What do you want to know about a game to make a decision to buy?

edited October 2012 in Story Games
In your busy day, you see (yet another) link to a new game, you click on it, you look.

What do you need to know straight away about the game to inform your decision to purchase?

What type of information sways you?


  • I want to know the rules, or a good portion of them. Enough to make me think it is something that I will end up playing. Or, enough of the fictional setting stuff or adventure scenario stuff to know I will be able to use it.

    Nice art helps a lot, as does an author whose work I already know and like.

    There are still things that could stop me from buying a game, even with some or all of those criteria, of course.
  • You might want to check this previous SG thread out, where David Berg outlines his thought process for checking out a game link.
  • edited October 2012
    The very first things I want to know are:
    * What's this game about? And also, what can I make this game be about?
    * What's the price? And also, can I get it on sale cheaper? Can I find a used copy locally?
    * Has anyone I know played it? Did they like it?

    If I'm still interested after that, the next things I need to figure out are:
    * Will our group be playing this game sometime in the next three months?
    * Will we be playing it more than two or three sessions?

    If the answer to those last two questions are both "yes," I'll buy it. Probably.

    If the answer to either of those last two questions are "no," then I won't, and my overloaded bookshelves and my wallet will both thank me.

    Unfortunately, the only questions that a link to the game can really answer are "What is the game about?" and "How much does it cost?" But those are very good questions for a link to answer, so it's worth answering them well!
  • The first questions for me are "what is this game supposed to do?" and "how does it try to do it?". That usually means a summary of the game's "niche" and a quick overview of the mechanics that support that niche.
  • Who wrote it? What design tradition is it from? What was the workflow in design like?

    If the answer to the first question is a designer I know to be upright (one who upholds high standards of design), I'll buy. If the answer to the second question is non-traditional (almost anything goes in that regard) and the workflow seems solid, I'll buy. I might buy a game by an unknown traditional designer if the workflow is exceptional.

    (Note that it's not an accident that I don't mention content here. I don't care what your game is about, I'll buy it if the above factors are right.)

    What is workflow for this purpose: creative passion coupled with high standards. A bad workflow is in hurry to publish and treats the game as a consumer product instead of art. I don't care if the game is good as long as it is the product of a legitimate and honest exploration into a relevant design space.

    The above means that I do buy pretty many games, although I often delay the actual purchase for several years. I end up buying less than one might assume, though, as that workflow criterion is a killer, especially to prove in advance; most publishers do little to convince me that their game has been created with the highest standards in mind, and I've in fact learned over the years that most probably don't even know what acceptable quality looks like.
  • I'm fairly new to the hobby, so my thought process might be a little different, but here's what I want, most- to least-important:

    - a rough description of the mechanics (what dice will I need? How many players is it for? What's the thing that makes your game special? And, this is a big one - campaign or done in one? My group at this point can't guarantee more than sporadic sessions, so if I get a game and it wants 50 hours out of me I'm probably not going to be buying it)
    - what's it about? High-concept pitch - it's Ghostbusters the RPG (InSpectres) or Sunshine the RPG (Our Last Best Hope). I need to be able to sell it to my friends.
    - how much is it, and what am I getting for that? I'm willing to spend money, but I don't want to spend 30 bucks on a 10-page PDF, you know?
    - who wrote it? Have I played anything of theirs before? If not, do they at least have a professional or professional-amateur looking website? (You don't need to have spent thousands of bucks, but something that looks like someone put a bit of time into.)
    - lastly: how much of a pain is it going to be to get a copy here in Australia? I'm not paying more than the cost of the book for shipping.
  • What people say and do with money are very different things. the only way to know is to examine purchasing habits.

    I almost never buy RPGs of any stripe. I have bought marvel, mouse guard, ocean, savage worlds and saga edition Star wars and traded for a large amount of warhammer 3rd (i then later traded it for wings of war). i have a huge collection of table top games but very few rpgs.

    why i buy a game in general
    It has kickass toys. The game aisle and the toy aisle are near one another for a good reason, a game first sells based on the "toy" quality and value. rpg books have almost no toy value but can be entertaining reads (art, fiction) but i almost never buy rpgs for this reason (others do) given i feel it makes playing the rpg much worse.

