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Friday, July 5, 2013

What is Considered "Successful" as a 3rd Party / Indie Publisher in the RPG Industry?

Is it "lucrative side income"? How much do you need to earn for the amount to be considered "lucrative"? Does it move you from the "beer money" category to "wine"?

If you AREN'T in for the money and just want to get you product "out there" the process is simple enough. RPGNow is like a low cost alternative to a "vanity press".

If you are in it for the money, no matter how small, it's lots of work over lots of time with lots of unexpected hurdles.

There is one piece of invaluable advice that I can't dispute that Johnn Four (who I quote above) mentions in his advertisement:

- Write 20 minutes each day.

If you want to be a writer of any sort, you need to actually write, even when you don't feel motivated. You need a routine. And you need to follow it for weeks, months, years.

I'd consider this blog successful, but that's taken place over 4 years. It wasn't very good at first. Hell, it was probably pretty shitty. Now, it's much less shitty I hope ;)

Success writing / publishing RPGs is probably not going to happen overnight.

Anyhow, I'm rambling.

As a consumer, which 3rd party / indie publishers do you consider the most successful? As a 3rd party / indie publishers, what are your goal posts for success? How long did it take you to go from "start" to what you consider to be "successful"?


  1. First thing to being successful: Not losing money on every product (you WILL lose money on some).

    Second thing: People actually look for you/your product.

    Third: Take pride in your work, and look at each project as something you would want to buy.

  2. There's a surprising amount of transparency out there from indie publishers. If you check out Fred Hicks' posts on http://www.deadlyfredly.com/tag/publishing/ you'll see numbers sold for the life and quarter of a product. Purple Duck Games does the same thing on Google+ for shorter terms. There are dozens of others out there who do the same thing. It's really interesting stuff and gives you the gamut of "big dogs" and "little dogs" in the indy RPG industry.

  3. Does it move you from the "beer money" category to "wine"? The beers I drink often cost far more than wine.

    Yes I realize this has nothing to do with the post ;)

  4. I wrote a long post related to this on my blog (http://www.thickskulladventures.com/2012/08/so-you-want-to-write-an-rpg-module/)

    So far I've released 2 products, with a third on the way. Based on my experience on of the most difficult things for a 3PP is you also have to have a regular cadence of products. Frawgs sold well in both print and rpgnow (it's a "popular silver pick"... which is another interesting stat you can see in RPGNow... did it make one of the "tiers", that will give you an idea of how well something sold on their site... I digress). My point: even if you have an adventure/supplement that sells well, you have to keep cranking those out if you want to make real money (like going from wine to SCOTCH!) And if you start taking your time, software costs, and promotional costs into account, it's still not as lucrative as you might think. I'm sure some of the bigger publishers are doing quite well (Goodman, Mongoose, etc.) but the one-guy shops who are not publishing that much are having a harder time.)

    That said, as I mentioned even if you have a couple of products that sell well, you can get the hobby to pay for itself, which is a pretty nice bonus. I love being a 3pp.

    1. I'd agree that a consistent, coherent stream of product is pretty much mandatory for making any money at the business. No single game from a fameless new publisher is going to so much as earn back its production costs, let alone make an appreciable amount of money. They need enough of a catalog that the people who really like what they're doing can throw repeated cash infusions at them.

      If you want to make serious money writing for the market, there's just no substitution for constant, incessant productivity. You must _always_ be writing. Not 20 minutes a day- more like four to five hours a day, every day, with twice that on the weekends. This time must be spent not just writing, but also in art direction, layout, business accounting and marketing. You need fresh product every two months at a minimum and you need to cultivate a style that will attract a specific, definable audience. Unless you're some kind of game production prodigy or currently unemployed, it's going to eat your life whole- just like any other startup business.

      The thing is, it _can_ be done if you have even a moderate level of talent and the requisite number of hours put into it. I've been at this two and a half years now, and I just recently broke my first $100K worth of product sold, between OBS, my Kickstarter, and the Mongoose publishing agreement I had. The thing is, I couldn't sell that much until I had that much to sell. The only way to make that happen was to produce.

  5. I'm not the best person to answer, since I've always been a hobby writer. The only reason I have sold some of my games is because people seem to respect and play games they spend money on more than free stuff. They also talk and share more on games they have some sort of investment in.

    I made the most money on X-Plorers, including selling the rights...and while it was enough to pay for one Christmas, it was less than I make in 2 Weeks at my real job as a postman. Fortunately all the art was done for free by myself and friends.

    The reason I sold the rights is because I wrote it add an old school game that I expected people to house rule and make their own crap for...but alas, all most people did was ask me endlessly for support material I didn't want to write.

    I plan on doing a lot of support material for Shotguns & Saddles, so that game may become "popular" in certain niche groups, but I doubt if it will ever make more than beer money (although I don't drink...maybe it will pay the $40 a month I spend on protein powder, ha ha).

    All that said, I never planned on making money, I just wanted to contribute to the hobby that consumes so much of my love, devotion, and time. Small groups of people seem to think like me and absolutely love XP, the Phoenix Barony, and now S&S, so knowing I've made a handful of people happy is enough for me.