Tough Truths About the Game Industry

If you're new to the game industry, you've probably heard a lot of myths about publishing. The truth is more complicated -- and, if you're planning to publish your new game, perhaps more encouraging.

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Picture sourced from Pixabay.

“PDFs should be free!”

It costs nothing to copy a PDF, everyone knows that. Digital books are no more complicated to produce than it is to move a mouse. So, games companies must be just trying to gouge their customers.

While many games companies do give out free PDFs, it isn’t because they cost nothing. A PDF book costs the same as a printed one in terms of commissioned art and writing, layout and graphic design etc. Now, it does have a much smaller unit cost, which is zero. However, the unit cost of any book is a tiny fraction of what the customer is paying. The unit cost is the base charge the publisher will add a little to when they sell to a distributor. The distributors add their own mark up and sell to retailers who add another. This makes the unit cost much less than a quarter (or even a fifth) of the final retail sale price, if that. So discounting a PDF by half that price (as is the standard on DriveThruRPG) is actually a pretty good deal.

Some companies offer PDFs for free, but this is not because they cost nothing. In general, a customer with the PDF might come back to buy the hard copy, but if they have the hard copy they rarely come back to buy the PDF. So given those statistics, offering a free PDF with the hard copy is a good sales incentive. It is a pain for retailers to compete with this, but that’s another article! All I’ll say for now is check out Bits and Mortar (.com).

“Amazon knows the real release date!”

You see this a lot. A customer announces on a forum that they know when a product is coming out as Amazon (or similar) has it listed with a date, despite the publish having said nothing. This then picks up traction across the forum until people are demanding it for the ‘correct date’.

So, first off, if a company hasn’t put out a release date, any other date you hear is probably wrong. But how do these spurious dates appear? After all, Amazon didn’t get it from nowhere. The reason is due to what publishing companies have to tell retailers and distributors to get their products into shops at the right time. The lead time on this is three months at least (and longer for a Christmas release). So when a company thinks it can deliver a product in three months it offers it to distribution so they can place orders at the right time. But it doesn’t always work (in fact it often doesn’t work). There are legions of things that can delay a release, and all the while some distributors the order date to their customers as a release date, even though it was only ever a hopeful guess from the publisher. When it’s a big company like Amazon who don’t update all their products, these dates stay on their website, further convincing people that it is on the way. These confusions are why most companies stay vague about release dates for their customers until they know they can hit them.

“The gatekeepers won’t let me in!”

With the advent of digital publishing, the gates to becoming an RPG game producer have never been further open. Yet still you see a few people complaining that the industry is hard to get into and no one will ‘let them in’.

There are a lot of reasons for why you might think that, and these are mostly because you may be approaching the industry the wrong way. Most games companies have their own lines and anything that doesn’t fit into one of them isn’t going to be considered, no matter how good it is. Even for a writer with a good track record, getting someone to publish your new games idea is a huge investment for any company, and one that can seriously stretch their resources. So, if you want to get into the industry, talk to the people who produce a game you know well about what they might be looking for in terms of supplements and adventures.

However, if you have a game idea and you want to get it out there, you don’t have to wait for someone else to produce it for you. Print on demand companies like Lulu and DriveThruRPG (One Book Shelf) are a cheap and easy way to get your game on the market, and Kickstarter can get you the funds to take it further. But that’s a whole other article!

“It’s OK to base something on a book/TV show/film/video game if I don’t make a profit.”

This one comes up a lot, and there are many sad stories of people falling foul of it. I can’t give you all the legal details (and British and American law are also a little different) but this is generally an abuse or misuse of someone else’s ‘Intellectual Property’ (IP). It is never OK to use anyone else’s intellectual property for any reason, and some will sue you for a lot of money if you do, whether you made money or not.

There are a number of legal reasons for this. For one, if you own an intellectual property, you need to preserve its standards and integrity. Letting anyone do any old thing can bring down the perceived quality, sometimes even more so if they are doing it for free. It comes down to the fact that an IP belongs to someone, and you need to ask before you play with someone else’s property. Additionally, there are some forms of law that work on precedent, and if you allow someone to do something with your IP without your permission, you have effectively allowed anyone to do the same, profit or no profit.

In short, IP law is a very complicated subject. You can often make something similar if you are careful, but the names (and especially anything trademarked) and specifics of a world are not available without license. So, before you write your version of ‘Game of Thrones’ ask yourself if you could defend it as solely your own work in court.

“No one will be interested in my game!”

To finish on a more optimistic note, you may be thinking the idea you had for a game just isn’t any good. But you may be wrong. Gaming is a small industry with a huge product base. There are plenty of games that are very similar to each other all doing well in the market. You do need to find something that makes your game stand out. But the variety of the community means that even if you have nothing but a clone of D&D with a few tweaks, it might be just what someone out there is waiting for. Self-publishing and the array of community content options have made it easier than ever before to get your work out there. But to do that you have to get it written. So get back to it and finish it right now, because just maybe, you have inside you a game that everyone will want to play.

