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General Forge Forums => Independent Publishing => Topic started by: lumpley on February 18, 2011, 11:54:38 AM

Title: lumpley games' 2010
Post by: lumpley on February 18, 2011, 11:54:38 AM

Here's how 2010 went for lumpley games (, business-wise.

I'd be happy to talk about it here, if anybody has any questions or observations.


Title: Re: lumpley games' 2010
Post by: Moreno R. on February 18, 2011, 03:08:07 PM
Still more than one copy/day for DitV, after 7 years, in direct sales, with no supplements and no advertising!  Impressive.

Seeing that these are direct orders, can you tell if you are "reaching out" to traditional gamers (o even to non-gamers)?

Did you see a lasting drop in the sales since going all-direct (leaving IPR), and if you did, did the higher percentage of the cover price you got made up for it?

Title: Re: lumpley games' 2010
Post by: Larry L. on February 18, 2011, 07:09:49 PM
Numbers! Thanks!

Title: Re: lumpley games' 2010
Post by: Devon Oratz on February 19, 2011, 10:45:59 AM
Is "how did you do it?" too broad of a question?

How did you do it?

Title: Re: lumpley games' 2010
Post by: lumpley on February 20, 2011, 07:18:37 AM
Moreno: My gut says that less than 5% of my sales have been to non-gamers, maybe less than 1%.

I don't know what "traditional gamers" means. Maybe this answers: I don't think I'd sell even 300 games if I were relying on as my sole market. Maybe far fewer.

IPR doesn't figure in my thinking anymore. Quitting them was more or less break-even, moneywise, as you say, and that was before Apocalypse World. I wouldn't hire them back again with the same rates and policies - they were a pretty bad deal. (They've also recently changed management, so maybe they have new rates and policies now; I wouldn't know.)

Devon: The best question! But you're right, very broad. I don't really know where to start or how to tackle it. Can you maybe narrow it down for me? Ask me something more specific to start me off?


Title: Re: lumpley games' 2010
Post by: Moreno R. on February 20, 2011, 08:46:30 AM
I don't know what "traditional gamers" means.

Oh, in my question meant "gamers that played only traditional rpgs before", with "traditional rpgs" meaning the ones built around the traditional "way to play a rpg" (all-powerful GM, rule zero, stats + skill, task resolution, you know the list, from AD&D 2 to Vampire to Ars Magica to GURPS...)

The question, thinking about it, make more sense talking about DitV sales alone, seeing that it's the game of yours that explicitly "talk to one of them" in the game text (I am thinking about page 140, for example, and "If you’ve GMed other games..." that almost assume that DitV is the first game the readers meet that is not like that), and for this reason it's one of the first games I suggest to traditional gamers when they want to understand "what all these new games are about"

But this answer, below:

Maybe this answers: I don't think I'd sell even 300 games if I were relying on as my sole market. Maybe far fewer.

.. suggest to me a more nuanced and interesting question: from what you can say from your interaction with them, who is your public? Not in the sense of "who you are writing for", but "who buy your rpgs". And it changed from, for example, some years ago?

I am asking because, as you already said, you obviously broke out of the story-games specialized market (I thought it was bigger that 300 copies, though...), reaching out to a different, much bigger (but still too little to be be "any gamer")  public,Who are they, from what you can see?

Title: Re: lumpley games' 2010
Post by: lumpley on February 20, 2011, 06:52:33 PM
Hm. The fact is, I think the whole trad-vs-story-games line of thought is bogus, misguided. Insofar as there's some "story-games specialized market," which I maintain is not very far, my games have always contributed to its growth, never been within its bounds. Dogs in the Vineyard, along with some half-dozen or so other games, MADE that market (such as it is). It's kind of nuts to talk about my having broken out of it.

So my audience is the same as it has always been: roleplayers who happen to get into what my games promise and how they make good. It's never mattered a bit whether they'd call themselves story gamers, trad, or what. My games don't have universal appeal, but let's be real, of course they don't: they're odd & perverse little games about niche subjects. Mormon gunslingers, Satanist pirates, sexy postapocalypticans. Universal appeal is off the table.


