TTRPG Marketing Q&A

During the last week of February 2019, you, the tabletop role playing game community, sent me questions about how to tackle marketing your work. Four marketing professionals offered their expertise to answer your queries. This is the result of your combined efforts. Let’s introduce our specialists.

Hi, my name is Daniel D. Fox. I am a 16 year veteran of digital advertising. I spent my formative years as a copywriter, graphic designer, digital strategist and in business development. I also run Grim & Perilous Studios, and the creator of the ENnie gold Best Game and Product of the Year ZWEIHÄNDER Grim & Perilous RPG. Digital strategy was the backbone of raising awareness for my game ZWEIHÄNDER. Like many others, I come from outside the industry, and had little exposure to the RPG market at large. I had no idea where to start, who to work with or even how to run a Kickstarter. However, by parlaying my digital ‘chops to build ZWEIHÄNDER as a brand, and learning from my mistakes (because failure is as important as succeeding), it helped me move over 90,000 copies of #ZweihanderRPG worldwide in less than three years. It’s also recently landed ZWEIHÄNDER on Target and Walmart shelves for June 2019. My experience in digital advertising was the fulcrum to break into the tabletop role-playing game market; one where it’s easy to get lost in a deluge of RPGs coming to market almost daily.

Will Sobel has experience in every channel of the industry starting with running a local game store in 2014. Since then he has worked in a mass retail store, was a distribution buyer at Southern Hobby Supply, and worked in marketing at Upper Deck. Now Will wears many operations hats at Green Ronin Publishing including sales and licensing. He also does design and writing for several companies including Green Ronin and Gallant Knight Games, as well as writing and editing board game rulebooks for Druid City Games, Renegade Game Studios, and others. Currently Will is shopping around his first solo design as well as writing a fantasy novel.

Howdy, Hi, and Hello! I’m Cecil Howe and I make RPGs and RPG accessories
full time in the independent market. I’ve got an ENnie in my pocket for
Hex
Kit
, have freelanced on dozens of products as a writer and artist, have self
published a game, at one point ran a now sleeping blog full of RPG stuffs, and I
am in the tail end of wrapping up production on another game I successfully
kickstarted last fall. Also, I spend a grip of time in various tabletop
communities helping friends and strangers work on their own RPG good times.

Mellanie Black is an elf, Dungeon Master, TTRPGer, fantasy writer and Social Content Specialist from Newcastle upon Tyne in England. She has more than five years experience in social media content and strategy, including work for blue chip companies and international audiences. She strives to make TTRPGs as inclusive as possible, and homebrews a special place in The Nine Hells for gatekeepers.

From here on, each question collected will be posted in bold. Below that, each specialist will have their answer posted with their name in front of it. An example:

Q: What’s the greatest game in the world?

Daniel
A: “Chess is obviously the best.”

Will
A: “Checkers, of course.”

Cecil
A: “Blackjack. Card games are wonderful.”

Mellanie
A: “Rock Paper Scissors. And I have the data to prove it.”

The questions have been arranged in a manner that aims to move along the timeline of one’s marketing needs since the selection of questions covers a wide base of necessary information. Any businesses, games, IPs, or other products, are not being endorsed by anyone other than the marketing specialist endorsing them. And, although this is a highly educational and professional collaboration of intelligent and skilled specialists, this is NOT a roadmap to guaranteed success. Moreso a guiding light on your own chosen path.

To assist in the navigation of the provided information, questions have been sectioned off into four areas: How to Begin, Establishing an Audience, Hiring/Assistance, and Marketing Campaigns. Be aware that there is a great deal of overlap between certain sections, so reading all four sections is recommended.

Thank you and enjoy.

How to Begin

Q: How to Begin Where do we even start? What is marketing and how do I do it?

Daniel
A: Great question! Do you have followers on Twitter, or on Facebook? Do you share your ideas about #ttrpgs on social media or on web forums? If so, congratulations! This is your first step — you need an active audience who will be willing to listen to your ideas.

Will
A: Marketing is something that seems hard. Like a lot of games now it’s easy to learn but difficult to master so a lot of people try to do it and think that they’re the best without really knowing the how or why. Marketing is the process of drawing attention to a product, brand, or service — anything you do that gets or keeps attention is marketing whether that’s a social media presence or ads or interviews, etc. You need two things when marketing; eyes on your market, and words about your product. Both of these will turn into dollars in your pocket if you do marketing right.

Cecil
A: I don’t like to call it marketing, I call it the hype train and it starts as soon as
you’re ready to get playing your game with strangers. The hype train gets your
game in front of goopy eyeballs, and there are probably an inænite number of
ways to go down this road but I’m going to answer these questions with my
method, which takes almost no cash, involves getting to know people, and
getting a little bit lucky.

Mellaine
A: Marketing is basically any activity designed to get your game in front of the people who may want to play it. It’s anything you do to build a relationship with your customer base.

Q: How do I know whether my game will benefit from advertising or not?

Daniel
A: Every RPG you have heard of has advertising behind it. Whether it’s from a web forum, social influencer in the tabletop RPG space, or true advertising dollars, marketing has benefited every single RPG out there. Word of mouth only gets you so far; you need to have an approach to marketing strategy, or else your game will be drowned out by the next big RPG to come after it. You need to drive a consistent message of engagement with fans, and drive them towards engaging with your product in new ways.

Will
A: Advertisements in tabletop gaming are tricky because of how niche we are. Companies like Wizards of the Coast and Paizo really capitalize on this and a lot of smaller and indie folks don’t understand why — everyone already knows Dungeons & Dragons but the key isn’t really to draw attention — those ad campaigns are to keep attention. Lots of smaller companies could benefit from advertising but they better question is — when? Advertising your game just before and/or during a Kickstarter launch is really beneficial because you’re getting the maximum number of eyes on your product and (hopefully) that turns into words about your product. If you run an ad after your Kickstarter (especially without BackerKit or another way to purchase your product) you are wasting your dollars. Another key about running advertisements; you always need a call to action. An advertisement shouldn’t just be pretty graphics/art, it needs to direct people to your product so you make money in some direct way.

Cecil
A: You can make the coolest game in the whole world and if no one knows about it, no one is going to play and likewise no one will talk about it. Other people talking about your game is key. Every game beneæts from being talked about. Meet new people on the internet, get talking with established designers, get talking about games and your game will get talked about too.

Mellaine
A: Advertising will work for any game, but your best bet is to advertise your game once you’ve set up an organic following and customer base who are willing to do word of mouth promotion for you in the form of sharing, recommendations, etc. Coupled with this foundation, advertising can be many more times effective.

Q: How do I promote without falling into the capitalist trap of reducing myself to my work, alienating friendships and overtaking conversation space?

Daniel
A: Make a human connection, first and foremost. What’s the easiest way to do this? Open up the conversation with a question — and provide context. Ask people a probing question. Invite them into the conversation, without ‘butting in’ with more marketing spiel. And be sure to thank them in advance!

As an example, let’s pretend there’s an important combat mechanic you want to compare against another RPG. Pose the question in a way that first expresses what you’re looking for:

Hey gang, I really like D&D’s advantage mechanic.

Next, ask your question, but be sure to turn it around in a way that’s relevant to your game. So:

I’ve been exploring doing something similar in my Acme RPG, but I am having trouble figuring out whether I want it to build off of every successful strike, or simply give it for good roleplay. How do you feel I should approach it? Thanks in advance!

