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A question suggested by

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Can you determine if a new RPG will become highly successful when it is first published? How do you manage to make that determination?


Do you have a question you want asked as QOTD? Post here!

And if you want to find an old QOTD: The big QOTD Summary and Subscription Thread Volume 3
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Not in the "I have a crystal ball so I know this will sky-rocket" way, but sometimes it's obvious that a game has traction and will be hugely popular.

The most obvious of which in the recent years has been:
Lady Blackbird
Fiasco
Blades in the Dark
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pdzoch wrote:
Can you determine if a new RPG will become highly successful when it is first published? How do you manage to make that determination?

Well, it's quite easy:

It's the new RPG D&D?

Yes: E Highly successful

No: E Not highly successful*

laugh

* Maybe it will have a limited success, only not in the realm of high success...
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No. I've been doing new release stuff for years, and I'm often surprised by the highs and lows. And that's only if you can get some sort of reliable sales info.

Also, "highly successful" is a sliding scale depending on the size of the publisher and project.

The only good prediction that I've made in the last several years is that I thought Dungeons & Dragons (5th Edition) would easily surpass Pathfinder Roleplaying Game as the top dog in the industry. (If you go back in time, that wasn't a sure thing kids!) That was just a gut feel.
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Bifford wrote:
Not in the "I have a crystal ball so I know this will sky-rocket" way, but sometimes it's obvious that a game has traction and will be hugely popular.

The most obvious of which in the recent years has been:
Lady Blackbird
Fiasco
Blades in the Dark

never heard of them.
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no but I can tell easily if it'll be a flash in the pan or not. That's a lot easier to determine
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If it’s not a new version of D&D or CoC, and if it’s not a reprint of a famous rpg from the 80s or 90s that everyone will buy but no one will play, then no, it’s not going to be successful.
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Rather hard to define what highly successful actually means. I would suggest "provides the publisher and the designers with a stable, long term job at the very least."
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Highly Successful...

As noted, if we're talking about commercial success, then yes. You can predict that. D&D's next edition will be the next "highly successful" game. Nothing else will be "highly successful" in the broad, commercial sense. Pathfinder was a fluke that probably will never repeat. Even games like the Fantasy Trip Legacy Edition, while obviously commercially successful, would not really qualify as "highly successful" in the broad sense.

If we're talking about niche success, then no, you can't really predict it. There are plenty of games that "succeed" by some other standard. They either make some money (Numenera) or make the designer famous (Lasers & Feelings) or hit some other criteria that makes the industry notice.

If we're talking about "highly successful" meaning something along the lines of "a bunch of gamers enjoy the hell out of it" then there are plenty of games that hit that criteria and it's a little easier to predict. Any blowout kickstarter is likely to produce a "highly successful" product in this sense. Anything by Jason Morningstar or Meguey Baker is likely to do it.

In a broader scope, though, nobody, ever, anywhere, throughout history, has ever been able to successfully predict the next big thing. In any category. Who'd have guessed that my tweenage girls would be digging through mom's old boxes for bell-bottom hip-huggers? Or that the Spanish Armada would lose. Or that Adam would survey all of paradise and decide to follow Eve. Seriously.
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Azukail wrote:
Rather hard to define what highly successful actually means. I would suggest "provides the publisher and the designers with a stable, long term job at the very least."
The fact that this is the proposed definition of "highly successful" shows what a niche market RPGs are. "highly successful" = "two or three people can quit their day jobs for a year or two". In nearly any other industry, that might be better defined as "struggling to get by".

Even by that definition, I think you can count on one hand the number of SINGLE games that meet that definition. You can find multiple game companies that can hire actual employees, but they are never just about a single game, they are selling multiple games.

I suggest that in the modern context, "highly successful" for indie games means:

* A reasonably designed Kickstarter is conducted (e.g. the goal covers all costs and incorporates a profit, there are not crazy lists of stretch goals)
* The Kickstarter funds successfully.
* The Kickstarter delivers within 3 months of its stated delivery time.

