Work Stuff

Early experiences with short fiction via Amazon Kindle

(Edits: I removed the word ‘fair’ from my post and replaced it with ‘reasonable,’ which I think is a better term and doesn’t present such a moral implication, and I added two notes: about DRM and Disclosure.)

Posthuman Studios publishes a few pieces of short fiction via Amazon’s Kindle service (Well, technically one piece—the second one is in the processing queue.) These are short stories that have already appeared (or will appear) in our rulebooks—they’re on the Kindle store to boost awareness of the game’s super-sweet setting and because I like experiments. I didn’t expect to make more than pocket change with them, and with almost no promotion beyond our usual game-related channels, that certainly seems to be holding true in the early stages.

I think that $0.99 is a reasonable price for a digital copy of a short story that has appeared elsewhere. Format agnostic: PDF, ePub, mobi, Kindle, whatever.

Here’s some fun stuff I’ve learned:

  • If you publish via Amazon’s Digital Text Platform, you have two royalty choices: 35% and 70%.
  • If you want 70% royalties, Amazon will deduct an additional service charge per download. In my tests, it was only $0.01 for a relatively small file.
  • If you want 70% royalties, you have to set the desired sale price to $2.99 or greater. If Amazon decides to sell lower than your desired sale price, you get 70% of the actual sale price. If your royalties are 35%, you get 35% of the desired sale price or the actual sale price, whichever is higher.
  • If you price your desired sale price to $0.99, Amazon will honor that price in the USA, but not internationally. It will automatically bump the price up to $2.99 in non-USA markets. If you bump your desired sales price up a little bit, the international price will get bumped, also. (I tried to see if a slightly-higher USA price would convince Amazon’s algorithms to lower the international price, with the USA dollars subsidizing the international costs. No luck.)
  • You get sales reports that include, on a per title basis: units sold, refunded, net units, royalty %, average list price, average file size, average offer price, average delivery charge, royalty total. No other information at all; there are no ways to contact the buyers. These people are not your customers, they are Amazon’s customers.
  • Basic math: One sale of a $0.99 title at the 35% royalty rate is $0.35. One sale of a $2.99 (minimum price!) title at the 70% royalty rate is $2.09 (minus the service charge.)
  • Edit, DRM: You can turn DRM off. Amazon doesn’t promise that this option will stick around forever. Turn DRM off, unless you hate your readers.
  • Edit, Disclosure: The Digital Publication Distribution Agreement forbids you from discussing your sales data and other such stuff. It also forbids you from disclosing the terms of the agreement, even though it’s publicly available!

Open questions:

  • Should we price the Eclipse Phase short fiction at $2.99 at the higher royalty rate and make 6 times more money per sale? I like those numbers, but I don’t think it’s the right thing from a propagation/social point of view.

And finally, have some affiliate links:

Eclipse Phase is Origins Award RPG of the Year

Eclipse Phase was just voted the Best RPG of the Year at the Origins Awards. To say that I am pleased, after all the hard work that went into this game, after all the business kerfuffles over the last few months, and considering the competition —well, I am very pleased.

Eclipse Phase

Eclipse Phase is a complete game with a detailed science-fiction setting. It’s published under a Creative Commons license; because we have to build the future we want to live in, and sharing is an integral part of gaming culture. I’m thrilled to sanction and encourage that kind of sharing in a formal way. We sell the electronic version for $15 because we want to get it into your hands; after you’ve bought it, give a copy to your gaming group so they can fall in love with it, too. The print version is a gorgeous, 400-page full-color hardcover book, and it should be available in stores everywhere.

Eclipse Phase is a base for experiments, also. If you buy the Gamemaster Screen Hack Pack, not only do you get PDFs of the GM Screen and the Glory adventure, but you get the InDesign files we used to build the GM Screen, to let you hack your own custom GM screen. And when you’ve built your screen, you can share it with everyone. We’ll have more experiments soon.

But for now, we have our game back in sales channels, there are two print releases coming soon (the Gamemaster Pack and the glorious sexy space whale-filled Sunward), it’s thrilling to be working with Rob and Brian on future stuff, and we won an Origins Award for Best RPG. That all feels pretty damned good.

