State of the indie publisher

Started by Emily Care, March 21, 2012, 04:27:17 PM

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Emily Care

Hey there,

Thinking about work that's to be done before the end of the Forge forums, I'd like to hear about the state of independent publishing and publishers as it stands now. We've come a very long distance from those early years here, and much has happened and much has changed. This is a good time to reflect and record where we are now, for future reference.

So for people who are currently publishing their own work or are contemplating doing so, let's hear about what you've done, what's worked best, and where you are putting your energy for future days? Here are some questions to answer, and more discussion is welcome.

  • What have you published? How?
  • How have you distributed it?
  • What has helped you reach the most people? Make the most sales?
  • What's the biggest mistake you've made in design & publishing? Or disaster you've experienced?
  • Who have been your communities of design? Who is right now? How do you work with them?
  • What are your next steps?

I raise my glass to the Forge, and say thank you for making this conversation, and all of them here, possible. Thanks, Ron, Vincent, Clinton, all.

Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

Black & Green Games


Hopefull it will make a nice summary, so here is my part.

•What have you published? How?
So last week I published the first of many planned books, Ascendancy - Rogue Marshal, using my own FateStorm system.
It was published in electronic format only.

•How have you distributed it?
I chose to keep all my eggs in one basket for now and sell exclusively on RPGNow

•What has helped you reach the most people? Make the most sales?
It's still early days for me so I can't really comment, I am however in a constant state of activity sorting out new venues to post press releases and looking for willing reviewers - sadly I fear my little bit of RPG history is too intimidating for most of them to bother with.
In addition I've been trying to engage the gaming public with limited success (see 'crossing the bridge without feeding the trolls')
And promoting through my own website, facebook and just today, twitter.
I haven't seen a return on investment yet, but offering the Avatar record sheet as a free download has received a lot of attention from people who haven't (yet) bought the game. As a long time gamer myself I know you can tell a lot by the character sheet about a game, so we'll see what the results are - I'll be the first to admit that the Avatar Record sheet for FateStorm is slightly unusual compared to your average character sheet, but I hope it's not too intimidating.

•What's the biggest mistake you've made in design & publishing? Or disaster you've experienced?
The biggest mistake I think I've made so far, I'm embarrassed to say (given that I was a print production manager for years), is the consistency of my image and file preparation prior to PDF. This is primarily in regard to the RPGNow recommendations for PDFs placed on their site. I've made a lot of ammendments to the method of preparation I use now in order to maximise the quality and consistency of my products.
Also RPGNow's print on demand options are quite strict, and so if you want to provide both printed and electronic options then for efficiency you need to have the document formatting matching their requirements up front - because trying to re-layout a 288pg document from A4 to American letter is no fun.
The greatest disaster I've had so far is a typo on the promotional text doubling the amount of available magical weaves in the book. It took me a few days to find it and by then the text had been copied and posted around the blogosphere and forums. I immediately fixed the text and shot an apology email out to all my customers who bought the book. This was just an honest mistake but I still feel bad about it.

•Who have been your communities of design? Who is right now? How do you work with them?
The Forge has, by far, been my most accessed design community with regard to actual game design; second would be my gametesters. With regard to desktop publishing, illustration and graphic design I've managed to do all that myself based off my experience. It's still not perfect, but every book I publish will get a little better.

•What are your next steps?
But seriously... I've got so much to do, I've already got three supplements for Ascendancy in progress as well as another completely new campaign setting which is due out at the end of this year.
I'm going to be horking around the few conventions that there are near me and trying to attract as much attention as I can from online.

I don't know what I will do without the Forge, and hopefully we will all find an alternative through which to reconnect, as I think this is probably the truest and trusted place for indie rpg designers to find support and voice.

I'd also like to add to Emily's list of bullet points;

  • Best lesson learnt

Digital artist/Game Designer/Aurthor/Illustrator
<I>It's time to take Fate into your own hands</I>

Paul Czege

What have you published? How? How have you distributed it?
I've published roleplaying games and storytelling games. I've only ever charged money for the My Life with Master print book, the My Life with Master pdf, the Acts of Evil ashcan, the Bacchanal print book, and the Thy Vernal Chieftains pdf. People can buy print books and pdfs directly from me via PayPal buttons on my website, print books directly from me when I exhibit at trade shows, and also from a handful of retailers in the U.S.A., U.K., and Germany who consistently order and re-order them directly from me. Sometimes retailers and other indie RPG publishers have acquired books from me at a retailer discount to sell alongside their own games when they're exhibiting at trade shows I won't be at. I've only ever exhibited at three trade shows: Gen Con, STAPLE (in Austin, TX), and a non-recurring show, SMACC (in Michigan). I also make some games freely available. Nicotine Girls is a web page. Other games are pdfs. The Niche Engine is a forum post at The Forge. There is no central hub for any of it. Some of the pdf games are floating around in archives of design contest submissions. I should be more organized.