    Another reason I buy a game... when i'm being reasonable... is because It will fill a hole in my collection. Games by their play time, number of players and play mechanics fill a particular role in a collection. if I have three players and we want to play an hour to two hour medium weight strategy game I know exactly what games in my collection fit that. If I find a game that will expand the usability of my collection than it has a great chance of getting purchased. This is also why I often do not buy a game. if I already have a two hour long two player strategy game that does not get much play I will be unlikely to buy another. note kickass toys trump this rule.
  • Thanks Steve, Ill check it out.

    Does physical or PDF copy make any difference to people?
  • edited October 2012
    Oh, and some other thoughts (now that I can take a break from work):

    Who's the designer? What other games have they done?

    Are there links to any reviews (so I can get a sense of how other people think the game plays)? Are there links to any playtesting and development threads that are easy to read and make the game look interesting?

    What's the game about? m_busuttil's 'Ghostbusters the RPG' comment is a good starting point; it'd be great to have a couple of other sentences describing any of the following:

    - What sort of stories you use this game to play?
    - What do the characters do?
    - What's the main source of conflict in the game's setting (or in the game's rules)?
    - What are your inspirations?
    - Why'd you write this game?
  • I've bought like three pdfs, ever, and the most expensive of those was 5 bucks.
  • I want to talk about / deconstruct a specific purchase I made recently; hope that's okay.

    So, my gaming tastes are pretty broad, but in many ways my actual ideal games are pretty far from the stereotypical "story game experience." What I mean is, I love playing intense one-off games like 1,001 Nights or Jeep games or whatever, especially at cons but I'll do it with my friends too. But what I really love is:

    -crunchy (for example, although I love the AW family, those games are just a shade too simple for me)
    -genre fiction (sci-fi or fantasy)
    -supports long-term play

    But! I can't stand most trad games, either. I really crave something that has flagging and good tools for the GM.

    By this metric, my favorite games are Burning Wheel, Mouse Guard, Burning Empires, Riddle of Steel, and Sign in Stranger.

    So when I read about Spellbound Kingdoms in that thread about how to do a Final Fantasy-style tabletop game, my interest was piqued. I checked it out on RPGNow, and was struck by not only the coolness, but the specificity of the cool things.

    I'm going to quote from the description on the game's RPGNow page.

    This is the revised core rulebook for the Spellbound Kingdoms RPG. 300 pages of zeppelins, courtesans, feral children, alchemy, sorcery, engineering, politics, dragons, and slavering undead.

    The fact that it's revised seemed good to me; most games could use an editing pass or two, even if they're very good. Zeppelins also stood out to me from this passage. Airships are cool, and a fairly specific fantasy trope present in some of my favorite settings (i.e. the first three Final Fantasy games), but not yet done to death in my own gaming experience. Same with feral children. Now, of the rest of that list, most of it is pretty generic, but... hang on? Engineering. Wow! One of the things that drew me to Burning Wheel is that you can play an engineer and make trebuchets and shit and it actually matters. Does SK do the same thing? (Turns out the answer is yes.)

    Bound by magic, haunted by fear, and clinging to love, the people of the Kingdoms live in a world on the brink of a new age. Whether that is an age of Enlightenment or a new Dark Age is up to you.

    A very nice over-arching theme to organize play around. Excellent. (And, as it turns out, the phrase "bound by magic" from this sentence actually isn't just generic boilerplate; being spellbound has specific mechanical and fictional meaning in the game. Same with fear and love, actually.)

    Spellbound Kingdoms is a traditional RPG with innovative rules for:

    * Tactical combat where your fighting style matters. No minis required!
    * Storytelling support.
    * Mass combat as an integral part of the game.
    * Dramatic and tactical dialogue. Fashion as a weapon. Improv-style drama scenes!
    * Emotional depth.
    * Players can play nobles, peasants, soldiers, generals, or anyone in between.
    * A fast pace. Blazing pace, really.
    * A world and an economy that are consistent with the rules.
    * Combat that is easy to learn, difficult to master, fast, fun, and not a pain in the GM's butt.
    * Cooperative worldbuilding.
    * NPC relationships that matter.

    Each thing here is a simple bullet point, and many of them are things I really care about, like pace and interesting but not painfully slow combat mechanics, as well as mass combat. (I will say that mass combat looks like it could be slow, but I've yet to test it.) They all have to be taken on faith, since it doesn't say how, for example, NPC relationships are made to matter or how emotional depth is supported by the mechanics—but since they went out of their way to highlight those aspects of the game, including things that aren't in many games' ad copy, I was impressed. (Having read the text, I doubt that it's truly "blazing" by my standards, but it's going to be at least as fast as Riddle of Steel, so that's fine.)

