Gaming

Tabletop Games Piracy in 2018

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It felt for a few years like few people cared about piracy in tabletop games. Everyone had their feelings about it, and nothing was changing. But in the last few months, I’ve felt a rising tide of people caring about it again: new RPG publishers asking if piracy was a problem and how to stop it, and more notably, a rising number of card and board games being counterfeited and sold.

Counterfeited Board & Card Games

I stand against the counterfeiting and sale of creative projects: whether they be games, artwork turned into print on demand merchandise, etc. Counterfeiting not only defrauds the original creator of profit, but the buyer may get a substandard product and they feel that they have supported the creator by buying it—they too have been defrauded. This includes not only the end customer, but any distributor or store who may unintentionally buy a counterfeit and not be able to sell it, or who may sell it and then face a reputation hit if the counterfeit is then discovered.

Drop-shipping and Amazon’s byzantine store have made distribution of counterfeit board and card games more common, and unfortunately, it is largely up to the customer to be aware of counterfeits and stores that are known to traffic in them. ICv2 conducted an interview with Asmodee about this topic in early 2018:

Christian Petersen: There are, I think, four or five extremely difficult problems caused by counterfeiting.

One is the lost sales themselves. A customer is interested in buying one of our products, but buys a counterfeit copy instead, a lost sale. That sucks, that’s a problem, it deprives companies, designers and legit retailers of that money.

Number two is the effect that it has on the brands. These counterfeit products are being sold at impossible prices; the legit market simply can’t replicate the price of Chinese-made counterfeit goods selling directly from, for example, an FBA (Fulfilled by Amazon) store in the U.S. It just doesn’t work, and it devalues…

From an enlightened self interest perspective, a customer should buy originals not counterfeits because it encourages publishers to release expansions and sequels, and of course, money that publishers have to spend investigating counterfeits and developing techniques to fight them is money not spent making games.

Pirated Roleplaying Games

Over the years, I have spent a fair amount of time and effort talking about the piracy of RPGs. I’ve said before that piracy “doesn’t matter” and publishers should spend their time and attention on doing things to support their games and make new games instead of chasing after pirates.

I believe that creators and publishers should know and understand the varied reasons that people pirate—even if they don’t believe those reasons are valid—and work towards giving people less reason to pirate within their field. The goal isn’t to eliminate piracy completely (unobtainable, corporations with much greater budgets than any RPG publisher keep trying and failing), but to encourage people who aren’t habitual pirates to purchase instead of pirate.

Why do People Pirate?

The main reasons for piracy are: Price, Evaluation, Format Availability, Regional Availability. Some secondary reasons are Habit/Hobby and Grudges. I’ve followed explanations of each reason with how Posthuman Studios, the publisher I co-own and co-operate, deals with each issue.

Price: Roleplaying Games are Well-Priced

This argument is as old as the roleplaying game itself: people want everything to cost less, but the roleplaying game offers a lot of value as long as it is played.

It is difficult to generalize about the price of RPGs, especially in digital form, because there is such a breadth to the market: everything from labor-of-love titles produced entirely by an individual to those created by dozens of contributors and published by companies like Fantasy Flight Games and Games Workshop. Prices are also influenced by the age of the title: many released in the 80s or 90s have digital prices based on a percentage their original print price, so they can be extreme bargains. Fred Hicks of Evil Hat Productions wrote a few years ago that the market value of the content in a RPG product is roughly 1/3rd of the print MSRP, assuming the MSRP is of a print product sold through distribution and not Print on Demand. (Disclaimer: I’ve done work with Fred and Evil Hat, like the Designers & Dragons series and the Atomic Robo Roleplaying Game!)

Atomic Robo RPG

Prices for newly-released RPG PDFs have been on the rise in the last few years. After we released Eclipse Phase for only $15 in 2009, that helped prove that lower prices can help titles can sell enough units to make up for the reduced price, and other publishers followed, lowering their prices or releasing new titles at lower prices. A few years later the price for a new roleplaying game in PDF seemed to stabilize at $20, but from 2016 on $25 and $30 became more common price points for core rulebooks. A notable example of a $30 PDF is Exalted Third Edition, which even after a Kickstarter that grossed almost $700,000 stayed in the DriveThruRPG Top 10 list for roughly a year after digital release, even after the Kickstarter campaign delivered over 3,500 copies of the PDF that are not counted as part of the Top 10 list!

