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Spider Dreams

A Review of the PDF Game Industry

This is an individual's opinion, and not the opinion of the company.

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                   A couple of days ago, I read a question put forth by RPGNow.com that has been bugging me.  A lot of what I thought about doesn't really apply to the forum, and is a bit off-subject.  It may be that in the course of this rant, a couple of trademark or copyright infringements may occur (thanks to the "product identity" clause) (DISCLAIMER:  everything mentioned by name in this is or TM or .  They are , TM, or by their respective owners.  This is the statement of opinion, a commentary, a review.), but I'll claim First Amendment rights and the fact that I'm not selling anything with this screed.  Anyway, the question was (in a nutshell), "How can we increase the market for PDF games?"

                My first thought was to advertise in non-traditional places:  PC magazines, comic-book trades, places where the "fringe gamer" (the analog RPGer who doesn't know it yet, or the gamers who are wired but don't know about the available tools outside of the WotC site) lurks.  It seems as though every comic-book collector is involved in some form of gaming, whether its digital or analog (video games vs pen-and-paper), and every comic-book shop has at least a corner staked out for games and gamers.  Even if it's a couple of T-shirts with dragons on them.  The two go hand-in-hand.  And who are the people who are buying the comic books and RPGs?  Geeks.  People who aren't among the lucky few, the "cool people" with good haircuts and muscle tone.  (There are a few out there, but they are very few.  I know one gamer with a good haircut, and another with muscle tone.  They used to be in the group that I played with regularly.)  They're the geeks who stand at the counter of the local comic book shop and argue about the real origin of Moon Knight, and if he has any powers granted by Khonshu.  Or which series is "cooler":  Elfquest or Sandman.  (Theyre also the ones who know that Sandman:  Dream of 1000 Cats won a Hugo for Best Short Story, the first comic book to win a "real" award against prose stories.)  They're the geeks who saw Star Wars over 50 times when it first came out, and who have Lord of the Rings:  The Two Towers memorized.  (I dont have it memorized.)

                What about the hundreds of thousands of people who saw the LotR movies, were fascinated by them and became immersed in Middle Earth for six hours, but aren't active geeks?  The people who were greatly entertained by The Chronicles of Narnia, but didn't feel compelled to spend hours trying to recapture the feeling through a game, where they could pretend that they were there?  They're the ones who look at hard-core geeks and phreeks, and say, "Why doesn't he or she grow up?  Its only a movie."  They were never exposed to the escapism that gaming offers.  They might buy an issue or two of Spider-Man or Daredevil, but they won't become rabid collectors.  They'll accept the fantasy of a guy dressing up in red spandex and duking it out with criminals (who should be carrying guns, but usually aren't), but they can't wrap their minds around the idea of a grown man wanting to play a game of make-believe with complex rules.  They're also the ones who are willing to spend 50 or 60 bucks on a piece of plastic that contains the information that a computer needs to simulate a car chase or an exploding alien.

                This is part of the problem.  Geeks tend to be more creative, and have learned how to use their imaginations.  Which is simply incredible, given the prevalence of television, films, and video games which offer passive entertainment.  Geeks can read, and are able to translate words into pictures in their heads.  They are often able to visualize action and movement from static lines and symbols on paper (or a screen, as this is).  In video games, probability and complex math functions (on/off) are done for the player.  There is no need to flex the mind.  The imagery is provided in 32-bit True Color, and any kind of creative thinking, or even simple mathematical problems (2+2=5), are encrypted safely away in the program.  The only effort required is not spilling the beer and stretching the thumb when it gets a charley horse.

                Okay.  I went a little off-track there.  (I'm not sure exactly where Im going at any given time, which is why I have a computer.  I can edit later, and not lose a fortune in ink or white-out.)

                How do we market PDFs to analog gamers?

