Qs for smaller publishers - where to start?

Sammael

Adventurer
As some of you may know, I've been working on my own revision of the d20 system for several years now. Progress has been slow, so I've decided to set a concrete goal and deadline for myself, because that's the only way I'm ever going to finish it.

My goal, of course, is to get the system published. I haven't set the deadline yet, since I have no clue as to what it takes to get published. To be clear, by "published," I mean "as a PDF."

The system will be OGL. I know about including Section 15, but I'm not sure if Section 15 should include all OGL sources I've used as inspiration, or just those I've used directly.

Do I need to trademark the system name? How do I do that (bear in mind that I am not a US resident)?

Do you usually pay artists in advance, or are some of them willing to be paid after publication?

I would like to publish the system as a closed beta first, then as a public beta, and finally release it as a (relatively inexpensive) PDF. Does this sound like a decent business plan? Are PDFs making any money these days?

I know that's a lot of questions, but I really need to know where to start...
 

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Aberzanzorax

First Post
I'm not a publisher, but I've worked with Open Design enough to have seen a small bit of "behind the scenes" discussion regarding publishing.

One thing you might consider is "free art". If you search for public domain art, you might be able to use that.


Also, I don't know that a pdf would sell if you also released a beta. I could see a print final version sell. You might consider going print on demand for the final product.


Good luck to ya!
 


MatthewJHanson

Registered Ninja
Publisher
My advice would be to start small, though from the project you described I'm not sure exactly how you would do that. Maybe you could break it up into small sections?

I'd also second the free art advice. I use Wikimedia Commons as my first stop for finding art.
 

Sammael

Adventurer
My current plan is to release the project in four phases (names are tentative):

Basic: Level 1-6
Expert: Level 7-12
Master: Level 13-18
Immortal: Level 19+

Each release will include the core rules, information about advancing each of the eight classes within the provided level range, separate PDFs for core Arcane, Divine, Martial, and Wild abilities for the given levels, and a small bestiary.

If the system is successful, new releases will include a new bestiary, more Arcane, Divine, Martial, and Wild abilities, and so on.

I also plan to release a free default campaign setting PDF as a bonus, to be followed by more detailed campaign setting releases at a later time. This is still very tentative, as the setting is supposed to be developed by another author, and his schedule is different than mine.
 

Aberzanzorax

First Post
Another (hopefully helpful) comment from a nonpublisher.


I really like Trailblazer by Badaxe. I own it, but don't own any supplements (and don't even know if there ARE supplements).

I haven't followed Goodman Games Dungeon revision closely (which I can't even really name). I think I'll like it, and when it grabs my attention again, I'll likely buy it.


But, I don't buy pdfs alone (except as previews to something more...I really like print.) Here I think I might not be in the majority. I know of several people who are content to buy and read pdfs. To get someone like me, though, it'd have to have a print option.



But, really, I buy a LOT of rpg products, particularly D20/Pathfinder products. I don't buy them from random people/companies though, and I don't buy them if they seem generic or without something fresh.

PLEASE, please note that I'm not accusing your product of ANY of this. I only am bringing it up as a buyer's perspective.


One thing I think you really need to do well is to concentrate on what is SPECIAL about your product. What is the "hook"? Why would I ever buy it?

But that's not even the biggest barrier. It's not hard to convince me to buy a reasonably priced item that I think is cool. It's hard to get me to read enough a product to find out if it is cool (if it is obscure).


I have bought plenty of "obscure" products, but generally they're things that have at least developed a minor following, enough to get the message out there. I've only ever been a part of getting the message out there for Open Design (which I suspect didn't need me, but I may have helped).




I REALLY don't mean to be discouraging. I mean to be encouraging, in the sense that I'd like to bring up the obstacles I have to buying and the obstacles I'd be concerned with if I were a publisher. I think this could be done by someone in your position. I think the more you can do to tweak both awareness and engagement from some pivotal components of the community (not me), then you might be better off from a word of mouth standpoint.


Again, best of luck.
 

Ghostwind

First Post
As some of you may know, I've been working on my own revision of the d20 system for several years now. Progress has been slow, so I've decided to set a concrete goal and deadline for myself, because that's the only way I'm ever going to finish it.

My goal, of course, is to get the system published. I haven't set the deadline yet, since I have no clue as to what it takes to get published. To be clear, by "published," I mean "as a PDF."

The system will be OGL. I know about including Section 15, but I'm not sure if Section 15 should include all OGL sources I've used as inspiration, or just those I've used directly.

Do I need to trademark the system name? How do I do that (bear in mind that I am not a US resident)?

Do you usually pay artists in advance, or are some of them willing to be paid after publication?

I would like to publish the system as a closed beta first, then as a public beta, and finally release it as a (relatively inexpensive) PDF. Does this sound like a decent business plan? Are PDFs making any money these days?

I know that's a lot of questions, but I really need to know where to start...

Honestly, if you plan to releases it as a pdf-only, then you probably won't have a lot of success releasing it in a series of betas and then getting folks to buy it. The gaming community is very fickle regarding what they are willing to buy. I suggest doing some research on possibly doing it as a Kickstarter-type project.

You also have to ask yourself, "What does your system do that Pathfinder, Trailblazer or even Goodman Games' upcoming DCC rules don't?" If what you are trying to accomplish can easily be done with another system, then you are probably setting yourself up for failure in terms of return on your investment.

