Friday, January 22, 2010

Tribes, Brands and Swimming Pools

So, as of this morning, the RPGNow Haiti contribution level is up around eighty five thousand dollars. For some context, Wells Fargo gave $100k[1], which is to say, we're awesome.

But this is the internet, and some people can't see a beautiful pool without wanting to drop a turd in it. Then point at the turd. Then touch themselves inappropriately. Intellectually, this isn't much of a shock, but it still ends up bothering me a lot.

See, for me, the reason I chose to contribute through RPGNow rather than some other venue was partly influenced by the awesome bundle of free games[2] but it was more a matter of my sense of identity. I'm a gamer, and this was the action that my tribe was taking, and I wanted to back that play. As a tribe, we tend to be pretty bad at organizing for this sort of stuff, so when the opportunity arose, it was amazing to see just how profound the outpouring of support from creators and players has been. [3]

And that's why the crazy people bug me more than they should. They're part of my tribe too. Sure, some of them try to self-select out of it by associating themselves with some narrow slice of the tribe or try to expel some groups from the tribe by force of will, but neither of those approaches affect me much - it's my tribe, and I'm proud to be a member. And by extension, I am ashamed when a member of my tribe goes off the deep end. I might be able to handle it if it was just the Timecube style conspiracy theorists, but the petty stuff gets to me too, so let me just lay down this shout to the void. I invite the Internet to share this when needed.

Even if you are a crazy person, you need to manage your brand.

ESPECIALLY if you're a crazy person.

Look, I know that you don't think you're crazy, and that this obviously doesn't apply to you, but just think about how people respond to what you say. It's not about whether you are crazy, it's about whether people think you're crazy. And if they think you're crazy, they're not going to listen to the incredibly important truths that you have seen which need to be shared. In this, truth is like craziness - it doesn't matter if it's so, it just matters what people think.

So, if you have some Powerful Truths to share, you owe it to yourself and the world to stop and think about how you present them. If you can't present them in a way that people will listen to, then you have failed. No one will see the truth because you were too proud to learn how to communicate. You will get dismissed as "crazy" by the people who don't understand the truth. This may not bother you personally because you understand that you are above their petty assessments, but the problem is not a personal one. If you are perceived as a "Crazy Guy," that creates a barrier to you getting your message out.

The key is that your unique insight comes with a responsibility to learn to communicate in a way that gets people to listen. That might mean less profanity or laying a foundation for you argument before presenting a conclusion or making sure the sources you cite are held in equal esteem by your audience. This may be frustrating: most of the people you're talking to are clearly not smart enough to understand what you're telling them, but if you cannot communicate your idea to lesser minds, you've just written off most of the world.

If you don't take that responsibility, they will never understand.

So man up. Communication skills are trivial to learn compared to the things you already grasp. It may feel like you're hobbling yourself at first, but just remember that most people aren't ready to handle the full weight of understanding all at once - it would be like trying to drink from a fire hose. But if you can regulate the flow, then you can bring them around to comprehension by offering them truth a sip at a time, until they discover a thirst they didn't know was there, and start -asking- you for more.

1 - Totally anecdotal.

2 - Things I Can't believe I Have To Say: OF COURSE you're not going to find every game in the bundle useful. There are a lot of different games there. Shock. But if your decision-making process is "Well, I would contribute, but the free prize is just not good enough" then you may not want to publicize that fact.

3 - More things I can't believe I have to say: Publishers are not getting any kickbacks or hidden benefits for their contribution to the bundle. Every publisher makes their own decision regarding what to contribute, and most of them (including Evil Hat) have included supplemental material, but there are no shortage of publishers with a single flagship game that have slapped that down on the counter. But whatever the publishers put up, they did it because they wanted to, not for any other reason. In fact, the bundle is hurting most of the creators who contributed (and rpgnow too, I am quite certain[4]): the combination of the draw of the bundle and the impact on the site as a whole has really cut down all other sales.

4 - Another thing I can't believe I have to say: As much as this might boggle some people, the invisible magic that makes computers go is not actually free, even if it looks it to you. Bandwidth, storage, invoicing, administration, support and money-handling all cost money, even for a company which sells entirely electronic products like RPGnow. Even setting aside lost revenue from other products, and even setting aside the cost of the matching they're doing, this bundle is costing them money, and very nearly nuking their site. And they do it anyway because these are the tools they have, and you make a difference with what you've got.


  1. You are the wind beneath my wings, my friend. Thank you for this post.

  2. I will be buying more product from RPGnow as a result of this promotion.

    A) Because a company that puts something together like this is a company I can support.

    B) This bundle has introduced me to products that I never would have looked at before, but now I'm intrigued and want more from some of these publishers that previously I had never heard of.