In some ways, that pricing brings PDF publishing full circle to the era when DriveThruRPG opened, when publishers routinely priced their PDFs at 50% of the print cover price, as typical new RPG core books are hitting $60 in 2017 and I expect to see them priced up to $75 by 2019.

Looking at the percentages, though, PDF titles have risen in price more rapidly than print books in the last five years, and there is bound to be some price resistant. Expect to see more publishers release cut-down “Player’s Guide” books at lower price points (such as the Numenera Player’s Guide from Monte Cook Games) to entice price conscious customers.

Posthuman’s Take: We started out with extremely low prices in 2009 and re-adjusted our prices upwards in 2014. We continue to offer free introductory books and will offer a low cost Player’s Guide for Eclipse Phase Second Edition. All of our Eclipse Phase books are licensed under a Creative Commons license so people can freely share them if they wish. We have participated in the Bundle of Holding and do other sales and promotions.

Evaluation: What’s a Good Sample?

Some people say that they pirate things before buying them to determine if they want to buy them. I think this is one of the more compelling reasons for piracy, especially when dealing with expensive software: Does this software do what it says? Does it work well on my computer? Does it actually make my workflow better? Most software developers combat this with demo versions of their software, using various schemes (time-limited trials, watermarked output files, etc) to give people a full taste of the software without compromising their ability to get paid. Subscription software also fights piracy, partially by locking customers in, and partially by offering lower monthly payments instead of large lump sums to make it more palatable.

That reason falls apart when dealing with more consumable items, though: some of us will read a novel once (borrow from a friend, take it out from the library) and then buy a copy down the road for ourselves, or as a gift. The same can be true for music or movies. But in general, I don’t think that piracy of fiction/music/movies leads to short-term sales. In the long term: someone may pirate a TV show and then buy the Blu-ray version a few years down the road, or someone who pirates an album may then attend concerts and buy merchandise—paying for the items that they cannot easily pirate.

Again, this is a situation that roleplaying games can compete with introductory books, ranging from free Quick-Start Rules to cut-down Player’s Guides, and of course copious free previews of core titles. Publishers, don’t just include the first 5 pages of your book—include important skeleton pages (credits, table of contents) and then include sample pages that show the breadth of a book. Preview each section, each type of unique content in a book. If your book has Adventure Hooks, Maps, and Non-Player Characters as the core three elements, a preview should include all of them!

Posthuman’s Take: All of our Eclipse Phase books are licensed under a Creative Commons license so people can reading entire book if they wish, and we offer generous (typically 20 page) previews for other books. (Re-)building better previews for backstock is something we could improve on—we often release short previews on our blog that aren’t linked to from DriveThruRPG, and we could add custom previews on DriveThruRPG instead of the automagically generated ones.

Format Availability: Roleplaying Games are (mostly) Published in Open Formats

The majority of tabletop RPGs are published in portable document format (PDF), with ePub/Mobi comprising a slim portion of the market. Many games that have System Reference Documents or other open source components are widely disseminated via wikis, as well.

Few major publishers use onerous DRM. Many still watermark their digital files, which I personally consider unfriendly towards the customer and ineffective against fighting piracy. Fewer still lock down their files in any way—preventing printing or copying and pasting, for example.

I would encourage people not to buy digital files from sellers that lock them down in ways that lower the utility of the file: for example, not being able to copy text from it, or not being able to extract pages or images. Publishers that do this sort of things: why? Don’t stop your paying customers for doing things with their book that can make their game-playing easier and more fun!

A few publishers still don’t sell in open electronic formats, the most notable of those being Wizards of the Coast who has not released Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition in PDF, even though they have robust offerings of their back catalog in both PDF and print on demand. Their digital tools for Fifth Edition, D&D Beyond, tie your purchases to a specific account. Also notable is Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars RPG series, none of which are published digitally as their license doesn’t allow it. Both D&D Fifth Edition and Star Wars are available via pirates with scanners—not releasing digital versions does not insulate popular titles from piracy.

Posthuman’s Take: All our PDF releases are fully-open—no watermarks, no restrictions, and taking proper advantage of PDFs features with cross-references, hyperlinks, and Acrobat layers. We’ve released some fiction and setting content in ePub/Kindle format (ePub obviously being more open than Kindle!) and will release Eclipse Phase Second Edition on a free wiki. We also release Hack Packs that contain CC-licensed artwork and other goodies for dedicated players, virtual tabletop players, etc.

