Friday, September 2, 2011

Which are the Innovative Game Companies?

Does anyone out there know any game companies, specifically RPG or wargame producers, that are doing new and innovative things from a business perspective?

By this, I don't mean companies that are putting out new and innovative products, or who are taking graphic design in bold new directions, or anything like that. I'm talking specifically about business decisions. Let me give you an example.

Chris at 6d6 RPG is doing several innovative things with his company. I don't know much about the game itself, but these seem like really interesting experiments from a business perspective.

First off, he is open about the process of coming up with pricing. Even though he's not running a publicly traded company, and therefore isn't required to report things like sales figures or other internal financial numbers, he does so regularly on the company's blog.

Second, 6d6 has what they call a "Living Document Promise". If you purchase a pdf from them or one of their retailers, you'll get free updates for that pdf. For life.

Third, he releases his material under a Creative Commons license. What this means is that folks are free, within certain limits, to share, modify, and adapt their rules and adventures, and even resell them!

Fourth, he's paying his writers 1/3 of the retail price of his books and pdfs. And the fact that he's telling his customers that fact up-front might make them a little more inclined to pay for things, even if they're a tad more expensive, because they know a goodly chunk of the money will actually end up in the pocket of the author.

So there's my question to you. Are there other companies out there making innovations on the business side of the RPG or wargames industries? Please share in the comments, and don't be afraid to tout your own company's innovations in this regard, should you happen to be a game publisher.

17 comments:

Eric Wilde said...

Don't overlook the obvious. The subscription charges from D&D 4 (whatever the heck they're called, I'm not a user) is pretty innovative in the table-top RPG world. From a business perspective, such recurring revenue is the holy grail.

6d6 Fireball said...

Thanks for mentioning us. It is very much appreciated.

I would also like to suggest an addition to the article -

5. Forth coming 6d6 Online Tools
A subscription based service where members have access to all our PDFs as part of the subscription. Plus the can edit and remix those products to improve them for everyone or to create special version just for themselves. (Being launched in three weeks time).

On that theme, I think Eric is right with the DDI. Personally I don't think they went far enough with it but it was a huge step for WotC. Historically the OGL was also a major innovation.

There has also been innovation in pricing with $1 PDFs. These mostly haven't worked out but ideas don't have to work to be important for the industry.

Evil Hat also deserve a mention for publicising their sales figures. It is one thing for a tiny enterprise like me to do it, its quite another for a industry name to do it.

jaerdaph said...

I don't recall who did it first, but ransom models and kickstarter funding models seemed pretty innovative at the time, but now it seems everyone and their brother (and sister), most of whom you've never even heard of, are doing it too.

jaerdaph said...

Eric Wilde said: "Don't overlook the obvious. The subscription charges from D&D 4 (whatever the heck they're called, I'm not a user) is pretty innovative in the table-top RPG world. From a business perspective, such recurring revenue is the holy grail. "

I don't think people realize how big that is, perhaps even more so than WotC's last innovation - the OGL (and to a lesser extend the d20 System license).

Every time I see one of those threads about how Pathfinder is outselling 4e D&D based on retail shelf data, I have to laugh a little because it doesn't include the money and sales WotC is making based on the subscription model D&D Insider.

Lord of the Green Dragons said...

Hmm. The first two posts are representative of "Content Delivery" innovation. Pricing low (as in $1 PDFs) is not innovation but a "Marketing Strategy".
The OSR according to its "non-members" is not an innovation but a set of indistinguishable principles that vary from person to person; and that is hardly innovative for this is what RPG has been for everyone since its onset in 1974.

In the realm of Design: RPGs, IMO, are treading water and have been doing so for many years. Look to board games and miniatures rules for innovative ideas, especially the former which has been leading in this category for years (starting point http://www.consimworld.com/).

Lord of the Green Dragons said...

jaerdaph said..."Every time I see one of those threads about how Pathfinder is outselling 4e D&D based on retail shelf data, I have to laugh a little because it doesn't include the money and sales WotC is making based on the subscription model D&D Insider."

That's one way of looking at it.

In Cost<>Benefit analysis Paizo wins again, however, as it is not costing their consumers anything additional to play the game as originally delivered.

6d6 Fireball said...

@Green Dragon,

The $1 model is more than a marketing strategy. It fundamentally shapes the business due the nature of the products that can be made/ sold of $1 a time. And regardless, marketing is part of business so its a business innovation (though not one that actually works in RPG).

When it comes to RPG game design, if you are not seeing innovation, then you need broaden your outlook.

