Tuesday, July 12, 2011

If I were a CEO: Tabletop Games, #1.

This pair of posts on This blog that Shieldhaven reads and I really should read too, because it's pretty awesome, got me thinking about an idea I'd had on one of the many, many long-ass car rides I go on with Haven and/or Stands-in-Fire (I am pretty sure Stands-in-Fire was there for this one), about how I would run the D&D side of WoC, if I owned it. Also, refined the ideas somewhat through conversations with Four Color Criticism, who understands far more about publishing than I have any hope of knowing ever.

Keep in mind that this is the hypothesis phase, so I haven't thoroughly or crunchily weighed or vetted any of these things, and this can hardly be called a proper business plan. Rather, I am going by impression and wondering if these things would work. But nu, to the stuff:

End (or fail to start) the Edition Wars: The unquiet death of 3.x support was, from an on-ground perspective, a miserable idea. If you're going to go new edition and create slavish, fractious factions dedicated to their One True Way, you may as well profit from it. That is to say, I would have gone ahead and kept supporting the old edition, and publishing adventures, setting stuff, and the like for it, even as I spun out 4e. This is the cornerstone of everything else-- yes, I know it is costly, and requires keeping more designers on staff, and all of that. But let's see if we can make this idea supportable through the wonderful world of business organization!

Digitize Everything: To that end, let's begin by releasing all licensed material digitally, in some cases in addition to print versions (more about that later). There's a few different options for how to run this, but my first instinct is to release core books for around $10-15 or so digitally each ($30 for a full package), in all ebook marketplaces, and supplemental material, adventures, and the like for like $5 each, individually. Here's where it gets tricky: Updates.

I'd potentially create a subscription method, where updates for errata and the like would be available for the cost of a free registration that got you on a newsletter. Updates that included Dungeon magazine style updates would ba available for a per-month cost of Fairly Low. And a Rather Higher monthly cost would allow automatic downloads of rules material, particularly for...

Thorough Electronic Tools and Support: Here's my other core project-- making a software company out of a tabletop rpg company. I would focus development on the suite of tools for building Characters, Monsters, Items, and Adventures, including map builders, et al. There would be a permanent downloadable tool with support for houseruling, creating custom classes, monsters, and everything. There would also be an equivalent online toolset, where your custom creations could be uploaded. Access to this tool would be bundled in various combination packages with the e-books, and have various upgrade possibilities. Once again, errata edits and such would always be free. I am also tempted to offer some kind of versioning, so that rules changes could be rolled back for a given campaign (I'm looking at you, Magic Missile).

The model I actually prefer is where the tool itself is offered for the price of a print book ($40 something), and includes a certain number of updates. Additional updates could be purchased piecemeal, or for a subscription. In this model, the e-book versions would actually be supplemental to the _real_ product, which is the toolsuite.

The Community Interface: Largely-- providing a portal through which sharing one's creations, houserules, and custom classes, feats, whathaveyou is easy and convenient, and integrated with the toolsuite in such a way that one could easily download them directly into one's personal stuff-- both online and off. Here, I am tempted to rip off the model that EA used with the Sims games, (1&2 in specific, I am not sure if they've kept it up with 3), and see what worked and didn't, and what would have to be modified for the format to determine what, if any fee I'd charge for this service. I'd possibly do a feature of the best ones, depending on the nature or presence of a vetting process for this, and have a forum for adventure-writers to publish through me, and make a pittance. I'd have to do a LOT more research to determine what would work best here.

Print on Demand: Print books would still be available-- On Demand! This may mean that I lose the big-box bookstore audience, except that I'd keep my ebooks in their stores (I'm looking at you, B&N). This may also be a lesser problem in the future, given how Borders is floundering. But I would still keep the indie stores supplied by printing exactly as many books as they requested for their shelves. Also, a PoD collectors edition, limited, at a significantly higher price point (production costs, bebbeh), IF IT SEEMED DESIRED. I'd also consider offering some of these as auction/prize rewards for various charitable fundraising efforts, for publicity purposes. Also, I would make my entire backlog of every edition I owned available both in PoD, and in E-book format. The obvious trouble here is the one where I need a reliable and economical relationship with a PoD shop, because well... turning out a quality product for not astronomically expensive is, after all, a thing. And as the initially linked posts imply, it's possible that White Wolf, for example, hasn't exactly had the easiest time of it.

The other problem is that I am not sure this model would work for any game system/setting that wasn't already established, like D&D. But if I ever do manage to acquire a large fortune that I wish to turn into a small fortune, this is, indeed, how I'd structure my product, in a sketchy sort of way. Section 2 of this will involve things like gaming licenses, comme 3.x's OGL, and how to handle that kind of thing, and also other potential income sources.

Comments, criticism, and other things that may or may not begin with C encouraged. Make me defend my economic pretension!