ATimeofEclipse

Regional Availability: Roleplaying Games are (mostly) Published Without (intentional) Region Restrictions

More than any other type or format of entertainment, Roleplaying Games have few to any region restrictions: while fiction ebooks are sometimes still at the mercy of international publishers and thus locked out of purchase in some regions, the roleplaying biz simply doesn’t work that way.

While theoretically some foreign-language contracts don’t allow licensees to sell translated works outside of a particular geographic region, I have never seen or heard of them being enforced with regards to digital gaming books.

So that means that worldwide, you can buy gaming ebooks unrestricted by the publisher. However, a frequent critique is that ebook sites—and Kickstarter!—don’t make it easy for international buyers who don’t have access to a credit card. This stumbling block may promote international piracy.

Posthuman’s Take: We don’t restrict availability of any digital products based on region.

Secondary Reasons: Habits/Hobby

“He who dies with the most toys wins”—some just like to pirate to have a huge collection of books/movies/software/whatever. I don’t think these pirates are to be concerned about as in many cases they don’t actually consume many of the things they pirate—they just enjoy having large (and probably meticulously organized!) hard drives full of stuff.
These pirates may or may not also buy electronic things. They may buy them but like the convenience of downloading, for example, a torrent file that contains an entire game line.

Posthuman’s Take: Anyone archiving and distributing archives of all Eclipse Phase books is legally in the clear as long as they adhere to the Creative Commons license. During our Kickstarter campaigns we sell USB collections of all our electronic items, and we also offer bundle discounts for people acquiring or completing a whole collection on DriveThruRPG.

Secondary Reason: Grudges

Some people pirate because they like a product but they dislike the creator(s) or publisher. Some of these grudges may be well-founded and some may not, but it really doesn’t matter—these people probably won’t ever turn into a customer (or turn back into a customer) and it’s not productive to spend your time dealing with them.

Posthuman’s Take: You can’t do anything about this. We’d rather not take money from someone who doesn’t like us, but we can’t stop them from getting and playing our games.

Conclusion

Looking at the above, at this point in time, I feel there are few justifiable reasons to pirate roleplaying games in 2018. I would encourage players of roleplaying games to purchase them, and furthermore, if you think that a company publishes in a way that justifies piracy to you: don’t support them at all. Don’t pirate their game. Don’t play their game. Don’t grow their player network. Buy and play something else, so your money and time goes towards a publisher that you can fully support, those publishers can grow, and you can feel good about who you’re supporting!

The History, Current State of OGL Publishing, Pathfinder, and “d20”

March 2016 Update: Some notable things have changed since this article was first published, and an updated version is forthcoming!

This article is funded on behalf of my generous Patreon Supporters. Please visit Patreon and support my work.

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The History, Current State of OGL Publishing, Pathfinder, and “d20”

The Open Gaming License and d20 System Trademark License were first released in 2000. Since then, other trademark/compatibility licenses for other systems and games have been created, and the use of other open licenses has proliferated.

The Open Gaming License still remains popular (while the d20 System Trademark License was retired in 2008), however most OGL material published in recent years (2010-) is geared towards being support material for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game under the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Compatibility License.

This article explains the history behind these various licenses, along with some guideline for how they can be used in publishing.

Definitions

Open Game Content: Material that is specifically licensed under the Open Game License, created by Wizards of the Coast.

Product Identity: Material included in a book that includes Open Game Content that is specifically defined by the publisher as not being OGC.

Third Party Publisher: A publisher creating material that is designed to be compatible with another publisher’s game; most commonly used to refer to d20 System- or Pathfinder-compatible product.

Which was the First d20-licensed book?

Freeport Trilogy

(The Freeport Trilogy, a later compilation of the Freeport Adventures)

Green Ronin’s Death in Freeport,  Atlas Games’ Three Days to Kill and Necromancer’s Games’ PDF The Wizard’s Amulet hit the ground on the same Gen Con weekend as Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook did in 2000.

Three Days to Kill was locally available at The Source Comic and Games in the Twin Cities, Minnesota in the week before Gen Con.

What’s an SRD?

SRD refers to System Reference Document: often a Rich Text or HTML document that only includes Open Game Licensed material, designed to be used by a publisher as a starting point of reference or a manuscript. By using vetted System Reference Documents, publishers could help ensure that they were only OGL material.

Wizards of the Coast released multiple System Reference Documents (For 3.0 and 3.5, and d20 Modern), as did Guardians of Order (Anime d20). 

Paizo maintains a SRD for Pathfinder called the Pathfinder Reference Document, and there is a SRD maintained by the public at at http://www.d20pfsrd.com/ which also contains some material from 3rd Party Pathfinder publishers.

