Note: this originally appeared as a thread posted to Twitter, you can reply to it here: https://twitter.com/randylubin/status/1187433459565780992
I’m super interested in ways to grow the indie storytelling game market (tabletop RPGs and larps). There’s an incredible design renaissance underway, with a huge influx of new designers and groundbreaking designs, but the total revenue in the indie scene seems to remain small.
For some context, 2017 figures had the RPG market at $55MM in rev and mainstream rpgs like D&D earned the vast majority. The market has likely seem major growth since, due to Actual Plays and pop culture mentions but the share of rev is likely still skewed.
Storytelling games are one of the best activities a group of friends can do together – they bring people together to engage in creative play and forge lasting memories. How do we get a ton more people into the hobby? How do we send them to games that are a better fit than D&D?
I suspect there are multiple promising paths to growing the indie market. Most of them have to to with leveraging an existing audience or community. There’s gains to be had in lowering the barrier to folks getting into the hobby - more on that later.
The number one asset in any indie business is having access to a relevant audience. Audience building is often a slow, difficult road and it also doesn’t align with many creators’ skills and interests. In lieu of building your own audience, it’s key to leverage an existing one.
This might look like a partnership with a company, designer, or influencer who has an existing audience. This might be a true collaboration of equals or something more tenuous that still gets them to promote your work to their audience.
A reason why many RPG Kickstarters have playsets, sub-sections, stretch goals by other designers – each designer is likely to bring their own audience with them. Reach, relevance, and diversity of their following is important but this often draws from the same small indie market
Finding partners outside of the indie scene seems like a sound way to grow the hobby in a major way. This might be with influencers in the D&D world (e.g. an indie collaboration with Colville or Mercer) or with celebrities outside the RPG scene altogether (e.g. actor, author, or band)
Another promising avenue for growing the market is leveraging an already popular brand. Within the RPG world, this might be creating an indie game designed for D&D players to easily port their existing characters for a session or two.
Wizards of the Coast already publish D&D boardgames that seem to do well. If they release indie games, one shot or otherwise, in the D&D setting it would expose their customer base to our style of games. Tightly focused larps in the D&D world would be a phenomenal on-ramp to the larp world.
There’s a major opportunity to leverage brands beyond existing RPGs. Licensing dated brands (movies / books without recent releases) might cost as little as $10k – real money but possible for some. If it has a loyal audience, a branded game might pull many folks into the hobby.
Even without a license, games are getting mileage from: if you like X movie try Y game.” In a recent thread, DC talks about Kira Magrann doing this with her Lynch inspired ‘Something is Wrong Here’ (their whole thread hits similar ideas to this one).
A slightly different approach was executed extremely well by Thorny Games getting a ton of interest from non-gamers who love linguistics and constructed languages.
Another advantage of these approaches is that there are existing forums, fan-sites, blogs, podcasts, etc that designers can approach to hype their game. Likewise you can get very targeted in your ad spend if that’s something you want to experiment with.
Beyond - we can get folks into the hobby from adjacent markets that are much larger. I suspect there will be an storytelling crossover hit from either party games (e.g. Cards Against Humanity) or hidden role games (e.g. Werewolf). Such a game might not call itself an rpg / larp.
In addition to the audience strategies above, there are multiple things storytelling games could do to lower the barrier to folks getting into the hobby. Clearly communicating what activities are involved can help lower new player stress and make the game more approachable.
Short, simple games with well explained rules can make it much easier, less intimidating to try a storytelling game. It also makes it easier for an avid storytelling gamer to show all their non-gamer friends. Alex Roberts ‘For the Queen’ is the pinnacle of this approach
Other things designers can do to make them more approachable include adding more scaffolding and suggestions to make it easier for novice players who are afraid of improv. In Jason Morningstar’s Ghost Court, players can just read off their plaintiff card if they don’t want to improv.
There’s a lot more to say on making games beginner friendly but I’ll leave that for a future thread. Also – Avital (my wife) has a ton of great ideas there and has given talks on it!
I’ll end the thread for now but I’m hopeful that multiple of these strategies can succeed in the next few years. I’d love to see the indie storytelling scene grow by orders of magnitude – so more people can play and so that the market can support more designers working full-time