Loreshaper Games in 2020

in #tabletop-rpg11 months ago

Alright, so I haven't written anything here for a while, but I assure everyone that I'm still alive.

There are a couple reasons for this, the most obvious of which being my work on my master's program. Since it's in creative writing, it uses up most of my creative energy and I've just been left very drained. I'm working on a novel that's tied to Bioreaktor, but the consequence of that is that Bioreaktor itself is basically dead in the water while I finish that, and then I'll polish it off when I'm done.

What writing I do (and I still write about as much as I did on average in my heyday) is almost all focused on my academic work right now, but I'm going to be trying to do some small posts regularly.

I'm also hoping to diversify more of my writing away from Steem, as much as I love all of y'all around here.

So, basically, I'm going to lay out my big Loreshaper Games related plans in 2020, and explain some of the reasons. I'll start by talking about Steem, since that's where this is getting posted, but then I'll go into the generic "direction of the company" agenda.

Why Less Content on Steem?

Back in the day, I used to write quite prolifically for Steem, and I really enjoyed it. However, there are three things to consider that really went into this:

  1. Audience
  2. Persistence
  3. Money

So, first and foremost, I love Steem, but I've just decided that it's not the platform with the best audience for Loreshaper Games. The tabletop RPG audience here is relatively small. That's not the end of the world, but it is something to consider: I don't like cross-posting content except from, say, a personal site to a public site.

The biggest issue with Steem, though, is the persistence of content. I know there are workaround solutions to this, but the fact that content basically expires after a week is a pretty big deal to someone who's actively pursuing expanding markets. Because the incentive of Steem is always to keep new stuff promoted, since it's what actually can reap rewards, it doesn't match a lot of what I do.

Last but not least, Steem simply has become an unprofitable place to produce content. I've been transitioning toward more freelance work. Steem as a currency has lost almost all its value, and I'm not sure it will ever go up. That's not a naysayer thing either; I hope it goes up, but I don't think that even a tripling or ten-fold increase in the value of Steem would really make it a profitable enterprise. I make products, products which could theoretically sell. I still plan to post some development blogs and whatnot here on Steem, but not only do I simply not write as many essays (that intellectual itch has been filled largely by my academic work) as I used to, I plan on posting the ones I do write either on my personal blog or in places where they can draw in an audience for my games.

What's Coming in 2020

Loreshaper Games has always operated at a loss, but this year I'm not going to be able to do that. I just don't have the cash on hand to fund my projects. I quit my day job to go back and do my master's, and while I'm not financially hurting (yet), I definitely have more of an emphasis on meeting my basic needs instead of funding passion projects.

With that said; I have some great art from @znkd that I hope to use for Genship Exiles. He's posted some of it over on his site, and I'm really looking forward to bringing that project to fruition. It's in rough shape, however. I've started, aborted, and restarted Genship Exiles probably five or six times now, and I'm not going to guarantee a 2020 release.

My big goal for 2020, because I don't have a lot of time to focus on big projects, is to work on Hammercalled where I get a chance to, and do occasional small projects to keep the company's name out there and to experiment with potential ideas for future games/projects.

One of these games will be Hyperspace Bleedout, which is going to be a small, free "spacepunk" game over on itch.io and probably also DriveThruRPG. It's based on the Hammercalled ruleset broadly, but with a very different core mechanic and hyper-streamlined rules. Since people know that I like to have Hammercalled play pretty quickly, you can imagine what that's like.

Traditionally, I've over-promised and under-delivered on projects, and that's because probably about 10% of the projects I've started wind up to my own standards. My goal for 2020 is to both stop making promises I can't keep and also to make it so that more of my projects wind up where I want them to.

PWYW versus traditional sales, DriveThruRPG versus itch.io

So, one thing that I've been thinking about recently is how to release products going forward.

I don't want to paygate my work. I'm a believer in free (as in speech) content, and I like sharing my work with the world. I also consider it my portfolio for freelancing, even though it's far from perfect.

I think it may be necessary to go to a traditional sales model if I wanted to take Loreshaper Games full-time. However, for now I will continue to release stuff under our hyper-free TAL and not do any premium editions that are pay-walled. I do hope to spin off some premium products from a free core set, but 2020 is probably not going to be the year for that.

One thing to consider is how freelancers and the like factor into this. Since traditionally people don't get royalties in this business (and if they did it would probably be a lot less than I'd pay them up front, but that's neither here nor there), it's not like they're losing anything by having their work released for free, but using the very open licensing terms that include art and stuff could be a problem for some people. This hasn't come up yet, but may be a deciding factor in taking that plunge if I ever do it.

We've got smaller, indie-style products that have traditionally not been a good fit for DriveThruRPG on the agenda, but the fact also remains that Waystation Deimos did pretty well there. DriveThruRPG takes a greater cut than itch.io and with pay-what-you-want releases that's a pretty big cut of not very much.

On itch.io, the distributor's cut is much smaller, and another significant upside is that they tend to do everything just a lot smoother than DriveThruRPG (it's basically a difference between mid-10s design language and mid-00s design language) and have more tools to engage with customers.

As a result, I'm leaning toward making itch.io distribution the first place for things up until they're in a fairly stable, unchanging state. Then I'll add them to DriveThruRPG, since updating products on DriveThruRPG is a process that I'm very much not a fan of and can have some significant issues.

