State of the indie publisher

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

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What have you published? How?
I helped publish (but did not develop) Mist-Robed Gate; I have also published It's Complicated, It's Complicated Revised, and Blowback. THEY BECAME FLESH will be out in the next month or so.
How have you distributed it?
In person at conventions, through my website, the Unstore, and occasionally IPR.

What has helped you reach the most people? Make the most sales?
I have an extremely active social media presence with a good cross section of tabletop gamers and video game devs. Blogging regularly has been great, including guest blog posts about game theory and other fun stuff on otherwise unrelated blogs.

What's the biggest mistake you've made in design & publishing? Or disaster you've experienced?
Selling through IPR, and then being honest and transparent about the problems with selling through IPR. There is no faster way to raise the ire of The RPG Police.

Who have been your communities of design? Who is right now? How do you work with them?
2SP was founded as a partnership, so Shreyas and I rely heavily on each other when we're making games. We fight a lot, we don't have the same taste in games and we don't always agree on which nascent project should be our next big project. And I think that back and forth makes the games better. I've got a similar not-always-agreeing relationship with Jonathan Walton, too, who comes from a very different place but whose sensibilities can and have shed light on areas I tend to overlook. I worked pretty closely with the Western MA folks when I lived there, but since relocating to California I'm still trying to find my design community.

What are your next steps?
Get the cover art from my artist, send the stuff off to the printer, open preorders and work on fulfillment of another new game. After that, my Next Big Project is a book, not a game (not counting the games I make for my day job, anyway).

Tim C Koppang

What have you published? How? How have you distributed it?

I have published two commercially available games, Hero's Banner and Mars Colony. Before that, and we're talking back in 2003 and before, I published a number of half-finished and collaborative projects for free on the web in various formats.

Hero's Banner was published in 2006 as a book via Lulu. It is still available on Lulu, but I have since started selling a PDF as well. PDF sales have outnumbered print for some time now, which still surprises me. It would seem that we have come full circle. It used to be that the best an indie publisher could do was release a PDF. Everyone took the file to Kinkos and made a spiral bound "book." We all dreamed of making "real" books -- and we did. But now with the iPad and Kindle, we are back to PDFs. That strikes me as somewhat bizarre in retrospect.

Mars Colony was first published as an Ashcan in 2010, which I credit as a successful process even if the term "Ashcan" was starting to develop a bad name by that point. One year later, I published the final version of Mars Colony, which debuted at the Design Matters booth.

For Mars Colony, I used Publishers' Graphics to print an initial 200 copies, which saved me significant money when compared to Lulu. It also allowed me to print all of the interior art in full color, which is nice.

Distribution of Hero's Banner books had always been through IPR and Lulu (via my website). I never had any problems with IPR. However, by 2011, the ownership had changed. IPR was never very strong at promoting books, but they did get my stuff into retail stores and conventions that I wasn't going to attend -- all with no effort on my part. As an experiment, I sold the first 70-100 print copies of Mars Colony solely through my website and the Unstore. This worked, and I took home a larger cut of the profits. However, as sales leveled off, I once again turned to IPR for a bit more exposure.

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

Great question. I have no idea.

The only thing that seems to really work is social networking, reviews, and talking to other people about my games. The Forge used to be a hotbed of all indie development. Everyone was designing out in the open, and so by the time a project made it to print, everyone seemed to know about the game. That all started to change in 2005-2006.

IPR certainly helped, but not as much as I thought it would. I've run sales and promotions. Those help a bit, but not much. The only thing that really works is when other people talk about my games online. That's a tough thing to create as a publisher, though.

Attending Gen Con was a net positive, I think, but only because I was able to team up with other publishers. We all helped each other, and I was able to soak up some of the name recognition associated with the Forge Booth, and later with Design Matters. The Cons were good for making an initial splash, but the cost to attend was quite high. I consider Gen Con a marketing expense more than a profit-making endeavor itself.

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

I've been fairly disaster free, and so I consider myself lucky. My sales have always been fairly low, but not terrible either. I'm ok with that. I make niche games for people who want to play a game about personal or uncomfortable topics. I'm happy to be able to do that.

I have made mistakes. I set the price for Mars Colony too high at first. That turned some people off. Setting a price is a tricky thing. Some people charge too much, some too little. Finding the sweet spot can help potential customers form a good first impression. Then again, gamers are sort of cheap and the economy tanked. So there's that.

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

The only community of design for me was the Forge. I haven't seriously posted here for at least a few years. I've never been a prodigious poster; however, without the discussions on the early Forge, my games simply wouldn't exist. I have not found a place on the web that in any way supports my creativity in the same way as the Forge did. Personal conversation and actual play have been the most productive form of workshopping in recent years. I have been told that Google+ is the way to go now. I suppose I'll have to sell my soul to Google and get on that.