    Spellbound Kingdoms offers dark Renaissance fantasy gameplay with rules that support swashbuckling action, courtly intrigue, and insidious magic.

    Again, a nice, concise, and reasonably unique capsule description / elevator pitch. (The only other major game I know of which occupies this exact niche is Seven Seas, and some people on the SK forums mentioned using SK to play in the Seven Seas world. And Seven Seas is too traddy for me, from what I know of it. [Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies is also somewhat similar, I believe, but PDQ's crunch level is more akin to AW's than BW's. I'd play it, for sure, but I'm not as jazzed about the game.]*)

    New for the revision are over 70 spells, dozens of monsters, a new Talent system, rules for multiple PCs in the same thieves guild or other organization, new combat styles including Mounted and Black Powder & Crimson Blade, many new monster combat styles, advice for creating your own combat styles and spell schools, new alchemical and engineering items, a printer-friendly version of the pdf, and a lot more.

    Not super-interesting, but worth knowing the details of what they put in the revision, I suppose.

    Anyway, I bought it, have been reading it, and am chomping at the bit to try it out! I really hope it catches on more around here, too.

    So that's an example of marketing that I, at least, found effective. It told me what the game was about and convinced me that the designers understood that the rules have to support the game's intended type of fiction. Importantly, the text is specific without getting wonky.


    *Argh! There's also Fortune's Fool! How could I forget? But, while it is crunchy and evocative, it is definitely extremely traditional in ways I don't like.
  • @Steve_Hickey ah, On Mighty Thews - I remember that thread now. I actually contributed to it.

    I will re-read
  • I've bought like three pdfs, ever, and the most expensive of those was 5 bucks.
    As a counter-point to this, I buy a lot of PDFs. The main reason is international shipping. That can often add 50% to the cost of a game for me. Plus if you count the fact that PDFs are usually discounted from the physical copy, I often have to pay triple or more the cost of the PDF to get physical. International shipping can also take a fair amount of time to get here. PDFs give instant or near-instant gratification.

    Expensive PDFs (>$15, $10 or less is perfect) still give me pause for thought though as I feel like I'm getting ripped off for something that has zero reproduction costs for the publisher.

    Hence I'd say if you want to encourage international customers (at least doubling your market!) and impulse purchases ($10 or less PDFs) with instant gratification then PDFs are good. Please consider A4 paper size when laying out! (you can design for both letter/A4). Also consider ease of home printing.

    Sometimes if I get lots of play from a game I'll go back and order a physical copy later.
    Obviously if the game really appeals to me, as per comments up-thread, I'll lay out for the physical copy from the start *but* many indie games are too much of a risk for me.
  • edited October 2012
    What type of information sways you?
    I've played the game and had fun with it. I almost never buy games that I haven't played first.
  • I thought of one more thing - it's not really something you have a huge degree of control over, but it's worth noting.

    - who's recommending the game to me? On the website for Fiasco, they open with a quote where John Rogers praises it. I have nothing but respect for the man (he's currently the showrunner on Leverage), so that goes a long way in terms of getting me to consider buying it. (Also, I've seen him play it with Wil Wheaton on Tabletop, which helps.)

    Obviously that's not something you can just summon up magically, but it's possible. A Rogers tweet lead me to the Kickstarter for Our Last Best Hope, which ended up being my first-ever RPG purchase. If you can leverage that sort of recommendation from a reputable sort, I'm much more likely to consider buying a game than if you're just sitting on the web yelling "BUY THIS". Even if you get a couple of people here posting Actual Play and saying "holy crap you have to give this a try", that means more to me than someone trying to sell their own stuff.
  • One thing to consider is that, often, designers aren't so good at knowing and articulating what they have, being really close to it. I know I sometimes have difficulty pitching my own games properly, though I feel like I'm pretty good at describing other people's games. Honestly, I'm much more likely to trust a third party's description and recommendation of a game than I am to trust marketing test and descriptive language by the author, especially if the third party is something I trust or have played games with. Also, I want the third party to be somewhat critical of a game, describing its weaknesses or what it doesn't do well, as well as its strengths. That shows that they've paid attention and aren't just saying laudatory things. Really, it's similar to reading a book or movie review -- though not like reading most RPG reviews, which are of reading the rules and not actually of playing the game, rendering them pretty much useless. Play reports or anything else where somebody else has played your game and is willing to answer questions about it are super great. Creators are often defensive, claim their game can do everything, suggest that people aren't playing or appreciating it correctly, and other things. But I want to know about all the imperfections and unclear parts, so I can know how to avoid or work around them.
  • I'm echoing what a lot of people have already said here-- I want to know what, if any other games the author has done before, I want to know the mechanics in at least some detail so I know if I'd find them engaging, I want to know the theme or premise of the game (or if it doesn't have one at all), and most importantly at all, I'm probably not going to buy it if there isn't a strong chance I'm not going to be able to play it at least once within the next couple months, but that one isn't anything the designer can do anything about, alas.

