All posts by Paul Alexander Butler

2016. The halfway point. Quarter 2 in review.

Ah, the heady days of early summer in the RPG business, when we’ve maybe had a couple of pleasant surprises so far in the year, but all eyes are on Gen Con in a few weeks. Well, let’s look back before we look forward, shall we?

*Standard notes on the list: rankings are sales volume by game line at Games and Stuff for the period of April 1 to June 30 2016. It does not include accessories or miniatures.*

  1. Dungeons and Dragons (Q1 Rank #1)
  2. Pathfinder (Q1 Rank #2)
  3. Star Wars (Q1 Rank #3)
  4. Shadowrun (Q1 Rank #4)
  5. The One Ring (Q1 Rank #8)
  6. Through the Breach
  7. Numenera (Q1 Rank #17)
  8. 13th Age (Q1 Rank #11)
  9. Traveller
  10. Savage Worlds
  11. Call of Catthulhu (read that again, I said CAT thulhu)
  12. End of the World (Q1 Rank #18)
  13. Trail of Cthulhu
  14. Iron Kingdoms (Q1 Rank #6)
  15. Dungeon Crawl Classics (Q1 Rank #10)
  16. Fate (Q1 Rank #19)
  17. Mutants & Masterminds (Q1 Rank #9)
  18. Lamentations of the Flame Princess
  19. White Wolf (Q1 Rank #12)
  20. Warhammer 40,000 (Q1 Rank #5)

No surprises in the Top 4, although it should be noted that for the month of May, Star Wars outsold Pathfinder for the second time since the release of The Force Awakens in theaters. And a big shout out to Star Wars Force & Destiny for winning Best RPG at the Origins Awards this year!

 

ThroughTheBreachUnderQuarantineThat being said, The One Ring is back in the Top 5 and there’s quite a gap between that and Through the Breach at #6. Both games’  sales were bolstered by a flurry of releases, with the long-awaited appearance of the Rohirrim in the pages of the Horse-Lords of Rohan supplement. Mind you, the book doesn’t actually hit shelves until July 6th, but we’ve been doing tons of pre-orders for both Rohan and the Journeys & Maps set with the help of the Bits and Mortar program. Meanwhile Through the Breach has had four releases since the end of March. Much like with the Iron Kingdoms RPG and Warmachine/Hordes, if you sell the Malifaux miniatures game, you’ve got no excuse not to try out Through the Breach as part of your mix.

TravellerThe truly big surprise for me this time around was the new edition of Traveller. I started hearing some buzz back in February, but I was pretty blown away by the sheer volume of core rulebooks that we sold upon release, enough for the game to clock in at #9 for the quarter after only about three weeks of sales.  It just goes to show that there’s a demand out there for a well-produced Sci-Fi game that’s not a license from other media.  And this new edition certainly looks better than any edition to date.

CatthulhuPosterWhich brings us to Call of Catthulhu. Yes, CATthulhu. Only available from Indie Press Revolution, we were fortunate enough to have the designer Joel Sparks in the house for our Anniversary event back in April and while that helped sales, it was the simple addition of a poster to our Indie RPG shelf that sent sales skyrocketing. The current print run is sold through, but we expect more soon. As mentioned, you can get them from IPR or direct from Joel (as soon as he prints more!) He can also hook you up with one of the sweet posters shown here. Feel free to contact him directly by emailing human@catthulhu.com

Speaking of our 16th Anniversary Event, we were absolutely overjoyed to have Monte Cook in the building as a special guest. Both Numenera and The Strange got a nice bump as you might expect. Monte was also kind enough to write about his experience here on his Monte Says blog.

What else? It’s nice to see Savage Worlds break into the list. I know many retailers do very well with the game, but we’ve never really had much real success.
Lamentations of the Flame Princess had a bunch of new releases including Towers Two, an adventure written by the late Dave Brockie, AKA Oderus Urungus from the band Gwar.

DraculaDossierI was a little disappointed to see that Night’s Black Agents didn’t quite squeeze into the Top 20, despite strong sales of the absolutely fantastic (and Origins Award nominated) The Dracula Dossier Director’s Handbook. That book was easily one of my favorite releases of last year. Which is to say nothing of the companion volume, Dracula Unredacted, which is nothing short of an annotated version of the entire novel Dracula. Amazing stuff.

What am I looking forward to in the coming weeks and months?
Well, Call of Cthulhu 7th edition finally releases on July 25th.
The Pathfinder Horror Adventures hardcover should make a splash on August 4th, and I’ll also be keeping an eye on the release of the Polaris RPG when it pops up at the end of August. Delta Green is somewhere on the horizon, as is the final End of the World RPG, Revolt of the Machines. What about you? What are you folks excited about?

