is the ttrpg market swamped now? could you write a winner?

overgeeked

B/X Known World
CR is a lot of eyes. Matt Colville is banned from my youtube for doing a movie review pooping on Dune 2021 which still triggers me. The movie was my fav in a long time and to talk about how he didn't care for it... sacrilege to not support my beloved childhood book.
For anyone who hasn't seen Matt's review, he doesn't poop on it. He likes it fine. He's just not impressed. "Meh" is a fair summation of Matt's review. Matt has supported just about everything Dune related since he was a kid, too. He talks about his Dune fanboy bona fides regularly on his channel. He even wrote the first Dune RPG. Matt also has reviews of several other Dune products and Dune related videos on his channel. He's about the biggest fan of the franchise I've come across. And I'm a lifelong science fiction fan who's loved Dune for decades.
 

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Reynard

Legend
For anyone who hasn't seen Matt's review, he doesn't poop on it. He likes it fine. He's just not impressed. "Meh" is a fair summation of Matt's review. Matt has supported just about everything Dune related since he was a kid, too. He talks about his Dune fanboy bona fides regularly on his channel. He even wrote the first Dune RPG. Matt also has reviews of several other Dune products and Dune related videos on his channel. He's about the biggest fan of the franchise I've come across. And I'm a lifelong science fiction fan who's loved Dune for decades.
Also, the movie was just kind of meh.
 


It's a position I've heard for many decades now. I've heard a lot of people say that D&D is only popular because it's got a strong brand, but hear me out everyone; Maybe it's a strong brand because TSR and WotC have consistently put out good games for almost five decades now? I try not to be snooty about what I like and especially try to avoid telling other people they wouldn't recognize something good if it bit them on the bum at high noon in the town square. When I really think about it, a lot of what I like is just silly. I've got not room to cast aspersions.
yeah, it's a pretty ridiculous position. Every version of D&D, taken as an artifact of its time, was a good game. Was it the best game? Probably not (although OD&D might be able to claim that by nature of being first), but it was a good, playable game that many people enjoyed. By and large, the value of other games isn't being "better" so much as being "a game more like the one that I want to play"
 
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Retreater

Legend
Yes, I could write a decent game. However, wrangling art, layout, promotion, etc, is a skill set I don't have. That's as important as the quality of the writing and system design. I doubt it would be even a decent success (i.e. making back its money).
 

ruemere

Adventurer
Regarding writing an E&E game that would sell, here is a little rant based on my observations over the years:

(warning: rantish)

1. You need a distinct and appealing art style. This means hiring an artist with a vision, getting a professional to do proofing and layout. The game must look original and separate - here are a few recommended picks (focusing on just a few examples that I own - please don't hold it against me if you find your favorite item missing):
  • Broken Tales
  • Blade Runner
  • Orbital Blues
  • White Hack 3 (the art style is literally a basic LaTeX template, and yet it is so unbelievable easy on your eyes that it makes for a very cozy read)
  • Necrobiotic
  • Arc Doom
  • Troika | Electric Bastionland (can't believe I failed to include this)

2. The system must be serviceable. It may be super simple, it may be more elaborate, but the underlying concept must be simple, at least on paper. Only big brands can afford to be elaborate with impunity (Level Up/A5E).

2.1 Simple systems that are too simple or too casual will die. The system must be able to produce engagement that rewards its mastery. I know that some people people disagree with Monte Cook who said this originally, however... if you want your players to read some of your books, you should give them stuff to engage with the game on several levels.

2.2 Prior to any publishing campaign do your best to get other people to use your system. Chances are that there are things obvious to you, and not necessarily to others.

2.3 Too many indie games recently produced are all about a system, but not enough about a setting. Not enough setting content means that GMs will have to rely on tropes and stereotypes, and most GMs will at some point give up the game because of this.

3. The setting material is not about a number of new races, artifacts or monsters. It's about what the role of protagonists is, culture differences, mysteries, politics, economics and plots.

3.1 I cannot stress enough that the protagonists role must be addressed - are they adventurers? If so, what kind of work are expected the adventurers are to do? What do the NPCs are doing meanwhile?

3.2 If you are producing a derivative E&E setting, do remember that there is a glut of generic online content. Do try not to reproduce it.
 
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Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
'Well written' is no guarantee of anything. I wrote a Sci-Fi hack of Trophy Gold that is (IMO) 'better written' than a lot of 3rd party 5E stuff I've read, but that doesn't mean it's going to sell well (or at all, not that I've tried to sell it).
 

