Aldo Ghiozzi, owner of Impressions Game Distribution Services and co-creator of Free RPG Day with Joseph Goodman of Goodman Games gives a short but insightful interview regarding Free RPG Day: how it began, what it stands for now, why some gamers are upset with it, and what to expect in the future.
Marcelo Ferrari: Hello, Aldo! Thanks for being here.
Aldo Ghiozzi: Hello! Thank you for having me. My name’s Aldo Ghiozzi, owner o Impressions Game Distribution Services and our company is also the organizers and creators of Free RPG Day.
MF: Alright! So, how did Free RPG Day begin? It’s my understanding that you’re doing this for 10 years now.
AG: Yes. This year, 2016, was the tenth anniversary. A little over ten years ago, Joseph Goodman from Goodman Games, who is well known right now for his Dungeon Crawl Classics Role-Playing Game, he was all involved in the [Dungeons & Dragons] 3rd Edition modules and we lived near each other, then he moved away. Then he was visiting and he’s like “let’s have lunch!” and he brings out this little notebook and has this list of things to talk about business-wise and one of them, he finally get to it and he says “oh, we should — you should start, Aldo [laughs] ‘Free Adventure Module Day’” and I said “‘Free Adventure Module Day’ is the worst name ever. We’ll just call it ‘Free RPG Day’ and copy Free Comic Book Day” we blatantly said it. And I just took it from there and [in] the first year we tried to get like a hundred stores and [we] ended like, getting three hundred. But we learned a lot of lessons from that first year, yeah.
MF: Last week there was some kerfuffle regarding the purpose of Free RPG Day at the blog Tenkar’s Tavern. The question was raised if FRD is fulfilling that purpose. Can you give us the rundown?
AG: Well, the article said, uh… what did it— again, oh my gosh, I completely blanked. It said something like “disappointed with Free RPG Day” or that’s what I thought it said. But it said “disappointed with the OSRIC turnout of Free RPG Day” and I looked at this and made some comments about Free RPG Day and I think it just came down to… there was a lot of back end stuff, of course, that a lot of people don’t know about. It is a business. And the reason that there is no OSRIC is because the whole base of Free RPG Day was built on being for brick-and-mortar game stores to move physical printed product out off their shelf. That’s the basis when we first stated it. And the second part of that was to grow the hobby! And everybody says “oh, this isn’t growing the hobby”. Well, we found out after the first year that… it was really more the retailer seeing it as a “thank you” for their customers that kept coming into brick-and-mortar, because on-line was developing more and more ten years ago. PDFs, of course, were around ten years ago. So, that’s kind of the disconnect that I think goes on a little bit with Free RPG Day because— again, it is a business, it’s meant to help brick-and-mortar stores make money and get gamers off their butts and physically into a store, so…
MF: Ten years ago you conceived FRD as a way to bring more people into the hobby, but that wasn’t what ended up happening.
AG: Well, I mean… definitely, one of the goals— like, when you write out a business plan was [to] get new people into the hobby. You know, that was on the list! But we very much found out that— I mean, again, I hate comparing it to Free Comic Book Day but Free Comic Book Day was over three million comics run by Diamond Comic Distributors, a multi-billion dollar company. We’re not a multi-billion dollar company at all! And Free RPG Day gives away about not even a hundred thousand give-aways. So we don’t have the marketing muscle, the marketing power to push forth just the hobby in general. We do what we can, of course, but I’ve always joked that if there’s a bigger company out there that thinks that they can do more with Free RPG Day, I’m more than happy to talk to them about taking it over, so they can run with that. But we very much found out that we just don’t have the capacity to grow and draw in those new gamers and advertise and market in big newspapers and big social media campaigns. We just don’t have that ability.
MF: Nevertheless retailers enjoy FRD because they end up moving product.
AG: Yeah! I have a lot of stores that tell me that— like, if you are a pure game store, I’m not talking about a comic-and-game hybrid, but I have game stores that tell me that Free RPG Day ends up being one of the top five sales days growth sales-wise of the year. Obviously, there’s the day after Thanks Giving, there’s Black Friday… well, Black Friday is [the] day after Thanks Giving, whatever. And then there’s Black Friday or whatever [that’s] before Christmas… whatever those holiday-buying, you know, phrases are. But yeah, they tell me it’s, you know, it’s the top five day, revenue-wise. And that’s because people are coming in and [not] just buying soda, they’re [not] just buying dice, they’re buying another Magic pack, they’re maybe buying an RPG product. So, again, the point of the even that we make was to get the gamers into the game stores and generate revenue for those brick-and-mortar stores who fight every day against on-line, you know… cheapness, you know? Pricing that’s definitely cheaper than MSRP.
MF: There are rules regarding which products can even be in FRD, which companies, which stores, even how the brand should be advertised, but that doesn’t stop people from celebrating FRD on-line on their own way. What do you think of it?
AG: [laughing] At first I was like “what are they doing taking our name and doing what they… then can’t do that!” But… you know, it ended being that they were… they were just pushing the hobby and using our brand and our name and that’s fine, as long as these people don’t say “hi, we’re an official blah-blah…” you know, that’s fine. I want recognition, of course, to the publishers that have spent money to print these products and these retailers that have spent money! To us! For these kits. Now, that’s something consumers don’t really know. I’m telling you point blank: these retailers send us $95 for these kits. That’s what it was this year, minimum. So that $95 pays to cover our labor for collating, our special boxes that we order, we close down our distribution for a week to do this. And then… yeah. All the labor time, special boxes, the Internet. You know? All that stuff. The shipping, of course. And that $95 tries to cover all that. And, hopefully, give us some marketing budget, so we make promotional pencils and we make posters and then I’ve got a web guy that does some stuff. So, again, we’re not talking about a lot of money here, but we do what we can.
MF: Are those pencils the ones with numbers on them that you can use as dice?
AG: [laughting] Somebody else asked me that today and I said “no, they’re just pencils with erasers!”. The idea is that anybody who’s new [and] doesn’t bring dice or pencils… here are some dice and pencils that were in the box that, hopefully, they can borrow. [laughs] So I’m thinking… I’m thinking [for] next year, it sounds like more and more people want more stuff. So… I don’t know, I think I might shift— you keep asking me what I wanna do different. The only thing I do different is probably shift my marketing dollars to spend on more kit items that I know people want. People want more modules, they want more dice, they want more of some of the items that are fewer. Maybe we can subsidize because like, this year Chaosium had The Derelict, which is a Call of Cthulhu adventure. Fist time Chaosium’s ever participated. I would definitely say that was the diamond in the rough that people were like “oh, wow! Chaosium!” and they could only put two in each box. Well, that’s because they spent their money and could only print very little. Maybe next year, if I know that they’ve something like that that people want, I can say “hey, Chaosium. How much to print… four per box?” and maybe we can shift those dollars, maybe it makes people happier on things like that. I don’t know yet. It’s just something that came across to me this year.
MF: OK, Aldo. Thanks for your time, thank you for being here.
AG: Thank you! Have a good one.