Stories You Play

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Eric Mona talks RPGs, marketing and more

“You are not going to have much success in any side of this business unless you’ve got a network of customers who are interseted in buying what you want. You might have the most brilliant one-shot game that has ever been invented, but if nobody knows about it and you don’t have a way for people to try it out or to know about it, you’re going to sell probably in the hundreds of copies.”

“There are a number of strategies that I think companies can take to figure out how to sell their product ot a large number of people.”

— Eric Mona, speaking at Neoncon in February, 2010

His strategies summarized:

1) Use the open game license — essentially, tap in to the Dungeons & Dragons market. Sell to people who exist and have existing habits.

It may not be what you as a publisher want to do, he says. (Mona mentioned his own company’s Pathfinder license.)

2) Have an organized play strategy — a regular groups of people who have an ongoing connection to your game. He mentions Living Greyhawk. Also important for demo type exposure — e.g. a 4 hour game.

3) You really have to spend at least as much time working on marketing and getting word out as you do on creating, writing and designing the game.

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4 thoughts on “Eric Mona talks RPGs, marketing and more

  1. Matt,

    Is there a transcript for Eric’s talk? I’d be very curious to hear him elaborate on the ideas you are summarizing here.

    For me, points two and three make for some very solid advice. And while I think number one is practical, it also runs (as worded) contrary to my goals as a designer. I have no interest in designing for the D&D market, even if it would potentially allow me to sell a ton of copies.

    What’s more, I think there are other ways to create broad appeal without relying on the market strength of D&D. If the only way to sell a lot of copies is to make a D&D type product, then what Eric has really uncovered is just how small the rpg market is.

  2. Hi Tim —

    No transcript as far as I know. I transcribed these bits (and snipped a couple sentences here) as I saw them as the real meat of his hour-long talk.

    His specific strategies are interesting. True, his company selling a major product using the “old” OGL (rather than 4th edition D&D), so it’s no surprise he touts that as a model. I was suprised how upbeat he was about this. He made a point of explaining the D20 product glut, and then to follow it up that he thought there was still something very valuable in the OGL.

    I took away a more general concept from his point #1. That is, tap into existing audiences of play. For example, one thing that interests me specifically is how the Evil Hat guys have done such a good job buidling on the Fudge / Fate audience. That one might have some legs on a smaller scale for folks like you and me. Indeed, Diaspora seems to have had some level of success doing exactly that.

    Point #2 strikes me as very difficult to accomplish for solo or small operations. The closest notion I can think of is Luke’s tireless support of Burning Wheel and Burning Empires. But, as far as I know, there’s no “club” or anything.

    Point #3 is great. I don’t think anyone really argues against it, if we ever did. Rather, I think it’s just that old not-enough-resources problem.

  3. Matt,

    All good points. I sort of suspected that number one was intended in a more general sense anyway.

    Do you think that the Evil Hat guys originally tapped into an existing Fudge market though? I’m not sure how large the Fudge market really was to begin with. What I do see is coming out of Evil Hat is games with more general geek appeal combined with a lot of hard work on the marketing side. I could be wrong. Maybe I’m underestimating the appeal of an established system that gamers are familiar with.

    That said, Spirit was based on FATE, and the new Dresden game is based on Spirit. So what Evil Hat has done well is parlay one success into the another. In a sense they’ve built up their own market by using appealing subject matter combined with FATE fans. Compare that with most indie developers who design a fresh system from the ground up with every new release.

  4. I do think Fred & Rob tapped into an existing base. Yes, you’re right, it was probably small.

    But, you’ve nailed it exactly. They built on one success after another, and each expands the scope.

    Whereas, right on, each time you or me release a game, there’s no guarantee that the audience grows. True, there is SOME cross over among fans of my own published games. But, it’s relatively small. In essence, each time I’m starting over in terms of building a customer / player base. And, that’s hard stuff.

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