Manual Override

There were a few threads on Twitter this weekend, and really somewhat often, about pay and compensation in the tabletop industry. My knee jerk reaction to this topic is that the industry should do a much better job in its compensation and treatment of its largely contract labor. I also think the industry does a lot of things "like they've always been done," but also, as it's a physical medium in the 21st century, there are also difficulties with costs that make it hard to just quadruple everyone's pay. And finally, even with its explosive growth, the tabletop space is still incredibly tiny. It is a far decimal point versus the video game industry and frankly I cannot fathom a universe where a tabletop publisher could remotely approach my current compensation from the video game space. So, there's work to be done, but it's complicated.

This post isn't about that. It's about one of the ideas I had to try to improve margins in order to improve the money publishers can pay artists, designers, and so forth. I liked the idea so much that I'm going to act on it. In this post, I'm going to share the idea and my design for it. 

The idea is simple: I'm going to digitize my manuals moving forward. This is a cost-cutting measure, as the printed manual will no longer come with my games.

Update: I should have changed this originally, but when I wrote this line I checked the numbers and it isn't really a cost-cutting measure. But, that is the ORIGIN of the idea. Anyway, the focus here is on making a better experience, not a cheaper one.

However, I also see this as a way to add value and enhance the experience. I'm going to create the Hyperbole Games Rulebook app. It'll be a free iOS and Android app that will work for phones and tablets. There will be effectively two types of rules in the app: legacy, and new.

Legacy Rules: This will include the rules from my catalog. Hocus, Farmageddon: Farm Fresh Edition, Solstice, Five Ravens, Druids, and SPQF. I'll format the rules to work on the app and will provide a button to open the YouTube how to play video (which will then open the YouTube app if you have it, which you probably do) to see the Watch it Played videos, or the ones I made myself. This is less exciting and not the main event.

New Rules: Beginning with (probably) my cooperative game and moving forward, the rules will be designed to be presented on this app. This means they'll be formatted from the beginning to be viewed and seen for the app. This will change and influence the layout, the diagrams, and more. 

There will be an integrated search, so if you have a question about Following from SPQF, you can jump to every instance of the word following. And because I know that'll be a part of this, I can format and design the rules accordingly. 

I can have bright, interactive card diagrams. Tap a part of the card to get an explanation of what that means. Quickly browse the content, such as spiders versus goblins. 

There will be a button to listen to an audio reading of the rules if you don't like to read. 

There will be buttons to click to the full rules explanations, yes, but also much shorter clips to see things like how to set up the game, or to provide an example of scoring. 

There will be a button to email me a question if you have one. It'll go straight to me as soon as possible. 

There will be a printer and ink friendly way to print the rules if you wish. 

I'll also use it for basic promotion. I'll have a button to join my newsletter and we can even do updates and push notifications when new rules are added and new games are on Kickstarter. 

There can be a way to text the app link to friends, so you can say "Hey, read the rules for Desert Quest before you show up. We're playing it tonight."

Oh, and other than the video, which would require YouTube? This would be offline. This would work just fine at Gen Con or any place you didn't want to use data. It would all just be on the app.

Update: The app would allow for great accessibility improvements, as in, ways to make it easier to learn a game if you have disabilities.

Update: There will always be a PDF available on the website and the YouTube videos will be app independent. Many people are worried by this, so I wanted to just be clear. 

Update: Though I didn't state the app would require a connection to the internet to use, many people are assuming this. Once you download the app, everything you need to play the game is there IN the app. No, you wouldn't be able to access videos or email me. But, the rules, the voice over, all of that? No internet required.

More Value: I can add scenarios, new rules, and new variants directly into the app. If I goof on the rules? I can "patch" them without having to reprint everything. Using the app isn't just a new way to get rules, but a new way to get more from me. 

The Impact: Frankly, this will infuriate some people and may alienate some customers. I'll be asked "what if I don't have a smart phone," or my favorite counter to Steam, "what if Steam goes away." Folks may also have expectations that if the rules aren't included that suddenly the game should be an unreasonable amount cheaper. I remember when video games went digital and people wanted to know why a $60 game wasn't suddenly $20. Well, 99.99% of the cost is in making the game, not the box. 

But, I think if I take advantage of all the tools of modern technology, I can address a lot of the issues people face with rules. Instead of hoping and praying people find the video, it's right there. Instead of them pawing through 15 pages, they can just type in what they want. When they want to know "what does this card do" I can literally have that card there for them. And everyone at the table can have the world's greatest reference card.

I'm going to crack a few eggs. I will lose some customers. But, hey, that's how we find the right new path.

In the end, the app version clearly needs to provide value. Yes, people will say "But I prefer the printed manual." That is fair. But, they shouldn't feel like I slighted them or did something cheap. The app should be a great alternative. If I can provide clear value, eventually that alternative might win hearts and minds. This can't feel like a cost-saving measure.