Eclipse Phase and Seattle 2072 nominated for Origins Awards

I wrote about these two titles that I worked on last year in the post My Work in 2009, so check it out if you want to read a little about them—the news today is they’ve both been nominated for Origins Awards; Eclipse Phase (Rob Boyle, Brian Cross, John Snead, and more!) in the Best RPG category and Seattle 2072 (written by Steve Kenson with a bunch of authors contributing short fiction) in the Best Sourcebook category.

I’m really damned proud of these books and the teams that worked on them—thanks to all of the contributors!

By the way, Eclipse Phase is Creative Commons-licensed, so if you want to grab the PDF for free, not only will I not stop you, but I’ll outright encourage you to do so!

No longer with Catalyst Game Labs / IMR

March 17th edit: Internet scuttlebutt makes me want to clarify this—leaving IMR was my choice. I wasn’t fired, asked to leave, or any way “negotiated out” of the company. I had and have no ownership stake in the company.

I am no longer an employee of Catalyst Game Labs / InMediaRes LLC, nor a contractor/freelancer for them. A few more books will come out in the next few months with my name in them, but please don’t ask me questions about release dates or any other Catalyst matters; the answers are out of my hands. This is sad: I love the games I worked on and they’ve been a large part of my life for a long time, as a fan and a professional. Leaving something you love is rarely easy.

Shadowrun fans: thanks for years and years of fun and feistyness. Last year, when Jason Hardy took over as Shadowrun Line Developer, I told him simply: “If you kill the one thing I’ve loved my entire adult life, I will kill you.” As of today, you’re off the hook no matter what, Jase.

BattleTech fans: thanks for letting me mess around in your playground for awhile. I hope you enjoy the Total Warfare line of core rulebooks and my work on them.

Colleagues: I’m looking for interesting opportunities, in or out of hobby gaming. If you have some or know of some, please drop me a line.

People I’ve Worked With: It’s been a pleasure to work with you crazy-talented and just plain crazy people. I look forward to doing so again.

I’m not going anywhere. I’ll still be blogging at adamjury.com, still be posting on Twitter, and life continues on. If you wish to reach me, please send me an email to adam at adamjury dot com — or use my Contact Form.

Graphic Design / Organization in Gaming Books

I just made a brief comment on twitter towards Cam Banks:

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Here’s a quick example of what I mean. We just released the 20th Anniversary Edition of Shadowrun (link is to PDF version). One of the chapters that I spent a lot of time tinkering with was the Skills chapter. Here’s the fundamental problem with the Skills chapter, from an organizational/layout point of view: All of the skills have a short description that are of a similar length, but some skills have no additional rules, while others have a few hundred words of additional rules, and others have even more, plus some reference tables. Then, there are the general rules for how skills work, some sidebars with example power levels and the Skill Groups, some guidelines on the various types of skills, and finally, rules for using attributes in place of skills.

Note 1: For those of you with copy of the Shadowrun 20th Anniversary rulebook handy, when I say “Basic” I mean the descriptions starting with “Combat Active Skills” near the bottom of p. 121 and ending at the bottom of the first column of p. 127. The “Using” rules start with the Using Specific Skills header on p. 130 and continue until the end of the second column on p. 138.

Note 2:The organizational work I describe here is not necessarily the job of the graphic designer; depending on how production on a book works, this organization is probably handled first by the managing editor [or in Catalyst parlance, the “Line Developer”] or editor, and given to the graphic designer to implement. In the case of this title, I had a lot of latitude to make my own decisions for organization, with developer approval. Some graphic designers will consider this work not their responsibility, and in many situations, it wouldn’t be.

There’s one obvious choice on how to organize this chapter: put all the general purpose “these rules apply to all skills” early in the chapter, along with any tables/sidebars that list all the skills and how they relate to each other, along with what categories they fit in. I’d like to think this is a no-brainer.

Other slightly less obvious but still easy choices are: sandwich the more specific rules for using the Special groups of skills [Knowledge and Language] in between the “Basic” section and the “Using” section, and put the rules for using Attributes as Skills right at the back of the chapter. They’re the most odd duck thing in the chapter, but they belong there more than in the Game Concepts chapter, as they’re somewhat special case rules.

So the big question is: do you lump all the skills [“Basic”] and all of their specific rules/tables [“Using”] together, or do you break it out into two distinct sections? Some of the questions I ask myself whenever I have an organization question like this are: How is the book going to be used? Is this chapter mostly going to be read? Used during character generation only? Used during play only? Both play and chargen? How many questions do I have to ask myself to answer another question?

