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Author Topic: New Publisher With Questions about GSL and OGL  (Read 5224 times)
Seamus
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« on: March 31, 2009, 08:06:09 PM »

Just getting started in the publishing world, and trying to decide if I should go 4E or OGL. We will have an original system or two in our lineup as well, but want to have something to fall back on. What is a safer bet at this point? We plan on doing a line of supplements, and figure we should focus on one system or the other.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: March 31, 2009, 08:26:29 PM »

Hello,

I suggest examining your assumptions. Why is using the 4E or OGL safer than publishing your own system? Safer in what way, exactly? But don't answer that yet.

First, you also should examine what you consider to be a successful publishing outcome, especially in your first year of the book's release. What kinds of sales figures are you looking for, and most especially, through what venues? Have you considered the difference between moving books through distribution and retail, vs. on-line sales managed by yourself? Do you plan to do one or the other, or both?

If you have solid answers for all of that, then it's time to revisit why this whole OGL/4E question arises in the first place. There may be a very good answer to that, but it needs to be grounded in real knowledge, not in some vague notion that "well, of course you start with the D&D thing of the moment."

No one can tell you what the right thing to do is, for you. But if we know what you want, the people here can give you advice and information that may help that happen, or point out crucial flaws that have been (unfortunately) discovered by others in the past.

Best, Ron
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Seamus
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« Reply #2 on: March 31, 2009, 08:49:46 PM »

Hello,

I suggest examining your assumptions. Why is using the 4E or OGL safer than publishing your own system? Safer in what way, exactly? But don't answer that yet.

We don't consider it safer than having our own system. We want to know between the two, is 4E or OGL a safer bet. We do plan on launching two original systems. But we also feel we can capture some of the 4E or OGL name recognition, and release supplements for them. Hopefully this make people more aware of our company. Ultimately we want to focus on our own system, but we also want to diversify a bit; see where we have the most success and be flexible. We also thought that having our finger in the OGL or GSL, would help land bigger distributors.

Quote
First, you also should examine what you consider to be a successful publishing outcome, especially in your first year of the book's release. What kinds of sales figures are you looking for, and most especially, through what venues? Have you considered the difference between moving books through distribution and retail, vs. on-line sales managed by yourself? Do you plan to do one or the other, or both?

I am still in the planning phase for the company. So I don't know what kind of sales figures we need yet. Our local chamber of commerce provides free counseling for small businesses; and am going in this Thursday to speak with someone about getting a tight business plan together. But we want to go through distribution and retail.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: April 01, 2009, 04:05:01 AM »

Hi Seamus,

I'll start with the second part first, because it's excellent news. Learning more about small businesses and how they interact with the community's economic laws is a great, great thing to do. It also illustrates my point for the first part of your post.

Given that you're seeking information regarding small business practices, isn't it reasonable also to seek information about what to publish (your own, 4E, OGL) before making decisions? You've already made a decision to launch with 4E or OGL - why be so quick about that before getting more information? "Feeling" and "hoping" isn't much of a basis for such an important decision. You can describe those feelings and hopings all day, but ultimately, a basis of information (just as with the small business practices) is a stronger foundation.

You did write about a strategy based on thought instead: to begin with diversity and see what works best. That's not a bad idea at first glance. If you really want to go that route, then why not go with it? In which case, publish all three. What you're talking about, to start with one, seems like the opposite of your own strategy. OK, I now realize that I have to state very clearly where I'm coming from with this paragraph.

I want to stress that I'm not attacking you. I'm devoting time to this thread because I've seen independent publishers do well with some combination of OGL and D20 (you can tell I'm using observations from 2000-2005), and I've seen them do well with their own systems - but I have not seen a company do well by starting with the first and then shifting to the second. (If anyone has, or if they can point out a company I know but am forgetting, please speak up.) Those companies tend either to succeed with their launch and then their own game ideas wither away because they're following up on the initial success; or they fail with their launch and are now impoverished and wretched, and again, their own game ideas never see the light of day.

In other words, the diversity strategy doesn't seem to get under way in the real sense it was intended. How that applies to your company specifically, well, I can't say. Maybe it will work wonderfully for you. But just as the chamber of commerce meeting will provide with some actual information, that's what I'm doing here - providing the information of what companies before you, using the same rhetoric, hoping for the same things, have experienced.

It may seem as if I'm dodging your fundamental question: given that you're committed (at least as you've posted so far) to launching with some kind of familiar system, which one?

The answer is, I don't know. I hope some people with some experience in publishing the modern 4E/OGL can speak up. My only comment here is that a few years ago, when the same choice applied to D20/OGL, then designating the game as one or the other didn't seem to make much difference.

