more-or-less desperate "throw out the dice and numbers" trend in the very late 80s and early 90s is, I think, more of a punt than anything else and not necessarily the most mainstream-friendly approach.


Er... I'm not sure I agree with you there, Ron.  Certainly, if you're doing the "throw out dice and numbers!" thing like comics did the "superheroes... but dark and gritty!" thing, you're really not going to accomplish much.  And while I agree that the average person could probably handle the standard "dice + mechanics" setup better than most roleplayers assume, it is a big barrier for many people.

Part of going mainstream is not doing "roleplaying... but diceless and groovy!" but (to continue the comics parallel) tossing out the superheroes altogether.  Once you remove all the barriers that limit what roleplaying can be, you can start building things from scratch, using only the components you want.  It stops being "superheroes... but gritty!" and becomes gritty crime fiction told in comic format.

This is drifting a little off-topic too, so I'll leave it at that, for now.

Later.
Jonathan

EDIT: Sorry folks.  That'll teach me to make sure I'm on the last page before replying.  Cripes...