Saturday, January 01, 2011

Marketing and Happiness

Lots of great chewing on this topic, which makes me happy. That was, after all, the whole point of throwing it up there. There are some clarifications I want to make, though.

First, I’m talking less about making something appealing than I am about making it allowed.

The world is full of invisible boundaries we respect all the time. We don’t go into the other gender’s bathrooms even if there isn’t even so much as a door to keep us out. We don’t step into the kitchen at restaurants, we don’t walk across our neighbor’s grass, we don’t wander into “that part of town” after sunset.

And, for the most part, people avoid things that are not marketed as for them. Usually, this is simply practical; people living out in the country have no use for an electric car with a range of only 35 miles. But mostly, these are social distinctions. Grown adult men, for instance, do not play with dolls. When they do, they will hide this behavior.

Except when the marketing says it’s ok.

And this, really, is all I’m getting at here. It’s much less about making these games appealing to women and simply making it socially acceptable for them to even pick up the materials and look at them. Because yes, women really do need that level of invitation to get involved in any considerable numbers in areas that have traditionally been proscribed to them. Yes, some brave or simply curious enough women will be exceptions, and White Wolf did open the door a crack, but there’s still a lot to do.

Now, it’s entirely possible, even rational, for you to not want women as part of your target audience. It’s not politic to say so blatantly most of the time, but it can be part of a viable marketing strategy. In which case, yes, make your marketing say this as clearly and blatantly as you can.

And yes, the issues I’m talking about are not enough to draw women to your game. You’ll need to get a bit more focused on what your game’s about and how it’s played before you can decide if, and how much, you want to appeal to what sorts of people. But simply slapping a woman on the cover, or banishing cleavage from your game’s art, isn’t going to invite women to take a closer look.

14 comments:

Zak S said...

Reviewing everything you said in the last post and in the comments, i agree that sometimes people need "invitation"--my only real difference with your point of view here is that (in your words):

"art can be that invitation"

Bluntly: It can't.

If your consumer is not in the (on-line or brick-and-mortar) store at all, s/he will never get to see that cover.

To give examples from fields I know about:

I know tons of girls trying to make "female-friendly" porn. and it's hard to sell, -not- because women won't watch it if it's presented to them by a friend, but because women won't go into the store. Or onto the porn site.

Likewise, if you make paintings that appeal to people who don't traditionally go to art galleries in NYC, they won't see them (or go on the websites where they are spotlighted). Because they're not in the gallery.

It has so much less to do with what anybody puts on the cover of their RPG than the whole social thing surrounding the perception of RPGs.

trollsmyth said...

Zak: (Sorry about that one being invisible. For some reason the spam filter didn't like it. :p Should be viewable now.)

Placement and exposure are huge issues, I'll agree. I think you need to get the appearance right first.

And yeah, I'm afraid "RPG" has itself been gender-coded as "boys only." I think Dancey was saying a few years back that the next big thing in RPGs probably won't call itself that. WoW and company may have helped a bit there, but I don't think whatever good MMOGs have done is significant enough to cause many waves in our pen-and-pencil world.

So I agree in so much as art by itself is useless if nobody sees it. Getting the word out is a whole 'nother can of worms. I think Blue Rose failed more due to the target audience never really finding out about it/being exposed to it, than it did for any deficiencies in the game itself. After all, it did spawn the whole True20 thing, so clearly the mechanics found an audience.

Zak S said...

Whole other tangent:

I'm not 100% convinced about Blue Rose not finding its audience.

Blue Rose was a romantic fantasy game, ok. The -only- thing that the Romantic Fantasy gamer wants that isn't exactly the same as what a trad DnDer wants is "realationships".

The trappings of romance are all fien and good by them, but just as D&D mechanics make fighting more complex, detailed, and open to possible innovation than just playing with GI Joes, a romantic fantasy game would need to have mechanics (or something) that made the social interactions that the Romance fan holds dear more complex, detailed, and open to innovation than just playing with dolls. Otherwise why play an RPG?

I think perhaps the failure of Blue Rose was what -we- all consider its great strength--it had an elegant system for action and fighting and what-all. In order to really appeal to its audience, what it probably needed was a more baroque system for modelling interpersonal relationships.

thraxian said...

