Category: Promotion, marketing : strategic

05/30/10

Permalink 07:36:48 am, Categories: Promotion, marketing : strategic, 1535 words   English (US)

BW meets Avalanche - seeking alpha testers

Cross posted at the burning forum.
Notice that I try to present our vision first, and give information on the product afterward.

Well, anyway, I'm still looking for alpha testers, even if you're not playing with BW. Just use the "contact" button on our current site and we'll get into touch.

Introducing myself
Let me begin by introducing myself and my presence on this forum (first post for me, so ...).

My name is Sébastien Pelletier and I live in Montréal, Québec, Canada. I've been living there for almost three years after being in Paris for six years. I'm a project manager as my daily job. My main hobbies are movies, reading about philosophy, French and international politic, and I'm also a big player (CCG, video games, tabletop and, of course, rpg).
I'm mostly present on The Forge and story-games.
Be warned that I'm a native french speaker.

It is while being in Paris, alone, far away from my friends, that I started to work on a rpg project, which, at first was supposed to be "little".

Introducing Avalanche
I guess you haven't heard about it, since it is not on the shelves yet, so let me introduce you to Avalanche.
Let me start with our vision :
We believe that role playing games are first and foremost a creative activity. We believe that role players, dungeon masters and players alike are very creative. This is why Avalanche is an unfinished product. We believe you can finish this story better than ourselves; that including you in the creative process can only improve Avalanche. This is not a story where you are the hero. This is a story where you are the author. We believe that you should create the very own fabric of the culture you are part of, that you shouldn’t and wouldn’t be a simple beholder of the upcoming adventures to come. We need you to finish this book.

We believe that the creative process has more value than the final product itself. This is why you will encounter different maps representing the same reality in Avalanche; even some drafts. In the course of this creative process, which must be as free for the creators as possible, multiple, even concurrent, versions of the same truth might arise. This is good. Because there is no truth, not even some author’s truth. As authors of Avalanche, your truth is as good as ours.

And maybe, this might interests you :
What is Avalanche about you might ask me? Sure, it is about a civil war, it is about hard dilemmas about the humans’ survival, it is about the abuse of nature, but this would not be my answer. Avalanche is about finding one’s place into the world. It is about questioning one’s value. Avalanche is first and foremost about one journey of self’s discovery.

What kind of product would be able to support that vision, what would be its specificity :
- Pure fluff : Avalanche is not about any systems. It might be played with any system you'd like.
- A single product : Avalanche is a setting and many modules in a single product.
- No PCs : don't look for them, they are not mentioned once.
- No details : Avalanche is high level and provide no details concerning the setting and the adventures.
- Modular approach : every bits of information fits into a "space". Forget about your typical modules.
- Multi plots : Avalanche is about many adventures, all occurring [I]at the same time[/I], over a large region.
- Calendar based : there is no chapters. There is only a big timeframe to manage the plots. And [I]time[/I] does matter.
- Non linear : Avalanche is not meant to be read from one cover to the other. You may start anywhere and follow on any pages.
- Storyboard : yeah, this looks like a storyboard; and yeah, storyboards are, by definition, unfinished product. So is Avalanche.

If you're intrigued, you may take a look at those :
The teaser of Avalanche
Map of the region
The relationship map
An example of a typical page with the provisional final layout

Avalanche and Burning Wheel
I've play tested Avalanche with d20, BW, TSOY and some kind of variations of white wolf system. It works fine with all of them, but, of course, different systems do different things, so depending on how you intend to play Avalanche, some systems are better at handling some types of games. For my AP report for BW, you can see it here.

Anyway, I really liked BW, even if I found it a little bit "rules heavy" for the players I had at hands. But, seriously, I do find Avalanche and BW do be a perfect match. And I do not think there are needs to accommodate Avalanche or BW for this fit. That's one thing I'd like to prove to Luke (yeah, that one), with whom I was in constant contact. And, by the way, Luke is one of the person who really helped me a lot on this project. And I'd like to thank him for that.

Maybe on a more general note : although Avalanche could be played with any system, I wouldn't recommend using d20. One of my goal as a publisher is to attract players of d20 with a mature product (my target audience is over 30) and introduce them to other systems, which I think would allow them to experiment more mature games, system related.

Looking out for Alpha testers
So, how am I going to prove this to Luke ? Well, by addressing his community. And maybe, I'm wrong (in which case, so be it), but let the "experts" decide.
Please also note that I intend to begin selling "beta" version of Avalanche this summer (I'm hoping late July) and I'm currently looking for testers. So, why not do both at the same time ? And I prefer to play test within a strong indie community than with d20.