Frank Tarcikowski

Hi Emily, thanks for starting this!

What have you published? How?

I have published BARBAREN! through my friends at Vagrant Workshop (formerly known as RedBrick Germany) under non-exclusive license so it's creator owned but not self-published. I think that doesn't really count as "Indie" by strict Forge standards but it's still a Forge-baked game so I thought I'd chime in. PDFs were published in German and English through DriveThruRPG and RPGNow. The German print version sold out (500 copies total), we are contemplating a second print run. The English print version is using the print-on-demand service at DriveThruRPG.

How have you distributed it?

For the distribution of the German print version we signed in with a larger publisher as distribution partner. The PDFs and the English print version are distributed by DriveThruRPG. In both cases the cut I receive at the end of the day is relatively small, but profit was never my motivation. The game is available to people, and it's looking really great, that's what counts to me.

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

I made a name in Germany's largest forum for tabletop RPGs, moderated the theory forums and hosted a design contest. BARBAREN! took a long time to from first posting about it on the forums to actually being released (5 years, as it were), and when it finally came, a lot of people were waiting for it. The initial burst also included sales at Spiel 2009 although I wasn't even around at the fair to promote the game.

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

My own perfectionism kept me from getting the book out , I lost a lot of momentum and almost wouldn't have finished.

Our distribution partner in Germany turned out to be unreliable.

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

It used to be the Forge. I had some very fruitful threads on the Indie RPG Design forum back in the day, with some great input from Ralph Mazza, Sydney Freedberg, Eero Tuovinen, Ron Edwards and others. There was an infamous playtest at GenCon 2005 with some more great people from the Forge. Ben Lehman and Ron Edwards both slept on my couch at some point when traveling Germany, and of course we also talked about role-playing and game design.

Today I'm designing more by myself, and getting feedback from playtesters and some German friends I've met through the internet but known for almost 10 years now. Unfortunately none of them live near me so I cannot have a regular role-playing group with them, which sucks! We mostly talk on chat, and meet maybe twice a year.

What are your next steps?

My game Danger Zone is basically done. I need to rewrite part of the game master section to reflect what I've taken away from David Berg's more recent Participationism threads at the Forge. The second round of editing needs to be done and then it'll go into layout and illustration, though that may yet take some time. It's sort of generic and I would like to release it under Creative Commons. Sometimes I vainly dream of others publishing their games based on my system.

I'm also currently part of a translation project for a very popular English indie RPG into German, which is exciting. Let's see if others will follow.

I really like the idea of collaborative publishing and design, like these fan translation projects that end up as professionally published games, like all the FATE-based games, like all the AW hacks. If others won't make games based on my system, maybe I'll make a game based on theirs!

- Frank
BARBAREN! - The Ultimate Macho Role Playing Game - finally available in English

Matt Machell

It's been 11 years since I first registered here. Wow, time really flies! Seems a good point to take stock.

What have you published? How?

Several free things on the Internet (back in 2001 and ongoing). That's how it all started, anyway. Posting freebie game ideas. Not really playtested, just thrown out there for people to pick up and play. People did. People liked them. Ron reviewed Bedlam and it encouraged me to take things a bit more seriously.

I contributed one of my games, The Agency, to the Nopress Anthology in 2004. That was something. A random collection of people from around the 'net get together and put out an anthology of roleplaying games. Something that wouldn't have happened without The Forge. Worth tracking down the original threads in the archive, if they're still there.

In 2006 I published Covenant, which was one of those games I wanted to exist, but didn't. It sold moderately well, but was always a harder sell than other games. I followed that up in 2008 with a miniatures skirmish game, Pulp! Then last year I revamped The Agency as its own book. I'm really pleased with how that came together as a product, definitely the culmination of various lessons learned in process.

How have you distributed it?

At conventions, selling in joint booths of various types (in the UK, US, Finland and Germany). Also via websites like IPR and RPG.NOW. I also had translations, from the nice folks at Coyote Press in Italy, where they handled distributing.

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

Definitely convention attendance and running the game. Play your game with new people, you may sell it and you get to meet nice folks too! Also getting a posse of like-minded folks together and helping them produced reciprocal benefits.

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

Tendency to keep tweaking, rather than get something out and played is my biggest failing.

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

Here at The Forge in the early days. Later, though it's been quiet of late, the Collective Endeavour worked well for me as a group of like-minded UK designers. We banded together in an ad-hoc way at conventions and as a support network. Also, a random cluster of Forge escapees on various social media, mostly Google Plus at the moment.

What are your next steps?

Some experimental stuff with new fangled media, plus finally getting that fantasy city game I always wanted to do, done.

Thanks Forge folks, it's been a great time!