- An initial shift in pricing from $1 to $1.99 after the first day.
- The March GM Day sale where Adamant dropped prices by 25% further for the duration of the sale.
- An increased release schedule meant more things to buy which drove up sales and outlay.
First impressions count, the jump in price after day one was an inauspicious start. While it's evident the initial pricing hiccup was due to a miscalculation on small purchase handling, some suspected a gimmick or publicity stunt. While motives vary, Gareth's opinions and those of his alter-ego GMS have antagonised RPG fans before and it's certainly possible those making such remarks were unfriendly competition.
It's notable Gareth and Adamant has a history of largesse when it comes to sales, launching a $1 sale in December 2010 and contributing to many charity bundles. The March GM Day sale price drop gave those who missed the December sale a second bite. Fred Hicks posted a note from DriveThruRPG on January 6th at his Tumblr and it contains a possible explanation for what happened here.
If all publishers trended prices down to $1 for an RPG, then customers will re-anchor their price expectations at that level and $1 RPGs would no longer ignite large sales volumes for any single publisher. Instead $15 RPGs will seem expensive, much like any app over $1.99 is “expensive”.By normalising prices so that the discount wasn't as large as usual, customers saw it as less of a bargain which may explain why takeup wasn't as dramatic as in previous years. Adamant now faces a period of readjustment, fortunately given the strength of products like ICONS it may be able to weather the consequences of this.
The increased release schedule was the killer. Given the work needed to put out any publication it is not surprising that increasing your release schedule means increasing outlay. During March 2011 but after the GM Day sale three titles were released with only a 35% increase in income compared to the previous year. That's effectively one per week! Before the sale, there was greater correlation between increased releases and profit. After, it suggests that a plateau had been reached.
What interests me (and others) is how this compares with epublishing (arguably niche, maybe less so than RPGs). There are success stories like J.A. Konrath. Tobias Bucknell has a year of ebook data with variable pricing and argues for diversification. Looking further outwards at apps themselves, it's suggested individual users tend to purchase 10 - 12 per month. That's a lot and given the depth of some RPGs needs a significant learning curve. Matching that level of takeup is ambitious and saturation appears to be a risk. Perhaps the solution is to produce add-ons to a core product?
I admire Gareth for his vision and having the chutzpah to do this. Failing to applaud pioneers means nobody visits terra incognita. I can recommend ICONS as a cracking rules-lite superhero game with plenty of support - if you haven't bought it yet, please do so. There are other publishers who are following the app pricing experiment including Nevermet Press who priced their PDFs at $2.99. It appears that the noble experiment continues...