Friday, September 25, 2015

Why Fan Outreach Is Critical to D&D's Success

This owlbear is on the charge!
Rage, my friend, rage.
So, in my post the other day about Gen Con and the WotC forums, some of the key points of my message was lost within the nerd rage.

Based on the comments, people were like "No WotC at Gen Con? Big whoop..." or "Forums? They suck; who needs 'em?" but that misses a major point to the problem I see with these decisions which I may not have clearly expressed in my rant.

Fan Outreach


D&D is one of those games that a consumer does not just go out and buy.

If I'm not an RPG gamer, and I'm wandering the aisles in Barnes & Noble and I see D&D, I might be vaguely curious about it, but unless I already know what D&D is all about, I'm probably not going to randomly purchase it.

So where does D&D get new customers?

In a podcast with Mike Mearls and David Noonan several years back,  the metaphorical "older cousin" D&D sales model was explained like so:

"The primary means by which new players enter the D&D hobby is through an existing player who drags them to a game and teaches them the ropes. That existing player is the “older cousin.”

Take a moment to consider that fact. Existing D&D players are the primary means by which new D&D players enter the hobby.

This is the single most important consideration to keep in mind when Wizards of the Coast makes these kinds of sweeping decisions. Why?  Because the hardest of hardcore fans are the ones attending Gen Con (or Origins, or other large RPG conventions). These are also the same people who inhabit the forums on Wizards.com or EnWorld or RPG.net, etc...

These are the people who run D&D Encounters as a volunteer at the local game store on Wednesday nights. These are the people who are inviting friends, family, neighbors, etc to their Saturday home game. These are the people running local MeetUp groups for D&D players to find one another locally. These are the front line hard core evangelists for the D&D brand.

These are also the people who Wizards of the Coast need reach out to the most in order to continue the success of the brand. I'm not talking about surveys. I'm not talking about podcasts, press releases or random tweets. I'm talking about direct face to face or keyboard to keyboard interactions between the community and representatives from Wizards of the Coast.

This is what you lose when you stop attending Gen Con (and other cons) or close your forums. You lose that direct community connection to your hardest of hard code fans who bring new customers to your products.

When I attended Gen Con this year, I was able to personally speak with a lot of industry luminaries. Kenneth Hite, Randall Bills, Joseph Goodman, Shane Hensley, Stephen Chenault... If I'd made the effort, I probably could have included Monte Cook and Jonathan Tweet in that group. Hell, I even saw Margaret Weis and Larry Elmore (who signed my 2e PHB!).

But with no booth or official presence at Gen Con (like in the Adventurers League play area), there was no way I could seek out any Wizards of the Coast representative. This kind of fan outreach and access is a million times more important than a Survey Monkey URL.

Back in 2009(ish) when the 4e Dark Sun book was released, Wizards did this awesome marketing push. They were at Gen Con, Origins, D&D Experience (Winter Fantasy), PAX, and about a 1/2 dozen other major RPG cons. They even made a "world tour" style concert t-shirt for that convention season (which is totally cool, by the way) listing all the dates and locations. D&D is having its most successful year since the acquisition of TSR. Use this opportunity to expand your fan outreach, not contract it. Now, I'm not saying Wizards has to do a dozen major cons a year, but asking for a presence at 3 or 4 big cons to cover the East Coast, West Coast and central part of the country is really not asking too much.

Asking for an official forum to interact with other players, DMs and Wizards.com employees is not asking too much. If there is a problem with the forum traffic, toxic personalities or other forum issues, then fix them instead of saying "@#$% it. We give up." This shit is not rocket science.

By the way, to put this in perspective, the 5e Rule Questions forum has FIFTY TWO THOUSAND posts in it. That forum isn't even the largest on the site. This is not an insignificant swath of the hard core audience. (There are about a dozen other forums with at least that many posts).

By closing down these avenues of access, Wizards of the Coast is communicating to the hard core fan, "You are no longer important to us." D&D is not the only RPG out there. It's no longer even the only D&D-like RPG out there. If you treat your hard core fans with disrespect, they will evangelize for a competitor who listens to their needs.

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