Why do Indie RPG Web Sites Suck?

This came to mind while I was researching for my recent “Indie RPG Awards” article.

Let me give one bit of advice to our indie RPG people out there. Let’s pretend someone hears about your game and would like information on it. Well, some of you make it very difficult. If you don’t have any “product page” besides the sale page on RPGnow or whatnot, you’re doing it wrong. Let’s take Ave Molech. Morbid Games has a Web site, but once you get on it and try to find out information about Ave Molech, you’re screwed. The best you can do is find a link to an online store that has a two-sentence blurb on it. HTML’s free, boys, if you have a whole frickin’ Web site already take the time to put up a couple pages about your product, its world, etc. Same goes for Valent Games re: The Princess Game.

Even if your game is free you need to do this. It still takes a minor commitment from a person to download a big ass PDF and look through it. So even though the Dead’s site does a good job of just getting you to the game, it can turn off a casual browser. How about a couple paragraphs on what this is and why I might care? When I first was going down the Indie RPG list, I came very close to not clicking on it. “Another survival horror game, whatever,” I thought. Luckily the “Death and relationships” tagline got me just enough that I did dl it, and it’s really neat. But you’re shaving off your audience bit by bit if you don’t give them enough information to know whether they want your game or not.  If they aren’t sure, you’re not going to close them.

You’re indie already, and getting an audience is hard. Don’t deliberately make it harder. With the Web, it’s pretty darn easy to get a message out there. If all you really want to market to is the other two dozen indie wonks at the FORGE, then fine, but I would hope most proud authors would like to see more people experience their fine work.

You don’t need an MBA to market your product on the Web. All you really have to do is write just a lil’ bit of a summary. What is this game? Why might I like it? What are its cool bits? Hell, be lazy and link to rpg.net reviews. But you have to realize that RPGs are actually a pretty big space now, and if someone hears “Star Thorns, the game of stellar hanky panky” they’re not gonna plop down $15 for it just on the strength of the name and a two-sentence blurb. And don’t count on your blog and forums – one, blog info gets hidden quickly in the past behind your posts about what you had for breakfast or whatever, and two, people that do nothing but hang out on gamer forums all day a) are usually underemployed and b) are being told by another dozen game developers that their indie brainchild should be the one they buy with their limited funds, which makes the competition for your game harsh. Not to mention that forum info gets hidden quickly and most forum webmasters can’t get search working (on RPG sites only…  I am unclear why this is).

To restate – blogs and forums are great for 1) timely announcements and 2) interactive discussion, respectively. But they SUCK ORC ASS at getting people to traverse the sales funnel. And RPGs, especially indie games, count heavily on sales over time. blogs/forums may give you a spike in interest but they don’t help you out with long term sustainability. You’ve been non-lazy enough to write a whole game and publish it. Don’t get lazy at the critical step of getting your game into other people’s hands.

Do an experiment. Take a friend who’s not into all this stuff. Sit them down at Google and say “You heard about this “Star Thorns” game from somewhere and you want to know what it’s about. Go.” They should be able to get to your Web site, and there they should get enough info about the game to sum it up to your satisfaction.

Heck, on the high end even Paizo suffers from this some. It gets even more important once you have product lines and not just one or two products. Their product pages are great. But what is all this (similarly named) crap? How does it fit in? What do I need to start out? It’s overwhelming to someone who doesn’t already know all about it.  If you expect someone to mine your forums for an hour to find the answers, you suck. And by “you suck” I mean that you are actively reducing your sales to casual buyers.

Let’s walk through the Paizo example. You’ve heard of “Pathfinder.” So you go to http://www.paizo.com. OK, up top there’s a “Pathfinder” link, good. So from there you go to this page. I love you Paizo, but this is a terrible page. OK, what’s a Pathfinder Chronicle vs a Pathfinder Companion vs an AP vs a Pathfinder Module vs…? Well, here, I’m a self starter, I’ll click through and see. OK, Pathfinder Chronicles. And it says…

From the crumbling spires of the ancient Runelords in distant Varisia to the bustling merchant kingdoms of the Inner Sea, the Pathfinder Chronicles campaign setting forms the panoramic backdrop for Paizo Publishing’s innovative Pathfinder fantasy roleplaying supplements, modules, and Adventure Paths. The world’s most popular roleplaying game is always changing, but the Pathfinder Chronicles campaign setting is designed to be great right from the start. Your next great adventure is about to begin. It’s your world now.

OK, a little vague, but worldbooks I reckon. Although some of the things listed are a “Harrow Deck…” Wouldn’t that be in Accessories? Ah well. Maybe I want to subscribe! Let me click on that. What product would my subscription start with I wonder? Doesn’t say. If you add it to your cart – and you view the cart, not just click on descriptions in the mini-cart in the sidebar – you maybe can figure it out. But making people do work to figure out and buy your product is an artificial barrier to your sales and your success.

Especially you people experimenting with different revenue models – ransom, subscription, etc – you have a double burden on yourselves to make it really, really obvious how it works.

OK, rant over. I manage a technical team that runs Web sites in real life, and the generally weak nature of RPG Web sites, including the abandonment of crafting a marketing message in favor of “just posting” in blogs and forums, bugs the hell out of me.

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14 responses to “Why do Indie RPG Web Sites Suck?

  1. I dont know anything about Ave Molech, but the Morbid Game homepage has a link to Projects. Once there – isn’t that the information you are looking for? Although, that page is listed as being “Uncategorized” by the blog’s own tags.

