marketing

Somewhere along the way marketing an independent game got way harder for me.

With Diaspora we had a lot of community contact during development through RPG.net and many of the readers and posters there bought the game, wrote about their experiences, and voted in the ENnies. We won a gold for Best Rules. We sold (and still sell) a lot of Diaspora.

Three years later we released Hollowpoint. There was some engagement at RPG.net but a lot of the contact was through the blue collar space blog (now defunct): existing VSCA customers looking forward to the next game. Hollowpoint sold well (not as well as Diaspora) and still sells. It’s a great game. We didn’t win an ENnie but we were nominated for best game. Given the sales (and therefore the voting body for the game) that’s not surprising. And I am very proud of that nomination.

0-Dark-30-cover-test
Zero Dark Thirty was a casualty. I think I’m just still pissed that they stole my title for a movie.

Then there was a long break. I moved from Vancouver to Toronto, lost my gaming group. my wife got very sick, and generally I was unable to create. During this period Kickstarter emerged as a way to get enough pre-sales money to do big production books. Lots of colour, pretty product, and most importantly connection to a lot of people who seem very eager to put money down on product that won’t show up for a year or two. Also during that period RPG.net started banishing any post that smelled like shilling your game to a subforum that no one reads. A new community emerged that made no sense to me and a valuable community for an independent community designer got shut down.

I tried a few little things in the interim, not trying very hard. Elysium Flare was baking in the back of my head. Soft Horizon was just being troublesome.

Well perhaps I waited too long. The original audience, the VSCA fans, had become dispersed. Some of them just grew out of role-playing games (not sure how that happens). They forgot who we are. The locations of the communities changed. There are more and they are stranger, full of young people (get off my lawn). There’s a lot of video and audio (which I really can’t use in my home). Kickstarter became sort of the only way to sell games.

So for me, mostly interested in making a book about a game, selling it to you, and then moving on to the next game, my market disappeared. Or went into hiding. My old home, RPG.net, makes the pretense of being non-commercial by ghettoizing independent game announcements (though strangely there’s a whole thread just for Kickstarters pinned to the front page of tabletop-open — I am not sure I understand what privileges Kickstarter). And Kickstarter dominates — it’s kind of the only game in town. And I just don’t like it (for me, in my opinion, your mileage may vary, and all that good shit).

Worse for me, I think I pissed off some people with the power to generate buzz and thanks to the way the Internet works, when someone pisses you off you can kind of shut them off forever, meaning any miscommunication can become banishment with no chance of reconciliation — there’s no accidental meeting at a dinner party where you get drunk and in a maudlin fit explain each other to each other and bury the hatchet. Now you just get disappeared. Or maybe everyone grew up but me. I know at least one grew up and I miss him a lot.

That doesn’t mean there’s no way to do this any more. It just means that the ways changed (and in ways that are mostly social, not technological) and the audience got harder to find. And my tastes have changed as well and since I sell what I love to play, when my tastes change I have to actively try to find the audience that changed with me. That turns out to be very hard. Exhausting, even.

So I am at peak creativity — two releases this year and maybe a third (though more likely Sand Dogs will be coming out in 2019). More planned for next year. But at a low point in my reach, which is very demoralizing.

The games, however, are still going out since the zero-risk model is still in effect. This mess is not stopping me, just disappointing me.

9 thoughts on “marketing

      1. Good luck with this, Brad! I wish I had some help to give or recommendation I could make but I got nothing. I don’t even know who to announce a game even exists to any more. I released 9 games in 2016, so I know what you mean about “Phenomenal Cosmic Creativity… Itty Bitty Market Reach” 😀

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  1. I am nowhere near your level of sophistication and publishing and appreciate your candor. It’s helpful to get the perspective of someone who is so much more experienced in this arena. The demise of G+ has me really worried as it is my primary way of getting the word out about things I do. While I do have my own blog and twitter neither has even remotely the same reach.

    Keeping a community intact is hard work and if someone you rely on, be it RPG.net or Google+ suddenly change the rules it can be devastating.

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  2. I’ve tried to reply to this post like five times and each time I get nihilistic about the fourth sentence in. Blurgh.
    It’s hard. It’s not just you. I don’t know that it’s gonna get any better. What’s more, at least for myself, I don’t know I have it in me to keep up with the joneses in terms of where the tribe decides to congregate next to try to have an outlet to tell people about my work and hope that they engage in any way.

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      1. Frankly, there’s a reason why over this year my work shifted dramatically away from gaming. Like, I still have a couple of gaming projects in me, somewhere, but ugh.

        The frustrating side effect is that now I get to try to enter markets/communities I know little to nothing about as I seek ways to promote my nongaming work. And part of me would love to bring along the people I’ve been in community with for the past 15-16 years as a content producer, but if it’s hard to engage them with a game product, how much more when it’s something not game-related at all.

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