It has always been recommended that if you wish to produce material based on Open Game Licensed material, that you only refer to SRDs whenever possible, as opposed to mining material from printed books.

The Open Gaming License

The first thing to understand about the Open Gaming License is it is not designed specifically for any one gaming system. Anyone can write material and place it under the Open Gaming License. However, most commonly the OGL has been used to re-use material placed under it by Wizards of the Coast: the 3.0 and 3.5 SRD, and the d20 Modern SRD.

As far as content licenses go, the Open Gaming License is incredibly simple (it’s shorter than this article!). It allows you to re-use and modify material that has been placed under it, and also allows you to intermingle that Open Game Content (OGC) with closed content, which is described as Product Identity. This allows you to, for example, use monsters from the SRD in an adventure, with you declaring that the “flavour text” descriptions of the other characters, events, and locations in the adventure are your Product Identity.

One of the conditions in the OGL (Section 7) does not allow you to use anyone else’s Product Identity. Be aware that simply using the name of a Wizards of the Coast-published spell or monster that is not included in the System Reference Document may cause you to run afoul of this clause. This includes using that Product Identity “as an indication as to compatibility”—which means you cannot (without obtaining permission otherwise) indicate that your product is compatible with Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, or any other game title, trademark, etc. The full list of what is considered by default to be Product Identity is listed under section 1 of the OGL.

Beyond not including material that you cannot include under the OGL in your product, the most important legal aspect of publishing something that includes OGC is Section 6 and Section 10, which stipulates that you must include a copy of the Open Game License in your product, and you must correctly add to and update the Copyright Notice portion of the license to include the Copyright Notice from any Open Game Content that you used in your product, and also append your own Copyright Notice to it. This section is numbered as Section 15 and often referred to as such.

In order to prevent problems, you should keep careful track of when you sourced OGC, and where you sourced it from, and save their Copyright Notice / Section 15 verbiage so you can include them in your own product.

Of course, the OGL has further clauses to it: you need to read and understand the entire thing before using it. If you find portions of it difficult to understand, I suggest you look for similar projects and see how they handled things, and if you need clarification after that, try to speak to the creators of those projects.

If you are attempting to re-use something that you believe may be Open Game Content but aren’t sure if it is, or if it’s Product Identity, ask the publisher of that project. Assuming that something is Product Identity is always safest.

The Open Gaming License is irrevocable: if you place content under that license, it is perpetually under it.

The full text of the Open Gaming License: http://www.wizards.com/d20/files/OGLv1.0a.rtf

The d20 System Trademark License

The d20 STL allowed publishers, if they adhered to more stringent rules, to place a d20 System logo on their book, and also to advertise compatibility with Dungeons and Dragons Third Edition, d20 Modern, and a few other Wizards of the Coast titles.

As the d20 System Trademark License is no longer available for use, the details of those restrictions and benefits are essentially irrelevant at this point.

D20 logo1

d20 STL Revocation

In June 2008, Wizards ceased allowing publishers to use the d20 System Trademark License. Publishers with print books were granted a six-month period to sell off remaining physical stock, and six months to remove any electronic books from the marketplace, or modify them to be OGL-compatible.

Some publishers re-branded their books, creating a handful of new logos/brands to identify them as OGL and former d20 titles—but none of those new brands obtained widespread traction. As of early 2015, many d20-licensed books still exist in PDF form with minimal or no modifications to their branding or content.

Game System License (D&D Fourth Edition)

The GSL was announced in August 2007, launched in June 2008 and revised in February 2009. It was not widely adopted  by third party publishers with many—including d20 stalwart Green Ronin Publishing rejecting it for being too limiting and too focused on serving Wizard’s of the Coasts needs.

With D&D Fourth Edition’s relatively short lifespan and lack of third party products, the GSL’s legacy isn’t in what it created directly, but what it created indirectly: Pathfinder.

Pathfinder

If you are interested in the history of Pathfinder and Paizo, I recommend reading Paizo’s 10th Anniversary Retrospective, available here: http://paizo.com/paizo/blog/tags/paizo/auntieLisasStoryHour—it goes into great detail on the company’s history.

Pathfinder RPG cover

For those who want to publish material that is compatible with Pathfinder, you can do so in two ways:

Use the OGL

Pathfinder material is published under the Open Gaming License, as it is derived from the 3.0/3.5 SRD (amongst a few other sources). You can use the Pathfinder SRD to create derived and compatible works as long as you follow the Open Gaming License. However, this does not give you the right to use the Pathfinder name or any other trademarks (as they are Product Identity).

