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Author Topic: Trying to get a handle on crossover appeal  (Read 2518 times)
Grant
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« on: August 30, 2006, 03:24:45 PM »

First of all, I'd like to apologize in advance if this isn't the right place for this kind of thing, but I've been thinking a fair bit about how to sell games to a wider audience, and was hoping more readers could help to push my own ideas forward.  None of this is about the nuts-and-bolts of printing, distribution, et cetera, but aims more at the strategic level.  I also apologize if I come across as needlessly strident or inflammatory, as I realize I'm probably contradicting conventional wisdom around here.

I've been thinking a bit about the nuked apple cart, and the Infamous Five, and I can't help but wonder if they weren't answering the wrong question.  It's a bit of an unpleasant truth, but I'd be willing to bet that virtually everyone registered at this forum is here because they played Dungeons and Dragons or Vampire and eventually became dissatisfied with it. 

In fact, I would even go so far as to say that nearly everyone who plays Tabletop RPGs of any kind was introduced by someone not more than one or two steps removed from D&D.  This is especially the case with the indie scene, where the only way to find out about the games is to actively look for them.  You don't get new gamers from online sales.  (You don't get them from hobby store sales, either, for that matter.)

This is a problem, because that there isn't currently any title that draws people in the way D&D and Vampire used to.  For a while D&D third ed was that system, but the problem is that the D20 system offers virtually nothing that games like World of Warcraft or Lineage 2 don't do better, faster, and with less hassle.  I know more than one person that wants to game, but can't ever seem to get one together because players keep flaking out to play World of Warcraft.  Worse, such games are drawing the attention of potential new players who would otherwise be drawn to D&D.  Without a constant stream of new players coming in RPGs are destined to eventually go the way of the model train.

This is in spite of the fact that the developers of most MMOs seriously don't have their shit together.  They've resolved most of the most glaring surface problems with games like Everquest, without ever bothering to ask the million dollar question of "what makes having playing a game with 400 other people better than playing one with twelve or less?"  Or for that matter, "How do we allow players to meaningfully affect the game world withour running afoul of the Pareto Principle?"  Or perhaps most obviously, "Why are people paying money to avoid playing certain parts of this game?" Future online games will eventually adress these questions, which will only make competing for gamers' time that much more difficult.

This brings up another important point: there is a much bigger communication divide about what an RPG is than just Creative Agenda.  When most people hear RPG they don't think GURPS, or Vampire.  They don't even think D&D.  They think Final Fantasy.  To this group "RPG" means not just Gamism, but a very specific list of conventions all directly descended from D&D.  I've lost track of how many times I've heard someone say that [Planescape: Torment/Quest for Glory/Knights of the Old Republic/Ultima 4+] was "really more an adventure game than an RPG."    Introducing things like hitpoints, spell levels, or wisdom attributes is not going to be a problem with this group.  Introducing freeform narrative is.  They likely won't grasp unstructured free play at all.  And if you think trying to explain player-driven narrative to the guy who won't play anything but D20 is hard, well, you haven't seen the half of it.  However, this is also THE crossover market to hit. For a tabletop RPG to appeal to computer/console gamers, it needs to be structured enough, and gamelike enough, for them to comprehend, while at the same time presenting itself as distinct from, and superior to, what they're already playing. 

What roleplaying games offer that games like World of Warcraft don't should be obvious.  There's the greater ammount of flexibility involved with conflict resolution when a machine isn't moderating every interaction, but more importatly, it's a social activity.  Everyone is physically present, and (hopefully) friends.  The other important point is to try to make the game as immediate as possible.  Computer and console RPGs tend to move at a glacier's pace, so tabletop games need to rush to pick up their slack.  Obviously, this isn't going to happen with the resolution systems themselves (meaning rolling dice or whatever), so it's going to need to be through story pacing. (This is probably old hat to any conflict-resolution advocates, but it still bears mentioning.)  D&D doesn't really capitalize on any of these.  In fact, I've heard several people describe third edition as having a "video game feel."

Of course, even if a publisher were willing to take the risk on an RPG, it would be a bad bet, compared to a trading card game or an online RPG.  Trading card games and online RPGs generate residuals, while with traditional RPGs, the publisher has to try and sell more books.  The way to solve both this  problems, at least with a traditional gamist system like D20, would be to tokenize the rules to a greater extent... through a board, collectible cards; any sort of thing that physically represents the game, or adds a kinaesthetic level to play.

Peter Adkison's orignal RPG design specs for Wizards sounded a lot like this: an introductory RPG with a card-based resolution system that would appeal to Magic gamers, and with the potential for collectibility.  Unfortunately for Wizards, Jon Tweet read these, and came up with... Everway.  By the time 3rd ed. D&D was warming up, Wizards had decided that such a design would cannibalize their own markets, which, to be fair, was probably true.  Consequently, it, and the entire D20 line, are sharkbait.  True, they made a, well.. token gesture with D&D miniatures, but it was too little, too late. It's not as if anyone needed the miniatures to play the game; the actual stats were in the Monster Manual.   

