Tuesday, 30 March 2010

scarcity, prosperity and reward

There are a number of ways to sell and promote games these days.

One approach is based on scarcity, making provision of goods and services to individuals who pay for exclusive access to them.  Purchasing is usually dependent on established prior relationship/investment and is dependent on reputation.  Examples of this include subscription models like Dungeon-A-Day, D&D Insider and World of Warcraft.  You pay for access to use services unavailable to others and you get some tangible benefits for doing so.  Pays your money, takes your choice.  A twist on this is the ransom model where X number of people contribute to paying for the publishing of a book who get the book first.

Another is based on prosperity.  The more people have it, the more play and talk about it. And if it's good enough, then more people play and talk about it and the cycle spreads.  Such viral-based approaches have seen an increasing rise given the presence of the Internet but have been around for some time.  The concept and some permutations are well-documented in  Seth Godin's 'Ideavirus'.

The Grateful Dead were original exponents according to this Atlantic article of the Connect With Fans + Return To Buy model used by bands like Nine Inch Nails, Coldplay and Jonathan Coulton to sell their art to us - a model being replicated in the games industry.  Games like Swords and Wizardry, Mutant Future and Eclipse Phase have freely-available electronic copies and all have grass-roots support. 

A third road is to operate a patron model. This can be combined with crowdsourcing - Open Design are doing wonderful things with books like The Red Eye of Azathoth and Tales of the Old Margreve.  Once the book is published, you can buy it and if you've got in at the ground floor will be given credit where credit is due.  Another exponent of this is Nevermet Press, whose first product The Desire was received by everyone who participated in DriveThruRPG's Haiti donation.

Now imagine if playing the game gave you rewards just for playing.  You could start with intangible award badges (say 'Dragon Fragger') to display on your blog, Facebook page or games console. Then escalate it further - offer discounts on products or even gift vouchers for retailers with the right connections. And how many online retailers are going to sniff at a loyal tribe of potential customers? Which method or combination would you choose, as a designer or more importantly, as a consumer?

(inspired by JoeTheLawyer, James Edward Raggi III and Jesse Schell (via Justin Achilli))


  1. Working on my Super-Secret Project, the question of how to get people playing the game is high on my mind.

    Personally, and this will be reflected in the project, I believe that anyone should be able to play a game with the bare minimum of equipment and books. For an RPG, this means it must be free to download.

    This is great from a lefty / libertine point of view but it does raise question about how to make money from the product. Looking at the top 10 RPGs currently being played, few if any of them are free to download (though many will have start kits or samples).

    One of things we are considering is some sort of reward scheme for getting other people into playing the game.

    We are planning a strong online element to the project. The current idea is that if you get some one to sign up (using your unique ID as a reference) you earn some points. These points get turned into bragging rights, discounts, freebies and the like.

  2. I played MMO's for years, with WoW being the one I played the longest. When I finally quit I think I'd had just about enough of them. One of the things I really came to hate about playing a pay to play game is that playing becomes a job and you spend all your time trying to keep up with the Joneses. I can't help but see any sort of model like that as being a bit predatory to the customer. Like with WotC incorporating TCG's I hear into their PnP RPG products. (I think it was Gamma World.) IMO (and maybe it's just because I am something like a 2nd Gen gamer and thus am not their target audience, being OLD) it flies in the face of what I love about just getting together with friends, armed with books and dice, and playing a game and having a good time. Then it becomes more about collecting the newest set of powers so you won't be gimped. Spending even MORE money on product, like you don't spend enough now if you're into 4E or White Wolf products.

    Part of my problem is probably that money has been tight for us for a couple years with the economy being in the crapper. I didn't used to think twice about buying an rpg book or whatever I'd never played and giving it a shot. Now when I spend $40 or more on an rpg book I want to know I'm going to get a lot of mileage out of it and that I don't have to spend hundreds in supplements too.

  3. Whoops. Windy Valley Banners is me, btw. I forgot to sign back in to my other account. >_>

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Chris - Speaking as a libertine (yes I know!) one option may be to provide the core rules via Lulu or similar with free PDF copy or very nominal cost PDF (Pathfinder did a low-price PDF which IMHO was spot on). Then charge for well-designed campaign or rules expansions?

    Amanda - I hear you on the recession and it's interference with gaming! Fortunately for me the last three RPG books I bought were 4E's Underdark, Pathfinder (finally a print copy!) and Mutants & Masterminds 2nd ed. I know all three will keep me busy for this year and that's before I do anything else!

    (like y'know write my own stuff... ;-D)

    You might want to look at the recession-proof gaming label to find much free (as in beer) gaming stuff.


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