This approach is tried and true. It’s a ‘soft’ way to market your game by leaving breadcrumbs. It invites people to the conversation, and strikes up a back-and-forth that you can use to talk more about the RPG you’re making.

Will
A: When you figure it out, you let me know. Lifting the weight of this burden has made me strong, but it’s not something I can escape.

Cecil
A: You know those bumper stickers that say “be a parent not a peer?” Do the
opposite of that, be a peer not a company. Get involved with communities as
yourself, play other people’s games, talk about your game nights, shit post with your pals and be a friend. Jump on twitter and follow the hash tags. Be a CoolGuyTM and not a doucher and you’ll be æne. Not everything you say on Discord has to be about your game, and not every conversation needs to be haunted by aspects of your yet-unpublished game; sometimes you need to be asking questions about other things. If you make friends with your community then they not only won’t mind when you hype, they’ll be there to jump on the hype-train with you.

Look up some of your favorite creators on twitter and see what they’re talking
about: Epidiah Ravachol made Dread but he’s constantly shit posting about
calculators and some old tv show and people love it because we know what
makes him tick and how it informs his game design. Our [friend] DC here made Mutants In the Night but the thing that got me to buy it wasn’t that it is a BitD hack — their unique voice and our mutual political beliefs I could tell would be baked into the game and I had to get it. Jay Isles made Legacy: Life Among The Ruins but before I knew that all I knew about her was that she was way into graphic design because we chatted about it on Discord. All of these folks do talk about their games, but that’s not their everything.

It’s really difficult to manage social media as yourself and as a publisher, so do
both at once and run your hype train from your personal accounts. Also, folks
see through advertising, even organic/native stuff so be careful there. Don’t be skirting ad-blockers by sending out the same tweet at the same time every day using tweetdeck. If you’re a creator-publisher then you gotta flex your brandand at the end of the day your brand is you; be professional. This can be tough: we live in the future and our generation has built great relationships around social media and if you’re not careful you can either ruin your professional relationships or your internet friendships. Don’t be dismayed when you get more likes smashed on a joke tweet than a work tweet.

Another way in is to have something else to offer besides your game. Do you
podcast? Are you an artist? What else can you offer the community at large
besides your game? This can help immensely with growing yourself.

Mellaine
A: The odds are, if you’re creating games, your interest in them is genuine. Taking part in the online gaming community on social media is a great way to immerse yourself and build genuine connections, which can later be a valuable network. Not only will they be able to promote your game, they’ll want to, because you add value to the community and their experience just from your contributions. These should be about varied games and topics, not just your own work.

Support others, share their experiences and products, and definitely don’t just chase accounts with a higher follower count than you. It looks cheap, and you won’t build any real connections.

It’s definitely a fine line, and spamming your product will win you no favours. However, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. If you want to tweet every day about your game you absolutely can, but it should be the minority of your content.

Q: What do I do for marketing when my budget for it is zero?

Daniel
A: Great question! Are you active on web forums? Dive in there, and participate in discussions about making RPGs. E.N. World is a great place to start. What you’re looking for is this: build social capital. Be a good participant in online conversations. BUT, be prepared to also talk about your game, using the same model I presented in the above statement. Above all else — you need to create a brand around your game. Brand is a more difficult challenge, but it starts first with a kick-ass name for your game.

Will
A: There’s plenty of free, simple stuff you can do. Making a Discord for your product, use a Google Form to make an email list, make a network. If you don’t want to spend money, understand you’re gonna have to spend time — invest in people, be kind, go to conventions and help others, make a good impression and people will remember you and if they remember you it will help when you announce a project. You will find a community for your product within the tabletop community — so if people know you in the bigger pool, it’ll be easier to find the people to make your community. Connecting with your community can even be unrelated to your product — like streaming on Twitch. This allows you to have a more personal connection to your community.

Cecil
A: A good marketing campaign can cost as low as nothing, but in general that
means you need to have some other cool shit in your bag of tricks. Great art, an actual play stream, podcast, a cool song someone wrote about the game,
anything radical outside of the actual design of your game can be used as a
diving board. It is a total a slap in the face; you spend all this time writing a
great game but very few people will even look at it if all you got is a text file.
But you can get at these things for free or cheap and we’re gunna bang on that
shit as we go.

Mellaine
A: An organic marketing strategy is viable until you can find even a small budget to promote and get the ball rolling on engagement. It just takes a lot more work.

Organic activity is just any activity that isn’t paid for.

It’s tricky and definitely requires a larger time investment than paid marketing. Social media platforms especially rely on algorithms to put content in front of eyeballs, and knowing how to game those algorithms can be tricky.

This is why building genuine connections in the community can pay dividends. Algorithms reward content that gets engagement, so if you already have a network that engages with you, you’re off to a great start.

You also need to get the timing right. Social media can be great for this, Twitter especially.

If your game has a Facebook page, the Insights tab under ‘people’ will show you when your audience is online. Posting at peak times means your content has a better chance of getting in front of people. Facebook’s algorithm is notoriously tricky, but this will help you out a little. Facebook’s problem is that there is too much content to show the audience in the relatively short amount of time they’re scrolling, and so its algorithm is tasked with deciding what’s the most relevant to each person. Naturally this means a lot of content goes unseen. Posting when most of your audience is online boosts your chances of making the cut.

Twitter is less algorithm-focused, but timing still plays a huge part in engagement for that exact reason. People are much more likely to see your post if you post it when they’re online. If it gets engagement, that likelihood goes up. Tweriod.com analyses your Twitter feed and gives you your followers’ peak activity times. Scheduling posts for this time almost guarantees more eyeballs on your content, and therefore more engagement.

TweetDeck is your best friend for free Twitter marketing. Twitter by its very nature is more conversational and real-time than other platforms, and so can make building relationships and a following even easier. TweetDeck is a tool by Twitter that allows you to see all of Twitter at a glance. Your timeline, mentions, scheduled tweets and any #tags you want to keep track of are held in one huge Twitter dashboard.

Keep relevant tags for your game open in a search column at all times, and interact (genuinely!) with the content in it, and a hyper-specific timeline about, #ttrpg for example, will appear in that column. As often as you can, go into TweetDeck and like people’s posts, reply to their questions, and comment on anything you think is awesome. Don’t crowbar your game into every interaction. Build followers and interactions, and in no time people will start doing the same for you. Interacting heavily when you’ve just posted about your game means people who click through to your profile will see your game content, even if you haven’t tried to throw it into every conversation.

Instagram is great, especially if you have some killer visuals for your game. As a highly image-focused platform, posting regularly with images in relevant hashtags will encourage engagement and build you a following. In the same way as you would on Twitter, be sure to give back to these conversations as often as you expect to take, if not more.

The good news about almost all social media platforms is that their low threshold for advertising is around the $5 mark. If you know who your audience are, that can go a surprisingly long way to getting your product in front of the right people. Every little helps.

Another vital component of organic marketing is to keep an eye on your analytics. Twitter and Facebook both offer pretty in depth stats about how your content is performing, how many people it’s reaching etc. and it’s all free as part of your account. You can harvest valuable learning from these stats. Switching your account to a business account can also offer additional features.

Q: A good look at return on investment for paid advertising. Or, how to not throw away a modest marketing budget on trial and error. For example, is it worth it to: sponsor podcasts, boost social media ads (and on what platforms), buy ad space on sites (RIP Project Wonderful), etc?

