I would like to spend money…

[EDIT: Scott Mathis pointed out in the comments that my intent for this post, to talk about how a particular marketing method doesn’t work and use my experience as a case study, was only discussed well in the comments. Sorry about that, folks! I forgot about my own rule regarding using the specific alongside the abstract.]

…but I can’t. And that makes me a sad panda.

Specifically, I would like to spend money on the new superhero RPG by Steve Kenson, ICONS. I hear people already geeking about it now that they have their pre-order PDF copies, and that’s got me excited. Leonard Balsera was IMing me today about the characters he was making. That taunting bastard! :)

And if I could right now buy it, I would. But since I didn’t pre-order, it’s not available to me. From one of the posts on Adamant’s site:

The commercial PDF of ICONS will be available beginning June 1st, and the print edition of the game should be available to stores (and shipped to pre-order customers) by mid-June.

Well, fuck. I didn’t pre-order it even though I was genuinely interested, because I didn’t know where I was going to be living in mid-June. (And I still don’t, but hopefully I will in a couple weeks.) And I don’t have a lot of shelf space these days, so I don’t order as many books as I used to. Thus, I’m waiting on the PDF.

The PDF won’t be available for another 13 days.

That is a year in Internet time. That is a long time for me to lose interest in this “SQUEE WANNA BUY” state, enough time for something else to take up my impulse dollars, enough time to hear things about the game that would turn me off — not necessarily something that would make me not want to play the game, but something enough to cause me to stop being excited about it.

I like Kenson and his work, and if I had a PDF today, I might be able to get a pick-up game together at the Memorial Day con in L.A. — my vacation con that’s before June 1st. But since I didn’t pre-order, no dice. (Pun intended, baby. That’s how I roll.)

So while my friends are geeking on it, they’re doing so when that geeking can’t generate sales. And such excitement doesn’t last long. Hell, this blog post might even generate sales, since people click on shit (and I buy that “There’s no such thing as truly bad PR” philosophy). But by the time you can buy the PDF, this post will be old news. The only thing it’ll be good for is collecting spam.

(Now, maybe the PDF isn’t finished. But it’s not like the power to send purchasers an updated PDF doesn’t exist. That’s what Fred did with Dresden. And it worked pretty well, I think.)

But, yeah. Guys, on today, May 18th 2010, in response to the geekfest on my Twitter feed, I want to give you money. Might not have that interest on June 1st. And ICONS probably deserves better marketing treatment than this.

– Ryan


32 Responses to I would like to spend money…

  1. Fred Hicks says:

    I’ve got plenty of reasons why I want my preorders to run right up until the shipping date, and I don’t believe that the theory of demand that builds up without access to a thing is any greater than the actual demand that manifests if you provide continuous access to the thing, so obviously I’m the choir and thus preached to. But I do wonder if there’s an angle here that I’m not considering, something I’m missing about it.

    • Rob Donoghue says:

      So, I have no idea if this is actually the case, but if the pdf is considered a reward for early adopters (those most likely to be alpha fans) then there’s a good reason to establish a cutoff because it makes those early adopters feel like they get something special for getting in on the ground floor. If it remains available to everyone all the time, that reward is gone. Is that reward worth the tradeoff? That’s a decision to be made.

      Alternately, if the PDF won’t be free with purchase of the print book in the future, then this was a promotional price, and promotional prices come to an end. If this is the the case, then this is more of a case of classic buyer’s remorse than anything else.

      -Rob D.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      I get that, but I also think it’s a foolish business model. Price point and premium content are great ways of leveraging anticipation. And I could even say releasing the PDF at most three days early is workable — the Internet’s memory is just long enough to make that work, as long as you don’t make a weekend happen in between when you’re releasing to alpha orderers and able to sell to everyone. Like, today or tomorrow would be a great day for Adamant to sell the PDF — Friday and the weekend is a hinderance to Internet momentum.

      To put another point of data to it: now that my post has generated two people (one off-blog) saying they’ll run it for me, I don’t even have the need to buy it. A sale lost. And I doubt I’m the only one who feels that way. (I also assume people are justifying pirating it to friends because said friends can’t buy it, but since such people want to justify piracy, that’s a moot point.)

      – Ryan

    • Thomas D says:

      It’s a business model that motivates purchases.

