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Subject: Expansion vs. Edition vs. Re-theme & re-release rss

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M. Shanmugasundaram
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So, I had a stray thought today that I really haven't had time to flesh out.

The spark was, "Is expansion design just being lazy?"
Plus, you're designing for just your existing customers, which narrows potential sales. On the other hand, you don't have to cultivate a new customer base.

But then I thought about the alternatives.

You have to design a new game, which is considerably more work. (hence: expansions are lazy)

You have to issue a new edition of the game with the expansion content, which potentially annoys your existing customers.

You have to re-theme and re-release the game, which means you have to cultivate a new customer base.

So is expansion design really lazy? Or is it the "way to go?"
 
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Justin Blaske
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I'd argue that expansion design is not lazy at all, and having actually is harder. Expansions take a lot more work to balance against an existing game, especially since you can no longer modify the core framework.

IMO Expansions are to do just that, expand on the game, add new features and twist existing ones in ways that are more interesting. Every expansion I've designed requires you to have a solid understanding of the core game, before playing.

Reasons for not doing that in the first place: Money and Time

Not earning money, but keeping production costs, and in turn MSRP, down to a reasonable amount.

Time essentially because of deadlines and actually finishing the product. Without that time constraint you can easily find yourself designing a game for 5+ years and end up running the risk of having something too huge (or confusing) to release.
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Lance McMillan
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Expansion: "Here's something extra you can add to the base game. We realized that including it in the base game wouldn't have broadened the appeal of the game all that much and would probably have increased the price point to where we thought it might impact sales, which is why we're marketing it separately."

New Edition: "Here's a re-working of the original game, incorporating new ideas, research, and materials we didn't have access to or didn't consider when we did the earlier edition(s). We think this new stuff appreciably changes the game and the insights you'll take away after playing it."

Re-Theme: "This concept worked so well in the original that we felt that simply by changing the basic appearance and names we could convince customers to buy it again (e.g. you liked it with zombies, let's try it with aliens or vampires now)."

Re-Release: "The original game was so popular that it sold out. We're pretty sure there's sufficient demand to do another print run and sell enough of those copies to still turn a profit. We may clean up a few typos or minor errors, but this is essentially the same game as the original."
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Justen Brown
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I wouldn't call expansions lazy at all. In fact, designing a game so that it's easily modular has to be no easy feat and you can definitely tell a bad expansion from a good one. It's probably why people are so attached to dungeon crawlers, they're very straightforward.

Let's instead look at the benefits to an expansion:

-Immediately caters to the hardcore audience. You have an established audience from the start and they love your game enough to want more.

-Can be used to patch mistakes. If new editions annoy existing customers then the happy middle ground is an expansion that addresses rough features without buying a brand new full priced package.

-Expansions make great promotional material. Buy the game brand new and get the first expansion free! Take care of old stock and convert people from the start.

-I'd argue that expansions are more for getting creative than anything else. They let you try new ideas with already established mechanics. If the idea sucks then hey, I can leave the expansion in the box. No harm no foul.
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John "Omega" Williams
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Expansions lazy? Yeah riiiight. Try writing one then get back to us on how lazy you feel now.

New editions are usually seen as the lazy part as oft only one or two things get changed and are seen as milking the fans to try and force them to reby the same damn game just to get one or two little extras. Its a bad business model all around but its used extensively in the gaming biz. Then they wonder why they progressively lose sales over time. If the changes are extensive then you end up with potential fan disconnect. Or worse yet. Edition wars which can torpedo your game in ugly ways. AND its seen as also milking the fans.

Re-themes can turn out to be harder than many think. You often can-not just slap a new theme on willy nilly and have an instant new game. Some elements will likely not fit without some thought or tinkering. Rethemes can though expand your market. Say your game is fantasy based? Retheme to sci-fi and you may attract more buyers.
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Nicholas Vitek
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Another bonus for expansions is it allows you to include the stuff that simply wouldn't fit in the original box. Oh, we've designed 20 character classes, all fully balanced. We could put them into the base game but that would increase the retail by an extra $25 putting it out of people's willingness to pay for a new game. Or we can put 10 in the base game and add the other 10 as an immediate/later expansion for the same $25 and thus allow consumers to customize what they buy thus empowering the consumer.

Another bonus for expansion is that it allows you to have the base game which is easily accessible and the expansion adds the very complex bits that most people won't use but the hard core people will. RPGs do this a lot. Not everyone needs the Castle Builder's Guide, but many people want it and it just doesn't make sense to include it in the basic rulebook.
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Nat Levan
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Whether designing an expansion is the way to go is really highly dependent on the audience and success of the game. I've heard statistics that only 10-20% of people who buy a game will ever buy the expansion. (Maybe not for something like Dominion, but for a regular game in a hobby store. Maybe Kickstarter is different too, since you have a closer relationship to your customers.)

As for being lazy, definitely not. I started getting into game design by designing fan expansions for games I liked. It's not as simple as adding extra things to do. You have to make sure that the new parts are balanced with the existing parts, in addition to being balanced with each other. You have to consider even more interactions with all the new parts. So not only are you designing something that works as-is, it also has to fit seamlessly into the original, both in theme and in mechanics.
Marketing is tough, even if you manage to connect to half of the original buyers. Some people will prefer the game in its original state, so there will always be people who think you made the wrong decision. Then you have to make sure the original game is still available. Several popular games inspired complaints when the expansions were easy to find, but the original was nearly impossible. (I think Carson City, before the current reprint). Or vice versa, if you sell out of expansions, you'll have an angry mob looking for it.
And manufacturing is still a concern, because, while you can add components, you can't just add anything you want, because it won't all fit in the original box, and you can't really sell a $40 expansion to a $30 game. Sales numbers are typically smaller, so the cost per copy is probably more. While you get to reuse some art, you'll still have to produce new art and graphic design. Manufacturers often change their materials, making component matching hard, which could really ruin games if it makes it easy to identify the new pieces.

There are some things you can take advantage of, by reusing some of the ideas and concepts, but just like designing a base game, the ideas are only a small part of it. Making sure you get the execution right can easily be just as much work.
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