Now, I don't know if you guys have noticed the same, but it seems to me that more women are entering the POTENTIAL marketplace for RPGing through the European-style boardgame boom (Settlers of Cataan and Carcassonne and all that). I go to a boardgame meetup group and there's often a pretty broad cross-section of the womanly demographic playing a variety of strategy games that can generally only be bought at the Friendly Local Game Shop, which also happens to sell RPGs. Interestingly, a great many of these board games avoid using the very gender clich├ęs that form the crux of this debate in their cover art, etc, even when their subject matter is similar to that found in your typical RPG (fantasy quests and so forth).

I've often thought that the RPG world should learn a few lessons from the specialist boardgame industry. Maybe this is an area where such cross-pollination could only help?

velaran said...

@Zak S:
On Invitation and Art:
Yep, the art only comes in to play when a person actually sees the product. More representative art(not just in the depiction of the female form[more interesting fantasy tableaus would probably do the trick]) would be a start in getting those who were turned off by the front covers of many products to give it a try.(And of course the standard WOWish covers will still be kicking around for those who think that's a cool look. Until the next fad in 'design'[regardless of contents] kicks in.) They still have to be interested in what it is the RPG does, though. And for that, they have to know about them. It also helps if the game has more images, and descriptions of female authority figures/heros. Not just some set aside quota: A Vaguely Human? Chick on Cover Trying To Look Awesome, covered up or not.



On Females and the Porn:
Many women(60% or more; according to some sources) watch porn online, but they are apparently not paying for it, as I understand.(Torrents, streaming vids, etc...) They may watch the female friendly stuff, if it were free!

On Social Mechanics:
i.e. Social Combat: complex, or even any, rules aren't need for this, in many peoples opinion.(The one you've no doubt heard before: we need combat rules in light of smacking each other, but not to reason/lie/manipulate/persuade,etc...) Complexity in rules is also not 'traditionally' appealing for many people(the casuals, ya know[mostly gone now], especially from what I've seen/read: women!

Trollsmythe:
On Boundaries: Depends on what I gotta do at the time. Boundaries can be abrogated for need. Neither here nor there, though.

On 'Coding': You do know 'RPG'ing 'codes' more than 'non-female' right?

On Inclusion:
Do your friends/co-workers, people you engage in casual conversations about hobbies, ever hear about your gaming? In other words, don't be afraid to mention your hobby to anybody. But, no proselytizing out of some sort of desperation about the next generation, please. That's kinda offputting, imo.

On Blue Rose:
The Game failed 'cuz it was Awesomely Stupid, rather than Stupidly Awesome, like World of Synnibarr, SenZAr, Empire of Satanis, Paranoia, etc.... Deer Directed Democracy, Fuzzy Pets Arampant, the Evil Empire that hates everyone whose Different vs. the Good Confederation Who Loves Everyone, but who'll Fight For Right. Seriously? This kitsch didn't appeal to anyone, regardless of the more than average distribution of female authority.

Its mechanics were a cleaned up-streamlined D20 framework: some people like that. It became an alternative, and good for it. The mechanics, and not the setting found a niche, for good reason.

Good post!

velaran said...

@Trollsmythe: Blogger Ate Previous Post!

@Zak S:
On Invitation and Art:
Yep, the art only comes in to play when a person actually sees the product. More representative art(not just in the depiction of the female form[more interesting fantasy tableaus would probably do the trick]) would be a start in getting those who were turned off by the front covers of many products to give it a try.(And of course the standard WOWish covers will still be kicking around for those who think that's a cool look. Until the next fad in 'design'[regardless of contents] kicks in.) They still have to be interested in what it is the RPG does, though. And for that, they have to know about them. It also helps if the game has more images, and descriptions of female authority figures/heros. Not just some set aside quota: A Vaguely Human? Chick on Cover Trying To Look Awesome, covered up or not.



On Females and the Porn:
Many women(60% or more; according to some sources) watch porn online, but they are apparently not paying for it, as I understand.(Torrents, streaming vids, etc...) They may watch the female friendly stuff, if it were free!