Its that last bullet that makes it HIGHLY successful; almost no one achieves that.

For games put out by a company (e.g. Modiphius, Cubicle 7, etc.) I really have no idea.

My answer to the QotD is no, not really.
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skalchemist wrote:
Azukail wrote:
Rather hard to define what highly successful actually means. I would suggest "provides the publisher and the designers with a stable, long term job at the very least."
The fact that this is the proposed definition of "highly successful" shows what a niche market RPGs are. "highly successful" = "two or three people can quit their day jobs for a year or two". In nearly any other industry, that might be better defined as "struggling to get by".

Even by that definition, I think you can count on one hand the number of SINGLE games that meet that definition. You can find multiple game companies that can hire actual employees, but they are never just about a single game, they are selling multiple games.


Yeah, almost no RPG does this. I believe Fred has gone back to having some other type of job at Evil Hat. Shadowrun, I think, has 1 permanent employee. I know someone who was up for a more permanent gig there, so they could have moved up to 2 or 3. Margret Weiss Productions, I think, might have had one full time employee.

I do not think that D&D really has that many fulltime employees. Part of that is a lack of need due to a slower production schedule.

skalchemist wrote:
I suggest that in the modern context, "highly successful" for indie games means:

* A reasonably designed Kickstarter is conducted (e.g. the goal covers all costs and incorporates a profit, there are not crazy lists of stretch goals)
* The Kickstarter funds successfully.
* The Kickstarter delivers within 3 months of its stated delivery time.

Its that last bullet that makes it HIGHLY successful; almost no one achieves that.


Sweet. I am highly successful. Or technically doubly highly successful because I did that twice

As for the QotD, I do not really think that any RPG is highly successful. But, in terms of being somewhat of a success, here is what I think:

1. It is D&D
2. It is Star Wars (under most situations)
3. It is a new edition of a long establish RPG, e.g. Shadowrun, CoC, Vampire, etc.

If it is a licensed IP, then I give it a reasonable chance of being successful. I would not say that these games usually enjoy the popularity of the other 3. For example, I am sure that Conan and Star Trek have sold well. I would not think that their sales are close to the three I mentioned.

If we move the bar down even lower to say that something is a game that has a significant enough following that it at least enjoys occasional discussion on an RPG board, then I usually cannot. PbtA games are popularish on these boards. I do not know why. They have multiple games based on the system. Dungeon World is the most popular of those. There is nothing about that game of that system that would have made me predict that.

I am tempted to say that if there is a designer that has a following, that ends up running a massive kickstarter, then it will be a success. But I am not sure about that. Monty Cook has done a good job at least making a partial living from large kickstarters. I do not see people discuss his games. I do not really see anyone play it. They do have some type of organized play that started recently. So, maybe his games.

On the other hand, there is the 7th Sea. That one seemed huge. It seemed like a niche game to me. People did discuss the game. However, even if we ignore the failed stretch rewards and just look at the core game, it does not seem like a success to me. To me, it seems more like nostaligia for the game, combined with people wanting to support the designer led to a massive success. However, that is essentially 95% o the audience for 7th Sea, so there is almost no room to grow. Unlike Monty Cook, which I believe does have some following and has increased sales of products after a Kickstarter.
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SteamCraft wrote:
PbtA games are popularish on these boards. I do not know why. They have multiple games based on the system. Dungeon World is the most popular of those. There is nothing about that game of that system that would have made me predict that.


Influential designer with multiple previous critically-acclaimed designs. DITV specifically won multiple Indie RPG awards its year of publication (which is a niche but influential award) and was nominated for the Diana Jones award the year after that.

For my own answer, I look at the community around it. If people are excited about the game, it will probably become a hit (to the extent that non-D&D RPGs are hits). If those people are well-known influencers in the community, the odds go up.
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Well, pretty sure if I say "no, it will not" every time, I'll be pretty accurate.