I should probably add that this tokenization doesn't need to be extremely slick - look at Cheapass Games, for instance - it just shouldn't look home-made.  At the very least, it needs to be "here is your card," rather than "how to draw a card."

(As an aside, I would argue that the fact that people are willing to buy RPGs in PDF form may not be such a good thing, as it implies that the buyers believe that the games have no intrinsic value.  After all, a PDF isn't really a thing, just a collection of ones and zeroes.  In contrast, Magic players, if asked, will generally tell you that Magic: Online cards aren't worth the paper they're printed on.   

A big part of why people buy luxury items is that they believe the items say something about them as a person.  Consider all the people who buy DVDs, and don't bother to take them out of the cellophane for six months, or the high prices Criterion Collection commands, for that matter.  I'll admit that the success of iTunes seems to belie this theory, but I'd argue that it's the iPods themselves that are the status symbol.)

Part of the problem with making a game that would appeal to new players is probably format.  People outside of the RPG hobby don't tend to think of books as being games, other than maybe puzzle games, like Cryptic Crosswords or Sudoku.  The layout of RPGs is often such that it isn't always immediately obvious to a neophyte that what they're holding is essentially a reference manual.   If The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen had been sold as a party game, with story wagers printed on playing cards, it might still be in print.  Board and card games may not be in great shape either, but people at least know what they are.

Of course, even with a game with plenty of crossover potential, there's still the problem of getting the book into someone's hands, or even getting people aware of their existence.  I won't argue that the current distribution system isn't fucked, and even if it weren't, like I already said, nobody goes into hobby game shops but hobbyists.  Even if you can manage to get the books into traditional retail outlets, it was the traditional retail practice of stripping and shipping unsold books that nearly ruined TSR and White Wolf.

The Forge Booth has been cited as an exemplar of the Page 59 style, but here's the problem: it's at GenCon.  Its sales seem to bear out the Long Tail theory, but when it comes to bringing in new converts, it's preaching to the choir.  I would certainly do everything I could to support a brick-and-mortar Forge retail store, but until someone is willing to invest that kind of money, what about setting up a booth at ComiCon, with a focus on  superhero and anime-themed games?   Or anime conventions, for that matter? (Surely some of those cosplayers could be sold on an anime-themed RPG.  Furthermore, why has no one ever made a cosplay LARP?)  What about setting up a booth a the World Horrror Convention?  There are plenty of horror-themed indie games: Sorcerer, Dread, The Mountain Witch, Dead Inside, Don't Rest Your Head... hell, sell 'em a copy of Vampire, if it'll get them into gaming. 

Please don't misinterpret this as saying that introducing gamers to new ways of thinking about gaming is bad, by any means, just that it would be easier in a lot of ways to get through to new players without any preconcieved notions of what an RPG should be.  (Well, excepting my own reservations about console gamers)

I've probably rambled more than long enough, so I'll throw out just one or two more thoughts before I go.  First of all, everyone here with any web-design skills should be taking a long, hard look at the possibilities of Alternate Reality games like The Beast,  I Love Bees, and especially Perplex City.  Second, anyone interested in writing Live-Action roleplaying games should be looking at ways to add more RPG elements to activities that already have a lot LARP elements, such as paintball games and haunted house attractions.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to any comments, criticisms, or suggestions.

Yrs Faithfully,
Grant Irving
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Jake Richmond
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Posts: 220


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« Reply #1 on: September 01, 2006, 12:04:39 PM »

I don't want to respond to all of the things you brought up, but these are things I think about a lot myself. When making CrossRoads of Eternity  with Travis Brown we discovered (and it should have been obvious, but it came as a rude awakening anyway) that the audience we wanted to reach had already commited themselves to D&D, Exalted or other similar but better known and better established games. And really even that audience had largely departed to play WoW or City of Heroes or whatever. The market for generic fantasy RPGs, no matter how good or bad they are, has already been devoured. like I said, that should have been ovious, but we didn't see it at the time.

So when I took my second stab at game design (with Matt Schlotte) I decided to go for something that wasn't represented anywhere else in gaming. Something that had a wide appeal and something that would be easier to market to "people" then "gamers". What we ended up with is Panty Explosion.

I don't refer to Panty Explosion as an RPG. Its an adventure game. I'm still figuring out how to sell it and where my audience is, but so far gamers have been only part of that audience. PE dosent vcompete with D&D or Warcraft or other fantasy games, it competes with anime, manga, Japanese horror DVDs and import model kits. Its a whole different market, and one where PE stands out. When I sell to these people I don't mention that PE is an RPG, but I do explain that it is agame and I tell them how to play it. People like games. I used to work in a game store. A real game store that sold chess and board games and was clean and friendly. people love to buy fun, edgy or weird games to play with their friends, co-workers or whatever. Its not hard to convince people that Panty explosion is a fun game you can sit down and play with anyone in a few hours. Like Zombies or Settlers of Catan (but kind of different).

