I’ve decide to share some thoughts about my venture into game design. Specifically, tabletop rpgs. Six months looks like a little adventure, but at least during this period I’ve released four small games in PDF. „It’s not much”, you may say. Three one-page RPGs and one 25-page one (with two supplements) can be still considered as a practice in design and self-publishing. You can find those at Itch.io and DriveThruRPG.
I present statistics and a bunch of self-reflections, including what I did wrong, what I could do better plus a pint of complaining. Somewhere in the second half of this text it goes into emotions, so feel free to be warned…
At first, stats, numbers and income.
How it went in numbers?
The table represents stats from 16th October 2021 to 16th April 2022.
|Itch.io downloads||DTRPG downloads||Itch.io income||DTRPG income|
– Vials of Mercury
– Suffering from Success
|Seal of Approval||60/80*||n/a||n/a||n/a|
|Komodo & Underground||63/93*||n/a||$16.40||n/a|
|A Stone for Your Penguin||32||n/a||$0||n/a|
** – One of the downloads went for free, due to one hour error of setting it as PWYW.
Income represents gross income (net income explained below).
Overall download count is 854. Keep in mind, that DTRPG counts all items in bulk. In other hand, I gave up promoting my DTRPG site since February, so it’s low numbers don’t surprise me at all…
Gross income is 117,52$, but net income (earnings) are 77,8$. Considering that Affinity Publisher costs like 60$, I’ve mostly paid off that app. But after adding copyediting payment for „October Rust” (280$), you can clearly see, that I’ve just started paying all the costs. I’ll use Affinity Publisher for my future projects, so at least I may consider buying it as „a decision fairly made”…
I didn’t expect to earn much from my games. I just expected to cover my initial expenses in 12 months.
It’s time to interpret those stats.
First of all, both of my selling strategies for „October Rust” fail short. First one – „main book as PWYW leading loss, aided by supplements” – didn’t work at all and got „sabotaged” by myself. It’s because of a second decision: after initial 30 days, I’ve set „October Rust” to 5$ price and just nine people bought it. Lowering price to 4,5$ didn’t helped at all. In fact, some transaction only happened, due of my experiments with promotion bundles (that’s why „Vials of Mercury” in average went sold below 1,5$, for instance). I’ve returned to PWYW model, because – in the end – I prioritize getting recognized over scraping dollars. For more details why I did it, I can invite you to read my devlog.
You can clearly see, that when the game itself didn’t gain any attention, just making fixed price for it’s supplements doesn’t yield results. You could just either make it for free (for social media presence), or just discard the whole idea about them…
In regard of my three one-page RPGs, one is set for free („Seal of Approval”), others in PWYW mode (K&D – 1,20$, ASFYP – 1$). It’s interesting, how people do react in regards of they wallets, when they interact with no-name TTRPG designer. I didn’t set any price for „Seal”, because I’ve felt like asking for a donation to a game with merely 150 word count sounds ridiculous. „Komodo & Underground” has up to 1000 words. „ASFYP” got close to 400 words, a little smaller price (in fact, PayPal fee not included) and there aren’t any payments. Possibly, K&D is slightly better game than ASFRP…
I do have two additional thoughts regarding above:
- There exists some kind of lower „limit” (word count, artistic quality), where people can decide to pay for PWYW. After all, „Komodo” got 6 payments over 63 main downloads (like 9,5% of people paid). ASFYP looks like a bit worse design in the and + less than a half content, so no one paid at all. [For a referrence, „October Rust” rulebook has 21 payments over 22` downloads, and even by removing 9 of them during „non-FWYW times”, it’s still 13 to 212, so 6,13% payment rate].
- I went with an assumption, that submitting free/tiny price PWYW content to DTRPG simply isn’t worth effort. Submitting content for an already established (and popular) TTPRG is an exception. As you can see, large disparity between Itch.io and DTRPG – for „October Fiasco” Fiasco playset – at least proves the exception part. Sole algorithm and Fiasco’s popularity boosted this playset to almost 100 downloads alone in DTRPG…
„Komodo & Underground” had been released in 15th January 2022, while „Seal of Approval” – in 20th November 2021. Combined with already slight surpass of downloads to the former, I can clearly say that „Komodo” simply went better than „Seal” as a game.
Why I’m designing games?