What has helped you reach the most people? Make the most sales?
Biggest single month sales for My Life with Master are associated with three events: exhibiting at the Forge booth at Gen Con in 2003, the year I published the game, winning the Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming in 2004, and Patrick Dugan's review of My Life with Master on Play This Thing in 2008 being picked up by Boing Boing and then by StumbleUpon. I believe Steve Darlington's review of My Life with Master on was also very significant in creating early awareness of the game.

What's the biggest mistake you've made in design & publishing? Or disaster you've experienced?
"Mistake" might be too strong a word, but I invested a lot of time in Acts of Evil, five years with it as my primary design project, before ultimately shelving it. I learned a lot about game design from that effort, but the learning has yet to pay dividends, and the result of having gone into a cave on a five year project is erosion in my public identity as an active, relevant contributor to the hobby. I was asked recently if I had retired. I think the next two games I'll publish will be stunning, partly as a result of things I learned working on Acts of Evil, but I can't say I don't wish I'd managed to keep better momentum as a public contributor to the hobby. Doing The Ashcan Front, a few contest games, and making deals for foreign language translations of prior games in those five years hasn't countered the erosion of my identity as well as releasing even a single small game for sale would have done.

Who have been your communities of design? Who is right now? How do you work with them?
What are your next steps?

I've been very very lucky. In the early years of the Forge I had regular phone conversations with Ron Edwards, and I assembled a local gaming group that included Matt Gwinn (who designed and published Kayfabe), Scott Knipe (who designed lots of games, including WYRD and the Charnel Gods supplement for Sorcerer), Danielle Lewon (who finished and published Kagematsu), and my longtime friend Tom. We played and playtested regularly for years, games like The Pool, Theatrix, an early version of Kagematsu, The Whispering Vault, SOAP, My Life with Master, Sorcerer, WYRD, EPICS, Wuthering Heights, and lots of others. That group dissolved when Tom moved to Chicago. And of course The Forge online was a fantastic community of design for years and years. Great feedback and playtesting of My Life with Master happened on The Forge. And we playtested and gave feedback on lots of games by other designers, forming friendships and relationships that last to this day. Mike Holmes helped me refine the dice mechanics for both Nicotine Girls and My Life with Master.

Since that first local gaming group dissolved I've assembled groups for playing and playtesting some games, sometimes including Matt, Scott, and Danielle, but also including other folks like Jamey Crook, Thor Hansen, Sean Stidd, Dan Anderson, Ed Heil, Matt Strickling, and my friends Eric and Melanie. But these groups have never had everyone's collective interest in experimental design the way the first group did, and they always dissolve after the one game. So right now my community of design is far far contracted from what it was. It consists largely of regular conversations with my wife Danielle, and with Jamey Crook, and occasional focused questions to folks like Michael S. Miller, Matt Strickling, Ed Heil, Guy Shalev, Thor Hansen, and Mike Holmes.

My next steps are taking every opportunity to form relationships with like-minded designers and gamers. I have good friendships now from last year's trip to InterNosCon with folks like Raffaele Manzo, Ezio Melega, Matteo Turini, and Daniele Losito, and also with Tazio Bettin. Danielle and I will be at Gen Con, and I'm hoping to run and play a lot of games at Games On Demand with folks I don't know. I'm trying to use Google+ to network as well. It's all about relationships. Increasingly I believe the thing you need most as a designer is answers to focused design questions and feedback from gamers who play widely and who understand you and your design goals. If you can get all of that you need, answers and feedback, and you put it to good use, getting people to playtest is easy. I'm starting to create small, focused circles on Google+ of folks who might be the target audience for my current projects, in anticipation of needing to talk with them.
"[My Life with Master] is anything but a safe game to have designed. It has balls, and then some. It is as bold, as fresh, and as incisive  now as it was when it came out." -- Gregor Hutton

Nathan P.

Great idea, Em.

I wanna talk about what effect the Forge specifically had on me! Dunno if I'll get to all your points, tho. Also, warning, long post!

So I first encountered the Forge midway through designing my first for-real game, Timestream. I was a little stuck on something, and I think I literally googled "how to design an RPG," and my mind was ka-blown. This was 2004/2005 - so, I missed the first wave of design and games, but was pretty much right there for the second-ish.

I changed a lot of things about Timestream due to my new perspective (not all for the better), but looking back the real effect of the Forge was to convince me that I could actually, y'know, get it out there. Also, just being on the sidelines for the conversations about Gen Con and other conventions brought out my desire, and conviction, that I could do that too.

I published Timestream as a PDF near the end of 2005. Ron was literally the first person who bought it. Through the next couple of months I set it up to POD via, and then printed 100 or so copies with a short-run digital printer that is no longer in business. I got it into distribution via Key20 (also gone now) and IPR. Went to my first Dreamation with it.

