Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University.  This week, Thorne offers comments on this year’s Free RPG Day giveaways and lessons for next year.

Wrapping up another successful Free RPG Day, and thanks to Aldo Ghiozzi and Impressions Advertising and Marketing for going to the trouble of putting this together each year.  Our sales doubled that of a typical June Saturday and RPG sales increased over 5 times.  However, as always, there are things publishers could do better to improve the items they contribute, so without further ado:

  1. One per box aka The Sample—Unless you are Blue Panther and contributing dice trays, dice towers and dice cups, or Off World Designs and putting in a t-shirt,  both of which are pretty costly, sending out just one item per box is a waste of your promotional dollars and my time and table space.  I am not getting things in the kit for me to look, I expect stuff in the box to come in a large enough quantity that a reasonable number of people coming in for the event will get one.  I buy the box for the express purpose of giving away the books in it, not to look at your sample and decide if I am going to stock it in or not.  You should look at this as a promotional opportunity to get a teaser for your RPG into as many of my customer’s hands as you can.  Paizo, Goodman Games, Monte Cook Games, Q-Workshop and Syrinscape all provided lots of copies of their products and lots of customers walked home with them.
  2. Quick Start Rules—With the exceptions of Paizo and Lamentations of the Flame Princess, I think all of this year’s offerings included quick play rules and pre-generated characters in their booklet.  Lamentations and Paizo are well enough known to their target markets that they could use this year’s offerings as a teaser for upcoming products.  Paizo did an especially good job of this with its First Contact Space Bestiary for the company’s upcoming Starfinder space fantasy RPG. Since almost all of the other offerings fell into the category of “I’ve never heard of this” RPG, having introductory rules helps potential customers know what to expect from a full-fledged version of the game.  Oh, and be sure to clearly indicate on the cover that this is a quick start set of rules for your game.  I didn’t realize the Numenera adventure had rules included until the day was half over.
  3. Don’t Send Them to Your Website—This ought to be self-explanatory, but for at least one publisher included in this year’s selection, it wasn’t.  It’s OK to mention your website on your giveaway but, for Pete’s sake, tell people to look for your product first at their local game store THEN tell them to go to your website.  Putting a bold notice on the booklet directing people to your website when I am going to the trouble of promoting your product guarantees a trip to the recycling bin or, as we did here, a removal of your product’s cover.
  4. Help Generate Additional Sales—One of the best ideas I saw this year was in Monte Cook Games’ Numenera Spire of the Hunting Sound.  The back cover included a coupon offering a free PDF adventure for the game IF the customer buys a Numenera product by July 1.  Simply place the receipt for the purchased product on the coupon, take a photo, email the photo to the company and Monte Cook Games will send the customer a code for a free adventure.  Great idea and the only way I can think to improve it is to prominently blurb it on the front cover.  Hoping more publishers adopt this idea for next year.

So there you have them, four ideas on how to improve products for next year.  Do I expect publishers to adopt them?  Nah, but a retailer can hope, can’t he?

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of