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
If I see a new fantasy RPG out there, the first thing that comes to my mind is "how close is it to D&D?". Because I already know D&D, spent years decades learning the rules and the lore that goes with it, and can easily teach it to anyone that wants to learn. Coincidentally, few newcomers will ask about any other system when they first start playing. So unless that new fantasy rpg has something different to offer, like a compelling mechanic or unique setting, it's going to be a hard sell to me.

Now let's look at something completely different. I love the Star Wars RPG by Fantasy Flight Games. The mechanics are truly innovative. The system focuses on the narrative and storytelling aspects of the game by encouraging improvisation and collaboration between the players and the GM. It took me time, practice, and commitment to really grasp how the system works best. To do that, I had to stop thinking like D&D.

So I did buy into a new system that wasn't D&D. But guess what? It's really hard to find players who share my enthusiasm and interest. It wasn't hard to teach. People picked it up easily enough. Everyone had some basic knowledge of Star Wars, enough to get immersed into any scene. But you don't get the hang of it in one session. Most people simply do not have the time or inclination to master a new system. Especially one that is intentionally designed to be more intuitive instead of perscriptive.

Well not to put to fine a point on it, but D&D is simpler. It doesn't innovate or have the best rules. But they are easy to grasp and flexible enough to allow a competent DM to find ways of doing more with less. It has options. And most importantly, it has a strong customer base that is pretty happy with it's even when they're arguing over silly things about it on the internet.
 

'Well written' is no guarantee of anything. I wrote a Sci-Fi hack of Trophy Gold that is (IMO) 'better written' than a lot of 3rd party 5E stuff I've read, but that doesn't mean it's going to sell well (or at all, not that I've tried to sell it).

Having written a technical book myself, I now have a deeper appreciation of how easy it is, when reading your own work, to miss seeing things that are unclear. It is really, really valuable to have a serious editor and/or copy-editor to evaluate your work and spot all those issues.

One of the reasons I tend to stick with major companies' products is that they do this, and the standard of writing is significantly better than works that are not edited. And for me, for a lot of products, I read to about page 3 and find enough annoyances that I'm not excited about continuing to read.

For me, if I see issues like the above in a document, I'll know it's not been edited and so if I go to buy another PDF from he same source, I'll significantly lower the amount of money I'm willing to pay.

Good writing buys you repeat customers.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Editing is an indispensable skill and not one you can apply to your own work flawlessly, for sure. Playtesting is the other half of the equation. You can always tell when a game lacks one or, worse, both.
 

Greggy C

Adventurer
Supporter
With a budget of £20,000 and making a target of £35,000? Yes, it's possible to make a winner. You need an established reputation or a lot of luck, but it's possible.

Of course, you need to produce something good for it to work, and you need access to talent to make it look worth buying.
This dude makes over $35,000 per month for a 5e import/export between foundry and dndbeyond. Pretty funny considering I wrote most of that functionality in a few days for my website.
 

Endroren

Explorer
Publisher

is the ttrpg market swamped now?​

There are a LOT of products out there and a lot of them are amazing. It's not easy to get noticed. I wouldn't say it is swamped, but I would say there are a LOT of people in the pool. At the same time, the reason there are a lot of products is that more than ever we have the tools to make amazing stuff and a market where we can sell it. So yeah - pretty full market, but that is a good sign for creative folks IMO.

could you write a winner?​

Boy - I sure hope so. ;) I've bet a lot of money and time on the belief that you can. :) Joking aside, I always think it's possible. You can never tell what will hit or when, and if you love what you're doing, it's worth trying. Plus, I'd very much like to create a way for all the amazing creative folks I know to make a living doing what they love. I absolutely believe it's possible. In the end, I truly believe that if you've made something engaging and of high quality it's just a matter of getting eyes on a thing and hitting at the right moment. Ya just keep working!
 

gamerprinter

Mapper/Publisher
Coming from a small, TTRPG publisher I don't view the industry as swamped by any means. I was publishing for Pathfinder 1.0 as third party, and now I'm publishing for Starfinder. At this point, I may never create for PF 2.0 nor D&D 5e, but you never know, I might. There's plenty more for me to publish for Starfinder. There are plenty of "heartbreakers" and smaller games that can be supported - and you never have to touch 5e or the other big gun games to have gainful participation. Is the market saturated? Not be any means at all, by my judgement. I've been a part of winnig publications in the past...
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
Boy - I sure hope so. ;) I've bet a lot of money and time on the belief that you can.
Man, I so feel this lol. it seems like the key to success is to go viral, which seems to be a crapshoot as to who forwards your project when, and hoping to get lucky it gets shared by the right person. (robust advertising helps, but it seems the tipping point is if you get someone with a lot of followers share your project).
 
