With RPGNow being shut down, sales figures for that site have been added to those from DriveThruRPG. This has resulted in many of the 50 in 50 supplements reaching Copper level. Sixteen of them in fact, a third of the 48 published so far, and a few are not that far off reaching Silver (and close to 80% of supplements on DriveThruRPG are not even Copper). Thank you to everyone who has purchased them!
The City of Spiders, one of the first supplements published in the 50 in 50 series (there are still some more left to publish; I’m working on finishing off one that Brian sent me but damaging my back, my arm, my shoulder, my finger and Christmas have all got in the way!) has just reached the Copper best seller rank on RPGNow.
This is the first supplement to achieve a best-selling metal rank, although when RPGNow sales are merged with DriveThruRPGs in a month or so, many more are going to achieve this.
So, thank you anyone who bought this supplement. If you haven’t, well here’s The City of Spiders on RPGNow. Showing off its shiny new medal!
The 50 in 50 (yes, they aren’t quite all done yet) adventure hook Gauntlet on the Ice has just been updated with a new hex grid version of the battlemap in a second PDF.
It’s taken some time to get to this point, but if you have the adventure hook already, and are subscribed, you will have got a message about the update.
Figuring out how to get the hex grid to actually work has been a bit of a problem, but I found something that looks like it does the trick. It is, of all things, a font.
So, feedback on this is appreciated. If it looks good to everyone the rest of the adventures with battlemaps will be updated too.
So, you may have heard that in the past week or so that Paizo has just announced the playtest for the second edition of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, with an aim to publish the new edition in 2019.
I admit I’m not that clued up on all the details but I have been reading what others have posted who seem to have rather more of an understanding on what is happening.
One of the changes would appear to be a lack of backwards compatibility between the second edition of Pathfinder and the original rules, which could prove to be a mistake. After all, lack of backwards compatibility between D&D 4 and 3.5 was probably one of the factors that led to Pathfinder’s success in the first place. Paizo got a lot of players from D&D 3.x who didn’t want to move to the 4th Edition.
In the decade since then, some of Paizo’s customers will have purchased perhaps thousands of dollars of official material from Paizo (given the various subscriptions) that may not be compatible with the second edition, never mind third party content. I certainly wouldn’t be willing to have that all written off. So this could cause the Pathfinder market to fragment.
However, that is not really why I am writing this post. One thing I have taken note of is that, according to more than a few comments, Pathfinder Second Edition seems to have quite a bit in common with D&D 5E, in terms of reduced complexity. So, perhaps the system is being simplified to regain market share. 5E may have taken some players from Pathfinder.
Now, after I admit I have no idea how many official rulebooks, the Pathfinder system was getting a bit bloated, and perhaps impossible to keep on top of. I have stated more than once that Pathfinder is at least as complex as Rolemaster. So, if Paizo is shifting towards a less complex format with the second edition, such as seen in 5E, that does not exactly bode well for complex systems such as RMU.
Is there a general trend towards the less complex in game systems and, if so, what does this hold for Rolemaster? Will it remain an extremely niche game system even after the release of RMU?
Do Reviews Help or Hinder?
The effects of reviews on sales can be hard to quantify, especially when there isn’t a lot of consistency in sales in the first place. When sales are all over the place, it’s effectively impossible to determine whether a review has benefited or harmed them.
I recently had a couple of supplements given two star ratings – no reviews, just ratings. Personally, as both a publisher and customer, I find just a rating like that useless. As a publisher, I don’t know what the purchaser found wrong with the supplements, so can’t improve it. Similarly, as a customer, it really doesn’t help me decide whether or not to buy it. Maybe the rating had nothing to do with the product in question – I have actually seen that happen in reviews, so it could easily happen with ratings too. Maybe the purchaser simply didn’t like the colour! I have also had a two star written review, but that lacked enough detail to be really helpful to anyone as well.
