The new animated series Star Wars Rebels premiered on the Disney X D channel in early October and is creating a buzz.The action is set in between episodes 3 and 4 of the Star Wars movies – Anakin has become Darth Vader, the Jedi have been hunted down and eliminated to near extinction, and the Rebel Alliance has not yet taken full shape. The series follows the adventures of a crew of assorted humans and aliens who are performing various jobs for money while also causing problems for the Empire.
While there is an overarching theme to the series that is still developing, each individual episode is a nicely packaged adventure filled with difficult choices, tension, drama, and action. The individual characters have their own strengths, weaknesses, and personalities.
For those who have played the Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars Roleplaying Game, the series seems very familiar. (And for those who have never heard of the FFG SWRPG, it’s a pen and paper tabletop RPG in the tradition of old school Dungeons & Dragons.) There have been several threads on official and unofficial forums all drawing the same conclusion: The Star Wars Rebels crew is the perfect example of an Edge of the Empire RPG party. Each episode of the series is like a session of the RPG. Every scene of the show plays out similarly to how the scenes during the RPG adventures play out – the characters make important decisions. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. Either way, those watching can feel the tension and are waiting to see what comes next.
The parallels between the series and the RPG system are enough that it makes perfect sense for Fantasy Flight Games and Disney to leverage a rare opportunity. The popularity of the Rebels show can and should absolutely be used to help raise visibility of the game. For whatever reason, the FFG Star Wars RPG system does not seem to have gotten a very large marketing push. The game and system has generally gotten excellent reviews, and players who have tried the system love it. It simply hasn’t received the widespread exposure it deserves. With Rebels now in full swing, upcoming Star Wars novels building the new “canon” of the saga, and Episode VII in the not too distant future, Star Wars fans are eager and willing to explore anything related to the universe they so dearly love.
So, how can this happen? What would it take to raise awareness of the Star Wars RPG system and get more people playing it? I don’t think it would take a whole lot to be honest. Just a few simple (and relatively inexpensive) steps could propel the game into much better public awareness.
The first step towards getting more people to buy something is raising public awareness of it. To this point, advertising of the Star Wars RPG has seemed very limited. I don’t think I’ve seen a single internet ad that wasn’t directly related to me recently browsing their products, and I’ve surely not seen any ads whatsoever on TV, mobile apps, or social media. Hell, the only reason I even found out about it is through a friend who wanted to give it a try. And how did he find out about it? He was considering giving a pen and paper RPG a try, and thought, “This would be more interesting if it was Star Wars,” so he did an online search and found the game. He was explicitly searching for a Star Wars RPG in order to find the game even existed!
I understand that advertising and marketing cost money. But there’s also a reason companies invest in it – you have to spend money to make money. Without going on a complete marketing and economics tangent, let’s just say that, for whatever reason, the marketing for this game has been virtually non-existent to this point. Star Wars Rebels offers a unique chance to change that and make a huge splash in an exciting new area.
The ads don’t have to be incredibly complex or high budget productions. The system practically sells itself. All they have to do is let people know that they can roleplay their very own heroes in the Star Wars universe. That message in itself should be enough to attract some attention. But take it a little further, and I have no doubt people would be checking it out in numbers like never before.
Consider this tweak to the message: From “Hey, you can become a Star Wars hero,” to “Hey, you can become THE crew of the Ghost, acting out the same missions you see every week on Star Wars Rebels!” Star Wars fans can be enticed by the chance to not just create random unknown characters of their own, but they can get together with their friends and become Ezra, Kannan, Zeb, Hera, Sebine, and yes, even Chopper! You can perform daring prison breaks, infiltrate the Imperial Academy, fight off deadly sun-fearing creatures, dodge Imperial intelligence, face off against the mysterious Inquisitor, and sabotage the Empire in many ways! Wouldn’t that grab some attention?
And what better time to air such a commercial than during the episodes? Primetime advertising on TV isn’t cheap, but couldn’t Disney give them a break since, you know, they own Star Wars now and surely would see some benefit if sales of the game improved? Throw a few ads on the Disney X D website as well while you’re at it. What downside could there possibly be by enticing Rebels viewers to become a part of their own Star Wars story by trying the Star Wars RPG?
Once the game becomes more visible through increased advertising, how do people get involved? How do they give it a try? The current starter boxes for Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion aren’t expensive, but do cost enough money to give potential players with only a casual interest some pause. So why not develop a starter adventure that is free to download, explains the basic rules, offers pre-generated characters, and gives players a free sample of the exciting and amazing game.
The idea of offering an initial game for free is not new – the latest Dungeons and Dragons edition has taken that approach. Highly successful (and profitable) video games like League of Legends and World of Tanks have made millions of dollars by offering the base game for free and selling add-ons and supplements. If you have a good product (and FFG absolutely does) and offer the initial taste for free, people will absolutely spend money not only to buy additional features and enhancements to the game, but also to support its continued development.
