The following is an email interview from Chris Heim of All Games Considered with Aldo Ghiozzi of Impressions Advertising and Marketing, founder and lead organizer of Free RPG Day.
Chris: First off, thank you for the opportunity for myself and other gamers to find out a bit more about Free RPG Day and everything that's involved.
Chris: I guess the first thing that stands out to me is that Free RPG Day was created and sponsored through an advertising company. Can you tell us a little bit about Impressions Advertising & Marketing?
Aldo: Though the word "advertising" is in our company name, we first started as a general marketing agency for any type of company, but after 1 year it turned 99% into a sales, shipping and marketing company for game publishers. Most people just refer to us as "Impressions". Our hook for game publishers is to be very heavy marketing-focused. Most game companies make a game and hope for the best; we try to create program and promotions to get the word out to the distributors and retailers. In the end though, I always have to give Joseph Goodman from Goodman Games the most credit for FRD. I always enjoy telling the story when we sat down for lunch at an Indian restaurant and he said, "I want to start Free Adventure Module Day." I very quickly said, "That is a horrible name...why don't we just call it Free RPG Day?" Ta dah!
Chris: Certainly the idea of this event had been thought of long before it happened. What were the key factors in actually turning that idea into a reality and how long ago was that?
Aldo: The first Free RPG Day was 2007. And right after Joseph and I had the conversation above, I figured to just offer it to our clients...thus, Troll Lord Games joined in and then I thought to call other people I knew in the industry. RPGs are always a tough sales market so many companies who heard from me thought, "Wow, someone is doing something to help the RPG industry...yay."
Chris: Exactly how does the event work? Do stores simply contact you and receive free materials?
Aldo: Well, unfortunately, someone has to pay the shipping bill! The first thing is to get the publishers to commit to "X" amount of giveaways. That "X" translates into "Y" per kit (a box of the freebies). From there, we charge enough to the retailer to cover shipping, the custom boxes, some marketing (like this year we did a poster) and the extra labor hired for collating the freebies. This year the kit was $60 and contained nearly 90 freebies. And yes, all the store has to do is sign up on the site and pay the $60...which, hopefully they use the freebies and the event day as a way to generate extra revenues.
Chris: What are the numbers on Free RPG Day? How many companies and stores are involved? And how much product has been sent out to local game stores?
Aldo: We are just shy of 400 stores involved worldwide. We sold out of the 500 kits promised and made another 50 kits with leftovers for stores that still wanted to participate. This year we have 13 companies donating freebies and are giving away over 46,000 pieces for 2010 alone.
Chris: Is it possible for an individual to buy into the event if they don't have a local game store promoting it?
Aldo: Unfortunately, no. The key element to the event is that it is only for brick-and-mortar game retailers. Why? Because they are the backbone of the hobby. So many gamers buy discounted items on the internet (which is just fine; I do too), but I wanted the brick-and-mortar retailers to have something to...honestly...get gamers off their butts and into their FLGS. These stores are the ones that display all the product for folks to thumb through, have a place to hang out and become a central place to get involved with people with like interests.
Chris: On the subject of the companies themselves, are there any game publishers that you wish were participating that haven't for one reason or another?
Aldo: Obviously, I want everyone involved, but since the publishers are the ones spending the money to make these giveaways, we can wish for so many folks to be involved, but financially or time-wise it may not work for them. I don't want to call any out into the spotlight, but I do encourage the consumer to tell your favorite game publisher that you would demo or play their game on FRD if they did participate.
Chris: Have there been any surprise entries for Free RPG Day throughout the years?
Aldo: Surprise? Not sure how to define that. I definitely want to give a shout-out to Paizo as every year they spend the money on a full four color throughout giveaway and that is always a draw for consumers. For 2010, I would say a surprise participant and giveaway would be Alderac. This is their first year participating. They committed to a quickstart and adventure for their upcoming L5R 4th Edition RPG coming out this month, and not only did they put a great piece together, but it ended up being four color throughout AND they ended up sending us double what they promised. Very cool of them.
Chris: I've been told that smaller game publishers don't have the funds and supplies to contribute to Free RPG Day. Is there anything being worked out in order to have them able to contribute in the future?
Aldo: Last year we added a level called "Store Demo Copy" where it would be one giveaway in each kit. As you can see from the numbers above, that would be about 600 copies. I know that the dollars to print only 600 copies are small, but we still did not get many committing to this level. A couple of people suggested several small press publishers get together to share the cost of a giveaway...that did not turn out for one reason or another. I don't know why...I'm open to ideas, but I think that the store demo copy level is the lowest we can go.
Chris: Have you received any feedback from the game stores or game companies or even gamers?
Aldo: After 4 years? Oh yeah. Lots of feedback. Too much to list. I can tell you that the biggest complaint is from consumers saying they don't have a local retailer participating and the only response I have to them is the truth...it is not up to us, it is up to your local retailer as they are the ones needing to spend the $60.
Chris: Is there anything you or others can do to prevent stores from taking advantage of the event by charging or requiring a purchase in order to qualify for the free materials?
Aldo: On year one I wanted to make rules, but unfortunately, every store, region and country is different so to have something uniform would turn off too many retailers. I encourage the consumer to let us know if a store is charging for the giveaways or requiring a purchase because then I just call the store and 99% of the time they say, "OK, sure, we will give it away." I did have one store in year 2 that would not back down and told me they were charging $5 a piece because it cost them the money to participate and bring the kit into their country. I can't remember the store, but I'm guessing either a) they are not participating anymore, or b) they are not charging anymore. Maybe I am just weird, but it boggles my mind that stores want to charge for the giveaways. I'm told that it is used to control who they give it away to in case they get people only ever visiting their store for the freebies. I understand that, but on the flipside, if you use the material to encourage folks to play and/or run events in-store, you'll make your tiny $60 back in sales in no time.
Chris: And finally, what can people do to spread the word about Free RPG Day and get their local game stores to promote it?
Aldo: Well, we can only do so much. We do have a list of over 2,200 hobby game retailers worldwide, but stores opt-out of our mailing list all the time, so unless a consumer walks in to remind them, we do what we can. We have the site. We have the Facebook page (which has been great for helping things this year!). We go to our annual retailer trade show. We go to distributor open houses. I think we do pretty good for a little operation. Could it be better? Sure, but the RPG market is small and there is a cap on what the market will bear...and I think we're pretty close to that cap.
Chris: Thank you Aldo for a very informative look into not only Free RPG Day but also some of the marketing involved.