Saturday, October 13, 2007

How much would you pay for this game?

If you follow any of the popular news-feeds you know that Radiohead just released a new album and they're selling it for whatever their fans want to pay, including nothing. It seems most people are shelling about between $5 and $9 (based on a poll, I think) and that sounds about right. I'm not a Radiohead fan so if I get it, I'll be doing it the freeloader way. Why is that a good deal for Radiohead? Well, there's no way I'd pay for music I'm not sure I'd like, and if I do like it, who knows what I might pay for in the future?

I love the idea of download-able games. Games you can print and play on an inkjet printer. The logistics have stymied me for about a year now, but I keep my eyes open for technology that'll make printing on demand or printing at home an affordable and attractive alternative to traditional game manufacturing and distribution.

What if you could download PDFs of out of print card games (both traditional and collectible). How much would you pay? What if you owned the rights to some of these games? How much would it take to make them available in this manner?


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

It's a Bird, It's a Plane!


Most games have them. All successful games do. The Super-Fan. The 1%ers. The folks that are REALLY, REALLY into it.

Super-Fans build fan sites, some so elaborate they rival (or best) the publisher's site.
Super-Fans participate in on-line forum discussions, chats, and blogs. If the publisher doesn't host such things, the super-fans start their own.
Super-Fans buy EVERYTHING, and often more so their friends (or local deserving kids) can have your game too.
Super-Fans volunteer at conventions and run local events. (If you help them, sometimes even if you don't.)
If your Super-Fan owns a store, it's probably a top seller of your game. (With Clout, the stores where the managers/owners loved the game sold piles of chips. Unfortunately, there weren't near enough of those stores!)

At the Tangled Web, Clout tournaments were huge. The manager was a super-fan.

The key to getting the most out of Super-Fans is to understand why they are Super Fans (beyond you're game being awesome, I mean.) Like most people, they like being a part of something, and you're lucky enough that they chose you're game community to be a part of. What do they want in return?

Stuff? Sure, but not really.
Appreciation? Yes.
Recognition? Absolutely!
The inside scoop? Hells Yes.
Super-Fans want you to know who they are and they want to be a part of what you're doing.

Everything you can do to make being a super-fan an easier thing to be, will pay dividends. They'll have an awesome time, you'll sell a lot of games. In the game industry it means having communities tools in place. It means having customer service and/or organized play people that communicate two-way. Super-fans put forth extra effort. It's your job to recognize that. Shouting at them through boilerplate, press releases, and ads is NOT communicating. That sort of thing is for the customers, maybe the regular fans, NOT the Super-Fans.

Are Super-Fans worth it? Of course. Even if you're really into the games you're making, they're more into it. With TCG's, the average Super-Fan knows more about the games than the average employee at the company publishing the game (a fact many Super-Fans I've met don't like, but hey, it's their passion vs. our job!)

Also, Super-Fans are awesome to hang around with at conventions!


Monday, October 08, 2007

Boxes, Little Boxes

Before I spout about Super-Fans (the most important 1% of your customer base) I think I'll digress a bit.

Adam, how can you put all these people in broad categories? Well, of course, I can't. This isn't about individuals. Ideally, you should make decisions about your games that meet the needs of each individual customer, individually. If Allen from Wichita needs large type, and you could get it for him, you'd sell a game to Allen. Barney wants a cheap game and doesn't care about color or fancy graphics. Teresa not only wants high quality art, but she's an artist and wants a way to include her art in the game. Sadly, that's just not possible (yet.) You can't please everyone. Also, you can't choose who's going to like your game. That's their choice. What can you do? You can choose who YOU WANT to please, and you can make decisions based on that. If you don't choose, you're leaving it all up to luck. I don't recommend that. (Making a game for people who are just like you is a choice, and it can be a fine one, if you're cool enough. =-)

It's not just acquisition and retention. That's too simple. It's essential, but not adequate. That doesn't cover fans, and fans are the most important element to the success of a game. You can't just target fans, either, because they people don't start as fans. If you go up to a stranger on the street and say "join my fan club, you'll get special content nobody else can get." your success rate will be dismal. If you ask a customer who's just made their first purchase that same question, you'll find a slightly more receptive audience. If you ask somebody who buys everything you make, the response will overwhelmingly positive. Ask the right people the right questions. Give the right people the right benefits. That's all I'm saying.


Fanatics, gotta love 'em!


It's likely that fans are your most important customers. Unlike normal customers, who may like your products and may purchase again, fans DO like your products and WILL purchase again (assuming you have other products to purchase.) This is great news, but they still need care. Special care, at that.

Fans understand you and your products. They assume you understand them in return. This may or may not be the case, depending on whether or not you stumbled across something they like (luck) or sought them out (strategy.) If you lucked into a successful product that gathered an unexpected fan-base, you better listen extra close to what they say. The chance of that luck holding out is slim. If you've gathered your fan-base with successful strategy, chances are you're more in the ball-park, but you still better listen to what they say. Listen, and act where you can based on Fan input.

Fans, unlike normal customers, have an emotional investment (as well as financial) in your product and/or company. Your success reflects well upon their choices, so they want to see you succeed. They also want more of whatever it is you do, because they like it. It's all good.

If you don't succeed, some fans will turn on you (regular customers don't care enough to), which is part of the emotional aspect of fandom. Working for Wizards, we canceled a lot of products, and it was always rough. When Clout ended, I was totally surprised at the positive reaction from our fans. They were upset, of course, but unlike Wizards fans, Clout fans knew we didn't have choice about whether to keep kicking the Clout horse or letting it go. It's not mindless emotion, gamers are smart people. Treat people right and it you'll be surprised how it comes back to you (often in unexpected ways!)

As I've written before (Viral, Hardcore, or Vanish), if you've sold any games at all, you've always got fans. When you're struggling, all of your customers are fans. They're often the first to arrive (early adopters) and the last to leave. If you have enough fans, you're bound to succeed, even if your game is never a huge hit.

Because fans are so important, and such a powerful part of your customer-base, I think it's essential to communicate to normal customers how they can become fans. Reward them for fan-like behavior. Make being a fan significantly cooler than being just a customer. I don't know how, exactly, it's YOUR game. =-)

Next: Super-Fans