You bought my game - Can I email you now?

edited November 2008 in Story Games
Some people bought my game, and now I'd like to email them and offer them a discount on something else. Is this OK as long as I give them the option of opting out of any future emails? I didn't ask their permission to email them when they bought my game. Can I assume their purchase expresses an interest in future products?

I already know how I feel about this issue, but I'm wondering what the consensus is out there. If you bought something, would you be annoyed if the author offered you a discount on another product? Would you be pleased?


  • In our little Story Games community I'd be thrilled, and to any company whose e-mail I don't want I don't give them an address I care about. I say give it a try, but with something low key, like all plain text and not some annoying HTML e-mail with tons of blinking graphics.
  • I'm really skeeved about unsolicited marketing myself. My reaction would probably not be positive at all.
  • I would be excited by this. I mean, if I receive email I don't want, I just delete it without opening it, so it wouldn't be a bother.
  • I've had much the same worry, especially with emails derived from IPR purchase lists, where the purchaser didn't actually buy direct from me in the first place. What I've done so far is send them an invite to join my mailing list and nothing else.
  • Why did they give you their email in the first place? Was it optional? Did they have to?
  • That makes me sad, Jason. :( But I understand. Can I ask for a further clarification?

    I consider the people who've bought my game to be as much personal contacts as business contacts, and I don't want to piss them off or abuse the relationship.

    What if the email were done in these terms:

    I'd like to build an email list so I can make offers like this (insert offer here). If you're willing to be on my list, click here. If not, do nothing, and you will never recieve an unsolicited offer from me again.

    The offer is to get what you paid for the PDF back as a dicount on the print edition, which is not insubstantial, I think.
  • edited November 2008
    John's question is the most valid--was the email given to you optionally, or was it mandatory to make the purchase? If the former, sure--send and offer an opt-out link/reply option. If the latter, you're taking a chance.

    That said, I've used alternate emails for years, and if I HAD to give one and didn't want to hear from the recipient of the address... they'd be getting my spam-catcher account.
  • Sure, Tony, a few thoughts:

    1. John's question is relevant. My assumption is I paid via paypal and you got my email address that way. In that case I'm not opting into anything and an unsolicited message seems abusive to me. I'm very touchy about this, definitely an edge case.

    2. My other assumption is that you are talking generalities - I know and like you, Tony, so mail from you is never going to whip me into a frenzy of indignation. But if I bought Hobo Adventures from some dude I don't know, and he decides to glean my address and email me to sell more stuff, I'm going to go bananas.
  • Posted By: tony dowlerpeople who've bought my game to be as much personal contacts
    I think many people can and do get away with a lot of quasi-business practice because it's such a small community and a lot of the people that are involved are friends. As Jason points out, and my opinion too, if i bought something from you then i am a client. i want my relationship with the vendor protected.

    You would probably be fine if you soft peddled your wares on an opt-in / opt-out email, Tony. However, generally speaking, this is essentially spamming.
  • Posted By: tony dowlerI'd like to build an email list so I can make offers like this (insert offer here). If you're willing to be on my list, click here. If not, do nothing, and you will never recieve an unsolicited offer from me again.
    I think that'd be OK. My reaction is generally the same as Jason's.

    How do you have their emails? Is it because you automatically get the emails of people who buy your product at IPR? If so, IPR does have a box which lets you opt in or out of publishers contacting you.

  • Like Jason, I'm something of a fanatic on this issue.

    Looking at trade practice and law, at least here in Finland anybody you have business interactions with ever can spam you with impunity with little that you can do to stop it once you've given them your contact information, except complain and hope that they care about their reputation and your continued goodwill enough to stop. Of course, I myself use an opt-in email list for this sort of thing, not being a jerk and all. The rest of the commercial field seems to think that it's perfectly OK to send marketing spam to anybody who gave you their contact information for any reason whatsoever.

    My personal reaction would be positive in this case, but that's just because I've met you and am interested in what you're up to. Without this relationship I'd start fuming and end up with denial of service attacks on your server if you made the mistake of repeating the spamming one too many times. At the very least I'd scour the net for all your related contact info and submit it to a couple dozen porn spam lists just to make sure you'd get the good ol' Hammurabi x 1000 treatment. Probably send Jehova's witnesses to your door too, for good measure; there's no such thing as over-reacting when it comes to unsolicited marketing countermeasures. We'll never be rid of it if we start molly-codling the bastards.

    Also, my reaction would be completely different if your email said something like "Hey, I forgot to ask you this when you bought my stuff: would you mind if I sent you information about a related product I have in the pipeline, effectively adding you to my customer mailing list? It's a low-volume private list I only use to keep folks abreast of my rpg design endeavours, won't be more than a couple of messages per year. Thank you." I won't firebomb your car just because you ask courteously to have the permission to add me to a marketing database you forgot to ask about earlier. I might not say yes, but asking never hurt anybody.