But I do know something else that's relevant to the question, and to your publishing plans. Retailer and distribution ordering is based on a system of what can only be called gossip. They don't know what the best answer is either (i.e. what attracts the customers), so as they guess, the publishers guess what they're guessing, and so everyone goes into the three-tier distribution system with big nervous smiles on their faces and no real informational backing. So given that I don't know, my point is that no one else who'll be making the key decisions about your book knows either. And when they tell you what they think, you can bet that what they think will change by the week.

It may interest you to know that D20/OGL was available in ... um, late 1999? Early 2000? ... anyway, around then, and D&D3.0 came out in 2000. By spring of 2001, very little time after that, I promoted my game Sorcerer at the GAMA Trade Show. You know what the retailers said, first thing? "It's not that fucking D20, is it?" Their initial frenzy of enthusiasm for this hot newness had evaporated in the face of a glut of look-alike products. They were thrilled to see a game based on its own system. I don't offer this in order to say "screw 4E/OGL, publish your own," but rather to illustrate how rapidly retailer ordering tactics shift around.

My final point is to suggest looking into on-line sales as well, in addition to the distribution-retail presence. We have found, and all the RPG companies have found, that revenue from on-line sales is more reliable and profitable than the store-based sales. That doesn't mean it's an either-or decision, and many independent companies do both, me included. But ignoring the direct sales entirely is probably a poor strategy.

Best, Ron
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #4 on: April 01, 2009, 05:07:09 AM »

To supplement Ron's strategic advice from a slightly different viewpoint, one thing I've found is that successful small press rpg publishing is highly dependent on personal expertise and contact building. As Ron describes, the retail system works somewhat differently, but if you want to use grassroots marketing to your advantage or get committed fans who help your visibility in the Internet communities, it's crucial that you a) know your chosen game and gaming tradition like the back of your hand and b) know the hobbyists and other people in the subculture you're marketing to. For this reason my own strategy with 3rd edition OGL (Pathfinder?) vs. 4th edition would definitely be based on one simple question: which game do I actually like as a system, which am I passionate about?

Now, it's possible that you don't like either flavour of D&D very much compared to your own ideas, which presents something of a problem for producing quality products. This is especially true if you'd happen to think that the rules system in general is not that important compared to the fictional ideas such as the setting or plot of the products you are planning. The audience will recognize a product made without passion and a deeper understanding of the play goals they themselves have, which means that your product will not garner an excited buzz or long-term commitment from the players. At best you'll get a lukewarm and mostly silent treatment from the jaded Internet rpg community. This has happened to most third-party D&D publishers, and no wonder: they're producing stock product for D&D with little ambition and even less originality, of course the audience won't notice it.

In my eyes the different flavours of D&D are so different as game designs that if I were to choose between them as my design platforms, I'd make the choice based on design goals first - the difference is so large that the issues of customer base, changes in the license or other practical matters pale in comparison: even if one of the platforms were "safer" right now due to less uncertainty about the future, a better customer base, a less competed product range or whatever, that all will not save you if your product is routine dross written to pad a company oeuvre. You need passionate, unique ideas which link integrally with the target game platform and the current needs of those consumers; you can't create these if you're not personally excited about the game in question.

What sort of supplements were you planning to create? That's a practical question that could perhaps be gauged pretty concretely against the platforms.
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Seamus
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« Reply #5 on: April 01, 2009, 12:02:59 PM »

Hi Seamus,

I'll start with the second part first, because it's excellent news. Learning more about small businesses and how they interact with the community's economic laws is a great, great thing to do. It also illustrates my point for the first part of your post.

Given that you're seeking information regarding small business practices, isn't it reasonable also to seek information about what to publish (your own, 4E, OGL) before making decisions? You've already made a decision to launch with 4E or OGL - why be so quick about that before getting more information? "Feeling" and "hoping" isn't much of a basis for such an important decision. You can describe those feelings and hopings all day, but ultimately, a basis of information (just as with the small business practices) is a stronger foundation.

We actually haven't made any final decisions on this front yet (which is why I posted this question here). We are thinking about it. And I am trying to find more information.

Quote
You did write about a strategy based on thought instead: to begin with diversity and see what works best. That's not a bad idea at first glance. If you really want to go that route, then why not go with it? In which case, publish all three. What you're talking about, to start with one, seems like the opposite of your own strategy. OK, I now realize that I have to state very clearly where I'm coming from with this paragraph.

I guess what I am worried about with publishing all three, is focus. I have two original systems in the works, and I am confident we can handle another (we wanted to publish a line for a system that was already proven). We knew we couldn't swing the production value for something like Savage Worlds, so we decided either OGL or GSL (since we know those systems pretty well).