Daniel
A: If you have a marketing budget, here is your only order of operation: target on Facebook, full stop. It gives you all the insights you need to retarget, to A/B split test and to champion out your best marketing messages. Here’s a recent example of A/B split testing (static vs video ad on Facebook): https://twitter.com/ZweihanderRPG/status/1093551610448539648

Don’t boost posts on Twitter (the platform’s monetization and targeting tools are dwarfed by Facebook’s capabilities). Do not — and I repeat — do not spend your money for ad space on RPG forums. My experience has been that banner ads are not as successful from a conversion standpoint as Facebook is. Your mileage may vary, but ZWEIHÄNDER has an annual budget of $12k-18k, which I have spent across a number of platforms to determine efficacy and best spend. My findings were that the CPM cost for banner ads on RPG forums are prohibitively expensive (even for bigger players in the space), don’t give you the promised impressions and lack good reporting tools to understand performance. Furthermore, banners are blocked by ad blocking software.

Here is a short case study on the effectiveness of Facebook vs web forums (RPG dot net/The RPG Site), and its impact on driving awareness: https://twitter.com/ZweihanderRPG/status/1029504612494204933

Sponsorships for liveplay are nice, but can be expensive. But there are many ways to do ‘unpaid’ advertising, such as interviews on podcasts and guest appearances on other peoples’ liveplay streams.

Finally, here’s another example of Facebook. Much like how you test RPG mechanics, you need to test and adjust your targeting through Facebook ads. Here’s a recent example from when ZWEIHÄNDER was put up at Target.com, and a 24 hour campaign I turned on with an ad spend of $200: https://twitter.com/ZweihanderRPG/status/1100439409911123968

Will
A: This is a complex question. Like I mentioned above ads can be helpful, but the biggest mistake new designers/publishers make is the timing. Timing is so important because you must have a call to action so you should be making ads when your Kickstarter is live or your product is available to sell. Paying money to advertise without having a follow through makes your ROI virtually 0. When evaluating whether this is right for you check how much money you’re willing to spend vs the average click through on the platform you’re considering. Most ad outlets can provide this information, and many (RPG Geek) you pay per view which is really budget friendly.

Cecil
A: I don’t recommend paying for advertising. Other people will recommend you do this, but I don’t. What separates an independent, creator-publisher from the big kids is running as low risk an operation as possible. Risk can be a lot of stuff, but when you have to decide between 20 bucks for your phone bill and 20 bucks for a promoted tweet then your phone bill is going to be the better buy because the odds of a 20 dollar Twitter campaign turning into even a single buy are very low. There are also plenty of podcasts and streams that would love to have you come talk about your game for free but they don’t go looking for people, you have to go looking for them.

If you insist on paying for ads on Twitter or Facebook or like some swarthy
Tumblr ad campaign then you need to know some things: you pay for things
either by the impression or by the engagement. Impressions are how many
people see your ad and engagements are how many people click it. Very few
impressions turn into engagements and engagements are always more
expensive; looking at those numbers are super depressing. A good rule of
thumb to keep your expectations humble are that for every 100 people who see your thing, 10 will click it and maybe 1 will buy it. You can pretty much play those odds for free just by getting a good conversation going.

Mellanie
A: Given the enormous potential of social media advertising, I’d say that this is definitely the best place to start.

Facebook and Twitter both offer highly detailed targeting options.

Facebook advertising also branches across onto Instagram, as they’re both owned by the same company. There are options to tweak your ad creative for each platform, but you’ll be creating it out of one dashboard.

This most important step is creating your audience. Twitter and Facebook/Instagram offer several options for tailoring your audience incredibly specifically. If you’re just starting out, focusing on this as a place for your budget is my advice. Social Media not only allows you to get reach, it also offers the opportunity for real engagement and word of mouth, which other platforms are not designed for.

  • Age (Does your game have an age restriction)
  • Location (Is your game available in a limited area? Is there a con you’re attending and you want to catch attendees in the area at that time? You can narrow it down to within a few miles.)
  • Interest — Twitter and Facebook both have options to target by interest, so you know you’re only talking to people who care about your product.
  • Follows — Twitter enables you to target the audience of specific accounts with its Tailored Audience feature. So compiling a list of influencers in the industry and inputting them into your audience creator means you can talk to audiences already engaged in the industry more specifically, and get those followers you covet.
  • Email address — if you have a mailing list and you have consent for social marketing built into your sign up you may be able to use it for social media marketing too. Facebook feature an audience creator, which enables you to input your email list and target them on the platform too. Twitter’s Tailored Audiences feature performs a similar function.
  • Lookalike — Facebook also enables you to create an audience demographically similar to your existing audience, but who haven’t engaged with your page yet. This is yet another way to reach an audience more likely to be interested in what you have to say than the average user.

Setting things like budget, start and end time of the campaign and other factors also come in, but your campaign will live or die based on whether or not you have your audience right.

Q: How do I find out what’s missing in the space? What players wish they had?

Daniel
A: There are a ton of OSR adventure games, indie RPGs and story games out there. Likely, one of those games are already doing what you want to do with your own. The market is flooded with look-alikes, clones within clones and games that sputter out quickly because they didn’t do anything different or daring against what’s already in-market.

Your first step is to buy the top 5 games by metal (Adamantine, Mithral, Gold, Electrum, Silver, Copper) on DriveThruRPG in PDF format, and determine what’s already being done. You can find them here: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/metal.php

Then, don’t do what those top games are doing, because you’re going to have an extremely hard time gaining attention if you’re making something too similar to what’s already selling. The rankings on DTRPG are the games that have most recently reached that metal status, which means they’re the most popular games in market (as of right now). Those markets are already cornered by people who’ve been in the space longer than you or I. Sometimes you may get lucky (like filling in a gap in the market with a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay retroclone like ZWEIHÄNDER), but those moments are few and far between.

Will
A: You should be approaching this backward. First, make what you want. If you’re considering design or publishing in the tabletop space, you’re passionate about it — you’re a player what do you wish you had? Once you’ve done that and established a community then start listening to that community. They’ll let you know what they want.

Cecil
A: I don’t recommend this either. The best games don’t make people go “this is
what I’ve always wanted” because that is so often followed with “but it sucks
because it doesn’t these two things I needed it to.” The best games make
people go “I didn’t know I needed this.” Your game doesn’t need to hulk smash
people’s brains all over the çoor, it just needs to do well enough to feed you
until the next game. Or, if you’re part time or doing it for fun then you just
need to cover your costs. That doesn’t mean you should be hammering out shit or mediocre product all the time, it just means your unique voice on a subject is more important than your desire to innovate a new initiative system.

Mellaine
A: Here’s where building your network pays off. You can ask them! If you’ve built genuine connections, you can throw out a Twitter/Facebook poll or two, or even put together a whole SurveyMonkey questionnaire. If you have budget, you can even boost to get more reach. If you have an incentive for taking part (discount, free game, etc etc.) be sure to include this too, and watch your response levels shoot up.

Social Listening is basically a way of finding out what people are talking about and using that to inform your content. Your search terms on TweetDeck bring up conversations people are having about your industry — pay attention and use this insight among others to inform your product development.

Establishing an Audience

Q: Unfortunately, having a small (loud) child at home makes running a discord server difficult to impossible for me. What other ways do you recommend for connecting with players and building a community around your work?

Daniel
A: Discord isn’t a necessity, but a nice to have. Start your work on Twitter, and connect with other game makers. Connecting with other creators is a good way to inspire you to work (and it takes work, as in you don’t “find the time”, you make time), and to share ideas. Web forums are nice, but it’s easy to get lost in the deluge of threads and internet drama. Plus, they’re not opt-in — meaning, people actively choose to follow you on Twitter, because they want to hear you.

