HOW TO FIX FREE RPG DAY

I am a little jaded about Free RPG Day this years. The first reason is that my LGS didn’t participate.  Another reason is because I didn’t have a baby sitter, and trying to keep a four year old calm while you pretend to be in a murderhole is really hard.  The real reason is because, long story short, after the comic book day RPG event I got a hold of Free RPG Day to see if the library could get a kit. This was their response:

“Libraries don’t sell RPGs. The kits are meant as sales tools to help drive purchases through those stores that carry the products promoted in the kits.”

That is the message they sent me. I decided not to send the dickhead response I had spent an hour writing up and let it go for now. Then all of a sudden a few days before FRPGD everyone in the scene is talking about how FRPGD kind of misses the point, and I agree. I do not think Free RPG Day shouldn’t be trying to bring more sales to stores, but I think the whole thing is misguided.

FREE RPG DAY IS BROKEN
Yesterday I watched the events of Free RPG day unfold from the comfort of my desk over a cup of coffee. I saw a story about one store throwing away all of the LotFP ‘SLUGS’ book, I saw stories about stores raffling off free things because there were so many people. This year I didn’t hear any stories of stores charging customers for free material, but I have heard about that happening in the past. You know what else I didn’t see? I didn’t see anyone posting pictures of all the other shit they bought at the store that day. I saw pictures of people holding like nearly 1 each of the offerings, I think I saw pictures of games being played but Origins is going on so it may have been that.

Nowhere did I see anything about anyone buying shit and here is why: It is really hard to convince someone who’s been playing RPGs for a long time to buy something new. It is really easy to convince every one to take free shit. It is middle easy to convince someone to sit down and play a game to eligible to receive a free thing.

You know what is fairly easy to do? Sit someone down who has never played an RPG, show them a good time, and then show them what they need to buy to do it again. I whole-heartedly believe that I could convince some one who has never played an RPG to buy the 5e PHB fairly quick, but getting some who plays RPGs already to buy Shadow Of The Demon Lord would take way way way way more time.

Fee RPG Day is pretty up front with their mission: to increase retail sales at brick and mortar game stores. I think this is great, but I think they do it wrong and the scope is too narrow. Free RPG Day’s mission should be to increase the number of RPG hobbyists by attracting new players thus increasing the number of RPG things that get bought. From what I have seen over on Tenkar’s Tavern, though, is that Free RPG day has accidentally locked itself into the current plan and they know it isn’t working.

So that is the first broken thing about Free RPG Day: they are trying to get people who don’t want things to buy those things. They were completely uninterested in getting the kit to a library; that could lead to better sales. New RP gamers will go buy everything. We see it all the time on the interent: “I decided to play dungeons and dragons so I went and bought everything and my pound o dice is coming tomorrow on amazon prime!” posts on reddit are really common.

GAME STORES ARE BROKEN
I play RPGS, I fucking draw RPG maps for a living, and I still cannot get treated like a human being when I go into most game stores. It is really hard for someone new to the hobby to go into these places because of the way they get treated. I don’t even need to explain it, we know how game and hobby shops can be. This isn’t all game stores, but we all know how unwelcoming they can be sometimes.

This is problem number two: game stores can be, but sometimes are not friendly, welcoming places for new gamers who could be interested in getting into the hobby. I was asked to give left over S&B rules and zines to the LGS,  to give to kids waiting around while their parents bought the newest catan or played magic the gathering.  They stuffed it under a counter. (this was about 30 minutes before free rpg day shot me down on facebook)

PROBLEM THREE IS TWO IN ONE
Publishers cannot afford to print a zillion things to send to Free RPG Day to put in the kits, and there is no marketing. Free RPG Day doesn’t market, and the game stores do not market. Who the hell is going to benefit from a free RPG day if no one knows there is a free fucking rpg day? I saw more marketing from James Raggi about the LotFP SLUGS book than I saw for any thing else involved with the event combined. Publishers don’t send much, so there is not enough to go around. But, as far as I can tell, there is no vetting process for sending the kits to stores. Sign up, get a kit. It doesn’t matter if you’re going to throw some of the books away, or sell the offerings, or not run games, or market, or give a shit.

