Lessons From the Clones

JimLotFP

New member
Banned
Clones for the purposes of this post: OSRIC, Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, Basic Fantasy RPG, that sort of specific thing. Old School Renaissance stuff, including but not limited to the very faithful examples. I like the term "simulacrum" better than "clone" but what can you do...

It doesn't matter if used copies of the original editions are cheaper than the clones they inspire, the clones still sell.

Why? "Better organization" sells books? A greater sense of involvement and belonging by going in with a clone instead of a 25-years out of print original? A greater sense of ownership by having a new book instead of someone's Ebay castoff? Obsessive compulsive collecting?

Whatever the reason, there is obviously real value in "new" and in "restatement," as I don't believe the people buying this stuff are stupid, ill-informed or being deceived in any way.

Free PDF? Yeah, OK, but people will buy the book anyway.

Pretty self-explanatory.

As some of the simulacra go more commercial, the free PDF isn't the same as the for-pay version (in some cases a publisher choice, in others dictated by distributors speaking for retailers), so that clouds the waters a bit, but before distro and such was a big goal, the free pdfs had the same content with the same layout as the POD for-pay versions, and the for-pay version still sold in the hundreds even with only one sales point.

Premium Products Sell

"Will buy the print version" remains true even if the print version is expensive, and more expensive print items will still sell even though lesser-priced versions with the exact same content are available. The Brave Halfling box, the OSRIC hardcovers (actually all of the POD hardcovers, including Labyrinth Lord, Basic Fantasy, Swords & Wizardry), they don't want for sales when they are available.

"Old School Gaming" doesn't have to mean "gaming on the cheap."

There is a silent buyer/player base.

It's obvious that the majority of buyers of (for example) Pathfinder or 4e or other top-selling RPGs aren't hanging around the forums. While there seems to be a popular idea that the Old School thing is just a few people on blogs and forums making a disproportionate amount of noise, OSR publishers see sales well beyond what the activity on boards and blogs would indicate. In some cases far beyond.

There's more support here than we see.

The Term Fantasy Heartbreaker is Obsolete

Forget "D&D but better," "D&D but the same" can work. Preservation and continuity at the expense of innovation are valid design goals both creatively and commercially.

They sell. Established companies wouldn't touch it, so it was all new start-ups that did it. POD? They sell. Print a bunch up and put them through distribution? They sell. Not every OSR publisher has been a success of course, but I'll bet that more OSR publishers have been pleasantly surprised by interest and sales than disappointed in the same.

The Sky Is the Limit

Frank Mentzer has mentioned asking around about the clones at GenCon, and the vast majority of people he talked to didn't seem to have heard of either the clones or the OSR at all.

Some saw that as meaning "The Emperor Has No Clothes," that the OSR is a fraud. I don't agree.

Considering the number of publishers already surprised at their success, the possibility that the vast majority of potential customers and players don't even know these things exist is awesome. That says effectively unlimited potential growth for companies that simply don't have the current resources to reach everyone all at once. Natural growth by word of mouth and little marketing pushes here and there, bottom up instead of top down.

One does wonder how things would have gone if a larger publisher had done this with the earlier edition games instead of a bunch of start-up newb publishers.

(I guess one could call Hackmaster "4e" this very thing and it did quite well...!)

The earliest clones were not just freely available but explicitly non-commercial (the POD physical versions of the first clones were sold at-cost if they were available at all), which, unintuitively enough, seems to have been a mistake as far as visibility.

It's been an interesting ride so far. The next few years should be even more interesting. :D
 

Sleeper

Red-eyed dust bunny
Validated User
There is a silent buyer/player base.

It's obvious that the majority of buyers of (for example) Pathfinder or 4e or other top-selling RPGs aren't hanging around the forums. While there seems to be a popular idea that the Old School thing is just a few people on blogs and forums making a disproportionate amount of noise, OSR publishers see sales well beyond what the activity on boards and blogs would indicate. In some cases far beyond.