Will
A: Facebook groups. This has become really popular in boardgames where a publisher will make a group just for their game. This lets you respond at your convenience and becomes a bit more personal. If that’s too personal (there are obviously some risks) I suggest reddit. Become a part of some of the RPG subreddits and make one for your game. You can also use Discord and let your community talk to each other and set up “office hours”, like a weekly AMA where they know you’ll be on and engaging with them.

Cecil
A: Again, don’t do this either. This is something I fell into the trap of for too long and I only now realize that what’s more important than compartmentalizing our communities into their own, insular islands is to be focusing more on what we can add to the greater independent RPG scene.

For one, it’s kind of shitty for a creator to run their own fan outlets. If people
want to congregate to talk about the stuff you make then just let them do it
and let them be free to interact with that community without worrying about
pissing you off. You should feel free to go into those communities, and you
should absolutely engage with people who reach out to you, but don’t be the
police about your work.

Second, this shit is a time sink and once you climb the latter to success you’re
going to start shaving ways for people to get ahold of you away. It can be super
stressful to run a customer service operation on sixteen fronts. Don’t open
avenues that you’re going to want to close later, don’t make yourself available
in places you wish you hadn’t.

Basically, find the scene that best reflects your work and a community will
build inside there and it will cross pollinate with other game’s fans and all of a
sudden everyone’s doing alright. If your strongest voices only hang out in your
community then they aren’t actually helping get the word out. If your community is locked behind a patreon paywall or isn’t easily found then how
do you grow it?

Mellanie
A: See above comments re: building a community on social media.

Emphasis on giving as much as you expect to receive. Entitlement will get you nowhere!

Q: How do I get eyeballs on my work? How do I get my game seen by more than the <200 people following me?

Daniel
A: Great question! You need to get your work on DriveThruRPG — literally, right now. Get it off of Google Drive, and remove it from Dropbox. By hosting on DriveThruRPG, you are immediately able to track downloads, and to use the remarketing tools built into DriveThruRPG using your Publisher Points (e.g. credits you earn by selling your work on DriveThruRPG). And once you have something that’s in an alpha state, make it Pay What You Want. Why? Because you need to get to work on growing your Publisher Points. More on Publisher Points can be learned about at Cecil Howe’s article here: https://cecilhowe.github.io/2017/11/14/how-to-become-a-godzillionaire-on-drivethrurpg-if-your-name-doesnt-rhyme-with-yon-blick-clobbert-malwb-or-blizzard-of-the-toast.html

Will
A: Engage with others. I’m a huge fan of the phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats”. There’s a huge influx of new gamers because of the growing popularity of industry leaders and things like Critical Role. If your online persona is to talk about how much you don’t like Dungeons & Dragons you are immediately alienating those people. Find other games you like and become part of those communities, be nice, and when the time comes push your product. Your goal for building a community is to take the large pool of tabletop fans and find a subsection of fans of your work. If your game has comp-titles, find communities of those games and see what works and what doesn’t.

Cecil
A: Back to that face slap: if your game has something cool to look at or listen to then your people will share it to their people who will then share it to their
people and so on and so forth. Even just basic, cool looking layout can be
enough to catch an eye. A shared google doc is barely going cause a blip on the radar. One thing you can do, that I’ve used in the past with success, is talking about small morsels of your game in a digestible way. Don’t share an entire playbook, just share what’s cool about it.

Mellanie
A: I feel like this is covered by comments above!

In addition, tagging influencers if their work is truly relevant to yours, or if they have asked can result in an invaluable RT. If someone has inspired you to create something, let them know. No matter how big they are, it’ll still make them happy. But don’t do it every day — it looks less genuine and more like you’re trying to hang on their coat tails.

Q: What magic ingredient gets people excited to talk about/signal boost my work? How do you get follow thru from a signal boost?

Daniel
A: Thank people who talk about your RPG online. Engage them, particularly if they have a podcast or livestream their videos. This isn’t meant to say that you should take advantage of someone else’s social stock, but be genuine and engage them as you would an associate or friend. See if they’re interested in participating. And, give them free product — if you have product to give already. If not, simply engage with them across your social media channels and help give them a signal boost. More than likely, they’re working on their own RPG. The one mistake people oftentimes make about the #ttrpg industry is that we’re all in competition with one another. There is no competition, and as the tide rises, all boats rise.

But most importantly, ignore the drama — publishers rarely give a hoot about all of that, and the ones that do are generally wasting pixels arguing online. Good RPG designers channel those 280 characters they’d normally post ten times a day into 2,800 words towards their next RPG project.

Will
A: Be kind. Seriously. A rising tide lifts all boats. Before you set sail, use your ~200 followers to lift other boats. Those ~200 followers may not know about other games you like, so go look on Kickstarter and find something you wanna back and talk about it on your space. That designer/publisher is going to be super grateful because that’s ~200 new eyes on their game.

Cecil
A: The face slapping shit, again. I know I am beating the gift horse in the mouth here but the only tried and tested way to really make a splash these days is with evocative, pretty colors. Back in the day, there were forums and
communities full of people who really wanted to digest your game’s innards
and talk about it, but we don’t live in that world any more. I think one of the
biggest mistakes indie game designers can make is when their primary
audience is only other game designers. This is a bit defeating unless those
other game designers can get their own audiences stoked about it.
If you want to get a good signal boost to your game, signal boost someone
else’s game and pick someone who’s audience has no clue who you are. Some
of the biggest successes I’ve seen lately are people on the not-D&D side of the
gaming fence retweeting stuff from the D&D side because the art and aesthetic are A+.

Mellanie
A: If anybody knew that for sure they’d be a millionaire ;)

That said, social media is a fast-moving, highly visual environment. In addition to having a network who’s willing to boost, you need to have content that gains traction after that boost.

This is what’s known by Social Content Specialists as the Thumb Stopping content. It stops people mid-scroll and makes them pay attention.

Whether that’s a really stunning visual, a video that hooks you in, or just some copywriting that really NAILS it with its relatability, if you want to get people excited and engaged, figure out how to make your content a thumb stopper.

Q: How do we reach out to adjacent audiences that might have an interest in the particular product, but aren’t already inside indie TTRPG spaces? E.G., reaching fans of the subject matter of a game rather than fans of other games.

Daniel
A: Adjacent audiences are usually best targeted by using paid ads on Facebook, particularly if you target them by Interest. Here’s a small case study I recently shared on Twitter about how I targeted people who liked Cubicle 7 to drive engagement with the ZWEIHÄNDER brand:

https://twitter.com/ZweihanderRPG/status/1087031380318568449

Will
A: Ooh. This one is fun. So consider this. A new game published by Gallant Knight Games and designed by Christopher Grey is on Kickstarter right now called The Great American Novel. It’s pretty easy to get an idea of the content and theme from that. Check out Facebook groups about reading, writing, or book clubs — those would be great places to mention this, though you have to understand that the retention level is going to be very low since TTRPG’s are such a niche from the world as a whole. Apply this thinking to any subject matter. Find subreddits on science for your RPG about being a lab assistant, or a WWE forum for your wrestling inspired one-shot.

Cecil
A: This is not easy and if you do this then you should do it honestly but set low
expectations. It’s easiest if your game is licensed but if not you’re looking at a
particularly frustrating battle. The best thing to do is ænd the subreddit or fan
community of the thing related to your game, post about it and answer
questions but be cool because a lot of those folks won’t know what you’re up
to. Consider that a lot of the time you’ll be competing with something else too;
fans of The Hobbit probably know what D&D is.

