Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Pieces of Pie

I am the Warden.

Believe it or not, this may actually be the first post not directly involving the Optional System. Sacrilege? Perhaps, but the mind cannot focus on just one thing without going a little ca-razy. Rest assured, OS remains behind these next thoughts, as well as every other independent game out there.

I've bitched about marketing before. I've often wondered if I should have studied it at some point and time, including now, but I always snap myself out of that mushroom-induced absurdity. Two-thirds of marketing, I've been told, is about what's worked in the past, meaning too much emphasis on copying success. Very little individual achievement. Pass.

I like ideas which buck trend, run off in their own direction, and work despite those odds. It's similar to improv, a passion I've been denied for far too long. When an improv skit works, it's pure gold because you're able to do what takes most people weeks or months of rewrites and rehearsals. It takes skill and talent and shoves it to the front of the line.

That's what I'm looking for in everything I do now: something different which defies expectation to success. So as I try to think about how to promote the Optional System, I want something different.
For example, Paizo's beta test for Pathfinder. Hell, even the entire concept of Pathfinder. Publishing a game that already exists in multiple forms, available free online through the SRD no less, and repackage it with a bit of clean-up. And still provide yet another free copy to everyone just to get the word out. When their competition was pulling out of PDF sales, Paizo opened up a homeless shelter for them and used it to place Pathfinder at the top of the heap. That's a publisher who knew their market from the inside and pushed when everyone else was pulling.

So how can I build up word for the OS despite the disadvantages of promoting a new, independent RPG created by a no-name whose experience is in cloning the world's most popular roleplaying game? It's best determined by analyzing the struggles/weaknesses I'll have to overcome.

1. The Learning Curve
Every game has its own learning curve, even clones of other games. Unique games such as the Optional System have steeper curves and while my opinion may be biased, I'd say this one's steep like a mountain with a rewarding view of a new world once you make it to the top. There are some staples of RPGs broken in my game, the biggest of which is the "unlimited turn" (as one playtester put it).

When each of us learning to play roleplaying games, there were many hiccups. We wanted to make sure we were getting it right before we started pulling in our own direction. There's always a concern with RPG design in that what you write on the page matches what's in your mind and this is a big one for me. So far, all playtests have been run by myself and few players have actually read the words.

Luckily, we live in the Age of the Internet. What may be confusing or uncertain at first can easily be fixed by a podcast or YouTube video demonstrating exactly how the game is played. The real trick is devising the right presentation to make it viral.

2. A Needle In A Haystack
Let's face it, this is yet another roleplaying game in an already crowded market. So what makes this one worth someone's money? While everyone predominantly focuses on the setting, character development, and unique features such as powers, spells, weapons, mechs, etc., the Optional System has built a truly unique mechanic to make the entire game different. Dude, nothing about the core values of this game works like most others, including the number of actions your characters can take, sharing initiative with your allies, and how all difficulty is set by random dice rolls. But is all this enough to make the game stand out on its own.

I'm counting on yes, but that means people need quick and immediate access to it. And that means FREE COPIES. Once again, cue the Internet and PDF publications. The only way to get people hooked on your game is to let them try it for themselves; only then will they determine whether or not it's worth spending money on.

That's where Redpills comes into play, but I'm aiming for more than that. The Optional System will be available for free as part of the Creative Commons license, encouraging not only players but other publishers and supplemental material beyond anything I can come up with.

3. Artwork
Art drives sales, there's no denying. A rocking cover gives cause for potential players (or GMs, for that matter) to pick up a book or click the link on RPGNow. Art costs money; really good art costs even more. During my Emerald Press days, my budget was related to my sales and that meant I was stuck with clip art most of the time (which worked very well, don't get me wrong, but was easily duplicated). This comes with a theoretically easy solution: spend more money on art. But the practical approach is a bit tougher.

The art has to demonstrate what the game is capable of and this game is an action game. The artwork must be dynamic, moving pieces of drama captured as if a camera caught the action in mid-swing. A collection of character portraits won't do the trick and there are few artists capable of presenting such work. Sure, I could try to lure in a known artist (who wouldn't love to have Wayne Reynolds do a cover for them?), but I love the idea of discovering someone who fits this bill perfectly.

4. Continuous Support
There are thousands of games on the market. We've already established that, but how many of them carry at least a dozen titles under the same banner. A much smaller percentage. Anyone can publish a game with a core rulebook and maybe a couple of adventures, but I'm always eager to flip through any series where I find a slew of titles stacked alongside the core book. As with artwork, the simple solution is to throw more money at it to create more material and the complex answer requires deeper thought.

A good, long-term game needs expansion, not just more adventures and campaign settings. It has to grow over time to keep players interested for years to come. And I have extreme confidence the Optional System can do just that (especially since I'm constantly smacking myself across the forehead to stop working on new creeds and get back to rewriting the actual rules).

Everything I'm planning is not going to be easy, not by a long shot. Yet for every question, concern, and issue I can think of wipes away as I pour over the existing material sitting on the screen and the notes sprawled across my bulletin board. While money does play a huge factor in getting such an endeavour off the ground, the product creates longevity. People, especially geeks, are smart and they know crap when they see it. When it all comes to the finish line, it will be all of you who determine whether or not the Optional System will be a success. My job is to get it in front of you and get you interested long enough to give it a try. The rest is up to fate.

And a great name to work under.