And Updated for Technology
Way back in the Neolithic Age of 1998, Sandy Antunes wrote one of the iconic article on this site, The 1k Company. Technology has aged the article, though, and it’s time to revisit it. I asked Sandy about it, and he said I’m welcome to contribute what I can.
Just for disclosure, I will note that I have not necessarily done all of these things.
Sandy spent some space discussing motivation. I don’t care about all that. It all still applies equally. Technology hasn’t changed that.
Step One: Get Capital
Marshal your resources. You can use cash on hand, or you can take out a small loan. You can also use a new type of funding: crowdfunding. Sites like offer a medium for you to promote your product to fans and solicit funding. Sandy addressed Kickstarter recently, but here’s a summary.
Create an account and then create a project. Your project is your game. Make a video telling everyone how awesome it is. Offer incentives for donations. For a $20 donation, a donor might get a copy of your game. For $30, they get a dead-tree version and the PDF.
Tip: Prestige incentives work well with the role-playing game crowd. If you have name recognition, a signed copy is a fine incentive. Including the donor as a character in a game appeals to many people, too. It’s worth an hour or two to browse the site and see how others have set up their incentives.
Set a goal for your financing. If you reach your goal, you get the money, minus a small fee. If you fail to reach your goal, the money is returned to the donors. If you exceed your goal, you get all of the money, so it’s a good idea to set your goal low.
Ostensibly, Kickstarter is for creators, not commercial ventures. You can use it to fund a book but not your administration costs.
Indiegogo.com is a crowdsourcing site for commercial ventures. You can use the money for anything, and you can arrange to collect all the donations, regardless of your goal.
Step 2: Look Like A Business
This element has not changed in principle, but one detail is better. The cost of a DBA is about the same, at least locally. Buying pizza in exchange for a logo is certainly still viable. Creating and distributing a cheap flyer—same there, too.
The bennie is that you can get 250 free business cards from vistaprint.com. That knocks $15 off your costs right there (you still have to pay to get them shipped).
Having recently joined the GPA, I’m not certain it’s a no-brainer to join. The main value used to be in its mailing list, but there are lots of places online to communicate now. Publisher membership is now $85, much higher than the $20 Sandy quoted years ago. You can find other ways to network at less cost. The secret “weasel” list, for one. Less mysteriously, you could join the GAMA-sponsored Game Industry Network on Delphi forums at no charge.
I will add these items: create a website, a Facebook page, a Google+ account, and a Twitter account. Securing the domain name for your site costs $10 or less these days. The website costs about $12 per month for a free template and one e-mail address from Godaddy.com or several other hosts (fatcow.com, bluehost.com, ipage.com, etc). The other items are free. Once you have enough traffic, you can get a free message board from Simple Machines Forum or phpBB for your site. You want all of these Internet features because people access company information in different ways. If you tweet something, for example, only about 30% of your Facebook uses will see it.
You can also sync your social media so that you can make one announcement that will reach all of your followers, regardless of how they keep in touch.
Looking Like a Business $156
- Logo $20
- Business cards $5
- DBA Filing $75
- Flyers $10
- Internet presence $46 (registration and promoting the game 3 months before its release)
Step Three: Create Your Game
The assumption is that you already have a manuscript. If not, do that first.
We’re assuming a lot of sweat equity and friends’ contributions during this stage. Sandy’s plan calls for donations for skilled trades which can be costly. If you don’t have any friends, it’ll cost a lot more. I will note that there are two free applications out there to help in your writing and design. One is OpenOffice, which is similar to Microsoft’s Word, Excel, Power Point, and something else. As mentioned, it’s free, its files are much smaller than Word docs, and it can export directly to a PDF, which can be very helpful.
The other is Scribus, a layout application. If you write your manuscript in OpenOffice, you can export it into Scribus for your layout. Or you could write the whole work in Scribus.
Print-on-demand shops are more numerous now than when Sandy mentioned them. Here’s a partial list
- Guild of Blades Retail
- Publishers Graphics (pubgraphics.com)
Some require a one-time setup fee. You always pay for shipping, unless you live close enough to go pick up your books yourself. Let’s go with Sandy’s assumption of 25 books that you might take to a convention.
You do not have to register your copyright. The main advantage of registration is that, in case of infringement, you can sue for punitive damages in addition to actual damages. Since the byword here is “cheap”, not “smart”, let’s skip it and save on the cash.
Finally, note that printing is entirely optional. If you simply want to sell one at a time online as customers order them, you don’t have to print any books at all. Or you could sell PDFs through your online vendors, as well as a variety of formats for different electronic readers: epub, Kindle, html, BBeB, etc. Obviously, these have no printing costs at all.
- Writing (DIY)
- Editing (DIY)
- Layout (DIY)
- Printing $100
- Shipping $15
Step Four: Setting Up Your Sales
Sign up as a publisher with OneBookShelf. The cost is a one-time $40. You’ll be able to sell print and PDF books through DriveThruRPG, RPGNow, and other sites. Although OBS sees the lion’s share of online sales, you can create accounts with other sources, too. Here’s a convenient list:
- e23 (e23.sjgames.com)
- Indie Press Revolution
Your online vendors handle sales through the Internet. You need only worry about direct sales at conventions, local game stores, and whatnot. For handling those sales, you visit Squareup.com. Sign up for a free account, and they’ll send you a cool device (free) that you can use for swiping credit cards via your smartphone. The device plugs right into your audio jack. Swipe the card and the money goes from their account to yours. You can e-mail the customer a receipt when you run the transaction.
Other companies offer similar methods, including Intuit.
Getting Wired $60
- Internet access
- Website $10
- Domain Registration $10
- Online vendor agreement $40
- Credit card processing method FREE
Step Five: Marketing
For Internet marketing, you’ll use your free social media. Post daily to Facebook and Google plus. Tweet at least as often. Don’t underestimate its value because it’s free.
Convention presence can be a big boost, especially if you go to one of the big conventions, like GenCon, Origins, or DragonCon. You might meet retailers or distributors who want to carry your game, volunteers who want to promote it, and freelance artists and writers who want to work for you. Go as a guest, not a vendor. Vendor booths at the big cons can be $1,000 or more. Run games to get free or reduced entry. You might also go as a volunteer for another game publisher, but that might not leave enough time to promote your own game.
Although the print market for reviews has dwindled down to almost nothing, there are a couple of magazines still on shelves. Knights of the Dinner Table is one. You can send most reviewers a PDF version of your game for no cost. A good review gives you publicity. A bad review gives you publicity and might not harm sales.
Working the Street: $200
Sandy’s assumptions are still valid.
Innovations—nearly all of them online—have made starting a role-playing game company cheaper than ever. The 1k Company is now a $531 company—and $115 of that is the optional print run for local sales. Through social media you’re better equipped to reach your customers than ever before. The procedure remains largely unchanged, but you have better tools now.
If you’ve already saved up $1,000 after reading Sandy’s previous article, I recommend spending your surplus on promotion. Attend more conventions, or try a banner ad here on rpg.net. You might hand some of it back to those who gave you free art or editing. Or, enjoy your savings and start developing your next title.