Monday, January 05, 2009

Indie publishing of RealTime

One thing that struck me reading Solipsist and particularly reading about how the book came to be is that I should reconsider whether my own indie-style roleplaying game RealTime might be viable to publish. I mentioned this in an email to the author of Solipsist and he was very encouraging. So I've started to look into it.

Here are the steps required to do an indie published roleplaying game, and where I see myself standing on them.
  1. Have an idea. It needs to be unique, interesting, different from what's already out there, and yet saleable. To be an indie game, it probably needs to be small in scope so it can be a small book; publishing something on the scale of GURPS requires more resources and a lot more investment.

    Here, I think RealTime is a good contender. It's a simple game that could be expressed in a small number of pages; it does something nothing else out there does; and it's suitably innovative, if I do say so myself. It has a definite challenge in marketing, though: most people respond to the idea, a roleplaying game you play in real time, with incredulity. It's not possible, most say. Or if it is, I couldn't do it. Or it would be too intense (really!). That'll be the real trick: convincing people to give it a try, to consider it something worth doing (not a replacement for every week's game, but a good break from it once in a while).

  2. Develop a system. What most people mistake for the entire process, this is one of the simpler steps.

    This part I've done. I don't even think it needs any tweaks at this point.

  3. Write it up. You need to be a competent writer and produce an organized, readable, engaging, and clear narrative.

    The current draft of RealTime is pretty good, but it could do with some tightening up, and more emphasis on the key things people reacted badly to: that it's possible, that it's a good roller-coaster-ride kind of intense, and that it's not intended to be an everyday game. But I'm a good writer. This is just a matter of finding the time.

  4. Get art. You can't sell a game without a striking cover, a nice character sheet, border art, and interior art that invokes the feel of the game (unless your name happens to be Gygax and you're working in the early 1980s).

    This has long been my biggest stumbling block. I can't draw a stick figure with a ruler and a diagram, and I didn't think I knew any good artists. Using generic art might get me part of the way, particularly with a game like RealTime which is set in the modern world, so clipart and techie-looking stuff I can do with software might serve for some of it. But you need at very least a snazzy logo, a good front cover picture, and a nice character sheet, done by a graphic artist. It turns out I know someone who does this kind of stuff and is willing to talk to me about options like having me split profits with her instead of paying up front. This development has moved the whole thing from "maybe someday" into something to consider seriously.

  5. Produce a publication-ready document. Make whatever kind of document, often a PDF with separate documents for covers, required for printing.

    These days you can do this pretty well with nothing more than Word and Acrobat, if you have the computer-operations savvy. I've been doing desktop publishing since the late 80s so while I might not be a whiz with any particular software, I can certainly produce a very pretty PDF formatted appropriately. The rewrite will include such niceties as making sure the result is the right number of pages (with art), and include things like table of contents, index (yes, it must have an index!), and I'm not sure what else. Will I include an adventure? How about RTC as an appendix? Depends on how the page count is ending up.

  6. Get it printed. Actually get it printed at a price point that makes it viable to sell at a price that people might pay, with enough left to cover marketing, your artist, and maybe a buck left for your pocket.

    Until recently this was a big part of it, but nowadays with services like Lulu, it's a lot more viable. I can do an 88-page perfect-bound book with a full cover color for only a bit over $4/copy in lots of only 100, which means it's within the range of the kind of up-front money I can sink into a venture like this.

  7. Market it. There's a flood of people trying to do this kind of thing. How do you get your product noticed, in the indie world where you don't have distributors pushing it to Friendly Local Gaming Stores? People talk a lot about word of mouth and the Internet as a means of game distribution and sales, but while it makes it a lot easier for you to reach your customers, it makes it a lot easier for a thousand other people to do the same, so it just makes new challenges: how to stand out and get noticed.

    This is still my biggest stumbling block. I will have to invest some money into actual advertising, and I don't even know yet where to start on that. I will have to try to promote my product with posts on forums, but I am not Mr. Personable, and have never had much success with that before when it was freeware (though there's also a stigma associated with freeware, so that might be part of it). I'd have to try to sell it at cons, but I live in the boonies and don't go to many cons. I worry that I'll end up with a box of 97 copies of RealTime in my closet and that'll be the end of that. The author of Solipsist is very upbeat that a few well-placed forum postings and word of mouth can carry you pretty far, but for every person like him for whom that's worked out okay, there's probably dozens for whom it never did. Does it really all come down to whether or not the product is innovative and fresh? If so, I feel good about RealTime. But while that may be necessary, is it sufficient?
Just thinking this through is getting me excited. My next step is to get my potential artist to look at my game, look at Solipsist as an example of what indie games look like these days, and to watch some 24 because she needs to see the inspirational genre for an idea of what kind of art and logos we need. Meanwhile, when time permits I'm going to take the text I have now and flow it into a 6x9 template and see how many pages I'm looking at, just so I can get an idea about length. (I'll be doing a complete rewrite, but it still helps to know if I'm way over or under my target length, before I even start.) Then I'll meet with my artist and we'll start to hammer things out, and meanwhile, I'll start the rewrite and publishing steps, and work out a budget. Then investigate advertising options.

I'm not building up false expectations or hopes that I'll sell ten thousand copies on this, or make any real money. But it sounds fun and exciting, just the idea of being able to do it. It's engaged my enthusiasm and I find myself thinking about it a lot. In fact, I always have one item on my to-do list that I want to be doing, and the other ones above it that I have to get through to get to it, and right now, this has become that item.

No comments: