2014-04-15 : Cultivating Your Audience with Love

Graham Charles came to me in a dream last night and explained to me that while he knew I didn't mean to be rude, I was being, yes, a little unforgivable.

So, my friends, please let me set aside my frustrated and impatient ideology. I've been where you are now! I started from zero too, with big dreams and nobody listening. Let's talk about how to get your games the attention they deserve.

NDP said some good things yesterday, I think:

Think about what you can succeed at doing. Maybe it's a playable draft, maybe it's a complete game, maybe it's going to a convention and running the hell out of your game, maybe it's blog posts about the theory behind your choices. Success breeds success. The only thing that broadens your audience is putting material out there. What material can you generate that is honest, strong and worthwhile? (Hyperbole and marketing-ese gets you nowhere)

I can tell you that the first time I ever put out a call for playtesters, it was for Dogs in the Vineyard in 2004. By then I'd been publishing games and game drafts for free at the Forge for two or three years. Without kill puppies for satan, Before the Flood, Matchmaker, Otherkind, Chalk Outlines, Hungry Desperate and Alone, Toward One, and I forget what maybe else, nobody would have given Dogs in the Vineyard the attention it needed.

Am I being rude again? I can't help it! Somebody help me out. How can you cultivate an audience for your games without being an ass like Vincent?

1. On 2014-04-15, Tim Ralphs said:

Were you rude? I didn't think so. There probably isn't a magic answer, and for someone like me who isn't plugged into the indie game design scene it's obviously going to be harder. That's cool. I'm plugged into other scenes, perhaps there's someway to use that to my advantage. Obviously the first thing to do is to finish the thing.

If I was a master of spin, I'd find someway to market There is Something in the Woods as the game that gave Vincent Baker unpleasant dreams.

(Tim Ralphs. not to be mistaken for the other Tim)


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This makes...
TF go "Oh, i should change my name here then"*

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2. On 2014-04-15, Vincent said:

"There is Something in the Woods" is a good title!


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TR go "Thanks!"*

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3. On 2014-04-15, John Harper said:

@Tim: You might not need to finish it first! A compelling character sheet and rules summary (plus a game premise that grabs your audience) might be enough to draw initial playtesters who are then your first word-of-mouth marketers.


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This makes...
JC go "Trust John on this"*
FL go "Can I do that too please?"

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4. On 2014-04-16, Tim Ralphs said:

I hear you. So here's my consideration. I have the game written up enough to be playable. It was played this weekend by a couple of groups at The UK Student Nationals, and there's a small buzz about the game which I feel like I should be capitalising on. Having said that, my distribution model is basically "give it away for free and hope people share it with those they play it with" and I don't really want many different versions floating around while I try and tidy it up. So what do I do? Send them a "pre-release" version of what I have so far? Put that up and fix it up as time goes on? That all feels pretty sloppy.


5. On 2014-04-17, Simon C said:

My experience has been that free is not the best way to get people to see your game. Or rather, it's not the best way to get people to play your game.

For example, I released a game called "Tonight We Slay a Dragon or Die in the Attempt", which is probably the best game design I've ever done, but it's only two or three pages long, so it's free. Attention: Very little.

I also released a game called "On Mighty Thews", which was pretty cutting edge in 2004, but not in 2011 when I finally published it.  It costs $5.

"On Mighty Thews" has got much, much more attention than TWSADODITA, I think largely because the fact of charging money for a thing denotes a certain seriousness of purpose. Also, when people pay for a thing they're much more likely to invest the time to actually read and then play it.


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This makes...
TR go "Interesting!"*
JMMM go "Or maybe it's the title."*
BL go "long titles are less bad than people think that they are"*
PC go "Oh, I disagree with JMMM"*
VB go "Me too."
SS? go "Hey, Simon, where does one get TWSADODITA?"*
SS? go "No worries"*

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6. On 2014-04-30, Fang Langford said:

"How can you cultivate an audience for your games without being an ass like Vincent?" being a jerk like Fang?

Speaking of which, after a brush with blindness, I'd like to publish Scattershot for reals, but I'm lost.  Can anyone point me to square one?

Fang Langford


7. On 2014-05-04, Josh W said:

Ok here's my theory; Vincent, you didn't usually actually create conversations about your games, you created or contributed to broader conversations that your games were an integral part of.

You said a while ago "the only way I know how to explain something is to design a game".

The context around that kind of phrase has changed; rather than having an existing games design conversation that your games slip into, now the question seems to be about how to make conversations about or around your game, which can easily tend towards the more superficial "oh wow, how controversial", which I find hard to say in anything other than a very bored voice.

The stuff you say about "this game is going to be to game design as moose are to canada" is something I treat as a kind of amusing quirk, and then I wait for you to actually get involved in pointing out how your games say something about "currency" or "structured freeform" or any other series of abstract labels that serve to move from elevating a single game as an expression of just an integral creative gesture (any random dude can do that, just stay on your own long enough and keep reworking things) to being stuff that connects to other games and other designer's interests.

Talking about your game in theoretical terms is disassembling it in front of people, it's saying how it is not different from what came before, how it forms part of a network of influences, possibly created and defined post-hoc in the creation of the game itself. Then reading the game becomes something with a kind of immediate cognitive-aesthetic value, because people can read it, even before they play it, as a solution to certain kinds of problems they've been having in their own games, an alternative approach to certain ideas.

And then multiple different games can slot in, people can go "ah yes, I've been working on something like that, I do this..." and it's not purely promotion, it's an actual conversation about how to make games, and instead of people competing to go "no, don't talk about his game, talk about mine", people can actually talk about a continuum of different games, and reading the other people's games actually adds value to reading yours. Then, because differentiation naturally happens, people will prefer one or another, and you've done the other form of marketing, not merely drawing attention, but matching people to those products that will actually serve their interests.

That is why I care about reading people's blogs about their games, because they are not just trying to make a buzz, but their design is part of a conversation that goes beyond that specific game.

I want to bang the drum about this because it's important; I never buy "the next hype". I buy games I have confidence actually say something interesting and relate to the kinds of play I'm interested in, or could form part of an introduction to such a kind of play. There's a kind of navigation structure that builds up around games (the *world games are getting this really solidly at the moment, because there is so much explicit reference and analogy how most of the people are developing them, proper public design, leading off nicely from the way it was first introduced here).

The problem I have with so many people's random free games is that they just appear, and naturally, people don't really know how to explain how they relate to other games, because they're mostly speaking from inside a private process of design. I'm like "ah, ok, another design", and it's generally only when public conversations happen between designers that I start to get interested in what they were trying to achieve, and then that makes me interested in if they achieved it.


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This makes...
JMW go "Man, there's a less grumpy way to say this I'm sure!"

8. On 2014-05-04, Vincent said:

That makes enormous sense to me.


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This makes...
JMW go "awesome!"

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