Andrews McMeel Universal Exits RPGs

Tanya DePass’ Into the Mother Lands, one of the more successful indie RPG crowdfunding campaigns of 2021, is no longer coming from Andrews McMeel Universal. Why?

Into the Mother Lands - KS Banner.jpg

What Happened?​

As Darryl Mott shared in his [RPG] “News Digest for the Week of February 3” and Morrus detailed at EN World, as well as BoardGameGeek, ComicBook.com, Bell of Lost Souls, Tanya DePass, Daniel D. Fox, and B. Dave Walters, and more have shared: Andrews McMeel Publishing, a subsidary of Andrews McMeel Universal (AMU), quietly exited RPG publishing at the close of 2022. The shutdown of AMU’s RPG division is an unexpected event with ramifications for a number of RPGs and their creators.

Why AMU left RPGs in late 2022/early 2023 is a mystery. At a time of continued RPG growth, when many publishers are reporting tremendous sales prompted by the 2023 OGL crisis including Daniel D. Fox’s own numbers for ZWEIHANDER, AMU left the party. With a catalog of 31 items available via their DriveThruRPG page, many based on Daniel D. Fox’s ZWEIHANDER RPG and system, AMU was in a good position to receive the good will of disgruntled Dungeons & Dragons fans. Unfortunately, they made their decision to shutter their RPG division before the OGL crisis was on anyone’s radar.

Andrews McMeel Universal was a notable, if new, publisher in the tabletop gaming industry. They published a popular fantasy line thanks to Daniel D. Fox’s aforementioned RPG, they also held the license to publish a few indie crowdfunding darlings such as Into the Mother Lands and Swordfall, though the latter has experienced a troubled production history (here and the rebuttal). While we will not know why AMU left RPGs until a historian such as Shannon Appelcline dissects the subject, we can see the fallout.

Zweihander Fantasy Horror RPG Starter Kit.jpg

Andrews McMeel Universal

AMU entered the field as a publisher with a catalog of books, just not RPGs. They were known for their collections of funny newspaper strips and their network integrated them into traditional booksellers, a field that RPGs have struggled to gain a permanent section in. I’ve seen their RPGs in multiple Barnes & Nobles, a national chain that rarely carries any RPG beyond Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder. Yet, ZWEIHANDER RPG was on their shelves as was Flames of Freedom and more.

In 2019, AMU got into RPGs with two legs up on other new entrants. First, they licensed Daniel D. Fox’s ZWEIHANDER RPG. Second, they hired Daniel onto their team as Executive Director of Games. This positioned AMU to hit to ground running with an Ennie Award winning system and someone with a background in marketing that system and RPGs in general.

However, by the end of 2022, Daniel had been released from AMU, though ZWEIHANDER was not released with him. Within two months of that news, it was leaked that AMU was ending the publication of new RPGs and, most notably, Into the Mother Lands.

AMU was in RPGs for less than three years, joining at a high water mark in the industry’s financial history and exiting during an even higher water mark. The idea that they entered the RPG business during the salad days and left during those same salad days implies that while many publishers are seeing tremendous growth, AMU did not meet their projections. At least, that’s one possible interpretation of their short RPG venture.

Another possibility is that the economic factors of late 2022 and early 2023 are impacting AMU as a whole. Their business may be suffering due to the general malaise of the world economy and rising interest rates. Without free cash, they may have eliminate some peripheral elements to their business in order to better weather whatever economic horizon their seeing.

Just as plausible as either of those lines of thinking is that AMU, like all companies, has limited resources and they determined that, while RPGs might be profitable, other lines of publishing could be more profitable. This line of reasoning is plausible when you consider the wider industry. While these are great days for RPG publishers, the incomes from slinging dice do not compare with other geek publishing such as board games, comic books, and some elements of traditional prose publishing. While RPGs are doing well, other aspects of geekdom are doing even better and always have been. As such, AMU could have exited RPGs to focus on more advantageous segments of nerd culture.

That begs the question, what’s the fallout of shutting down their RPG division?

