Monday, 20 August 2012

Advice for Publishing Your Own RPG

There's a thread over on where a designer asks what to do now that he's finished his RPG.   That's all pretty standard stuff, but one of the responses was so good I'm going to re-post it here.

This is the response by Kevin Crawford, who's the designer of Stars Without Number and Other Dust.

Here's the rough formula I used; it may not be the best formula, but it worked for me.

1)   Write a game.   Lay it out in a simple, clean two-column format with some apposite stock art acquired from DTRPG. Use InDesign if you have an educator's discount or a willingness to splurge for the best, and use Scribus if you want a free but less friendly alternative.   Plan for POD from the start.   It's simple to turn a PDF into a book if you've planned the layout from the start.   OneBookshelf's print submission guidelines will tell you what you need to do.
2)   Write a supplement or adventure for that game.   You're going to charge for this, because OBS is a business, and they need to make some profit off of at least oen product if they're going to be serving up your free game on their website.
3)   Get a publisher account set up with OneBookshelf.   This takes about 24 hours and is free.
4)   Load the game and supplement both as PDFs and as print files. Get the print proofs sent to you and have someone else look for problems too.
5)   Put the game up for free and the supplement up for a modest price.   Price the game POD at at least $25 and the supplement at at least $10 for anything more than 32 pages, and $15-$19 for larger supplements.   Price the supplement PDF at half the print cost, and bundle a free PDF with the POD.   Stay away from penny-ante PDF pricing; people who see $0.99 stuff tend to assume it's shovelware, rightly or not.
6)   Start selling.
7)   Customers who download your free products end up added to your OBS mailing list if they choose to accept emails.   This is why, after two years, there are about 6,500 people who'll take my emails.   These people are going to be your market, so treat them gently.   One email per month, tops, and make sure you've got something meaningful to tell them when you do.   Spamming customers is a guaranteed way to build hate.
8)   Continue supporting your game with freebie products to keep people interested while you work on paying materials.
9)   Abandon all life outside of your work.

There.   A simple nine-step plan to earning slightly less per hour than you'd make at Burger King, except without as much social status.

I think that Heroes Against Darkness needs a print version, don't you?
Heroes Against Darkness - Game Rules.


  1. That's all excellent advice. Especially about getting templates from the POD - I'd advise that too if you were going with Lulu.

  2. I'm actually currently looking at Amazon's print on demand service, CreateSpace, which seems to handle alpha illustrations (which Lulu doesn't) and also has an online viewer for reviewing your uploaded PDFs to make sure the formatting's okay.

  3. I'm glad the advice looked useful to you, Justin. As a general matter, however, I'd steer clear of CreateSpace or Lulu for RPG products. There are two main factors to that- market and email lists. As for the market, CS and Lulu have a vanishingly tiny percentage of users interested in buying RPGs. With OBS, everybody who comes there is at least theoretically willing to buy an RPG, and you're guaranteed front-page room for at least a little while immediately after release, which is often where a lot of the typical game's 50 default sales come from. I've got my Hard Light product up at Lulu in Print/PDF and the same offering in PDF only at OBS. The OBS edition has outsold the Lulu edition by at least an order of magnitude. With CreateSpace you theoretically get room on Amazon, but there just aren't a whole lot of people interested in buying indie RPGs on Amazon and CreateSpace's costs and terms are much less appealing than OBS's. It's been a while since I crunched the numbers, but last time I checked it looked like it actually made more sense to get POD books printed by OBS and then ship them to Amazon for their "Fulfillment by Amazon" program.

    The second factor is the fact that neither CS nor Lulu, last that I checked, offered a way to build an email list of customers. It may be in there and I just couldn't find it, but this is one of the more important long-term tools you have. Two of the main points of releasing a free product first-up are to prove your competence to the market and get the email addresses of all those idly curious sorts who might download it and agree to receive your mail. Once you have a list, you can then use it to create awareness of your products instead of having to spend the time and effort creating an entire network from scratch. Note that the downside of this is that OBS mailing lists can't be used to pitch anything but OBS-available books and PDFs, so you can't use the list as flexibly as you could if you compiled it yourself from willing participants, but that's a price you have to pay.

    1. Thanks for your reply Kevin. I've based my strategy for Hero Kids on your advice.

  4. I'm sure it's obvious to you, but I have no clue what an "OBS" is. Google was no help either:

    Acronym Definition
    OBS Observation (Groundwater Modeling Systems)
    OBS Observer
    OBS Organization(al) Breakdown Structure
    OBS Observed
    OBS Obviously
    OBS Obsolete
    OBS Obstacle
    OBS Ocala Breeders Sales
    OBS Obstruction (baseball)
    OBS Openbare Basisschool
    OBS Optical Burst Switching (IEEE)
    OBS Orange Blossom Special
    OBS Organic Brain Syndrome
    OBS Off Balance Sheet
    OBS Ocean Bottom Seismometer
    OBS Online Business Systems (Canada)
    OBS Outward Bound School
    OBS Office of Boating Safety (Canadian Coast Guard)
    OBS Omni Bearing Selector
    OBS Outward Bound Singapore
    OBS Open Bidding Service (Canada)
    OBS Orlando Ballet School (Florida, USA)
    OBS Old Black Spruce
    OBS Optical Back Scatter (class of turbidity sensors)
    OBS On-Board Service
    OBS Out-of-Band Signaling
    OBS Oxford Biosignals Ltd
    OBS Operational Bioinstrumentation System
    OBS Old Brown Sherry
    OBS old body style (automotive)
    OBS Operation Boat Smart
    OBS Optical Biopsy System
    OBS On-Board Switching
    OBS Off Bore Sight
    OBS Obligation à Bons de Souscriptions
    OBS Office Based Sales
    OBS OSIS Baseline System
    OBS On-Base Average and Slugging percentage (baseball statistic)
    OBS On Board Spares
    OBS Out of Balance Switch
    OBS Obstructive Bowel Syndrome
    OBS Océ Business Services (New York, NY)
    OBS Other Basic Sciences
    OBS Olympic Broadcasting Services (International Olympic Committee)
    OBS Orange Business Service (France Telecom)
    OBS Online Banking Solutions (various locations)
    OBS Oily Bird Syndrome
    OBS Olin Business School (Washington University; St. Louis, MO)

  5. That would be OneBookshelf, the parent company behind the site that fronts both DriveThruRPG and RPGNow.