I don't think it's the best game I've designed, but I took it through this whole process, and that experience taught me a whole lot about the whole world of self-publishing.

The next big thang for me was Game Chef, which I had observed at the Forge, and loved. I first participated in in 2006, which is I think the first year the forum moved off to 1KM1KT. I wrote carry for that game chef. I consider carry my first mature game, and it's the first one where I really started thinking about the physical artifact as a component of the game experience, which is a theme I've been exploring since, in my own way.

carry was what got a lot of people's attention, which I appreciate. BWHQ was instrumental in how the game came out, actually - Thor and Dro playtested and had lots of powerful feedback, Thor edited the copy, and Luke did some of the image editing and sat down with me to look at the manuscript. He taught me more about layout in an hour than I'd been able to learn on my own in two years.

carry is also, clearly, a "Forge game". It uses a ton of techniques that had been developed to address play issues under the hottest consideration at the time, and is most strongly influenced by Dogs in the Vineyard, Primetime Adventures and My Life With Master. I think a lot of blanket criticisms of "Forge games" apply to it - it's a game where you shout BANG and then kick each other in the nuts for 4 hours.

I had trouble keeping carry in print for a while because of changes in my professional/real life. When Key20 folded, I did actually get my remaining stock from them, and my sales were never that high so I didn't lose very much money from outstanding payments owed. That was definitely a wakeup call about the risks of fulfillment houses, though. I'm still with IPR, but I had a personal connection (at the time) with Brennan, and trusted him, and since then the business has seemed stable enough. Sales through IPR have shifted almost entirely to retailer fulfillment, which is fine, but also reflective of it's place in the marketplace now. Anyhow...

Annalise is my post-Forge game. Going into exactly how this is is the subject of a different thread, but my intentions designing it were very, very reactionary. When you're immersed in something for so long, you start to see flaws more clearly. The development of the game was almost entirely private, also. This was 2007-2008, and the utility of the Forge as a design tool, for me, was on a downward trend. This was also when Kevin and I started the Design Matters booth, in the wake of getting kicked out of the Forge Booth at Gen Con. So, I was focused towards creating this unique booth experience, and presenting this color-rich, theme-rich game with underlying hard structure at it.

Printing Annalise has been my biggest challenge, publishing-wise. The first "edition" was a hand-bound set of books at Dreamation, and those took so much effort to make! And then, my printer for Gen Con flaked on me, and I tried to rush it through another printer, and the books came out terrible, and ugh. Everyone said "don't rush to publish for Gen Con", and I really didn't think I was, but then I did and it sucked. Thankfully, I think the environment now is much more receptive to not having Gen Con be the be-all end-all of game publishing.

Annalise is also where I've done the most experimentation with form and presentation, with multiple covers and different interior options and so on. And my take-away lesson from that is that it was ultimately anti-productive in the marketplace. It just confused people, no matter how much I liked it as a creator. Which is why the Final Edition is just that - one book, one PDF, containing all the material. I was able to get deeper into the printing process with it, combining multiple paper stocks and such, which I'm really happy with.

And now? Well, I took a couple years off of active game design to go to grad school. Since then, I've been looking at the stuff I've written over time and seeing what still has legs. I'm most actively working on my series of microgames, short cheap magazine-format games that I've been funding with Kickstarter campaigns. I feel very back-to-my-roots with these, actually, because they're weird ideas that I'm not spending any money on up-front. They enter the world in the black, and they don't sell much but they don't need to, because the goal is just for them to exist.

I've transitioned to a very private design approach, and I don't really talk about my work-in-progress with anyone until it's ready to actually play. I'm regressing! But part of it is a function of my current lifestyle, and part is that I'm not physically close to the same people that I used to be able to talk games with. Hopefully, I'll be in a position in the next couple of months to start making closer connections to local designers and start reaching out again.

I don't think I've actively used the Forge in any substantive way for, oh,  3 years or so. But so many of my friends are friends because I met them through this site, and so much of my work is directly attributable to the work done here, that I can say with absolute seriousness that my games would not exist without the Forge. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to all of you.
Nathan P.
Find Annalise
I design | ndp design
I blog | Games, Design & Game Design
I tweet | @ndpaoletta

Paul Czege

Erp. Davide Losito, not Daniele. There goes that friendship.
"[My Life with Master] is anything but a safe game to have designed. It has balls, and then some. It is as bold, as fresh, and as incisive  now as it was when it came out." -- Gregor Hutton

Josh Roby

I've published... quite a few things, at this point.  Conquer the Horizon, Full Light, Full Steam, Sons of Liberty, Coronets but Never Crowns, Void Vultures.  CtH is a quicky, freebie internet download.  FLFS, SoL, and Coronets were all short print runs (through 360 Digital Books) and PDFs.  Void Vultures is a ransomed, released-to-the-world PDF plus a few kickstarter backer extras.

