Thursday, October 10, 2013

One Year as a Micro-Publisher

This October marks the one year anniversary of my entry to the world of RPG publishing.  It has been an interesting 12 months, and I thought it might be useful for those interested in RPG publishing to post about what I did, what I didn’t do, and why.

To set the scene, my game EPOCH is about one-shot survival horror.  It is a traditional game (in that it has a GM and pre-written scenarios) but it doesn’t use dice, instead using a card based mechanism, controlled by the players, to determine character survival.  It doesn’t have a specific setting, rather it is a game about movie style horror.  A fuller description is here.  In addition to publishing in PDF form, the game also features print-on-demand softcover books and card decks. 

Things I Did

Regular Releases.  Taking a page from Fiasco, I wanted to maintain the momentum of EPOCH from the outset.  Therefore, I observed a fairly regular release schedule, which hopefully illustrated my commitment to the game and expanded the support to would-be purchasers, increasing the scenario count from 3 at launch, to 15.  Here is the schedule of the last 12 months:
  • October 2012 – EPOCH PDF
  • November 2012 – Fever Pitch Scenario PDF
  • December 2012 – Road Trip Scenario PDF
  • February 2013 – EPOCH Book and Cards Revised to include new art and formatting
  • March 2013 – EPOCH Print on Demand Book & Card Deck
  • March 2013 – Frontier of Fear Scenario Collection PDF
  • April 2013 – The Cold Shore Scenario PDF
  • June 2013 – Printer Friendly Cards Released for all PDF products
  • August 2013 – Frontier of Fear Print on Demand Book & Card Deck
  • September 2013 – War Stories Scenario Collection PDF
  • October 2013 – Shadows of Yesterday Scenario PDF
  • October 2013 – War Stories Print on Demand Book & Card Deck
Gave it away for free.  Right from the outset I wanted to give my rules maximum exposure and allow people to try them without having to pay anything.  Therefore, I released 3 scenarios, each with quick start rules and cards.  Did it work?  I really don’t know.  People have certainly been downloading the free products (free scenarios have been downloaded at a rate 3 times greater than EPOCH sales), but I haven’t heard much discussion of the free products, or received any reviews.  I assume people have downloaded them for a future rainy day…

Solicited Reviews.  Early on I identified independent and established folks who had reviewed other games, and approached a number to see if they’d be interested in reviewing EPOCH.  A number were and I was very pleased to receive some very positive reviews (collected here).

Talked about the game and why I created it.  I was approached for a couple of interviews (here and here), and had one of my posts on this blog about the creation of EPOCH incorporated into the RPG Review.

Ran my Game.  During this period I took EPOCH to local roleplaying conventions including Kapcon, Fright Night and Buckets of Dice.

Used the Marketing Materials.  I fully availed myself of the publisher points and marketing options available via DriveThruRPG and RPGNow.  Most successful were sending out e-mails to customers about new releases and being featured in the e-mail newsletter.  Less effective (for me at least) were the banner and featured product options.

Discounted my game.  I took part in a number of sales during the 12 month period, and these did generate additional sales.

Maintained a web presence.  I have a simple blog website for EPOCH, and post regularly there.  As people have pointed out to me this is not exactly an elegant site, and I don’t even have a dedicated URL, but it is easy to maintain, free and updated regularly.

Submitted the game for awards.  Being nominated for a clutch of ENnie awards significantly increased sales in my products.  Obviously being nominated was hugely gratifying and as submitting an electronic product is free, this was a pretty great outcome.  The flip side, of course, is that given my following, relative to other nominees, winning an award was pretty much out of the question.  But a pretty dream nonetheless.

Things I Didn’t Do

Actively talked about my game in online fora.  I don’t have much of a profile in online RPG communities, and so have no reputation to speak of.  Talking about your game in a forum where you have no reputation, and have made no previous contribution is pretty poor form (in my opinion).  This means that in the majority of online RPG communities there has been no discussion about EPOCH, and without this word-of-mouth it is hard for any game to grow a following.

Made a video.  One comment I have received from several people is that they understand the game, but want to see how it actually works in practise and a video of a game session or similar could be a major asset.  I have thought about the idea, but video editing and appearing on camera is not something I am excited about, so it hasn’t happened yet.

Utilise social media.  I haven’t utilised Facebook for EPOCH (and only recently experimented with G+), and accept that this might be denying easy access and free marketing to interested folks.  Social media isn’t something I’m personally interested in.  I do use Twitter for regular updates about the game, although I’m not sure many folks beyond my immediate circle of friends pay much attention to my tweets.

Ran my game at major international conventions.  I would have loved to attend major ‘cons overseas to run sessions of EPOCH, and show off the game.  Unfortunately the cost of travel abroad is simply too high to justify such an extravagance.  I approached some Australian RPG conventions on Sydney and Melbourne to see if they’d be interested in having me attend and run games, as flights across the Tasman are more manageable, but my e-mails went unanswered.

Kickstarted.  A Kickstarter was not really an option for me (as it is not yet available to folks in Australasia) and I have no significant reputation or license to cash-in on.

Sold my game through other channels.  I have yet to branch out to sell EPOCH through other channels (including direct sales) and I’m not sure if it’s likely to have much impact considering the work involved.

State of Play

So, what next?  I have more EPOCH products planned, and have a lot of confidence in the quality of the game, and its ability to deliver what it promises.  I have yet to facilitate a bad session of EPOCH (although as Marcus has said, this may be because playing any game with its creator is likely to be fun, and is no guarantee that others can replicate the experience).

In terms of future sales, I am fairly sure that I have yet to break into the collective consciousness of the mainstream international RPG community.   My game is very specific, and tailored for a unique market (single-session non-traditional survival horror). Without influential folks who relentlessly champion your game online, to their friends and gaming communities, I don’t think it’s possible to make this leap, and I don’t seem to have reached many people who are active in this context beyond NZ.

Can I reach these folks?  Perhaps.  My game has a lot of moving parts, and unless you play or run it, I think it is hard to envisage how everything comes together. And it is hard for me to convince these folks to take the time to do this when I have no credible means to reach them - especially as there are so many other games out there. 

The flip side of this argument (evidenced by the reviews and award nominations), is that I think EPOCH is a strong enough offering that, if you do manage to play or run it, it will convince you of its merits.  So, perhaps there is some future potential to break into the mainstream market.  I guess time will tell.

Please feel free to post any questions or comments.

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