    Also, the shield of anonymity unfortunately brings the dross to the surface; fortunately, there's usually a few in every tribe—so hopefully the other tribes can understand that we're not all like that.

  3. @UT A good point. I suspect that this is effort will work out in the long term interest of RPGNow and most of the contributors, but I don't think anyone is _counting_ on that.

    -Rob D.

  4. I am just blown away by how much money they generated. I didn't realize there was even that much cycling around the entire RPG economy!

    I think it's also a testament to a good strategy. I think most gamers care and are relatively socially conscious, so just asking for donations would have done all right. But we are above all else, consumers, and giving us the chance to get the shiny while donating clearly is extremely effective.

    Kudos to RPGNow and all the publishers who donated something.

    Let's hope this money can do as much good as possible. More than that though is going to be the real problem of trying to build a proper infra, social and political structure for Haiti so they can get back on their own feet. I don't think hope is going to be enough for that, but maybe this disaster will wake some people up and get a few more people engaged in actually working on the problem.

  5. I'm the crazy person aren't I?


    I attribute my poor communication skills to the fact that my "l" key doesn't work anymore.

    And dude... if that was a snarky rant... you need to work on your snarky rant skills, because by the standards of the internet... TAME.

    Great post as usual.

  6. I like this post, most especially because I'm occasionally a crazy person to whom it applies.

  7. Excellent post.

    The crazy is making my head wobble. The latest head-shake moment: Suggestions on RPGNet that publishers should've *expected* to take a hit in sales, and to counteract, should have started up marketed sales to piggy-back ON A CHARITY.

    ...and they were serious.

  8. This is me cheering for brand-managing crazy people like myself.

    I learned it from watching you, Dad!

  9. @GMS I don't drink, but I need a drink.

  10. Here's a question, which you kind of answer indirectly:

    Are crazy people part of my tribe? Who decides who's part of my tribe, even if I don't want them to?

    And the answer is, in terms of PR: Whoever is considered to be part of your tribe.
    But this is a vice of sort, because not all of us sign up to it, to be part of a group because we want to do something.

  11. @guy There are entire marketing books dedicated to the topic, but for my two bits, you decide whose in your tribe, and so does everyone else. The "real" tribe is just the space where the overlap between these visions of the world is strong enough to be opaque.

    I have a pretty broad view of the Gamer tribe (Go Play!), but I'm fully aware that not every member of the tribe share this view, and would not consider me a member of their tribe. Thankfully, though, that's all pretty much no-harm-no-foul unless either one of us is looking to take offense.

    -Rob D.

  12. If giving away products for free was such a great idea, they would have been doing it already.

    Of the bundle, 90 percent I wouldn't have paid 1¢ for. But the willingness of these publishers to forgo such profit inspired me to give.

    On the subject of brand management, I have not seen the comments you are referring to. However, I too have found these types of responses incredible. Some people need to learn to hold back and not insert themselves where they're not making a constructive contribution.

  13. @david I figure that even with the most cynical application of Sturgeon's law, folks will be getting $140 worth of good stuff (even if it's a different $140 from person to person).

    (Though that said, free products are kind of a fascinating topic in thier own right)

  14. I have to say that I donated because of the free stuff. I am selfish. I was happy to donate to a secular organization though. If the donation had gone to Salvation Army, Red Cross, or a similarly aligned organization, I do not know if even the free stuff would have made me do it. As far as the bundle goes, I could not believe how AWESOME it was. Several things that I have had on my wishlist are in there and several more great surprises made it even better. Anyone who complains about this is a turd.

  15. I remember commenting to a friend that one of the best things about this sale was the fact they *couldn't sell out of anything*. It really seems a bit of a perfect storm.

    Fred has commented on this before, but this is also a great example of turning a problem (crushed servers, angry/confused consumers) into a customer service success. I attempted to buy the bundle *7 times* and worried about having to wrestle with customer service about CC charges...only to find all of my concerns washed away by proactive email from OBE customer service. That, on top of all the other awesome, makes me a much more loyal OBE customer than I was the day before. You can't buy that, you can't market for that.

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  17. I just need to say:

    "But this is the internet, and some people can't see a beautiful pool without wanting to drop a turd in it. Then point at the turd. Then touch themselves inappropriately. Intellectually, this isn't much of a shock, but it still ends up bothering me a lot."

    That's a spot-on description of the entire Internet.

    You win.

    -- c.

  18. Sadly, the prize is a little sticky.

  19. "And that's why the crazy people bug me more than they should. They're part of my tribe too."

    This reminds me of why J. Wicks comments from last year bugged me.

    It is one thing when the village idiot is being an idiot, but it is another when one of the tribal leaders is being one.

    I plan on getting the download. Thanks for pointing it out!


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