      By announcing a limited window for purchasing, you motivate consumers to purchase during that time frame. If there was no window, consumers would have no immediate need to purchase the product–why buy it today, when it’s still available next week, or the week after?

      Theoretically, customers who are anticipating the work would purchase during the pre-order phase, no matter if there was a window or not. Customers like me–if the pre-order phase is open to the last minute–would not feel an immediate need to purchase the product if they know it will still be available next payday, or the one after that, or the one after that. Now with a limited time offer, I have to make a decision–am I really going to order this? If so, I need to act *now*.

      This is why I pre-ordered the Dresden Files RPG when I did. Although the pre-order period for that goes up until the books actually hit shelves, I had a limited window where I could use an employee discount at the game store. Knowing I could get the books at n-(m%) price if I ordered *now* was what pushed me from the “I’m thinking about getting this” to the “I am getting this” side of the fence. Without that n-(m%) price, I would have waited. And kept waiting. And the books would be out, and I’d probably still wait until the next paycheck. And then maybe later. And then we’re playing Shadowrun and I’ve never picked up the Dresden Files RPG.

      Your situation, where you didn’t pre-order ICONS, was your choice. You could have ordered it and had ICONS shipped to you, bouncing from post office to post office following a trail of Change of Address forms, but you didn’t. You could have contacted Adamant and asked them if you could pre-order and update the physical mailing address once you’re in your new location, but you didn’t. You could have ordered anyway, and then contact Adamant telling them you have a change of address. You made a choice not to purchase the product during the limited time it was offered.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Thanks for your comment!

      – Ryan

    • Rob Donoghue says:

      Ok, so here’s the counterpoint – the internet’s memory is a fuzzy thing, and while it’s very short by the life cycle of twitter, it’s longer when you talk about forums and such. A two week window means that yes, missing out on the buzz on the day the PDF is released, but when I take a cynical eye to that buzz, I’m not sure that’s a huge loss. First day twitter buzz is “Woo, i got it!” or “Wow, it’s pretty!” or “Damn, this file won’t download!”. That’s not a bad thing, but It’s only going to make sales to people who either hadn’t heard of the product, or had been _really_ tenuously on the fence. Both of these segments exist, but they’re small. Not saying they’re small enough to be automatically ignored, but I’m saying they don’t knock it out of the park either.

      In contrast, 2 weeks is just about the necessary gestation cycle for buzz on rpg.net. At the 2 week mark, people will have run their first games of it, have posted mini-reviews, started arguments about why it sucks more than their favorite supers game and so on. For the rpg.net crowd, the anticipation-creation seems a worthwhile investment, so on one level the the question is which of these audiences is going to translate into more sales.

      (Now, to be even more cynical, I will say the rpg.net audience is also more likely to be impressed by the special status of having something not commonly available. Having a copy of Icons at this point in time is, potentially, a bragging right. You can be sure people will post on threads purely to show their plumage, so to speak.)

      So, all this said, I would put forward that it’s a fairly canny move, or at least a reasonable bet.

      Now, if this was some other supers game like, say, BASH, which was NOT by known authors with strong existing buzz, I’d agree that the period of anticipation was a tactical mistakes. For an unknown product, there’s too much risk that a reduction in inertia will translate into a stall. But Icons, I think, already has a decent head of steam. People are curious, and I feel it’s a safe bet they have enough speed to use this lull as a slingshot, gaining greater speed from it in the end.

      Now, again, it’s all a total guess. This isn’t really an exact science after all. Yes, it’s totally different than the EHP business model, and obviously I think that’s the _best_ business model[1] but I’m not sold on this being a bad approach for this particular product.

      -Rob D.

      1 – Duh!

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      You got a pretty good point about forum cycle. That said, since the point of marketing a product is to put it in the hands of your audience, right now we’re at a point where the marketing has stalled.

      There is something to this two-week idea you’re talking about, but that cycle exists whether you’re selling the product during that time (like we do) or not (as with ICONS). The Twitter-cycle and the forum-cycle are not co-dependent, so I don’t see why not capitalizing on both is anything by bad marketing in this social media environment.

      And I don’t take a cynical eye to that zero-day buzz because those are also some of your loudest customers. And I want to help them help me sell.

