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Author Topic: D&D specifically (split from Supplement Treadmill)  (Read 3674 times)
mearls
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« on: May 05, 2004, 09:30:50 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
All three represent a brief correspondence of role-playing material with a wave of "teen craze" purchasing. That's distinct from fan purchasing or anything else associated with SF or pop subculture - it literally means a ton of people who are buying the game as gear.

It doesn't last long (although it makes a huge impression on retailer re-ordering habits that does last), and I think it's best viewed as a lucky draw rather than a reliable tactic that can be generalized across publishing in general.


How would you categorize D&D 3e's sales in that light? The numbers I have unearthed put the 3e PHB at between 700,000 and 800,000 books sold. You can tack on about 300,000 to 400,000 DMGs, and 200,000 to 300,000 MMs. My impression is that 3.5 has done very well for WotC, though I haven't yet tried to wrangle any information about it. I've seen sales numbers for d20 books released in the past year that the big SF publishers would be happy to see for a hardcover release.

The problem with this thinking is that it assumes that all the active participants in the three tier chain have any useful, actionable institutional memory from those time periods. I would also argue that Erick's experiences directly counter the idea of a fad - as soon as TMNT was on TV, its audience dried up. Where are all the kids who were watching the TV show, buying the action figures, and going to the movies?

(As an aside, I found that an interesting development - my own game group at the time went through the exact same thing when TMNT went from a B&W comic to a crappy TV show.)

Furthermore, most of those sales would have take place outside of the hobby/game store channel. In the early 80s, TSR had D&D books in department stores, toy stores, and other venues that are no longer open markets. This might change with the new D&D starter set due out in September.

Now, I think the basic thought still stands - those aren't levels of success that a publisher can count on. But in at least one case - D&D - you have players and buyers on an order of magnitude greater than anything else in the business. Even Vampire managed to out sell D&D for exactly one month, and that was when TSR had stopped printing and selling books.
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greyorm
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« Reply #1 on: May 05, 2004, 09:41:47 AM »

Heya Mike,
Quote from: mearls
My impression is that 3.5 has done very well for WotC

That's quite the opposite of what I've heard through the grapevine: while 3E sold well for WotC, 3.5 itself ended up being a money-sink for the company (for various reasons -- including that the rules were simply an update of the core, rather than a new version, and came out too soon after the most recent release (especially given what they were)).

Unfortunately, that's at "rumor" status right now; I'd have to go ask questions for an accurate report. However, I do know and can report you are the first person I myself have heard say the 3.5 update sold well, which everyone can take to mean as they will.

Anyone have any accurate and supported information?
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio
mearls
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Posts: 46


« Reply #2 on: May 05, 2004, 10:05:00 AM »

Quote from: greyorm

Anyone have any accurate and supported information?


I've talked to a few retailers. For instance, the local store here in Boston sold nearly 200 copies of the 3.5 PHB from its time of release to the end of the year. The 3.5 books were also consistently atop every retailer-supplied best seller list I've seen.

I was planning on doing some more research into this over the summer. My personal theory is that 3.5 did fine, and that many of the problems facing d20 publishers are self-generated. (The common rumor I see is that 3.5 has killed D&D sales and wrecked the d20 market - I haven't seen that supported with hard numbers.)

I have seen people claim that 3.5 did poorly, but I haven't heard that from anyone who was reliable or didn't have an axe to grind.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: May 05, 2004, 10:13:43 AM »

Hi Mike,

You addressed the 3.5 question to a point of mine, so here's my take, or at least a minor hypothesis.

I think all the D&D3E and 3.5 sales are great sales for a role-playing game, in the scope of role-playing sales, albeit the top end. But I don't think they are the same phenomenon as the "fad buy" events. I think instead that TSR reached very effectively into its target markets of (a) old-school old guys with their shelves and shelves of late-70s stuff and (b) the bright pubescents who now had a "game of their own" with art and iconography much like other things they're used to.

To address the TMNT "gear buy" event, that's a good question. No one really knows how fads work and what aspects of them rise and fall in relation to others. It so happens that I think that TV, action figures, and movies beat the shit out of other gear, most especially an RPG, especially for the age group in question. But I don't claim that's the answer, or obviously correct.