Mellanie
A: Social media advertise extremely specifically, as mentioned in my answer above, so targeting them with an ad that brings that content/topic to the forefront is likely to get you far when you target that audience.

In addition, monitoring conversation in that fandom/community via TweetDeck and Instagram or even Facebook communities means you can start to build relationships there and learn which hashtags might be best to include on your own content.

Q: How vital are cons for marketing?

Daniel
A: Convention booths are good if you are staging the release of your next book. Otherwise, don’t do a booth unless you are partnered up with someone else who’s willing to stake up money alongside you to get one. Conventions in general are a good way to understand what’s in market currently, to get a read on what people are playing and to engage people you’ve met online to run games with you. Beyond the online friendships — which are vital for growing your brand as both a game designer and the brand of your game — conventions are a good way to get a bunch of strangers together to playtest your wacky, zany RPG. But be sure to gather feedback! If there is no feedback loop between you and players at the convention, you’re not doing yourself a service. Be willing to take constructive criticism, and recognize that not all criticism will be helpful.

Will
A: This depends on your business model, and I think where a lot of the answers from us will vary. If you’re printing books, you need to go to cons (start with small cons, and work your way up if you can) to help move your books. Even if people don’t buy your book there you are getting eyes on your product, and selling your books at the con will help you recoup the cost of attendance. If you’re only making PDFs, it might be worth considering attending to run games (or demos).

Cecil
A: Not nearly as much as the culture would have you think. Keep in mind that
you’re not going to be blowing the doors off the RPG world with your game and smashing D&D into dust. A few outliers aside, most conventions exist purely to talk about the new big door-blowing-off stuffs. Conventions are expensive and stressful, and you can only realistically meet so many people and basically this is probably not as great an idea unless you have a game ready to sell or you are made out of money. I know of at least one publisher-creator who took his game to every single convention and game store he could for like two years leading up to his kickstarter, basically treating it like he was touring his new album, but homie was working full time in RPGs already at the time and had like 15 years of experience and credits on his name. Also I am pretty sure he was dead for like a year afterwards.

Mellanie
A: They help! Of course. It’s an opportunity to get you and your product in front of potentially thousands of customers, who are likely very excitable and full of sugar.

Even if you can’t make it to the con, you can still benefit. Targeting your ads to target attendees in the area at the time of the con is easy — you target the location in combination with interest in the con itself and you’ve got yourself a highly specific audience group. Target that with copy or ad creative that mentions the con, and maybe even offers them a discount code, means you can benefit even if you can’t make it there.

Q: When I take my game to a con, what should be my strategy? If it’s a 3-day con, I can *run* my own game 3 times, exposing it to 9–12 people. I can take it to the protospiel, and expose it to more, but less likely they’re the target audience.

Daniel
A: Run the same adventure multiple times with multiple groups. At the end, ask questions — “what did you like, what didn’t you like”?. That approach will get you the feedback you really need to dump unhelpful rules, and to adopt/redress those that need to be fixed. In fact, I’d argue that people outside your core demographic are the ideal candidates, because people who are in your target audience have a tendency to produce echo chamber opinions. You need to listen to voices outside your ideal audience; this is mission critical. You’re likely to find new ways of thinking, particularly as you hone in what the marketing message is, and how it can span two to three audiences.

Will
A: Your strategy should change with each con. When you plan on attending a con, write up a plan and be specific about the cons strengths — how long is it? How many sessions can you run? How visible are your slots on the cons website? Is the con RPG focused, or are RPGs secondary? The biggest thing to consider, though, is the cost — consider the cost of your time versus potential buyers. If a 3-day con costs you a couple hundred dollars, how many potential sales will you get, then translate that into how much money you might make. If you can get 12 people, and all 12 of them buy your $10 PDF is $120 worth a 3-day con?

Cecil
A: Run as many two hour demos as you can, bring business cards and quick start zines, have some cool shit to show off, and don’t assume anyone who plays will have the supplies they need like pencils and dice and what not. Confidence is key; some people want to playtest your game but don’t have them play something that is a waste of their con time. Play your game as it is meant to get played.

Mellanie
A: N/A

Q: How do I build engagement to turn customers into fans?

Daniel
A: Give them free stuff. Seriously. This is a tried and true method. Free stuff has a tendency to turn customers not only into fans, but also as allies to your cause. It may even spur a partnership in some cases, and turn them into your biggest cheerleader.

Will
A: This one is the magic secret. There’s no real answer here other than to engage and treat them like a community. Listen to them, and try to give them what they want while staying true to your product. That’s such a narrow category, but it’s the general rule. Talk, be positive, be genuine, help build others up, be interactive if you can. Find a flavor or brand that’s genuine to you and lean into that. For example, lots of people like transparency and data, look at Fred Hicks (president of Evil Hat) and his social media, which appeals to a lot of people because he lays out facts and data — something the tabletop community has interest in and easily turns a one time customer into a fan. For another example outside of TTRPGs, check out @SamSykesSwears on Twitter and start yelling “Buy my book!”

Cecil
A: This works best organically, make the best game you can and your super fans will show their heads. Run the game for strangers, and if the game is good and the table is fun then at least one of those people is gunna shout it from the mountain.

Mellanie
A: See above regarding building genuine relationships and giving out as much as you expect to receive. Going into the space and just expecting people to get excited about your product right away isn’t realistic, and is likely to get any relationship off on the wrong foot. You need to invest your time, post content that’s relevant and exciting and doesn’t just promote your game endlessly.

Hiring/Assistance

Q: How do I commission art responsibly if I have no money?

Daniel
A: Start first and foremost with Creative Commons artwork. Or, pool your money with other creators to buy some sweet art packs from DriveThruRPG. And I know I am preaching to the choir here, but artwork is important, as it will draw people into the game. However, no other piece of artwork is as important as the cover art. You need to save and scrimp to get good cover artwork if you want to draw people in who have never heard of your game.

Will
A: Okay. Truth bomb. Don’t. If your plan is to run a Kickstarter, the responsible thing to do is to put some cash aside and commission 1 or 2 pieces and pay those artists with that money and then when you’re coming up with your Kickstarter plan, consider how many pages you want to have art, and budget accordingly. When you fund, take that money and pay your artists. Art is hard work — just like writing, designing, editing, layout, etc. If you need to pay someone to do something for you, you need to pay them. You need to show off art in your Kickstarter, I get that, so commission only the pieces you want to show off and pay for that out of pocket. Do not ask artists to do work and promise to pay them if you fund because if you don’t fund then you have ruined a professional relationship.

Cecil
A: Find an artist who is willing to do some work upfront for a reduced rate or
willing to work free for a higher rate later. A lot of artists charge less (close to
dirt fuckin’ free, y’all raise yer rates) for non commercial works or for character art people can use in their home games; ænd one of those artists and offer them a bit more than that to get some pre-Kickstarter art flowing.
Also, stock art is cheap and you can do some cool shit with it after messing
around with it in a free photo editing app like GIMP. The British Library
Museum has a wealth of open source images on Flickr that you can bend to
your needs with a few ælters and masks.

Mellaine
A: If you’ve made yourself part of the community, and supported other people’s work, there’s no harm in putting out a general call to see if anybody would be interested in collaborating with you to produce a game for a cut of whatever money it eventually makes. You can hash that out between you and your artist contact, if any get in touch.