I sold books at conventions and over the Internet, with a pretty plain slide from mostly-con to mostly-Internet.  These days I don't bother with conventions at all.  In fact, I've also slowly phased out selling physical books in general: too much hassle!  I've signed up to sell PDFs through every RPG webstore I could find.

The thing that has helped me reach the most people has hands-down been Kickstarter.  As a west-coast designer that doesn't make it to the Big Cons, Kickstarter has been invaluable in gathering attention, generating buzz, and building community.  It has very quickly become a cornerstone of my business plan moving forward.

My biggest mistake—of the many different mistakes I've made—was probably the overproduction of Sons of Liberty.  This is a game that really should have been a small, lean product, a $10 short booklet for playing a quick game for laughs.  I spent tons of money on art, wrote long sprawling chapters about how to play campaigns and PvP games, and put out a 160 page book because I wanted SoL to match FLFS in profile and so the two of them would look good on a bookshelf together.  I did sell through the first print run, but I've still got a box from the second print run sitting in my closet.  Had I had a better idea of what that game should have been, in terms of the book and the social footprint for playing the game, it would have been a great little firecracker of a game.  Missed opportunities.

My recurrent mistake, though, is making poor estimates of what shipping will cost or neglecting to factor in shipping costs entirely.  Shipping from the printer to me, especially, always hits me for more money than I really need to be spending.

Back in the day, my design community was here.  Then Ron asked us all very politely to please leave (intentional overstatement; we love you, Ron), and my "design community" became Story Games, which was never intended to be a design community.  It took a few years for me to realize this, unfortunately.  Then there was the two-year period where I worked with Cam Banks on the Smallville line; this was mostly emails and chat-based collaboration, and both of us pulling our hair out at the other one's assumptions. ;)

These days, my design community is my regular playtesting group, which meets weekly, and my often-collaborator Ryan Macklin.  I am profoundly blessed by the game design gods to have these guys at my back.  LAGames is technically a playtest collective, and playtest each other's games, but half of our members at this point just come to play and smash game designs without a great deal of interest in designing their own stuff.  Which is great!  More folks means more perspectives.  Which is also what Ryan and I do, sharing notes over the Internet and giving each other new eyes to look at stuff.

This year I've got a pub plan that's more developed than "publish when I'm done."  I've got a number of games and other products that I'm releasing over the course of the year, trying to establish some sense of a brand and keep interest up.  I'm chasing the 'echo effect' where regular releases increase sales of all products.  I'm also very excited about doing ransom-model creative-commons licensing of small games through Kickstarter.  These prevent me from making the worst mistakes of overproduction, giving me an operating budget for the project and no need to worry about marketing after I'm done.

I am also very intentionally shifting myself out of game design and into fiction.  Game design has been a lot of fun, but the time-to-profit ratio is just too damn low.  So I'm clearing my plate, finishing up all my half-completed titles, and devoting real time to writing fiction, which has some vague hope of being more career-shaped than RPGs.  Atlantis Risen, which probably won't be released until 2013, will most likely be my last big game design project.
On Sale: Full Light, Full Steam and Sons of Liberty | Developing: Agora | My Blog

Emily Care

What have you published? How?
Breaking the Ice, Shooting the Moon, Under my Skin, Sign in Stranger, Dread House, Monkey Dome, The Color Game, What to Do about Tam Lin?, Diamonds and Coal, The RPGirl ZineGiving and Taking and The Fluffy Bunny Game.

How have you distributed them?
BtI, StM, UmS and SiS in print: via online marketing and at cons, through IndiePress Revolution, the Unstore and my own site. All the above through pdf: the free ones through my own site, and commercial games for sale through my site, IPR and DriveThruRPG.

What has helped you reach the most people? Make the most sales?
Being part of the conversation, at the Forge and in person at conventions has made the biggest difference for me in many ways. It meant that I learned what I needed to know to design, and also helped me make contact with people to playtest the games as well as be interested in them when they were ready. The friendships that I made, whether on line at the Forge, Story Games or now G+, and face-to-face at conventions like GenCon, JiffyCon, Dreamation, Forge Midwest, Recess, Camp Nerdly, PaxEast, Ropecon, Fastaval and Nodal Point have really been the fuel behind my involvement. Selling eachother's games with love and passion at the Forge booth set the mold for me as far as interacting with my peers: we weren't there to run eachother down, but to hold each other up and to show people that there are many things that can be rpg.

What's the biggest mistake you've made in design & publishing? What were your best lessons learned?
Letting myself get caught up in the finish-by-GenCon cycle was great and horrible. It made me finish three short games, and get them out there. But with Sign in Stranger, I rushed and am still working on getting the game to a state where I'm truly happy with it. A free copy to everyone who's gotten a version is my goal, once it's complete and to then put it out and move on. The biggest lesson I've learned is that the most important thing to me is the games and the people. If I am out there for blood & money, it's just pressure and pain for me. But there is so much to learn, so many people to talk to, and so many more lessons in design to learn that focusing on growing keeps me honest and my interactions vital.