Best,
Ron
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mearls
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Posts: 46


« Reply #4 on: May 05, 2004, 10:41:36 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards

To address the TMNT "gear buy" event, that's a good question. No one really knows how fads work and what aspects of them rise and fall in relation to others. It so happens that I think that TV, action figures, and movies beat the shit out of other gear, most especially an RPG, especially for the age group in question. But I don't claim that's the answer, or obviously correct.


I have my own theory about the sales pattern Erick described - RPGs probably tend to appeal to people who want a more interactive experience. A TV show or movie is the exact opposite of that. So you have a situation where the kids watching the show had no real desire to pick up the RPG. Compounding things, the exact sort of people who would in interested in black and white, indie comic are also the same people who would be repulsed by the typical, brain dead kiddie fare that the TMNT show offered. By the same token, I think a lot of the D&D merchandising worked against the game, rather than for it, helping to kill off the first wave of D&D's popularity.

I definitely agree with the idea that D&D 3 managed to capture the grognards and the younger players. What's fascinating, and something that I think should give everyone reason to have hope in pushing the RPG envelope - is that the game was so well received even though it re-wrote major parts of the rules. I think people are really hungry for stuff that makes their games more fun.

I think that right now, D&D faces some interesting tests. WotC has put a lot of backing behind Eberron, the new setting that's due out next month. I think that's one of the pitfalls of the treadmill - you can only offer up so many duds before people start turning away from buying a game. Non-core RPG books are the ultimate luxury item. There's is very, very little compelling need for them once you have a corebook and the skills needed to make your own content. (Aside: I think that's what's killing many d20 publishers. They're making stuff that gamers don't need, because they can put it together themselves without much effort.)
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Matt Snyder
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« Reply #5 on: May 05, 2004, 10:50:52 AM »

Interesting, Mike. That begs a question in my mind. What do d20 gamers need? For that matter, what do gamers need?

I mean, besides a job and a shower and a girlfriend and all that stuff real people really need. I'm not interested to hear from anyone that "no one needs any gaming material, it's a hobby, yadda yadda." Yes, I get that.

What I'm asking is what a marketer would ask himself of the market. What market need can my resources provide?

I'd be curious to hear what everyone thinks, especially those already participating in this thread. However, perhaps that't another topic? Ron?
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Matt Snyder
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"The future ain't what it used to be."
--Yogi Berra
mearls
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« Reply #6 on: May 05, 2004, 11:13:05 AM »

Quote from: Matt Snyder
Interesting, Mike. That begs a question in my mind. What do d20 gamers need? For that matter, what do gamers need?


I think that deserves its own thread. My impression its that we're talking more about a more global assessment of supplements as part of a game line, rather than what an individual supplement could/should be.

I'll go ahead and start one.
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mearls
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« Reply #7 on: May 05, 2004, 12:07:40 PM »

Quote from: Matt Snyder
Interesting, Mike. That begs a question in my mind. What do d20 gamers need? For that matter, what do gamers need?


I see the sub-thread has been put into it's own thread. Thanks.

Moving along:

I think this cuts to the heart of a lot of activity in the mainstream RPG publishing business, but I think it can be a useful thing to consider for indie designers and publishers. I can't address it from the indie perspective, but I can talk about from a d20 one.

A game designer has one valuable asset he can offer: his time and mastery of a game. I'm paid to spend 40+ hours a week thinking about D&D and d20. I have the resources needed to not only write new game rules, but to research how they fit into the existing body of material, and to ensure that they work properly. Few gamers can claim that. Between work, school, and their other interests, they don't have the time to pay as much attention to all the details needed for a system as intricate as d20.

Even if you do this on the side, you've commited more time to design than the typical gamer.

The problem lies in figuring out how to take that advantage and build something useful off of it. The knee jerk reaction amongst publishers is to produce two basic threads of material:

1. Prestige classes, feats, and spells
2. Setting material

I think the problem here is that in both cases, this is the easy stuff in game d20 design. A lot of DMs, particularly the experienced ones who know about d20 stuff and are willing to buy it, can do that already.

