If you’ve been keepin up with the dialogue that’s been brewing on Twitter, much of which has been detailed in discords and quiet homes, the consideration of moving the digital market of “story games" to itch.io.
I will mention here that I am not paid by, endorsed by, a legal agent of advertisement for, or even much of anyone at all to itch.io. I simply find it to be a viable answer to some looming questions. What follows is my plan and proposal. Some of which moved into motion before I could write this article. Glee.
There are 3 major issues that I see in our corner of TTPRGs.
-Market value: How we price our games. Why we dont price them more reasonably.
-A cultural sinkhole: Being tied down to the ideas of where our playerbase and visibility tools lie.
-Unfinished games: The feeling or need to release a game before it is complete, by the measure of the designer.
The following are opinions and solutions to these problems that are general. If your specific needs, opinions, and/or choices differ, good on ya. Im proposing a foundation for which to build upon, rather than a creed or law, as many often assume.
With due respect to DTRPG and The Forge, two widely impactful and massively influential resources of their times, both of their influences have given us reason to value our creations for very little, monetarily.
The Forge strived to, as I’ve been told, have games cost what they needed in order to exist as art for art’s sake. Making a profit is second hand, if not further down the handed list, in this philosophy.
In the present, it seems to come from a place of respect for the starving artist, and a need to keep our games accessible to marginalized communities. The second point is something I will speak on later, as it is a major point of importance.
DTRPG, otherwise known as Drive Thru RPG, is the only market hub for purchasing tabletop roleplaying games. It has held all sorts of big and small titles, professional and amateur, of different genres and backgrounds alike. Quite a powerful place that we owe our respect to, and so I salute them here.
However, DTRPG is not a good place for most “story games" and is ESPECIALLY bad for new players, designers, and consumers.
The UI (user interface) is wildly outdated, the ability to find games that arent in major categories is limited, uploading and managing games follows an archaic system, and and and. The short version is that it holds to a standard that the modern marketplace passed a long time ago.
And people believe that we have no other choice.
Because of this belief, designers are subjected to two extremely disheartening experiences. The first is market pricing, and the second is the vocal DTRPG community.
The DTRPG market price is wildly low. The reasons being, at current at least, I would attribute to bullying. You may find other reasons. Creations are valued by metrics that are simply made up, and have little to no basis in the greater entertainment or luxury markets.
Regardless of the quality you’re proposing TO the market, the people often show backlash if you believe that your work could BE OF QUALITY worth your established price.
Experiences I have often seen (and I emplore you to go and see for yourself) have been metrics such as “price per page", value based on if you are a new designer or a known one (before quality), past review scores (which are broken and I’ll get to that), and many assumptions made in comment sections by people who have not played and know very little of the game.
It’s painful to see a hopeful designer post their hard work on DTRPG only to see them berated by the seemingly random 1-star review bomb. Comments about their value, their skill, and their passion, without any care or appreciation for what they’re bringing to the table. Which is a deeply disheartening experience, and honestly a horrid form of gate keeping.
You can be review bombed by people who havent bought your product (which is currently a site-wide problem), and that review counts for your overall “1-5 stars" count. While a new game is briefly displayed on the “newest titles” titles section, it can sit at 1 single star until it fades away into who knows where of DTRPG.
This is, frankly, unacceptable. I have seen good in DTRPG for some people in certain fields of ttrpg design. DnD especially. But “story games” have been flourishing elsewhere.
Cultural sink hole
I’ll follow from where we’ve left off. There’s an established bracket of monetary value on and off of DTRPG. New games, regardless of their quality or completion, are often considered as PWYW products. It’s commonly believed (go talk to others and see!) that a new designer “should" start with PWYW games, and slowly increase their pricing as they continue on learning and growing. This, at first glance, doesnt seem unreasonable. But it is. Hugely. Bigly. And that’s because we dont consider the consumer base.
People want things of value. We are in a luxury market, and we’re telling consumers that our creations have little to no value. A price tag is your display of worth set to a product. How much of this person’s time and labor do you ask of them to receive your work?
This bit scares many. Capitalism. Being a business person. Being a part of the machine that many “story games” leftists (such as myself) continue to struggle with. The proposition of “If I devalue myself, I am then opening access to more marginalized people to experience my art.”
This is true. But it is also a barrier designers put around themselves in order to pressure the concept in their minds that their work is not of quality. Go ask designers. Ask yourself. Ask your friends. The moment of pricing for designers is such a dark one, for many.
There are mechanical and business-minded ways around this. Many are afraid to explore them. But they’ll be addressed later on.
This cultural pressure that we saw in the marketplace effects the designer’s personal sense of value as a creator. I’ve seen it time and time again. If you’re a designer or in a design space, I’d bet the house that you’ve seen it too.