Publishers cannot afford to send a bunch of printed material in because sales are low because game stores don’t market or give a shit. Publishers who send material to Free RPG Day are just sending loot to those stores that do nothing for them.

HOW DO WE FIX FREE RPG DAY?

SELL THE KITS TO LIBRARIES AND STOP SELLING THEM TO SHITTY STORES
If the stores aren’t selling anything but MTG and Yugioh then why are you selling them free rpg shit to give away ? Stop sending stores that suck the Free RPG kits, and start selling them to libraries and bookstores. Keep selling them to the game stores but start vetting those stores, do a quick search and see what kind of store they are and read reviews. A library has a vested interest in promoting creativity, imagination, and reading. Role playing games could very well be called creative imagination games (haha, CIGs…). Teenagers who have a good time in the library are going to go across town to the LGS and buy some books. Or they’re going to go over to Amazon and buy their books cheaper without dealing with an asshole behind a counter who thinks they should be playing GURPS instead of D&D regardless of how new of a player they are.

The library here really wanted to get a cool thing going for FRPG day, and we will get an RPG day thing going. If they put half as much work into Free RPG day as the did comic book day, it would have been a success.

OFFICIAL FREE RPG DAY GAME MASTERS
Seek out community leaders in the RPG world and give them the opportunity to host the events. For every five gamers, there is at least one who impartially loves RPGs. Find that guy or gal, and have them officiate over a store or library event. They can make sure things are given out fairly, and that games are being run. I would do that, for free, in a heart beat. I would take a head count, make notes on what gets played and bought, the most popular free offerings. Then I would send whatever I wrote down back to Free RPG day so that they can adjust for the next event. Don’t comment on this post and say “no one would do that for free” because if you are reading this, chances are you would.

HOLD EVENT LOCATIONS ACCOUNTABLE
Game stores and libraries should be held accountable for giving the event the due diligence it deserves.  A location needs to prove that they are going to advertise the thing.  Local papers, hell facebook advertising is cheap as fuck and you can target it so finely that you can make your add only show up on the feeds of people who’s name starts with R.  Publishers should not be interested in keeping brick and mortar stores alive, if those stores aren’t willing to also work to stay alive.

If your marketing strategy falls soley on a calendar of games, written on a whiteboard above the cash register then you do not deserve a Free RPG Day kit.  If you are going to throw away books in the kit because of whatever morals you have, your store does not deserve a Free RPG Day kit.

WILL THIS WORK?
Who knows?  I would venture to say that Free RPG Day right now is not increasing the number of sales in stores, because they are not increasing the number of people in the hobby.  That is the major shortfall of Free RPG day.  If Free RPG Day did a better job of bringing new people into the hobby, publishers may be willing to spend more money on sending more material.  The hobby could grow exponentially every year, and Free RPG day could be the things that does it.

11 Comments

  • Chris_Salmon

    June 19, 2016 at 4:00 PM Reply

    Really excellent points.

    There’s also been some discussion about making rules systems more accessible and/or games easier to run, in order to make Free RPG Day more effective at bringing people into the hobby, but I think you’ve nailed it. Free RPG Day’s fundamental approach is flawed. Its about the swag, not about attracting new players, and (despite intentions) not about selling new product to existing players.

    If the goal of the Day truly is to be to bring in new players, then the marketing must a) target potential players, at locations other than the FLGS, b) invite existing players to bring non-gamer friends and family along, and c) you know, exist.

    Stripped-back, gateway games are great, but they aren’t the main issue (let’s not treat new players as though they are simple, and ideally rules should always be Occam’s razor’d anyway). Likewise, “correcting” the ambience of not-so-friendly LGSs isn’t going to manufacture new players.