Good reviews – Endzeitgeist.com writes incredibly detailed ones – help both as a publisher and a purchaser, as they go deeply into what’s good and bad about a supplement. I think a review, good or bad, from a known and trusted reviewer has the biggest chance of helping or harming sales. For other reviews, in my opinion I don’t think one good or bad review will make a huge difference, but half a dozen reviews would provide enough information that it could affect people’s decisions (those 2/5 ratings and reviews I mentioned haven’t stopped people buying the supplements in question). My current opinion would be that individual reviews don’t sway most people either way, unless it’s from a well-respected reviewer or an extremely detailed review highlighting any good or bad points. However, bad reviews could make a difference if there isn’t much preview of a product available (on the OneBookShelf sites you can give potential purchasers a full-size preview of part, or all, of what they would be getting – I consider this useful). Having a decent amount of content in a full size preview allows potential customers to see for themselves what the content is like.
The best-selling medals on the OBS sites also help as a customer, as they show that many others wanted to buy a supplement, whatever its rating might be. The medals start at Copper and go through Silver, Electrum, Gold and Platinum. The better the medal, the more copies have been sold of that supplement. Supplements do have to sell for money – even 1 cent – for a sale to qualify, and each site calculates them individually, so, for example, having enough combined sales on DriveThruRPG and RPGNow to reach a sales medal level will not grant one – the sales all need to be on one site. DriveThruRPG generally sells more copies than RPGNow.
I currently have, at the time of writing, 4 Silver and 15 Copper best-sellers on DriveThruRPG and two of the Silvers are also Copper on RPGNow. There are also quite a few supplements within 1-5 sales of Copper and a couple of Coppers that are getting similarly close to Silver. Electrum is probably still quite a few months off for the closest of the Silvers.
What Return to Expect?
Don’t expect a brilliant return from your work, although it is possible to build up a company that works and pays a decent return (Mongoose Publishing managed it for example). RPGs are still a very niche market, and this is reflected in the money paid out. For example, the standard rate of pay for freelancers in the RPG industry is one cent per word, although some do pay higher. Paizo, probably the second largest publisher after Wizards of the Coast, pays a lot more and the independent Raging Swan Press, thanks to their Patreon campaign, also pays much higher – currently a substantial 11 cents per word for the latter, which appears to be the highest in the industry by far.
Having dealt with writing freelancers in other niches and specialities, 1 cent is really very poor for writing that often requires specialist technical knowledge, but the truth is, the market often cannot support anything more. Rates such as Raging Swan and Paizo are more of the exception than the rule, and most pay much less, because it simply isn’t possible for publishers to make a decent return on their money for higher amounts – and that can be stretching the definition of decent. There also isn’t that much work available at those rates, and they tend to be for tried and tested freelancers, not newbies.
So, if you are writing for your own publications, the lesson to take from this is to expect that it could take a couple of years – or more – before you see a decent return on the time you invested. Your initial return per hour spent will most likely be less than you’d make at McDonalds. The advantage is with this sort of work is that it keep earning once published. Sometimes you may never see a decent return, directly at least, from a publication. Indirectly, it might bring in customers who later buy other products or who might buy a fair few at the same time (I have had a few 50+ sales).
Currently, I’m netting around $2,500 a year from the OneBookShelf sites; I don’t yet have anything published anywhere else but that’s in the works. For me, if I was to take that out, that’s easily a month’s fixed living expenses (my living expenses are a lot lower than those of many others). Which isn’t bad for a fun hobby (I do spend more time on this than I should, from a financial point of view anyway, because I enjoy it). Although supplements can take a while before they earn anything remotely close to a decent wage, the benefit is that, once written, they can keep earning money without further work. My income did decline a bit recently, having pretty steadily gone up, but that would appear to be due to the ranking algorithm change mentioned earlier in Sales & Marketing in Part 2 so I didn’t make as much money in the Cthulhu Mythos and Halloween sales this year as I did last. I do expect it to start going up again, as the average quality and price of each supplement published increases and as I get more supplements out there.
Due to the difficulty in making enough money to pay others in the RPG market, and the ease of entry, most small publishers (me included frankly, although I am working on it) don’t have a huge degree of professionalism, for areas outside the actual development and publishing of material – basically, areas outside those related to actually creating the text, or perhaps images. Better research and tracking, writing better copy on sites and improved marketing could all help boost sales. Should you lack skills in any area, consider teaming up with someone who has them, if they are interested. There are also some publishers – Fat Goblin Games is one example, with their ‘Imprints’ – who publish the work of other publishers through their own company, with the smaller publisher benefiting from the larger one’s customer base and expertise. What is expected from such a relationship by each party is no doubt variable.
