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Saturday, June 22, 2013

How Do You / Would You Market Your OSR Product?

Last night's "Marketing Your RPG" panel was hosted by the Blonde Frog. Although some of the advice was applicable to smaller (hobby) publishers, most was aimed at larger publishers. That makes sense, as the panel was composed of folks representing Frog God Games and others with fairly large footprints in the hobby.

The OSR does not have a large enough footprint in general to use many of the advertising and marketing techniques in question. Our strength is the tightness of the OSR community, which I saw first hand with the Basic Fantasy RPG and Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Days. There are some amazingly creative members of our community that enjoy giving back to the community.

It's a community that is very accepting of "fan and hobbyist" created works and can also be highly critical when those hobbyists attempt to make the step to professional. If they slip we tell them. Often vocally. It is simply how we are.

This also means that projects can live or die based upon the rep of the people being it, as word of mouth is our hobby's main method of marketing. That doesn't mean a good rep will necessarily make a project successful, but a poor rep can kill it before release.

The OSR, with a few notable exceptions, pretty much works for beer money and a pat on the back. There is nothing wrong with that, but I for one would like to step up to buying more microbrews ;)

So, any words of advice for your fellow hobbyists?


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  2. Word of mouth (on blogs and RPG forums) worked really well for me when I released Flying Swordsmen. Of course, that was a freebie. With Chanbara, I'm thinking of asking people to purchase it. As such, I think I will need more than just word of mouth. Hopefully the fact that Flying Swordsmen had a positive reaction, and this is a similar themed product, will garner me some good will, but I'm not planning on quitting the day job when I finally get Chanbara released.

    Kickstarter/Indie-Go-Go seem to be fairly effective advertising paths these days, but as you well know, a lot of stuff that looks promising ends up not coming to fruition there. So I'll likely stick to blogs/forums, and try to get more reviews on big blogs/fora. And be a little more proactive myself. With Flying Swordsmen, I didn't go pester people to talk about it (much). If I want to make that beer money, I'll need to be a little more aggressive in getting the word out...

  3. don't give up the day job, and I don't say this in a mean spirited way. I mean, do your game or adventure for the love of doing it, because you are going to get the best result (self-satisfaction) by doing it this way. I wish Gygax had kept the day job and written more, finished the Plane of Shadows, the City of Greyhawk, Castle Greyhawk and God alone knows what other massively cool things he could have accomplished instead of running a business or going to California with an aching in his heart.

    At its best this isn't meant to be an industry and at its worst it is a damn industry run by a bunch of suits who could give a rat's ass about coming up with a good adventure and stirring the imagination. Their idea about the RPG industry is to sell a new edition of the rulebooks every 2.5 years. My idea of a business success is a table of friends laughing together or shouting in triumph as their blood-soaked characters wade through a room full of monsters and take their stuff.

    Marketing should be showing people the quality of your work not the corporate version of trying to find a woman in a bar drunk enough to buy your latest splatbook. Write some free adventures, host free online demos, go to gaming conventions, meet people and game with them, and then get them drunk enough to buy your splatbook, or world setting or latest megadungeon. Start a freaking zine and test the waters to see if people will pony up the cost of paper, ink, shipping and that wicked center stapler you've been eyeing.

    But don't quit your dayjob or expect to make serious coin because this 'industry' is really a labor of love.

  4. In my experience, you actually can make serious coin in it- for values of serious that include "Would be above the poverty line if reliant entirely on this income", if not i-banker levels. It's just that not a whole lot of people want to do the work that is required to make said coinage.

    If you dedicate almost every waking hour you have outside of your day job to the work and possess a basic level of literary aptitude, you're probably going to make decent money. Doing so will be the result of several years of effort as you build an audience and get a reliable following of people willing to buy the next product you put out- said products coming regularly thanks to your incessant work. Inch by inch, product by product, you'll build up enough of a catalog that the long tail keeps you going even in those months when you don't have something fresh. As DTRPG/RPGNow's mailing list includes all the customers who've downloaded even your free products, you can count on a gradually-expanding mailing list that can leverage your new releases, provided you take care of the list and avoid sending more than one message a month or so.

    For myself, the only real directive to such success as I've managed is "Don't ever stop." If you haven't produced at least 5K words of raw text today, it better be because you've been directing art, doing the books, setting up files, or otherwise pushing the business. And if you _have_ produced at least 5K of raw text, congratulations- you'll probably throw it all out before you're done, but that's okay, because you're gonna write 5K more tomorrow.

  5. Examples please because the number of people actually making a living writing RPGs appears dreadfully small. I don't believe it is lack of industry on their part or even talent. Table-top gaming is something of a niche anymore.

    In other words, Bullshit. And Jack, I always admired your work ethic but I thought you died of a massive abdominal hemorrhage years ago. I didn't know you switched from stream of consciousness and beat poetry to RPGs. Good for you.

    1. Jason is always quick to bring a ray of sunshine to the discussion ;)

      Kevin's perspective is valid from his own POV - if he's willing and able to put 40-60 hrs a week into Sine Nomine after working his fulltime job more power to him. That is not most of us - my wife would kill me. I'm happy she tolerates 15-20 hrs a week between the blog and gaming for my hobby.

      The tail is a long tail to success. I started writing this blog over four years ago to get it where it is today, and I have another three years before I can retire. I think any kind of success in this niche of ours requires looking at things in the long term growth.

    2. You'll have to remember I qualified my terms as "above the poverty level", and that's nothing anybody wants to live on. In the US, that's about $12K a year for a single person.

      But as it stands, I've made $12K this year in the first six months of operation. Checking OBS's sales rankings, I'm averaged as the 55th biggest seller on the site over the past six months. Quite aside from my knowledge of the one-man or small-group operations that I know to be bigger than me, there have got to be at least 54 people in front of me who are pulling down not-contemptible amounts of money from this hobby.

      I think that if a writer of modest talent puts that 40-60 hours a week into it over the course of a couple years, they have a very good chance of matching my results. But as Edgar points out below, they do have to cultivate a specific audience that is willing to take a special interest in their work, rather than shooting for an all things to all people sort of breadth. For a small publisher, you have to be something distinct, reliable, and serviceable for the market you are targeting. They have to know that they're going to get X when they buy your stuff, and they have to be people who want X in the first place.

  6. Being consistently awesome in your own idiom is an important part of it, I think. Trying to be all things to all audiences is a pretty good indication that you don't know to whom you are marketing. While, in theory, getting views by more and more people is desirable, the emphasis on the actual quality of work, via actual love of said work by the person producing it, goes a long way toward making it sellable. Stars Without Number, and pretty much everything Sine Nomine publishes (thanks, Kevin), Vornheim, Raggi's stuff, Goodman's DCC RPG, and a whole list of others seem to be going for this sort of quality (instead of total audience reach). It keeps things smaller, certainly, but the "long tail" that folks refer to above seems, in my mind, to REQUIRE some level of commitment to making awesome gaming materials. It is actively undermined by leaving off of making quality products in favor of appealing to everyone.