                I wish that I had the answers.  Unfortunately, the best answers are about as easy to put into place as sneaking up on a dragon.  (I was going to say, "beholder," but that's considered the Product Identity of WotC, and I can't.)  Everybody and their hellhound goes to the WotC webpage (which RPGNow.com has done).  If it were possible for micro-presses, advertising on that would be the easiest and most cost-effective way to get the word out about PDFs.  If you could also convince people that buying your products is better than simply downloading the weekly free sh-- (oops) stuff that WotC cranks out.  They have an unfair advantage in the market, and they exploit the living hell out of it.  And they have no qualms about changing the rules (the updated licensing agreement) to keep that advantage.  Just look at the list of terms considered "product identity" in the SRD Legal section.  You cant sneeze anymore without someone stepping on their "product identity" unintentionally.  It's becoming ridiculous.

                At this time, I would like to say that I'm grateful that the OGL is in place, and that it is being continued.  It has made it possible for a lot of micro-presses and independents to get a start.  If it werent for the OGL, I wouldn't have been able to start Sacred Wolf, Inc.  But, that doesnt mean that I have to like the changes.  (What I've said publicly and in print about the government of the USA would be enough to get me arrested under the Patriot Act.  I'm being kind to WotC while I whine, because, while I question their method with the new OGC, I believe that their motives are pure.  They are trying to protect themselves, so that their products don't go the way of Spam (which is still a rather questionable lunch meat item).  But some of what they consider "product identity" may be a reach.)

                My problem with WotC is that they have the backing of a huge corporation now, and that their business practices have changed.  The product library, cataloging OGL material publishers and materials is gone from their site.  The list of retailers is not available, as it once was.  And the amount of product that they have made available for download (free of charge) has become massive, and continues to grow.  I offer free product through my company site, but it's a finite amount, and it's directly tied to generating interest in my products, rather than enhancing them for nothing every week.  (I work 45 hours a week plus I have a large amount of time that is taken up with personal business at this time.  I would like to be able to crank out a bunch of enhancements for my products, and make them "better" using those means, but I can't.  Most indies aren't making enough to support themselves, and rely on every sale to break even.  At least that's the way it works in comics, where my publishing experience lies.  I don't know if that's true of gaming, as well, but I'd put money on it.)  Competition is a good thing, though-- it helps to raise the quality of the products.  But when a bunch of fieldmice are trying to compete individually with each other and a 2000-pound gorilla, it only helps to eliminate the fieldmice.

                The question remains, though:  Where do we go to broaden the market?  Do we turn to the hard-copy retailers, and try to enlist their help in selling our products?  Is there a parallel market that we can turn to to boost sales?  What can be done to make the PDF world a better place?

                The product sells itself to gamers-- equal quality of product, immediate availability, and a greater value (more pages per dollar).  But without the interaction with the geeks manning the counters and upselling cards.  Without the other geeks milling around, looking at back issues of Sgt. Rock and trying to find that issue of Dragon that would flesh out a run.  The online retailers (such as RPGNow.com) lack the face-to-face communal aspect of buying games, but offer a cheaper alternative.  These things can co-exist.  The retailers and e-tailers don't need to be in direct competition, they can enhance each other.

                Getting the gamers to the product is more difficult.  Making gaming attractive to the fringe and non-gamers is a greater challenge.

                If I had the answers, I'd be stinkin' rich.

                Peace,

                --W.A.Rae, president

                Sacred Wolf, Inc.

                One last thing-- It was also said (although I think that it was later retracted, since the information was based on observation rather than actual numbers) that there is currently a glut of "publishers"-- that any yutz who can type 10 pages and hit the "send" button can create a PDF.  This is true.  We saw it happen in the comic book industry in the '80s, with the avalanche of black-and-white publishers.  Any yutz with access to a photocopier could get into the business.

                Is that a bad thing? 

I don't think so.  And not just because I'm now trying to make a go at publishing.  I think that it's a good thing, because the less marketable publishers will fade away.  The few that do survive will be even better for what those yutzes and their ability to type have done.  All around, it's good that the market has these micro-presses.  Maybe one of those yutzes will turn into the next Uncle Monte.


Send angry letters to:  szymd@lycos.com.  Everything mentioned in the above article is owned by its respective copyright, trademark, or registered trademark holders.  They are innocent bystanders in the review.