Tuesday, September 05, 2006

New Business Plan

Heya,

((This is also cross-posted HERE at the Forge))

What a trip my path towards game publishing has been lately. Recently I read This Post by Ron. There’s a road of no return that people walk when they get fed up with RPGs and never want to come back; I almost went down that. Just for some quick background two of my games Cutthroat and Hierarchy won Ronny awards last year. I was pumped about getting them tested and published. Well, I got that done, finished the layouts scooped up all the art I could for them on my budget and had it all ready to go. Then several things that I wanted to go my way didn’t. I was disappointed, very disapointed. When my cousin Stacey scheduled her wedding on the weekend of GenCon, I just swore the whole thing off. I thought I was done. But, after several encouraging conversations with my wife and a really awesome trip to the Western United States this summer, I came back with a new perspective. I knew I still wanted to publish my games, but releasing all four (adding Standoff and Holmes ‘n Watson to the list) at once didn’t seem right. I had an opportunity to do something unique, but I didn’t know what. Then I listened to Paul Tevis’s interview with Ken Hite on Have Games will Travel.

The idea struck me like a bolt of lightning. Ken said the gaming industry, specifically the distributors and shop owners, were increasingly looking at RPGs as periodicals rather than books. His words also jived with what I’m learning in my masters classes about children: attention spans are getting shorter and new stimulation is required *often* to keep their minds focused on something. So I thought, “Hey! Why don’t I turn my games into a periodical rather than just dumping them on the market all at once!” It was crazy. And I liked it. So here it is, my new business model:

I am going to offer customers the opportunity to purchase a subscription to my games rather than purchase each new game as it comes out. A subscription would include four books that would come out quarterly (every three months) and be complete, self-contained games. This is not a model where I create one “Core Rules” and release supplements every quarter. Each game is a unique individual and very fun to play. As of right now, I plan to offer three different kinds of subscriptions.

The first kind would be a PDF subscription. This would be the cheapest. I would just send the customer the pdf over email the day the game is “released” and they would have it waiting for them when they got home. PDFs are getting increasingly popular and if someone wants to test the water this way, it’s good for both them and me.

The second kind would be a Book subscription. This is kind of the “normal” subscription. At no additional cost for shipping and handling, they would receive a new book (paperback, perfect bound) sent to their address every three months. International orders would probably cost a little more and take a little longer to ship.

The third would be a Lifetime Book subscription. While it would cost more, it would guarantee them a copy of every book I release under the periodical model I’m talking about for as long as I can keep it up. They would never again have to pay another fee for the books, shipping, or handling even if the costs of my other subscriptions go up. Once that fee is paid, you get one of everything I make. Period.

I think I would probably also offer to sell “back issues” if people wanted those. I wouldn’t make them available, however, until the next “issue” came out. But if someone gets a subscription in the second year of this and wants Cutthroat let’s say, then he’d have a chance to get it. Of course ordering four back issues would be more expensive than ordering a subscription. Subscriptions are what I’m really interested in selling.

Now I know this sounds a little crazy. A book every three months!?!?! That’s nutz! But hey, I’ve got the first four already written and tested. That’s the first year at least. I’ve got two more games in the draft stage and will start testing them after a couple more revisions. So for the first year and a half I’m already set. Plus, if you’ve followed my Blog at all, you know that I’ve created a good number of tools to help me write these games. I now know what it takes to make a complete game and I’ve got a whole wad of ideas just waiting to be realized.

And you know, honestly, the games I write are pretty simple. They aren’t designed on the same level of depth as say Dogs in the Vineyard or the Mountain Witch. Character creation in each of them is fast and easy. 5-15 minutes for most of the games. And they are really designed to give the players a complete game experience in one sitting. Kinda like a short story rather than a novel. So imagine a customer gets his book. It’s 50-70 pages long and takes less than a half-hour to set up and only 2 to 5 hours to get a complete game. If he and his friends play twice a month, then by the time my next game comes out they’ve had 6 play experiences with it. They’ll be ready for something new. And that’s the idea. I will provide customers with frequent, new gaming experiences at regular intervals that won’t take up a lot of their time with things like set-up and prep. At least, that’s the hope.

