Some observations about brands and RPGs, derived from Free RPG Day:
1. Brands Matter. The two most popular items taken were the D&D mini-sourcebook and the Pathfinder module. While the fact that we hosted a couple of sessions of both Pathfinder and D&D 4th edition during the course of the day certainly helped draw attention to those two, we estimated that 90% of the people who came in took one or the other, that is until we ran out of the Pathfinder module. To our customers, D&D and Pathfinder were the two most recognizable names on the freebies offered (we had a number of questions as to what Aspect and Laser Squid Nemesis were), so when subjected to an artificial scarcity (we limited people to two different freebies unless they did something to earn additional ones), they generally went with the familiar and safe: “I/m not a big fan of D&D 4th Edition, but at least I know what it is. These others, I have no idea what I’m getting.”
2. Brands Can Hurt. Brands are shorthand for a customer’s expectations. When they see a brand name they don’t like or has not met their expectations, they tend to avoid it. Customers during our Free FRPG event avoided both the White Wolf and Fantasy Flight game offerings. We have little demand for either here, customers saw the World of Darkness and Warhammer 40,000 Role Play logos on the covers, and left both on the rack, opting to go either for one of the more familiar brands mentioned above or something new. They had developed preconceptions about both brand lines and their choice reflected those preconceptions.
3. Consumers Prefer the Familiar to the New. Even when offered free, our customers avoided titles with which they had no familiarity. The offerings for Arcanis and Aspect remained fully stocked on the rack until later in the day after the more desirable and familiar brands (Pathfinder, D&D, Castles & Crusades, GURPS Prime Directive) had vanished. Only then did our customers start sampling new items. This mirrors what marketing research has shown for a number of years; customers say they want new and innovative items, but when push comes to shove, actions speak louder than words and they stick with the tried and true.