April 13, 2011: Cycles Of Release
In an odd coincidence, last month I incorporated musings on sales trends into the usual e23 announcement, and just a day or two later Fred Hicks of Evil Hat posted his thoughts on his recent success with The Dresden Files RPG. Both of us noted the tried-and-true rule of thumb: new releases start with large sales and then gradually slope down to a fraction of the initial rate.
Fred refers to the pursuit of these sales spikes as "junkie economics," which is an accurate (if somewhat inflammatory) description of the cycle of supplement after supplement some game publishers have found themselves in. In the past, publishers felt a bit trapped by this cycle, which led some to release expansions of lower and lower quality. Eventually this cycle creates the opposite of the intended effect: instead of causing a sales spike, the reaction becomes "meh, yet another book." Perceptions of poor quality overwhelm the earlier excitement, and the game line tanks. If you ever picked up a slim book filled with yet another optional class/race/whatever -- and rolled your eyes -- you know what I'm talking about.
In today's interconnected world, as Fred points out, there is an alternative: social media. Instead of using the hype of a new release to call attention to a line, a stream of tweets and blog posts can put your game into your audience's conversations, which can generate the same sales spikes in related products as a new supplement. It's a good idea, and one that can be used by publishers of every size . . . even non-RPG publishers. (I'm looking at you, Fireside Games.)
Of course, most supplements aren't released just to generate new sales of the main book, at least around here. The marketing team simply doesn't have that kind of pull with the creative team (if they did, my demand for a cartoon-post-apocalypse fantasy sourcebook would have been written years ago). But with the huge backlog of GURPS Third Edition books -- not to mention In Nomine, Car Wars, and the various oddities -- it may appear as if we're on that supplement treadmill.
The hobby gaming industry is still young, and we're all still learning. But it's nice to hear that others are seeing the same phenomenon, if from a different angle.
-- Paul Chapman
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