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gamerprinter

Mapper/Publisher
Man, I so feel this lol. it seems like the key to success is to go viral, which seems to be a crapshoot as to who forwards your project when, and hoping to get lucky it gets shared by the right person. (robust advertising helps, but it seems the tipping point is if you get someone with a lot of followers share your project).
I don't even care about going viral. I have a fanbase, that as long as I continue to please, so they continue to purchase, and overtime I gain more fans. That's always been enough for me. Would I be disappointed if something I made went viral - of course not, but am no way counting on such and not doing anything to help make that happen, other than continuing to create the best I can.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
I don't even care about going viral. I have a fanbase, that as long as I continue to please, so they continue to purchase, and overtime I gain more fans. That's always been enough for me. Would I be disappointed if something I made went viral - of course not, but am no way counting on such and not doing anything to help make that happen, other than continuing to create the best I can.
Well, true. I think it's a poor business plan to place your bets on going viral lol.
 

Endroren

Explorer
Publisher
I don't even care about going viral. I have a fanbase, that as long as I continue to please, so they continue to purchase, and overtime I gain more fans. That's always been enough for me. Would I be disappointed if something I made went viral - of course not, but am no way counting on such and not doing anything to help make that happen, other than continuing to create the best I can.
This is totally fair, although I don't think going viral is really anyone's "goal" (God, I hope it isn't ;) ). There is, however, a level of adoption and support that is necessary to sustain the business long term. I need to hit a certain level of sales to keep producing my products commercially and at the level of quality I have so far. I always think of it as "achieving orbit". Getting there is tough in a crowded market, but I totally believe it can happen in today's market.
 

gamerprinter

Mapper/Publisher
This is totally fair, although I don't think going viral is really anyone's "goal" (God, I hope it isn't ;) ). There is, however, a level of adoption and support that is necessary to sustain the business long term. I need to hit a certain level of sales to keep producing my products commercially and at the level of quality I have so far. I always think of it as "achieving orbit". Getting there is tough in a crowded market, but I totally believe it can happen in today's market.
I've had kind of a staying power for quite a while, and I've grown as a publisher. Really in the beginning I was just a pro game cartographer, but a couple years into that, I decided to release stand-alone map products - castles, taverns, that kind of thing as generic sites for random games, and I've created map objects sets for people to use in populating their games. Of course, I'm a lifetime tabletop gamer, and had a setting I wanted to build all my life, which I finally published as an imprint under Rite Publishing, my Kaidan setting of Japanese Horror (PFRPG), kind of life's work project. But that gave me lots of experience working with publishers, artists, editors, author/game designers over 7 years of development and publishing, even authoring a one-shot for it myself (I was the project manager/lead developer/art director and technical advisor). But I did that under a differernt publisher. So about 5 years ago, one of the author/game designers whom I had made maps for as a commission, saw that I was creating starship deck plans, and he wanted to write a sci-fi adventure, and with Starfinder coming out soon, would I be willing to publish it? Which I did. Now I have 3 author/game designers, besides myself - and I do all the rest of the work: art, maps, page layout, graphic design and publishing. Gamer Printshop (my publishing company) has been around for 12 years - and I'm still doing it.
 
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gamerprinter

Mapper/Publisher
Another thing to consider, something I've learned in my years doing this, is called the long tail of marketing.

While every publisher might like that viral opportunity to explode their business (that never happens usually). The real secret of the small TTRPG publishing business is to have a lot of products - ideally, at least a 100. In reality, you'll sell a couple/maybe a dozen of any one product in any given month, which doesn't amount to a lot money, but it's income stream. So if you have 100 or more products, and only sell a couple or dozen of each - now that is a reliable, honest income.

You might get lucky with a given product. I released Starships, Stations and Salvage Guide for Starfinder - really kind of an expanded version of Paizo's Starship Operations Manual, 3 years before they released there's. And it was the #1 third party Starfinder product on DrivethruRPG for 6 months straight - I was pretty stoked with that one. But you never know what's going to sell, you can only hope. So the only thing you can count on for a steady flow of sales, is with as many products as you can offer. I've only got 50, so far - I need to get to work! ;)
 
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Greggy C

Adventurer
Supporter
Now I have 3 author/game designers, besides myself - and I do all the rest of the work: art, maps, page layout, graphic design and publishing. Gamer Printshop (my publishing company) has been around for 12 years - and I'm still doing it.
Whats the advantage of using a publishing company like yourself versus LuLu or is that two different things.
 

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