Back in the saddle after a nice long summer break. I hope all of you are well. It’s good to have you back at Socratic Design!
This blog entry was inspired by THIS THREAD. Back when that thread was active, I just did not have the time to sit down and write the kind of response I really wanted. I was swamped. If I had said anything, it would have just been something dismissive or insensitive to the OP, and that’s not something I wanted to do.
For context, I highly recommend you read my oooooooooooold article from 2006, What is a Heartbreaker?
I’m not going to critique Xarcell’s design in this entry. I think the folks on Story-Games did a pretty thorough job of explaining the potential problems, challenges, and reception Xarcell could expect. Instead, I’m going to try to offer some advice to him (any anyone) who wants to still drive ahead and publish their D&D-like Medieval Fantasy game.
To begin, let me say I’ve been there. I’ve done it. My first published RPG was a Fantasy Heartbreaker in every single definition. My friends and I spend years creating a derivative of Rolemaster. We spend thousands printing up books. And we sold probably less than a thousand. So I’m not some ivory tower dude passing my judgment down on the great unwashed. I’ve lived it. It’s not pleasant.
But if we’re going to go ahead with it anyway, what should we do? There are five things I think a person should do if they are going to publish a Fantasy (or Sci-Fi or Vampire or Cthullu or whatever) Heartbreaker.
1.Play it! If you’re not playing it when you go to start the publishing process, then I personally think you’re doing it wrong. You must stay in touch with what makes the game fun. You must still be excited about it. People get excited about things other people are excited about. If the game isn’t still worth your time, how can it be worth theirs? Also, continuing to play will improve the game quality, and you’re going to need the quality to be as high as possible.
2.Put it up for free first. You need to get the game out there somehow, even if it’s just a plain text or PDF version. 1km1kt will host your file for free, and it doesn’t require any special accounts or logins for people who want to get your game. It’s easy and easy is good. There are plenty of other sites who will also do it, but that’s just the one I like. You need your game on the Internet for free because you’re going to have to do a lot of ground work to make this thing successful. You’ll need to be able to give everyone who hears about your game a frame of reference. A free copy does that, and it creates a good feeling in those whom you contact. If you’re willing to give the text version away for free, it must mean you’re confident in the quality of your game.
3.Build up a community. The first two points are easy. This is where things get a little harder. You need to get people involved in your game. You need a community who is anticipating your game’s release and is excited about it. It may be tempting to go find a way to host some free phpBB forum and try to get people to come there to talk about your game. That is almost certainly going to end in disaster. Messageboards require a lot of activity and a lot of participants to be truly successful. A Heartbreaker game just isn’t going to generate that much interest at the start. Instead, I recommend starting a blog, Facebook page or G+ account for your game. Start liking, friending, circling, and linking other people. Create lots of entries on your blog/Facebook/G+ about your game INCLUDING actual play reports. Be excited and promote other people’s games on it as well. It’ll make you feel good for helping others and it may encourage others to link your game on their social media site. That’s what you need. Building a network and a community where people can come, read, and easily comment on your work. Just make sure you get the people playing the game with you from Step 1 posting and commenting as well.
4.Try a Kickstarter. Kickstarter is great because not only does it get funds to ideas the market wants, it denies funds to ideas the market doesn’t want. Once you’ve laid the ground work for your game by posting it for free and building up a community, it’s time to see if the market wants your game or not. I can’t tell you what your goal should be. You have to decide based on how much the cover will cost, how much the interior art will cost, how much your time on it has been worth, and whether or not you’ll offer a print version. If I were going to do a Kickstarter for The Holmes and Watson Committee today, I’d probably set the Kickstarter goal at $1,000 to get a new cover, new art, and maybe a map of Victorian London. But every person is different, and every game has its own needs. If the first Kickstart fails, you can try a second a few months later. If a second campaign fails, the market is telling you that your game is A) best left as a free game on the ‘net or B) needs a lot more work.
5.Finally, even with a successful Kickstarter it’s important not to keep sinking your own money into the game. More money does not equal more success. Vincent Baker made a great post on what to do with a game once it’s published. Continue steps 1 and 3. That will drive future sales of your game (if continuing sales are something you want). But whatever you do, do not sink thousands of dollars promoting or selling your game. Do what you can for free and let the sales grow organically.
Well, that’s the best advice I can offer. Avoid using your own money as much as possible. Stay excited about your game. Help promote other people’s games. And build up a community before going to Kickstarter. If you do these things, there’s a chance (just a chance) that your game will be a successful business venture.