A Penny for Your Thoughts
On 2008-10-03, Jonathan Walton wrote:
1. What's your name?
2. What's your publishing company?
I never really had one, except for that one time that I paid taxes under the name "One Thousand One." Right now, I just have Bleeding Play, which is a hobby website, not a company.
3. What game or games have you published?
(only including stuff that I know independent groups have played)
Push vol. 1, Geiger Counter (in alpha and beta), Kazekami Kyoko Kills Kublai Khan, While You're Far Away
4. When you first started publishing, what success did you hope for?
When I first discovered the Forge, I got excited about print publishing and wanted to be a part of the small press community and gain praise and attention for myself and my ideas, so I thought I'd print 100 copies, sell those through IPR, print another 100 copies, etc.
I really wanted to help support some of the bleeding edge theory and practice discussions that were happening and help create a space for them to happen slower and more carefully, which was what Push was about.
5. Did you achieve it?
No. I found that I disliked the details of running a small business and that I wasn't making enough money to make it worth filing taxes over and keeping track of expenses and all the other stuff I felt I had to do. Also, it was much more time consuming that I imagined, taking me away from the real fun of designing (and even more importantly) playing games. Somewhere along the way, roleplaying went from being one of my hobbies to being THE hobby, the only one I had time to focus on. A large swath of my life came to be defined by the small press games scene.
Also, Push was much more difficult to run than I thought. Getting everybody to participate on schedule was like wrangling cats and my own attention drifted about, so it took two years to get the 2006 issue out and Push 2 is still only about halfway there. Maintaining my excitement over the ultimate goals of the project is hard, given the pace.
I also found that selling things through IPR into distribution was simply not sustainable for me, since it would require pricing my products much higher than I wanted. This was where I started noticing that money was hindering, not helping, my goals for distributing my products.
Also, I found that participating in print publishing really didn't make me a part of the community. What made someone a part of the community is face-to-face contact with the people involved, something I never understood just from the internet. Playing games with people and hanging out at conventions (working in booths together, etc.) is the critical social glue. Also, the folks who were really successful at publishing, selling tons of copies, seemed to mainly just get flack for it, gaining a lot of negative attention even if more people respected them.
6. What success do you hope for now?
Now I just want small press games to be one hobby among many, not the most important creative outlet of my life, but I'm still in the process of cutting back. A big move was deciding to shift to a non-profit, hobby model instead of trying to run a small business. Unlike what Clinton and Ben seem to be up to, I don't want to get out of publishing, but I mainly want to release free stuff on my website, because that's the stuff that I find most fulfilling and least stressful.
I also want to stop measuring my success by copies sold/downloaded/play reports/number of people who think I'm awesome/the attention I get, because I find all of those things create unhealthy dynamics. I want to get back to doing this for myself, my local play group, and other people who happen to be interested in some of the same play / design goals as me.
7. Have you achieved it?
Nope, but I'm trying. Maybe in another couple years.
8. If a hopeful new RPG publisher came to you and asked you for your wisdom, to help her set reasonable expectations for her own games' success, what would you tell her?
I would talk to them about my experiences, as a warning, but also say that plenty of people claim to be happy with print publishing. I would also underline Ben's comment several times.
"Writing role-playing games is a great way to convince yourself that you're doing something meaningful. Don't get lost, don't lose sight of your other goals in life."
While I do think that making games can be meaningful, it's important to realize that, yeah, other goals are important too, maybe more important. That can be hard to see if RPGs become one's main creative outlet, as they did for me. But sometimes that just means you have to rediscover the rest of your life. Damn, I sound like a recovering addict.
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