Where to begin?
How does a company make published adventures sell even 50% as well as a sourcebook? How do you get people to pick up a single "self-contained" story when they could buy a sourcebook full of nearly limitless "open-ended" adventures?
What's the connection?
Why did we buy those old dungeon-crawl excerpts back in the day, but we won't touch an innovative new design by Green Ronin? or Goodman? or Paradigm?
What's the thinking there?
For me, the problem is that 95% of published adventures don't respect the fact that I don't GAME the same way the designer of the adventure does?
I've published nearly a dozen adventures and each time I've had to address this very concern in my design... how do I get you (the consumer) to pick up my Orc Horde adventure instead of the Gygax crocodile excursion?
Name-dropping aside, there should be no comparison, but my best selling adventure (WLD excluded) still sold less then Gygax's worst selling Cyborg Commando expansion.
Even if my adventure (the Gauntlet for instance) was innovative and groundbreaking, chances are only 2,000 people have even heard of it, let alone played it.
But the adventure rocks.
Robert Schwalb's new Burning Edge series is amazing as well.
The ideas in these books are groundbreaking.
But how does a publisher convince a player/GM that he needs to buy this new adventure and add it to his collection? What's the missing ingredient?
Greg Stolze wrote a boxed set for the L5R RPG called City of Lies. It's amazing. Really smart. Not that Stolze is a slouch, but this adventure is very very smart.
Problem is, no one at AEG understood it, no one believed in it, and no one knew how to market it.
Because it's not a "railroad" adventure with concise points.
Instead, it's a city with a hundred loose threads and NPCs of every type that the DM has to know every detail of the city in order to run this adventure properly.
Which is a lot of work.
But, if he does.
What an adventure.
Sadly, I don't have an answer to my own question this go around, instead I offer this
I have vampire campaign set in Los Angeles, another in Vegas, and another in Northern California.
Each one is very different, but the one thing they share is a lack of structure.
I'm going to talk about the Vegas game, because it's my favorite of the three.
In the Vegas game, there are about 30 to 50 NPCs. Each one has a name, clan, generation, and some notes about his/her goals. I keep track of everyone on paper, in my head, and in filemaker pro. Each vampire is almost like a living PC with their own agendas and "growth curve."
The end result, the vegas campaign isn't about making the choice the writer of some publishing adventure wants you to make (stop the lich). Instead, it's about making choices that MATTER TO YOU. There are vile, inhumane vampires in Vegas and yet, if the PCs choose NOT to oppose them, that's the choice they make.
They have that option.
But published games, for whatever reason, can't seem to contain the open-ended material that draws people to this hobby in the first place.
It's almost as if publishing companies want to be replaced by World of Warcraft.