"Buy it in Commitment, and in Marketing."

edited November 2008 in Story Games
Been following the threads about free games. All my own opinions on the topic have been covered there already, in terms of the "why it might be this way". And that's all good and well.

But what I'm really interested in is "how could it be different?"

One of my first thoughts on this was, when I next have an alpha (post-draft, in-playtest) version of Game X, to say "You can have this, but only if you promise in a public place you frequent to discuss your thoughts on it (in that space), and send me an email showing you stating your intention to do this."

So, you could post on your blog "I'm going to get a copy of Game X. I'll be talking about that tommorrow." - and by showing me you said that, you'd get a copy of Game X. Which indicates that you've commited something, even if it's only slight embarassment at not doing it. And it means that you are marketing my thing for me.

...

What I want in this thread, if you're wiling: Ways to make this work if you don't think it does, or to make it work better. Alternate ways to get the same effect (buying with commitment / marketing). You know: Ideas.

Comments

  • No no, I think that'd work great. The big issue with free games is that somebody needs to market that thing, but if you're not being paid to sell it, why would you bother? Cutting out the middle-man and having the interested players do the marketing themselves to get more interested players sounds completely doable for me. You could extend this by giving different options, like if somebody promises to run the game at a convention, that's the only way of getting a print copy out of you.

    Just be sure to put out some public talking-points material for your game so that the initial discussion has some variety and content aside from how I need to post a thread to get that game out of you. If nothing else, make some theoretical/cultural claims about how your game is better or different than others.
  • Posted By: Eero TuovinenIf nothing else, make some theoretical/cultural claims about how your game is better or different than others.
    So, basically, are we talking about a meme?

    Like...

    Game X is (fairly relaxed attempt to sell you on game, just basic information and author's intent).

    If you want Game X, repost this to your journal / a forum / other public site where you hang out, and email a link for your post to bob@bob.co. By doing so, you are offering to answer questions about the game once you recieve your copy by email.
  • Something like that, yes, although I wouldn't advice people to just copy-paste. Rather, try something like asking a bunch of questions that your game answers in a certain way, and encourage the person to post the questions, his personal answers, and the fact that he's going to dive into your game to find out what you think.

    To coin an example, I have this game I'm writing that is supposed to offer a functional environment for low-pressure, low-prep adventure gaming with children. I might ask the prospective audience what they think makes gaming with children different. Then I might make some bold claim about it, something like how children essentially need to be given the option to be completely passive in the gaming experience for as much as they want, to make the game not feel stressful and to give different children room to develop their own way of interacting with the game. Then I would suggest to the reader that if he wants to check out how my game does this, he should post this question of mine (and ideally a couple of others that approach my game from other angles) and his own take on the issue somewhere and let me know - he'd get the game in exchange, and he'd already have a thread prepared for when he's read the game and is ready to bash it in public.

    Essentially, write your own first post for the thread, but leave enough room for the prospective customer to engage with your claims even before they've got their hands on your game itself. This makes for a more interesting dynamic on the forums - it'll get old pretty quick if all of these marketing messages you're encouraging all end up the same...

    Actually, instead of structured questions, you could just give a topic - "What is wrong with D&D?" or some such, and ask the person to start a thread about that, with a mention of how they're going to look into this supposedly amazing game Levi made to fix D&D. By giving less structure you make the various threads more interesting, as they won't repeat your own line again and again. Ideally you'll want to give the person writing your marketing email enough material to have something to write about, but also enough room to make the thread they're starting their own.

    Also, you probably should make it explicit that the people who get the game from you can give it to others freely - then you get a dynamic where people distribute your game on the forums alongside the discussions, which won't hurt your marketing in the least.
  • Eeeeeeeeeekkkkk!!!!!!

    No Eero, No!!!!!

