The “other” Forge model


Over in his Ronnies thread, Ron posted about mutualism and the Ronnie Awards It’s led me to some thinking about “the other side” of the Forge model.

The standard Forge model, such as I understood it, is: Design the game that you would want to play. Produce it on the cheap. Sell it direct.

All supply-side stuff. I missed the demand-side of the model: Engage in “mutualism” to generate goodwill and interest in your products.

Okay, I try to be mutualistic as I can manage. I try to be a conscientious Forge citizen. I organize the Indie RPG Explosions at Dreamation & at GenCon. I gladly pitch other people’s games at GenCon. I carry other people’s stock to the con for them. I run other people’s games at cons and post about them. So, with the power of “mutualism” on my side, With Great Power… should be one of IPR’s top sellers, right?

Wrong. Sales are lukewarm, bouyed by an unexpected Christmas rush for everybody’s stuff.

This isn’t meant to be whining, it’s meant to be “obviously I’m doing something wrong. How should I change?” Kinda like Clinton’s insights on sales back in November.

Looking at what other people are doing, and factoring in my own (mis)perceptions of who’s more successful than others, I’m looking for trends.

Who’s publicly happy with their sales? Ron, Luke, Vincent, Matt Wilson, Ben, Tony, and Paul in 2003/2004.

What do they do? Well, they post A LOT. This only makes sense. Selling over the Internet means cultivating an Internet presence. They’ve got heavily-trafficked blogs or active forums devoted to their games.

Who’s publicly unhappy with their sales? Clinton, Matt Snyder, Paul in 2005.

What do they do? Clinton runs the Forge, helps people with websites, upgrades and tweaks the software that makes the website work, creates tools like FindPlay for people to use. Matt Snyder lays out lots of peoples’ games, and published Daedelus.

What’s the difference? The things that Matt Snyder, Clinton, & I do are easy to take for granted, easy to overlook or, at least, easy to fail to attribute to a certain individual (e.g., I doubt many people come to the Forge and say “This is such a cool website! I wonder who designed it?”).

The stuff that the first group does is more public, exposes more of their personality, and promotes a recognition of their unique identity and worldview on other people.

About Paul Czege, it seemed to me that his posting fell off in 2005, and so did his sales (at least at GenCon). Maybe there’s a connection.

So, maybe, if I want better sales, I’ve got to post more. I’ve got to SAY more stuff to more people. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Does that mean I should pull back on the other ways I’ve been pitching in? Maybe. The Indie RPG Explosions are a hell of a lot of work for little in return. I’ve only got so many hours in the day, and I’ve already been reprimanded at work for my online time.

Okay, now it’s getting into whining. End of post.


32 Responses to “The “other” Forge model”

  1. Man, I’m so sympathetic here, unsurprisingly. I’m right there with ya’.
    I do think there’s some to that talk more, sell more bit. (And it’s not just talk about our games, specifically.) It could help, I suspect.
    But, I think the real secret to sweet success is getting people to play, and turning their reports into the best sale motivator ever. Look at the actual play reports. People are playing: Sorcerer Dogs, PTA, Burning Wheel, Polaris and Capes. (I’d throw in Truth & Justice there too, especially for your context with WGP.) I know I can pretty easily point to actual play reports for all of the above (slightly less able on Capes, but it’s there).
    Whereas, I can point to one for Nine Worlds, vaguely recall one for WGP perhaps, and surprisingly few for Shadow of Yesterday (however, this has many more posts and inquiries than, say, 9W or WGP).
    (Ineresting aside: I’m putting The Mountain Witch somewhere in the middle, but I believe Tim’s done a stunningly good job of selling, so it’s a tiny bit of a maverick.)
    So, what’s going on? For ME, I know the problem is high barrier of entry. People have a hard time approaching 9W and then a hard time pitching it. The result is fewer groups playing it, and thus very few actual play posts to stimulate more sales.
    I don’t know your position well enough to say whether its the same.
    However, I don’t consider any of it a lost cause. There are things we can do to market better, true. But, I also think that our games are solid, and I strongly believe they are “late bloomers.” That is, people are extremely quick to play Dogs or PTA. They’re easy to pick up and play. But, there remains critical acclaim for both our game (and others). I know people are planning 9W games now, and I think that slower trend is fine, particularly given the nature of the game.
    So, more work + patience = good 2006!

    • I’d second that analysis, in that it was reading an AP report of WGP on the NerdNYC boards that convinced me to buy a copy. Especially with games that try for a low GM overhead, AP that shows the collaborative charachter/villam/plot generation are absolute gold.