Paizo Inc. Pathfinder® Roleplaying Game Compatibility License

PZOCOMPATIBILITYE 500

This license allows you to use the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Compatibility Logo on your product, and to indicate compatibility with Pathfinder and  refer to specific Pathfinder books. You are still required to use the OGL if you include any OGL content, and obey all of its clauses regarding Product Identity, Section 15, etc.

Paizo requires you to submit an application for the Compatability license, including a description of the products you intend to make.

Beyond that, the following page outlines the major facets of the license: how you can refer to Pathfinder and different Pathfinder titles, how you may and may not display the logo, etc: http://paizo.com/pathfinderRPG/compatibility

Paizo also maintains a Frequently Asked Questions list: http://paizo.com/pathfinderRPG/compatibility/faq

Old School Movement / Retroclones

An unexpected result of the Open Gaming License was the resurgence in availability of material that was compatible with prior versions of D&D. Multiple publications used the Open Game Content in the SRD to essentially recreate older editions of D&D and several of those rules sets have been further supported with original adventures and other content—essentially creating one (or more?) ecosystems that harken back to the style of rules and source material of the late 70s and early 80s!

Other OGL Material

Cover 500px1

(13th Age, from Pelgrane Publishing and Fire Opal Media, by Rob Heinsoo & Jonathan Tweet)

Notable fantasy material licensed under the OGL, beyond Pathfinder, includes 13th Age from Pelgrane Publishing and Fire Opal Media. It has a Compatibility License: http://pelgranepress.com/site/?p=14447

Mutants and Masterminds from Green Ronin publishing is one of the longest running complete OGL games, having spanned three editions. It has a compatibility license, Super Powered by M&M: http://mutantsandmasterminds.com/licensing-mutants-masterminds/


1185854 469878409786551 1400406744 n

(Mutants & Masterminds from Green Ronin Publishing, by Steve Kenson. One of the true survivors of the OGL era.)

Spycraft from Crafty Games has a compatibility license, Powered by Spycraft: http://www.crafty-games.com/licensing/spycraft

The Open Gaming License has been applied to other games and gaming material beyond the “d20-derived” style of gaming born from Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition. This includes Traveller from Mongoose Publishing, the GUMSHOE System by Pelgrane Press, Fate from Evil Hat Productions (which is also available under a Creative Commons license), and Fudge from Grey Ghost Games. Fudge is notable in that it was first published under a license of the author/publisher’s own devising, and years later was placed under the Open Gaming License—which allowed Evil Hat Productions to truly move forward with the Fate gaming system which was originally derived from Fudge.

Of further note is the Open D6 system, from West End Games. The D6 system first appeared in the Ghostbusters RPG and was later used in the first licensed Star Wars RPG. Decades later the system was released under the Open Gaming License as OpenD6, after a second incarnation of West End Games failed to capture the market with their revamped series of D6-based books.


Fatecoresystem

(Fate Core, from Evil Hat Productions, is available under both OGL and Creative Commons licenses.)

Licenses other than the OGL

Roleplaying games and sourcebooks have also been published under various Creative Commons licenses, but not all of them allow commercial re-use.

A few other licenses, such as the GNU Free Documentation License, have been used on occasion, and some games—such as Fudge, before it was licensed under the Opening Game License—had their own licenses designed to be used by one game only.

Trademark licenses without Open Licenses

There are also a number of games that allow you to publish compatible material with a compatibility logo, but that do not have any open licensed content for you to re-use, or any requirements that your material be open-licensed. This includes Pinnacle’s Savage Worlds: https://www.peginc.com/licensing/

and the Hero System from Hero Games.

Creating Open Content in 2015 and Beyond

If you have the freedom to choose a license for all-new material, I suggest that the following considerations are the most important:

  • Is the license appropriate for the type of material you are going to publish? The Open Gaming License was specifically designed for the text of a gaming book. Creative Commons licensed are aimed at mixed-media works: text + art + design, but you can use a CC license to only license part of a work—such as all the text or all the art or “all of chapters 15, 16, and 17” while not touching the remainder of the work.
  • Does using the license grow the audience for your material—does it give you access to a community of fans?
  • Does the license make your material available to use to others in ways that you find acceptable?
  • If you have bought or licensed work from others to appear in your material (artwork, writing, etc), does the contract you bought/licensed it under allow you to republish the material under an open license? Most publishers buy material from authors and artists under Work For Hire contracts, and thus the publisher owns the copyright and get choose to re-license the work under any open license they choose. Ethically, people creating work that you publish should be aware that you plan on open-licensing it, too!
  • The following are my personal suggestions for how to license material. Please read and consider the licenses carefully; what is right for one person/organization may not be right for others. What is right for one project may not be right for your next project, either!