This article was contributed by Andrew Peregrine (Corone) as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. We are always on the lookout for freelance columnists! If you have a pitch, please contact us!
 
Andrew Peregrine

Comments

LuisCarlos17f

Explorer
I haven't bought music from years ago, only I listen any song in youtube, but I could buy one for a present. I haven't been in a cinema in years, but I could gift a DVD for a birthday.

I am Spanish, and I want to buy books (I am a collector) in my native language, but the number of published books is lower. I bought Eclipse Phase RPG corebook and now I have to wait until the second edition. Devil will not publish the Pathfinder Bestiary 3, our market is too small. Some D&D 5th books I want to buy haven't translated yet. Once in 2008 I want to buy Dungeonscape, one of the last 3.5 D&D books, but I was waiting the translation. It wasn't published and I couldn't buy the English version because I had to go to other city.

I don't need to buy the book of Vampire: the Masquerade to get the background, rules and disciplines, but I bought the Vampire 20A because I am a collector. My collection is my treasure.

If I can, I will buy the Spanish translation of the new gamebooks of Endless Quest for my nephews (the younger on is only a year old, he can't read yet).

I would rather to buy RPG books, or at least pre-paid card for PDFs in a shop. In the past I said the future could be to sell "sourcebooks" as videogames mods. Maybe as NFL figures (Spyro Skylanders, Disney Infinity or Lego Dimensions) but I am afraid this age is past.

Other option is to promote a franchise as brand for third party merchandising products (toys, videogames, comics or novels), but third party publishers can't yet.
 

Cergorach

The Laughing One
Let's say a publisher sells a book at 40-45% of MSRP to a distributor, the distributor sells it at 55-60% MSRP to retailers, 10% of MSRP goes to printing, that leaves 30-35% of MSRP to pay everyone else (writers, editors, artists, project managers, layout, etc.) and hopefully make a profit.

But with pdf there is no printing cost, but there is a sales cost of ~30% of sale price, so if you sell a pdf at 50% MSRP, your left with 35% of MSRP. Not a whole lot more then through physical distribution...

And while someone must push a publish pdf button, if your layout artist did his/her job, it's as simpel as choosing an export profile and push pdf. Bookmarks will be generated automatically, you can even publish to epub. Now, if your doing weird digital stuff like with the Apple enhanced ebooks for GW books for example, that indeed is a lot of extra work...

Also keep in mind that while digital computer game sales have skyrocketed and are in some cases exceeding physical sales, most serious publishers can't generate those kind of digital sales. Certain specialist publishers only do digital sales, but again, in the short run those don't near the minimums for physical sales. So everyone still needs to be paid and if they don't expect enough sales, price needs to go up. But that often means less sales, etc. So there is a certain balancing act with prices, products and publishers going on. In many cases it's a niche in a niche in a niche in a... Thus tiny sales.

But the biggest advantage for digital sales that aren't connected to a 3rd party license (which expires) is that it's always in stock and will generate sales for ever (although it might end up as very little revenue eventually). WotC did some brisk business when they initially released they old 2nd edtion books for a steal in digital format, ebay prices for those same items dropped significantly...
 

Von Ether

Explorer
And while someone must push a publish pdf button, if your layout artist did his/her job, it's as simpel as choosing an export profile and push pdf. Bookmarks will be generated automatically, you can even publish to epub.
Not so much thanks to crappy code and ... indexes.

Anything populating automatically is prone to errors unless your writers and layout people are both on top of format and metadata and even then things come out wierd enough that it's just easier to do it by hand -- which is okay for smaller products.

For bigger ones, an index is tempting, which many pros still do by hand. The best way to avoid doing a full index is to have a very detailed TOC.

And while it's optional to bookmark an index, the expectations for a bookmarked TOC is pretty standard. So because the TOC goes into sections and sub-sections instead of just chapter headings, that's a lot of bookmarks.
 

Ghostwind

Villager
The concept of pdf should be free is downright laughable. Speaking as a publisher, if I am a putting together a book, I have to consider the following costs:
- writer's fees
- art fees
- layout fees
- print costs
- shipping costs

These numbers need to be balanced against expected order numbers to determine what the overall print MSRP of the product will be. Once that number can be determined, the pdf cost will typically be listed as 50-60% of that number with some exceptions. PDF sales do not number in the hundreds contrary to what folks may think unless you certain "name" publishers. Many of us see just a few sales a month per title give or take.

In today's reality of publishing and sales, it is necessary to charge a respectable price for a pdf. For starters, it is a way to help make profits for the lack of sales on the print end. Distributors are ordering less because game stores are choosing to only support Wotc and Paizo (and in some cases not even Paizo) and special ordering everyone else. You have to work hard to get noticed because of how much new product is being released on a daily basis.