No clue though. An RPG can be literally unplayable and win awards, so its all incomprehensible to me.
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StormKnight wrote:
No clue though. An RPG can be literally unplayable and win awards, so its all incomprehensible to me.


I assume you mean awards other than "Worst RPG of the Year"?
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Azukail wrote:
..."Worst RPG of the Year"?

That award is a golden ticket for a couple weeks of great sales.
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pdzoch wrote:
A question suggested by

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Can you determine if a new RPG will become highly successful when it is first published? How do you manage to make that determination?


No. If I could, perhaps I would go into the RPG publishing business, rather than staying in librarianship.
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I doubt there is a reliable method to predict success (depending on the criteria chosen).

I backed a Kickstarter for a new RPG edition that traded heavily on the nostalgia factor. There was much anticipation amongst the faithful. It was fully backed in days, and finished at 10x the initially asked amount.

The end result was delivered late (despite being told at the outset that everything was finished and only required printing), was of indifferent physical quality, and lacked adequate proofreading (despite nearly everyone on staff claiming to have such expertise). I have heard of few actual games being played, relative to the initial hype.

Successful? Possibly in terms of the monies collected, but I have no idea what sums their fulfilment overhead ran to.
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For participants of past projects we've run here, it may be interesting to see the DriveThru "sales" numbers. They're all free products, so the sales income for everything combined is (alas) zero. But, units sold for free, as of today,

1090 - RPG Geek Random Tables
492 - The Breached Fortress of Anoros
477 - The Tartarus Gambit
205 - Warlock's Journal (Issue 28 - Jul 2016)
204 - Warlock's Journal (Issue 32 - May 2017)

I consider them highly successful because they were a heck of a lot of fun.
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A bit off topic, but as it's come up (it's your fault Clark!), did I read about Warlock's Journal being ended? If so, why was that?
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Yes, Warlock's Journal ended. The creator/sponsor decided it had run its course.
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William Goldman (RIP) wrote:
NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING. Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what's going to work. Every time out it's a guess—and, if you're lucky, an educated one.

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Adventures_in_the_Screen_Trade

As for movies, so for RPGs, and anything, really.
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trystero11 wrote:
William Goldman (RIP) wrote:
NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING. Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what's going to work. Every time out it's a guess—and, if you're lucky, an educated one.

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Adventures_in_the_Screen_Trade

As for movies, so for RPGs, and anything, really.


Not necessarily true anymore. Di$ney has it pretty much down - at least for Marvel. There is an entire process from conception, to filming, to secret screenings, to reshoots, to promotion, etc. The production is very formulaic now.

They tried doing the same with the past three Star Wars films. It has not gone over as well for the last two of them. Seems Star Wars fans don't exactly fit the same mold as superhero fans and are much harder to please.
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SteamCraft wrote:
trystero11 wrote:
William Goldman (RIP) wrote:
NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING. Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what's going to work. Every time out it's a guess—and, if you're lucky, an educated one.

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Adventures_in_the_Screen_Trade

As for movies, so for RPGs, and anything, really.


Not necessarily true anymore. Di$ney has it pretty much down - at least for Marvel. There is an entire process from conception, to filming, to secret screenings, to reshoots, to promotion, etc. The production is very formulaic now.

They tried doing the same with the past three Star Wars films. It has not gone over as well for the last two of them. Seems Star Wars fans don't exactly fit the same mold as superhero fans and are much harder to please.


You’re right about the formulaic production for movies such as the ones you mention, but then, I don’t consider such movies original or creative. I think they’re mostly commercial junk. But to be honest, I don’t belong to the target demographic anymore ;-)

I sincerely hope that in our little hobby we don’t go down the path of formulaic adventures. The equivalent of the above movies would be a generic dungeon with some easy monsters up front, a difficult trap in the middle, and a big fight at the end. Boring as hell.

P.s. Funny tou use Di$ney. Reminds of the old Usenet days when everyone would use T$R.
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