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Soapbox: About the Industry

Let's Team Up!

by Sandy Antunes
May 07,2004

 

Let's Team Up!

Okay, time to talk business, or 'so you want to start a game company?'. Well, actually, I already covered that.

In fact, at this point in my life I get the sublime pain of constantly being told, "yes, you're right, I should have listened to you." I can provide a list, a resume of sorts, of current and ex-companies whose owners will say, yes, I should have listened to Sandy's advice, but didn't.

Sadly, I can't point to any highly successful companies willing to say, yes, they listened to me. Perhaps I'm too cheap-- my current "price" for a gaming start-up consultation is 'buy me lunch'. Sometimes 'buy me a drink' suffices.

If I were to say, 'Pay me $500', well, at least I wouldn't have to worry about "I told you so", since most start-ups wouldn't bother and thus I'd be spared being ignored. And any start-up saavy enough to realize $500 is a mere pittance in the cost of starting up, is probably saavy enough to argue me back down to my 'buy me lunch' rate.

The focus of this column is on the alternative to doing a start-up-- teaming up with other new publishers instead. What a great idea! Even I've been prone to suggest it, though heavily bracketed with 'here is how it would have to work', the primary issue being 'you need a non-creative running things', which pretty much nixes most people's implementations.

I'm taking this pretty much verbatim from a post I wrote to an industry list. So this is a case of me giving advice (in response to a question) without charging my usual fee. I'm so cheap.

The usual version is "why doesn't Publisher A and Publisher Z team up, reducing their business efforts and doubling the stock list they present to a distributor?" The idea of pooling resources is excellent, and reducing the number of 'one-hit wonders' a distributor has to face increases the odds of their product actually being carried (if you're a distributor, do you want to do five phone calls t score 1 product from five different companies, or make one call to one company with 5 products?)

I've always lamented that people start up an entire company to publish one game. That's a wacked model. I've seen attempts at collectives, and this is why they fail:

1) I only should team up with similar companies, to better focus. But they're also my competition. So I won't.

2) I should only team up with different companies (i.e. if I do RPGs, they do minis), so we don't compete on the same turf. But then our needs are so different there's no advantage in teaming up.

3) I'd love to team up, but want right of refusal for any of _their_ products that I think might dilute or negatively affect the company as a whole. However, I require the creative freedom to produce my own stuff without oversight.

4) A collaborative would be great, because then I could focus on creating while one of the more business-minded people can handle the business end! Also called 'Who will bell the cat'.

The way Image comics handled collective work was: millionnaire supported creator-owned works and kept the ones that prospered. This meant a) a boss and b) projects could be killed by the boss. In a small-press collective, though, 'killed by the boss' breaks the collective and you end up with more small self-publishers.

Here is an alternative model, stolen from Stan Brown's group. Form a group like The Game Mechanics, produce stuff, then sell it to other publishers as a read-to-print package of known quality.

Problem with the studio approach is, most people don't like finding out other companies don't want to publish their stuff. Also, publishers are... finicky. Okay, flat-out control mad. When I reviewed the book "Beyond Role and Play" last month, I suggested to a publisher (who really wanted a book, and had been in correspondance with ones of its editors), that he simply get rights to POD it here.

As the forum threads show, he agreed but wanted rights to edit it before publishing 'to ensure it was high enough quality'. I'm like, wait... either it's great and you should publish it, or it isn't and you tell them.

The idea that the uber-publisher should hand-tweak every already-layed-out- and-ready-for-print book is death in small publishing. The cost in people-hours and labor to redo things is more than the small print run will return. The likely increase in quality is, forgive me, probably negligible-- if it's good enough to accept, it's good enough to either print or request edits.

Successful groups like TGM work if the people in it has enough of a 'name' to build credence, and if they work professionally enough to make it cost effective to work with them, and if they deal with professional companies that are able to make good business decisions. Lots of ifs.

The other model is folks like Gold Rush Games imprint and vanity publishing efforts, where you front the money and they handle the biz end. Better than forming your own company, but still...

So here is my free (and harsh) advice that no one, I expect, will follow. If you have a game you want to publish, don't form your own publishing company. Just shop your products out to other publishers.

If you can't convince another game publisher that your game is great, why do you think you can convince the buying public?

Until next month,
Sandy
sandy@rpg.net
freelance TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

What do you think?