Who have been your communities of design? Who is right now? How do you work with them?
Throughout it all my base group has been my dear, local friends who game and design. It's grown over the years: Vincent and Meg Baker, Joshua Newman, Robert Bohl, Julia Ellingboe, Evan Torner, Kat Jones, and Elizabeth and Shreyas Sampat. And I even married in with Epidiah Ravachol. And half of them I met through the Forge, and other communities like Story Games and from conventions that were fed by the relationships begun at the Forge. And many of these folks worked with me at GenCon booths: the Forge Booth, PlayCollective, Pirate Jenny, or as neighbors at the Ashcan Front and Design Matters. Community game stores have become a new center for meeting people to game with and talk about design. From the Knife Fight forum, the RPGirl zine collaboration bloomed, and is now growing with Giulia Barbano's work with the Women in Games forum. Other groups of collaboration and design I treasure are the Jeeps in the nordic lands, the larger larp and game community in Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark, the amazing Italian artisans of publishing, and many more folks from Europe and around the world that are engaged with the game theory hub that are the Nodal Point conventions. And larp communities in the US who have their own innovations or lovingly embrace jeep & freeform. Conventions have made it possible to collaborate and learn from many more people face to face than just my local friends, but online in its many forms have facilitated many collaborations: email, forums, google+, facebook contacts, googledocs, etc.

What are your next steps?
Getting back into design and publishing. Continuing to work with collaborators on new projects, and wrapping up various projects to be able to move forward on new designs. Here in my area, we'll start a working group on game design at a local community space. I hope to get to design some more with friends who will soon move away! (You--Rob, Evan & Kat!) I'm excited by ways that the form keeps being pushed: with Vincent's Murderous Ghosts, the Play with Intent project Matthijs and I am working on, all the ways new media can be incorporated as Ben Lehman and Elizabeth Sampat are exploring. I'm moving soon, and a big part of my new space will be devoted to office space that will let Epidiah & I be able to publish more and more easily. I'm even doing freelance work, writing fiction for Pelgrane and Evil Hat. For me, I feel like I'm coming back to games after exploring many new things, including editing and larp.
Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

Black & Green Games

Bret Gillan

What have you published? How?

The Final Girl is done! It's a small, POD thing right now and I've sold half of my first print run. I have a PDF but haven't gotten around to selling it. Previous to that I published a reall TERRIBLE game called Pundits & Pollsters as a PDF a long, long time. It sold basically zero copies.

How have you distributed it?

My website, The Unstore and hand-to-hand sales at a horror movie convention. I'm going to take it to gaming conventions too.

What has helped you reach the most people? Make the most sales?

Being plugged by other established game designers that I've befriended over the years through gaming forums or through gaming with them at Dreamation/Dexcon.

What's the biggest mistake you've made in design & publishing? Or disaster you've experienced?

Trying to be a friend to people I'm paying to work for me rather than a boss. The Final Girl would have been done two years ago if I hadn't tried to be really hands off and be like, "Whenever you find the time to get this thing done is great." When you don't make your work a priority, it is naturally going to get bumped to the bottom of people's lists. Which isn't malicious, but everyone has stuff going on. That's life.

Who have been your communities of design? Who is right now? How do you work with them?

Well, everyone at the Forge and the designers whose games and blogs I have been quietly reading. I've never figured out a way to fruitfully engage with the world at large about game design, and submitting Cold Soldier to the Ronnies and the subsequent feedback from Ron was the very first time I felt like I was talking about my design on the internet in a way that was helpful to me. Mostly I work along in silence and isolation. Which is a little crazy since I had lunch with Luke Crane and Jared Sorensen, and play a weekly game with Matt Wilson. But I just don't find good opportunities to talk about design. So it's more like I soak up the design from everyone around me.

What are your next steps?

Finish Cold Soldier in the next month or two. Make more of a presence at game convention. And then onto the next exciting projects I have at hand. Learn more lessons! Design more things!

Edited for fomatting -VB

Robert Bohl

Thanks for doing this, Em.

Quote from: Emily Care on March 21, 2012, 04:27:17 PM
  • What have you published? How?
  • How have you distributed it?
  • What has helped you reach the most people? Make the most sales?
  • What's the biggest mistake you've made in design & publishing? Or disaster you've experienced?
  • Who have been your communities of design? Who is right now? How do you work with them?
  • What are your next steps?

I've published Misspent Youth in paper and in PDF. It's also been translated and published in Italian. I also completed an entry in the Artist's First Game Chef called Bitch Goddess.

I've distributed through my site, as well as through and IPR. I've also walked the game to many local gaming stores and arranged a few direct sales to retailers. Finally, I put the screen-friendly PDF that I just published on DrivethruRPG just yesterday. I've made the most sales through IPR, probably, though some number of those are to store so I don't know whether I'd count those as "sold." To me, a game isn't really sold until a person who wants to play it, owns it.