This is fair — nobody should work for free — but you may have better luck than you think with stock art from places such as Unsplash, Pixabay and Pexels. Make sure to check the license permits you to use it for your purposes. Most sites offer a clear rundown of what is and is not allowed.

Q: Where to get artists and how to pay them. Where can I look for artists willing to work for a KS/IGG campaign, or do a few smaller pieces for art so that the campaign can be started?

Daniel
A: Twitter is a good place to start. For every 20 RPG designers, there are 20 artists actively looking for work. Most artists are unwilling to work for spec — and frankly, you shouldn’t work under these terms unless your artist is truly a full partner on the RPG you’re making. The best starting game designers are those who partner up with an artist, so that they jointly work on the game together. This has several benefits — you can act as the writer, editor and designer while they focus on artwork. But you need to cut them in for no less than 50%. This give you both equal stake into the success of the RPG, a sounding board for design and both of you a way to do what you’re both good at.

Will
A: Find your favorite RPG that has the same caliber art that you want. Look at the credits, find the artists. Google them. Almost all of them will have a website with a commissions page or guidelines — but if they’re open to work they’ll have a way to reach out.

Cecil
A: Twitter and Tumblr are great places to ænd artists that don’t have a barrier of entry requiring you to also be an artist. Places like art station or deviant art
can be tough to navigate but on the two Ts the shit is smattered all over your
feed. Ask every artist you see that you like what their rates and availability are. Be polite, don’t be offended by an artist’s rates either ‘cos if they are charging that it means someone is paying it.

The other thing you can do is ænd an artist who æts your direction who’s out
there and hungry for work, build a working relationship and discuss profit
sharing. Build your brands together.

Mellaine
A: Again, if you’ve built yourself a role in the community, asking for collaborators and being clear about the terms/payment is the best way to start. You’ll notice the same hashtags used by artists in the community time and time again — following those tags on Instagram and TweetDeck can be a great place to start.

Never ask anybody to work “for exposure”. It’s insulting and degrades the value of all artists, not just the ones you’re commissioning. Ask if they’re willing to collaborate, be clear about your terms, be respectful if they don’t agree to them. People investing their time for no payment up front is a BIG ask, and it deserves to be respected if people choose not to.

Q: I’ve noticed how much of an impact it can make to get a shout-out from a big name, but how do I get there?

Daniel
A: Make your RPG different. Do something that’s unusual or hasn’t been done yet. And get a copy of it in the person’s hands, but only it’s a finished product. Frankly, tastemakers in the RPG industry have better things to do than to look over your unfinished ideas in a poorly-edited Word document. This isn’t meant to denigrate your hard work, but it’s simply a fact. Take the time to polish, to preen and to perfect. Then, and only then, should you reach out to an influencer.

Speaking of which, if you can get a finished product into the hands of Ben Milton of Questing Beast (THE #1 reviewer of OSR adventure games, indie RPGs and story games), then you’ve got a built-in audience who will buy your game on principle alone, even if Ben has critical feedback about your game. That’s how social influencers work.

Will
A: Don’t try and get there. Seriously. Yes, a big name shout-out can help. But that’s not your goal. Your goal is to make a community for your games — to have fans. Be kind, raise up others, and the TTRPG community will take notice.

Cecil
A: Make Cool Shit And Get Lucky is about as far as this goes. You can try to work your way up the ladder through social media but I think your chances are pretty much the same otherwise. Just make the best thing, make it pretty. The industry is still pretty small, and the odds that you are friends with someone who is being followed by an RPG Famous Person are decent, impress your friend and hopefully you’ll impress their friends. There are a lot of voices in RPGs right now, a lot of really radical stuff is getting made and even more not radical stuff is also getting made. I think this is a net positive outcome of the availability of tools mixing with a rise in game popularity, but if you’re going to be the next person to get lucky with an Adam Koebel retweet then your shit better catch the apple in his eye.

Mellaine
A: Chasing this as a specific goal is probably not going to be the right approach. Aiming to create buzz in the community not only increases the likelihood that you’ll get a shoutout (those algorithms again) but also means you’ll feel the impact even if no big influencers jump on your bandwagon this time around.

Keep in mind that these people are bombarded with requests for RTs, and while you might get lucky, it shouldn’t be the main focus of your campaign.

If the people you’re hoping will share your content are invested in the community, anything that gets a lot of people talking might get them talking too. They’re still people!

Q: If an email/tweet has no response, to what extent is it reasonable to reach out to someone again? Often you don’t know whether something has been overlooked or forgotten rather than actually ignored because busy people can’t reply to everyone.

Daniel
A: There’s a lot of online chatter. And most people don’t have a lot of time to pay attention to the hundreds of tweets they’re receiving a day. What are you trying to achieve? Are you trying to get some recognition about your game? See above for sound approaches to get the right person’s attention.

Will
A: Don’t. Let it sit. Chances are if the person you’re reaching out to wants to be reached out to they’re looking for communications like yours. If they don’t want to be reached out to, leave them alone. Something to remember is that while making and publishing games is fun and we’re all passionate about it — this is also a career and you must remain professional if you want to do it professionally.

Cecil
A: Give it a week and check back in, then drop it. People aren’t as busy as they
pretend to be, and they’re often sent things they hate but don’t want to tell you they hate it because it feels bad to tell people that. I read every single email I get, but I don’t respond to every single email I get. Be patient and be prepared for upsetting news. I know it’s considered super a bad guy move to ghost people, but take into consideration that there is a weight of anxiety that hits in you in the face when someone asks for your approval and compliment; that shit is hard to deal with and only gets harder if you just don’t like what they send you.

Also research who you send your shit to, you don’t want to send your stuff off
to some influential person only to ænd out they’re famous because of their
bullshit opinion on a flat earth or some shit.

Mellaine
A: It depends on the context. A tweet is probably acceptable a couple of times a week, but abandoned after a month of no luck. If it’s a DM and they’ve seen it but not responded, give it two weeks. People are busy, and if your polite “Hey, just checking up on this!” message goes ignored, move on.

An email should be longer. Email inboxes can be daunting places. Allowing a month or even two for feedback or a response is not unreasonable.

Q: Is there an evidence-based formula for the dollar value of a famous person tweeting a link to your Kickstarter?

Daniel
A: Relevance of the influencer to the RPG you’re attempting to raise awareness about is key to driving engagement. This isn’t for my Kickstarter, but I can tell you that Adam Koebel’s YouTube video on ZWEIHÄNDER drove a 692% increase in my day-over-day rolling sales average across a 30 day period on DriveThruRPG. My Promoted Post with Joe Manganiello holding the copy of ZWEIHÄNDER I gave to him after a Twitter exchange drove 857 engagements over a 24 hour period, with 47 sales and a $25 ad spend.

Here’s a recent example of using Awareness as a measure of success, instead of Sales as your key performance indicator: https://twitter.com/ZweihanderRPG/status/1100777370607382528

Will
A: There might be, somewhere, but it changes and varies from project-to-project. You may see a bump in your backers when someone with a check tweets about your campaign, but if you do and how big that bump is depends wildly on your campaign and who that person is. New eyes on your campaign is always a good thing, but if your campaign isn’t put together well or isn’t appealing to that persons followers, you won’t retain those eyes.

Cecil
A: If the question is “is it worth paying someone to retweet my kickstarter?” I
think the answer is no. If the question is “will a famous person’s retweet bump
my backers?” then the answer is absolutely yes. What you should do instead is
try to play your game with a famous person.

Mellaine
A: N/A

Marketing Campaigns

Q: What are the differences between marketing a small game and a big game? A game designed for one shots vs a game that’s designed for long term campaigns?

