Work Stuff

Thousand Suns is Available!

Just before the holidays, PDF, softcover, and hardcover versions of Thousand Suns Rulebook are now available. I did the cover and interior design on this project, and all the production.

It’s been interesting working on a sci-fi game that is so different from Eclipse Phase, and also working on such a setting-light game. I think we did a sweet job of showing the setting style through art, captions, and examples without being too heavy-handed.

This is the first new release for James Maliszewski’s Grognardia Games, and I’m excited to see it live!

There is a nice preview—including the first chapter and the entire Table of Contents—available via OneBookShelf, so check it out!

TS Softcover Softcover Final

It is a time of wonder.

Humanity has reached the stars and created a society of glittering sophistication and diversity on hundreds of planets. Poets declaim, lovers rendezvous, and rakes duel with wits and monoblades. Colonists settle virgin worlds, merchant princes vie for emerging markets, and free traders hawk their exotic wares. The Navy rules the jumplines, putting down pirates and charting new star systems. Scientists uncover startling new truths on long-dead worlds and posit revolutionary theories dizzying in their implications. Technology advances at a rapid pace, each year improving the lot of all who accept its boons. None dare deny the bright destiny Man has seized for himself.

It is a time of upheaval.

The inhabited galaxy-the Thousand Suns-teeters on the brink of chaos. Half a millennium since the Concord, and a generation since the bloody Civil War, the dynamism that ended the Age of Warring States is sorely tested. Diplomats try new gambits, shifting their ground for an unknown future. On dozens of worlds across known space, the lights are going out again and the process of decivilization begins anew. Despots and tyrants who would rather lord it over benighted backwaters than bend their knee to even a distant authority, arise once more. At the edges of explored space, rivals-both human and alien-watch and wait.

It is a time of glory.

Victorious fleets smash enemy armadas in distant star systems. Soldiers parade through liberated planets to alien cheers. Sector governors draw up breathtaking visions of terraforming and orbital cities. New jumplines open to the heart of unex- plored space, daring the bold to venture into the unknown for profit and peril. Surveyors stumble upon lost colonies and puzzle out the mysteries of inscrutable clades. Captains with blazing eyes save worlds from barbarism-and rule them as gods. Daring thieves turn new technologies to unexpected ends or sell them to shadowy cartels on the fringes of known space.

Meanwhile, bold operatives seek out these criminal plans for reprisal. Everything is possible with enough beauty, brains, or blasters, and it’s all within reach of a single jump.

It is a time of adventure.

Ignite Slides from PepCon

I was at the InDesignSecretsLive Print and ePublishing 2011 conference last week, and did a five minute Ignite speech talking about my publishing philosophy, Posthuman Studios, and Eclipse Phase. Regular readers of my blog will be familiar with many of those principles, but I have a sexy slideshow available for download.

I wrote way too much text for a five minute speech, but I had fun and got a lot of nice reactions to it from a crowd of people largely unfamiliar with roleplaying games and their particular publishing niche.

If you were at PepCon and want to chat about the things I said or toss ideas around, there are a ton of ways to get in contact with me!

Pricing for Niche Electronic Titles

A disclaimer: I wrote most of this post before Adamant Entertainment announced they were re-pricing all of their PDFs at $1, or what Gareth dubbed the “app-pricing” model. I think the approach is interesting, but this post is not a “response” to his decision … although I am incredibly curious as to how it turns out, of course!

If you are publishing a niche RPG—material not compatible with Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder—you should maximize your profits by not underpricing your exclusive electronic releases. An “exclusive electronic release” is material not available in print (not including true Print on Demand, but including short run printing) or that don’t have costs subsidized in a substantial way.

So, by way of example:

A PDF or other electronic title sold on OneBookShelf (DriveThruRPG/RPGNow) gives the publisher 70% of sale price (65% if the publisher is not an exclusive vendor). This means a five dollar title leaves the publisher with $3.50; a two dollar title $1.40.