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Always interesting reading these updates. I can understand needing to make some changes. It sure has been slow in these parts for a while now.

I wish you luck on your 2020 endeavors and hopefully you can find a path leading to profitability.

Well, I've actually been lower on posts recently than I should be once I get things going again, so I wouldn't worry too much. It's not really so much a going away as a "Here are my priorities and how I'm going to orient toward what's next." since I've already basically been offline for a while.

I've never really been concerned with making money off of my own games, I'm more concerned with just keeping the projects afloat on their own. Right now that's definitely not in the cards.

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Hate to see you go. But indie game development for Tabletop can be tough.
Stop in from time to time ... :)

I should still be around. I've tended to be a lot less active as a reader just because my master's program is pretty rigorous and I've been trying to do more reading/listening to lectures on the side of that.

We've got smaller, indie-style products that have traditionally not been a good fit for DriveThruRPG on the agenda, but the fact also remains that Waystation Deimos did pretty well there.

It's really interesting that you come to this position because it's not the first time that I've heard small-press developers talking about itch.io as a preferential distributor over DriveThruRPG. As someone who was around back in the day when DTR actually got established, that such reasoning mimics all the discussion of why anyone would go to them as a distributor in the first place makes me laugh.

They've gone from being the newbie upstart which lets developers keep more of the money they earned to The Man who's gouging the little guy who wants to get into the field. You live long enough to become the bad guy or die trying, I guess.

From my perspective, I'm not sure that itch.io has enough public-facing reputation as a distributor for RPGs to justify doing an ongoing open beta for work – but I'm also not sure it doesn't. Promotion is really complicated right now, not because there are too many big players but because the audience has once again become extremely fragmented and it's difficult to reach everyone that might be interested in a product. Ultimately, it probably doesn't matter what storefront you move product through as much as what social media interfaces you promote your product and link to that storefront on. Get that right and it just doesn't matter. Get it wrong and it just doesn't matter.

I love freelancing as a journalist. It makes a lot more money for me when I write about games for an actual publication in writing about games for the Steem blockchain. That is just a simple fact of life that will probably be true forever. I am trying to get back into posting here more than I have, not because of the money but because there is a very small community interested in that content, one that I know exists, and one that I know is hungry for more stuff. A hungry audience goes a long way toward gratifying a writer's need to be read. Maybe it will pay off, maybe it's just adding to my portfolio. We shall see.

itch.io is fantastic for basically everything except the fact that the market is really small and fragmented, so you're almost always doing a lot of your own marketing and DriveThru does that better for indies, which is a little ironic.

With that said, DriveThru's cut is pretty big. It's more of a question of: Do I get a smaller fraction of a much larger flow, or do I go for a larger fraction of a lower flow? Itch.io makes PWYW a lot less obtrusive than DriveThru does, and DriveThru definitely has a better conversion rate for donations (in part perhaps because people like me always have some extra wallet credit from affiliate/publisher stuff).

For betas and stuff the reason I'm shying away from DriveThruRPG is that the interface to actually work with stuff on DriveThruRPG is a massive pain and I've found that it's very easy to mess up in ways that you don't want to mess stuff up. Almost all traffic on itch.io typically would be coming from outside, and that's not true for DriveThruRPG, but it is something that's almost 1:1.

I really do hope to do more freelancing. I've been enjoying it quite a bit. Portfolio work is nice; I've got a lot of writing under my belt but it's almost all self-published, and that doesn't look as cool as being able to say "I've written for X, Y, and Z."

In a real sense, however, in the RPG market outside of the Big Two, you're always doing a lot of your own marketing. DTR really doesn't do marketing well, which is an absolute shame and it's nice that they do it at all, but I've never – not once in many years – checked out any game because DTR promoted it. It always was promotion that originated outside of the sales platform.

Personally, I actually expect that you might have better luck focusing entirely on distribution through itch.io and not DTR. The bigger cut is nice, the loss in flow is a little annoying, but knowing upfront that you were going to be responsible for driving all of the flow put you into the right mindset for doing the necessary work. You are not the only person I have heard who is unhappy working with DTR as a distribution platform.

It doesn't hurt that itch.io has a fairly active (if small by comparison) social network of game developers. I haven't really dug into that group but I keep meaning to and hearing that they are a fine bunch. I've dealt with the people behind DTR and while I'm okay with having a business relationship with them if I must – I'd rather not. So I don't.

I want to be really clear that I am not busting on itch.io at all. I'm concerned that they don't have the traction that I would be comfortable with but when I look at the behavior of the market and at social media and at the evolution of the RPG industry as a whole, such as it is, it seems like there is a lot more to be gained by getting an early and being part of the community on itch.io the and it is being one of the hangers on with DTR.

Luckily for me, my particular field doesn't depend on the RPG industry except as a self-supporting hobby. Once upon a time, I almost fell into that trap but then came to my senses and said things like, "I like to eat and sleep indoors!"

(2020 prediction: Wait for the crazy blowback when itch.io starts being seen as the Epic Game Store to DTR's Steam. Does that make any sense? Absolutely not. Does that actually make it more likely? Yes.)

Hey man, long time no read you. It seems you're doing great. Anyway, just stop by to wish you success in your enterprises this year and on the ones to come. Perhaps in the future we may collaborate on something juicy... I mean juicy like immersive and grabbing and fantastic.