Setting the Price
Price is a tricky one. There is a temptation – which I fell into – of undercutting the competition, but in the long run, this really doesn’t help anyone. OneBookShelf (OBS) tend to say don’t sell for under $1 (although $0.99 can help sales and makes little realistic difference). If the supplement includes artwork, especially artwork which you are unlikely to be able to reuse but costs money to buy, this can mean that a higher selling price is necessary.
OneBookShelf also allows for Pay What You Want supplements, where the purchaser chooses what price they think the supplement is worth. I prefer doing this to out and out free. Naturally, the price most choose is nothing, but some may come back and then pay more than you would have priced the supplement for. Plus, these customers may also be added to your mailing list, a potential future source of income.
Some publishers offer most, or all, of their material for free. Often, this is because they have a Patreon campaign that generates the money in another way.
Where to Actually Sell
The OneBookShelf network is by far the biggest player in the niche. There is also the Paizo store, the Open Gaming Store and Warehouse 23 from Steve Jackson Games. Amazon, through Kindle and CreateSpace, is another. There are also other more specialised sites such as Fantasy Grounds and Roll20, which sell material for tabletop software systems, which tend to require knowledge of how to create or adapt material to these. Such content can also be sold through OBS as well. OBS do offer a 5% exclusivity bonus, if you only sell on their sites, but many of the bigger players cover multiple markets, so it’s likely that there’s a definite advantage to doing so, if you can. There are other print on demand publishers, such as Lulu too.
A final option is a store on your own site. Although this will likely give the highest percentage – after all, you won’t need to pay a percentage to another store’s owner – it can also be the trickiest to do.
Sales & Marketing
OBS has tracking codes, which they call source codes. These can be used to track where a sale came from (if the person creating a link used them; the codes you see in a marketing source report are not solely the ones you create yourself, but all relevant ones), although these do get overwritten when another is clicked.
My highest sales numbers come from the various OBS internal codes combined, especially from the front page and also purchased (these, being listed as FrontPage and also_purchased, are very easy to spot); however, over the past year OBS changed the ranking algorithm so that it ranks by money made from a supplement, not number of supplements sold. This generally benefits the bigger publishers – who tend to create more expensive products; smaller publishers who make the occasional pricey supplement also benefit – and OBS, who make more money from larger sales, but it’s not so good for the smaller publisher who has lots of pocket-money priced items. This was notable in the past couple of OBS sales, when products were selling in numbers of about a tenth of what they did in similar sales last year, because they were no longer at the top of the sales listings.
My next major source of sales is through emails to my mailing list through the OBS email system. I send out emails when new products are released, and I give discounts on some new releases, to keep people interested in subscribing to the list, and link to other products and sales as well if they are appropriate. I used to always send an email out at the start of a sale as well, but just prior to the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale OBS essentially asked publishers not to do this, as they had already notified customers (although this was stated before the customers were actually notified). Not that surprising, because it wasn’t unknown to get a lot of emails from many different publishers, but telling my customers and potential customers about site sales always generated product sales, and a generic one by OBS does not have the same effect.
The footers on the OBS sites can be used to promote similar items, and this is probably the next largest source of combined sales. Not every product has a footer, as yet, but I add footers with other relevant products when I see some that are related.
I also sell a few through my own site, although this doesn’t sell that many as yet; it probably pays for the domain name at best (the hosting is basically paid for elsewhere). The site needs more useful content in order to attract people who then might click through and purchase products.
The sales generated by social media are harder to quantify. I only know of one sale that came through social media, Facebook in its case, but that customer purchased about 50 products! Update: I have just started getting results from Pinterest after quite a few years of posting on the site. My pins have just started being reposted a lot (both my own supplements and reviews of other peoples) and this has resulted in an uptick in views and a number of definite sales.
Another area I have got a few sales from is ads in products themselves. I’ve added links to related products in the back of a few recent supplements, which can also fill up empty space! This has generated a few sales, but nothing significant as yet.