It's hard to say what's helped me reach the most people. I'd put it a three-way tie between hosting and appearing on podcasts, being a heavy user of social media and forums, and going to conventions. Tracking sales directly from the first two are difficult (though I have gotten confirmation from people that they have bought the game thanks to listening to Brilliant Gameologists, The Jank Cast, The Podgecast, and The Walking Eye. I have definitely gotten a large number of direct sales at conventions, too.

The biggest mistake I made as a publisher is being a shitty businessperson and failing to track backend things well. Everyone gets everything they need to from me in terms of books, files, and money, but it's utter chaos on the backend. As much as we talk about many parts of the process of being an indie designer, how to manage your business is probably the most-sorely-neglected.

My communities of design have included here, the Master Mines blog I was a member of at one point, Story Games, nerdnyc, i would knife fight a man, and Google+, In-the-flesh communities: First, Judd. After that, the Western Massive crew: Eppy, Emily, Evan, Joshua, Kat, Meg, and Vincent. Right now, it's G+ and Western Mass, and Judd. I playtest with them and talk to them about game ideas.

My next steps: I'm working on 3 games, considering creating an ePub edition of Misspent Youth, and planning on moving to NYC.
Misspent Youth: Ocean's 11 + Avatar: The Last Airbender + Snow Crash
Oo! Let's Make a Game!: Joshua A.C. Newman and I make a transhumanist RPG


What have you published? How?
I've published Other Worlds, a multigenre storygame with a heavy focus on worldbuilding and setting/genre exploration. It's a 210 page 8.5 x 11 book, available in both softcover and hardcover through RPGNow's POD service. It's also on sale as a PDF and I've been bundling the PDF for free with sales of the physical books.


How have you distributed it?
Originally I distributed it exclusively through RPGNow/DriveThruRPG. You get a better cut of the profits if you're exclusive and I didn't really want the hassle of handling individual sales and postage myself. Now that the initial rush is over I've switched to a non-exclusive deal with RPGNow and started to expand my sales presence elsewhere. I've put the book up on Lulu, sold some copies direct to a store, and am in the process of signing up with IPR.

What has helped you reach the most people? Make the most sales?
Posting on primarily. I don't find that I get any traction on at all, which is weird. I've got a facebook page and a wordpress blog but I think they let me speak to existing customers rather than create new ones. Fred Hicks did my layout and has given me a few plugs on twitter, which I'm sure has generated a lot of sales for me all by itself.

What's the biggest mistake you've made in design & publishing? Or disaster you've experienced?
Biggest disaster was that I had to go through 3 sets of proofs before I had a saleable physical book. The first bad proof was a cock-up on our end, while the second was a cock-up on RPGNow/Lightning Source's end (some sort of random misprint, which made us think our layout was still not right when it was actually perfectly fine). This meant that the book itself didn't go on sale until nearly 2 months after the PDF came out, wbhich I'm sure must have cost me sales.

Biggest mistake was not a mistake at all. It may have been ill-advised, but I did it deliberately: I spent a lot of money on art, editing, and layout. I got what I paid for, and I'm very proud of the final product, but from a commercial point of view it was not sensible (especially for a first-time designer). I just thought: fuck it, I've spent a lot of time writing and developing it, I'm now asking people to give me money for it, it's absolutely my responsibility to make the physical object as wonderful as I possibly can. If anyone's heard of Tony Wilson and Factory Records, that's exactly the ethos I was guided by. Part of being a punk indie publisher is also having the freedom to prioritise art over commerce. Sales have been good, so I'll still make my money back, it will just take me a little bit longer than it would have otherwise.

Who have been your communities of design? Who is right now? How do you work with them?
I've not benefitted from communities but individuals. Mike Holmes was a huge help and influence in the early stages of the design. My own playgroup were very helpful during playtesting and over 3 separate campaigns helped turn the vague first drafts into a solid and playable game. And finally Fred Hicks not only did a great job with the layout, he's also been a tremendous source of advice on the business side of publishing and I continue to badger him with annoying questions 3 months after release.

What are your next steps?
At the moment I'm working on a space opera supplement that I intend to fund through Indiegogo. It's not intended as the first in a long series of genre books, more an example of what people can do to expand the game in any genre if they so choose. I've also got some other ideas percolating in the background, including an article about using Other Worlds to emulate a certain HBO programme and an entirely separate game about zombie survival, but I don't know if they will ever be published or not. 

Mark Humphreys

Marshall Burns

What I've published and how:
The Rustbelt in print only, and a small assortment of micro-games in PDF only.

My distribution has mostly been direct sales through the Unstore and my own site (in roughly equal measure). Eero also sells the Rustbelt through his Arkenstone webstore, and a few Rustbelt ashcans were sold on my behalf by Paul Czege at GenCon 20-somethingorother.