    —If you want to create material for a game or setting that uses a specific license, use it.

    —If you want to create a new game, not dependant on material already under one of the existing open licenses, use one of the Creative Commons Licenses. These licenses don’t have the d20/fantasy/D&D implications that the OGL tends to have, and can allow for no commercial re-use, no derivatives, etc.

    —If you want to create a new game, not dependant on material already under one of the existing open licenses, but with plenty of open-licensed material available to be used with it or converted to be used with it, use the OGL.

    —If you want to create fantasy material with the widest possible commercial audience, produce material under the Pathfinder Compatibility License.

    —If you want to create fantasy material with some degree of built in audience, but want the least restrictive license possible, use the OGL.

    Publishing your own SRD

    If you are releasing a lot of open licensed content, you should consider releasing it in a System Reference Document style. While originally publishers such as Wizards of the Coast and Guardians of Order released SRDs in the universal Rich Text Format, most are now released as web pages—usually using wiki software so they can be edited and amended by the community. Some SRDs are created and maintained entirely by the fan community.

    Releasing a SRD will encourage people to use your material for their own works, as it will make it even more clear which material is available to be re-used.


    Special Thanks

    Thanks to the backers of my Patreon project for helping fund this article, including, but not limited to: Brian Allred, Tara Brannigan, Jeff Eaton, Eleanor Holmes, Andrew Kenrick, Adam Tinworth, Lester Ward, Evil Hat Productions, and Melior Via.

    In particular, thanks to John Dunn, Ryan Macklin, Craig Maloney, and Lester Ward for feedback on the initial draft of this article.

    Special thanks to Jason Jensen for editing and access to his extensive collection of d20 titles.

Game Designer’s Workshop: Posthuman Studios Interview

At Gen Con 2013, the owners of Posthuman Studios (Rob Boyle, Brian Cross, Jack Graham, and myself) sat down with the folks at Roleplaying Public Radio to record this episode of Game Designer’s Workshop.

We were a little tipsy when this interview started (it was, after all, after business hours at Gen Con …), and we were moreso by the end of it. The audio levels fluctuate, and Jack Grahaman yells in a way that would be obnoxious if he wasn’t so damned funny.

This isn’t like your standard game-related podcast. We talked about how we all started gaming, how we met each other, how we started working together, and why we’re still working together. It’s hella honest, insightful and even a little bit useful in places.

Making things with people that you love and respect is awesome. I hope you enjoy hearing us talk about that.

Kickstarter Problems That Just Aren’t That Big of a Deal

Here’s a quickie: We let people pick up copies of Tranhuman at Gen Con. In our backer surveys, we asked if they wanted to do so, and from that data we created a handy checklist of people so they could sign off on their copies and I could import that data back by hand into the Kickstarter database later.

Of course, a few people showed up at the booth and wanted to pick up their copies, even though they didn’t say they would in the backer survey.

That was no real problem; we verified that they were backers, had them sign off, and I added that information to the database later.

Here’s the hiccup: one of the people that signed off on their copy has a relatively common first and last name, and there are two people with that exact same name registered as backers. Which one of them picked up their copy? No way to solve this except to go right to them and ask—hey, did you?

In the meantime, I realized that during the first wave of shipping one of those people had a copy of Transhuman shipped to them; and as luck would have it, that person was the one who picked up their copy at Gen Con. So they’ll get an extra book for their gaming group, we eat a few dollars in shipping costs, and life goes on.

Making Announcements: Pitfalls & Products

I started writing this post over a year ago, and have been sitting on it incomplete for a long time. I feel that in the age of Kickstarter and stretch goals and the frenzied changes to publishing and creation, this is more important than ever. But finishing this post has proved troublesome, so I’m throwing it out as part post, part series-of-notes. Maybe with some discussion I’ll rework it into a revised post.

Onwards!

Announcements are fun. They generate buzz and good feelings. So it is tempting to announce many things and announce them early — and also to announce things to “mask” bad news or to cover up a slowness in your production schedule.

But every announcement is a promise. Some announcements have more promise than others — literally and figuratively. Typically, the further in advance an announcement is, the smaller and vaguer the promises are.