Probably the most important lesson to take from the source codes is to actually use them, every time you create a link.
So, Brian asked me to write a post on some of my own experiences with self-publishing RPG supplements, which I’ve been doing for about three years, although my first and second supplements were five months apart! All but one week since the second supplement was published has had a new one released every week (although some were art packs, not written), and recently two have been published weekly. This post wound up being rather longer than I expected, so it’s been split into three parts.
Part 1: How I Started Self-Publishing, How to Know What Will Succeed and Art & Layout
How I Started Self-Publishing
I discovered the OneBookShelf sites (the OBS network consists of many different sites; perhaps the most important for RPG supplement writers are DriveThruRPG and RPGNow, and perhaps Dungeon Masters Guild and Storytellers Vault) some years back whilst looking for material for a phpBB forum based game called Advanced Dungeons & Rabbits. Some years later, as I mentioned elsewhere, I looked at things being published and thought “I could do that.”
At the date of writing this, I have published 136 of my own (written) supplements, totalling 403,857 words. One of these has been published in a Pathfinder edition as well, adding another 4,294 words (I plan to convert some others to Pathfinder and probably other systems too). I have also published 3 outsourced supplements, totalling 13,574 words, and adapted two of those to system neutral versions from Pathfinder, another 10,520 words. With Brian and Peter here I have also published 4 supplements, totalling 2,639 words, as part of the 50 in 50 adventures that are being released at the rate of one per week. I also have a few bundles and art-related items on sale, the latter either images created for my own projects or experiments done whilst creating images to use.
How to Know What Will Succeed
It’s difficult knowing what will be successful in creative matters. Consider that big companies get this wrong all the time. Think of Hollywood box office flops with budgets of hundreds of millions of dollars or, on the other hand, books by unknown authors that the publisher only prints a couple of thousand copies of to start with, because that’s how big they think the market is (think J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter franchise).
A starting point would be to do what you like, or want, or need for your own game, as odds are there will be at least a few people with a similar opinion. Looking through my portfolio, you will notice quite a lot of supplements connected to books, books being my own particular area of interest. If something does seem to be working, try to produce more of the same, or similar.
Writing for popular systems such as Pathfinder and D&D 5E specifically also increases the potential market but it often also increases the potential competition, and there is some third party competition out there that produces material of a higher quality than the big companies. There are a lot of systems that can be written for under the Open Game License, and there’s nothing to stop you creating your own (as long as it is your own). Pathfinder and 5E might have the biggest potential markets but, if you don’t enjoy writing for those, don’t do it. Not many people get rich in this market which makes enjoyment very important.
Art & Layout
Art and layout can be a big problem for the small publisher, due to the expense of software and material.
Regarding layout, there are options for those with a limited budget. Scribus is free desktop publishing software and Microsoft Word is another option; however, I recently purchased the entire Adobe CS6 package – including InDesign – for under £20 from a seller on eBay. According to them – and they’d sold a lot of this and other software – it’s legal in the EU to resell second hand software from scrapped computers. Given that you couldn’t link it to your Adobe account, I’d say technically legal but Adobe really doesn’t like the fact that it is (the seller doesn’t currently have it for sale). Another alternative is that you can also always partner up with someone else who has skills or software you lack.
Nicer looking supplements can sell better, and do tend to look more professional, but remember that the supplements being well written, with few errors in the text, is the most important starting point. Good looking rubbish is still rubbish. Such can still be damaged by poor layout or appearance of course – the most likely cause of this is from poor font choices; remember, people need to be able to read the finished product. Odd fonts can work for headings but don’t have an entire supplement in some weird font. I have seen supplements which were a pain to read because the publisher had used a difficult font throughout. If you have good material, you don’t want to hide it behind a poor font, but picking good fonts is a skill in itself and professionally made fonts are not cheap to buy either. Stick to the standard included fonts at first. Generally, I use 12 point Verdana for the text (font size is important as well) having read a suggestion to use that in the past. Boring fonts like Times New Roman are still good choices for readability.
Artwork for supplements, as Peter and I have discussed in the past, can be a problem. Some things, especially such as bestiaries, really need images for all the monsters and that, even using stock, can quickly become expensive. The lowest typical stock prices for such are a couple of dollars or so each. A bestiary of 50 monsters could be the best part of $100 just for the pictures and easily more.