Before I start „that complaining part”, I need to clarify couple of things. For a very long time, I had been interested only in two ways in TTRPG medium: playing/running sessions and writing my blog. I did made couple of experiments in making playable content, back in days in Polish language. Some homebrew races & prestige classes for D&D 3rd, monster kit for Dungeon World, one half-assed game made as a joke against „Cyberpunk 2077 and CP2020/Red”. Plus genuine – but not polished – a narrative overlay to „Mensch ärgere Dich nicht” board game, as „a game of civilization” for 2-4 kingdoms/ruling entities…
The thing is, since 2009 (my first Internet activity in regard of TTRPGs) I had more than a lot of time to complete a genuine project. Why I never did it until October 2021? Laziness is the short but deficient answer. The most important reason is, that I simply do prefer trying out those unique and new TTRPGs. I like to learn something new about game design or TTRPG theory. I enjoy it. And there’s a lot of games to play, a lot of new titles coming each year. I simply didn’t have a need to pursue my own heartbreaker ideas. Playing indie RPG/story games + blogging in Polish about it = that was sufficient to me.
I’m both fan and critic of your game design.
I also have seen many of my Polish counterparts, who did make their own beloved projects and… some of them, get some recognition they craved for (and some success with their next products). But majority of them simply fell short, both in their results and received feedback (either lack of it or sparse but unfavourable remarks). Long story short, I’ve got afraid that my large project would fail while in process making (playtesting, editing, layout, etc.). So many stages, where I could simply gave up or get shredded by reality. Indeed, many of my drafts got issues or simply where too similar to Traditional RPGs…
Why I did start in 2021 with „October Rust”, then? In late 2020 I’ve been struck with idea to challenge myself with design about things which I despise in TTPRG. Long story short, I’ve decided to present my understanding in theory and design (yeah, flexing!) into an idea about some Polish TTRPG movement (which I’m enemy of) but making it better. You can learn more about initial inspiration here.
Quickly after „October Rust” release I decided to practice with small, favourable one-page RPGs. This was intented to further extend my presence in social media. By the way, that’s the initial reason why I’m blogging in English: to support my consistency in making content. It turned out, that more people like my English blogging, rather than my TTRPGs…
I want to leave something behind. I feel like blogging is not enough to make any difference.
The complaint zone
It’s easier to start, what I did wrong.
I failed with expanding my social media ranges way before I’ve released „October Rust”. No proper advertise campaign. My Twitter account has been created just in July 2021 and wasn’t particulary active (nor effective in it). I didn’t mention about „OR” in non-Polish media at all before; and just sparsely in those Polish. I can’t blame the world for small results, when I didn’t even properly market it to the world beforehand…
Mentioned earlier inconsistency with „OR” selling strategy propably did more harm than those nine sold pieces got me money. I’ve made my first steps in making my own bundles, setting discounts and alike. An environment well set for failures and setbacks.
Layout issues with „October Rust” (mainly, wrong decision with horizontal 2 A5 format) which impacted UX, also didn’t help getting initial interest over months of
spamming promoting this game. I also do realize that this game isn’t looking like state-of-the-art, which is crucial today for a completely no-name content maker. I think that I shouldn’t really start with 25-page long project. Instead, just with 1-4 pages long projects, made mostly to learn how to use Affinity (DTP). I believe that I would avoid that issue with „OR”, if I learned beforehand…
I fixed that page format issue recently, but indeed it’s like six month too late.
The hook (premise) of „October Rust” propably isn’t attractive enough. At least I see, that „Seal” and „Komodo” simply has more accessible hooks & tropes. In essence, my first game was akin to artsy deed, in a vain hope of earning significant interest. It’s hard to show it off, when almost nobody isn’t convinced by something that they can easily refer to…
Lastly, I didn’t manage to gather at least 5-6 „active ambassadors” (active fans, who frequently says about my games, possibly organize sessions) of my works. Somebody needs to pass the product further and on their own. And you need at least several people (of not tens) like that. I have only achieved to convince up to maybe two people (one each for OR and „Seal of Approval”). I think that’s the crucial element, which decides whether a new TTRPG can become recognized – some critical number of people needs to make a buzz about it. You can’t achieve any other goals without it!
If I just released three mini-games with little expectations and mental cost, I’d be propably happy of those results. „Low effort/random gain” after all; it’s safe for me to just publish half-decent doodling and moving on. OK, still I would need to make it in Affinity, because Scribus is a pure hostile thing. But I can afford to spend up to 60$ to make some small work like once in 1-3 months…
First problem is, I already lost all my confidence by „October Rust” during playtests in Summer 2021, where I’ve attempted to make a game that finally „just works”. I was close to scrape all the project., I had to completetly rewrite that game after April’s first playtest. So, the second OR’s framework has been made, I’ve managed to push the game through playtests. There was September 2021, „the game finally works” moment, so I pushed hard to simply push the game until the end of 2021.
The only feedback I got about „October Rust” was hardly earned by asking some strangers over the Internet and shoving it my product. I do made couple of promotional sessions (only in Polish, so far).
