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Author Topic: What would make a non-roleplayer buy your game?  (Read 12420 times)
GreatWolf
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« Reply #15 on: November 16, 2002, 09:24:43 AM »

John,

Interesting ideas.  Here's something that appears to be an underlying assumption of your ideas that I think is worth pointing out.

Limited options.

Your "Desert Island" game is (from a traditional RPG perspective) one scenario.  There's very little left for the GM to have to figure out.  That's a good thing, IMHO.  Normally we say that the wide-open nature of RPGs is one of their strengths.  Could it be that this very strength is a weakness when trying to sell to the non-gamer?  Right now I'm teaching someone how to roleplay, and I'm having to remember that sometimes too much freedom is overwhelming.

The same can be true of RPGs.  Isn't the "Great game but what do I do with it?" question asked a lot among gamers?  And these are people who are used to the idea of scenario design!  What about "normal" people, who expect a game to have one "scenario"?

So perhaps the best "intro" RPG to a nongamer audience will be designed with only one scenario in mind.  This scenario will need to have a high replay value and need to have most of the options spelled out for the players.  I'm envisioning something like "Jailbreak" from Unknown Armies or a storymap from Alyria (both of which include pregenerated characters and situation), or, interestingly, Ninja Burger, which I tend to treat as a souped-up board game, similar to Cheapass Games.  None of these require any prep, beyond a basic review of the GM notes.  All can be replayed many, many times, due to their structure, and not get boring.  (Well, at least in theory.)  Also, each could be packaged as a standalone, including only the rules necessary to play that scenario.  You could then release these standalones in a series, each with a complexity rating like WotC uses.  The more complex scenarios also include new rules to use with that scenario, but each are self-contained.

Now, what does this sound like?  Did you say "Host a Murder Party"?  If you did, then we're thinking along the same lines.  These are slowly growing in popularity in the "mainstream", and I'd like to propose that the modularity that I'm discussing is a major reason why.  You buy a "Host a Murder Party" kit, and you are buying one scenario.  That's it.  Everything is there:  characters, situation, "rules" (not many of these).  There's really not much replay value involved here.  The murderer is preset.  Once you know the answer, you can't replay it.  But it works.  To my knowledge there are more of these sorts of packages then generic "Here's how to create your own murder mystery scenario" packages.

I think that an RPG that will reach the nongamer population will need to be constructed and marketed in this way.  The only major differentiation from the Murder Mystery games will be the nonscripted nature of the game.  Oh yes, and the rules will have to be a little more advanced than the Murder Mystery games.  (Of course, this is primarily because the Murder Mystery games have no real rules of which I am aware.)  But this shouldn't be an overwhelming challenge.

Then, if desired, after several scenario books are released, then a "scenario design" book could be released, compiling all the rules and setting information into one place and offering advice on how to construct your own scenarios.  Sounds a lot like a normal RPG book, doesn't it?

I'm sure that there are potential holes in this scheme.  (Example:  what if the target audience doesn't want to create their own scenarios?)  But I think that something along these lines will get much further mileage than trying to lead the nongamer market to games that just aren't made for them.

Seth Ben-Ezra
Great Wolf
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b_bankhead
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« Reply #16 on: November 16, 2002, 09:31:37 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Hi there,

Fang, you're right, my rhetoric is definitely too extreme. I'll try to cut out the never ever not in my universe side of it ...

This thread is bouncin' around a little bit, and I think one trend has already shown up that I have observed over and over. Thought A: let's get more mainstream-style content into RPGs. Thought B: yes! and the first thing we'll do, we'll license Property X; everyone loves it, so they'll buy the RPG, and then we're golden.

As a serious advocate of Thought A, I have to turn into a horrible mutated version of myself and seize the proponents of Thought B, and kill them. Licensing, as best as I can tell, does not work for this purpose. I'm doin' the blue-in-the-face thing, I think, and running into a lot of people who are saying, "Um, yeah, Ron, sure, but if we get a really good Star Trek game into the market, it'll rock!"

And I say, "No, it won't." Licensing brings money from the RPG publisher to the license owner. That's what it does, and that's why they do it. I see no evidence, whatsoever, that the existence of an RPG license-based on a popular show or property has any such effect as expressed by the hopes in this thread.

The X-Files didn't do it. How can we reasonably expect the next thing to do so? Definition of insanity: repeating the same behavior over and over, expecting different results.


Best,
Ron


On the one hand I agree with you. We have had rpg licenses from numerous popular  properties that have consistently failed to produce that break-through item that everybody has been waiting for.