    The Valent games page.. yeah.. your right about that site. And, rant aside, I also agree: It’s a pain in the arse to find good summaries and info about a game, game supplement, or other RPG thingy. Maybe people just think Google will save them? heh…

  2. I’ve really only ever looked for one indy game site (For Dogs in the Vineyard) and it happened to have a fair ton of information about the game on it… but ignoring that outlier, I have to agree with you on Piazo’s site. Damn, I spent like a half hour trying to figure out what “Subscriptions” really meant in the context of their product lines, and what you got, and how they worked. And I like to consider my self not dumb and relatively interweb savvy.

  3. I think in, Paizo’s case, you have a webmaster who is only occasionally adding stuff without reorganizing on a regular basis. As a Web Designer, I’ve been a victim of this myself, at least when it comes to my own website.

    Bascially, as the site gathers more and more content, it becomes a sprawling mass of pages and links with little or no logical organization and it becomes more and more difficult to remember where everything is. This means tons of pages that are ‘forgotten’ when it comes time to update links leading to a menu structure that’s about as conveniently organized as a hedge maze, as well as a ton of broken links.

    I think that every site should have a quarterly ‘tune-up’ in this regards, re-organizing content and links and trimming unnecessary content. It would appear that Paizo is so busy working on PFRPG to compete with WotC that they’re not hitting these basic maintenance needs and are letting their site go ‘fallow,’ as it were…

  4. As a web developer, I agree with you wholeheartedly. The vast majority of RPG company websites are at best badly organized and at worst hideous and broken (or, perhaps, just plain missing).

    With that said, I sometimes miss the mark myself – after all, nobody’s perfect, and everyone is a work in progress. So with that in mind….care to have a look at Silver Gryphon Games’s website and let me know what you think? I’d really appreciate it.

    http://www.silvergryphongames.com

  5. I have to agree that it is a bit annoying to deal with companies and sub par sites. I don’t mind that they aren’t all beautiful, and mind blowing, but I would like better functionality.
    If you have the capabilities to build the site at least make it organized and easily navigable.

  6. @Ben – shore nuff. OK, I go there and it’s pretty easy to see you are selling a semi-universal but modern setting game called AEther, what the two current releases are, and what they contain (although the bit about the core book not replacing the quick start guide confuses me – it does, right, one person doesn’t want both). So that’s a great start and is the main thing that I’m complaining about most of these indie sites lacking. I would punch up the verbiage on the product pages – the description for the Aether quick start guide basically says “I have RULES!” which isn’t all that compelling a sales pitch. I don’t mean more happy adjectives, I mean more info on ahy a casual RPG player would consider Aether, what does it bring to the table that would be better than, or complement, the things they play already?

    Two pieces of feedback – you may want to call the product section “Products” or “Games” rather than releases, and make sure it and other pages contain terms that will optimize it for SEO – like “RPG” doesn’t appear anywhere in the page till the “Drive Thru RPG” link at the bottom. You want to have key terms appear in context high up in the page. “Aethermancy, a supplement for the Aether RPG” in the title will get that page ranked much better, for example. SEO isn’t too complicated, basically whatever you’d do to make a page more self-explanatory for a visitor works for the engines.

    Also, as you build these up, it might be nice to have a product line/family page to explain more about what AEther in general is and why someone should care – what makes it different from d20 Modern etc. This is the “Paizo problem” (that’s not really fair because they certainly didn’t invent it and they’re not the most egregious example, but they’re who I cite in my article so blee). An “Aether RPG” page that gives the overall pitch and then links to specific products would do the trick.

  7. Hey, I also want to say – I love Paizo, and their site is very strong in a number of ways. The product pages are good, the community is great. I’m just using them as an example of a site that’s missing a robust enough “product family” layer. So I don’t think it’s a bad site overall, there’s just info missing that could really help sell the average “Uhh, i know a bit about D&D but nothing about all this third party ‘scene'” people out there.

  8. @geek – exactly. Not everyone can or needs to get a fancy designer, have “high tech” stuff, etc – but you have to always think of your intent first. Assuming the goal of your site is to get your product in the hands of people (pay or free not really relevant), you just have to look at it in terms of optimizing the experience for that. “How do I most quickly inform people on my game concept, intrigue them, let them get to the actual products, and provide them with information enough to make them click ‘buy/download’?” And not put weird pointless hurdles in the way. Organization and navigation’s a key element of that.

    Maybe I’ll do a “basic sales and marketing funnel for RPG people” article. That could help.

  9. @Jonathan – you mean http://morbidgames.com/wordpress/?page_id=7 ? That page sure doesn’t sell me on anything…

  10. Pingback: blackpigeonpress.com » Blog Archive » Roost Master’s Web Roundup Aug 24 2008

  11. Hi, I saw the site link from wordpress. I took the liberty of renaming my “About MG” page to “About Morbidgames & Ave Molech” as I believe that may have been the information you were looking for.

    As for the Journals flash fiction series, I’ll see about incorporating their descriptions into our store page. I admit, I had just thought that most people would be finding our stuff from RPGNow/Drivethru/e23/YGN and hadn’t thought to focus on adding the descriptions on our page, especially since we don’t actually sell the products through our own site.

    If you have any other suggestions, I’d be glad to hear. Thank you.

  12. Pingback: Sales and Marketing Funnel for Dummies (and RPG Authors) « Geek Related

  13. “Luckily the “Death and relationships” tagline got me just enough that I did dl it, and it’s really neat.”

    so it worked. 😉 noticed your site on my stats page. sorry for the shoddy experience. that’s what 3rd runner up gets you. 😀

  14. Heh, no problem… I’m glad everyone took my comments in the constructive way they were intended.

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