This is what I have to consider. Other publishers may do things differently.
 

Dire Bare

Adventurer
The concept of pdf should be free is downright laughable. Speaking as a publisher, if I am a putting together a book, I have to consider the following costs:
- writer's fees
- art fees
- layout fees
- print costs
- shipping costs

These numbers need to be balanced against expected order numbers to determine what the overall print MSRP of the product will be. Once that number can be determined, the pdf cost will typically be listed as 50-60% of that number with some exceptions. PDF sales do not number in the hundreds contrary to what folks may think unless you certain "name" publishers. Many of us see just a few sales a month per title give or take.

In today's reality of publishing and sales, it is necessary to charge a respectable price for a pdf. For starters, it is a way to help make profits for the lack of sales on the print end. Distributors are ordering less because game stores are choosing to only support Wotc and Paizo (and in some cases not even Paizo) and special ordering everyone else. You have to work hard to get noticed because of how much new product is being released on a daily basis.

This is what I have to consider. Other publishers may do things differently.
I got'cha! I'm no publisher, but I'm also tired of folks complaining when ebooks (PDF or otherwise) are "too expensive". I'll gladly pay $20-ish bucks or even more for a solid product with good writing, design, layout, and art. My threshold is a bit lower on the DM's Guild, as there are a number of good fan-products but with low quality layout and art, but with decent writing and design. Actually, there are even some standouts on the DM's Guild site that are worth $20 or more as they have everything a more "professional" product does.

The ONLY reason an ebook should be free is for marketing purposes (like a free preview), or if you are an amateur fan-publisher who just wants to share and doesn't care about profit.
 

dm4hire

Explorer
Most people don't have a problem paying for PDFs. Also paying for a PDF while getting the print book at the same time. I believe the issue comes when they are paying the same price for a PDF as a print book, when there are no print costs. I side with those who have issue with the fact that in order to get the print copy the PDF had to be made and that cost is incorporated into the book, charging for the PDF in addition to that seems like an over reach.
 

Dire Bare

Adventurer
Most people don't have a problem paying for PDFs. Also paying for a PDF while getting the print book at the same time. I believe the issue comes when they are paying the same price for a PDF as a print book, when there are no print costs. I side with those who have issue with the fact that in order to get the print copy the PDF had to be made and that cost is incorporated into the book, charging for the PDF in addition to that seems like an over reach.
I don't mind paying for both a print book and an ebook (rather than getting the ebook for free, bundled with the print). The ebook adds extra value, so, paying an extra cost is fine by me. Publishers who bundle a free ebook with a print-book purchase is also fine, of course, but shouldn't be seen as the default or industry standard. Most of the "big players" don't, except for Paizo, and Paizo only if you purchase through their webstore at full MSRP.

I also don't mind paying the same price for an ebook as for the print book, as really, despite the medium, it's the same product. "Print costs" are part of a publisher's pricing calculus, but don't really determine overall MSRP.

When publishers do discount or bundle ebooks, it can be an awesome deal, and I'm all for that! But complaining about price is just . . . . weak, especially with the "armchair publisher" arguments we hear so often.

As a consumer, the higher the price means the more I have to perceived balance value vs. my willingness/ability to pay, and the higher the price the more likely I'll pass. But that's true for anything, analog or digital. I have no problem with fans saying, that product doesn't offer enough value for the price for me, but just complaining that the pricing is somehow a moral wrong or something . . .
 

Mistwell

Hero
The concept of pdf should be free is downright laughable. Speaking as a publisher, if I am a putting together a book, I have to consider the following costs:
- writer's fees
- art fees
- layout fees
- print costs
- shipping costs

These numbers need to be balanced against expected order numbers to determine what the overall print MSRP of the product will be. Once that number can be determined, the pdf cost will typically be listed as 50-60% of that number with some exceptions. PDF sales do not number in the hundreds contrary to what folks may think unless you certain "name" publishers. Many of us see just a few sales a month per title give or take.

In today's reality of publishing and sales, it is necessary to charge a respectable price for a pdf. For starters, it is a way to help make profits for the lack of sales on the print end. Distributors are ordering less because game stores are choosing to only support Wotc and Paizo (and in some cases not even Paizo) and special ordering everyone else. You have to work hard to get noticed because of how much new product is being released on a daily basis.

This is what I have to consider. Other publishers may do things differently.
Everyone raise a drink to our own Ghostwind, who has left this world (in real life) on the last great adventure, and who passed away this afternoon. He was a good man, a talented RPG writer, and one of our own.

So say we all.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Everyone raise a drink to our own Ghostwind, who has left this world (in real life) on the last great adventure, and who passed away this afternoon. He was a good man, a talented RPG writer, and one of our own.

So say we all.
That it very sad, my condolences to his friends and family. :(
 

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