    The reason why most potential new players aren’t playing isn’t because they haven’t found the right system or the right shop. It’s probably because they haven’t been asked to play,

    • cecil

      June 19, 2016 at 9:09 PM Reply

      “The reason why most potential new players aren’t playing isn’t because they haven’t found the right system or the right shop. It’s probably because they haven’t been asked to play,”

      That’s some straight up truth-as-fuck right there.

  • Daniel Sell

    June 19, 2016 at 4:31 PM Reply

    I used to work for Games Workshop, a big part of my job was doing this stuff you say game stores should do. I’d get sent to libraries all the time to get kids painting some free stuff, then teach them to play with them. If someone came into the store we were obliged (at least while I worked there) to ask if someone played, and if not, to ask if they’d like to. Then we’d let them pick one of out little table displays and we’d play a quick game with them. You’d be surprised how many old men and bored single mothers we got playing long term like that.

    Whatever GW is now, they know (knew?) how to bring people in and get people playing. Game stores are dying out ‘cos they think they deserve is exist, and not earn it tooth and nail.

    • cecil

      June 19, 2016 at 9:10 PM Reply

      yeah i’ve heard the GW stores have really taken a dive.

  • Mike

    June 19, 2016 at 9:01 PM Reply

    Where did you hear about SLUGS getting thrown out? It also happened at my store and was wondering if it was the same store or a wide spread thing

    • cecil

      June 19, 2016 at 9:08 PM Reply

      this place https://www.facebook.com/DocsComicsAndGames/

      at least i think it is, i saw the story on g+ and the guy had a picture of the store front with it. i googled the name on the sign and that facebook page was linked. there was also a picture of the same front attached to the same address as the facebook page.

      where was yours?

      • Mike

        June 20, 2016 at 3:34 PM Reply

        Mine was in Illinois. I was pretty surprised because specifically went in a month or two before to see if they were even getting the book. They said they definitely would and if I ran an event using the book I could get it early to plan stuff. I don’t think they really knew what they were getting because got a call the day before FRPG Day saying I couldn’t run Lamentations, but they would still have my book. Then when I got there they had been thrown out, so they let me garbage pick them as long as I didn’t say where I them. So now I have 4 copies.

  • OrcStompRunner

    June 20, 2016 at 7:24 AM Reply

    As a many year RPG vet who loves RPGs impartially, I would officiate (and have) at a store for free. The one time my FLGS bought a Free RPG Day kit (at my urging) I did.

  • Drew

    June 20, 2016 at 3:42 PM Reply

    Interesting points. This year was the first time I’ve ever been able to participate. I had a pretty good experience, myself, but I agree with you that some kind of grassroots effort is needed if we’re going to keep this hobby alive. I someone took the initiative to make some kind of RPG society of GMs or whatever, I’d be the first to volunteer to run things at my FLGS. Well, it’s more of a Friendly Local Comic Shop, but emphasis on the FRIENDLY, so I’m sure they’d be open to hosting games.

    Andrew Branstad
    http://retreatforward.blogspot.com/

  • Pere Ubu

    June 26, 2016 at 6:53 PM Reply

    FRPGD should be an occasion for publishers to offer free “lite” versions of their rules, a cut-down simplified version or maybe just the first level or just pre-gens, and give folks an opportunity to see and try a game they may not have heard of before. I bought Diaspora and there’s a lot of questions I have about Aspects and I’m not finding them on the net; having a live person who’s familiar with the game to ask questions would make it MUCH better.

  • David_Friant

    June 30, 2016 at 1:44 PM Reply

    I’ve been meaning to read your article for days and finally got around to it- you raise some really great points! Basically, Free RPG Day should be run like a one day convention where you can get a copy of the game you just played and it should absolutely be made available to libraries and other community centers- a certain level of going to a gaming store is “preaching to the choir”. The event should be doing outreach to college campuses and other such places where you can find clusters of young adults. If you could keep-out some of the more graphic content, you could also get this into schools too (not that I’m pro-censorship, but you do have to play things conservatively when you’re talking about other’s children and how the parents might want to parent them)! Good read and great ideas, Nerdarchist Ryan

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