Check back in another week or so as I ramble on a bit while I debate chopping my Pathfinder presentation in half or even taking the Warhammer 40K RPG lines from their prime real estate on my sales floor.

Now Playing: Shadowrun Anarchy

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So tonight I got to participate in a playtest of Shadowrun Anarchy, a narrative, rules-light version of Shadowrun releasing sometime in the coming months. None other than Shadowrun line developer Jason Hardy was the GM.

I probably shouldn’t say too much, but I am enthusiastically awaiting further development on this. Might get this old man playing Shadowrun again.

How to make the most of Free RPG Day

It’ll be here before you know it. June 18th is this year’s date for FREE RPG DAY. I hope you’ve got your kits on order.

So in a few weeks you’ll have a pile of free stuff to give out to gamers. So how in the nine hells are you supposed to make this event profitable for your store? Well, I’ll got some ideas, but first, I thought it’d be cool to ask a few questions of Aldo Ghiozzi, the owner of Impressions, the organization behind Free RPG Day since its inception ten years ago…

ImpressionsLogo

Paul: First of all, congratulations on TEN YEARS of Free RPG Day! Has the event lived up to your hopes and dreams over the years? In what ways has it changed, or even changed from your original vision?

Aldo: It’s definitely more than what I ever thought it was going to be! Everyone always thinks RPGs are dead or dying, but they are still near and dear to a lot of folks. Year one was like, “Hey, let’s see if we can sell 100 of these kits to 100 stores…” That year, we stretched the donations to 300 kits for 180 stores. Since then, we’ve capped the event to 700 kits – it seems to be a really comfortable quantity. It covers about 500 retailers worldwide. The reality though is that the event is nothing without the publishers wanting to donate the unique items for the kits.

Paul: So at Games and Stuff, we run Free RPG Day almost like a mini convention. We schedule four-hour long RPG sessions, require sign ups for participation, and try to feature as many of the games included as part of the year’s kit. Is this how you envision the event being run?

Aldo: I honestly wish most of the retailers would do what you propose, but the reality is that most retailers order the kits and just figure being on our locator will attract people into their store. We’ve always said that the kit is a *TOOL* for stores to use to get people off their butts and into their store for the day. You’d be surprised how many stores *DO NOT* put Free RPG Day on their event calendar or create a Facebook event for it. Your store is a rarity and a joy for gamers. We try to encourage consumers to push their stores to prepare and schedule times and sign ups, but in the end, the store chooses how to run the event.

Paul: What suggestions or advice would you give to retailers who fail to find a way to make the event a profitable endeavor for their store? (Assuming that they have a healthy or growing RPG business)

Aldo: I’ve heard so many stores do the coolest things. One store orders a cake with a RPG theme and feeds their participants. Another did a TRUE Free RPG Day and started the event at midnight. Stores have sales, buy pizza for participants, and some even raffle off the Uber Kit items they paid more money to get! Again, the event is meant to be a marketing tool for stores to get folks into their store. Most gamers want to say thanks to the retailers for hosting the event because they know the kits cost them money, so even if the gamer comes in and doesn’t buy a RPG product, maybe they buy a drink or some dice. Any support that helps the store is a win in my opinion.

4. Other than buying the kits and participating, what can retailers do to help make the event successful?

Aldo: I just have to repeat that they shouldn’t expect our retailer locator to work all the magic. Game stores should be all about giving their customers and potential customers an experience…no online retailer can do that. I personally wish we could spend a ton of marketing dollars pushing the event to consumers, but we’re a small company in the grand scheme of things. We’ve really relied on word of mouth and the retailer promoting the event locally…and I thank all the stores for trusting us with their purchase of the kits…and I hope they can make back their money and then some on Saturday June 18, 2016!!!

Thanks Aldo!

OK, so it’s  Paul again.
So let’s talk about how to get the most out of Free RPG Day at your store.

Here’s the thing. How often do you get what effectively amounts to a  national holiday, with an advertising partner directing customers straight to your store, which celebrates an entire department of merchandise? Not very often.
That being said, you can’t expect the event to do all the work for you. Like Aldo stressed above, you’ve got to meet the thing half way. In many ways, it’s not dissimilar to International Tabletop Day. Sure, you could just have a pile of promos and expect sales to magically appear, but the stores who find monetary success with ITTD are the ones that make it an event, and the promos and marketing are just the skeleton to build that event around.

Let’s break it down.
How do you set yourself up for success with this event? There’s a couple things, regardless of store size, that everybody can do:

  • Wear the “Ask Me About Free RPG Day” T-shirts. You get one for free in every kit, but did you know you can order more? It’s too late for this year, but in the future, you can get them either through distribution or or directly from Offworld Designs. Hell, I’ve seriously considered doing pre-orders on the sellable non-staff versions. I know I could move a half dozen or so. There’s a unique design every year, and people like to collect them.
  • Promote the event! Aldo said “I think is the biggest way to help is for retailers to promote the event through their local calendar, social media and signage.  I’m just shocked as to the number of stores’ websites or Facebook pages I visit that never put the event up on their calendars.  It’s odd.” Most stores seem to manage a listing for a weekly FNM or draft event. You can certainly take the 30 seconds to create listings for a once yearly Free RPG Day! Treat it like the special event that it is!