So, what's the alpha version, the one I would be providing for play test?
- 120K word, describing a hundred characters, locations, organizations and magical items, and including a three months calendar of events happening in the world (that's the adventure).
- Around 350 illustrations done by great artists. A 100 is still missing.
- No informative pages. I'm writing them now and I want some feedback from the play testers to make sure I'm addressing the right thing.
- No layout and I must admit this is not the best "readable" stuff you'll come across. I'm using a word processor do produce the pdf and well, it is a bad idea.
- Three gorgeous maps (geographic, political and military) of the region.

Of course, I would be available for full support over the alpha version.

What I am expecting from alpha testers ?
- To read, at least, some parts of the book. There is no need to read it all to play.
- An AP post describing the character creation. Avalanche is quite useful doing the character burner.
- Three AP posts describing your game. I'm only asking for three sessions. After all, you're free.
- Of course, you must be using BW.

What's in it for the alpha testers ?
- A free pdf beta version of Avalanche when it is ready.
- A free pdf final version of Avalanche when it is ready.
- Credit as alpha testers on the final book.

Really, a contract?
Well, I guess this is some "overkill" and I thought a lot about this, but I think it is needed. Why?
Because I want permission to use and edit your AP reports and put them in the book. And, here at Avalanche, we take intellectual property very seriously.
Otherwise, the contract would include :
- No right to distribute.
- The AP needed to be credited.
- Those AP posts might be posted here, or at the forge, or at story games.

The contract will, in fact, also serves as a NDA, to prove that the product was distributed to you.
And to be honest, that will be hard to pursue someone on this. I might be disappointed that a alpha tester doesn't play, but what can I do?

Interested?
Be warned : Avalanche is a big book. It is a campaign. You'll have to invest some time into it. Also, Avalanche is kind of strange, it is a new kind of product.
But, on the other hand : I do think Avalanche is gorgeous and innovative. And fun.

Of course, I'd like people willing to play a campaign, having players at hand and with experience with BW. I'm not looking to distribute it to people who just want to "take a look" at it.
I'm looking for five alpha testers, hoping that all of them would be using BW.

So, if you're interested, don't hesitate, PM me (a quick note : a little introduction from your part would be well seen from my part).

As for this thread, I'd like to keep it for general questions and to talk about ideas on using BW with Avalanche and report AP post links.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, I know this is long ...

Permalink

05/16/10

Permalink 07:57:11 am, Categories: Promotion, marketing : strategic, 746 words   English (US)

WHY

Cross posted at story games

Seeing this great video from video from TED (and you should go check it to understand the rest of the post), I bought the book Start with Why from the speaker and read it last week. A very moving and inspiring book I strongly recommend. And this reading will have a direct impact on my project.

A little history
I've been working on my project for eight years now, always having a gut feeling toward the reason it was designed that way. And then, by about four years in process I discovered the Forge and various communities of indie publishers. When presenting my product, people asked me "what I am supposed to do with this?", to which I answered "I don't know". Most of the participants told me I could not answer that way. So, I worked on a better answer, exchange with people who really helped me. I now know how to describe, in great lengths, the main difference between what I'm doing and what's common on the market. I can explain those differences, the main advantages, the type of players of might be more inclined to buy it.

This is very rational, and don't get me wrong, very useful. It took me a long time to know this and a lot of help. And that's the kind of things one needs to have in a business plan, so the process needs to be there. But, that's kind of odd : it has only been one year that I really know WHAT I am doing. I have putted so much efforts in finding it out, I thought I would really use it.

Promotion
I intend to release a first pdf version of Avalanche this summer. We're currently working on the promotion/marketing plan. We have a good idea of the part of the market we want to target. We also know, how to describe the differences between our products and our competition. This is a little bit lengthy, but it is quite understandable. Armed with those tools, we are ready to launch a product with a strong promotion strategy.

