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Household Name

Biding my time, drinking her wine

by Mike Pohjola
Feb 17,2004

 

Biding my time, drinking her wine

When we last left our sympathetic if flawed hero, he was struggling with criticism for his roleplaying book, and hoping the sales would pick up with Christmas shopping. Let's take a look, and see what twists and turns life has provided for him in the past two months.

All my troubles seemed so far away

The main twist and turn, or mainly the lack thereof, is the waiting. The book sold very well initially, better than any other Finnish roleplaying game before, as we were told in the comments to the previous column. Since then everything has happened very slow, as if the Myrskyn aika phenomenon is either fighting for existence or gathering momentum for something great.

This column is titled Household Name, but the book is nowhere near there. It seems I personally am far better known in the roleplaying scene than the book, which is a pity. Roleplayers I have never met have very strong negative or positive feelings towards me (as with probably any other loud commentator in the scene), but when they come confess their feelings in a bar just before closing time, I discover they have never even heard of Myrskyn aika. It's very frustrating.

I've been thinking of a good method for spreading the news about the book -- and it is news especially for the huge live roleplayer crowd since the book provides a detailed fantasy world direly needed. So far what I've done is try to make people talk about the book, and thus slowly spread the word to others. For this effect I've created online services for the website (all in Finnish), and advertised those in newsgroups and mailing lists, and had the publisher send out press releases.

The event calendar and the forum are more or less standard fare for a site like this, but the really newsworthy innovation was a roleplaying "dating" service assisting roleplayers in their search for new gaming groups. The service allows the user to be a game master, a roleplayer or a gaming group, and search for any of the above for tabletop, live-action or something else.

I have assumed the lack of such a mechanism makes many people stop roleplaying when they move to a new city to study. If nothing else, it was news with Myrskyn aika mentioned, and brought a huge amount of visitors to the website many of them registering for the forum.

A hard day's night

The forum was put online a month and a half before the game came out, but the first messages by someone other than me were posted much closer to the actual publication date. Still, actual discussion was but a distant dream in my eye. The reasons are obvious: people hadn't read the book, let alone tried playing the game, and had nothing to say.

In the first couple of months the discussion was mostly fact-based, dealing with the lay-out of the book, typos, and the like. People commented on something, I replied, and then silence. I feared that would be the end of it: no-one played Myrskyn aika, no-one bothered to read it, and no-one sure as hell would be telling their friends about it.

Then, at my darkest hour, a group of young roleplayers appeared as if from nowhere. They registered on the forum, mostly to tell tales about the adventures they'd had with Myrskyn aika. They even had a website of their own devoted to the campaign. I was lifted from my misery and hope was again given to me.

On their site (which, again, is in Finnish) they introduce their characters, hold a journal of their Myrskyn aika gaming sessions, and explain their house rules. It's somehow very fulfilling to realize people have been inspired by your work like this.

Then, after the announcement of the dating service the amount of registered users doubled, and discussion was stimulated. Currently, it seems to be on the rise, and I see no reason why it would stop. The more people play Myrskyn aika, the more they have to say about it, and the more discussion there will be.

One interesting thing I have noticed is that although most of the discussion is about the book, the world, and roleplaying in general, the themes of the book tend to direct the rest of the discussion, as well. At the moment the discussion tends to revolve a bit more around politics and languages than on a typical fantasy roleplaying game forum, and hardly at all around the Middle Ages or weaponry. The other week I added a new topic for discussing current events and real-world politics. Maybe the special flavor will wear out when there are more active participants, but I wouldn't mind the forum staying unique.

Eight days a week

As I said, I expected the magic of Xmas to force everybody to buy their kid a copy of my book. It's a perfect present for kids that don't want hockey sticks, and what with the Return of the King coming to theatres, I figured it'd be a sure shot.

My publisher had told me books like this will slowly gather their audience, and there isn't much one can do about it without big money being spent in advertisement. Since this is the first roleplaying book they have published, I figured he might be wrong this time. He was completely right.

Yuletide was not that special sales-wise, but the audience is slowly building up. People start gaming groups, and their players will want to read the book, and eventually some of them will buy it. People will enjoy the discussion in the forum, and want to be able to participate more fully, and buy the book. People will get it from a library, like it, and buy it for themselves. If the book was in English, and available in the US, this series of columns might also have an effect, but right now I kind of doubt that.

I don't know how roleplaying books usually sell, but if they are anything like Myrskyn aika, I have to say the wait is a killer. I guess publishing supplements probably helps keep the basic book popular even if people don't buy the supplements. I have little interest in making commercial supplements, though, so hopefully the ones I'll slowly put online will have a similar effect.

The biggest Myrskyn aika related thing on my schedule right now is Dragonbane, a huge-ass live roleplaying game set in Valenor, the world of Myrskyn aika. It'll be an international event that you can participate in your chosen language. But that's in 2005.

Until then I'll just have to bide my time. Make them come to me.

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