I will be a little bit before I get this in motion, though. I’ve got to redesign my website. I need to figure out PayPal a little better so I can set up a storefront on my site. I need to revise the covers and touch up the layout on a couple games. So no sooner than the 4th quarter of 2006 would I be able to get this out the door. That sounds about right.

Anyway, here is what I want from you guys. I’m not really interested in comments on why this model won’t work, why the games will suck, or how I can’t possibly keep up the pace. I am very interested in comments that suggest way to HELP make it work. I’ve discussed this privately with a couple other people. Interestingly, they had opinions on the opposite ends of the spectrum. But I am very interested in what do you think I need to do to make this happen and happen well, and even more interested in anyone’s publishing experiences that might be helpful. How can I avoid potential pitfalls? What are the good points of selling games in this fashion?

I do appreciate you reading this far and all the feedback you will offer.

Peace,

-Troy

7 comments:

Guy said...

Quite simply, have backorders available indefinitely via Lulu, so people can pick and buy these games at no added hassle to you. But they do miss the "New" and not "Cutthroat-shipping" stage.

Frank said...

The subscription model for gaming can be quite interesting. At least two game companies have had subscription models (Game Lords - Thieves Guild and Columbia Games - Harn). I'm pretty sure others have also.

As an end user, it was pretty neat not having to worry about whether I would be able to get to the shop when the new thing came out (or if it would even be in the shop). I didn't even have to worry about when it would come out.

The lifetime subscription also provides a nice way for your supporters to "buy in."

Frank

Mike Sugarbaker said...

What advantage does the subscription model offer the buyer of your games?

Troy_Costisick said...

Heya,

What advantage does the subscription model offer the buyer of your games?

-Good question, Mike! If we're talking about how much you spend in a year for new games, the price of a subcription for my games will be WAY under what you'd normally spend. In fact, looking at things now, the cost of 4 games through this subscription equals about the price of one WotC splat book or two Indie-RPGs bought through IPR. That's not bad, IMO.

Also, with a new game guaranteed coming every three months your group is assured fresh stimulation on a regular basis. Unless your group is into multi-year epic campaigns (in which case the subscription model is totally wrong for you), that means not getting tired of the same old game week in and week out and having to shop for another. By the time you get done with one game, you're ready to take on the next. And boom! It comes right to your door.

Finally, it saves the customer a lot of hassle. Pay a fee once every twelve months, and don't worry about shipping, handling, ordering, and previewing ever again. It simplifies the shopping experience for customers- steady prices, steady delivery, and a one-and-done method of payment. And we can all use a little more simplicity in our lives, eh?

Does that answer your question? At least in part anyway?

Peace,

-Troy

Mike Sugarbaker said...

Well, okay, but I guess what I'm really driving at is this: what are the barriers to entry for a consumer when they're deciding whether to commit to a year's worth of your games, and are those barriers affordably surmountable?

Troy_Costisick said...

Heya,

Okay, Mike. I think I know what you mean now. The two biggest obstacles/barriers to entry are Faith and Cost.

Faith is the first obstacle because you have to believe I can deliver four games in 12 months. It's a hard schedule, but I believe with a little help from folks with the playtesting, it won't be any problem.

Cost is the second obstacle. Right now, a new game from a new designer (like me) will run you $15-20 or so for a book (less for a pdf). A new game from more veteran designers might run you anywhere from $25-40. Add in shipping and handling you're probably talking anywhere from $20-50 per game. A subscription will probably be somewhere in between. The customer will have to decide, "Will I spend my money on one game or will I spend it on four games?"

If the customer can get over the Faith hurddle, the cost hurddle isn't so high. It's a pretty good deal. Also, since each game is completely separate and unique, customers won't need to have all the games to play any of the games. Each game is complete and stand-alone. They do not depend on each other in any way, shape, or form.

So does this answer your questions? :) If not, you might have to give me a few hints. And that's okay, I can be slow sometimese.

Peace,

-Troy

Frank said...

One advantage of the subscription model (and especially if you have lifetime subscriptions) - you have a good list of potential playtesters (and in fact, perhaps the most important set - they've already bought the game in question...).

Frank