    Lastly, opt-out is not the same as opt-in. The burden of gathering a database of willing audience is on you, and even requiring somebody to mail you to get out of your list is wrongful imposition on somebody who has never asked for your marketing. I never answer opt-out solicitations, preferring to report the offending marketer to consumer protection agencies where they're brazen enough to spam me with a verifiable identity. This is all the more so when you consider the fact that opt-out clauses are so much dead weight in any criminal spamming operation; they're not going to remove you from their lists just because you ask them to, if they were willing to send you unsolicited mail to begin with.

    In summation: I recommend that instead of writing a marketing message with an opt-out clause, you should write a message asking a permission to add the person into your marketing database, after which you can send them the marketing message. This turns your opt-out into an opt-in, effectively, as those who are not interested can just delete your message and forget the whole thing. And when you send your actual marketing material, you can then be sure to have it only go to people who gave you a permission to prod them with it. This is probably excessive in 90% of your market interactions so far, but the fact that most of your customers consider you an interesting acquaintance doesn't mean shit to that 10% who bought stuff from you with the impression that you're doing it professionally. Better learn to work with good business practice from the start, unless you're very committed to shaping your activity into something else.
  • Posted By: jenskotWhy did they give you their email in the first place? Was it optional? Did they have to?
    Yes, these are emails that I have because people have used PayPal to purchase my products. A more sophisticated marketer would have included an option to be placed on the mailing list at purchase time, but I'm just barely reaching that level of sophistication now. So yes, these are unsolicited emails.

    On the other hand, I'm not sure I'd accept the characterization "spam". In my mind there's a big difference between receiving a message (however unwelcome) from someone I've done business with in the past, and receiving a message from someone I've never had a relationship with regarding a product I've never expressed any interest in. I suspect (but do not know) that most people feel the same.
  • edited November 2008
    Given that you've already got Jonathan "eh, whatever, bring it" Walton and Eero "I will burn down your residence" Tuovinen weighing in, I'd say there's a diversity of opinion on this issue. But like Eero said, you have a lot to lose by alienating the "ravage his spamming flesh" faction, like your reputation as an honest and professional merchant. If it were me, I'd add whatever opt-in features you think are ethical going forward and reach past buyers in other ways, like via forums.
  • Opt-in sounds like the way to go here, then. It's still unsolicited email, but is the last one you'll ever have to send.
  • Yeah, spam is exaggeration, granted. Still, my sense of appropriate commercialization of human relationships tells me that your Paypal relationship is good for a one-off continuation of the business transaction in the form of an opt-in message, not adding the guy into your database for commercial messages in perpetuity. It's a matter of principle more than practical harm on this scale, of course.

    Hmm... I actually just realized that I'm theoretically in the same situation you are - I'm also selling stuff outside Finland via Paypal, and am thus gathering email addresses of people who've bought Zombie Cinema and Solar System. I haven't had any particular inclination to write them about my new products, but perhaps I will at some point, if I get desperate enough in my marketing.
  • Opt-in is the only conceivable way this is not horrificaly bad, wrong and stupid on every level.

    Actually, doesn't IPR have a "sign up here for special deals"! e-mail list? I know rpgnow does, and I get cool offers and product update notices all the time, because I asked for them.
  • When people buy direct from my website using PayPal I usually treat that as a direct contact. I reply, I say thanks for the order, I tell them when it will be posted, tell them that if they have any questions to mail me and ask me, and tell them where the mailing list is. If they don't reply then that's it, I never contact them again.

    People who buy through IPR are different, there has not been the personal contact involved in the direct sale, which is why I just invite them to the mailing list and nothing more, because IPR does not give them that option.
  • I like David's sense of propriety in this, do like he does; I would never get pissed off at personal contact, especially when I've just sent a request to buy the guy's game. I send similar messages about mailing logistics and other such practical issues of the order as well, and could well imagine adding something about a mailing list if I decided to start one. There's a big difference in having somebody contact you personally to request your interaction and being the recipient of bulk mail.

    I agree that IPR databases are tricky in this regard. I suppose I'd find the one opt-in message approach appropriate in that as well, just like David describes. I'd have to find out what practices IPR has spam-wise, though, as the customer might already be miffed at them having sent him a bunch of junk mail at that point - better not associate myself with their indiscretion, if they happen to do that sort of thing. IPR being essentially an independent webstore in the aspects that suit it makes this as tricky as it is: I suppose that nobody here would consider lifting a customer database from Leisure Games and using it to send mail to people who've bought their product, to pick an example.
  • This discussion is moving faster than I can track, so if I leapfrog your response, my apologies.

