Apr 062012
 

hand-tools[1]By Paco Garcia Jaen

Not long ago I asked James Desborough what could publishers and retailers do to increase the presence of games to the public. Or something similar. He did say that it is a big subject with a difficult answer to give, so I took it upon myself to actually attempt to provide some ideas and galvanise some people into doing things.

I have been a volunteer counsellor for a long time. I have worked in relationships counselling and with some perpetrators of domestic abuse. One of my colleagues once gave me a maxim that I not just absolutely adore, but I actually live by it:

If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got (IYADWYADYWAGWYAG).

Of course this has it’s limitations. In fact, I would say that, in some if not most aspects of life, if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll eventually lose it because you’ll get stagnant and bored with it. And how this links into the real subject of this article? Keep reading.

The games industry has been like a yo-yo. It started to roll and went up. Then went down. Then went up again, but in a different direction and with not so much impetus. Then it went down again. Then, in the early to mid 2000s it went up again, but with nowhere near the same force.

Now it seems things are starting to happen and it could keep coming up again. Boardgames are becoming mainstream. Publishing and self publishing are becoming more obtainable and, to some degree, easier. Reaching people is a lot cheaper, easier and more effective than 15 years ago… anyone would think we have it all going for us!

Well, no. We don’t. Times are difficult with money. Shops are not doing very well. It might be easy to reach out to people, but to actually get the product to them? Not so!

To find out why this is the case, we need to get to the root of the problem. It is very easy to blame others for this. “Amazon takes a massive cut”. “The post office charges a lot”. “People prefer to buy online”. “We are no longer mainstream”. Those are some of the few things I hear people say sometimes.

Those are not the reasons. Those are obstacles.

I am going to be controversial here: You are not doing enough for the games industry. If you are a publisher, you are not doing enough. If you are a distributor, you are not doing enough. If you are an author, you are not doing enough. If you are a retailer, you are not doing enough.

I am sure you work hard. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not implying you are lazy. You are not (probably!). In fact some of the ones amongst you I have met are some of the most amazing people ever, and I am extremely fond of you. You might know who you are. If you don’t know, assume you are. But you are not moving with the times, and you are not doing enough. Or maybe you are, but you are not doing the best things you could do.

So far I have been very vague. I talk about “things” and “not doing enough”. This is deliberate. I want to concentrate on four aspects of the gaming creation process: Publishers, distributors, retailers and consumers. There is a fifth, the media, but on that one, I rather you tell me what you think we are doing, what we do enough of, what we don’t do enough of, what we could do better… I will also explain at some point, what it is that I am personally doing. And I would love you to tell me if it is enough. Me as a consumer and me as part of the media. I am also leaving out the authors. Mainly because there is little else you guys can do, though there is a bit you can do.

I am not going to hold my punches on these articles, so the least I can do is to take as much as I am prepared to give.

One thing that changed the way we make business the most (if not THE thing) is the Internet. Funnily enough, it has drawn us closer together in some aspects, and has separated us in others.

When I was a young lad in Spain, reading fantasy books, I had the authors as some sort of impossible to approach beings. It was the late 80’s. I would never dream I could get to meet them, know them or talk to them. When I started to read RPGs, the same was true for those authors. Tell Gary Gigax what I had done to make things better for D&D? Phhhhtttt!!!!

Now Twitter, Facebook, Forums, emails and other myriad tools have brought authors and the public closer together. To actually maintain a conversation with some authors is indeed a daily occurrence. For a fanboy like me (though the “boy” bit doesn’t apply… at all!), there hasn’t been a better time for being into the hobby!

So what else could you do if you are an author? Well, the first thing I would say is: The least known you are, the more racket you have to make.

There are a lot of people out there competing for attention and plenty of games competing for game time. The ones that will get the attention are the ones which, either are already well known, or are making a lot of noise. The right sort of noise. Being an idiot will bring you a lot of attention, but it is not the type of attention you want. We’ve all attracted that sort of attention before, but make sure it is sporadic. Even if you don’t always please everyone (it’s virtually impossible), you want to be out there and making yourself known.

So, this is a list of things you could do to grab attention:

  • Tweet. If you already tweet, then tweet more. Even of some of the tweets you read sound silly, interact with your potential public. People who feel you’ve got their attention are more likely to buy your products.
  • Have a decent blog. If you don’t have a blog where you write about whatever it is you want to write about, you are missing out. Big time.
  • Make the blog as nice and inviting as you can. Even though the writing should be the focus, reading a nice looking blog is miles more likely than reading an ugly looking one. If you don’t know how to do it, ask your Twitter followers, or go to a forum and ask for help. You don’t need to hire someone to ask for advice and with a tiny bit of learning and a bit of effort, your presence could become much better very quickly.
  • Don’t limit your blog to your game. If we have the feeling we know you, we’ll be more likely to, actually, like you and want to help your books and games.
  • Start a Facebook page. I know, you might not like Facebook, but it is undeniable that it has its advantages and it is a good platform to reach people.
  • Start a LinkdIn profile. Although more marginal, it is a truly excellent tool to network and cyber-socialise with other authors and players. It also is perceived as a more professional environment, so it will increase your reputation somewhat.
  • Give advice. If you want people to believe you know what you’re talking about, the best way to do it is to show them.
  • Get acquainted with the media. There are no more magazines like in the 80’s and 90’s. The existing ones are very few and they can’t support everyone. Develop a relationship with other bloggers, podcasters and websites. Send press releases, ask to be in podcasts. Check out if they’ll add a banner with your product for advertising. Make sure they write reviews of your products. Offer to be in their podcast. Of course, you can’t do that for everyone, but choose blogs and podcasts you like and ones that will be prepared to put the effort back into you and help you promote your games.
  • Get published! Yes, you! You can get published! Send a short story, an article, a review, some thoughts… just send stuff to websites you like. Get your name out there! The more your name is out there, the more likely it is you’ll be recognised and that people will want to read who you are. Just make sure we know you!
  • Shout! When someone writes a review about your game, make sure you tell everyone. Add a link to your website and social networks. Get the conversation going.
  • Attend games shows and conventions. There is nothing like face to face interaction with your potential customers. No matter how good your website is, no matter how good you are at tweeting, Facebook and everything else… show yourself to this sort of places and you’ll get more fans and more sales!

You might be doing some of those things. You might be doing them all and I am teaching my grandma to suck eggs here, I don’t know. What I know, is that, doing all of those things, even though it is time consuming, you will be better off.

My question to you is: Are you doing enough of those things?

If you don’t believe me, ask someone who already does this sort of stuff. Not necessarily in the games industry. This sort of tactics work everywhere else.

If you have tried these things already and they haven’t worked for you, why not? What do you think happened there for it not to work?

Do you do something different? If so, what?

You can continue the conversation in our Boardgame Geek Guild. Over to you!

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Paco G. Jaen

Born in Spain with a talent for dyslexia, I am gamer, player, graphic designer, photographer and psycotherapist. Also online magazine publisher and writer. Yep.. I do lead a busy life!