On the other hand lets debate the issue that the fault may not be the idea of the licensed property itself but possibly might be related to other issues:

1. The traditional numbers heavy 200+ page rpg that looks to the non-gamer about as much fun and about as much work as filling out the tax return for the Rockerfellers (itemized!).  Many non-gamers I have tried to introduce to the hobby cringe just at the LOOK of one of these.

2. They are promoted in game shops which only gamers go into, they are promoted in gaming magizines that are only sold in game shops and only bought by the hardest core of gamers that go into game shops.  Thus most non-gemers never even HEAR about the licensed property that the publisher bought at such expense and hassle.

   This issue also reminds me of the comics industry.  Ever since the first Batman movie (14 years ago!!!) people been waiting for the nextHollywood 'thang' that was going to bring them into the shops. The fact that it NEVER EVER WORKS seems lost on them.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #17 on: November 16, 2002, 10:06:39 AM »

Hi b_bankhead,

Dude, we're goin' in circles. Your points #1 and #2 are exactly what I've been saying since the first Mainstream thread and in all the related ones. When people say, "Oooh! Licenses!" I say, uh-uh, back up, Spunky, go back to these points.

Best,
Ron
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quozl
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« Reply #18 on: November 16, 2002, 10:14:15 AM »

While these are all great idea, I think they have strayed away from the exercise.  I think I may be at fault since I made it too vague and wide-open.  In order to rectify that, here's the exercise again, a lot more specific:

A non-roleplayer who has been introduced to roleplaying but never played goes into a store like Wal-Mart.  In the game section, next to Uno and Monopoly, is a box.  This box contains the game Dust Devils and has the same great cover art we've already seen.  The customer turns over the box to read the text which describes the game and contents of the box.

What would that text need to say for this non-roleplayer (who likes Clint Eastwood westerns) to buy Dust Devils?
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #19 on: November 16, 2002, 10:28:08 AM »

Oh, and to reply to myself (rather than edit my last post), another advantage of the scheme that I'm discussing is a reduction in the intimidation factor.  Rather than picking up a 250-350 page book, all the person has to do is look at a 25-page pamphlet, and that includes all the player handouts.

Example:  "Jailbreak" from the One Shots supplement to UA.  Currently the page count is 16 pages.  Almost 11 of those pages are player handouts.  Only 5 (or so) are actual GM material.  Additionally, for a standalone, we'll need a rules outline.  For "Jailbreak", the players don't really need to know anything beyond the basic rules (i.e. percentile dice, passion flipflops, obsession skill, combat rules, etc.) and a couple of special rules for the scenario (the taser and the pepper spray that two of the characters are carrying).  The players don't even need chargen rules, because the characters are pregenerated.  Of course, they will need a section on "What is roleplaying?" along with an example of play drawn directly from the scenario in the book ("Jailbreak", in this case).  Even allowing room for a title page and table of contents, we can probably squeeze all this material into eight pages.  So, in a 24-page pamphlet, it is possible to have a complete, ready-to-run game of Unknown Armies available.  There is high replay value, since the scenario relies primarily on player interaction and not NPC actions or secrets.  (Yes, there is one secret, but I don't think that player ignorance of the secret is fundamental to enjoyment of the scenario.  I'll let you know once I run it.)

Now, Hogshead prints 24-page pamphlet style games (their New Style line) and prices them out at $6-7 per book.  I'll grant that I don't know the profit margin on such a book, but it is a reasonable price point.  It also is a lower risk for someone considering "buying into" the hobby.  Now, it's competitive pricewise with classic games like Scrabble, let alone the more expensive Murder Mystery games.

Or, perhaps you could package one of these scenarios exactly like a Murder Mystery game.  It could include little props, like name cards for the characters (to pin to your shirt), or perhaps a foldout map of the house where everything is happening.  It could include an audio tape or CD explaining how to play the game, including setting up the gaming session and how to run it.  It could even include a complete Host (e.g. GM) tutorial, similar to the print tutorial in Everway.  It could include the dice.  Now, this hypothetical scenario looks and feels exactly like a Murder Mystery game and a board game, which are both familiar territory to our hypothetical nongamer customer.

Would the average gamer buy such a product?  Unlikely.  (Cynical aside:  I could see such a product being roundly spit upon by many gamers in the online community.)  However, I think that such a presentation would be precisely what would get nongamers into gaming.  How?  Because it takes the roleplaying experience and packages it in a way that is understandable to the nongamer.  It holds his hand throughout the entire process.  It feels like a normal game, especially if it comes in a box with dice.  (You know, like a regular board game.)  Prep time is almost nil.  Sure, someone needs to learn how to Host, but that's not the end of the world, especially if the CD in the box includes "An audio tutorial on how to Host this game!"  It doesn't overwhelm him with massive amounts of reading.