  2. I feel your pain. I’m unhappy with my sales (though there has been some improvement) and the presence CoS has on the intraWeb. It is frustrating and not a day goes by where I don’t consider packing it in and quiting the whole damn thing.
    But I won’t cause I’m a stubborn fucker and I realize a few things. Maybe my observations will help. Maybe they won’t. They all assume you have created something people want of course.
    Some success is born of name recognition. Designers who have track records and who have made themselves known have an easier time. I’m not in that group right now, so no use worrying about it. Though I would kill for it cause there are all sorts of market experiments I want to try…
    Some success is from the cultivation of a core play base to go and do the promo work for you. This takes a lot of work (which you do with the Indie explosion). It is running con games and hard selling, though you don’t have to have both. It also takes the ability to make people feel like they are part of a club. That stems from the personality. That ain’t me and I only am interested in running longer con games.
    Some success is because you happen to be the current darling of the avant-guard bullshit set. The ravenous few who build their ego around how cool they are because they play X, which is the greatest thing since sliced bread. I want no part of those fuckers, though I will take their money… 😉
    Basically, we all have to find where we fit into the scheme of things and stick to it. Luke is very successful, but it took him quite a bit of time to get to this point. You obviously are following his example with your con presence and shouldn’t give up on it. WGP… hasn’t been out all that long. Just wait until the release of the new X-Men movie and use that as a spring board. You also may want to consider going to comic conventions to sell and run demos.
    So I rambled a bit here and I think I lost my point. My point is, I guess, is that you are not alone and that these things take time and don’t get too discouraged. You made a much better game than I did and it will click.

    • Damn it! I knew I’d omit a perfect analog. CoS. Hell yeah.
      Ok, that’s it, we’re forming a Minor Justice Leaguers or something. That’s what I’ll call it to ease Keith’s mind, when we all know it should be Hippy Co-operative of Silenced Voices (with sandals).

      • I appreciate that you are willing to keep the hippy stuff away from me. Consider me Batman. My way is the right way and I have no time for pinkos like the Green Arrow…

        • I guess that makes me Captain Marvel?
          Alright, let’s talk action plans. Matt, you’re running Nine Worlds on Skype. That’s cool (I’d play, but I still have dial-up. Maybe next time). Keith, you’re running CoS w/ Matt Wilson & crew and posting about it, right? I’ve got to start posting about the WGP game that Kat’s been running for us.
          AP posts about your own game seem in bad taste … but then again, Ron used to post about his Sorcerer games, and Luke about his BW games, so maybe I’m just being too hard on myself.
          Anyway, thanks, guys.
          BTW, Keith,I can’t look at that picture of you w/o wanting to snap out a Master-like order. I’ve been fully memed!

          • I’m actually running two games. One is the Ravenloft game and the other is a pirate game. Unfortunately the holidays stunted the progress of them.
            But I know what you mean posting about your own games. I don’t like it either. That is why I asked Matt to post about our Ravenloft sessions. The only place I posted about it myself was on a Ravenloft fan site (my target audience).
            I most likely be posting about the pirate game myself cause it is a necessary evil…
            I so wish we could have played a full game with Eddy…

  3. I agree that there is something to speaking up and sales.
    and Actual play posts help, because you get to see people playing and having fun with a game your curious about. But I also agree that playing Comic shops and maybe a comic con or two will also help.
    and me, I’ll help.

  4. 9 Anonymous

    Hey Michael,
    Yeah, my public posting was definitely down in 2005. Partly because of less opportunity during work hours. Partly because Danielle moved in with me in November, 2004, and so I spend evenings with her instead of online. Partly because we were busy planning a wedding this year. Partly out of disengagement, with the focus of online conversations having drifted away from honest social and artistic truths. Partly because I was getting a lot of requests from prospective game designers for private feedback. And partly because My Life with Master is such a complete statement of what I know about gaming, and what I want from game designers, that I’m left not knowing what else to say.
    I’ve seriously considered joining the diaspora and starting a blog. But I haven’t, because I have no idea what I would say.

    • Paul said:
      I’ve seriously considered joining the diaspora and starting a blog. But I haven’t, because I have no idea what I would say.
      Gee, something like that bomb you dropped over @ Attacks of Opportunity might be a place to start.
      Or you could take the route I did. Envy leads to whining leads to occasionally posting about other stuff, too.
      And thanks for reading. I can completely understand your post-drop. Part of the reason my post-count never got very high is cause I was a busy family man when I found the place.

      • 11 Anonymous

        Hey Michael,
        I’m not much of an essayist, though. I’m a way better conversationalist than an essayist. I was provoked on Attacks of Opportunity by an excellent question.

        • 12 Anonymous

          Two Words
          Does podcast count as two words? Whatever, go call Paul Tevis at Have Games, Will Travel and just shoot the shit for 45 minutes so we know what’s up with you.

          • 13 Anonymous

            That was supposed to be 4-5 minutes. I like your stuff, but maybe not that much. 15 might be a good number.

            • 45 minutes has my vote! Might I suggest Sons of Kryos as well?

              • 15 Anonymous

                Both excellent suggestions. When Acts of Evil is further along, I believe I’m going to make a couple of phone calls just as you suggest. Thanks.

  5. Hey, Michael.
    Let’s talk about this at Dreamation.
    P.S. Part of the reason I’m happy about Polaris is that I went into this with very low expectations.

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