So you’ve done the bare basics. What’s next?
So exactly what sort of stuff you can pull off will largely depend on the sort of space and manpower you can commit to the endeavor. Here’s what we do at Games & Stuff.

Schedule Games
We schedule as many four-hour long RPG sessions as we can. Usually this means four games firing at 11am, and four more firing at 4pm. Whenever possible, we run the actual adventures that are provided as part of the Free RPG Day offerings. Sometimes a staff member runs a favorite game, but more often then not, we invite our best customers or local brand champions to get early access to this year’s free product in exchange for agreeing to run the scenario. Games are open to everyone, and are free of charge, but space is obviously limited, so it tends to be first come first serve. The participants of these events are usually all given some of the goodies from the kit, usually dice or pencils, and sometimes if I’m feeling generous, some overstock product.
The important thing here is that there should absolutely be some gaming that’s happening on the day itself. Maybe in your store, that means you’ve got one table! But you should absolutely have at least one. It’s a talking, laughing advertising for the hobby.

Give Away the Free Stuff!
So yeah, this is what the event is all about right? But keep in mind that the rules as written are “I agree to abide by the spirit of Free RPG Day by giving away at least one of the kit items of my choosing to any patron (or single grouped family) walking into the store and asking for one on the day of the event.”
So what this means is that you don’t have to let each and every customer walk out with piles of stuff. How you choose to manage the product flow is up to you. We like to make sure that the participants in our scheduled games all get some stuff, and we generally take care of our regular (buying) RPG customers by making sure they get whatever they like. But from there, we usually have an employee “curating” the table of free stuff, acting as a cheerleader for the hobby and the free items, and also making sure that customers behave with courtesy and kindness to one another.

Host Other Promotions:
Why not? You’ve got a concentrated selection of RPG minded customers in your store on the ONE DAY that we’re all here to celebrate RPGs. It’s not uncommon for us to run a sale on some of our Used RPG titles (My Used RPG Rack will be the topic of a future column) or even do some targeted markdowns for products we might be long on. Typically what this means is maybe a game that I feel is a strong game, and sells well enough, but I just overshot it a little bit..? And I’m not ready to truly devalue it by putting it on clearance or permanent markdown? A one time sale just for Free RPG Day can go a long way. Maybe you’ve got a few too many core rulebooks for a particular line? Make a $60 book $40 for the day. You’ll recoup a couple bucks and maybe generate some new enthusiasts for the game. While supplies last of course.
Get creative. You could offer a deal on dice cubes with certain purchases or case deals on Pathfinder Battles minis…

***

So as a final note, I asked Aldo if there was anything that we as retailers could do for him to help make the event successful. I thought maybe if we encouraged publishers to take part…

Aldo: Yes, encourage the publishers to participate.  Try to convince them (if it’s the truth!) that when they participate in the event, it helps your sales.  The more they hear that, the more likely they might invest the dollars to produce materials and hope they get it back in product line sales through distribution.

Anyway, there we have it! I hope this jump starts a few ideas for your event. What sort of stuff do you folks do out there in the world for Free RPG Day that I didn’t mention? Speak out in the comments!

 

Now Reading: Bloodstone Pass (AD&D)

BloodstonePassHaving finally rebuilt my collection of the H Series of modules for AD&D, I’m seriously considering rewriting the thing and converting it to 13th Age. Although I’m not entirely sure how I’ll handle the mass combat/ Battlesystem stuff.
I’ll remove all references to Oerth or the Realms (it’s occupied both at different times) and kind of create my own Bloodstone Lands campaign setting. First up, creating the Icons.

Now Reading: 13th Age High Magic & Low Cunning

13thAHighMagicThe releases are coming fast and furious for 13th Age right now.
High Magic & Low Cunning is a brilliant set of fifteen battle scenes (each containing 2-4 fights) themed around five of the Icons of 13th Age. But with most things in the line, it’s really a construction kit. An almost 200 page volume filled with stuff that can be lifted intact, or ripped to pieces to populate your campaign of just about any fantasy RPG.

Also of interest, I’ve recently begun writing a few articles for Pelgrane Press’s retailer newsletter, which you can sign up for by following this link: Pelgrane Press Retailer Newsletter

The first of my articles went out a few weeks ago: Five Reasons You Should Be Carrying 13th Age. That newsletter also included a great article by Brian Dalrymple called RPGs Decoded: Getting Into RPG Sales.