    From examples close to that approach that I've seen, it almost always goes deeply negative, even for a totally free game.
  • Yeah, there's a definite chance of backfiring if the target audience feels that you're bribing people to shill for you. But that's dependent on the local mores - I could see people accepting this sort of thing when it was made explicit that it's a sort of marketing experiment to find out new ways for free games to compete with for-pay stuff. I know that I wouldn't mind this sort of thing myself, any more than I do when people shill Power 19 by using it as a starting point for their forum posts.
  • edited November 2008
    I can see that, too, I guess.

    I mentioned it in another thread, but personally, I'd like to see some very short, to the point games. Even if the point is to just do one thing differently than [Known Game X].

    I think that this is a possible place for free games to both get more play, and to go directly to what the designer is jazzed about. I think often that design culture and selling/buying culture almost force designers to over-expand on simple, straight-forward, and playable projects.
  • Go a step further, say "I'll give it to you for free if you say you'll play it once and post about it."

    I mean, that's basically a playtester's agreement, without the credit. And people do like to playtest.
  • Posted By: JDCorleyGo a step further, say "I'll give it to you for free if you say you'llplay it onceand post about it."

    I mean, that's basically a playtester's agreement, without the credit. And people do like to playtest.
    How about "I'll also give you the next version if you play it once and post about it"?
  • Eh, wouldn't entice me. Playtesting works on different social interests, it'd be just weird to mix it up with this. I at least choose the games I playtest and the games I want to play on pretty different criteria most of the time. You'll need to have a genuine need for playtesting to have any interest from my quarters to test the game, for starters.
  • edited November 2008
    Posted By: Levi KornelsenHow about "I'll also give you the next version if you play it once and post about it"?
    For some reason, this seems better than the original "I'll give you the game if you talk about it in public" idea to me.

    Maybe because it actually has a point to it, in that it's explicitly encouraging people to play the game. I mean, if it's free, why do you need me to talk about it? So that more people will ask you for a copy and talk about it, too? And why would you care if they did?

    But when you say "play this game at least once," it makes a lot more sense. You're putting out a game, not a meme (and that's good, because compared to memes like "let's all redesign Supergirl's costume," I have to say that "let's all talk about this free game" doesn't have nearly the same curb appeal).

    I guess what I'm getting at is that making your pitch focus on playing the game is inherently more interesting and less confusing to me. I know why you'd want me to play your game, I'm less certain what you'd get out of having me just talk about it when there's no money being exchanged. Except that obviously it's much less commitment on my part if I only have to talk about it as opposed to getting together some friends and devoting our limited free time to playing it...but if that's the only reason you're asking for conversation instead of actual play, then it's a bit like asking me for a picture of a car when what you really want is a ride to the airport. You might as well just ask for what you want -- if you don't get it, that sucks, but at least you put it out there. Asking for something meaningless instead certainly won't make things any better.
  • edited November 2008
    Posted By: Accounting for TasteI guess what I'm getting at is that making your pitch focus on playing the game is inherently more interesting and less confusing to me. I know why you'd want me to play your game, I'm less certain what you'd get out of having me just talk about it when there's no money being exchanged.
    Perhaps he'll write more than one? Perhaps he'll leave the core free, and sell supplements/variants? Maybe the core is fully functional and free, but there's also an expanded version for when folks just plain want to spend money(Risus, TSoY)?

    Maybe it's some sort of evul scheme, where you do this thing for him, then you do the same thing and contact him to return the favor, and suddenly he has connections with other cool people making cool games?Mwahahhahahahahahahaha!!!!
  • Perhaps. But maybe putting THAT information in the "talk about this game" pitch would be a good idea, then. People like free things, but I'm not sure they trust free things. Telling them up front what angles you intend to be playing with your free-stuff scheme might make them feel like co-conspirators, and everyone likes being on the inside of the conspiracy.

    There's a fine line between being too pushy and being too coy, and for lack of a better word I'll call it "transparency." I like transparency in sales pitches. It changes the salesman from an enemy to a resource.
  • What if the designer doesn't have much of a plan for the future?
  • Then what benefit would there be to asking someone to do something in the future for your game?
  • I'm a little confused.