So let’s agree that a free trial is a good idea. Now combine that free trial with the familiar characters and missions seen in Star Wars Rebels, and fans will at least download it and check it out. Some of those fans will decide it’s not for them, and will move on. And some of those fans will be intrigued, get a game together, and be hooked on the wonderful world of Star Wars roleplaying. (And “some” is better than “none” right? Which is how many new players the current non-existent marketing is pulling in.)
One of the main obstacles towards more widespread awareness and popularity of the system is that it’s an old school “pen and paper” RPG. Some people who are interested may think, “Well, I’d love to be able to try that, but I just don’t have enough like-minded friends in my area who would want to get together and play regularly.” This is a legitimate concern, but one that can be overcome.
Newsflash: It’s 2014. Pen and paper RPGs are not just pen and paper any more. No longer confined to poorly lit basements and the back rooms of local gaming stores, the modern internet provides many tools for virtual groups getting together to play these types of games. Applications and websites like Google Hangouts, Skype, Roll20.Net, and ObsidianPortal.com offer players many options for finding online groups. You can get together online with people you know who may not be able to meet in person for a variety of reasons, or you can find one of many pick up groups that have regularly scheduled sessions.
Some of the traditional aspects of pen and paper RPGs have been virtualized as well. There are mobile apps, websites, and a Google Hangouts plug-in that allows for rolling dice. There are a variety of applications for sharing maps and moving player character tokens around. There is an awesome application developed by a fan that handles character creation and generates character sheets. “I don’t have anyone to play with in my area,” is no longer a valid excuse for not trying a pen and paper RPG.
Another feature that FFG could develop to ease accessibility would be to provide the tools or forums for players to find active games, both in person and online. In its most basic form, this could be simply be a sub-forum on the official FFG forums where players can advertise or seek out games. Taking it to the next level, it wouldn’t be too difficult to develop a searchable site for players to specify their details and be matched intelligently by some basic logic. Finding someone to play with should not be difficult, and a broader audience brought in by improved marketing makes it even easier.
Following the approach above, FFG (and potentially Disney) would be making a substantial investment to increase the visibility and reach of the game. A “Free to play” approach is a large investment up front in hopes that it pays off in the long run. With something as large as the Star Wars universe and as expandable as the RPG system, it would not be difficult to turn those investments into profit.
The FFG RPG system already offers impressive supplements on a regular basis. (The schedule of those releases is a lot slower than most fans would like, but that’s a different story.) The content in these supplements is top notch. Not only do they offer extensions to player classes and the expansion of popular settings, they include valuable sections that have a wide range of appeal to players of all types. For example, the book focused on Colonists not only gave existing Colonists additional talents to choose from, but also introduced three entirely new careers, had a selection of new weapons, armor, and vehicles, and offered some great campaign and adventure ideas that leverage the types of activities Colonists would be involved in. Most current players agree these supplements are well worth their cover price, and new players would surely be drawn towards buying them as well.
Aside from the hardcover supplement books, let’s go back to considering how Rebels could tie into the game. What if every week, a new adventure was released to coincide and recreate the episode that just aired? The adventure could be in electronic downloadable format and be reasonably priced, and players would throw money at it. And why limit the adventures to just the aired episodes? The crew of the Ghost could have plenty of side adventures and untold stories that are brought to life through the game. The possibilities are endless, only constrained by the imagination (and the number of writers they have available).
The main point I’m trying to make is that the Star Wars RPG is an incredible game and experience that has not gotten the exposure and acclaim it so richly deserves. Watching Star Wars Rebels is basically like watching a game session being played out with memorable characters, tense drama, exciting combat, and a wonderful story. Star Wars fans should know that there is a system out there that allows them to experience the same sort of story and even create their own.
I’ll be (pleasantly) surprised if we suddenly see a huge marketing campaign for the game at this point. It’s been out for almost two years, and there have been no signs that they have the inclination or resources to heavily promote the game. Which is a shame, because the game can be so much fun and has so much potential.
At the very least, I hope this article inspires some new players to at least check it out and give it a try. With the right group and GM, you’ll have so much fun you’ll be counting the days until the next session. I’ve provided a list of resources below for learning more about the game and tools to help find a group to play with. If you have any questions or thoughts, feel free to leave a comment below.
Official Edge of the Empire Site
Official Age of Rebellion Site
Star Wars RPG Subreddit
Order 66 Star Wars RPG Podcast
Roll 20 Virtual RPG Tabletop
Star Wars RPG Dice Rolling Website
Obsidian Portal RPG Campaign Tracking Website