On Social Mechanics:
i.e. Social Combat: complex, or even any, rules aren't need for this, in many peoples opinion.(The one you've no doubt heard before: we need combat rules in light of smacking each other, but not to reason/lie/manipulate/persuade,etc...) Complexity in rules is also not 'traditionally' appealing for many people(the casuals, ya know[mostly gone now], especially from what I've seen/read: women!

Trollsmythe:
On Boundaries: Depends on what I gotta do at the time. Boundaries can be abrogated for need. Neither here nor there, though.

On 'Coding': You do know 'RPG'ing 'codes' more than 'non-female' right?

On Inclusion:
Do your friends/co-workers, people you engage in casual conversations about hobbies, ever hear about your gaming? In other words, don't be afraid to mention your hobby to anybody. But, no proselytizing out of some sort of desperation about the next generation, please. That's kinda offputting, imo.

On Blue Rose:
The Game failed 'cuz it was Awesomely Stupid, rather than Stupidly Awesome, like World of Synnibarr, SenZAr, Empire of Satanis, Paranoia, etc.... Deer Directed Democracy, Fuzzy Pets Arampant, the Evil Empire that hates everyone whose Different vs. the Good Confederation Who Loves Everyone, but who'll Fight For Right. Seriously? This kitsch didn't appeal to anyone, regardless of the more than average distribution of female authority.

Its mechanics were a cleaned up-streamlined D20 framework: some people like that. It became an alternative, and good for it. The mechanics, and not the setting found a niche, for good reason.

Good post!

faustusnotes said...

Zak S, your porn store example is exactly what Trollsmyth is talking about. Women don't go into porn stores because they see them as a powerfully all male environment. I've been into porn stores with women who are hunting for porn, and they are generally very very uncomfortable about going into them alone.

However, in Ikebukuro in Tokyo there are porn stores targeted at women, selling porn that is not only targeted at women but is generally established as being women only. Men don't enter these stores. It's about coding, and yes a portion of that is in the art and a portion is in the marketing and a portion is just in the culture and reputation built up around the product.

We as individuals can change the last part through our behaviour; it's up to game designers to do the first part.

Thraxian, the reason that women can join fantasy boardgames comfortably but not RPGs is that boardgames don't have the same air of gender exclusivity, again at least partly through the very different art and packaging.

On a tangent: nerd culture in Japan is much much less gender-segregated than in the west (except maybe TCGs) and the art is noticeably both much more diverse and much more gender neutral. Their are adventure and mystery manga that are clearly women-only, most of the RPGs have much less sexist artwork, and there seem to be more women gaming. Plus the computer game scene here is much, much less male-dominated.

Compare the artwork for final fantasy - which has a very mixed gender player and fan base - with any western game and it's pretty easy to see why.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

@Zak:

In your first post you said that:

"If your consumer is not in the (on-line or brick-and-mortar) store at all, s/he will never get to see that cover."

True, but sometimes they will be in the store. For example, Barnes & Noble carries RPG stuff, in plain view. If the cover art is more appealing to X audience, then that can help. Still, there must be something in the water here... I've seen five girls in the RPG aisle there over the course of two visits (not much time to go, or I'd have been there more often within the past few months.

trollsmyth said...

Velaran: On 'Coding': You do know 'RPG'ing 'codes' more than 'non-female' right?

Yeah, I do, but in this case I'm talking principally about gender issues. Breaking most of those other codings may even require significantly altering the themes of RPGs (reality TV shows vs. fantasy tropes). And that's a whole 'nother conversation. I don't want to get too deeply into that because a) I think there's still untapped female nerd market and b) I don't know enough about which other themes might be able to get some sort of traction.

As for the setting of Blue Rose, you think it was stupid, but I'm not sure the target audience would have. It's pretty close to what you ought to expect if you read the lit it was based on.

Zak S: I think perhaps the failure of Blue Rose was what -we- all consider its great strength--it had an elegant system for action and fighting and what-all. In order to really appeal to its audience, what it probably needed was a more baroque system for modelling interpersonal relationships.

Sorta-kinda agree, though I think "complexity" shouldn't be the goal, but reinforcement of the activities the players take part in that reinforce the fun (in this case, building and maintaining relationships). But I'm not sure I want to start that argument all up again. ;)

velaran said...