Sell WHY, not WHAT
Simon Sinek explains that people don't buy WHAT you're selling but WHY you are selling it. It is the key for innovators to build a strong fan base. He explains it in long length in his book. WHY is based on gut feeling, WHAT is rational.
We went into a lot efforts to describe our WHAT, and we were going to use it as much as we could. I mean, there are strong rational reasons to buy Avalanche instead of the typical modules. But, this doesn't really matter I think. And, to explain it takes time.
But, promoting Avalanche through the WHY "prism" makes so much sense. And it is so much easier. And, I always knew WHY I was doing this. So, we're going to change completely our promotion strategy.
I still need to think a little bit about it, especially about how to formulate it, but our WHY would look like :
"This is not a book where you are the hero, but a book where you are the author." "We need you to finish the book." "We value more the creative process than the final product."
This is our vision and this is what we should put in the back of the product; the first thing a customer should come across. They may like it or not, it doesn't matter. It is very simple and easy to get : it isn't rational.
And one of the most beautiful thing I find about this is that it all gets easier suddenly. If you come across a product stating "we need you to finish the book", it seems clear to me that I can't tell you what you'll do with it; otherwise, I would have finished the book.
For sure, someone who agrees with this vision, will come across, in the book, on our lengthy explanation on HOW we do the stuff we're doing. But this part should only reinforces our WHY. Using this filter, the WHY filter, our main differences is much more easier to "get".

Questions
Do you find Simon as aspiring as I do ? I do have the sense that the indie community did go in length explaining, with a lot of theory, the differences between story games and the others, but what about the WHY ? Finally, may I challenge you to tell me your WHY ?

Permalink

04/18/10

Permalink 07:45:16 am, Categories: Promotion, marketing : strategic, 1226 words   English (US)

Alpha et beta strategy

Cross posted at the forge

I do have some ideas, but I need some advices.

Current situation and roadmap

Avalanche has been a work in progress for almost nine years now. This is the first "game" we publish. For those of you not familiar with it, Avalanche is pure fluff : a multi-systems, multi-plots, non linear, calendar based campaign. It is almost an illustrated novel, but not really. It more looks like a story-board : a high level, with no details plots and setting. This seems well appropriated for rpg. So, by definition, as it is for storyboards, Avalanche is an unfinished product (and presented as such) : the "finished" version is the game at your table. Will Avalanche ever be finished as a product ? No.

So, where are we ? Avalanche is built to be incorporated into a website orientated toward a service to manage a campaign. Bad news : there is currently no roadmap for the website. Good news : we've got enough stuff to sell it without the service, as a pdf. We're planning to release this pdf somewhere this summer in its beta version (see below for the strategy). What will this include ? Here we go :
- Informative pages on how to use Avalanche (different aspects of the product, impact at the table, possible games, interaction with systems, introduction to the world ...). Those are not written "officially" yet. But most of it has been produced in a way or another on forums (mostly the forge and story-games), my blog and as part of my teaser.
- Example of play (AP post in fact). I've already got a bunch of those. Mostly need editing.
- The first part of the story (Avalanche has four), including the essence (what is usually called the setting). I'm talking here about what is translated and ready to be released. We're talking about 120K word here.
- Various maps (geographic, geo-strategic, rmap).
- Around 350 illustrations out of the 450 needed to cover this first part. The essence is all illustrated (a hundred big illustrations).

Note two things :
- There are no systems whatsoever at the moment. We're planning to work on this and adapt TSOY for Avalanche, but it is not planned for alpha and beta.
- There are some hundred illustrations missing. We're not doing them for alpha and beta.

We're aiming at a very high quality product.

Alpha
First question would be why do alpha ? But let me first address why not do alpha :
- As Avalanche is "novel like", getting "your story stinks" will not change much things. It is kind of too late (that said it is not what we get so far from the readers).
- Also getting "you should add robots or lizardmen, that would be cool" won't help much either. We're not adding robots nor lizardmen.

So, why do alpha :
- In formative pages are still to be completed. I believe that supporting players might really help me to know what to throw in there and how.
- AP would be more than welcomed.
- Testing in the context of a given system is always different and needed in my publishing model.
- Maybe we could see emerge a community around it. Just maybe.
- I don't like the term buzz, but alpha seems like a right time to do it as we can see the release of the product coming.

Of course, alpha would be in contact with some kinds of ashcan : no layout, not much of informative pages (apart from my blog) but fully illustrated.
Do they seem like good reasons ? Does the timing seems right ? Do I miss something ?