Anyway...


Jake
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epweissengruber
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Posts: 311

I like games! and theory! and The Forge!


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« Reply #2 on: September 04, 2006, 04:28:09 AM »

I know more than one person that wants to game, but can't ever seem to get one together because players keep flaking out to play World of Warcraft.  Worse, such games are drawing the attention of potential new players who would otherwise be drawn to D&D.  Without a constant stream of new players coming in RPGs are destined to eventually go the way of the model train.


Would this be the model train industry that sells around $500 million worth of goods every year?

http://www.kfor.com/Global/story.asp?S=4239252

America is a huge market for games.  There could be some way to get role playing out of the dank corner of the discount racks of MindGames or other in-mall chains.  It would have to be something in a pretty package, one that made the point of play very clear on the back, and didn't require more than 10 minutes to set up.
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JustinB
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Posts: 106


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« Reply #3 on: September 07, 2006, 11:01:12 AM »

It's interesting that you bring this up. I've been thinking of doing my next game with a card-based mechanic and custom decks for the players.
Since I read your post, I've been thinking of ways to make some of those cards collectible. Partially for the crossover appeal, but also because I played True Dungeon at GenCon this year and have seen first-hand how completely crazy people can get over collectible items. In True Dungeon, your equipment is represented by wooden tokens. True Dungeon takes place once a year. And yet, some of those tokens have a cash value of $100 and up. Mind you, the tokens that are worth lots of money are things like a +2 longsword when a +1 longsword sells for around $5.
The problem, as I see it, is how to make a roleplaying game where buying tons of these "collectible" items is attractive from an advantage standpoint, but doesn't break the game. Right now, I'm toying with the idea of making each card essentially act as a Feat as per the D20 rules, with a limited number of feats usable per adventure/session.
I guess the question is, how do you envision making RPGs generally a collectible medium?
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joepub
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 569

Joe Thomas McDonald


« Reply #4 on: September 07, 2006, 05:22:09 PM »

Quote
The Forge Booth has been cited as an exemplar of the Page 59 style, but here's the problem: it's at GenCon.  Its sales seem to bear out the Long Tail theory, but when it comes to bringing in new converts, it's preaching to the choir.  I would certainly do everything I could to support a brick-and-mortar Forge retail store, but until someone is willing to invest that kind of money, what about setting up a booth at ComiCon, with a focus on  superhero and anime-themed games?   Or anime conventions, for that matter? (Surely some of those cosplayers could be sold on an anime-themed RPG.  Furthermore, why has no one ever made a cosplay LARP?)  What about setting up a booth a the World Horrror Convention?  There are plenty of horror-themed indie games: Sorcerer, Dread, The Mountain Witch, Dead Inside, Don't Rest Your Head...

"What about setting up a booth at the World Horror Convention?"

Great idea.
Then, though, you have a couple issues to confront:
*****In order to be anywhere near effective at a non-RPG gathering, when you are pitching RPGs... you NEED space to demo.
To show them first hand what the fuck you are trying to sell them.
Demo space can translate into big booth costs pretty quickly, if you aren't careful.
*****You are pitching to an audience who hasn't heard of your product, at a Con (where people will typically have a set budget, and lots of "to buy" items.) Just like people who go to Gencon to buy d20 products and find out about The Forge... they might be more inclined to go with the thing they know, and that they KNOW they want.

Quote
I don't refer to Panty Explosion as an RPG. Its an adventure game.

I'm not planning to call Boulevard a game, or an RPG.
It's going to be a Collective Storytelling Exercise, or something similar.
Something that can more easily be pitched to people outside the RPG community.

Because outside our little niche community, the word "RPG" is associated with dark, dingy basements and either pimply 15 year old dweebs or balding 45 year old dweebs.
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Jake Richmond
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Posts: 220


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« Reply #5 on: September 07, 2006, 05:37:35 PM »

Quote
I'm not planning to call Boulevard a game, or an RPG.
It's going to be a Collective Storytelling Exercise, or something similar.
Something that can more easily be pitched to people outside the RPG community.

Right. Thats how I felt. Theres nothing wrong with calling your game an RPG, especially if thats the market your selling it to. But if your trying to sell it in other markets (we're pushing for import DVD stores right now) then the term RPG is.. it dosent mean anything. It sounds confusing. in those situations, for those products, calling it a game (or whatever) is enough.

But that's an old discussion. I think different formats are more interesting and useful for pulling in new customers then new names. Most people just don't recognize a 90 page booklet as a game. I wish I had been clever enough to do something really neat with Panty Explosion's format.
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