While it is strangely true that pricing a product TOO LOW decreases sales because it devalues the product in the eyes of the consumer, pricing an item TOO HIGH also decreases sales because it destroys impulse buying. If the potential customer is forced to start thinking "can i really afford this? will it deliver enough value to warrant the price tag?" then you are going to lose a lot of sales. The trick in pricing products is charge just as much as you think you can reasonably get away with without angering your customers; to that end, it must be priced close to your competitor's products. If you have no competitors (as some poor, deluded souls might wrongly argue is the case with Harn), then go ahead and charge through the roof. People who don't have a choice and want your "totally original" product badly enough will still buy it, even if they grumble.
Recently, Atlas Games has given away the core rulebook to Ars Magica for free as a pdf. I guarantee a lot of fence sitters took advantage of that offer to check out the Ars Magica rules set and it brought new players into the game. With a wider player base hooked, Atlas can rake in money from producing expensive supplements. Wizards of the Coast offers its d20 system reference document (just the rules) free of charge and lets other companies produce support products for it as well as new games (OGL or d20). Guardians of Order released their Big Eyes, Small Mouth d20 rules as Open Game Content, allowing others to produce support product. Monte Cook has opened up his ArcanaUnearthed setting to third parties.
Open Gaming is a good thing, not only for fans and publishers, but also for the companies that create the games. One company cannot possibly provide all the support its games need or its fans demand, so why bother? We all saw what happened to TSR when it tried to do too much and most everything they produced suffered as a result.
NRC and/or CGI need to do something *more* if they ever want Harn to last. This group of 1,000 or so fans, no matter how devoted or intelligent, on this forum is not enough to support it indefinitely. It only keeps it on life support, IMO.
Some suggestions: The encyclopedia format has to go. Softcover or hardcover editions have to come in; people demand books and it is industry standard. Core rules as pdf given away for free as a teaser perhaps (and only one set of *definitive* rules, mind you). Bring in third party support by making it OGL or d20. World setting all in one or two books (eastern/western harn), with expansions like Shorkyne, Trierzon, Azeryan and Emelrene to follow. Use Wizards' FR as an example of how to release product and support product; you could follow worse business models.
As it is, the pricing of Harn products is INSANE. It guarantees no one but the same 1,000 people (if that) will buy their product. CGI pulling Harn from stores was stupid, too. The reason Harn didn't sell well in d20 is because CGI dropped the ball on distributing and marketing it, producing it in a bizarre (some might say, cheap and crappy) loose leaf format that was packaged in such a way that the poor consumer had no way of knowing it wasn't a book until theyt tore off the plastic and all the pages fell out on the floor! Granted, that encyclopedia format is standard for Harn, but not for d20. Loose leaf, while it has its merits, is not and will never be industry standard. In fact, nobody else produces their games like that. Why? Because it looks cheap and crappy
and turns off customers who want and EXPECT beautiful glossy hardcovers.
There is a sizable backlash brewing against D&D/FR style "uber fantasy" that smart publishers are cashing in on by providing quality alternatives. Harn should riding that wave into a glorious future... The Conan d20 game is going to be BIG; half the people buying it are buying it not for the Hyborian setting, but for the Howard-esque rules for their own fantasy homebrews. Even Wizards of the Coast is getting in on it with Unearthed Arcana next month (modular optional rules to support various styles of play beyond default "uber Tolkien" and a new, non-Vancian magic system---the book will be almost 100% Open Content). Wizards is dropping hints on how to play low magic or historical games in last month's The Complete Warrior hardcover.
Harn and HarnMaster are fantastic (note that I didn't say perfect); the quality of the content is not in question. The only excuse for Harn not being a success lies with the poor business skills of CGI, NRC, combined with a vocal minority of overprotective, elitist fans afraid of anything new or making compromises. Harn must grow or it must die.
As it stands now, it's in a weird quasi-state of limbo, cut off from the mainstream who, if they've heard of it all, think of it as a game for super-nerdy elitist snob brainiacs hell bent on "the slogging through the mud while dying of disease" type of uber-reality simulation RPG... which it's not (unless you want it to be).
I'm not trying to step on any toes here, I'm just trying to say how I feel and express my frustration at how something as cool as Harn could be so badly bungled for so long by so few, even if it was done unintentionally and with good intentions. Nor am I suggesting I have all the answers to "fix" the problem. Quality products should
succeed, but they don't sell themselves! Otherwise, Betamax would've beaten VHS, right?