As you all undoubtedly know, I am an advocate of Solo role-play. I write dedicated solo rules for games because I don’t want to have to stop playing FUDGE every time I ask a question because my oracle runs off of d100 tables. If I am playing FUDGE I want a FUDGE-like oracle and if I am playing Zweihander, I want a Zwei-ified oracle. I want to be in the game and stay in the game regardless of what is happening.
That is why I do what I do.
But no man is an island…
Shadow of the Demon Lord
I have rules for Shadow of the Demon Lord. These are sold via the Disciple so the Demon Lord CCP [Community Content Program]. These sell pretty well, more than 200 books sold. I have another DotDL title, a book of random dice rolls. My solo rules are the 3rd hottest seller on the CCP and my dice rolls are the 7th hottest seller. Both books are over a year old. The solo rules sell a typical 3 copies a week, the dice tables one a week.
Taking those numbers, just three copies a week is enough to get the 3rd hottest selling title in the CCP is disturbing. The fact that 1 sale a week is enough to be the 7th hottest is even more disappointing.
In the past two years, 50 titles have been added to the CCP, my first was the 13th title. Those before me were a few used to seed the market, and some official releases such as the document templates and creator resources.
My 7th Sea title was released more than two years ago. It is the 4th hottest Explorer’s Society today. It has sat at the top since it’s release. The book is an Electrum bestseller and making its way steadily to Gold. It sells 15 to 20 copies a month.
In the Explorer’s society there are typically two new titles a month, they spend a week or so at the top of the hottest list and then sink into oblivion.
This is a story that is being repeated across all the CCPs right across the board on DriveThruRPG. I am beginning to wonder if one of two things is possibly happening.
Theory #1 VTT
During these pandemic times people are turning to VTT for online games. The most popular VTT games are the traditional games like 5e and all the D&D variations. These are easy to play online and well supported with rulesets and macros and all that sort of thing.
Games that have interesting ‘social’ mechanics, like Zweihander’s cup of fortune tokens, don’t work so well when there are no people. Game play that relies on interrupting and interjecting your actions into another players turn work well around a table where you can feed off of each other’s improvisations. Talking over each other in a VTT game is a nightmare.
I think this may mean that many more interesting games are not being played. If you are not playing them, you are unlikely to spend money buying up more books and adventures for them.
Solo rules then float to the top as a constant niche interest keeps the sales ticking over.
Theory #2 Saturation
CCPs were meant to be by the fans, for the fans. That is fine until there are so many fan-made adventures and odd little house rules that there is more than enough choice. At that point maybe people are more likely to go for the same few books on the hottest list, thinking they are tried and trusted, rather than scrolling down past them to see the newest.
Metal rankings may not help here. People assume that Silver or Gold is better than Copper, when it can often just mean older.
This could buoy up old titles where the metal ranking is seen as a trust signal.
If the problem is closer to Theory #2 than it is #1, this could mean that all the CCPs are short-life products. Once they reach a saturation point, new titles will struggle to gain any traction. If you are a creator and you release three adventures and get poor sales across the board, you are likely to give up. If that happens enough times, either a reputation will form of a CCP not being very good for creators/sales. It also means that new titles will dry up and the CCP may look dead and abandoned. That then does not encourage new creators.
I think solo books benefit from both theory #1 and #2. If these great games are hard to find online, more people are prepared to give solo play a chance. Solo players are a small but dedicated bunch and in buying the rules in a steady regular way, no made rush on release like you would get with a core rulebook or new adventure path, these little books keep their place in the hottest lists, and just stick there.
Or maybe I cam completely wrong!
Another thought that occurs to me is that older games may end up on the back shelves. Most of us have more games than we get to play. If that is the case, are solo rules letting people bring these games out of retirement and giving them another go? The steady, regular sales of solo rule books could just be a bit of regular churn amongst the millions of role players out there, that kind of miss playing some of these older games.