Title: Re: lumpley games' 2010
Post by: Devon Oratz on February 21, 2011, 11:12:21 AM
Devon: The best question! But you're right, very broad. I don't really know where to start or how to tackle it. Can you maybe narrow it down for me? Ask me something more specific to start me off?

Sure thing. How about if I break it down into four categories of questions with multiple questions in each category?

It would be especially awesome if you could try and answer these for the first, second, and third games you completed. That way I can see how your process changed over time and the entire discussion won't be in the unique context of, say, kill puppies for satan.  I don't actually care at all about philosophy here, if that helps narrow down the answers. I don't even care about game design as far as these questions are concerned. Personal context is good, though. How old were you at stage x, what were you doing to eat, etcetera. Those sales numbers are impressive, I want to grok in fullness how they were accomplished.

I bolded the one category of questions that I thought was really important.

1) What was the next step following completion of the game draft?
A) Was it playtesting? If it was something else like fasting for forty days or immediately printing it at kinko's, stapling it together and selling it on street corners, I'd be interested in that too.
B) Who was the playtest group? How did you find them? How many people?
C) How long did playtesting go on? How many sessions? How much real time?
D) What did you learn?

2) After playtesting, what was the next step?
A) Revisions and more playtesting or...
B) Publication Process.

If you went through multiple repetitions of A before moving on to B, how many?

3) Publication process. So, you've got this game, right...?
A) Where and how did you publish or sell the game? At first, and then how did you expand later on?
B) If you sold or advertised the game at any third party venues (conventions, something like Drive Thru RPG)...which venues?
C) And at what cost? Monetary or otherwise. If you visited conventions, I'd assume you had a printed book...
D) Where did you get the money to print the book from? Startup capital. Where did you get the money to actually visit conventions to sell your wares?
E) What was your process going to the first few conventions, assuming that was part of your initial sales drive?
F) If at any point your website was the primary place you were selling did you get people to visit your website? Be specific.

4) How and in what ways and how much did the Forge* help you at each step of the process? Be specific.

*I am using "the Forge" here as synecdoche for the indie RPG community as a whole, so assume that includes story games and other sites/scenes/crowds I am less familiar with.

Oh and if you actually take the time to answer these in full, I will be very grateful. I recognize it would be a very generous use of your time, and some of them probably aren't easy questions. If there's anything you want to know about uh, my situation (say, to give this barrage of interrogatives some much needed context) I would say that would be only fair.


Title: Re: lumpley games' 2010
Post by: lumpley on February 22, 2011, 09:06:36 AM
Devon, this is fantastic! Thank you.

kill puppies for satan, 2001
No playtesting whatsoever. I made 50 copies on the copier at my workplace and took them to the local print shop for binding. I abandoned them I kid you not on the doorsteps of the local game stores with a note that said to sell them, give them away under the counter, or toss them, it's out of my hands. I mailed unsolicited copies to a handful of well-known game designers - Jonathan Tweet, Robin Laws, I forget who else - with notes that said "hey, I'm a big fan, here's what I think of your work."

My startup capital: In 2001 I was dirt poor. My wife and I were working per diem with two little kids. I sat down and figured out that I was probably going to spend $60 on rpgs that year - I think there was a new edition of Ars Magica due out - and screw it, I'd see how far $60 could take me in self-publishing instead. It's not like the new Ars Magica would satisfy me anyway. Binding those 50 copies cost me, I dunno, $25, so I had the remaining $35 to spend on postage and let's see what happens.

At some point it occured to me that other people might be making rpgs and giving them away too, so I did a Google search and wound up here at the Forge. The Forge was brand new then; I think I was in the first wave of non-founding newbies.

At first, I sent a copy of kill puppies to satan to anyone who asked, with a note that said "if you like this, send me $5!" A few people did, but lots of people talked online about how much they liked it. Here's an early one: killin' puppies for you-know-who [October 09, 2001] ( I also put excerpts of the game up on my blog, some of the funniest and meanest bits, and when we were talking theory here I'd link to them to illustrate my opinions.