In the case of the Skills chapter, the “basic” short descriptions of each skill are heavily used during character creation … but once you have a few games under your belt, you know what the skill is used for and probably won’t need to refer to them often. The “Using” rules that you may only use once a session or every couple of sessions, however, those will be harder to memorize, and aren’t as likely to be consulted during character generation. However, there’s no doubt that both “sets” of rules are 100% tied to each other, and people will be flipping between the basic and advanced occasionally, if they are separated.

Looking at all that, I made the decision that the “Basic” rules should be distinct from the advanced “Using” rules. Now within those two sets, I have more decisions to make, primarily: how to organize the list of skills. Shadowrun skills are divided into categories, such as Combat, Social, Technical, etc. In previous editions those categories may have been slightly different, but there have always been categories. Within the categories, skills are alphabetized, and skills that have an entry in the “Using” section have a page reference to that section. This should work fine — when making a character, you are often looking for certain types of skills at a time, and when skills are in categories it’s easier to see how they relate to other similar skills; if the entire skill list were one big alphabetical list, you might think you need Intimidation when the skill you’re really looking for is Leadership. With categories, those skills are much more likely to be within a few entries of each other, so it’s easier to get the “big picture” of what a category represents and how it’s broken down.

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Now for the “Using” section, which frankly, was a mess in the original [“green”] versions of Shadowrun, Fourth Edition. How to fix it? First off, I put “Using” in front of every single entry: “Using Etiquette,” “Using Jumping,” “Using Survival,” etc. Yeah, there’s some slightly odd phrasing in those, but by putting the “Using” in front of every header I was able to differentiate every single one of them from their “Basic” descriptions, to make cross-referencing easier.

One major decision for the “Using” section — do I break these skills down by category, or just alphabetize them all? I chose to alphabetize them all, because this is a section that you aren’t likely to read straight through, comparing and contrasting. This is a reference section. You use it when the boat that your ‘runner was on just burst into flames and you jumped into the water and need to stay afloat: you’re looking for Swimming first, not Physical Active Skills, and when actually using the skill, the category rarely matters.

Then came adding in what I refer to as “signposts,” a subset of cross-references. Here’s the easiest example of a signpost, and why it’s in the book: there’s a header named Using Build or Repair that does nothing but point you to the header Using Technical Skills to Build or Repair. Why do this? Because players looking to Build to Repair something are likely going to look there first, especially if they are players of Shadowrun First through Third Edition, when every skill had a “Build/Repair” specialization, discussed in a distinct section. Yup, some people might consider those two lines in the book “wasted,” but I consider it space well spent.

Some of these signposts also point to subsections like Using Charisma-linked Skills, which covers such skills as Con, Intimidation, etc – so if you flip to Using Intimidation, you get pointed to the correct page, not left in the middle of a field with a broken GPS and no cel-phone signal. And some of them go right to other chapters — such as the rules for spellcasting, which are intricate enough to be in the Magic / Awakened World chapter.

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I hope this sheds some insight on how and why some organizational/layout decisions are made for a gaming book. It’s a matter of give and take — balancing organization, fitting all the text in, fitting in artwork, keeping things looking “cool,” while maintaining the utility of text/tables/diagrams. There’s no “one true way” for organizing a game book, or any other book — but the right way to figure out the best way for any particular title is to identify how the book [or a particular section of it] will be used, and go from there!

Shadowrun, Fourth Edition 20th Anniversary Edition

The project that has taken so much of my time and energy over the last few months has now been announced, and is available as a PDF: Catalyst Game Labs Celebrates 20 Years of Shadowrun!

[I will try to have some actual thoughts about this, when I am finished being exhausted and stressed. I hope you all like it.]

Digital Grimoire for Shadowrun

We released our first small, PDF-only project for Shadowrun on Friday; an 18-page supplement that offers some magical expansions, new traditions, spells, adept powers, magical groups, etc.

It’s an interesting little book, and a fun experiment … I wrote the BCC text to be quite explicit about what you get with the book, so people don’t buy it expecting a dozen magical groups; nope, there are three, and the BCC tells you exactly which three. I think that’s the correct way to handle short projects like this. I think four bucks is an awesome price — if you use *one* thing in the PDF a few times in your game, you have your money’s worth. Compared to some PDF books that are two bucks for 4-6 pages, we might actually be a little underpriced, but we’ll see how things shake out during the experiment.

Digital Grimoire on DriveThruRPG.com

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