Monday, July 20, 2009


If you care to read an extensive post about the RPG publishing industry, I suggest this James Mishler post. And if you want to read a rabid, feral response to said post, I suggest this by RPG Pundit.

Regarding Mr. Mishler’s dissection of costs and marketing, I find myself utterly baffled. I try to put myself in the place of a company that does this – that publishes RPG gaming material – and I wonder what anyone is thinking.

First off, I would expect to have no more than four persons working directly for the company. Myself, a business manager, a graphic artist and a co-designer. If I were a national company with an annual distribution of ten thousand, I don’t see why I would need more people.

Writing/design/development: zero cost. I would be doing this. I would not hire freelancers, I would not ever pay anyone any amount of money to write one word. Why would I? If I am in this business, my first thought is that I obviously have a flair for it and therefore am more qualified to design and write the material than anyone I would hire. If, on the other hand, I know nothing about the business, there is zero exploitation potential in hiring someone else to write material for which there is no real demand. There just aren’t that many people out there buying publications to justify my sitting on my fat ass hoping to earn money running a company. Like a start-up video game designer, like a caterer, like a fucking plumber, my job IS my business.

Why am I developing games, anyway? Does it make any sense that I would design more than ONE game, period, in this industry? That once the initial structure was put in place, that I would be wasting time and shooting myself in the foot by continuously redeveloping the same concept over and over again? What do I gain by producing another system? I would only dilute my potential market, reduce my commitment to a product which – I assume – I have faith in, increase the drain on my time and double or treble the overall development effort in order to produce multiple games. This is a model that makes sense for selling Monopoly, Stock Ticker and Life, since these games take an hour or so to play and do not inspire daily interest.

My RPG would be, however, intricate and not immediately comprehended in one hour of play. Therefore I would want ALL my resources directed at its singular acceptance among the gaming community. Ten years down the road I might introduce another system, regarding a completely different milieu ... but ONLY if my present system was so universally recognized that it needed little effort to stand on its own two feet.

The steady stream of meaningless, nameless and forgettable names hitting the market suggest that getting into the development for the long haul is not a priority. That alone might explain why costs to develop and develop again, only to redevelop after, are crippling the crap out of the industry.

Editing: zero cost. Once again, why am I paying a fifth person to do my editing work for me? All four of the people in my company should have publishing experience as part of their resumes – I know I do. Between us, we should be able to competently edit our own material. Suggesting an outside editor is in any way necessary is similar to suggesting that a professional architect ought to hire another architect to look over every design submitted – just in case an error was made.

If you can’t fix your own errors, get into another business where you are competent.

Art/graphic design: employee wage. I mentioned that one of my four would be an artist/graphic designer. Producing art on specification, in addition to laying out the product, plus producing work for advertising and sales would be all done by one capable individual. There would be no freelance artists. Any graphic artist on my staff would be capable also of producing humour – that would have to be on the resume. As regards “top-name artists” ... how do you think someone becomes a top name artist? My artist on staff produces good work, the product sells and the geeks and nerds begin to recognize the artist’s name. I don’t need to hire someone famous, I just need someone good.

Advertising/marketing/sales: flexible cost. I pay out what I can afford to spend. Initially, zip to any established advertising venue. My total advertising budget would be calling individual owners of shops across the country and talking to them as much as possible; travelling, personally, from convention to convention. Paying for my trade space and personally pitching my product, alone or with my co-designer. Selling, selling, selling, on the phone and in person, 18 hours plus per day.

I must take great umbrage with Mr. Mishler’s paragraph on this subject. Mr. Mishler says that most publishers lump together advertising, marketing and sales. I have never met one of these publishers ... and trust me, I’ve met plenty. Mr. Mishler says that publishers ‘consider’ having a website. You do not exist at present in ANY business without a website.

Mr. Mishler suggests an entry in Game Trade Monthly. This is a common rube’s mistake – thinking that inclusion in a trade magazine in any way improves your business or somehow provides credibility. Having produced audits for huge publishing audit companies like BPA Worldwide, effectively the trade magazine corporate for all magazines & newspapers, and having worked for a trade magazine, I can tell you the only group your inclusion in such a product helps is the trade magazine. There are thousands of dupes who have shelled out the money to these organizations in every industry who have received nothing for their effort. Keep your money for a booth at a trade show.

Mr. Mishler says that a full and proper budget would include money for ads in game magazines. Again, bullshit. Your ad in a game magazine helps the game magazine. What you want is to sell your product successfully to where the game magazine knocks on your door looking for a story. Very often, you will find game magazines willing to do a story on your product IF you buy advertising in their magazine. This is sleazy, and is a practice spat upon by editors universally and embraced religiously by sales departments – universally. Take the deal if the magazine has a PROVEN distribution of more than 10,000 (you can check this through BPA or in Canada, through CCAB). Otherwise, you’re wasting your money.

Mr. Mishler mentions ads in game convention registration books and consumer questionnaires and circulars. These are more traps. Avoid them.

Yes, as Mr. Mishler says, talk to distributors and retailers. Cold-call the living shit out of them. If any of them agree to put your product on their shelf, follow up and follow up and if you can, appear in person, intending to spend the afternoon listening to their fuck-ass stories about the gaming community they run Saturday nights. JOIN some of these games, and act like the kindest, most generous and accepting good fella you can. Bring drinks for the other players, back them, support them, make sure everyone knows your name and make sure you answer every stupid boring shit-faced email these pimply snot-bags send you.