My most expensive (in terms of its selling price) supplement has eight pieces of stock art in it, plus the page backgrounds, the latter being much easier to reuse (I have all of Lord Zsezse Works’ templates). These eight pieces cost over $20, and that’s only because they were bought at reduced prices – they would cost just shy of $80 to buy at full price at the moment, and these are stock images, not custom. Custom images can cost a lot more. $40-$50 each is not unreasonable for a single monster or similar.
There are ways of creating cheaper artwork, by doing it yourself. I’ve used photos, either my own or others that are legal to use, and tweaked them using filters so that they look more like illustrations. I’ve also created some images from scratch, using such as Photoshop, Blender (free) and GIMP (free). These ways may not always look as good as those done by professionals (unless you have skills that way yourself) but they do save money – although generally not time.
I’ve mentioned Kickstarter, and Patreon, a few times in the past. For those who aren’t that familiar with them, what both of those, and others like Indiegogo, do is reduce the risk for making products. Essentially, you are getting a guaranteed income rather than a potential one. The guaranteed income may be lower – but if a product doesn’t work out it will actually be higher. So, lower risk.
Now, I don’t actually think that it would be a good idea running a Kickstarter to complete RMU. The process is simply taking too long, and depends too much on freelancers with variable time, that running a Kickstarter would have a very high risk of simply annoying the backers due to how long it takes. There’s a great article on running regular Kickstarters by a very successful one man band in The Sandbox #1.
OneBookShelf and Print on Demand
What I do think Kickstarter could help with is getting RMU out there. Sure, OneBookShelf is a great network for electronic and print on demand books, but it doesn’t really work for getting the books in bricks and mortar shops. OBS does offer a discount for bulk purchases, up to 20% for 250+, but that’s a lot of books, a lot of investment and the margins aren’t really that great. 50-99 books only gives a 5% discount and 100-249 10%. The smaller amounts will work for conventions and similar, but not really for distributing to shops.
In such a case you need a margin that’s high enough that both retailer and publisher makes money. Supposedly TSR was losing money on its boxes in the 90s; no matter what you think, if every product loses you money, you cannot make it back on volume. All that does is simply cost more money.
To really get into bricks and mortar means dealing with traditional printing and distributors, and that has problems itself – especially as, for books, the U.S. has an appalling concept whereby retailers can get back everything they paid for books even though they haven’t returned the product but destroyed it. I can’t think of anywhere else where you would be given a full refund for a product you’d chucked away. RPGs might not be classed as books, but as games, but it’s still a potential problem. Again, with TSR and, I think, the old ICE, both wound up with problems due to traditional distribution.
So, you want to get into bricks and mortar shops but you can’t afford the risk – which could easily destroy the company – of paying for up front printing and distribution of books, which may never make the money back. That’s where I think that Kickstarter could help. If a successful campaign was run that could pay for this, the risk would be greatly reduced. It would also be possible to reduce the risk for retailers, by offering books on sale or return – they may well not want to risk money on inventory that they have no definite interest in.
Setting up such a campaign would need some careful planning to make sure the numbers work, and might not get a huge amount of support to begin with, but, if done successfully, it could get RMU out there in front of a wider audience – and, by having physical books for sale in shops, make the system look like it’s here to stay.
The vampire bunny is a monster that appears in the Rolemaster Creatures & Treasures supplement, which is available as a PDF and print on demand book from RPGNow in the updated version, Rolemaster Classic: Creatures & Treasures, or as the original print edition from Amazon. This creature is not described in the Vampires section of the original book, and only its stats are listed.
Here is an ecology article on the vampire bunny, presented in the manner of the original ones found in older issues of Dragon Magazine.
The Vampire Bunny
The following is from a lecture given by the visiting Laan lecturer, the noted Blais Rongen, at the University of Kalingen in Sel-kai, in the year 6021 TEI.
“To this day it is not known for certain how the creature given the incongruously cute name ‘vampire bunny’ came about. Whether this creation was an accident or deliberate, or a combination of both is still open for debate, and there are different theories that have been put forward.