I think that Eclipse Phase has proved that low price points on electronic core rulebooks can lead to a raise in the number of sales—enough to make up for the difference in per-unit profit. Customers are interested in saving 10 bucks (typical RPG electronic core rulebooks are 20-25 or even more, while Eclipse Phase is 15) and much more willing to try a new game if it’s inexpensive—but supplements are most often sold to existing customers, people who already like your game. They already perceive themselves as invested* (time, money, emotion) in your game, and so a difference of a few dollars is less likely to make a negative impact in your sales. However, it can make a big difference in how much money you have to invest in the projects … And the amount of profit you end up making.

An Eclipse Phase PDF project like Continuity has a total budget of $800. It breaks down like this:

Writing: 200 (5000 words at four cents a word)
Editing: 200 (this covers a copy-edit and dev-edit pass from Rob Boyle. He deserves a raise on this.)
Layout: 100 (I do all the layout and maps in-house.)
Art: 300 (2 to 3 pieces, playing the same as we pay for artwork destined for print.)

There is no budget for “other stuff” yet … so for example, in Continuity, the audio files we included came out of the art budget.

This means that we need to sell 229 copies of a $5 exclusive electronic release to break even. Priced at $2, we would have to sell 572 copies just to break even. What if we sold 572 copies at 5 bucks? Profit of $2002—enough to fund two and a half more releases. Now, our exclusive electronic releases aren’t making huge profits yet, but we are breaking even relatively quickly—and we have a formula for, at the least, supplying the fanbase with a steady flow of material!

* I try not to use the words “invest” or “invested” when talking about my hobbies. I feel that it’s too loaded. But that’s a personal thing.

iPad Notes & Eclipse Phase Updates

PlainText is a great little tool for the iPad; a simple text editor that syncs everything to a Dropbox folder. I’ve been using it to scribble notes and start blog posts while away from the computer lately, and very much enjoying the experience. The iOS 4.2 update has really cranked up the iPad in my eyes, making it more of a tool and less of a gadget. I’ve stopped using my Sony Reader entirely; iBooks and the iPad is more convenient.

Eclipse Phase

Our next hardcover book, Gatecrashing, is at the printers now. The introductory fiction from it, An Infinite Horizon, by Steve Mohan, is available for sale in two different ways: PDF/ePub/Mobi bundle from DriveThruRPG and directly from the Amazon Kindle store. It should be $0.99 no matter where you buy it, but the Kindle store jacks up prices if you’re outside of the USA, so I suggest overseas customers get the PDF/ePub/Mobi version.

EP-AnInfiniteHorizon_500px.jpg

More Gatecrashing previews will hit the Eclipse Phase site soon.

We also released Continuity, a funky adventure where … oh, no, I’m not going to spoil it for you. Here’s the tagline:

The characters, researchers on a remote outpost, check in for a backup—and awaken in new bodies to discover two weeks of their lives are missing. They have limited time to find out what happened to their previous selves—and deal with a looming threat.

EP-Continuity_Crynalus_AnnaChristenson.jpg

It’s a $5 PDF, in both landscape and portrait formats, with original artwork (Including a great piece from new-to-EP artist Anna Christenson, maps, and audio snippets by J.C. Hutchins (read what he has to say about it.) and Mur Lafferty.

Enjoy!

Creative Commons: (Part of) Why We Give Our Games Away

On an industry mailing list I subscribe to, a few days ago, someone pointed out a site that contained pirated PDFs of thousands of gaming books. I sent off a flip comment:

Damnit. Eclipse Phase stuff, which can be legally shared, isn’t there. I wonder if I can just upload it… 😉

Someone sent me an off-list message questioning whether EP could be legally shared. I said yes, absolutely, and they asked:

[Are you] shooting [yourselves] in the proverbial foot by basically giving away their materials. If it’s free and legal to do so why would anybody buy the materials?

Here’s my replies to that email, edited only slightly to combine a couple emails into one to tie together some subject a bit better:

Well, we sure haven’t shot ourselves in the foot so far. First print run sold out in only a few months, second print run is roughly about half gone (haven’t seen September numbers yet), and our first two print supplements were both 1/4 sold on pre-orders alone.

