Saturday, November 18, 2023

The Business: When You Master Half Of What Makes For An Enduring Classic

Jeffro talking Palladium leads to a larger point on the hobby product business.

He is correct.

The proof is right there in Palladium's tenacity despite all of its known, and well-documented, flaws and fuckups- both in terms of product and in terms of business.

"Something exciting to play" is the hobby version of Rhetoric trumping Dialectic in terms of persuasive power. That thing that looks cool, that has sizzle to it, that feels like fun (despite whatever the reality is)- that's far more persuastive to many people than anything else. Palladium gets what sells in this hobby, and it's not what Death Cultists and Tourists say it is. You can look at the catalog yourself if you doubt me.

Just add monsters and sorcery and you have RIFTS.
No, this would not be the only time RIFTS "took inspiration" like this.

Palladium gets that prospective players want something that's familiar (no need for a lore dump) yet exciting conceptually. This is why you get (or had) licenses like Robotech, offshoot knockoff crossovers like Splicers and Nightbane, several separate magic-using classes in Palladium Fantasy, and some of the best original artwork in the hobby for these products.

If you want players, most of whom otherwise are Normies, to want to get into the technical manual side of things then you need to pull them through with a compelling--nay, magnetic--promise that learning these rules and procedures will result in them getting the satisfying fantasy experience on the other side.

In short, if you promise Bob that he can be a Valkyrie Pilot if he learns Robotech, then he better be able to pull off stunts like this at the table.

Palladium's problem has always been about delivering on that exciting promise.

The sales work is great. The problem is that the sales work sells a subpar product that doesn't do what it claims to do, which pisses people off and has them either playing something else or (more commonly done) using external product to fill the gaps that should not be there in the first place.

That, by the by, is what GURPS is known for: a machine that actually works. The problem? No idea on how to sell it or who to sell it to. (The answer is "To publishers and designers" because GURPS isn't a product, it's a development kit- same as HERO.)

You can, as Palladium proves, hang on for a long time just on this form of Rhetoric; Stupid British Toy Company has the exact same problem, doubled-down by turning its terrible tech writing into an excuse to churn its customers every three years or so, and look where they are now.

You cannot just rely on stellar technical writing. That's where Traveller, among many others, went wrong and that's why they languish while exciting product promises such as those that Palladium (and every D&D edition, Spycraft, Legend of the Five Rings, Feng Shui, and many more) make to prospective players gets sales and thus forms fandoms.

The winning play is to master both halves of the business. Gamma World 1st Edition, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition, Adventurer, Conqueror, King, TORG's 1st Edition, and many others have this down. That may require a team, but not a big team; a duo or trio will be sufficient if they get along and have the necessary skills between them.

It may require a team; after nearly 50 years, there's enough good and bad examples around that a one-man band can do it himself and succeed.

And as things are going on the business side, that is going to be a smart move to make going forward.

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