    Eero, your answer is very good and thought-out. I'm re-thinking my initial plan along those lines.
  • My take would be to email people, then say "unless I don't hear an OK from you I won't email you again."
  • I would not be offended by such email.

    Which doesn't mean I'd react. At all. If it made me go "Meh, not interested", your email address would go in my spam filter, and I would never see any email you sent me thereafter.
  • Well as a data point I recently invited about 50 people from IPR to join my mailing list. 6 joined, none complained. Of course some of them might well have been put off my company, which would be bad, but not to the extent of raging about it.

    It's worth noting that IPR provides that email list specifically as a marketing tool, that's how they badge it on their back end.
  • I would love to be contacted by someone from whom I bought something that I liked. It's an easy way to find out about stuff, it shows they're thinking of their customer base by telling them before anyone else that something else is coming out and it's much cheaper and less wasteful than a direct mailshot.

    Having an opt-out is a must but all reasonable companies I deal with have them.

    Crap from idiots gets made into spam. If enough people think it's spam, it won't trouble my inbox ever again.

    So, anyway, send me stuff!
  • edited November 2008
    Tony, in your specific case, I'd be glad to hear from you. But I know you from here, I have you as a contact on Facebook, and so on. You are a friend (or, at the very least, someone I know) that sends me an email.

    In the general case, if you did not have a specific "opt-in" checkbox in the first place you should not send emails.
    If you have a very good reason to send them, and you simply forgot the opt-in stuff, just send a first email, keeping it short, asking to reply if the person receiving it is willing to opt-in, excusing yourself for the unsolicited communication.

    Unlike Finland, in Italy you can technically[*] be fined at least 500EUR for a single unsolicited commercial email, just for the Privacy Authority to open the case. Obviously if you're not in Italy it does not really matter, but I mention it just to underline how different the expectations of people can be. Italian firms cannot contact you, unless you opted in (which many make mandatory to acquire the service, obviously), and if contacted requiring your name to be canceled they have to do it or face harsher fines. Heck, there are even very, very few telemarketers (basically only telcos).

    [*] I say technically because most people either don't know, or don't bother.
  • E-mail once, brief and to the point, ask them to opt in by responding, opt out by not responding. If they don't respond in x amount of time, delete them entirely from your mailing list.

    I think your chances will also be a little better if you're doing more than asking them to opt in for further opportunities to sell them stuff. Are there any non-commercial matters you might like to contact your customers about? Perhaps you've received enough questions about things to create an errata document. Maybe there's a free play aid (character sheet, die roller, situation generator, etc.) on your site. Maybe you're creating a revised edition, and you'd like specific feedback about certain things.

    Basically, ask them for the opportunity to form a broader connection than vendor-customer, and I think you'll see dividends.

    Of course, if the general consensus things this is a horrid idea, let me know.. One day I will eventually get something published, and the advice I give today will be the advice I follow tomorrow unless someone gives me a good reason to not do that.
  • Opt-in definitely the way to go. "Permission based marketing" is the term.

    As one of your customers I would go "oh Tony D. sent something?" and on the "imaginary social connection of shared community" give you a 1-time credit in terms of reading it but that credit could be very quickly burned if the "something" was not of interest.

    That's a credit that a regular company wouldn't get.

    If doing this, at a minimum definitely attach a message that "I won't email you again unless you opt-in."

  • Additional data point:

    If any author of an indie/small-press/S-G game were to contact me, solicited or not, to offer or inform me of opportunities to purchase their current or upcoming games, I wouldn't be bothered. This is true even if I didn't purchase their game. Yes, you (generic 'you' to include any and all authors of indie/small-press/S-G games) may consider this an opt-in to add me to any e-mail lists for this sort of thing that you'd like.

    If WotC were to e-mail me to buy their newest Eberron supplement, I would probably be annoyed.

    The difference is a matter of scale. I'm pretty sure that if Planet Thirteen Games was to contact me, that it would be the real Tony or a close associate writing the e-mail. If I were to get an e-mail from I wouldn't have any real belief that Keith had even the foggiest idea who I am, let alone was actually e-mailing me. I don't even think he'd be the one actually writing the e-mail, though it isn't impossible. It's the difference between faceless corporation and dude who wrote a cool game. Tony Dowler and Keith Baker are both dudes who write cool games, but one of them writes his own e-mails to customers where the other probably has people who do that for him.
  • Welcome to my spamming list, Lance.

    (Damn, now I need to start one.)