Then one day ( Clinton R. Nixon told me the thing I needed to hear, and I started selling the thing for up-front cash instead of for pay-me-later. I charged $10 for a book that cost me $2.50 to produce and ship, so my margin was nutso good, and I sold PDFs too - I forget what I charged for them then, but of course it was pretty much all profit. A year later - 2003, now - I'd made enough money off the game to take it to the Forge booth at GenCon. I sold 90-some copies there, at my nutso margin, so I made a profit at the con. Eventually I bought that Ars Magica book anyway, with lumpley games money, and nope, it didn't satisfy me.

So at this point we're talking about, oh, a couple hundred games sold, for a couple thousand dollars. It was a hobby that paid for itself, not an income. My startup was just my $60 rpg budget, repurposed, and I haven't spent a cent of my own money since. The Forge was the only thing that made it possible.

Right after GenCon '03 I got the idea for Dogs in the Vineyard, so I'll talk about that next. I'm happy to answer any followup questions about kill puppies for satan, too, meanwhile!


Title: Re: lumpley games' 2010
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 22, 2011, 09:14:47 AM
I was one of those people who got a copy on the pay-me-$5-or-not model, which was also the model I used in 1996 for the first version of Sorcerer. It was fun to read it on the train along with a game in playtest written by a friend of mine, called "Sin," with an extremely graphic cover.

Before the Dogs talk, don't forget Otherkind and your other posted game projects, Vincent. You've never sold them for money, but having them up at your website really helped generate a play-and-talk community for you.

Best, Ron

Title: Re: lumpley games' 2010
Post by: lumpley on February 22, 2011, 11:42:21 AM
Good call, Ron! Matchmaker, Chalk Outlines, Before the Flood, Hungry Desperate and Alone, and Otherkind.

Between kill puppies for satan in 2001 and Dogs in the Vineyard in 2004 I designed these five games and put them on my blog. I was basically testing my understanding of and illustrating my arguments about the Big Model, as it was developing. They zoomed in on various theory points and topics, and I loved to refer to them during our conversations here. Like Ron says, they really built my play-and-talk community. When I called for playtesters for Dogs in the Vineyard there were a bunch of people already familiar with my work, excited about what I might do next, and eager to help out.

They've all vanished from the internet now, more or less, but here are some Forge threads about them:

Matchmaker the rpg [November 29, 2001] (*

Chalk Outlines Waiting to Happen [December 26, 2001] (, how we played Chalk Outlines [January 09, 2002] (, Fortune-forward Vs. Fortune-backward [January 13, 2002] (

Another Stab at Narrativist Vampires [January 31, 2002] (*,  Another Sad Little Narrativist Vampire Game [February 19, 2002] (*

OtherKind [May 31, 2002] (, OtherKind-ish Mechanics in Action [July 03, 2002] (, Otherkind in action [July 25, 2002] (

* These threads happen to contain some of the games' rules, so you can see them there if you're interested.

Oh and I forgot to say the other crucial thing that Clinton did for me. He went ahead and actually played kill puppies for satan: we killed puppies for satan [September 12, 2002] ( Ron's and Andrew Martin's playtests of Otherkind, and Clinton's and later Ron's play of puppies changed all my expectations about what would and wouldn't happen with my games. I'd been kind of firing and forgetting, but they made it clear that I could do more.


Title: Re: lumpley games' 2010
Post by: Paul Czege on February 23, 2011, 06:38:21 AM
Here's our thread about playing Matchmaker, it was a double shot of my baby's love (


Title: Re: lumpley games' 2010
Post by: lumpley on February 23, 2011, 01:38:30 PM
Thanks, Paul!

Add Toward One (, The Nighttime Animals Save the Word (, and Woodland Knights ( to the list of games I made between 2001 and 2004. I forgot about them. I was kind of a prolific bastard.

So, Devon, you can probably see that I'm all set for working capital from here out. kill puppies for satan paid for Dogs in the Vineyard's initial printing and its debut at GenCon 04. Dogs in the Vineyard paid for everything I did between 2004 and 2010, pretty much, with a little help from my other games as I added them to the catalog. Now Apocalypse World will pay for whatever's next.

