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Sustainable RPG Business

August 27, 2010

Reading stuff in both videogames and tabletop rpg businesses right now and it’s got me thinking about… well, some stuff that it’s amazing isn’t obvious.

I’m going to focus on tabletop rpgs, since I figure the multi-billion dollar videogame industry probably already has hired many serious economists to help on their industry…

In an ideal world (for businesses at least)

In an ideal world, you’re publishing/distributing/selling a product that:
1) needs to be bought over and over, regularly
2) is impossible or very hard to transfer or reproduce
3) needs no or little effort to upkeep/update to maintain sales

What are we really selling here?

See that list? RPGs can reliably hit #3 as products, though, the general gaming culture has embraced the opposite idea- that a company needs to constantly be publishing for the game to be “current”, which is why we see a lot of traditional publishers doing a new edition every few years.

Rpgs only need be bought once to work for a whole group, can be loaned easily, and if electronic, easily reproduced. By their nature, rpgs are low turnover items, and also end up competing with their own products after a point.

Low turnover, small market. What’s that say to you? You have to meet the market, not the other way around.

A smart business would look at that, and go, “Well, this isn’t going to be a major source of income, no matter what we do.” A lot of indie publishers have already figured this out and based their publishing models on it.

The problem lies mostly for folks who expect to make a huge profit or even, to make enough to be a primary source of income.

These are the folks who are constantly having to say, “the industry is dying”, because, well, the boom that was D&D back in the 70’s to early 80’s isn’t coming back anymore than the Magic the Gathering boom of the mid-90’s is.

Cashing in on a fad bubble is not a sustainable business model.

You making money is your concern, never the consumers’

The attitude I mentioned in Not a Marriage is that this unrealistic view turns into a sense of entitlement- an emotional plea that the consumers owe you your daily bread.

A business model should not, can not, rely on customers worrying about how much profit you’re making. Most people are only concerned with your business in how it meets their needs, not in how yours are met. You’re the one running the business.

(To be sure, there are loyal customers who want to see you do well, but this is the same equivalent to people choosing not to shop at certain stores or buy from certain companies for human rights or environmental issues- it’s a personal choice, certainly not a business choice).

The issue is the same whether you’re a retailer talking to end-consumers, a distributor talking to publishers and retailers, or a publisher talking to anyone and everyone else.

The industry isn’t dying, it’s just a small market. Deal.

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