    Also, I agree with your finangling of the motivational landscape - pretty similar ultimate causes rule my own annoyance. That doesn't pertain to how I wish people would act, though; I think it's important that even if I wouldn't be personally annoyed by indie spam in practice, these people should still hold to good business practices. The fact that the girl might welcome you groping her doesn't really justify doing it without asking her first, to coin a comparison. This is true even if you belong to a subculture where groping is encouraged, at least if the subculture is open and you can't really for sure know if she's a member as well. And I dearly hope that being a customer of an indie publisher is not some sort of subculture membership that justifies treating you differently from other commercial relationships you might have. As long as there's not EULA for Story Games where you give up certain commercial rights or something like that, we need to assume as publishers that a given customer won't identify themselves as a member of the big happy family where everybody spams everybody else with impunity.
  • Tony, typically when you purchase something online from a larger retailer they have TOS (terms of service) that you are agreeing to after you (hopefully) reads the terms. In there they often specify that they will email you with special offers and/or coupons. And those emails need to have an opt-out feature where you can just click a link or send an email to not get any more emails from them.

    Smart online retailers have checkmarks on their "buy" page that say something like "Would you like to receive periodic updates on new products, blah blah..." to make it easy for you to make a decision. Usually those checkmarks default ON.

    Now notice I said the retailer and not the developer of a product. Online retailers try very hard to grow and protect their email address list. So if you sell a book on Amazon for instance, they are going to get the email address, not you.

    So if you are looking to start an email list of existing and potential customers (which you should!), add a link to let people on your site opt-in to get the occasional email from you. You might sweeten up the pot by offering something free in exchange. Like say a sample pdf of For the Love of Dungeons or maybe a dungeon that you didn't include in the book.

    Just grabbing emails you got from PayPal and using them for anything other than correspondence about the order seems like bad juju to me if you have no TOS.
  • I strongly recommend looking at rpgnow's various e-mail signups. I subscribe to basically all of them because I love getting marketing from every goofy li'l guy with a PDF to hawk to me. But I signed up for them specially when I made my account.
  • Posted By: HituroI've had much the same worry, especially with emails derived from IPR purchase lists, where the purchaser didn't actually buy direct from me in the first place. What I've done so far is send them an invite to join my mailing list and nothing else.
    I think this is the way to go. Also, include the signup option from your website and a reminder when you do promotions.
  • edited November 2008
    In general, unsolicited emails are a bit of a pain. But from indie designers, my peers* in this great hobby? I'd be happy. Especially with such a neat offer :)

    * With "peers," I mean anyone in this great hobby, not just designers.
  • If only there was a global information network where people could see messages and respond directly to the publisher when they publicly advertise discounts for existing customers!!!

    I'm like Michio fucking Kaku!
  • edited November 2008
    Posted By: Jared A. SorensenIf only there was a global information network where people could see messages and respond directly to the publisher when they publicly advertise discounts for existing customers!!!

    I'm like Michio fucking Kaku!
    Hey, then we wouldn't need marketing at all!

    After this discussion I'm going to go the route of inviting people to opt in. I think I can get the word out through email and my Web site without overstepping the bounds of propriety. I'll probably end up writing my own mail management code unless I can find a free option that does a good enough job to suit my needs.

    Thanks for the feedback everybody. The diversity (and strength) of opinions was more than I expected when I asked this question.
  • Posted By: jenskotPosted By: HituroI've had much the same worry, especially with emails derived from IPR purchase lists, where the purchaser didn't actually buy direct from me in the first place. What I've done so far is send them an invite to join my mailing list and nothing else.
    I think this is the way to go. Also, include the signup option from your website and a reminder when you do promotions.

    Of course the email invitations sent by Yahoo are annoyingly impersonal. You can't customize the text (to stop them being used as a spamming tool ... oh the irony) so it's just an automated "You have been invited to join this lit" email that isn't what I'd write to someone personally.
  • I can recommend Mailing List Management Made Joyful (mlmmj). Way nicer than the perversely popular Mailman.

  • I wouldn't mind, but I suddenly had a image of a "Wow her with your high-level Paladin! We can give the XP boost you crave!" Spams...

    ...which would be kinda funny, now that I think about it.
  • Every person from whom I've ever bought an RPG I admire the shit outa. So hell yes, email me.

    Shoot. My deal is I don't hear enough about the great stuff you peoples are developing.
  • So it's been 4 days now, where's my email!
  • Posted By: GB SteveSo it's been 4 days now, where's my email!
    I never send an important email after Wednesday. :) You should see it next week.
  • Thanks everybody for all your help! This made a huge difference to me. A bunch of folks have agreed to sign up for the mailing list. This is going to make a lot easier to communicate with the folks who are using my stuff. I'm using Mail Chimp to manage the subscribe, unsub, and mailing part of the list.

    Also, you can sign up here if you want.
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