      – Ryan

    • Rob Donoghue says:

      Which is not to say that it’s not a shame that there’s no immediate way to leverage the buzz. But the tradeoff is anticipation, I suppose.

      -Rob D.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Now that I think about it, let’s remove the “I already knew about it from the equation,” and instead put in someone who just discovered ICONS thanks to his Twitter feed. This hypothetical guy didn’t know that he could pre-order this in the past, so his first impression of the product is “the cool kids have their copy and I don’t.”

      This is why I won’t support such a business model. I have been that guy several times now, and it always ends with me not buying the game when it does because available from my perspective, because by then there’s something else worth buying that doesn’t have negative emotional charges attached.[1] And I don’t want to encourage latecomers to take a pass.

      – Ryan

      [1] I’m, of course, referring to my post last week on Marketing and Emotional Manipulation

    • Rob Donoghue says:

      Ok, but counterpoint: if you didn’t already know about it, would 2 weeks be THAT bad a wait?

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Again, I’ll say you have a point. Here, we’re getting a bit nitty-gritty. For some people, that won’t be a problem. For others, that’s two weeks to use that money to buy something else.

      (For the specific: I just found out, like 30 seconds ago, that there’s a new Race for the Galaxy expansion. So now my ICONS money is going to that instead. If I had bought ICONS yesterday, I might have dipped below enough in my gamer budget to have to wait until June for the RtfG expansion.)

      The more we talk, the more I grow to buy the “give pre-order people a cheaper price/better package deal” approach. That doesn’t have the same opportunity cost involved. Sure, *any* pre-order deal will make someone who didn’t get in on it feel disenfranchised. But it doesn’t cause the thing where I think: “well, do I spend my gaming budget on this thing in two weeks, or on the thing that has just been made available now for me?”

      Everyone’s mileage will vary.

      I have a hypothesis forming, that this is a model that’s made outdated by the proliferation of social networks and the ability to tap into zero-day fan enthusiasm. All the justifications made so far ring hollow to me, as I’m sure my points do to others.

      – Ryan

    • Rob Donoghue says:

      Let me put it another way. Having a closed window means they will lose some sales. No question. Probably not many, but some number.

      But in return, this allows them to turn around and say “Thank you, people who were so enthusiastic about our product, and who believed in it enough to spend your hard earned money on our product, sight unseen. We are humbled by your faith and support, and want this to be a gift to you to recognize exactly how important and meaningful that support has been to us.”

      To me, that seems a more than fair trade.

      -Rob D.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      I totally agree with you about how saying “Thank you” like that is important. Really, I do. But do you see how the flip-side of the way it’s handled tells everyone else “Go away”? There’s more than one side to the message.

      There are ways of rewarding early adopters without shunning folks who would want to later. (And, with some of the harshness GMS has directed my way, I think it’s fair to call it “shunning.”) But, as you point out, that’s the trade they made. Fair? Sure — it’s their product, they can market it however they like. And I really do wish them the best success with it.

      – Ryan

    • Fred Hicks says:

      It’s worth pointing out that we did the same thing, with different separators, and worse, with the Dresden Files RPG — the “excluded” in this case were folks who just wanted to buy the PDF, not the print book. We did “thank you, here’s the PDF” only to folks willing to preorder the physical book. The stand-alone PDF crowd had to wait a full month.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Yeah. And to be fair, I did feel for everyone who was asking for PDF-only during that time.

      – Ryan

  2. Mike Olson says:

    “I like Kenson and his work, and if I had a PDF today, I might be able to get a pick-up game together at the Memorial Day con in L.A.”

    Well… I’m running ICONS at Gamex, so… in theory, you could play it then.

    I don’t know what L. Balsera’s been telling you about how much fun it is to roll up random characters, but I don’t doubt it’s true. Incidentally, the game I’m running at Gamex will include random character generation.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Wicked! I may take you up on that, schedule-depending. Even if not, you should come up to the BarCon suite.

      – Ryan

  3. John Powell says:

    Whine, whine, whine. Its been a WHOLE FUCKING YEAR since Pinnacle announced Space 1889: Red Sands for release LAST fall. It is now due out in about a month. I’ve still got excitement for it…

    But until then, I’ve got my sweet sweet ICONS, and I’m rolling up random supers.