Every single announcement you make creates, to using Getting Things Done terminology, at least one “open loop.” It creates at least one — and usually many more — questions that can be asked of you. Each announcement, then, creates more work for you, beyond the actual work in building the project. It also adds more of a mental toll and will wear you down if things don’t go well. There are few things more frustrating and demoralizing than explaining to someone — a customer or some sort of business partner — that a project has slipped.

If you have six different upcoming projects announced, there are going to be fans who only care about one of those projects. They may have cared about projects A and B, but now that you’ve announced projects C, D, E, and F, they have fixated on project E. Anything that doesn’t relate to project E no longer matters. Not only have you created an un-ideal business situation (You want them to ‘ all six projects, not just E!), but any time you post a status update for any of the projects that aren’t E, you’ll be greeted with the question: “But what’s up with E?!?” — and even though that question can be read in a flattering anticipatory way, it can also be frustrating to have spent time and effort on a project to have someone dismiss it with their desire to see the next project.

I, and companies I have worked for, have made every single possible mistake when announcing projects. Here are some of them:

  • Announcing something at a time that takes attention away from another upcoming project. If you are planning on releasing a new book on January 15th, announcing on January 8th that will be releasing an entirely different book in August is likely to reduce attention on the shortly-upcoming title.
  • Announcing too many things at once, making none of them seem important.
  • Making announcements too complicated. A complex announcement should be structured in a way that broadly introduces things, then narrows focus to talk about specifics, and in the end sums up the announcements and leads to a call for action (preorder a book, vote in the ENnnies, etc.) If you give people too many choices, they are more likely to make the simplest choice, which is to do nothing!

Here’s some ways to do it right:

Announce consistently. Establish a list of standards — information that you must know before you announce something, even if that information is not yet disclosed. Do not make announcements that are out of scale with the size of the project; t-shirts going on sale is not the same weight as signing a well known author to a three book deal. If you shout from the rooftops about everything, people will stop paying attention. Establish a plan for how you propagate your announcements through your social networks and try to point people towards your “home base” — probably your website, but perhaps your Facebook page, etc.

Don’t make major announcements in a row without actually releasing something, even if that something doesn’t relate to those major announcements. Too many announcements looks like vaporware.

Anticipate questions you will be asked and answer them in the announcement. If the announce/situation is complex, you may want to include a FAQ in the announcement, or have it at ready to dole out as necessary. Quickly update your post (new info where necessary, note at top linking down to change) if necessary.

Proofread that bastard. Three proofreaders, every time — looking for spelling, grammar, wrong/outdated info, bad hyperlinks, etc.

If you are correcting misinformation, do not repeat the misinformation. Especially when posts are often only seen in part (people skimming, partial RSS feeds, those awful previews on Facebook) you don’t want to raise the chances of people seeing only the old information. State the correct information, don’t repeat or restate any incorrect information.

Don’t give people a chance to hop away from the announcement too early.

If you are working with a partner, licensee, etc, give them a copy of the final announcement as soon as possible and let them know when you plan to post it. They can help propagate it, and won’t accidentally spread misinformation.

If this were a finished article, it would have a conclusion. Help me write it?

Gen Con Highlight

On Friday morning, a woman walked up to our booth. She said: “You guys look like you know what you’re doing. Do you have a bandaid?”

And I replied: “Yes, let me get our first aid kit.”

As it happened, I had needed a bandaid myself earlier that morning and had opened the brand-new kit, thinking to myself “Good thing, because if there was an actual emergency, I sure wouldn’t want to be pulling the plastic off in a rush.”

This wasn’t an emergency either, but it felt good to a) be recognized as a place where we would have the necessary supplies, and b) to actually have them, know exactly where they are, and be able to quickly offer a variety of bandage choices to the con-goer—who, like many, had given herself a blister walking the show floor!

Making a TODO list for your next convention? Whether you’re an attendee or an exhibitor or a special guest or anyone else: get a small first aid kit. Hopefully you’ll never need it!

Kickstarter, Freeport, and Real Costs

My friends at Green Ronin are currently running a Kickstarter to fund a new Pathfinder-compatible edition of Freeport: The City of Adventure. They are into the last week of the Kickstarter project, and they are just under $10,000 away from their $50,000 goal. Ronin head Chris Pramas just made a very interesting post about their Kickstarter campaign.