Dogs in the Vineyard, 2004

Early in 2004 I finished a playtest document for Dogs in the Vineyard. This was a bare procedural text, consisting of the full rules but only a few sections of guidance. It was about a quarter the game's finished length. I posted in the lumpley games forum that I'd made it and I was looking for playtesters, and I sent it to anyone who asked. The same document let me playtest full-blast too. I ran maybe a dozen playtest sessions myself, and I got reports back from maybe a dozen external sessions. I think playtesting went from March through June or something; by the end of June, I needed to have the final text basically done, so playtest feedback after that wouldn't count for anything. I would have pushed back publication if there'd been any reason to, but I could already tell that there wouldn't be.

My personal rule is: if one person complains about a thing, I can safely blow their complaint off (although of course I always check to see if they're right). If two people do, or especially if three people do, they're right, and I have to fix it. There were only a few problems with the rules, and they were easy enough to fix. In internal playtesting I also noticed a couple of excesses I could cut - d12 fallout, for instance - that nobody else would notice, and I fixed them too. All while we were playtesting I was writing.

In late May or June I had the first draft of the final text, so I sent it around for critical reading and editing. I didn't hire an editor, but I had - and still have - a lot of confidence in my own self-editing tempered by the critical reading of my family and friends. I'm not sentimental about my own precious writing.

Dogs in the Vineyard was a personal game for me. I knew that it was really good, but, I mean, Mormon gunslingers, right? My first print run for its GenCon debut was 50 books: 10 to give away, 10 to sell at the con, and 30 to sell from my website over the months and years. Ha! I sold out on Saturday morning and stood there blinking like a moron, knowing that if I'd printed them I could have sold 100 more.

At the con I ran demos for Jonathan Tweet, Kenneth Hite, and - most crucially - Judd Karlman. Right after the con, Judd starting running Dogs in the Vineyard for his group at home and writing about it on It sold like crazy because of those threads - probably 300 copies by the end of the year. That was selling like crazy in those days, for me. Jonathan Tweet and Kenneth Hite both wrote about it as the best new game at the con, and that helped too, but honestly, a good review is worth 5-10 sales and a good play writeup from Judd is worth 25-50. I'll come back to this point when I talk about Apocalypse World.

Here's a thing about Dogs in the Vineyard. When you play it, you come away from the game troubled, and if you're already inclined to write about things on the internet, you WILL write about it. You're like, "we played Dogs in the Vineyard, and it was great! But ... I'm not sure we should have shot the 14-year-old kid. I don't know what we should have done instead, but... I don't feel great about it." (And I'm like, really? You don't feel great about shooting a 14-year-old kid? How about that!) This attracts controversy, yes, and also pretty intense interest from people who're drawn to morally troubling, violent fiction - the game's very audience. The subject matter of the game, and how personal it is to play, drives its word-of-mouth marketing.

Next up, IPR, Poison'd, and In a Wicked Age, with maybe some Mechaton too.

Devon, how's this doing for you so far? Any questions I'm missing? What IS your interest, since you offer?


Title: Re: lumpley games' 2010
Post by: Devon Oratz on February 28, 2011, 01:26:28 PM
Social anxiety disorder in action: I was actually afraid to check this thread for a while because I was scared that my questions were incredibly stupid, presumptuous, and/or offensive. (My fault, not yours.) It didn't help that this was an insanely busy weekend--me and my crew were at Dreamation running and promoting one of my LARPs.

All of your answers so far have been really educational, as well as all around interesting reading. Thanks! (Don't stop.)

My interest, since you asked: I am a long time indie game designer who's struggling with the publication step. I made (and remade and updated etc.) all of my games in a vacuum, isolated from the Forge and from communities like it. At first I actually thought the Forge was a "market" (I don't mean that in a monetary sense) in which to advertise and that its primary userbase was gamers who were looking to PLAY indie RPGs rather than primarily game designers looking to discuss Actual Play and theory (I'm generalizing, and anyone who knows better can feel free to correct me). Since then, I've been learning a lot.

More about me:

I have been designing pen and paper games for twelve years without releasing them and (goes without saying) without drawing any income from them. (On a game design theory level (although that's not really what I'm here in this thread to discuss) I have a feeling most of the Forge would consider me a staunch old-school traditionalist and most of the traditional game publishing industry would consider me a crazed game hippie with weird experimental ideas. (This feeling is familiar to me from college, where I was considered a reactionary conservative by the students I knew at the very liberal school I went to and considered extremely liberal by anyone who didn't go to that school, because I went there.) End nested parenthetical statement.)