Now, here's a couple of questions about those alpha :
- I would be looking at a very few numbers of alpha testers ; we have the number five in mind. Does this seem enough ?
- The thing I really hate about alpha is getting people knocking at your door, looking at the product and not even playing it. So, I thought of dealing with alpha somehow like I deal with illustrators/master mapper/translator : through a contract. The clauses would include : no diffusion of the product, engagement to play and report games through AP with a certain amount of words (we're thinking about a mandatory three sessions), permission for me to use the AP in the product, credit for the alpha, beta and final version for the free for the alpha. Is this a usual practice ? How should I approach this ? Would I frightened people doing it ? Is a contract "overkill" ?
- Whom should I target for this alpha ? As I see it, I have, more or less, two choices : propose it to various communities (something like here at the forge) which would give me a larger range for systems (and maybe problems) but less support to the players (they would be less able to help each other) or propose it to an already existing community of players (for instance BW or d20), but thus "putting all my eggs into the same bags" (I'm not sure this translates well from french). What's your recommendations ?
- Where should I manage the support and AP report ? Setting out my own forum for this doesn't seem like a good idea. We plan on doing it, but more in beta phase. Any thoughts on this ? What worked for you ?

Beta
I'll present this since it is somehow related to the alpha.
Beta should come somewhere this summer and would be considered to be our first release. Beta would include informative pages and layout. But not the missing hundred illustrations.
What we want to do is sell the beta, limited to some hundred copies. And that, for three main reasons :
- Finance the final illustrations.
- If we cannot sell a hundred copies of the beta, that's very bad news. This also allow us to test our marketing strategy with strict, and limited, objectives.
- Encourage the beta to play it. We believe that people getting out money out of their pocket are more incline to invest time in the product.

As you can notice there's some kind of "bounty" model here (the bounty is the final version).

Finishing the beta, before opening for the final product, we should be able :
- To pay for and complete the final hundred illustrations.
- To pay for and complete the translation of at least some parts of the continuing story. Enough to go into periodical mode.
- Adjust some informative pages and see what kind of support are needed.

The beta would have access to the final version in pdf for free when it is released. We might even throw in the possibility to buy the paper version at "the cost".

Is fixing such objectives a good idea ? Is this common practice ? Does the deal seems fair ? Does this encourage play ? Does presenting it as a bounty seems a good strategy ?

Opening the final version
When the beta is completed (objectives reached), we close down the selling, prepare the final version (which should be a work in progress), distribute it for free to the alpha and beta and "re open" selling.
Now, and let's take a step at a time, a whole new horizon opens to us and we can "deploy" our publishing strategy, based on selling a periodical and throwing in some CC aspects. But that will be the purpose of another thread.

Permalink

02/21/10

Permalink 11:24:01 am, Categories: Promotion, marketing : strategic, 1340 words   English (US)

Goodies, there should be a way I could use those ?!?

Cross posted at the forge.

Please note the following : I didn't put any link into the blog, they are at the forge. We're going to "centralise" all our free content ; this is why I'm doing it this way. Isn't it the purpose of the thread anyway ?

First, let's start with the purpose of this thread, shall we ?
- Introduce you to our new illustrator and partner (read associate as in art director), Greg Taylor.
- Introduce you to our new layout.
- Have some thoughts about "goodies" : what we have so far, what kind of results did we get, what we are looking to do in the future and what's to be expected from it.
- Address those "goodies" in term of play-testing.

Our new artist
Let me introduce you to Greg Taylor. His portfolio contains a certain amount of illustrations he has done for Avalanche ; but wait to see them integrated in "goodies".
What else is there to say ? He's impressive, but he's not cheap (I keep telling him each time money gets out of my pocket). I found him on the forge.
Look, he's so good, I decided to "redo" a complete story ; the Tarm story, the one we are going to present you.
Lastly, I'd like to mention that Greg will have done around 150 illustrations for Avalanche, Spring. Knowing that this "segment" represents 450 illustrations and we have so far 350, this is quite an "input" from his part into the project.

Oh, and a little secret : I've been paying Greg a certain amount of time for each illustration (you'll see there are two types : big and small) and I know that he spent more than twice that time. This is, I believe, some of his best stuff ; also this is the only "colored" "story" of Avalanche. But the shortest story for spring.
And we're going to distribute it for free, and we are very proud of it.

New layout
You might remember this thread. Yeah, I know, this is an old one. Well, anyway, at the time (almost four years ago already !?!), we came out with a layout and a teaser, with this great cover from Linus.
This teaser definitely served us well, but, hey, time passed by and we came with other ideas. But what really has changed and where would we want to go concerning our layout ?
- For one thing, over these two years of "non public activities" we found a way (yeah, sure, but it is still to proof) to look at what we were doing from a wider "view" : to separate the idea from the implementation we specifically have done. What we are doing is very simple : our layout needs to tell this. So, we tried to aim at something very simple. A lot of air to "breath", and only two concepts : text and illustrations.
- We are trying to think in term of a lot of single elements instead of a big setting book. Avalanche is supposed (no, it is) to be "segmented", our layout should show this.
- Our layout should be able to respond to a lot of things : pdf, printed book, character sheet, demo material. We wanted to have a very "tactile" feeling to our product. Almost like (well, not almost, exactly like) boardgames material (especially from fantasy flight game, see World of Warcraft) : what we are showing you is "one side", the other is the character sheet, the map ....

