Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Does A More Unique Setting Draw More Attention To Your Game? And Is It Worth The Risk?

There is no silver bullet when it comes to getting your gaming project popular among players. Not only that, but the results of all your factors are always going to be more than the sum of their individual parts. In short, every piece of advice is just us divining meaning by looking into a darkened mirror, and doing our best to interpret the shadows we see beneath the glass. And no piece of advice is ever perfect, because there will be something that defies that advice, and goes on to be extremely successful despite going against the grain of common wisdom.

With that said, it seems like audiences definitely perk up a lot more when you present them with a completely unique setting and world, rather than a world that looks and feels familiar, but which might have a couple of unique devils in the details.

My take on this is the difference in audience reaction between Sundara: Dawn of a New Age, and Army Men: A Game of Tactical Plastic.

And if you haven't checked out either, you really should!

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The Projects, and Reactions To Them

Sundara: Dawn of a New Age is a fantasy TTRPG setting that has been releasing in both Pathfinder and DND 5E formats for the past 3 years or so. The original release was Cities of Sundara: Ironfire, and since that time there have been 5 city guides, 6 species guides for players, and half a dozen faction guides covering everything from mercenary companies and cults, to merchants, guilds, and gods. And while these splats come packed with unique material for players and Game Masters alike, and they take several unique steps for their games (such as completely removing alignment from the games entirely), they are still recognizably part of a high fantasy TTRPG setting.

I'd say the reaction to Sundara has been mixed. Some players have enjoyed the splats, and there's a very small, but very vocal block of folks who are always asking for more. However, it doesn't get much of a reaction overall, and it is regularly outsold by my more generic supplements like 100 Body Mods and Augmentations For a Sci Fi Game or 10 Fantasy Villages.

But what about Army Men: A Game of Tactical Plastic? Well, for those who haven't heard me get on my soapbox about it, it's a game where players take on the roles of resinous persons, fighting to preserve the lives of the people of the Plastos Federation against the insectoid menace of the vespoids, which have united the four nations in a single purpose. The game is crunchy, tactical, and has a great deal of bizarre and unique lore to drag players and Game Masters alike into things.

So what were the results for this book? Well, this game has sold just over 30 books on DTRPG since its release, but there were over a hundred books (digital and physical) that went out as a result of the successful Kickstarter campaign that made it a reality in the first place. That makes it more popular than all but a handful of Sundara supplements (I believe Towns of Sundara is the only one that can beat those numbers), even though it's only been around for a few months (or just over a year, if we're counting the original Kickstarter and BackerKit purchases).

 What are people saying about these projects?

Before I get into analysis, I want to point out there are lots of differences in these projects. Army Men is a much bigger book, with a much bigger price point. Sundara is more numerous, has a smaller price tag, and it's been available (overall) for much longer. Sundara has received different types of marketing than Army Men has, and Army Men was crowdfunded rather than merely published and put on the market.

With all of that said, in addition to the sales numbers, I feel like the comments left by people on the projects can tell us a lot.

Because very few of my Sundara projects have received comments, whether it's in the social media posts I make about the supplements themselves, or about the blogs and videos I've made about them over the years. The attitude seems to be, by and large, that it's just another high fantasy TTRPG setting, and while it's got some fun aspects and unique flavors, it's more or less what one would expect. So if you've played Pathfinder or Dungeons and Dragons before, this is basically ordering the same pizza you're used to, but getting it from a restaurant that uses different cooking methods and ingredients.

The comments and questions regarding Army Men have been distinctly different.

Firstly, there's generally a lot more of them, as people ask what the game is about. A lot of folks also ask if it's connected to the video games from a decade or more ago (they're not). In addition to those two questions, people ask if you can use army men toys as miniatures, if it's a Toy Story situation, or if there's something else going on, and what sorts of adventures characters have in this RPG. A lot of folks comment on the art, and they'll ask what kinds of gear and equipment players have access to regarding artillery, vehicles, weapons, etc.

I covered some of these in the AMA that came out a while ago, if you're curious!

So, at the end of the day, this might feel like a bit of an apples and oranges comparison. However, acknowleding this is not a 1-to-1 situation, it definitely appears that games that have a unique style, which present players with an uncommon setting, and which give you a different kind of premise is more likely to turn heads than giving folks another helping of the same old same, but with slightly different ingredients... though it does seem to help if they underlying mechanics are recognizable, and draw on a well-known RPG that most folks will own copies of.

Just in case folks were curious.

Lastly, as it seems appropriate, I covered a topic on design trends recently on Tabletop Mercenary. Give it a watch, and if you enjoy it, subscribe to the Azukail Games YouTube channel to help keep that show (and others) going!

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