Plain and simple, indie designers dont finish their games. And I dont mean that they dont put them up on a market. I mean that at the point the game goes up on the market, the game is not in the state that the designer would ideally like for it to be.
It may be missing art, layout, graphic design, content editing, diversity consulting, etc. Levels of completion that make the finished product representative of the initial goal.
This is largely a financial barrier for some, and on top of that it can be due to a lack of community. Most dont have the money. Fewer have the connections.
This keeps two things in place:
- Less confidence in the creation. If it doesnt look and feel beautiful, or as beautiful as it could be, it is easy for the mentioned devaluing to take hold.
- The market value is established too low, we’ve created a race to the bottom, and the designer never makes back the time and money they put into their game. Let alone a profit.
So after that long explanation of what I see, here is my proposal.
As mentioned at the beginning, itch.io is the key to, not a full solution, but a place where we can decide to fix these problems together.
Market: It’s a better platform, hands down. It has slick and simple usability for designers and players and consumers. It features clean analytics (a much needed business tool), a following system that keeps people updated with your entire portfolio, and an established ttrpg pricing structure of “YOUR GAMES HAVE VALUE". Assistant tools like having a “minimum price" allow designers to post their games at a fair market value while giving those who cannot afford a way to pay what they can. Pay what you want becomes pay what you can. A huge and important difference.
The Culture: Due to many new designers taking up the initial ttrpg itch.io space, there’s little established culture. It’s in a place of potential, and those who are in that space currently promote pricing games around 5-10-20 dollard along the production cycle of alpha, beta, 1.0. Micro games, supplements, and experiments take up the space as well, ranging between 1-5 dollars. This isnt a set structure either. Some price higher, others, lower. But the consistency seen is that these designers are losing the fear that people will not buy their games. Why? Because they get purchased.
Itch.io also let’s the designer decide what the cut between the hosting site and the designer get from each sale. The default is 10%. DTRPG has a minimum of 30%, and can also stand at 40% if you sell across multiple platforms. Selling a supplement there for 1 dollar nets you 60-70% while on itch.io it nets you whatever you choose.
The importance of this leads into…
Plain and simple, making money means reinvesting. It means that a designer can potentially hire members of our community to edit, make art, do layout, make graphic designs, and polish a game into a state of completion. As an additional benefit, designers get to work with these specialists and gain the collaborative skills needed when working on teams or in groups.
The level of interaction is chosen. Doing the work for fun is still for fun. If shooting for part-time work, you have a portfolio, some analytics to work from, and potentially more complete products to sell and or pitch for jobs. And the full time designer, even those with published books wandering conventions, can sell their PDFs on a site that gives them a better cut, better metrics, and an easier consumer platform.
Some of this is granted by itch.io. Some of this is potential that we can choose to lean into and pursue. For example, choosing to price your games at more reasonable rates for yourself. Choosing to help others along the path to completed games. Promoting a higher internal and external value for designers and their work.
There’s this idea that the public relations market place lies in conventions and on DTRPG. Frankly, in this section of the indie ttrpg industry, I think that is no longer true.
You make friends and fans through social media. People find designers that they’re interested in, that they believe in, or even just fancy, through the connections WE make. Twitter, podcasts, friend circles, discords. Our visibility comes from us much more than it does from having our book on a table. Because most of us dont have that. It’s the community that helps us rise to meet our potential. The very reason that you’re reading this is a testament to that.
So. What to do now.
Leaf, the CEO of itch.io, has opened up a forum thread on the site, having now seen how much TTRPGs have been making waves on the platform. Being the good human being that his reputation claims, he has opened up this space to questions. “How do I make itch.io better for physical games?”. I’ve sung it’s praises (for free, damn it) for a long time here, but itch.io isnt a perfect place. It needs us, and you, to help define our needs. Ways to work even better for everyone involved.
Here’s the call to action.
Follow the link here: https://itch.io/t/384953/physical-games-classification-project
Let itch.io know what you want and need as a designer, player, and consumer. Give your feedback and push us forward.
The Last Bits
The final piece to the puzzle here, imo, (remember that this whole thing is my opinion and not some law or creed that you have to follow, as people have been flippin out lately. calm ya ass down plz), is HAVING A FORUM.
Google+is going down soon, and that was the spot for a huge chunk of the established TTRPG community. The OGs and fresh faces alike.
An extremely huge boon to the success of this movement lies in having healthy community conversations on the same site that we can sell our games.
Itch.io is a place where video game designers help each other grow and show their work and make a buck to keep on going. We can do the same. And the best part is, we’ve already started. That’s why Leaf has opened this door.
We just gotta walk through it.