Flames of Freedom RPG- Powered by Zweihander.jpg

Where Does That Leave the Publishers and Creators?​

Let’s start with Andrews McMeel Universal. They do not have any new RPGs on their schedule. [UPDATED per Daniel D. Fox's comment below. To Be or Not To Be The Villain and Fever Knights RPG are still coming from AMU.] The publisher still has contracts with many creators. They produced some winning books during their run and likely have a backlog of those books in their warehouses. Having books in their warehouses means that, as they continue to sell them, the creators can expect continued royalty payments (assuming that’s in their contracts). Their could be challenges within their contracts, it’s unclear if the rights and files to those RPGs will revert back to the creators or not. That’s the critical question, will the creators be able to reclaim their intellectual properties? This is important for many reasons, but lets look at the financials. Without an active gaming division advocating for reprints of existing books, once AMU sells out of their current print run, they’re unlikely to reprint the titles they contracted for. Ending that revenue stream hurts the creator’s long term finances. In addition, the creator’s options to expand on the existing intellectual properties may be limited. Both of these factors are determined by contracts, so it’s hard to be sure what their final outcome is since those contracts are not public.

Moving beyond AMU, let’s talk about Tanya DePassInto the Mother Lands. Kickstarted on June 2021, this project reached 5,158 backers who pledged $360,606. The team, including B. Dave Walters, searched for a publishing partner and announced AMU as that publisher on November 1, 2022. Fast forward to February 1, 2023, when Tanya shared an update with the Kickstarter’s backers that AMU will no fulfill their contractual obligations towards Into the Mother Lands. Over a span of three months, Tanya was told to share the news that AMU was going to publish her book to 90 days later when the publisher abandoned them and refused to fulfill their obligations. That amount of directional realignment from AMU is worrisome. On the surface, it implies that AMU was either being duplicitous in their dealings or they did not have a long term publishing gameplan. Either conclusion is undesirable for AMU as a whole.

As for Tanya DePass and Into The Mother Lands, they’re exploring their post-AMU options. They have artwork, a completed manuscript, and an eager fanbase. They deciding on either a new publisher or going the self-publishing route. I have a high degree of confidence that another publisher is going to want that project under their logo because Into The Mother Lands looks awesome.

While there are other creators impacted by this move, let’s talk about the impact to Daniel D. Fox and his ZWEIHANDER RPG. Before and during his time at AMU, Daniel and team ran several successful RPG Kickstarters:
He and his team proved that they were able to connect with creators and fans. Despite that, AMU’s decision included downsizing Daniel’s position. Daniel still has Grim & Perilous Studios, his RPG company to fall back on until he determines his next step. [UPDATED per Daniel D. Fox's comment below: "Grim & Perilous Studios was sold to Adam Rose before I joined AMU."]

He shared more details about his situation on Facebook’s ZWEIHANDER RPG page:
“On Zweihander: AMU will continue to publish Zweihander for now. However, we are exploring other options. But there's more to come for the game line in the very near future. Work has begun in earnest on REFORGED: the next iteration of Zweihander. Building off the Starter Set, it'll bring the revised core rulebook up to speed, include all-new professions, spells, adventures, and more. I am optimistic for the future, and you all will be the first to know once I have more news to share.”
When asked a question by a fan about the future of ZWEIHANDER RPG, he shared this:
“We are looking at some alternative options with a new publisher, however. More to come soon.”

Blackbirds RPG.jpg

In Conclusion​

Daniel D. Fox's comment below offers first-hand insight into where the AMU catalogue stands.

AMU made the best decision for AMU. Yet, their decision isn’t the end of this story, there are many creators impacted by AMU’s actions, creators that have to deal with the repercussions. I mentioned Tanya DePass and Daniel D. Fox, but I did not touch on Richard Iorio of Flames of Freedom, Ryan Verniere of Blackbirds RPG, or the sea of other creators. Their work and livelihoods have been altered by AMU’s direction. Only time will tell when their projects will reappear from a new publisher.