Basically, where I am at is that I have:
i. One tabletop game that is complete, but is so openly derivative that I don't feel comfortable selling it for money dollars or investing money dollars in its marketing. Its purpose was to build word of mouth, but no one has played it so that seems like it could be chalked up in the fail column.
ii. Another really short RPG that won a Ronny. I flat out don't know what to do with this one. Monetizing it would be really awesome. Dear god, how, though? It's already available for free and it's tiny.
iii. At least one other RPG in the late stages of development that is full length (unlike ii) and enough of an original IP to be commercially viable (unlike i).
iv. Precisely 0 days, 0 hours, and 0 minutes of my own time to commit to playtesting any of my own pen and paper games (see below).
v. A very small but very long-running and successful campaign-style science fiction LARP that I wrote in 2005 and have edited and updated since then. This I do draw an income from, with a very unusual business model, where the core rulebook is free, the game itself is sold as a pay-to-play service, and then additional content (sourcebooks) are sold as a product. My customers are also my friends and my friends are also my customers. This has consistently been my greatest strength/weakness in my business and social life. Since the start of 2010 my closest friends and I have been visiting conventions, running demo games, and expanding my player base. It is stressful and exhausting, but in 2011 it actually seems to be working, which makes it worth it. I only mention this side of things to provide some grounding of my game design experience; it has no particular bearing on my intent to sell sit-down roleplaying games.
vi. To complicate matters further, less than a month ago, I got my first real, professional writing gig working as a freelancer on my favorite traditional RPG for the company that publishes it. This is a job I've wanted to do since I was ten years old, and the day I was actually hired coincided with Anathema winning the Ronny award. That was a good week.

Basically, what I am doing now is seriously considering how best to go about selling something that I have thus far been unable to give away for free. It seems totally insane to me, but at the very least it bears thinking about.

I think that's (more than) enough about me. Once again: thank you for taking the time to answer in so much depth and detail.

Title: Re: lumpley games' 2010
Post by: lumpley on March 01, 2011, 10:57:43 AM
Sure! You're welcome.

My good friend Joshua says that he sells his games "because I draw no boundaries between vocation and avocation as a matter of family culture." I think that family culture one way or the other, drawing no such boundary is a cool thing.

Mechaton: Giant Fighty Robots, 2002 and 2006

Mechaton isn't a roleplaying game, it's a tabletop mini game, designed to be played with Lego. I made its playable core in 2002 and put it online for free.

Paul Czege said to me that you know you're a real game designer when you look at GenCon's game schedule and you see your games on it, run by people you don't know and without your involvement. At GenCon '03, this was true of Mechaton, and Paul teased me that who knew! I'm a real mini game designer, not a real rpg designer at all.

In 2006 I expanded Mechaton into a full and much more interesting game, and started charging money for it. It's a curious little game to sell. It sells in a reliable trickle online, 5-10 copies a month for pretty much the past 4 years. It sells like CRAZY at cons, but only if I've gotten it together to assemble playkits and demo materials and stuff - which I sometimes manage to do, and often don't. It rewards my extra efforts very well, but I don't always have the extra effort to give it.

About playtesting: there's this thing that happens with my games. My games aren't mechanically complicated. They have, oh, 6-9-12 moving parts apiece. In design, it's pretty easy for me to see the holes between the moving pieces, where new pieces need to fit; the design work is finding and making the right pieces. Playtesting is to confirm that they are, in fact, the right pieces. All through 2005 we tried a bunch of possible rules to expand Mechaton into the full game it could be. When I hit upon these rules, though, they fit into place with a click - I swear, almost an audible click as I turned them over in my mind. Of course I playtested them, but to confirm that they were right, not to find out. I knew they were good before we were halfway done with the first battle, and started gearing myself up for publication right then. If further play had revealed problems, again, I would have delayed publication, but they didn't and I was confident they wouldn't.

At GameStorm last spring, Mike Pondsmith asked me to change the name, because Mekton something something. I did my research and made my decision about this - whether I must do it (no), whether it's a good idea to do it (maybe), and whether it's an opportunity to do something cool (yes, could be). Until I get it together to do the cool thing I'm planning, the game's out of print but I'm still selling it as a PDF.