Our PDF sales have also been exceptionally strong; partially due to the low price point (1500+ sales of the core PDF at $15 — exact numbers impossible to know due to our divorce from Catalyst) and partially because of the Creative Commons licensing. People can check out the game, whether that be from our free Quick-Start Rules, downloading from a torrent (we seeded it ourselves to some bittorrent trackers), or by being given it from a friend. If they know they like it, $15 a low price for a full PDF RPG, and while RPG print prices have crept up to where $50 is a very normal price for a 400-page full-color book, nobody needs to buy it “sight unseen” now.

Our ad-hoc research shows that almost every EP gaming group has multiple copies of the print rulebook and multiple copies of the PDF at the table.

People are good. They want to support the things they like and they want to be treated as individuals and be respected. Creative Commons licensing allows us to do that; we’re giving them gaming material and allowing them to use in the way that gamers naturally want to use it. It allows fans to support us without worries of legal hassles, and it’s given us alternate revenue streams — like the Hack Packs, where we charge a few bucks extra for access to high-res artwork and InDesign files of our material.

Another great factor for Creative Commons and Eclipse Phase is the themes of EP and the spirit of CC collide rather nicely. Hackers and info-junkies and copyleftists also tend to be interested in sci-fi and transhumanism!

And, of course, no publishing company can successfully fight piracy. The RIAA hasn’t, the MPAA hasn’t. Piracy is going to happen unless we say “nope, you can’t pirate our stuff, cuz we’ll just let you give it out!” — and that makes the file-sharers like us and buy from us. I don’t think pirates are evil and immoral people. I know many people who pirate many things and these people also buy many things. They just tend to buy only things they already like. So, of course, giving away your material will only work if your material is good quality!

I’d much rather have someone read our game for free and not like it than buy our game and not like it. In the first case, they’re only out their time. In the second case, they’re out time and money and are more likely to resent us and/or not buy any other games we may release.

Furthermore, Creative Commons isn’t just about “downloading for free;” it’s about giving fans permission to hack our content and distribute those hacks. Permission to do the things that gamers naturally do, without fear of lawsuits or complex legalese or requiring our approval. Our fans have built and distributed complex character generation spreadsheets, customized GM Screens, converted our books into ePub/mobi format, and all sorts of neat things. When they do things like this, that gives us guidance as to what we should be doing: because fans aren’t just saying they want something, they’re putting their time where their mouth is … a strong indication that they and other fans would be willing to pay for those things if we produced them.

And in the end, if licensing our material Creative Commons is not financially successful: it’s the right thing to do, socially. We have to build the future we want to live in. Giant corporations locking up intellectual property is dangerous to society and culture.

Our next RPG will be Creative Commons-licensed as well.

My Best Four Days in Gaming

Gen Con started badly for me. I flew out from DC on Wednesday morning; my girlfriend Kristen on a direct flight and me with a connection through Chicago. Some bad weather meant my flight from DC left late, and my flight—and the flight before it—to Indianapolis were cancelled. There was no chance of going standby on a later flight, so after I figured out that my bags would continue to Indianapolis without me, my cries to the twitterverse were answered and my rock-star designer friend Tiara zoomed by the airport to pick me up on her way to the convention. This turned out to be a fun little car trip, although I was sad that I missed spending a half-day in Indianapolis with Kristen.

ENNies

Gobsmacked. In a year where Paizo’s stack of ENnies needed a hand-cart to take them back to the booth, winning the Silver ENnie for Best Product may as well been Gold for us. A gold for Best Writing and a silver for Best Cover Art rounded out Eclipse Phase ENnies. In the Best Production category, Shadowrun 20th Anniversary Edition caught Silver. I can’t deny that I voted for Eclipse Phase in that category, but I joined Randall from Catalyst onstage and, since he was already wearing the ENnie’s medal, I yoinked the certificate. I had no idea I was going to be up there until I had started walking. Shadowrun 20th Anniversary is an awesome book and I am proud as all hell of it.

Eclipse Phase

Sunward was released, the GM Screen was available, and we had ample stock of them and the core book to satisfy our fans. We also had some miniposters, t-shirts, and some plush monsters from OhNo!Doom, a Chicago art collective, to round out our swag. Our booth was busy, sales were good, and our games were very well attended. Our gamemasters kicked ass in accommodating tons of players per game. We gave all the players feedback forms, and from the sampling I’ve read so far our GMs are very well loved!