@Trollsmyth:

Blue Rose-Actually, I thought it was a farce. Some kind of joke game the designers had came up with to lampoon bog-standard fantasy. Then it became apparent they were serious... If there's a market for Blue Rose, it's probably a tiny one, being as its not offbeat enough to be fascinating, and not mundane enough to be a generic high fantasy game. Any game can support building a web of realtionships between PCs, NPCs, whatever, 'social mechanic's or no....

Coding-Um, what? I was talking about classes/ethnic groups/cliques, etc... RPGs shouldn't be thought of as just a 'nerd'(when did this happen, anyway? this was an insult...) thing. Reality shows? Maybe for a horror setting... :-)

Social mechanics-more trouble than they're worth, unless you like to talk. *joke* No, really.

opossum101 said...

so basically you are here doing edward bernays? calling girls to light a torch of freedom and then offering them a pack of lucky strikes?

i am really not spoiling for fight but it seems to me that you are looking at the picture at the expanse of the frame.

Oddysey said...

@velaran You need to look up someone named Mercedes Lackey. Basically there's an entire genre of fantasy out there that revolves around female heroines, rebellion against oppressive social structures, sex, and talking animals. I had no idea it existed until about two years ago because I only read "boys fantasy." It's not "niche" by any stretch of the imagination, but for whatever reason Blue Rose failed to pull large numbers of the (mostly women) who read such things into the RPG scene.

velaran said...

@Oddysey:
I guess my post might've insinuated I was contemptuous towards or ignorant of, these works, so I can see why you responded.

On the Genre:
I'm familiar with the works of Mercedes Lackey, Anne McCaffrey, Jacqueline Carey, Kelley Armstrong, and Tamora Pierce, Trudi Canavan(who I just discovered myself), et al. ; as well as the even hotter urban fantasy market with Charles DeLint, Kim Harrison(who used to write fairy tale fantasy under the name of !), Laurell K Hamilton, Charlaine Harris, etc... And, of course with the godmothers of the genre: C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Ursula K Leguin, Andre Norton, and the aforementioned Anne Mcaffrey(still going strong!).

On Blue Rose:
Blue Rose didn't come off as inspired by the vibes of these author's settings. Not to mention, True20 might've been a little much for new roleplayers to begin with. Not to mention, the Godsawful name they saddled it with... ;-) The cover illustrations didn't exactly bring to mind an exotic, unique otherworldly experience, imo. Or, much of anything, other than detached Ren-eval dressed people with relaxed animals in a serene world. Kind at odds with the description: 'Aldis, the Kingdom of the Blue Rose, shines as a new light following the dark age of the Sorcerer Kings. Now, envoys of the Sovereign's Finest strive to protect Aldis from threats like the Lich Kingdom of Kern and the fanatical Theocracy of Jarzon, as well as monsters and dark magic left over from the Shadow Wars of the Sorcerer Kings. Aided by the rhydan—their psychic animal companions—the champions of the Blue Rose guard the Light against the power of the Shadow.'

I had no idea it existed until about two years ago because I only read "boys fantasy.": Only two years ago?(Edit: Forget your age. Sorry!) this stuff is in the fantasy aisle of pretty much every bookstore I've been in! You qualify it witth this though: 'boys fantasy', which I assume means books with male protaganists? Eragon, Wheel of Time, Harry Potter, and the like I'd guess... These books would get preferential displays, so I could see how the others might not be as noticed.

niche comment: By which I mean that particular presentation of the material, not this genre, per se. If this source material can be adapted correctly, I could see people buying it. I think these elements are key(though they can[and should, imo]) be in any particular game: 'female heroines, rebellion against oppressive social structures'. As for ehe 'sex', there's varying levels of comfort with this. On 'talking animals', YMMV.

Thanks for the suggestion, however!

Oddysey said...

@velaran "Boy's fantasy" actually isn't quite right. I only read science fiction, and I only read "real man's science fiction." Golden age, hard science, Dune, Heinlein, yadda yadda. Anything with talking animals or about young women was stupid. Swear. To. God. I was a weird kid.