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Marketing and the independent RPG

Started by Motipha, April 15, 2010, 10:33:12 PM

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So this is tangentially related to conventions, but less tangentially this than anything else.  To make a long story short (and this is probably going to be too long knowing me) I'm trying to figure out the feasability/call for/interest in a regular, local equivalent of the Indie Games explosion, specifically from the point of view of game designers.

Now, on to the long story.

I'm friends with the guys who own Chicagoland Games, a local store in the (surprise) Chicago area.  They are an independent-game friendly store, in that they have shelf space dedicated to small press and independent games smack dab in the middle of their RPG section, and stock it with a varied and varying selection of books.  They're good at ordering games if they aren't on the shelf as long as they can do so with a minimum of fuss.

I was having an argument with Alex (one of the owners) in the context of Ron's comments in The Infamous Five and from Mainstream: a revision in particular.  Disregarding the overall conversation we did get in to an interesting little discussion regarding the marketing and advertising of small games.  The independent game designer does not commonly have the money to do an all-out advertising campaign for the game a la WOTC or White Wolf, even if they wanted to.  The approach that seems to be going on right now is much more about cross-marketing and grassroots efforts (to throw in yet another overused buzzword).

This all got me thinking that I really don't see a lot of marketing taking place.  Most designers will have a page or two in the back of their book that advertises other games either of their design or of fellow designers, but that is very minimal.  The Forge provides a venue for people to post play reports, get feedback about games affiliated with it and find out about new games but does so as an online resource only.  Indie Games Explosion provides a venue for actually getting a chance to play games like this, but does so only at a few cons which means it is somewhat limited and haphazard.  Indie Press Revolution and the Un-store both provide online sales avenues, and have mechanism by which looking for one game can lead you to another, but those are only if you are already purchasing something and are interested enough to go looking for something else.

Let me explain, using Fiasco as an example.  I heard about Fiasco as I read about it on the Forge during John Morningstar's last stages of game development.  Being curious, I read the playsets as they came out, and asked the Chicagoland guys to order a copy for me.  When it did, I read it and set up a game between me and two friends.  As such, more people want to order that book.

The precondition for this is me being interested enough in independent games to be reading the Forge, and thriftless enough to sink $20 in to a game that I may or may not ever get to play (I already am about waist deep in games that have yet to be played). I then have to actually setting up a game with some people (which almost didn't happen when 3 of my inital group of five crapped out for various reasons).  In essence, this sales effort is based on me as a consumer going out and extolling the virtues of the products I buy.  I don't mind doing it as it means I get to play the games and they really are pretty amazing, but doesn't it seem like something that game designers would want to be actively encouraging?

Really, what seems like the logical result of this line of thinking are things like the "Indie Games explosion" that appears at major cons, but put on locally by game designers and independent game enthusiasts on more regular basis.  The intention would be to provide a venue in which people can play games that they are interested in, or come and experience games that they might only have heard about or might not have heard of before.  In this manner consumers are exposed to new games which they can bring back to their own social circles to play without having to be previously aware of them.  I think of those consumers as the fabled "untapped market" of those who would be interested if they only knew.

This all leads to the real question, being: is this something that game designers find appealing, and would be willing to take part in?  It would probably mean devoting some time to taking part in such an activity, and being willing to do so on behalf of games other than your own.  The underlying theory being "the more that independent games as a whole become known and generally accepted, the better the chances of my own game selling."  What do you guys think?  What does "marketing and sales" mean to the independent game designer, anyway?

That being said, the guys from Chicagoland games have said that if anybody makes arrangements with them, they'd be happy to host a sales event of this sort.  So if you are in/are passing through Chicago and want a chance to push/demo your game, you are welcome to contact them and they'll do what they can to help you (scheduling it on their calendar, doing some flier printing if you provide graphics, things like that).  I know they had a very successful event like this for Dread a while back.

My own callow sales obligations are now done with (hey, they are my friends).  As should be obvious, I'm definitely not a designer myself but rather a very interested consumer (or as they same, Indie RPG om nom nom nom).
My real name is Timo.

Nathan P.

Hi there,

The Western Mass/Boston scene has done pretty well over the last couple years with JiffyCon, and the NYC folks are lucky to have the very independent-friendly Gotham Gamers Guild, which puts on a couple of events a year. There's also events like Go Play NW, Nerdly Beach Party, Camp Nerdly, and so on - basically, this is just a list of good examples of groups of people who have organized exactly what you're talking about. All it takes is someone willing to put in the organizational effort, and having some kind of base (whether online or local) to draw attendees.

I personally would love to do a JiffyCon Chicago, or something - I recently relocated from Boston (where I co-organized and ran the last two JiffyCon Bostons) to Chicago for grad school, and am hoping to get more involved with local folks this summer. But, y'know, school. I think it could be really good, tho, especially as there's already a critical mass of Chicago area designers who could potentially attend.

In my experience, this kind of event needs (a) a venue and (b) someone or someone's who are willing to commit to organizing it and hunting up attendees. So far, it seems like the most effective thing to do is just say "Here's an event!" and make it as painless as possible for folks to come play.

So, um, to answer your main question, YES. It's all really just logistics.

Nathan P.
Find Annalise
My Games | ndp design
Also | carry. a game about war.
I think Design Matters


Hrm, interesting.  I had gotten the feeling that the NW was seeing a number of related "Indie game" events that went on, including JiffyCon.  With the annual Forge Midwest in Madison, we have A thing, and frankly we're close enough to Origins and Gencon that those could get pointed to as two other annual venues at which indie games might not be front-and-center but where they can get a lot of publicity.  Having more events like this in Chicago would be very cool indeed. 

Yet I'm not sure that such events really address what I was bringing up, partly in that my point of concern is probably a little obfuscated by my post (for which I apologise).  I'm thinking of this from the point of view of the local game store owner.  Say that my friend Alex has a person walk in to the store who says "I've heard about this RPG thing and want to give it a shot.  What opportunities are there for me to partake?" then he will more likely than not direct them to D&D or White Wolf or something large-scale like that because they have set up, regular events (Living games, RPGA events, introductory sessions).  Not only does he know that he will have product to sell them, but there is minimal overhead for him to provide them with an opportunity to play.  Should he even want to send them in the direction of an Independent game (and that is another topic altogether) unless there is an organized event that he can direct them to, then the onus is on him to set up the event, finding someone willing to provide the opportunity and identifying which game is likely to appeal to them, let alone providing a play space and play materials.

Now Alex is passionate about gaming and enjoys getting others excited about gaming, but he's also busy.  As such, for him following the first option is much more appealing since the other option requires more work on his part and he's not really invested in making indie games sell (it's not where his targeted profit is).  But if there is something more regular and accessible than an annual convention to which he can direct them, then he might take the opportunity to direct them that way, especially in light of games which DON'T have the high startup costs of the big crunchy games like D&D, Shadowrun, or any of the other well-known systems.  It gives him a chance to expand his consumer base, as well as introduce more people to games, and puts independent games in the kind of space they seem naturally built for.

So, yes, local conventions and events are good for the independent game designer, but I hold that they are unlikely to be a productive way to introduce avenues in to gaming for non-gamers or to help encourage local retailers that independent games can be a meaningful part of their business model.  My thought was more about regular events at local venues that work to showcase a array of games, giving people a very low-effort point of contact to this type of gaming.  The follow-up to that is the suggestion that it is primarily the game designers along with interested players that are the best people do drive such an effort, as they have the biggest vested interest in encouraging such exposure.

*grin* so, long winded as always.  But insane? 
My real name is Timo.