This Just In … From Gen Con 2010

I appeared on This Just In .. From Gen Con on Saturday at 5PM. Fifteen minutes earlier, I was walking to our hotel room with Kristen saying “I’m feeling the need for some introvert time. Are you cool with just hanging out by yourself for awhile?” Of course, she was … and she got to. I didn’t, because I remembered at the last minute that I needed to be podcasting—not an introverted activity—in another hotel. So I dashed over, and thankfully I was paired with the awesome E Foley of Geek’s Dream Girl, who carried the show. I mostly talked about the ENnies, Creative Commons-licensing stuff, and how twitter functions as the “water cooler” for those of us that work from home but need feedback/stimulation from colleagues.

Friends

I hugged my friends extra tightly this year.

Magic: the Gathering and other Acquisitions

I didn’t manage to play any MTG at the show, but with my trusty iPad and some good timing, I was able to score a copy of the From the Vault: Relics set. Beyond picking up my comp copies of Sunward and the GM Screen, Sixth World Almanac, and the Dresden Files, I didn’t buy anything at the show. I bought a lot of games over the last year that haven’t been played much, so I didn’t want to add to the unread/unplayed piles.

Playtesting

We pitched game concepts and playtested things that will become Posthuman Studios’ next games. We have some cool stuff brewing! Refinement starts … tomorrow.

ENnies Award Voting 2010

Voting for the 2010 ENnie Awards is now open.

I can’t deny that this year’s ENNie Award nominations aren’t a little bittersweet after the events of earlier this year. Projects that I worked on are well-represented, and the great number of worthy entrants in every categories indicate something that has been true for a long time: gamers are spoiled for choice!

Shadowrun: Seattle 2072 received an honorable mention nod in the Best Setting category. Steve Kenson did a bang-up job with this title, melding Shadowrun’s past to the present and setting groundwork for the future.

Eclipse Phase in the following categories:

  • Best Cover Art: Stephan Martiniere’s gorgeous cover art will launch thousands of campaigns.
  • Best Writing: Developer Rob Boyle has had his hand in many great gaming books, and for Eclipse Phase he may have assembled the best writing staff he’s had to date: Lars Blumenstein, Brian Cross, Jack Graham, John Snead; with additional writing from Bruce Baugh, Randall N. Bills, Davidson Cole, Tobias Wolter, with Jason Hardy and Michelle Lyons on editing.
  • Best Production: This is the best-looking book I have ever made, with cool visuals that don’t overwhelm the art, and a huge thrust towards making the 400-pages very navigable, most notably the two-page spreads that open each chapter and point you to important information.
  • Product of the Year: With nominations in three of the “pillar” categories, plus the intangibles of Creative Commons-licensing, our trend-setting low price point for the electronic version, and of course a great game to play in a setting that has unlimited potential … I think a nomination in this category is well-earned.

Shadowrun 20th Anniversary Edition got nods in these categories:

  • Best Interior Art: Art Director Mike Vaillancourt and myself butted heads a lot on this project, but in the end, the artwork in this project is really strong and takes Shadowrun in a new direction.
  • Best Production Values: Apparently I build good-looking well-organized books consistently! The giant index that covers not only itself but all the other SR4 rulebooks is so freaking cool.
  • Best Game: Personally, I’d love to see “Best Game” and “Best New Edition” categories. But games don’t get produced for 20 years if they don’t see actual play, and Shadowrun has always erred on the side of being a game that should be played, not just read.
  • Product of the Year: A punched-up and improved version of one of the most successful RPGs ever certainly qualifies.

In every category we are up against other amazing titles: Paizo’s Pathfinder juggernaut, Green Ronin’s Dragon Age Boxed Set, FFG’s Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Boxed Set (which looks gorgeous … I have to make the time to read through my copy!), and others too numerous to mention.

To spread briefly about category’s I’m not in: Jess Hartley’s One Geek To Another deserves props in the blog category for doing something different by offering advice about gamer etiquette, something sorely needed. For Best Setting, you can’t accuse the guys at HERO of not taking a chance with something different in Lucha Libre Hero

… and Best Publisher could just be Posthuman Studios.