Quote
I want to stress that I'm not attacking you. I'm devoting time to this thread because I've seen independent publishers do well with some combination of OGL and D20 (you can tell I'm using observations from 2000-2005), and I've seen them do well with their own systems - but I have not seen a company do well by starting with the first and then shifting to the second. (If anyone has, or if they can point out a company I know but am forgetting, please speak up.) Those companies tend either to succeed with their launch and then their own game ideas wither away because they're following up on the initial success; or they fail with their launch and are now impoverished and wretched, and again, their own game ideas never see the light of day.

Don't worry. I am glad to get some honest feedback. Honestly, I am putting down a good chunk of money, and am not taking your criticism personally. Actually my initial thought was to launch our original system first; and have something in the works for OGL or GSL for later release. But our focus would be on our own system. We want to release our system, follow-up on it; and achieve success there. But I want to be open to changing direction. I having a couple of GSL or OGL products out, may help us do that. But if this is a terrible idea. I do want to know. I am researching and learning right now.

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Seamus
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« Reply #6 on: April 01, 2009, 12:12:07 PM »



My final point is to suggest looking into on-line sales as well, in addition to the distribution-retail presence. We have found, and all the RPG companies have found, that revenue from on-line sales is more reliable and profitable than the store-based sales. That doesn't mean it's an either-or decision, and many independent companies do both, me included. But ignoring the direct sales entirely is probably a poor strategy.

Best, Ron

We were going to do direct sales as well. But my understanding was using distributors and retailers just gives you more reach, and puts your book on the shelf with the more well known games.
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Seamus
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« Reply #7 on: April 01, 2009, 12:19:19 PM »

To supplement Ron's strategic advice from a slightly different viewpoint, one thing I've found is that successful small press rpg publishing is highly dependent on personal expertise and contact building. As Ron describes, the retail system works somewhat differently, but if you want to use grassroots marketing to your advantage or get committed fans who help your visibility in the Internet communities, it's crucial that you a) know your chosen game and gaming tradition like the back of your hand and b) know the hobbyists and other people in the subculture you're marketing to. For this reason my own strategy with 3rd edition OGL (Pathfinder?) vs. 4th edition would definitely be based on one simple question: which game do I actually like as a system, which am I passionate about?

The business is a partnership. I am a OGL guy, he is more a 4E guy. I absolutely know 3E and Pathfinder better than 4E. And I have some concerns about the 4E market--looks like some really big names are shifting their energy into it. Also I have some rule books and such published with other companies under OGL.

Quote
Now, it's possible that you don't like either flavour of D&D very much compared to your own ideas, which presents something of a problem for producing quality products. This is especially true if you'd happen to think that the rules system in general is not that important compared to the fictional ideas such as the setting or plot of the products you are planning. The audience will recognize a product made without passion and a deeper understanding of the play goals they themselves have, which means that your product will not garner an excited buzz or long-term commitment from the players. At best you'll get a lukewarm and mostly silent treatment from the jaded Internet rpg community. This has happened to most third-party D&D publishers, and no wonder: they're producing stock product for D&D with little ambition and even less originality, of course the audience won't notice it.

My rule of thumb for making anything OGL will be it needs to be revolutionary in some way. If it has already been done successfully by others, I think we are better off not duplicating what has been done.

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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #8 on: April 01, 2009, 01:49:27 PM »

One possibility in this market (and I'm just throwing this out there as a practical consideration) would be to go with dual statted products and see which side is more open to the material - you could then continue supporting only the dominant side of your audience later on when you find out where your traction lies. This might work at this point in time simply because people are still switching back and forth between the systems, so you might garner interest from undecided buyers that way. The challenge, of course, is in the fact that the field of products that would actually be at their best in both systems is pretty narrow... my own inclination would almost be to put out a conversion guide sort of thing with interesting system conversion material and leave it at that, almost any other idea that comes to mind would be better made for one or the other system only.
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Luke
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« Reply #9 on: April 01, 2009, 07:33:01 PM »

Hi Seamus, (If anyone has, or if they can point out a company I know but am forgetting, please speak up.)

Hey Ron,

Green Ronin, Mongoose and even, technically, Paizo all started as D20 publishers and now publish their own systems. So if you're going for mass market, it seems like getting on the D&D gravy train can actually pay off, then you can get off and do your own thing.