“One theory is that a vampire may have fed on a rabbit, for whatever reason – rabbits are not a vampire’s normal prey, so perhaps the creature was starving or otherwise desperate, or maybe it was just experimenting with new types of food, as a human or other intelligent being would.
“It is proposed that, for some reason, this feeding caused an unusual reaction in the rabbit – perhaps the vampiric disease combined with another disease which the rabbit was suffering from – and resulted in the first vampire bunny being created.
“Another theory is that the vampire bunny was a deliberate creation, whether this was done by a vampire or by a necromancer, or one who was both, who deliberately experimented on rabbits to create one that was vampiric in nature, using vampiric blood, magic, feeding or a combination to create a new type of vampire.
“Whatever the original origin, the vampiric strain has since been spread amongst the rabbit population at large, as the vampire bunny is capable of spreading vampirism.
“Rabbits are normally social animals that can be found in large groups. The vampire bunny is, by comparison, a solitary creature, although it will normally be found at least reasonably close to a rabbit warren, for the rabbit is the vampiric type’s normal prey. Two vampire bunnies in the same hunting region will attack each other, until one is either driven off or killed.
“The vampire bunny suffers the usual weaknesses of other vampires, and avoids sunlight and running water, resting underground during daylight hours. The vampiric rabbit also has many of the advantages of a normal vampire, too, which is what makes it dangerous. To harm a vampire bunny requires weapons that are silver, magical or wooden, such as the archetypal stake. They are also vulnerable to water and electrical spells.
“Just as there are different breeds of rabbits, there are different breeds of vampire bunnies. This difference would appear to be purely cosmetic, reflecting the appearance the rabbit had in life, as the vampires are willing to feed on, and able to convert, other breeds of rabbits, there are no reports of creatures other than rabbits being turned into vampires by the bit of a vampire bunny, nor do they seem to feed on other creatures, instead simply killing them.
“The differences between a vampire bunny and a normal rabbit are quite subtle and not immediately obvious. The rabbit’s incisors, which are already quite long, become much more pointed with the transformation. The hair colour of the rabbit also seems to alter, becoming paler. Some witnesses have claimed that a vampire bunny’s eyes “glow” in the dark, but this may simply be the normal reflection seen in an animal’s eyes when a light is hone in them which has been misinterpreted by the witnesses. Rabbits are normally active at dawn and dusk; the vampire bunny is completely nocturnal. The primary difference is, of course, that the rabbit no longer feeds on vegetation, but on living beings.
“The vampiric rabbit is more intelligent, or at least more cunning, than a normal rabbit, but it cannot change shape or transform into a cloud of mist, nor can it cast spells. One suggestion posits that the reason a vampire bunny lacks these normal vampiric abilities is that their intelligence is not raised enough to be able to use further abilities, and there is a theory that, if imbued with human intelligence, a vampire bunny would gain these abilities. Fortunately, no one has been foolish enough to attempt this as yet.
“The vampire bunny is a lot more dangerous than it sounds from its almost-cute name. Predators who normally feed on rabbits have had a nasty surprise when they tried to feed on the vampire bunny, and they are dangerous to larger creatures too, especially as the typical predator lacks the means to actually damage the rabbit. Warrens of rabbits that have a vampire bunny residing near and feeding off them tend to be larger than normal, as the vampire will not tolerate other predators hunting its food source, and will kill them when they are discovered, luring the predator in by pretending to be a normal rabbit, and then attacking.
“The vampire bunny is much faster than a normal rabbit, making it easily able to hunt them. It employs its bite as its primary attack, but it will also butt other creatures, especially those larger than it, often doing so in an attempt to knock them off their feet and thereby make them much more vulnerable to a bite attack. This butt has been known to knock full-grown men off their feet, in no small part due to the surprise incurred by being attacked by a rabbit.
“The vampire bunny does not generally seek out people to kill, unlike its larger kin, because it feeds off its own kind. However, any that blunder into its hunting range are in definite danger, a danger that is increased by it coming from what initially appears to be a small, defenceless prey animal. In conclusion, the vampire bunny’s lethality should not be underestimated; this creature is hard to kill, and impossible to harm for those lacking suitable equipment.”