In my last play report on +Jeromy French ‘s Pathfinder campaign, I made a drive-by reference to the effect that it would be pretty cool to see support for Golarion with Dungeon Fantasy. I noted that it was unlikely for “what are presumably a whole host of reasons.”
I was surprised to see someone bring this up on the SJG Forums. Mostly because I’m still intensely gratified people actually read this blog.
Still, as I said on the forums, I’m only going to deal with this in a general way.
Here was the advice I got in my McKinsey min-MBA training way back when when it came to Joint Ventures: “Don’t.”
It’s the business equivalent of a spiked pit trap.
They tend not to work, by and large. And for every one that does, there a many, many more that fail. Some utterly, some just don’t meet the needs of one or more partners.
Let’s say I were to start publishing Doug’s Improvisational Simulationist System (“DISS”) as a new, awesome, groundbreaking attempt at a roleplaying experience. Now, I’ve got a good rule set, a niche I’m trying to fill. But I also have my way of doing things, not just because my name is on the cover, but the feel of a system, the way it’s written and presented, from style to trade dress, is key to my success and ability to eat, live, and continue to publish more cool stuff.
Let’s say I want to contact Pizza, the 800-lb gorilla of the game industry, because I think DISS and their immensely popular gameworld might go well together. Gotta be win-win, right? I bring them money for their world (call it Gorilla), and people who like Gorilla can play with DISS!
Well, first, how do I approach this? I could try and hook up with someone creative over at Pizza, and we could try and set up some sort of true joint venture, where we combine resources to make a new sub-company (Pizza-Hampton Publishing?) that would write, publish, and distribute this new product. Gorilla with the DISS rules! Their (um) Trailblazer system isn’t required!
OK. We have an upstart (me), working with an established brand (them). I have Very Definite Ideas on how things should be done. It’s my DISS system! Yeah, but it’s their property, and they be bigger than me. So any issues in how things are to be approached – what are probably referred to in Hollywood press released explaining why some ex-Director is in surgery for a broken nose after being escorted off the set of a theoretical-Blockbuster movie as ‘creative differences’ – will need to be resolved. Unless I’m particularly ego-less, this won’t go well for me. Even if I am a leaf on the wind, it may still end the same way. [If you haven’t seen Serenity but might one day, do not click this link. I mean it. By the power of Captain Tightpants, I command you to Stop.]
OK, so a “true” joint venture might not be ideal. So perhaps I like the world so much I want to try and licence it. Hrm. Why would they do that? Well, to make money, of course. For every player that does DISS but not Trailblazer, or DISS and Trailblazer, they might get a bit more cash.
Great. But how do they get that cash? Money up front? DISS is good, but not huge. It’s not their system or anything like it. So I might not have enough money for any up-front payment they might like to receive. Sure, they might take a chunk of my profit every time I sell a Gorilla-based DISS product, but would it be worth the administrative hassle for what might be like nine sales?
Also, what happens if I take Gorilla in a direction Pizza doesn’t like? Is it worth risking the damage to the brand?
Why would they take valuable resources and siphon them off to anther company or project that will probably make them less money if they do something with those resources that directly supports their own game?
Finally, how viable is the partnership/licence anyway? Will they really add to their business, and me to the DISS base, by this? Or will it really be that the number of DISS players will be constant, and only a small fraction will also play in Gorilla? Are there really enough additional potential sales of Gorilla-based stuff that it will be interesting to Pizza? Will they want to review whatever publications I make? Will they ever recoup the opportunity cost of the editing/review resources?
So, for a bunch of reasons, this is going to be a tough sell, even neglecting more proprietary possibilities like “if you’re going to play Gorilla, play it with Trailblazer.”
The opposite can also be true! If DISS is based in a default world of Hamptonia . . . then I might not want to drive to a Gorilla-based campaign, since it will consume sales from my own world.
Anyway, that’s the kind of thing that I think of when I think of this sort of venture. Any of these might make one of the two parties nervous about even starting up a conversation.
After all, the first rule of Joint Ventures is still “Don’t.”
Final note: David Pulver (thanks for reading!) points out in this post that SJG does, in fact, have a long history of trying out licences. So it’s not unheard of or impossible.