Hey Seamus,

I admit that I'm cringing when I read you writing about your "novel idea" that no one can lay eyes on and that you're laying down a "chunk of change." Man, I've seen this more times than I can count just in the past six years. Not one of those companies is still around. There's no more big splashes in RPG land, my friend, unless you're devoting MILLIONS and probably have a swanky license. I doubt you're putting together a marketing campaign to crack the mass market (and if you are, shame on you, invest wisely!). All the novel ideas are out there. Devoting $10,000, $20,000 or ::gasp:: $50,000 to this is just an unnecessary risk. Make your game. Print 50 copies. Go to conventions. Play your game. If you sell all of those copies, make 100. Go back to conventions. Run your game. Sell all 100 copies. Print 200. Etc, and so on. This way you get to run your company on every level and have complete control and no risk. In fact, the greatest risk is that you'll have a rabid fan-base. And, at the end of the day, if you're still in love with you game, you love the travel and the conventions and you're selling well. Then print a whole mess of them and do a little advertising. If you discover that you've fallen out of love with the whole thing and you haven't lost anything. You've had some good times and learned some good lessons.

I'm sorry to be a wet blanket. I know you're going to prove me wrong with your novel idea. And, honestly, I hope you do.
Good Luck!
-Luke


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Seamus
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« Reply #10 on: April 02, 2009, 06:28:42 AM »

Hi Seamus, (If anyone has, or if they can point out a company I know but am forgetting, please speak up.)


I admit that I'm cringing when I read you writing about your "novel idea" that no one can lay eyes on and that you're laying down a "chunk of change." Man, I've seen this more times than I can count just in the past six years.


Again I do apologize if I came of overly defensive. The idea is novel and topical; something I have been pretty with as a freelance writer. Unfortunately I had a bad experience with a publisher responding to my query letter and fishing for more information only to take the idea. I know most people out there aren't going to do this. But I am a little guarded now when it comes to something that this. And since you can't copyright an idea, there isn't much one can do. Just let me be clear though, if this were just a really cool setting, or a cool game system; I would happily explain everything about it. Its just that this sort of relies on its novelty to make sales.

Don't worry; we are starting small. When I say chunk of change, I mean enough to print 1000-1,500 and place a few inexpensive advertisements in the magazines. This first launch is sort of an experiment for us. Its just as much about getting our feet wet, as it is about selling lots of books. If we bomb, we are okay with it.

 
Quote
Not one of those companies is still around. There's no more big splashes in RPG land, my friend, unless you're devoting MILLIONS and probably have a swanky license. I doubt you're putting together a marketing campaign to crack the mass market (and if you are, shame on you, invest wisely!). All the novel ideas are out there. Devoting $10,000, $20,000 or ::gasp:: $50,000 to this is just an unnecessary risk. Make your game. Print 50 copies. Go to conventions. Play your game. If you sell all of those copies, make 100. Go back to conventions. Run your game. Sell all 100 copies. Print 200. Etc, and so on. This way you get to run your company on every level and have complete control and no risk. In fact, the greatest risk is that you'll have a rabid fan-base. And, at the end of the day, if you're still in love with you game, you love the travel and the conventions and you're selling well. Then print a whole mess of them and do a little advertising. If you discover that you've fallen out of love with the whole thing and you haven't lost anything. You've had some good times and learned some good lessons.

Our goal is steady, slow growth. Actually we have two worst case scenarios: 1) we sell 1 book and have 1499 books lying around, 2) we sell more books than we can afford to print, and have to expand faster than we are able. We don't mind taking the risk for 1,500 books; but that is about as much as we can do safely right now.

Quote
I'm sorry to be a wet blanket. I know you're going to prove me wrong with your novel idea. And, honestly, I hope you do.
Good Luck!
-Luke

Don't worry. I need honest feedback. And I'll be the first to admit we are taking a big risk (albeit one we can afford).



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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #11 on: April 02, 2009, 09:12:31 AM »

Do start a new thread about your business plan if you'd like to discuss it. I think that I might have something to say about printing 1500 copies of your book and taking out advertisements in magazines. But that's just in case you want to hear different viewpoints about that.
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Seamus
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« Reply #12 on: April 02, 2009, 12:34:06 PM »

Do start a new thread about your business plan if you'd like to discuss it. I think that I might have something to say about printing 1500 copies of your book and taking out advertisements in magazines. But that's just in case you want to hear different viewpoints about that.

Very Interested to hear it. Everyone seems to disagree on whether it should be 25 books or 3000 the first time around. For me, what is key, is getting reasons. If someone tells me you should only do x number of books, and explains why, that is more helpful than if they just say I should, but don't go into any detail. We are still in the planning stages. Trying to stay flexible too. I just had a meeting at the chamber in my city of commerce meeting with some business advisers and one of them said we should do direct sales, one said we should do marketing. They disagreed on the quantity to print; on where we should advertise. Still they gave some useful feedback.
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