IPR, 2006-2008

In 2006 I hired IPR to do fulfillment and promotion for Dogs in the Vineyard, then Mechaton, then In a Wicked Age at the beginning of 2008. IPR had been around for a couple of years at that point, I think. By the end of 2008 its policies, fees and management had changed, and I decided that I could do better for myself by trying something new, or failing that, by going back to fulfilling my games myself.

Poison'd, 2007

In late 2006 or early 2007, Graham Walmsley challenged me to design a game about cooking. I said to myself, "yeah! It's about pirates. It's called Poison'd. It's not about cooking at all!" The game fell out of my head fully formed, I just wrote it down. I playtested it only enough to confirm that yeah, the pieces fit together like I thought they did, and then published it as an ashcan in August 2007. In August 2008 I published a final version for reals.

Oh! Ashcans. The Poison'd ashcan was a lot like the Dogs in the Vineyard playtest document back in 2004, except that a bunch of us were trying a thing, which was selling them. The idea was that we'd be very clear what we were selling - "this is not a finished game. You're buying into the foundation of a game, to help bring it to fruition" - and see whether it would make the games better when they WERE finished. People who'd invested money in the game would be more likely to give quality feedback, we figured. And in Poison'd's case I did get some quality feedback that I maybe wouldn't've gotten otherwise, but the price - "we paid money for this! And it wasn't fun!" - was across the board awfully steep. For my games I've gone back to calling them playtest documents and giving them away.

So yeah, Poison'd got a year of playtesting, some minor mechanical corrections and an expanded text for its final release in 2008.

It's never been a big seller. I knew it wouldn't be! Controversy helped it at first, but these days there's not much of that. It sells about like Mechaton does.

I meant to write about In a Wicked Age in this post too, but I'm out of time. Next up.

Anybody have any thoughts, questions or observations? Anything else I'm missing?


Title: Re: lumpley games' 2010
Post by: Chris_Chinn on March 01, 2011, 01:45:24 PM
Hey Vincent,

I remember you saying that you priced DitV so that you'd get $10 profit per sale.  Is that still true, and is that something you've mostly followed with your games?


Title: Re: lumpley games' 2010
Post by: lumpley on March 03, 2011, 07:08:01 AM
Not exactly.

What I've done until recently is set my physical book price to my pdf price plus my production costs, so that I make the same profit whether you buy the book or the pdf. I've thought of this as the actual price of the game, "and you can have me bind and print it for you if you want, for just the cost of doing so." I'm rethinking that now - it turns out that it reflects my side of the transaction just fine, but misunderstands important considerations on my customers' side.

One of them is "iTunes pricing," where there comes to be an accepted price for something regardless of its qualities or quality - a song costs $.99, a TV episode costs $1.99, no matter what song, no matter what episode. I'll be damned if I'm going to accept "an rpg pdf costs $5," but standardizing my pdf prices to $5, $10 and $15 seems like a realistic thing to do, even if in my heart I think that Apocalypse World is worth 20% more than Dogs in the Vineyard, so ought to be $18 instead of $15.

For Apocalypse World in print, I'm more free to charge Dogs' value + 20% + production costs.


Title: Re: lumpley games' 2010
Post by: lumpley on March 07, 2011, 08:55:37 AM
In a Wicked Age, 2008

Early in 2006, Clinton R. Nixon unearthed the first game I ever made public, pre-kill puppies for satan, which was called the Cheap & Cheesy Fantasy Game. He took a cool feature of it and made it into a cooler web database & query, now offline, but much like this (, which I based on it. Playing around with Clinton's oracle inspired me to design In a Wicked Age. You can see its inception here (, and here ( is a fun rpg theory post that followed it.

Everything about In a Wicked Age's design was there from the beginning, pretty much, except its resolution rules. They went through at least a couple of revisions, with long periods between where I just wasn't satisfied. By publication, the game had been in playtest for a year and a half, probably close to a hundred sessions' worth, but the final resolution rules had been in the game for only the last 10%.

I gave it its debut, unusually, at Dreamation 2008, because that's when it was ready. I paid for its initial print run of 250 with preorders.