Reaching people and making sales:
I don't know! A lot of my sales are from direct interaction with people, but a major chunk are to European folks that I've never interacted with or seen on the net at all! I have no idea how I've managed to reach them, but they're the largest fraction of my sales.

My biggest mistake:
Without a doubt, not knuckling down and finishing the Rustbelt a year faster than I did (which would have been trivial to do; I just didn't focus). Instead I dallied and, as a powerful instrument for post-apoc Story Now play, Rustbelt was completely overshadowed in the communities I'm active in by the contemporary release of Apocalypse World, to the point that one guy who told me that I rank in his top-five favorite designers wasn't even aware of the release until last week, two years after the release! This is my own damn fault, and not Vincent's at all, I should add.

The Forge got me started, and I've since been mostly active design-wise on G+. To namecheck specific people, David Berg, George Cotronis, Wilmer Dahl, Paul Czege, David Hallett, Joshua Walchester, and Ron have all been particularly instrumental in my development (even if they haven't noticed it).

My next steps:
I have two major projects I'm working on (Hex Rangers and Madlands). I've been trying to network on G+, trying to be more present and active, and trying to meet and interact with new people. Particularly with Madlands, I've been pursuing cross-pollination with OSR/DiYD&D folks, because less incest is the best cest.


Hi Mark,

I'm a bit more of a lurker here most times as opposed to a regular poster, but here goes.

>>   * What have you published? How?<<

First, I am one of two principle partners in GOB Publishing, so I should say "we have" published instead of "I". We've published Grunt Fantasy Miniature Battles, The Dark Realms RPG, W.H.A.T.? RPG, Heroes Forever RPG, a couple dozen board games in our Empires of History line, Overlords Fantasy Battlescape Board Game (a Titan variant), the Worlds of Heroes and Tyrants board game (a talisman variant), Dice Armies, Mythic Chess and a handful of other oddities. We've also had the 1483 Online multi player online game in beta testing, well, for far far too long now. lol.

>>    * How have you distributed it?<<

In the early days we distributed through our own website and conventions. Spent about half a decade trying to work with most of the industry's distributors. And the last half decade focusing sales through our own website, our own retail store, to a small handful of retailers and a limited number of titles through PDF resellers.

>>    * What has helped you reach the most people? Make the most sales?<<

I was reaching the most people when marketing and distributing games through the industry's distribution system. Conventions made for a great way to have face to face time with our more hardcore fans. These days the Internet has done a fair job of replacing both, but has its own limits with regards to reach.

>>    * What's the biggest mistake you've made in design & publishing? Or disaster you've experienced?<<

Lol. So, so many. Rushing products through production, lack of proper editing, listening to what people and retailers told me they wanted instead of using our data to figure out what they "really" wanted. Continuing to do business using unstable foundations to build upon, thinking I could force a better result than the system was able to give me.

>>    * Who have been your communities of design? Who is right now? How do you work with them?<<

Hmm. I am not sure I have ever really "joined" a community of design. Though I always keep my ears open to what the trends in design are, I do not necessarily embrace any of them. I would say my initial community of design was my early circle of friends way back in high school and college. My customer base as been my sounding board from which I have learned to make better games since then.

As for industry communities, I pop in here at the Forge, read, the Board Game Design Forum (, Story Games and a few others, plus spent a bunch of years involved with the Game Publishers' Association. There are a couple private industry boards I still frequent as well, more to do with retail than publishing though.

>>    * What are your next steps?<<

Well, about 4 years ago I started GOB Retail, trying to develop a somewhat new model for a game retail store. GOB Retail also began print on demand operations. So the store has been coming along nicely and within the next year or so we'll likely start looking to expand into a 2nd, 3d, 4th location, etc. We d our share of POD book printing right now, but what we had tried to do was large print on demand for card games. Which went ok at first, but we quickly found a lack of viable manufacturing equipment to be able to ramp up production to be efficient and keep up with market demand. The last couple years I have been building a die cutting machine prototype to accomplish that and we've been coding a dynamic website to handle project building and order management (and pre press stuffs).

As for publishing, we are preparing to roll out a new version of our 1483 Online game this year. The last few years we had dramatically slowed down new product releases so we could focus on the online game and the new retail/pod ventures. But this year we are overhauling our website and consumer/retailer marketing systems and preparing for a big push of new releases and trying to expand our distribution back into more retail stores. We are relaunching our Dark Realms role playing game on Free RPG Day this year, launching with the core rules and 7 supplements out the gate. Using our new POD set up to print everything. Though the "new" Dark Realms is actually a merger of two of our old game systems (Dark Realms and W.H.A.T.?), both taken out of print around 2002, into one better game line. Using the core game mechanics from our W.H.A.T.? system with the gems of the dark Realms toss in together with the Dark Realms name and story. Years ago we freely distributed 1.2 million copies of the old W.H.A.T.? game system in PDF format. Now it's time to see what impact that will have on the relaunch. I am excited because it has been a long time coming.