There's more support here than we see.
I've wondered about the composition of that group. Is it people who are hooked in to the online RPG community but who aren't actively involved in old school games? Even if their primary interest is elsewhere, they might try it out of curiosity or novelty or nostalgia. Is it lurkers who follow what's going in the old school community but don't post or otherwise participate? Is it because one person in a gaming group is hooked in, and got everyone else interested enough in the game to buy copies (even if they don't join the active community)? Is it individuals buying multiple copies, as backups or as collectibles?

The stuff that seems to get attention both within and outside the so-called echo chamber, tends to be either controversial and/or premium products. Your histrionics followed by a box set with high production values, the fuss over sorcerers raping and killing underage girls in Carcosa, the latest imbroglio over the appropriation of TSR's trade dress on the cover of Insidious... these all seem to prove the maxim that any publicity is good publicity. Which also supports your final point, that anything that increases attention is good because the products seem to have appeal beyond the outer boundaries of what is normally considered the mainstream old school community. There's a huge growth market. Limited runs also seem fairly successful.
 

tigsmri

Registered User
Validated User
I like the term "simulacrum" better than "clone"...

There is a silent buyer/player base.

It's obvious that the majority of buyers of (for example) Pathfinder or 4e or other top-selling RPGs aren't hanging around the forums. While there seems to be a popular idea that the Old School thing is just a few people on blogs and forums making a disproportionate amount of noise, OSR publishers see sales well beyond what the activity on boards and blogs would indicate. In some cases far beyond.

There's more support here than we see.

Totally agree

Cheers!
 

simontmn

Registered User
Validated User
The earliest clones were not just freely available but explicitly non-commercial (the POD physical versions of the first clones were sold at-cost if they were available at all), which, unintuitively enough, seems to have been a mistake as far as visibility.
"What is gotten cheaply..."

Charging more makes people think it's worth more. Plus commercial pricing enables commercial print distribution. Labyrinth Lord and LotFP* are stocked in most games stores. The better stores will even 'push' them, - in London I doubt the Orc's Nest Staff have heard of the OSR, they barely even seem aware of what's going on in 4e D&D, but Leisure Games tried to sell me LoTFP last time I visited.

Mind you the free versions do get *played* a lot, especially online - online it's great to be able to point new players to a free rules download. And they spread by word of mouth, eg an old friend of mine started GMing AD&D again recently, now for his kids & nephews, and I pointed him to OSRIC which he bought. But this is relatively low-visibility stuff.

*And boxed sets are a brilliant marketing tool because they command much more shelf space! :)
 

robconley

Registered User
Validated User
There's more support here than we see.
Indeed it is very nice to see 335 copies of the Majestic Wilderlands sell. A about twice what I expected. At $5 profit per it is nice chunck of change to have.

If a person thinks they can sell a least a 100 copies they should get it a whirl. While it is work it is easier than most think with PoD and other technology available

Rob Conley
Bat in the Attic Games.
 

akajdrakeh

Pronounced 'akkadrakka'
RPGnet Member
Validated User
Labyrinth Lord and LotFP* are stocked in most games stores.
I think that saying they're stocked in "most" game stores is probably a reach. We have six game stores here locally. Neither of these games is stocked by any of them. Or by any of the four or five game stores in surrounding cities, last I checked. Nor are any other OSR games. In fact, with three exceptions that I can think of, I've had to order my OSR game material from Lulu or RPGNow, specifically because most (brick and mortar) game stores appear not to stock OSR items. And those three exceptions still had to be ordered online, from virtual storefronts.
 
Free PDF? Yeah, OK, but people will buy the book anyway.
True. I've sold just short of 150 copies of Dark Dungeons despite the print version being identical to the free PDF.

Premium Products Sell
Again true. Even though both print versions are identical to the PDF (as mentioned above) and to each other, I've still sold more of the more expensive hardback than I have of the cheaper softcover.