    Suck it Macklin! ;^)

    (Seriously dude, we’ll play this at GPNW. See you there!)

  4. Scott Mathis says:

    So, Ryan…

    The two reasons given for not doing a pre-order were:

    1) You didn’t know where you’d be living and thus didn’t know where the print copy would be sent.
    2) You didn’t have shelf space for a new book and just wanted the PDF.

    I’m failing to see where the first point is a blocker, considering #2. I mean, if you didn’t have the shelf space for the print version, why would you care which address it goes to? And if you did, wouldn’t you have a work address, parent’s address, friend’s address where the book could be sent while you got your housing under wraps?

    Also, have you considered just sending an email to Gareth and/or Steve? With an explanation of your situation and such? Without all the “let’s call out Adamant for their business decisions” wrapped up into it?

    I feel for ya. But I fail to see how going all angsty at Adamant is going to help you get what you want. Both Steve and Gareth are reasonable fellas. Both are very interested in promoting Icons, despite what’s being said here. I just couldn’t see either of them shooting you down out of hand if you just approached them with a mea culpa.

    As it stands, I don’t see how this conjecture about Adamant’s marketing is really helping your case.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      I’m not venting in order to get a copy of something. My attempt here is to say “So, this is a marketing concept that has failed for some portion of its audience. Let’s talk about that.” And since I learned long ago that only talking in abstracts gets us nowhere, I used myself as a case study. See my reply to Rob above for an abstracted reason.

      Clearly, I didn’t make that intent with my post obvious. Thank you for pointing that out.

      – Ryan

    • Scott Mathis says:

      Ah, I think this might be a post where the “case study” is too specific. I went back and re-read the original blog from the perspective you pointed out and it kind of makes sense. But it still predominantly reads like a rant against Adamant and Icons, specifically.

      From the title on down, there isn’t anything that points out “hey, i don’t like this type of pre-order shenanigans because it often excludes me”. It’s all verbage directed AT Icons/Adamant and very little (bordering on none) pointing out the pre-order sale as an EXAMPLE of a disagreeable marketing tactic. For that, we need to go deep into the comments (which a lot of people won’t do — myself included).

      In this situation, a little more abstraction might have been helpful. Way too easy to misinterpret the intent.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Ah, yeah. After initially composing this, I had a couple friends read it aloud. They called out a bunch of points where the text could have been read really badly, but didn’t catch everything. (Probably because we talked about it afterward — the in-person version of comments.) Thanks for saying this. I’ll bear that in mind in the future.

      Unfortunate that it reads as a rant against ICONS, because I am still interested in it. And I like Kenson, so I would like to see him get more money.

      In any case, in response to your comment on shipping: if I had a solution that worked, I would be using it. There was a small chance I wasn’t going to be in the same state or if I was going to still have my job. Makes any situation of getting packages problematic. :/ And I do buy physical books if I absolutely must.

      – Ryan

  5. Gareth says:

    Since people (far more reasonable than I) have suggested that I take this up with you directly, I’ll do so:

    So, yeah. I seriously could’ve done without your slap at my company. It was obnoxious and insulting.

    You say that it wasn’t your intention, that you were merely discussing an example, but that smacks of backpedalling because people called you on coming off as a douche. Made all the more so by the fact that despite this apparent problem (enough of one that you chose to post about it), you made no effort to contact us.

    But you go on in comments about “shunning” — over a matter of LESS THAN TWO WEEKS. Seriously?

    If your intention, genuinely, was to claim that 13 days is a hardship, or somehow a disenfranchisement or “emotional manipulation”, fine — I’ll shake my head, laugh off the ridiculousness, and move on. But seriously — by directly citing us, you made it a public issue. One that derailed discussion of the game over at RPGnet for a time, in fact.

    Things do not occur in a vacuum. Publicly insulting how I handle my business — which is my full-time livelihood — is not the way to make a point, and have it (or you) respected.

    I would ask that you please consider that, and in future, if there’s an issue about our business that you’re having concerns with, please contact me directly. I’d have been more than happy to explain myself, and try to address any concerns you had.

    -Gareth (not “GMS”, please)

    • Fred Hicks says:

      There are better (and more purchase-preserving) ways to respond to customer complaints than this, Gareth.