Have you developed a budget for your project? How much are you willing to invest? Not only do you have development costs for writing, editing, artwork, and layout, but also advertising. Some artists are willing to be paid 30-90 days after publication. It all depends upon the contract you write up. Make certain you have contracts for everyone who works "for-hire" on the project. No contract can be huge legal hassles. I know you mentioned that you want to sell the pdfs for an inexpensive price. How many copies will you need to sell to break even? If you can't do it for a realistic number of copies, you may as well save your money and drop it.

How much playtesting are you going to do before you release the beta? You will need to do as much as possible beforehand and not just with your personal gaming group. A poorly playtested beta can turn off all kinds of potential buyers.

Regarding the OGL, if you directly used something that came from an open game content, that source MUST be included in your Section 15. Don't forget to include your own product title in the Section 15 at the very end. If you feel the need to trademark your game system (remember it is a variant of d20 to begin with), then you need to have a consult with an attorney who specializes in trademarks and copyrights.

You've got a huge uphill battle if you want to even become a blip on the radar of gamers, let alone a success. I don't mean to sound discouraging, but I do want you to be aware of some of the challenges of publishing. Put together a business plan and stick to it. I wish you success in your venture. :)
 

Sammael

Adventurer
Excellent points, guys, you've really made me think about some aspects of the project which I haven't considered yet.

What makes the product special? Good question. Here are some of the design goals I had in mind when working on the system:

  • Solid core foundation that can be easily extended
  • Keep the core elements and (most of the) sacred cows, but they must be greatly streamlined and clarified (to become more intuitive)
  • Unified system for combat and non-combat skills; while important, combat is not special and does not necessitate wholly separate mechanics
  • Reduced power level
  • Diversity rather than power creep
  • Built-in mechanisms that prevent option bloat, such as the limited number of highly adjustable classes
  • Clear-cut differences between various mechanical aspects of the game
  • Balanced, but not to the point where all characters feel the same; recognize that each character cannot be equally effective in every field, but each character should have a way to contribute to every situation
  • Supports the style of play where a player can state his or her intended actions in non-gaming terms, and the Game Master can translate those intents into rules

My view of the various mentioned systems (to better show where I'm going with my own system):

  • 3.5 - Decent game, but ultimately too bloated with options and destroyed by power creep. Math becomes broken at high levels. High level play requires too much preparation. Not balanced enough and with too many exceptions.
  • Pathfinder - A nice redesign that, unfortunately, did not go far enough. Fantastic flavor and rock-solid adventure design.
  • 4E - A completely different beast from 3.5 which offers a radically different playing experience. Not a bad game per se, but not the type of game I like to play. Some mechanical advances are admirable and would work well in other systems.
  • Trailblazer - A great set of options that can be seamlessly integrated into 3.5. Well thought-out, mathematically sound, and fixes a number of problems with the game. Ultimately cannot fix some core problems that require a complete system redesign.

Staggered release and pricing - I really think the whole thing is too ambitious to be released at once (a company could do it, of course, I, as an individual, cannot). I do not want to overestimate my capacity, since I have a full-time job and this is a hobby. However, if I set a goal to release the Basic rules by, say, GenCon 2012, that is something that I think is manageable. Pricing will have to be fairly low, since I am personally not a fan of expensive PDFs. Still too early to estimate how much, though.

Kickstarter seems like a good idea, but would probably be best if I decided to release the system in print. My location is severely limiting that option, since exporting anything out of my country is a bureaucratic nightmare that would result in a 200% price increase. I'll have to look into POD and outsourced printing options.

ROI and budget concerns - I will be handling writing and layout, and I will likely find an editor willing to work for free (or a percentage of the sales). Since this is a "pet project," I do not expect to really make money off of it. However, I would certainly like to cover the costs, whatever they end up being. I am currently looking into hiring local artists which should prove to be considerably cheaper. Overall, I will work on the budget during the initial closed beta of the game, since I do not want to waste my time if the initial reception is overwhelmingly negative.

Release schedule and testing - I've been testing the system with 3 different groups over the past 2 years. However, I recognize that I need significantly more testing before release. I intend to have a closed (invitation-only) beta of the system that will last for 6 months or so (this will be prior to commissioning art and getting into other expenses). To maintain a decent signal/noise ratio, the number of playtesters will have to be kept relatively small (I am looking at about 20 groups, if I can find that many volunteers). If all the playtesters think that it sucks and cannot be salvaged, so be it, I will drop the whole thing (or, rather, retain it for personal use only).

Trademarks - I am mostly interested in seeing how others are doing it.
 
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Aberzanzorax

First Post
For free RPG day I got the Arcanis RPG adventure/quickrules.

It was a small (32? 16?) page booklet that had enough rules to play a short, but interesting, adventure.


It seems like your system might be a very good system, but the selling points are rather dry. I wonder, especially since you're looking to release it in stages (perhaps with a final compiled version?) if you might not follow the model I've mentioned.

That is, showcase your elegant system with a juicy adventure.


In particular, I suggest the following:
1. It would need to be interesting (have a selling point as an adventure)
2. It would need to be simple enough (to learn the rules clearly and quickly)
3. Regarding learning the rules, ideally they could be learned as you go (like most video games nowadays that teach one thing, let you master it, then teach another).
4. It should not be a "dungeon crawl" (which adventures can be even outside a dungeon).
5. It should utilize at least 2 (but ideally more) of the rules you've changed or created that make your system special.
6. I believe (I'm not SURE, but I believe) that the three big sellers of adventures involve Dragons, Drow, and Demons/Devils. I say this both from observations on what is available (product listings) and from a hazy recollection of publisher statements.
7. Leave us wanting more. Especially if high level play is repaired or improved by your system over, say 3e, leave that for another product. It never hurts to advertise "in the next installment" at the back of a product, so long as you are confident that you will be able to produce that next product.
 


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