There is a silent buyer/player base.
I've had well over 5,000 downloads of the Dark Dungeons PDF so far, with absolutely no marketing other than me mentioning the game on the forums I visit.

By tracking where visitors to the site come from, I've had far more from here at RPG.net than from any other place. Sure, the "OSR" blogs have been sending people over too (and the numbers add up) - but they're only a small part of the total potential readership.

The earliest clones were not just freely available but explicitly non-commercial (the POD physical versions of the first clones were sold at-cost if they were available at all), which, unintuitively enough, seems to have been a mistake as far as visibility.
That may be true, but those of us who are still non-commercial and selling at-cost are doing so for other reasons, and are unlikely to change for the sake of increased visibility.
 

JimLotFP

New member
Banned
Yeah, I can't speak for Swords & Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord (beyond "Not in Finland"), but the LotFP stuff at least is in few local game stores at the moment. Continually working on expanding that network though. :)
 

tanaka84

Registered User
Validated User
If I may be so bold as to add a one thing Jim:

Old School mechanics are not obsolete: game mechanics aren´t food, they don´t spoil or get old, they are just different, modularity gave birth to a plethora of house rules that made every game unique, this kind of "system resilience" is like a breath of fresh air.
 

Master Of Desaster

Have no fear MoD is here
As a fan of the OSR Games who is familiar with Labyrinth Lords and Sword & Wizardry, I can only speak for my small personal experiences.

1) Many gamers don't know that OSR exists.

2) Last weekend I went to a CON and taking about LL alone made people look like they had seen a wraith.
I proposed running a game of LL with some LL-AEC tucked on - unfortunately nobody actually signed up :(
I don't know exactly why this happened. Some of the more visible/audible reasons at that day probably were:
- "strong voices against anything resembling D&D in any version".
- I didn't do it like the folks running Arkham Horrors (read: a poster on every wall, corner, etc.)
- there were probably too many GMs compared to the number of players ...
Well but the last point was lucky for me because: I got to play 2 games (Lot5R & D&D 3.5) in a group where 3 out of the other 5 folks are capable GMs. Got to try out a new system (Legend of the 5 rings) - so all in all still a positive gaming day.

So from my personal judgment: I think there is a potential to these systems & publishers that slumbers most of the time.
I personally would not go the aggressive marketing route though.

Btw. Germany would be one of the hardest country to win & at least having a ROI:
Gamers want it all (high quality, good artwork, detailed worlds) however granting other people an income is not necessarily something that a not so silent group of gamers in my region want to produce ...

I think that saying they're stocked in "most" game stores is probably a reach. We have six game stores here locally. Neither of these games is stocked by any of them. Or by any of the four or five game stores in surrounding cities, last I checked. Nor are any other OSR games. In fact, with three exceptions that I can think of, I've had to order my OSR game material from Lulu or RPGNow, specifically because most (brick and mortar) game stores appear not to stock OSR items. And those three exceptions still had to be ordered online, from virtual storefronts.

I think that saying they're stocked in "most" game stores is probably a reach. We have six game stores here locally. Neither of these games is stocked by any of them. Or by any of the four or five game stores in surrounding cities, last I checked. Nor are any other OSR games. In fact, with three exceptions that I can think of, I've had to order my OSR game material from Lulu or RPGNow, specifically because most (brick and mortar) game stores appear not to stock OSR items. And those three exceptions still had to be ordered online, from virtual storefronts.
Well but hey I bought my copy of LL in a gaming store - not online. YEAH!
And there are only a very few shops.
But It wasn't re-stocked since I bought it (unless it was sold again).

I've had well over 5,000 downloads of the Dark Dungeons PDF so far, with absolutely no marketing other than me mentioning the game on the forums I visit.

By tracking where visitors to the site come from, I've had far more from here at RPG.net than from any other place. Sure, the "OSR" blogs have been sending people over too (and the numbers add up) - but they're only a small part of the total potential readership.
I did not expect anything else regarding HOW people came to your site.
 
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