Daniel
A: Nothing, save for the revenues you’re going to generate over time. It’s hard to create a marketing strategy that’s lasting if you only have one arrow in your quiver. A big game has a longer life cycle in the market than a small game. But, small games are a good way for you to test ideas. Don’t be afraid to make 5 smaller games before you make your big game.

Will
A: The size of your game is going to determine the audience. Big games are often seen by more people (and thus have a wider audience) who are willing to spend less money, or commit less. Small games have a narrower audience, but that audience is more likely to spend money. As far as one shots vs long term, I couldn’t say. I’m sure there’s data out there somewhere that would help — but I don’t have that expertise in my pocket.

Cecil
A: One-shot games are much easier to sell by driving the hype train around
podcasts and streamers but has a lower perceived value thus a potentially
lower retail price thus thus a lower margin of proæt. Don’t make games with no end though, or you’re gunna get stuck in a rut of product support. The industry is changing quite a bit, and a market of folks who crave shorter table times and more focused experiences is blossoming.

Mellaine
A: N/A

Q: My biggest marketing Q is, everyone advocates for different strategies (develop your game in the open on SM, build a newsletter, go to cons). Sometimes these arguments contradict each other and are anecdotal. Would love to build a more nuanced pro/con list for each.

Daniel
A: Storytelling is not only important in RPGs, but also in your marketing messages. This is where my general advice stops, and I’d have to take a deeper dive into your business goals. While my advice above is generalized, your marketing efforts are best-suited to a bespoke approach for digital strategy. Email or DM me on Twitter @ZweihanderRPG

Will
A: There isn’t one and that’s not how it works. Each game is different. Each dev is different. Each strategy is different. The most real, down to earth advice you will see in this column is that it is different for each and every person each and every time. If you find a pattern that works for you lean into it and make it yours. If a piece of advice doesn’t jive with you, cut it and move on.

Cecil
A: I don’t think this is possible, to be honest. Everyone has their own way, and
some ways won’t work for some folks. I got my start in the industry on a
chance encounter; my ærst freelancing client was also a regular at this place I
was bartending and who just happen to be an industry veteran. That turned
into more and more work, and then I went full time in RPGs shortly thereafter.

I basically had the free time to get on the internet and schmooze, to play the
patient long game, and I have the mentorship of a guy who knows his RPG
shit. Not everyone is going to get that lucky, not everyone is going to have the
kind of time to work each night after their regular job. I think it’s all about
attitude, at the end of the day. I want people to buy my shit and be cool, I’m
not here to get elf game famous or make big splashes in small ponds, I just
want to sell RPG stuff and feed the babies so taking it easy and keeping it as
free as possible is ideal. Some people want to demolition derby their way to
nerd stardom and drop a lot of money in the process and it works for them,
too.

Mellaine
A: I’m usually a fan of the Ron Swanson approach: “Don’t half-ass two things. Whole ass one thing.”

That said, there’s no reason not to mix and match these strategies. They likely combine to become somewhat intertwined if you’re genuinely devoting time to the community.

Being sensible about things probably means the following order of priority:

  • Social media: Low cost- can be free — wide potential reach, it’s in your pocket all of the time. Potential to reach influencers and international audiences. With even a small budget you can reach an incredibly specific audience.
  • Newsletter: If you’ve built an interested following, this can be a really low-cost option and you have an audience you know is engaged. This can be invaluable for feedback and playtesting when the time comes.
  • Cons: The most expensive option, but a great way to network. If you’ve build a good standing in the community, there’s a good chance you can meet some of those folks and get feedback, and maybe even get them to play a post about your game. Being active in the con hashtag is also a fleeting but powerful opportunity to increase reach on your promotional posts. Offering a discount to folks in that hashtag is also a great idea and gives a feeling of exclusivity and reward.

Q: As I’m building towards my first publishing venture I’m doing small cons for beta testing, interacting w/ the community but I’m having a hard time getting the community to interact back. I ask questions on Twitter for advice or to just talk & I get crickets. How do I fix that?

Daniel
A: Reach out to your community using DriveThruRPG. Remember when I told you to get your game on DTRPG immediately? The people who have downloaded it there are your most active community of people to engage using Publisher Points to email them. Here’s a good approach:

  • Figure out who your community is by sending out an email blast to your community asking to follow you on Twitter & Facebook
  • Get a Discord set up
  • Stay connected by following them back on social media
  • Re-engage your audience every time you have a new release for your game (alpha to closed beta, closed beta to open beta, and eventual live release)

A breakdown of all Publisher Tools can be found here: https://onebookshelfpublisherservice.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/categories/203997587-Promotion

Will
A: You’re interacting and expecting people to owe you engagement back. Take the time to build relationships. Provide feedback and interaction with other designers. You should be focusing on building a community not getting engagement robots.

Cecil
A: When you tweet shit out you’re yelling into a room full of other people yelling but no one is listening. It’s this huge vacuum of nonsense and you need to stop asking questions to no one. Find a thread, get in there, and start the
conversation from the inside out. Learn the best time to post. Friday morning
is a great time to post shit to reddit, saturday morning is a terrible time to post
shit to twitter.

Here is some tough love: if no one on the internet is talking about your game,
and if you can’t get a conversation about your game going, then it may be time
to hit the drawing board again. You may see well known designers talking
about games they wish they could run or make and these are basically feelers
to see what they should do next. Get crickets? Don’t make that game.

Mellaine
A: Interact more genuinely and more frequently with the community. If people get the sense you’re just there to network, anything else you do comes across as a perfunctory stepping stone. You need to give as much as you expect to receive. Social media is not a broadcast medium. It’s meant for interaction. Do that.

Q: I have finished my game. I am planning a kickstarter but what do I do in the meantime? Do I release an SRD or Ashcan? What are other ways to build excitement if I don’t want to share parts of my game like that for free?

Daniel
A: SRD is nice, if you can do it but unless you know how to code, it’s going to cost you. The best approach would be to have the PDF lain out, and to manually to strip the images out to create an ‘early access’ version for Kickstarter. But be prepared — the community expects a freemium business model from large RPG publishers, and you need to be prepared to do the same. There are ways you can do it cheap — skip layout using InDesign, and lay out Early Access in a tidy way using Word, with a two-column format (two column only, no single column layouts). Put it up on DriveThruRPG for a low pricing point, and set up a Kickstarter stretch goal to move the Early Access to become free once you hit your goals. Here’s an excellent article about the freemium market expectations for RPGs: https://twitter.com/ZweihanderRPG/status/1080871572372631552

Will
A: Be a part of the community. Be kind, and friendly. Provide feedback to others. Let them know you’re about to launch a Kickstarter and ask if they’d be willing to share it to their social media. If they have a blog or a podcast, see if they’d be willing to talk about on or after your launch. Find reviewers or community influencers and provide them with details to get them excited. If you don’t want to share parts of your game, then it’s hard for people to get excited and you’re likely actively hurting your marketing efforts. People need a hook — if you’re going to keep that hook to yourself then no one is going to know how awesome your game is.

Cecil
A: Ideas are cheap; what sells your game is how it looks and the voice that you
bring to the table. You do yourself nothing but harm but secreting things away, so if you’re not prepared for your manuscript to start making the rounds about the internet then you can also release podcast or video actual plays, snippets of layout design, and always always always show art.

Mellaine
A: N/A

Q: How do people tease upcoming products to build up excitement? How much do you give away or share? How much time for build up?