Games like Fiasco and Dread-Jenga are exploring what RPGs are. Whereas games like Dogs in the Vineyard are pushing the envelope in subject matter. You might also want to look at my own humble offering and see a fair amount of innovation in one place. There are some free downloads here - http://6d6fireball.com/6d6rpg/free-library/

Peter said...

Steve Jackson Games is doing a lot of the stuff you mention 6d6 doing - free updates to (and unlimited access and downloads of) PDFs, for example, and paying a nice healthy percentage to their authors. They also publicize their sales over on e23.sjgames.com so authors and readers alike can track what's popular and how the kind of books they like sell.

I think both companies are clearly on the right track.

Lord of the Green Dragons said...

"The $1 model is more than a marketing strategy. It fundamentally shapes the business due the nature of the products that can be made/ sold of $1 a time. And regardless, marketing is part of business so its a business innovation (though not one that actually works in RPG)."

We'll disagree here. It is like saying if a business reduces the price of eggs it is innovative for it allows them to sell more eggs as these are in higher demand. This is supply side economics; and as much as that figures into company plans does not by itself speak of innovation in any sense, as such models have existed since ancient times.

"When it comes to RPG game design, if you are not seeing innovation, then you need broaden your outlook."

There is a lot assumed in this statement so it is at best hyperbole.

On a whole, gauging what has been done in RPGs over their history, there has been little movement away from models that predominated the field from the onset. Many are at best tweaks to existing formulaic and linear expressions. "Epitome" is an innovation; but I see innovation differently in the sense of transformation or revolution rather than evolution within existing models (i.e., such in comparing D&D to En Garde, for instance). YMMV.

Joseph Browning said...

"When it comes to RPG game design, if you are not seeing innovation, then you need broaden your outlook."

Seconded. There's plenty of innovation. All of it takes place, of course, with the restriction that too much creativity changes what's being innovated so it no longer qualifies in the category discussed.

For example, an automobile that's been "innovated" or "evolved" so much by removing the wheels and instead turning a screw prop is no longer an automobile: it's a boat.

One Monkey said...

www.nodicerpg.com

The only innovation we can really lay claim to is that we try to make sure that if you want to pay for a particular game or sub-game because you are interested in it you are not compelled to buy any other products in order to use it to the full. This comes from our pet hate of the sentence: "To find out more about organisation x please see page y of supplement z available from all good bookstores now."

Deinol said...

Posthuman Studio is doing some similar things with Eclipse Phase. All of their books are released Creative Commons, so they seed their own torrent of the PDFs. They ask those who enjoy it to buy the print version or the PDF through various channels.

Evil Hat has always been very open with their sales numbers. FATE being an OGL system (but not derived from d20) has spawned several variants for different genres.

Open Design's Patronage system (more involved than just kickstarter) allows a collaborative design that, while not new, has been producing high quality stuff for the last five years.

I'm sure there are plenty of other innovative game companies, but those are the ones I've been following closely.

Deinol said...

I forgot to mention DungeonADay.com. One of the few places that is embracing a new way of presenting the material in a digital form. Most products are still PDFs which mirror books. DungeonADay is a website, with a growing dungeon where rooms are hyperlinked to other rooms they are connected to, monsters are hyperlinked to their stats, etc.

Evernevermore said...

Here's a question - how many sales does it take before an innovative rpg is successful? Ive seen many RPGs that were innovative conceptually but never really sold. Im much more interested in an innovative RPG that can actually find traction with the public than yet another book to put on my shelf.

6d6 Fireball said...

@Evernevermore

how many sales does it take before an innovative rpg is successful?

It depends very much on the publisher. For WotC it would be tens of thousands of units. For someone like me or Leo from Nodice, it would be a few hundred.

I think the measure isn't really about sales but about whether the company continues to support the product. Unless there is a steady stream of new supplements from the publisher (or from other publishers) the game will wither and die.

Dan of Earth said...

Not sure if this counts, but Goblinoid Games was the first to release a "no-art" version of our games as a way to solve the problem of having a commercial release, being able to pay for art, but also have a free version of a clone available. The no-art version also solves the problem text files have in that people with the free PDF have the same pagination as the commercial version for a common frame of reference in online gaming (or elsewhere). This idea for no-art versions has now been adopted by other companies.

DHBoggs said...

Free updates is no innovation; its sop for any self respecting producer in any electronic medium. In the old days they were called inserts and errata sheets.

My other comment is more of a question, in that, while I understand the curiousity at work, I don't really see any point or utility to publishing sales figures. Who cares how many x,y, and z people bought the thing?