Simon Burley’s article on USP touched on a subject I’m also concerned about. Who am I selling my game to?
My game started as a setting-free toolkit, but I’m told that toolkits are hard to market. Since I’m a consumer of games I can do some handy market research on my bookshelf (or hard drive). I reckon I’ve identified five marketing levers:
The Wild West is one of the big inspirations behind Bounty Hunters of the Atomic Wastelands. Mostly the Western helps provide a unified, consistent look and feel to the Atomic Wastelands setting. It acts as a short hand to describe the attitudes of the common folk and convey how the more mundane, everyday life stuff works. The better the players grasp how the world works, the easier it is for them to interact with it.
The Western tone can be easily evoked by using appropriate terminology such as saying saloon instead of bar or tavern or sheriff instead of the police. Of course you still want to mix it up with post-apocalyptic touches like the guy on the piano in the saloon playing some Led Zepplin or Bon Jovi song, or maybe just the theme from the Simpsons.
And of course the Wild West of popular fiction is the ideal place for Bounty Hunters. It’s the classic setting in which the law falls short and where a few men with guns can make a difference.
It’s a debate for another day but I presume we all know why we’re WRITING our games.
The related question is – why would anyone want to BUY our games?
A key aspect to this is – do you know your game’s unique selling point?
Another related question – with the plethora of RPGs out there, how do you know it’s unique? How do you know someone hasn’t done it before?
(Engage smug mode) I don’t have to worry about this because I’m lucky enough to have created and (co) authored a seminal game.
However, in general I’d say it doesn’t matter. You can’t buy and read every available rule set just to check your unique idea hasn’t already been used. Reasonableness comes in.
When producing our works, a lot of games designers limit their ideas of how a game can be presented. Most games fall somewhere on the normal book size scales. Sure there are differences, and you get the occasional, slightly funky-sized books, like In a Wicked Age or Annalise.
Form factor can be so much more than that. The original edition of Ribbon Drive was one of the most expensive experiments in terms of how much copies of the game ended up costing, but that DVD case with its CD and Booklet in it, really made the whole game an experience.
There is an old Kipling poem called The Conundrum of the Workshops’. It starts with Adam in the Garden of Eden drawing a picture in the dirt and feeling quite pleased about it. Along comes the Devil and remarks to him “Pretty, but is it Art?”
I think of BHAW as a Fate game. It’s got Aspects, Stunts and a set of Traits that are roughly equivalent to Skills or Approaches. It also uses Fudge dice and the adjective-based ladder. More crucially BHAW is a character-centric system, the sort of game in which a character’s passions, background and motivations matter at least as much as more material concerns like his equipment. So it’s basically Fate, right?