There’s a small postscript to this article. Despite the turmoil with the core game’s publisher, the games themselves still have fans. As Daniel shared on Twitter, “the Zweihander RPG Starter Kit has sold an astonishing 884 copies [in January via Amazon].” One of those fans is Mark Meredith, He’s creating an RPG zine via Kickstarter’s Zine Quest. It’s an adventure set on a frozen mountaintop available for several systems, including Zweihander. Publishers change, but the dice roll on.

The Doom of Blackwinter from Dice Monkey
  • End Date: Wed, March 1 2023 1:00 PM EST.

Egg Embry participates in the OneBookShelf Affiliate Program, Noble Knight Games’ Affiliate Program, and is an Amazon Associate. These programs provide advertising fees by linking to DriveThruRPG, Noble Knight Games, and Amazon.
 
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Egg Embry

Egg Embry

ngenius

Explorer
This is tragic news for fans. I did not back Into the Motherlands because the Kickstarter did not have an idea of the game engine before project launch, which is a a big fed flag to me that warns of delayed deliveries.
However, I love the Flames of Freedom role playing game. It offers a nice homage to Colonial Gothic but also so much better overall. The sad news now is that probably no new adventure books for this beautiful but rare niche of role playing in the American Revoltionary War.
 

Von Ether

Legend
While these are great days for RPG publishers, the incomes from slinging dice do not compare with other geek publishing such as board games, comic books, and some elements of traditional prose publishing. While RPGs are doing well, other aspects of geekdom are doing even better and always have been. As such, AMU could have exited RPGs to focus on more advantageous segments of nerd culture.

This is very true. Our industry has lost a lot of talent simply to the fact that they can feed their families better doing something else - and I am talking about people who ran their own companies never mind freelancers.

It also doesn't help that for most people, writers are invisible. If your name is in a book's credits section or even as the byline, the eyeballs just glaze over it. I'm not advocating that creators become celebs either but there has to be a middle ground for fans.

Because right now, that middle ground is only with other creators who work in the same space/game that you do.
 

As Daniel shared on Twitter, “the Zweihander RPG Starter Kit has sold an astonishing 884 copies [in January via Amazon].

I bought a copy after Christmas for myself. The box had great production values and a lot of content. Makes me feel that it probably wasn't super profitable.

I'm guessing this is the reason.

has limited resources and they determined that, while RPGs might be profitable, other lines of publishing could be more profitable
 

Von Ether

Legend
I bought a copy after Christmas for myself. The box had great production values and a lot of content. Makes me feel that it probably wasn't super profitable.

I'm guessing this is the reason.
Egg Embry said:
has limited resources and they determined that, while RPGs might be profitable, other lines of publishing could be more profitable

Remember when stock dividends used to be a retirement tool? All this short term planning makes it where simply a profit is not enough, it has to be more profit from last year and it has to be the most profit that can be squeezed out of every pore of a project.
 


Daniel D. Fox

Explorer
Great article, Egg! Some quick clarifications:

Grim & Perilous Studios was sold to Adam Rose before I joined AMU. I have the distinct honor of being their GM on Wednesdays, however. 😉

Before I left AMU, they had 2 new titles for 2023: To Be or Not To Be The Villain (an author/pub relationship with Rudy Basso and James Introcaso) and Fever Knights RPG (the last project I wrote set in Adam Ellis' world of Fever Knights, with Gabriel Hicks and Anna Goldberg as quest writers). Those are still being published.

I own the Zweihander IP. Ryan Verniere owns the Blackbirds IP. Richard Iorio owns the Flames of Freedom IP. In eseense, no IP ownership is in jeopardy as far as I know.

AMU is still my publisher, and the publisher of Zweihander.

Ryan Verniere confirmed that AMU will still publish Blackbirds.

While I cannot speak to the reasons why AMU left RPGs, rest assured it wasn't due to flagging revenues, missed projections, or personelle issues. Their board would be the best resource to consult with on that front.

It's terribly sad that they didn't agree to satisfy the contract with Tanya and B Dave. I am frustrated for them, and with them, on AMU's decision.
 