In other words, such a presentation lowers most of the entry bars to roleplaying.  It won't sell like Monopoly, but then, were we really expecting it to do so?

Seth Ben-Ezra
Great Wolf
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #20 on: November 16, 2002, 10:56:58 AM »

Hello,

Jon's latest post is now to be construed as the opening post of a thread. Let's address that single issue very carefully, please.

Whenever this kind of subject gets going in gaming circles, people start free-associating, on amphetamines. Let's stay focused.

My call, Jon, is that the very features of the Explored elements of play that will interest the person must be supported by that text. The text should say, in some fashion,

1) This is a role-playing game. Some of you disagree about this; I think it's necessary and honest.

2) The topic/content should be absolutely clear and should nail precisely what that sort of content interests people. If it's surreal fantasy, be surreal and fantastical, and f'God's sake give an example of something in that category. This the Exploration part.

3) Here's how you do it ... wait for it ... in GNS terms, but in plain English. Or to put it differently, state the Premise. Is "winning" involved, or not? Is protagonist-decision-making the point, or not? And so on - stated up-front and with enthusiasm.

Best,
Ron
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MK Snyder
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« Reply #21 on: November 16, 2002, 11:44:34 AM »

Over in the B camp...

I think using the licensed properties to date as an argument against all branding is a bit premature.

*The licensed properties were within the same genres, so they didn't move outside of the game stores much.

*The designers of the licensed games let game design take second place to the branding. The X-Files CCG is an excellent example; the decks were badly collated, alienating collectors; the game mechanics were "broken", so it could not keep the players.

"The Jerry Springer Show" game could work, I think; as just the adult party audience the board game industry seeks. Players could take the roles of various disfunctional individuals being interviewed by Jerry in terms of the specific episode's theme.

The idea is to use the brand to sneak an otherwise excellent game past the marketing weasels, who lack imagination--not to have the brand buouy a bad game.
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #22 on: November 16, 2002, 11:58:59 AM »

Quote from: MK Snyder
I think using the licensed properties to date, as an argument against all branding, is a bit premature.

...The designers of the licensed games let game design take second place to the branding.

The idea is to use the brand to sneak an otherwise excellent game past the marketing weasels, who lack imagination--not to have the brand buoy a bad game.

Bingo!

But alas, off-topic.  Thanks anyway.

Fang Langford
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talysman
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« Reply #23 on: November 16, 2002, 01:51:08 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards

This thread is bouncin' around a little bit, and I think one trend has already shown up that I have observed over and over. Thought A: let's get more mainstream-style content into RPGs. Thought B: yes! and the first thing we'll do, we'll license Property X; everyone loves it, so they'll buy the RPG, and then we're golden.

As a serious advocate of Thought A, I have to turn into a horrible mutated version of myself and seize the proponents of Thought B, and kill them. Licensing, as best as I can tell, does not work for this purpose. I'm doin' the blue-in-the-face thing, I think, and running into a lot of people who are saying, "Um, yeah, Ron, sure, but if we get a really good Star Trek game into the market, it'll rock!"


I have to agree, Ron.

I don't want to say "never license anything ever", but licensed games are just not going to significantly change anything. many licensed products get a sort of sneer from people as being just kitsch. the licensed products that sell well tend to appeal specifically to a small subset of people and often are "niche" products themselves. and many branded objects get bought by obsessive fans who collect items with their favorite brand but never use those items. I know one girl, a nonroleplayer, who has the sailor moon rpg -- because she likes sailor moon. she has no intention of playing the game.

that's why I kept my suggestion limited to concepts similar to "what seems to sell" without duplicating a specific movie/tv series. I think branding is the wrong approach.