    I want to specifically point to Joe McDaldno's promo thread for The Quiet Year, which is pretty much my new Platonic ideal for being sold on a game. After reading his posts I feel I am capable of making a fully informed decision on whether or not I want his game.

    Regarding PDFs, I generally find reading print-formatted PDFs too damn awkward on a monitor, especially if I have to skip back and forth between different sections of the book, which I always do when reading an RPG for the first time (and my Kindle Fire doesn't seem to be able to keep many pages in memory, so it's an even less satisfying experience), and printing them out is just a waste of my paper and ink. I won't spend more than $5 on a PDF, ever. If there's a print & PDF bundle I might get that, especially if the PDF is going to show up earlier than the print book (COME ON TENRA), but books are what I get use out of and what I want to pay for. I think Black Seven is the only PDF-only game I've ever paid for and enjoyed, because it isn't laid out in columns and it's less than $5.
  • So, my tastes are weird and varied.
    In my collection are the following:
    Exalted (I love it, especially 1e), Solar System, CP2020, D&D 1e, Legend of 5 rings, BESM, DitV, InSpectres, Zombie Cinema, Blood of Heroes, etc...
    I pick games on a few criteria:
    1) Am I playing it. I always buy a copy of the game I am playing.
    2) System, I wont buy d20 unless I have to (a friend is running it and I want to support them), even then, I get the bare minimum to participate (I have the 4e Players handbook, that is all). But I will get systems that have playable innovative mechanics. I purchased ICONS because of the GM doesn't roll rule (and because it was a FATE derivative)
    3) Setting, I haven't purchased a lot of games because of setting, but I always consider setting. That is something that ShadowRun taught me. The setting was too deep (Native American mumbo-jumbo) for my group, so it ruined the game for me. Nowadays, I look for a game that has a system I can easily describe to a player who has not read the books. As an example, I would probably never get Tekumel. I don't know enough about Aztecs, etc. to describe the game in any meaningful way to other players. Which is not to say they have to have a bog-standard setting, Shadow of Yesterday has a very wild setting, but it is easy for me to describe it to other players.
    4) What have I read about it. For instance, I got Starblazers Adventures, because of along thread suggesting it would make a good system for Mass Effect
    I generally only buy the pdf if I have the real book, but the pdf is a convenient reference for a deep game. I run a lot of Con games, and I like to have the real book to pass around to the players. I love wushu, since that is the only way to get it is via PDF, I have that. I printed it out for conventions so I would have something for the players to touch and feel.
    Dave M
  • edited October 2012
    - Will my friends want to play?
    - Will it teach me something new that I can use in other games?
    - Does it make my life easier? (less prep)
    - Is it similar enough to things I enjoy but different enough that it's new?
    - Will it make it easier to introduce gaming to new people?
    - Is it GMless but has what's great about games with GMs?
    - Does it systemize good GMing techniques?
    - Does it teach new players how to GM?
    - Is it a wrestling game?
    - Is the designer a nice person?
    - How much has this been playtested?
    - Has anyone I know played it and can confirm it does what it says?
    - Is it the new hotness?
    - Is it similar to something I'm working on?
    - Can I play it as a one shot at conventions?
    - Is it fun to play multiple times?
    - Do I get a free PDF if I buy a physical copy?
    - Is it easy to read?
    - Is it fun to read?
    - Does it trigger my nostalgia pleasure centers?
    - Does it have useful character sheets / play aids?
    - Does it have a rules summary / cheat sheet / GM screen?
    - Does it have online support? If I have questions, where do I go?
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