Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Am I helping or hurting the OSR?

I was going to comment on Mishler's post on the Doom of RPGs once I had more time to digest it. Then I came across this posting from Labyrinth Lord publisher Dan Proctor.

He writes about what consumers are starting to expect, which are PDFs for free and impractically priced print products. Well, sure, of course. Who doesn't want cheaper products? But they don't consider what it takes to get that fine rule book or adventure out cost wise (as Mishler breaks down for us).

Dan says the reasoning behind this sense of entitlement is, "the people who price their POD books for nothing have a cost of $0 to produce the book, because they either write it themselves, had volunteer writers, did the art themselves, or had volunteer artists."

He then states, "People see these very low prices and wonder why a product of similar page count can't be so cheap, too. more than that, people are now starting to expect that the POD books be priced for nothing much like PDF books."

Knowing human nature for wanting everything to be even and "fair" (blah), I believe that Dan might be right. If that's the case, then Prime Requisite Games would be part of the problem.

I am a basement publisher doing this as a fun hobby. I do all the illustrating, layout, design, editing, writing, map-making, and even a bit of advertising all on my own. Unlike Dan, I don't have to fork over the dollars to some talented individuals to produce a decent product (side note here: I'm not saying that my products are the best, but they don't look like refrigerator drawings either! :) )

Therefore, I can sell my product at cost and it seems cheap compared to others on the market. Also, since the print products are sold at cost, the PDFs are simply given away for free. Is there a chance that making these products available as such makes people believe that it should be the norm? Do OSR consumers believe other publishers have some sort of obligation to sell their modules for $5.90 a pop? I'd like to hope that isn't so.

Why? Because Mishler's breakdown of the RPG product price doesn't affect me in the slightest (since the dollar amount for each cost is zilch) as it does for other publishers. My time is the only thing spent.

That being the case, Dan's products (as well as John's from BHP, Raggi's from LotFP, among others) are fairly priced. On the other hand, I feel my products are also priced fairly in a sense that I want to spread the word about Labyrinth Lord (my game of choice) and I'd like to get my adventures into as many hands as possible.

I love doing this as a hobby! I love the people involved and the excitement they get when playing, producing, and watching the hobby grow and grow. My time is not only spent on adventures, but also going to different forums and Q&A websites to drop a Labyrinth Lord or Swords and Wizardry link here and there. I even got a bit of light-hearted ribbing for my MySpace ads promoting PRG and Labyrinth Lord.

I wanted my products to be a way in helping the OSR grow. I remember when I started PRG, I figured the best way to spread the word is to offer cheap/free RPG materials. However, am I shooting the OSR in the pinky toe by doing just that?


  1. No, sir. People like you are what keeps this alive. The hobby has been serving corporate interest for many years now, and frankly it is refreshing to see a movement driven by hobbyists.

    Disclaimer: I'm just a guy who loves games. I have never published anything. However, I do buy and download low cost OSR stuff and ignore most of the "new" games/editions.

  2. Don't beat yourself up over it. If my post sounded at all snarky, it wasn't meant to, it was just an outline of the constraints to that model of publishing. That cat is out of the bag, and you're not single handedly responsible for anything. The thing is, I can't draw worth a crap and I have no time to do all the writing myself while publishing at any kind of respectable rate. If I am going to keep publishing, I have to pay people. That's all there is to it. The model some other people follow that requires the generosity of volunteers is not sustainable. People get excited about something for a while, but then naturally move on to either real life stuff or other stuff that interests them. We'll have to see how things go. Maybe I will have to fold up if no one wants to pay for products so I can be artists and writers. Time will tell.

  3. No, I understand, Dan. I definitely don't believe I single handedly cause a giant consumer exodus. :) However, the idea that by pricing my products so low I become part of the problem is troubling to me (not because you or someone else stated it, but because it holds some merit).

    I'm hoping that such an idea is incorrect. I hope my freebies on Scribd and Issuu will fall into the hands of those who have not heard of LL, but will now want seek it out. Now that WotC has pulled their goods, my hits have been fairly consistent, so we'll see what the future holds.

    I appreciate all the hard work you put into something you love, Dan. You, John at BHP and Bezio were big influences on me when I kicked around publishing my own stuff. I want you to be successful with LL because I would love to see the game continue to expand.

    I would like to think that what I am doing here is helping that happen.

  4. The thing I've been trying to get my head around is the fact that at a certain point, a lower price does not mean more sales.

    So if, say, 100 people will buy your module at $10, and 100 people will buy your module at $5, you just cost yourself $500 and your audience hasn't expanded at all.

    Of course, you have to be psychic to know what the magic price is, but lots of people in this business claim to be psychic. :D Although I'll grant that some have the experience to make better guesses than others.

  5. The OSR has grown out of the release of the clones (free rule sets), the growing popularity of blogs (more free stuff) and easy access to POD publishing. This combination makes self-publishing a doddle, but in an environment of free and open gaming. Anyone thinking about climbing the enormous cliff face from amateur to professional publishing is very optimistic indeed. Is it even really a necessary, worthwhile or even realistic goal, given the fact that we're talking about a VERY niche market?

    I don't think those giving away their product, or virutally doing so, are going to do any damage or make much of an impact. The nature of the OSR market will naturally set limits to the growth and profit of any rpg company.

  6. frankly it is refreshing to see a movement driven by hobbyists.

    I agree, Ryan. You have people who love doing what they do without having a "Suit & Tie Guy" turning it ugly at the whim of the bottom line.

    Then again, while I'm not looking to make a living at this, I understand if someone actually does want to make this a career. To make that happen, the OSR has to grow (in gamers). They need to be sought out in non-typical RPG areas.

    a lower price does not mean more sales

    You may be correct, but I didn't want to deal with that stuff in the first place - I'm more concerned about spreading the word which is why I'm offering free PDFs outside the RPG forums in places like Scribd and Issuu.

    If could get just a couple "what the hell is this?" due to unintended results of an RPG search, then woo-hoo!