I sort of half disagree with your comment about mainstream equaling horror, fantasy, science fiction, surrealism, sex ... it's accurate, I suppose, but you left out the concept of limits. I think the best way to identify "fringe" or "fannish" interests is in terms of extremes. the majority of "ordinary" people read/watch "ordinary" drama, romance and comedy but will also read/watch drama/romance/comedy with a little added SF color, or fantasy color, or surrealism, or horror. the extreme versions of each of these (including extreme sex/pornography and extremely detailed historical works) appeal to only a small subset of the population, the fans. so "quantum leap" succeeds for a while because it's a series of dramas with a light SF/historical outer coating.

the limits change over time. the mainstream used to be much more critical of SF and horror, for example, which kept it in a ghetto for a long time. superheros are starting to be more acceptable as mainstream, at least in the movies. some elements borrowed from surrealism are showing up more in movies and commercials, although hardcore surrealism is too extreme (although maybe it's because of the anarchocommunism in surrealism and not the random imagery.)

but there are still limits. I think a game with a light dusting of the fantastic will work better in the mainstream.
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Emily Care
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« Reply #24 on: November 16, 2002, 08:22:51 PM »

Quote from: quozl
A non-roleplayer who has been introduced to roleplaying but never played goes into a store like Wal-Mart.  In the game section, next to Uno and Monopoly, is a box.  This box contains the game Dust Devils and has the same great cover art we've already seen.  The customer turns over the box to read the text which describes the game and contents of the box.

What would that text need to say for this non-roleplayer (who likes Clint Eastwood westerns) to buy Dust Devils?


Good way to approach the issue, Jon. :)

Here are my rambling thoughts on it:

* On the back of the box, the idea of role-playing should be described in terms that 1)make sense and 2) sound fun, to someone who's never done it.  With no jargon and put in terms of something that is already in the mainstream.  In this example, appealing to the fantasy of "being" in a wild west film would make sense.  

* Once it gets bought: If we want or expect rpg's to be sold outside of the gaming community rules have got to be very clearly explained and parsed in ways that will be fairly easily to understand.  So much of what goes into a table top or rpg builds on concepts that come from a lot of experience or time invested to understanding how everything works together.  To someone not already in the know, they are practically incomprehensible. You'd have to start long before square one to explain all the concepts and processes involved.  Video games don't take that kind of investment, just pop them in and they run, so no wonder they are so popular.

* Back to the back cover...what is that gets someone to  impulse buy any product?  A book, or a traditional game?  It seems to me that most people buy things that they've already heard of or seen. So advertising would be important.  Or word of mouth appeal.  

I don't know if there is any set of things that the packaging of a game alone could do to infiltrate a role-playing game into the main stream. It seems like it would take some kind of shift of the public's attention to accept them as a desirable, non-threatening and comprehensible leisure activity.

--Emily Care
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talysman
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« Reply #25 on: November 16, 2002, 10:56:30 PM »

Quote from: quozl
While these are all great idea, I think they have strayed away from the exercise.  I think I may be at fault since I made it too vague and wide-open.  In order to rectify that, here's the exercise again, a lot more specific:

A non-roleplayer who has been introduced to roleplaying but never played goes into a store like Wal-Mart.  In the game section, next to Uno and Monopoly, is a box.  This box contains the game Dust Devils and has the same great cover art we've already seen.  The customer turns over the box to read the text which describes the game and contents of the box.

What would that text need to say for this non-roleplayer (who likes Clint Eastwood westerns) to buy Dust Devils?


I think we may have strayed because it's a difficult exercise. I don't think there's anything special you could say on the back of the book. even though I have been in favor of not calling a transition game a roleplaying game (in contrast to Ron,) I don't even think my suggestion would help, when talking just about the back of the book. I think there are a number of factors that work together.

first, the subject. people do tend to focus on simple subjects when seeking out entertainment: racing, dinosaurs, true crime, alien invasion. the movie, book, or game they choose may be very complex, but what catches their eye is one of their pet topics.

in your jacket blurb for Dust Devils, then, you would definitely mention spaghetti westerns if that's the mainstream crowd you think would be interested. something like "Dust Devils lets you play in your very own hard-edge western... now you can take on Clint Eastwood or Lee Marvin in their own territory!" you can mention role-playing later if you want, but mention the "hook" first.

second, the cover art and general look of the book... it's hard to specify, but you need to avoid those fannish elements Ron was talking about if you want a mainstream audience... but you still need to be exciting. Ron said about one cover illustration "I want to be HER". it's nebulous, I know, but art isn't always reducible to mere words.

third, the rest of the book... as Emily says, it needs to be clear. not just the rules -- although that's important for convincing someone to
play rather than just buy -- but the general format. someone has picked up a book with an interesting cover, read the blurb, now they're going to skim the pages. does it look hard to master? does it look confusing? does it look boring? if so, the customer's going to put the book back on the shelf.