Daniel
A: I make at least a weekly tease for upcoming products, oftentimes using memes that relate to the product. I release artwork from previous books, retrospectives on performance in the market and give away parts of chapters in my posts (but redirect those posts to full chapter releases on DriveThruRPG). In essence, if I haven’t made it abundantly clear, you need to drive traffic to your DriveThruRPG set-up to capture your audience.

Will
A: I’m very liberal with sharing information. I get the need to keep some stuff close to the vest, but you should have a handful of hooks you plan to share. And when I share I don’t mean mechanically, but anecdotally. Find a way to describe your interesting mechanics narratively in a way that people will find interesting, unique, or fun. Release these tidbits on a blog, or let community influencers have that information and let them tease about it and talk about how much they like it.

Cecil
A: I like to get people playing to build up excitement; about 4 months before I
launched my last kickstarter I taught myself javascript and made random
character generators for people to play with on their lunch breaks or whatever.

Leading up to that, I would just have people roll dice on twitter or discord
without telling them why, then handing them the character they rolled up.
Little things like that go a long way, and keep in mind that not everyone who
sees and likes your stuff will interact with you; put on a show for the lurkers.
Give yourself a minimum of 6 months to get the hype train really going hard,
and you need a call to action. Have something cool for people to look at or play and give them a link to sign up for a notiæcation when your kickstarter goes live. You don’t have to maintain a newsletter or listserv, just get email
addresses to blast when the kickstarter goes live then delete the emails. Easy
and effective.

Mellaine
A: There are a lot of ways to do this. Competitions can be one — giveaways leading up to launch day if people share. Be careful to look at Twitter and Facebook Terms of Service around competitions and giveaways. Many popular competition mechanics actually violate these, and you don’t want to be banned right when your game is about to go live.

Streaming a playthrough very near to launch can be one way to generate buzz too.

A note on competitions: If your audience might be EU based, refresh yourself on GDPR rules on data protection if you plan to gather any kind of data as part of your giveaway.

Q: I’m terrible at “back of the book pitch” descriptions. And that’s not because I think my games are like…beyond definition. I’m just really bad at finding those few good words to sum up the thing as a whole.

Daniel
A: A lot of people struggle with the pitch. But here’s a simple framework you can use:

  • What is the RPG called? (Space Race RPG)
  • Does this RPG resemble two other RPGs? (it’s like Star Wars meets Mad Maxx)
  • What does the RPG enable players to do? (play criminals on entertainment television who race for cash and their freedom)
  • What is different about this book from other RPG? (This RPG has flying car combat with easy to use rules)
  • What kind of role-players would like this RPG? (if you like sci-fi and racing video games, this RPG is for you).
  • What is the final statement you’d make about the RPG (Welcome to Space Race RPG, where death is but a tailspin away and freedom can be earned at full throttle!)

From there, you can begin to flesh out a few additional sentences. But don’t be too wordy, and be very, very specific. Don’t be too broad in your descriptions, or else you risk losing your reader. This is a regular pitfall for back covers.

Will
A: Pay someone else to do it. Seriously. There are marketing copywriters all over the place and usually it will cost you a PDF of your product and .08 a word, and those descriptions usually aren’t that long.

Cecil
A: Get someone else to do it or don’t do it at all. Most of your sales are going to be on the internet and because of that you’re afforded much more space to hustle in; a 10 page PDF preview is going to be more effective than a 2 paragraph pitch, and you only need a sentence or two to get folks reading the preview. For your pitch, in two sentences tell me exactly who I’ll be playing and what I’ll be doing and you better not say shit about mechanics or how it stacks up to some other RPG.

Mellanie
A: Practice explaining the game to somebody who doesn’t play games. Just find a random coworker or friend or relative who isn’t a gamer and ask if you can try to explain it to them. If they get it, that’s the way to do it. Feel free to polish it a little after that, but all the pitch needs to do is sell the idea. Don’t worry about sounding super exciting or different. Just really clear.

Q: I’m speaking selfishly, but can you pretty please advise people how to talk to press outlets? I get so many people trying to hard-sell me on their game personally like they’re trying to get ME to buy it rather than giving me necessary details so I can effectively talk about it.

Daniel
A: Every RPG designer should prepare — and rehearse over and over and over — a 60 second pitch about their game. Practice and perfect it. The pitch isn’t intended to drive someone to buy the RPG, but it is used to intrigue the listener enough to ask questions. Don’t speak to a potential customer after the 60 seconds; take a breath, and let the listener speak up. If the listener doesn’t ask questions about the game afterwards, you need to either a) improve your pitch [which is generally the problem] or b) need to try again on another person. Practice makes perfect.

Will
A: Get passionate. There’s a thin line between a used car salesperson giving their pitch and industry sales people trying to move books. That line is passion.

Cecil
A: Study boilerplate press releases. Don’t try and reinvent the wheel with this one and there is no end of good press release examples out there. The hard part is collecting the emails to send these things too. A press release is the one place I don’t feel like it’s not a problem to be a company or a robot; there is a system put in place that’s been the same for decades and changing the formula up is not really going to do much. Also, take a page from board game sell sheets; they are extremely effective at conveying good old fashioned hype in a methodical way.

Mellanie
A: Treat your press release like an FAQ, not a sales pitch.

Whoever’s writing about your game may be including it in a roundup, or giving it its own feature, but whatever they’re doing they need the information to compare/contrast.

Take the short pitch you practiced on your mom, and stretch it out into its components:

  • how many people is it for
  • how long does it take to play
  • what type of game is it
  • Has anybody said anything really great about it

That’s it.

Almost all gaming companies will have press areas on their websites, with press releases held there so they can easily link to them. This is an example from Wizards of the Coast.

All press releases need to include the following:

Find Your Angle. What makes your game different, interesting, worthy of talking about or playing. Even the smallest detail that makes it different should be the hero in your press release.

Write Your Headline. It needs to be informative and attention grabbing. Remember the thumb stopping moment from before?

Write Your Lede. … This is the section that summarises the story in brief, but includes just enough information to get people to read on.

Write 2–5 Strong Body Paragraphs With Supporting Details. Think of all the things you think your audience might want to know. This includes practical stuff such as price, and details about what inspired the game, style of play, playtime, etc.

Include Quotes These can be from influencers if you have them, or even just people you’ve had playtest the game for you. You can even throw in quotes from NPCs or other game characters for colour, if you like.

Include Contact Information. This is vital!

Include Your Boilerplate Copy. In the WotC example, that’s the info at the end. It allows the journalist to very briefly summarise your brand/qualifications/etc simply by copy/pasting. It should be a couple of sentences long, and should be included for any and all contributors, or your company if you have one.

Please provide your greatest thanks to these four. They’ve done us an immaculate service, largely for free. Here are their final words, and/or locations from which you can find and support them.

Daniel: I hope my responses below help give you some concrete ideas on how to market your game. I’ll caveat all of my suggestions below by saying that while these methods worked for me, they won’t work for everyone. There is some secret sauce behind my approaches, and digital strategy models that work their best are highly bespoke to the audience you’re marketing your RPG to. If you are looking for additional information, or wish to bring on a consultant to elevate your digital marketing strategy to a professional level, please reach out to me daniel@grimandperilous.com

Will: https://www.patreon.com/wordswritewill

Cecil: You can each me on twitter, I’m @swordpeddler. (also I’m married, have two daughters, a dog, play drums in a post rock band, and I have tattoos of celery)

Mellanie: Say hi @MissBox [on Twitter] and over at [my] website.