    • Gareth says:

      This wasn’t a customer complaint, Fred. No attempt was made to contact Adamant and have the issue resolved, which we would’ve been quite happy to try to do.

      Had it been a genuine customer complaint, my response would’ve have been similar to my response here, to the complaint that Leisure Games customers hadn’t gotten the bonus package.

      I go out of my way to try to solve issues when they’re a) genuine and b) actually brought to my attention.

      When somebody posts a rant about how a pre-order is apparently bad business practice because they don’t have their shiny RIGHT NOW and all the cool kids are talking about it, and then caps it off with an insult about how “ICONS deserves better marketing”, that’s not actually a good-faith complaint, and you know it.

    • Fred Hicks says:

      It’s incumbent upon every publisher, always, to act like an adult, no matter how childish they believe the other party is acting. But you’ve never been one to rise to that call, which is why I gave up on considering you to be a professional a long time ago. (Yes, I have failed on this a few times myself. I beat myself up about it *every time* I fail.)

      *I* preordered ICONS, by the way, so this is a legitimate customer complaint about your company.

      I preordered it because it cited Fate and because Steve Kenson was involved. The fact that it was associated with Adamant was a blot against it.

    • Gareth says:

      I’m genuinely sorry that you feel that way, Fred. I hope to change your mind someday.


    • Ryan Macklin says:


      First of all, I apologize for “GMS” — I thought that was a moniker you approved of. Since it’s not, I won’t be using it again. (I hate the way some people shorten my name, so I try not to be a name-abusing ass to others.)

      The problem with writing anything in the Internet, and why I rarely write stuff like this, is that *I* don’t think I’m sounding like a douche. I suspect that this is one of those things that would be easily cleared up over a beer and painfully enflamed over text. Maybe, maybe not, but I try to be hopeful.

      So let me say this: I honestly, genuinely wish well for ICONS. Even if you and I have had our differences in the past on internet fora, I don’t let that reflect my opinion of your products, or of folks you work with.

      As far as the shunning, you did initially respond this, which you took as insult, with insult in return on your Twitter feed regarding “Gamer Entitlement 101”. Maybe a conscious insult, maybe not — but I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s one of those “internet beer” things.

      Since my goal wasn’t to insult you, your business, Steve, or ICONS, and since I respect that you have come to me about this, I’ll respond in turn with a public apology by way of a follow-up post tomorrow. After all, even if that’s not what I wanted to do, clearly by your response that’s exactly what I did. You (and others) are right that my intent and what actually happened were way far off. And I can respect your position, since half of my livelihood involves making and selling games these days.

      If it’s of any consolation (and I suspect it’s not, but what the hell) this blog post ended up giving me a hell of a lot to think about, mainly from the discussion with Rob.

      – Ryan

    • Gareth says:


      The whole “GMS” thing– I used to sign my name that way on fora, 5+ years ago. But then “GMS” became this thing, this shorthand for other people to use, usually when talking about my more negative qualities. I made a conscious effort to distance myself from what I started to see as an artificial construct that had very little to do with who I actually was. (Yeah, I know this stuff sounds crazy.) “GMS” isn’t me. I’m Gareth.

      Thank you for clearing up your intention. I have to admit that I was taken aback, because I didn’t think we had a problem — which is why the whole “deserves better marketing” slap seemed so uncalled for.

      And yeah, the “Gamer Entitlement” thing was insulting. I was stung (not just by you, for context — I get all sorts of complaints via PM and email, and a fairly large chunk of them are entitlement-based, and often really ridiculous — definitely a beer discussion topic), and so I stung back. You just happened to have put a very public face on something that several of us had been discussing privately (re: the demands of gamers) — hence the link and the comment. It is absolutely a case where a discussion probably would’ve circumvented any bad blood, which is why I sincerely wish that you had contacted me.

      A follow-up sounds like a good idea — but really, you don’t need to issue some sort of public apology. What you’ve posted here is certainly enough to chalk it up to unfortunate circumstance. I don’t see that there needs to be drawn-out Mea Maxima Culpas or hairshirts worn over it.

      If you’re at GenCon, please let me buy you a pint.


  6. jessecoombs says:

    I could have gotten the pdf already? I guess I’ll flip through it in the store then.

  7. John Powell says:

    Yay! Beer Summit!