Okay, let's stop to talk about this and let's show you !!! Well, of course, maps and relationship map should reflect this new layout. Also, please, bear with me. Not all "pages" are at the same quality, as we are still "joggling" with this stuff. Our objective is to produce and sell a pdf in the next 3 to 6 months. So, yeah, the print quality should be 300 dpi, the characters should be 8 instead of 6 on some "pages". Anyway, this is coming.
Some samples (and by the way, you can find everything I'm showing here, layout apart, elsewhere on the net) :
Murdithem
Lascau
Black orcs
All work done by Linus. Let's take a look at Greg's work now.

The Tarm story (essence ; damned it, there are at 150 dpi !!!) :
Tarm
Valerya
Warped knight

The Tarm story (existence ; 150 dpi, character at 6 damned !!!) :
Page One
Page Two
Out of the three and half page.

Goodies, so far away so close
So, what have we got so far in our site in term of goodies ?
- A teaser.
- Maps.
- A rmap.
- A gallery for our illustrators.
- The blog has a "webcomic" From the deep : six weeks of free material.

What has worked good ? And yeah, I know, I've been "missing" some two years, but the internet has a good memory. I'm giving you numbers for the past four years.
- The teaser : that's between 40 and 120 downloads, french and english, a month. Steady. I can't explain why, but the "version" (only present on the Forge) one are downloaded each month. Teaser is good, but this is not playable stuff. It shows quality, explains the project, but no play value. Maybe if we could add "dungeons" in there ; but still.
- Maps : nobody cares about them. There are ugly anyway (we've found someone to redo those). In their current condition, they could add some play value, but there are no play value in our goodies !!!
- Rmap : don't ask me why, but this is a steady 80 downloads a month. This has been our best pick. Try this : type "relationship map" in google under "images" : a good chance our rmap comes first. Why ??? I don't know.
- Gallery : bof. Who cares ? I would need text with those !!!
- The blog provides a lot of "hits" because, hey look, there is a lot of text. Some people used our illustrations from this story ; but nothing formal. Nobody seems to see this as playable material.

Where are going ? Play value !!!! Every bit of goodies should be around play value !!! But ... I remembered Eero telling me that our teaser was a "drop in the bucket". Yeah, sure, but we've given, and we're going to give (speaking about the Tarm story), a lot of stuff. I mean A LOT. Nice with me, since we want an "open product", but still, we need something to sell. So, let's take a look back :
- Teaser : I'm not quite sure I want an "integrated" teaser ; I mean a single file. A lot of maintenance, and I'm not so sure this is what we are aiming for with our new layout. Anyway, every single piece of "teaser" should be accessible at a single place on our site.
- Maps : integrated as part of "teaser".
- Rmap : oh god, please, don't touch this one !!! Except redo layout ... or, maybe, put hyperlink into it to bits of teaser !!!
- Gallery : same as maps.
- Blog : serves us well ; to provide information on the project, not much on "giving away" stuff. At this point, shouldn't we use twitter ?

Maybe, one the mistake we did was to put emphasis on "version" : we somehow keep each and every version of the stuff we gave. Version doesn't matter : only the latest stuff.

Play value
There is surely a way to play the Tarm story !!! Come on !!! I must be able to find a way to use that stuff !!!
We found two games in there :
- Tarm. A lot of moral dilemma. Are you ready to survive ? Play this with a girlfriend or at convention with someone alone (who would be bored).
- Knights of Theobald. Oh, your game was about some knights ? Oh ... we did turned them into warped knights ? Isn't that nice ?

I'll leave this point open. Should I go with some kind of endeavor ? I mean, I do think a lot, but a lot of systems could do the job for this story ? Doesn't it look amazing ?
What should be my approach ? Anyway, I would it give for free. But is it a mistake ?

Epilogue
Don't hesitate to ask me questions, recommend me some stuff. We're talking about using goodies. Good ones. And, here's my experience with it and my recommendations. What's yours ?

Let's have fun !!! We're going to sell this !!

Permalink

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