fourth, in the blurb text and in the introduction, compare the game to something that nonplayer is familiar with. this is the big problem: nonroleplayers avoid rpgs even if they might enjoy them because they associate rpgs with D&D (or maybe WoD). if the first time they heard of rpgs was when they met some D&Ders and they decided they didn't want to play a game like that (quite likely,) then when they ask you "what is your game like?" and you answer "it's a role-playing game... like D&D...", we know what their response will be.

unfortunately, they aren't familiar with much else, besides D&D if they aren't role-players, which is why we kept drifting off-topic to discuss how to build a game non-roleplayers would buy. I think it's because we all instinctively know we need to create some kind of transition game, something we could then compare new games to. you might have to say something like "this is like poker, but with a story behind it, a game where you take on the role of a gunslinger, cowboy, or pioneer and carve out a place for yourself in the wild west."

I won't go any further in this post, since I've pretty much covered all I can think of that relates specifically to what you can see in the in-store product, in particular in the cover blurb.
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b_bankhead
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« Reply #26 on: November 17, 2002, 05:18:29 AM »

Quote from: quozl
While these are all great idea, I think they have strayed away from the exercise.  I think I may be at fault since I made it too vague and wide-open.  In order to rectify that, here's the exercise again, a lot more specific:

A non-roleplayer who has been introduced to roleplaying but never played goes into a store like Wal-Mart.  In the game section, next to Uno and Monopoly, is a box.  This box contains the game Dust Devils and has the same great cover art we've already seen.  The customer turns over the box to read the text which describes the game and contents of the box.

What would that text need to say for this non-roleplayer (who likes Clint Eastwood westerns) to buy Dust Devils?


Okay I think the term 'rpg' need not even be mentioned ,In fact I think we should start them role playing  before they even open the package... the copy should be something like this (and remember this is almost off the top of my head)
***Start package copy
 
   Do you Shoot or Give up the Gun?

You push aside the swinging door and walk into the smokey saloon, the hardcases give you the eye as you walk up to the bar. The bartender grunts and says:
     'Howdy pardner, you're new in these parts, but thats no surpise, seems people come and go a lot around here, sometimes on their feet and sometimes feet first.  I'm not gonna ask who you are, I can see it in your eyes you're on the trail looking for somebody to plug with those six shooters you have strapped on, no I'm no fortune teller I don't know what put you on the trail and it really doesn't matter.  Everybody who walks down this road is changed by it ,whether or not they finish what they set out to do, most of the time they have to plug a few on the way.
  But I can see it in your eyes, you don't know whether its worth it, living a life by the gun.  Well I sure don't know either, depends on you, but every time you strap those on you have to think 'is it worth it'? Can I go on and keep on killing? Am I ever gonna find what I set out for, and once I get it can I put away these shooting irons?"

   Well I don't know the answer either, but you see the guy you are lookin for is right across the bar and he has the same look in his eye.....so the question is boys 'DO YOU SHOOT OR GIVE UP THE GUN'?.

  Dust Devils is the game of Western characters, you play Bounty Hunters, Sheriffs,  and Desperados in the Old West fightin' and shootin' your way across the dusty trails, but alway the question rides with you, Is the price you pay worth what you seek?  DO YOU SHOOT OR GIVE UP THE GUN?

  Dust Devils requires a referee and at least one player up to as many as can crowd around your table, the game REQUIRES AN ORDINARY SET OF PLAYING CARD AND POKER CHIPS, COINS OR OTHER TOKENS  

     Included: Dust Devil rule Book 25 pp, Character sheets

****End Package copy

  Okay obviously my prose is going to take massaging but I think using the term 'rpg' not only drags with it too much negative equity but for many people is completley uninformative.  If the essence of good writing is 'show not tell' then using the term 'rpg' really isn't either telling OR showing.

  I also very strongly believe that a game marketed like this should definitely include premade characters, some kind of introductory scenario and some kind of guide to scenario creations (but for God's sake don't call it THAT!) and MAYBE a campaign setting ( yes I know the setting is the Old West but I was thinking something like Dodge City only much smaller, just some little tank town with a saloon and a rail siding and all the other basic Western backlot sets.)
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talysman
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« Reply #27 on: November 17, 2002, 03:06:09 PM »

I think that's a good example of a cover blurb. also, I agree about the word "roleplaying"; you don't need to say "this is a role-playing game" to sell the game, you just need it somewhere inside the rulebook so that you can say "if you like this game and want to buy similar games, here's what to look for..."

sure, the White Wolf was stupid to invent a new term for "roleplaying game", but that doesn't mean leaving "roleplaying" out of the sales pitch is wrong. just call it a game, that's what it is.
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