GOB Retail / Publishing
Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group



My post shoud have been addressed to Emily. Sorry.

GOB Retail / Publishing
Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group

Graham W

What have you published? How?

Play Unsafe, A Taste For Murder, Stealing Cthulhu: books and PDFs.
Cthulhu Dark: free PDF.
The Dying of St Margarets, The Watchers In The Sky, The Dance In The Blood, The Rending Box, The Dead White World, The Apocalypse Machine: PDFs in partnership with Pelgrane Press. (They're still creator-owned, as in, by me.)

How have you distributed it?

For a short time, by Lulu, which worked fine but their cut is very high. Then by IPR.

Now, I post out all my books myself and authorise PDF downloads. It's difficult to keep up with all the orders. I'm looking at automating.

What has helped you reach the most people? Make the most sales?

Cross-pollination between indie gamers and Cthulhu gamers.

What's the biggest mistake you've made in design & publishing? Or disaster you've experienced?

Overpromising things. It's often easy to sign up for things in the future that, later, you just have no creative energy for. Deathly.

Who have been your communities of design? Who is right now? How do you work with them?

Informal clumps of people at UK conventions. Email contact with a few collaborators.

What are your next steps?

I'm studying Occupational Psychology and am most interested in self-publishing some stuff from that.

Andy Kitkowski

Interesting topic.

I haven't published anything I designed to date, but have published one game (Maid), and will be publishing two more this year (Tenra Bansho, Ryuutama), and one next year (Mysterious Game X). Being a member of these communities was absolutely essential to my publishing directions and strategies.

>> What have you published? How?
Maid: The Role-Playing Game. Translated mostly by Ewen, localized mostly by me, layout by Ben, published/funded by me. Book, PDF. Mostly PoD.

>> How have you distributed it?
Initial run: Through my website only, then IPR shortly thereafter.
Now: Equally through the website and IPR.

>> What has helped you reach the most people? Make the most sales?
The game itself.
* The market is ripe for anime-themed games, found a lot of crossover traction in anime circles
* There are a lot of players who love slapstick/silly games (see Paranoia, etc)
* The game is stupid-simple to learn and run
* The value: An $8 (originally; now less) PDF with about 14 pages of rules but several hundred pages of content. Pretty illustrations, etc.
* Being responsive to people on the internet, listening to concerns, mitigating them, etc.

>> What's the biggest mistake you've made in design & publishing? Or disaster you've experienced?
Mistake: Aiming for a GenCon release. Even though it appeared we had all the time in the world (6 months after game was translated, before editing/layout), in truth we did not. It almost killed us and burned us out for good.
Disaster: Poor localization. I guess this is a thing specific to RPG translations and not ground-up design. In any case, Ewen did a great job of line-by-line translating of the game. I did a fine job of line-by-line editing of the lines translated by Ewen. We then shipped. We forgot to take one step back, a second step back, and go "let's read this whole section now; does it make sense? Does it convey what the author intended?" In about two huge examples, we misfired big time (mostly me: Did the editing, forgot to back up and reread it as if I was a new user). Luckily, people pointed it out, we corrected it, gave out free new PDFs, apologized, etc.
Screaming whiners got to scream and whine. Medetashi, medetashi.
But folks making noise because they had concerns with the product that they earnestly wanted to see fixed, saw those concerns addressed, the game fixed, and thus we were able to establish a great relationship with those folks.

>> Who have been your communities of design? Who is right now? How do you work with them?
Mostly friends. Online design in a public space I find to be largely masturbatory for myself (at the best, a way to publicly be held accountable for progress; at worst a series of "hey look at me!" posts).
Instead I rely on local friends (many of whom are designers or FANTASTIC critics, like Eric Provost, Lisa Provost and Matthew Gandy) (if I didn't have such friends living nearby, I admit that I might have used the internet more), and specific online friends if I needed specific help.

>> What are your next steps?
MOAR. Continuing to hobby-translate Japanese RPGs and publish them. Continuing to do light design on the side.
Maid was for me, at its heart, a way to test the waters and toughen my skin for publishing Tenra Bansho. In the 3+ years since Maid's release, the market changed again (no shit, right?). Kickstarter is the biggest new feature. If kickstarter existed in 2004, Tenra would have been published in 2007/8.

>> Best lesson learnt
Listen to critics.
Ignore fuckwads and drama queens.
Never plan a release date until the book is ready, priced, ready to print ("The Luke Crane Method").
Never release a PR until the game is in that state as well.
Never, ever aim to have a game "ready for GenCon". At best, you will fail. At worst, you will succeed and murder yourself and all your friends.

The Story Games Community - It's like RPGNet for small press games and new play styles.