So I think in the first place, you need to figure out what sort of material is difficult for the typical DM to create.

Second, you need to look at what you're thinking of designing and decide if it can have a positive impact on a game. In short, does it reward the person who paid the money for it and took the time to read it with a better game? This is the key question - how does my book make a D&D game more fun? This is the question that either never gets answered or has an essentially value-less answer ("It's cool, so people should like it.")

To answer the first question, it helps to look at all the exceptions based parts of a system. The fewer guidelines that exist for making something new, the harder it is for a DM to do it himself. Feats and prestige classes are a bit of an exception to this, because they are small, self-contained, and have appeared so many times that in most cases you're retreading old ground with one. In addition, I've found that DMs are less likely to trust ones made by third parties.

The second question can only be answered through actual play. Not just your play, but how other people use the d20 system. It's very instructive to read between the lines of forum posting - what are people complaining about? What are the problems that come up again and again?

This is the most important litmus test: given that you engage in actual play (and if you don't you have bigger problems to worry about), do YOU use the supplementary material you've developed? That's such a critical issue. If it isn't compelling enough for you to add to your game, don't expect others to adopt it.

I can't give any specific examples right now, but in a month (when my current project is announced) I can do that. The book I'm writing right now has radically changed how I view supplement development for d20, and I think it might be the kind of book that opens up an entire new design space in d20.
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Matt Snyder
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« Reply #8 on: May 05, 2004, 01:41:48 PM »

Fantastic, Mike. Thanks for sharing that info; good, thoughtful stuff there, as ever.

I'd love to hear what others (or Mike for that matter -- he's right a helluva lot more often than he's wrong) have to say about supplemental material for other games, especially indie games. But, clearly, that's for yet another thread, since this one's labelled for D&D specifically.
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Matt Snyder
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"The future ain't what it used to be."
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Jürgen Mayer
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« Reply #9 on: May 05, 2004, 02:43:00 PM »

Quote from: mearls
Furthermore, most of those sales would have take place outside of the hobby/game store channel. In the early 80s, TSR had D&D books in department stores, toy stores, and other venues that are no longer open markets. This might change with the new D&D starter set due out in September.

Slightly off-topic, but maybe interesting: the german D&D 3E is sold in boxes, so that non-hobby stores will sell it in their (board-)game section. There's just the translated book in a box, nothing else. Player's Guide in a box. GM Guide in a box.
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xiombarg
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« Reply #10 on: May 06, 2004, 06:15:22 AM »

Quote from: mearls
So I think in the first place, you need to figure out what sort of material is difficult for the typical DM to create.

I don't have much to add by I can tell you what the answer was for me when I was running D&D:

* fully-statted NPCs that can be put into my campaign
* balanced encounters and treasure for same
* balanced encounters that could be solved by talking rather than fighting or skill use

Creating NPCs is THE most time-consuming thing in D&D 3.x, yet very little work has been done in terms of making it easier or quicker. I'd kill for something like what's in the DMG, but quicker yet more flexible.
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greyorm
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« Reply #11 on: May 06, 2004, 06:51:34 AM »

Quote from: xiombarg
* balanced encounters that could be solved by talking rather than fighting or skill use

I'm with Kirt, right up to this one.
I want more encounters that could be solved with skill-use, and less with talking and "role-playing" (blah). Hence, encounters that give you "A Gather Information check rolled when talking to this NPC will reveal the following information: (roll result) (info)" and "An Intimidate check rolled when talking to this NPC will cause him to: (roll result) (behavior)" are what I'd like to see.

So, more use of the social skills, and more use of the reaction charts, more game...both are usually and sadly overlooked in published material, with the focus being on somehow "role-playing" through all such encounters rather than using the mechanics created for such situations.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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Alex Johnson
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« Reply #12 on: May 26, 2004, 06:47:20 AM »

Quote from: xiombarg
I can tell you what the answer was for me when I was running D&D:

* fully-statted NPCs that can be put into my campaign
* balanced encounters and treasure for same
* balanced encounters that could be solved by talking rather than fighting or skill use

Creating NPCs is THE most time-consuming thing in D&D 3.x, yet very little work has been done in terms of making it easier or quicker.