Virtually everyone other than the direct buyer of your product is laying to take your money, under the auspices that they will send business your way. The fact that there are so many of these vipers in the industry, at conventions and sprinkled around those gaming communities that might be large and central, shows that the one pariah of the game developer is not that games can’t be developed or sold, but that generally developers know zip to nothing about business.

Printing: costs less than you would expect. Any company incapable of contacting printers from North America to India in order to get estimates deserves to think that it is cheaper to produce their product at Kinko’s. My last quote for my novel, 250 pages for 100 copies, was based upon the total time it would run on the web printer – with glossy front cover and binding, the total was less than $6 a unit. Call around. Don’t take Mr. Mishler’s dictate that you’re fucked if you don’t print at least 1,500 copies. Most printers I talk to will give breaks for additional product, but most are more concerned with how much of their time your actual product will cost.

There are companies out there who will agree with Mr. Mishler. This is based largely on their present business and their feeling that you’re not likely to be a regular customer – therefore, they don’t care about your budget. However, the number of printers in the world are vast.

I have known companies who produced their quarterly reports (usually 100 pages plus) in India because time was not a factor. North American printers can usually charge more because publications are based upon a date of the week or month. A bi-weekly newsmagazine cannot be printed in India because shipping time spoils the shelf life of the articles within. Quarterly reports, however, are usually allowed two to three months grace time after the figures are compiled. It is therefore practical to transfer digital files of the layout to India and have the product shipped back in good order.

Mr. Mishler is talking old school. He needs to move with the times.

Shipping & Distribution: variable. Given that a) most of your initial sales are going to be direct to the customer through trade shows in which you participate directly, or b) the number of stores nationally likely to carry your product are few, you shouldn’t conceivably need a third-party distributor. EVER. Distributors are for companies who have a less-than-personal relationship with their clientele because of the product they produce or the number of their products they need to distribute. Any company on these lines I would run would have a direct relationship with the seller and a data base to manage mail-outs. The business manager would keep a running inventory on sent out products updated by regular quarterly conversations with sellers and through returns and sales.

Just why the fuck would I pay another company to mail twenty copies of my product to a shop in Albany? I know where the post office is.

Retail mark-up and the manufacturer suggested retail price: negotiable. Mr. Mishler says little about this, and that is for the best. Yes, a 50% division between seller and manufacturer is fairly common. It is also entirely negotiable, based upon the product and the corporate nature of the business. Since I’ve never been in an actual chain-store selling RPG products (other than Indigo Books and Borders), I would suspect that many of your sellers would be pretty friendly about.

Over all, it doesn’t matter. I would produce my RPG product for $6 to $10, sell it for $24 to $40 and ensure my success not through the cheap rate of my product but through the product’s value.

Here I must agree with virtually everything that RPG Pundit says with regards to the quality of product out there. It is ALL shit. It is hashed and rehashed unmitigated bird poop, refashioned and rehammered into bland, formless, 32-page crap, usually in 14-point type and with half the content dedicated to introducing the other half of the content. I haven’t bought any product like those described by Mr. Mishler in 20 years, because how often can you fucking spend $20 on zip-shit nothing?

The QUALITY is bad. If game producers are failing to make the income they dream of, maybe they should wake up to the simple fact that they are producing an unusable product. I don’t know any industry (except astrology and other new age fascinations) where a continued uselessness in the material has any chance of creating the remotest DEMAND.

If WotC and the rest of them can’t make any money, it isn’t because of the costs, it is because of the shit they produce. They’re going under?



Carl said...


I wish I had something meaningful to add, but I don't at this time. I always figured that a couple of guys with access to some high-end color laser printers and binding equipment could probably be "Dungeons and Dragons" but the Hasbro parent company would never see their business as being that simple.

That's kind of how the whole ball got rolling to begin with: mimeographed copies of hand-typed rule booklets sold through the mail and at conventions. People wanted it and bought it because it was good, not because Gary and Dave were running elaborate marketing campaigns.

The publishing industry as we know it is dead. The corpse is still twitching, but it's dead-dead-dead. RPG publishing is just an appendage on the corpse.

Alexis said...

"... dead-dead-dead ..."

I understand why any person would see it that way, particularly from the position of the television media (dancing on publishing's grave) and from any perspective online.

I'm afraid I must disagree. There are too many places a computer cannot or does not go. There are benefits to reading vs. hearing the written word. For nine tenths of the world, where electricity is rare and outlets not immediately available, print and paper continue to be more efficient and practical than digitalized or computerized images.

When travelling, when bathing, when at the beach or in the woods, in any place where batteries run low, pages will still be turned.

This I write on a computer, as a person who spends 14 hours every day on a computer. The other two hours are spent with a book in my hand.

(except that I occasionally have sex).

Carl said...

Not publishing, Alexis, but the industry of publishing is dead.

Books are good. People love books. There will, I think, always be a demand for books. If the publishing industry is to survive, they're going to have to reinvent the way they do business and I don't think they're capable. I think they're going to continue to whine that they can't sell books/newspapers/magazines and eventually go bankrupt.

TV can prance and caper on about the death of publishing, but their industry is dying, too. Ad revenues decline every year, and while there are good shows being produced the amount of crap being pumped out onto the airwaves is increasing. People are responding by not watching, and more specifically not watching broadcast TV. Hulu, Netflix, TiVo -- these are the future.

I'll see you in a few days. I got my passport and should be in your neighborhood on the 27th.