thread: 2012-06-11 : Ask a Frequent Question

On 2012-06-21, Moreno wrote:

Reading again the comments above (from the first one) made me think about another question. But I have some difficulties in writing it as a question, even if it is. It's one of these "this is what I think, do you agree?" questions that look a lot like statements masquerading as questions. But keep in mind that I am talking about a situation that I know only by what I read in forum and blog posts, not firsthand, so that question mark at the end is a real doubt. That "do you agree?" is not a "do you agree with my truth?" but is a "you know better than me, am I right or am I wrong about this?"

In some comments above (not yours, Vincent) there is a "we conquered the world" attitude that I don't see as justified by the numbers.

How big is the "storygames market"? Some game creator (Vincent, Ron, Luke and a few others) are selling a few thousand copies of their best-selling games. But these are the ones that were able to build a personal following. As far as I know, most indie game designer sell a lot less copies.  There are very good games that probably sold less than 100 copies.

So, how big is the market? I don't have the real numbers, but my impression is that the market of people who are interested in "storygames" in general, the people who usually try a new game from an unknown author after reading some actual play in the storygames forum, is very tiny. less that 500 persons, probably. And these represents 50-300 copies at most for each game.
Then, there are the people who usually don't try a lot of new games, but are attracted by the buzz around a new "storygame darling of the month". Then there are the people who follow a specific game author, the buyers base that is build in years, game after game (at this time I think only Vincent, Ron, Luke and Jason have a substantial one, but probably I am forgetting a couple of authors here). Then there are the people who don't have any idea who these people are or what is a "indie game" but are attracted by a specific game after hearing people talk about it or after playing it once with someone in the previous group.

Compare this with over a million D&D players in the world. With the people who play thinking that "with their rpg you can do anything" and that "the GM is the god of the game"...

So, the idea that these ideas (system does matter, your game should have an agenda, the GM is a player, etc.) have "won" is at least suspect. I think it's wishful thinking.

What I think, is that the "storygame" market has simply stopped expanding.  Oh, some games, some games author still do. From what Vincent said Apocalypse World still has not reached the sales of DitV, but it's going faster, and will surpass DitV in the near future. So it will be able to increase Vincent's market share. But there is no widespread increase in sales for the entire indie gaming niche, as the one that happened in the 2004-2006 period.

That increase was marked by a lot, really a lot, of polemics.

Oh, not like the ones that happened at first, the 1999-2003 ones, the dismissive ones. These later polemics were caused by the "menace" indie games represented. It was the time of the big "theory wars" on, for example.

When the market share of indie games increase, what happen? If the new indie players are new players (not tied to a traditional gaming group), nothing: someone find a new hobby, more fun and happiness for everyone. But if these new players are already in a gaming group... you have groups breaking, GMs that leave the group because they are tired of having to "provide fun" or players that menace the status quo by proposing strange new rpgs. Groups breaks, friendships crash, and a lot of people shows in gaming forums screaming that these games are a menace, that they should be banned, excluded, fought, etc.

The amount of polemics is a good indicator of the market share increasing, as earthquakes are indicators of the tectonic plaques moving.

So, no polemics? It can give the impression of having "won" to people who maybe played indie games for years and had the last polemics in his own group years ago, but we are talking about less that 1% of the market share. If there are no polemics, it means that there are no group breaking, and that people no longer feel menaced by these "strange games". It means that nobody is going into traditional groups saying "I have discovered this new game that has no GM, let's try it" anymore.

It's not a good sign, it's a bad sign. It doesn't mean that we have "won", it does mean that we have "lost" in terms of market penetration, or at least, that we have reached a standstill. (why? It's another thread, about the way you can't sell a culture of play with a rpg manual, but it's too big to touch here)

You could say "who cares? I am enjoying role-playing games as never before, why I should care for market shares?" and I would agree with you. I am not saying that we should cry and be sorry for the "poor, poor people who still play these old games" (it would be very patronizing, too). I am not saying that. I am saying that we should not mistake our "personal increase in fun and satisfaction" with "world conquest". The fact that I would prefer personal satisfaction to world conquest any day notwithstanding.

And I am saying that I hope to see a lot more polemics returning in the future. It would mean having more players to play with, more games to choose from, more money for people who create these games, to give them encouragement to create more.

Anyway, this is the way I see it, but it's a very long-distance sight. I am not going into American shops, American conventions, I don't have contacts with the American gaming culture if not what I see reflected in forums and other online communities, so maybe I am missing some important element that doesn't show up in these places.

Vincent, what are your thoughts about this?


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