I'm 100% with xiombarg here.  3E NPCs are the most time consuming thing I've ever seen in an RPG.  There is nothing out there to help with creating them.  And there are few suggestions for encounters that can be solved in any way other than fighting.
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Tav_Behemoth
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« Reply #13 on: May 27, 2004, 10:56:41 AM »

I've tried to design a number of the ideas in this thread into the Masters and Minions horde books and the Vorpal online tools that support them. Thanks to everyone for the insight!
 
NPCs: The print version will have one complete NPC for each monster (with stat blocks, appropriately-valued equipment, spell selections, character background and motivation, and roleplaying tips). Online, we'll be developing an open database that has all these NPCs plus more contributed by users & the community; you can search the database for NPCs of a certain creature type/race, challenge rating, alignment, etc. and output the modifiable source code for the statblocks etc. that you need for your game. Eventually the database will also include tools to make designing & entering your own NPCs easier.

Encouraging use of social skills: Each monster has a custom matrix which cross-indexes the skills relevant to that creature with its current attitude to yield a specific DC. Subsumed in this matrix are existing rules (Charisma based reaction checks, the added difficulty of using Handle Animal on a magical beast) along with some unique ones: it's possible to use Appraise to get on the good side of an ashmalkin by recognizing what its body-jewelry display indicates about its social status in its nation, but it's much more likely to succeed if the ashmalkin's attitude is neutral or better. JoT's love letter to the Chainmail combat matrix was a big influence on the design of this matrix!
 
Balanced encounters and treasures: Using a summary table in the print edition, or a Vorpal online generator linked to the NPC database, you can specify a type of encounter (a minotrice hunting pack, for example) and the desired encounter level, and it'll give you a rounded group of monsters as well as the appropriate XP and treasure award. We're also working on a calculator that works bottom-up instead of top down: click on the monsters you want and it'll add up their EL/XP/treasure and assess what kind of challenge that would be for a given party.

Re: Mike's post about what's easy to do (and what everyone's doing as a result), the Horde Books have no setting material; they're designed to offer possibilities for any campaign that uses the core monsters. We're guilty of the occasional feat and spell as a way to suggest how one of the horde creatures can be integrated into the game. BTW, Mike, when can you hint about your new release? Sounds mighty cool!
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ryand
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« Reply #14 on: June 01, 2004, 09:15:41 AM »

Quote from: greyorm
Heya Mike,
Quote from: mearls
My impression is that 3.5 has done very well for WotC

That's quite the opposite of what I've heard through the grapevine


The grapevine you're tapped into doesn't appear to know what it is talking about.

WotC spent a pittance to make 3.5.  Most of the design work had already been paid for via other products.  To make 3.5 required a year's work from a talented developer to consolidate all the errata and integrate material from other sourcebooks, maybe a few months of design time to test things like the changes to the DR rules, and the new P-Classes, and a few months of playtesting to debug the results.  Add some art, new covers, and some marketing, and you've got a 3.5 project budget.  I'd estimate the 3.5 project costs to be less than $250K.

Those books are sold at $30SRP.  WotC gets about half of that, depending on the channel of distribution.  For the sake of argument, say WotC gets 47.5% of SRP.

Minimum, and I mean "MINIMUM", they sold 100,000 units of each of the 3.5 books in 2003.  (You could knock me over with a feather if they only sold 100,000 units, but we're constructing a hypothetical here.)  They'll probably sell another 100,000 copies in 2004.  For this examination, let's just focus on 2003.

100,000 units x3 volumes x $30SRP x 47.5% == $4,275,000.  The books themselves probably cost about $5 to manufacture and $1 to ship ($6 x 3 volumes x 100,000 units == $1,800,000).  Gross profit to WotC for 3.5 is therefore something like $2,225,000.

Is it likely that 3.5 books will sell better in 2004 than the 3.0 books would have?  My answer is "yes".  3.5 is a better product than 3.0.  It will, over time, outsell 3.0, in my opinion.  I can't imagine anyone inside WotC feeling that 3.5 was anything other than a home run.  In fact, I bet they wish they could figure out how to do it every other year or so, just like Magic does.

Ryan
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Ryan S. Dancey
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