    What's the goal here? Is it to increase the popularity of free games?

  • Posted By: JDCorleyThen what benefit would there be to asking someone to do something in the future for your game?
    I just meant, what if the whole plan goes like:

    1) You play this version of my game
    2) You talk about it after playing
    3) I give you a copy of a later edition: Hey, thanks!
    4) I play the rest of it by ear. Maybe there's a pay edition. Maybe there's...whatever. Maybe I just thought it would be cool to give an even better edition to someone who helped me out, because...hey, that's cool to do.
  • edited November 2008
    Posted By: Eric ProvostI'm a little confused.What's the goal here? Is it to increase the popularity of free games?
    As in, the uses people might put such ideas to, their validity, their motives? Well, none of those things were my intended topic. Here, in this thread, the goal is shoot around ideas on ways to get people more engaged in, or commited to, a game, assuming the game to be free.

    There are several ways I'd be interested in using such ideas. Others might be interested in using those ideas differently. So, sure, share ideas to raise popularity of free games, if that's what you have ideas about!
  • Going back to your original idea, I don't think that a voluntary naming and shaming technique - which is what this is - will work unless the community that it serves has a zero- or low-tolerance to people who back down on their public commitment.

    If I say, on my blog, 'YES! I will be getting Game X and we will be playing it tomorrow and I will post something up about it by the end of the week!' and I do not, what sanction do you have? Can you 'punish' me in some way? Can you shame me in front of a community of people? Will that community really brand me as 'The Person Who Took The Free Game And Never Played It!'? What will happen when I bust out the 'IRL Issues...','My kid was ill...','Bob couldn't make it to the session...' etc. excuses?

    A promise, public or private, is only worth something if there is a sanction attached to it.

    OK, thats the negative side of things, now to balance my posting karma with the positive side!

    From a theoretical point of view, what you want to do is balance the cost - actual and opportunity - of the transaction with that of the paid-committed-game? (I'm assuming that, all things being equal, free games have the same play utility as paid games.) Free games have no monetary cost and the same social opportunity cost ('Social Footprint' as it is being called here). Because of this low(er) cost, people seem to have less involvement in their decisions with regard to free games. I doubt many people consult their peers or do research into whether they should download a free pdf? (And because this is the internet, can I say 'Hello' to all of the people who are now going to post and tell me they do)

    So how can we increase the involvement in the decision to participate in the game, whilst not incurring a cost?

    How about increasing their ownership of the game? Looking at free browser games, players have a whole load of freedom to write in this and that into their characters and the background etc. Look at shared universe fanfiction - this works in exactly the same way and creates powerful communities of commitment.

    What if, instead of presenting a game that was finished and whole, you offered the players a chance to participate in what was, essentially, a living game in development? Their content feeds back into the game. Their experiences create, for want of a better word, 'patches' to the rules that can be sent to all players. This is NOT playtesting. This is playEVOLVING. I creates a positive cost of commitment and ownership.

    Neil
  • Posted By: Neil GowWhat if, instead of presenting a game that was finished and whole, you offered the players a chance to participate in what was, essentially, a living game in development? Their content feeds back into the game. Their experiences create, for want of a better word, 'patches' to the rules that can be sent to all players. This is NOT playtesting. This is playEVOLVING. I creates a positive cost of commitment and ownership.
    The weird thing is I can see how well that would work .. if there was a paid product at the end of it :)

    If you say "participate in this process of playing my free game, and your characters and background elements will be collected and feed into the setting of my published game" then cool, I'd love that, it's like playtesting only better.

    But without that paid product it becomes a lot like the free open world design projects, which tend to fall down because of, you guessed it, lack of commitment!

    Where it does work, and I speak from the experience of running my own web game, is where there is a pre-existing community of peers who you know are going to be interested in what you did, and give you social regard for that. That encourages people to participate and feel investment in something free.
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