When Kickstarter first launched, I hoped it would be a service that could help publishers be more transparent about their costs, including the often invisible fixed costs that running a publisher entails. This has turned out to be true only in very specific situations. Instead, many Kickstarter campaigns have moved to a model of setting a low “base goal” that satisfy’s Kickstarter’s requirements but does not actually fully fund the project, and stretch goals that push the dollar total higher to fully-fund the actual project. I’m not placing a value judgement on this (I’m working on a Kickstarter campaign that does the same thing), but it’s nice to see this level of transparency from Pramas and Green Ronin.

Their new Freeport book is ambitious, and Green Ronin is up-front about that. Instead of starting at a small book and building more into it with stretch goals, they’ve outlined exactly what they want to do, and they’re either going to do that book or not.

I’ve enjoyed both previous versions of Freeport, but have never actually played or ran a game of it. A new Pathfinder-compatible edition makes that more likely to happen, and it could well be the version of Freeport. That’s something that is well-worth having.

Kickstart Narosia: Sea of Tears, one of my upcoming projects!

One of my projects this fall is the HERO System fantasy game, Narosia: Sea of Tears. The Kickstarter launched on August 1st and closes on August 31st!

Narosia is a gritty fantasy RPG, designed by Shane Harsch of Legendsmiths and Marc Tassin, with artwork from Universe M, and contributions from Kenneth Hite. I’m especially excited because this is actually the first project where I’ll get to work with Ken!

I’m also excited about seeing what sort of new graphical takes I can do on a HERO System game, without alienating the diehard HERO fan base … I do suspect some samples will end up hitting this blog over the next couple months!

Narosia: Sea of Tears will be published by Silverback Press, the new publishing company run by ex-HERO Darren Watts. The core rulebook will be complete with HERO System rules and setting information, not requiring a distinct HERO System core rulebook to use!

Dwimmermount Preview and Kickstarter!

It’s going to be the most elegant and epic heavy metal dungeon crawl ever, isn’t it? It’s like a 3-hour Kirk Hammett guitar solo sending the party to war with the power of a hundred bards!1 Hell yes!

Several years ago I sent James Maliszewski the above, as I asked him if I could work on the eventual publication of Dwimmermount, his long in-progress megadungeon campaign.

And now that’s reality. James is working with the folks at Autarch, creators of Adventurer Conqueror King, to run the Kickstarter campaign and project manage Dwimmermount.

We are late into the Kickstarter campaign; it ends on Saturday, April 14th. And the campaign has reached the initial funding goal and three bonus goals, but we’d be very happy for more funding in these last few hours so we can push to make the book even better!

We’re still tweaking the graphic design of the book (most notably, some icons to help convey info in the sidebar), but here’s a two page preview of Level 1: The Path of Mavors. James has also posted a different preview of the same chapter on Grognardia. Check them out, let us know what you think, and remember: the Dwimmermount Kickstarter finishes on Saturday the 14th of April! As I post this, 30 hours to go!

1. I am not one of those “Heavy Metal is the music of D&D” guys … but neither is James, so that made it funny to me. To me.

Shadowrun Returns

A long time ago, the SEGA Genesis version of Shadowrun introduced me to the Sixth World. A few weeks later, my pay for babysitting my young nephew was a copy of Shadowrun, Second Edition. Good games, bad games, fandom, fanzines, being published, working for the publishers, and the 20th Anniversary Edition all followed. My nephew is nineteen years old now. The Sixth World has been dear to my heart for a long time.

I wouldn’t be here, doing what I do, without Shadowrun. As I once said to Jim Nelson: “I blame you.”

And now, Shadowrun is returning to the computer/video gaming world, with Shadowrun Returns from Jordan Weismann’s Harebrained Schemes. And I’d be remiss to say that this is really, really awesome. In just over a day, the Kickstarter project has been fully-funded, and it will surely go much higher with 23 days to go.

Harebrained’s approach is interesting: they’re rolling back the setting to 2050 and moving on from there. On an initial level, that kind of hurts—my work on Shadowrun appears to be in no way integrated into what they want to do. But on logical reflection, I’m fine with that. I think rolling back the world to 2050 gives Harebrained tons of room to tell stories that weave in-and-out of the existing metaplot that Shadowrun fans are familiar with. And on the personal side, I fell in love with that 2053 datajacks-and-rockers Shadowrun, so playing through a computer game set in it appeals to my tastes as well. I know I have some fresh stories to tell in the setting.

A fresh start for a game in a completely different medium sounds like a good move to me. Keep it familiar to old fans and accessible to new ones, and take the best of the existing canon material while sliding the rest under the rug.

What great news for Shadowrun fans, and what an amazing show of support by them!