Great article, Egg! Some quick clarifications:

Grim & Perilous Studios was sold to Adam Rose before I joined AMU. I have the distinct honor of being their GM on Wednesdays, however. 😉

Before I left AMU, they had 2 new titles for 2023: To Be or Not To Be The Villain (an author/pub relationship with Rudy Basso and James Introcaso) and Fever Knights RPG (the last project I wrote set in Adam Ellis' world of Fever Knights, with Gabriel Hicks and Anna Goldberg as quest writers). Those are still being published.

I own the Zweihander IP. Ryan Verniere owns the Blackbirds IP. Richard Iorio owns the Flames of Freedom IP. In eseense, no IP ownership is in jeopardy as far as I know.

AMU is still my publisher, and the publisher of Zweihander.

Ryan Verniere confirmed that AMU will still publish Blackbirds.

While I cannot speak to the reasons why AMU left RPGs, rest assured it wasn't due to flagging revenues, missed projections, or personelle issues. Their board would be the best resource to consult with on that front.

It's terribly sad that they didn't agree to satisfy the contract with Tanya and B Dave. I am frustrated for them, and with them, on AMU's decision.
Thank you, Daniel. I've updated the article and linked to this comment. I appreciate the review and updates. I can't wait to see what's next for you, Ryan, and Richard. :)
 

Cergorach

The Laughing One
Over a span of three months, Tanya was told to share the news that AMU was going to publish her book to 90 days later when the publisher abandoned them and refused to fulfill their obligations.
Maybe it's because English isn't my native language, but as quoted AMU appears to be going back on it's 'word', but I assume there is a contract in place with legal options to get out of the contractual relationship and those exit options have been used. In my book, that means (legal) obligations have been met.

I'm a freelance IT consultant and generally in the contracts I sign both parties have multiple options to get out of the contract, although the intention is for x period. And this is pretty standard in my business, in my country. Is that different in the US and in RPG publishing in particular?

That amount of directional realignment from AMU is worrisome. On the surface, it implies that AMU was either being duplicitous in their dealings or they did not have a long term publishing gameplan. Either conclusion is undesirable for AMU as a whole.
This reads as if there are only two options available. There aren't, there are way more options possible and even realistic. I've seen companies doing a 180 on a penny, the folks doing the acquisitions/contracts didn't know what was happening at higher levels of management. Changes in direction can be due to predicted/anticipated market changes or due to other external factors. Without a look into the AMP CEO notes it's all speculation...

Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC is a different legal entity from Andrews McMeel Universal, Inc. I have no clue whether the RPG branch was another legal entity under AMP. With which entity did Tanya DePass (or anyone else) have a contract? But as others still have their publishing contract in place, I assume there wasn't a separate RPG entity that was killed (no company, no contract).
 

Maybe it's because English isn't my native language, but as quoted AMU appears to be going back on it's 'word', but I assume there is a contract in place with legal options to get out of the contractual relationship and those exit options have been used. In my book, that means (legal) obligations have been met.

I'm a freelance IT consultant and generally in the contracts I sign both parties have multiple options to get out of the contract, although the intention is for x period. And this is pretty standard in my business, in my country. Is that different in the US and in RPG publishing in particular?


This reads as if there are only two options available. There aren't, there are way more options possible and even realistic. I've seen companies doing a 180 on a penny, the folks doing the acquisitions/contracts didn't know what was happening at higher levels of management. Changes in direction can be due to predicted/anticipated market changes or due to other external factors. Without a look into the AMP CEO notes it's all speculation...

Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC is a different legal entity from Andrews McMeel Universal, Inc. I have no clue whether the RPG branch was another legal entity under AMP. With which entity did Tanya DePass (or anyone else) have a contract? But as others still have their publishing contract in place, I assume there wasn't a separate RPG entity that was killed (no company, no contract).
These points are hard to clarify as I do not have access to the individual contracts. Since the contracts are not publicly available to dissect, a lot of the inner workings of this will be difficult to speak to. :-(
 

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