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.