What I want to say is, that I’ve left in large emotional hole, which hadn’t been recovered at all. OK, that was due to very much one game („October Rust”) and it was due to not distancing myself from it. I simply earned an anxiety about making similar-sized product in the future. I could make a better game, with better writings and better premise. But it’s a fair chance, that results (both financial and social) would be as small as „October Rust”. I simply don’t believe in myself; with turning an effort into results…
Second problem is the persistent one. I try to build my social media presence, get ranges, getting followers and recognition. I hit the ceiling of my verbal and social ability basically every day. As an autistic person (with ADHD), with depression, anxiety disorder and overall impaired ability to engage with strangers and large groups, I’ve learned very much about my limits and how I react. I feel like I’m already struggling with surpassing more than 100 followers count on Twitter (which still it’s negligible for a social media visibility) and making frequent – daily – presence as a persona. It exhausts me even more, for an almost no gain. In other words, my enterpreneur ability is abysmal to say the least.
I always struggled with making long-term acquitainances and friends, getting popular in groups. Magic of positive thinking can’t change it.
When you want to be an succesfull TTRPG creator, you need to be a good enterpreneur. In order to become an enterpreneur, you need to have high social skills, feel good with people, easily make a tons of contacts (and maintaining a bulk of them). The second most important thing is being flawless and attractive at presenting VX for your products (how they look, how are pleasant and easy to read). While I could overcome the second thing, it requires resources. Money, willing people (artists, production stuff, etc.). I’ll never publish TTRPG in physical form due to lack of sufficient funds and management skills to make it. And only those TTRPG which went physically, in the end are getting any non-trivial attention…
In essence, I went into a competition, where I don’t have any skill nor ability to participate in. Also, I went without much resources beforehand. What I was thinking for? Magic of designing decent rules?
I don’t like preparing a TTRPG product as a whole. I do like writing about games, ideas, concepts. Sometimes, having some thought experiments and hacking a bit too. But trying to transforming it an accessible and attractive product is simply frustrating to me. I fairly quickly see that my efforts clashes with reality of my visual and technical skills (on dabbling, modest level). Plus my verbal sense is also lacking; I needed like ten years to finally get some minor success with my own blog…
I have a passion to write about TTRPGs: theorycrafting, talking about games and experiences. I don’t feel that I need to create a game for myself. There are already TTRPGs, which I can play. When I feel that current known TTRPGs „lack something”, I just explore and search for a title, which suits that need. This is my TTRPG instinct. I don’t tend to create hand-made solutions, when they already do exist at hand, accessible.
In another words, I just didn’t make „October Rust” to play my one-shots. „Komodo & Underground” is a proof of concept. „Seals of Approval” and „A Stone For Your Penguin” are excercises in social dynamics (which interests me). I’m not your average TTRPG designer, who makes their beloved game system to play it for life.
What I can get from it, for the future?
At least I’ve made a some kind of portfolio. A collection of games, decent or not, that proves my burst of creativity. I can no longer say to myself „You were in TTRPG all that time and did nothing creative!”. Although my blog should prove it already, I always felt (and get told, at least by Polish TTRPG community) that nobody considers blogging as a serious creative activity. „You’re just blogging, complaining, not like we, Creators of Games & Adventures” and like-wise.
Those six month lesson of game design and self-publishing helped me to figure out, what I should really focus on. How I should manage my expectations. Where are real requirements to get stuff with at least average results. I wouldn’t learn it, if I just continued to tell myself „nah, it’s not worth the hassle” as in 2010s before. I feel that I would regret being reluctant more and more…
It seems that blogging in English already makes more returns (in numbers of visits, being passed on by various blogs and people). Like designing TTRPG should become my secondary creative activity instead. For instance, simply being mentioned by Ben Milton recently gave me at least 400 visits, including 334 to my very first English article. Earlier, I saw some lesser indicators, like being mentioned by two smaller English-language blogs or earning some significant count of views from Reddit.
I don’t consider making those four games as „a hassle”; I just think that I invested too much in one of the titles. A little too much money, a far too much emotional investment. Like that one product („OR”) overshadows my perception about my self-publishing. Overall, my results doesn’t look as meager nor abysmal as I feel. OK, still they’re insignificant, but at least I do see a correlation between some decisions made…
I’ll continue making similar, one page long (or even 2-4 pages) games, when I’ll get struck by inspiration. Propably rarer than before. Larger project? Well, I need to regain confidence and readiness for a more emotional investment. I simply feel bad with a possible decision to pick some traditional RPG engine, stamp it with crap and act as they’re like my honest work of passion…
Ten tekst powstał dzięki wsparciu: Jędrzej Śmietański, Aleksandra Sontowska, Jakub Kucharzewski, Erpegowe Piekiełko, Sebastian Żarnowski, Michał Laskowski, Przemysław Wasilewski i Marcin Zaród. Dziękuję!