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All Soapboxes

  • See What Sticks by Sandy Antunes, 06jan06
  • Simple Gifts for Pre-Gamers by Sandy Antunes, 09dec05
  • Col vs Blog by Sandy Antunes, 04nov05
  • Running a First RPG for Kids by Sandy Antunes, 07oct05
  • Making It Pay by Sandy Antunes, 02sep05
  • The Hazards of Non-Combat Gaming by Sandy Antunes, 05aug05
  • Just-in-Time Pre-order Hell by Sandy Antunes, 01jul05
  • Cassandra's Industry Report by Sandy Antunes, 03jun05
  • Fiction or Non-Fiction by Sandy Antunes, 05may05
  • I am not a Storyteller by Sandy Antunes, 08apr05
  • A Better Job by Sandy Antunes, 01apr05
  • Advice For Working Writers by Sandy Antunes, 04mar05
  • Startup Fever by Sandy Antunes, 04feb05
  • Why Blogging is Lame by Sandy Antunes, 07jan05
  • Being a Pro Writer by Sandy Antunes, 10dec04
  • Viral Marketing Invitational by Sandy Antunes, 05nov04
  • The 24 Hour RPG Challenge by Sandy Antunes, 08oct04
  • A Decade of Distilled Advice by Sandy Antunes, 03sep04
  • Go Ahead, Hit Me! by Sandy Antunes, 06aug04
  • Promoting Yourself by Sandy Antunes, 09jul04
  • 10 Hurdles to Selling Your Game by Sandy Antunes, 11jun04
  • Let's Team Up! by Sandy Antunes, 07may04
  • Beyond Role and Pla(t)y(pus) by Sandy Antunes, 08apr04
  • Slow Improv and the Post-Kilgallon by Sandy Antunes, 05mar04
  • Paradox Redux by Sandy Antunes, 06feb04
  • Mad Scientists and the Kilgallon Paradox by Sandy Antunes, 09jan04
  • It's Not Your World, It's Mine by Sandy Antunes, 05dec03
  • Murphy's Law for Adventure Writers by Sandy Antunes, 07nov03
  • Eigentesting by Sandy Antunes, 09oct03
  • Atomic by Sandy Antunes, 05sep03
  • Is Writing a Commodity? by Sandy Antunes, 06aug03
  • Designing Amidst the Tides of Gaming History by Sandy Antunes, 08jul03
  • Buy This Book by Sandy Antunes, 05jun03
  • Hobbies by Sandy Antunes, 08may03
  • The Websites That Wouldn't Die by Sandy Antunes, 10apr03
  • The Path to Atrocities by Sandy Antunes, 06mar03
  • Cattle Mutilation: The Game Design by Sandy Antunes, 06feb03
  • Gaming With Children by Sandy Antunes, 09jan03
  • How To Be An Industry Poser, Part 1 by Sandy Antunes, 05dec02
  • all i game with, i learned from kids books by Sandy Antunes, 19nov02
  • TCG: The Total Cost of Gaming by Sandy Antunes, 10oct02
  • Game Publishing & The Law by Sandy Antunes, 06sep02
  • Standing on the Shoulders of Giants by Sandy Antunes, 01aug02
  • Buying Time by Sandy Antunes, 04jul02
  • April 10, 2002 13 New FAQs
  • March 1, 2002 Give Me A Closet
  • January 2, 2002 Let's Go Shopping?!?
  • December 13, 2001 Conflict, Ethics, Winning, and Money
  • November 13, 2001 Secret RPGnet Operations Document Leaked!
  • October 16, 2001 Leadership and D&D
  • September 4, 2001 Leading Industry Site Reports Secret: Sex Sells!
  • August 7, 2001 Any, Anyone Can Be an Internet Success-- Why Aren't You?
  • July 3, 2001 Fine Print, Part U
  • June 5, 2001 Fine Print, Part I
  • May 8, 2001 Pushing Limits
  • May 4, 2001 RPGnet State of the Union special feature
  • April 6, 2001 The Other Magic: Niche Hobbies and Other Markets
  • May 9, 2000 Running a Business as an Old Style D&D Party
  • April 14, 2000 First to Market
  • March 20, 2000 Labor Pains
  • February 15, 2000 One Trick Pony
  • January 6, 2000 Creativity is Bad, Hard to Sell, and Great for Business
  • December 14, 1999 Oranges versus Bananas: Entertainment Costs
  • November 2, 1999 Why Editors Lie
  • October 5, 1999 How to publish a quality game, accept criticism gracefully, and lead a happy life: Pick Any Two
  • September 7, 1999 It Takes a Village (to publish an RPG)
  • August 3, 1999 All Gamer Money Isn't Equal
  • July 6, 1999 Tides of Cash Flow
  • June 1, 1999 Ad-itudes
  • May 4, 1999 Who, What, Give me a Guiness
  • April 6, 1999 The GAMA Trade Show '99
  • March 2, 1999 Roleplaying would have saved Millions
  • February 2, 1999 Games That Won't Suck
  • January 5, 1999 Dangerous Games
  • December 1, 1998 Making Gamers the Old Fashioned Way
  • November 3, 1998 The $1K Company
  • October 1, 1998 So You Want to Start Your Own Company...
  • September 1, 1998 Holy Grails and Marching Morons
  • August 4, 1998 Gamers Must Die!
  • July 7, 1998 Profit versus Prophet
  • June 2, 1998 Acquire! Acquire!
  • May 5, 1998 Power
  • April 21, 1998 The GAMA Trade Show Report, Part 2 (eventually)
  • April 7, 1998 Schroedinger Games, or, the GAMA Report
  • March 3, 1998 Culling the Herd
  • February 3, 1998 Horatio Hornblower's RPG Company
  • January 6, 1998 Double Feature (Us and Them/A Clash of Images)
  • December 2, 1997 "How to Scam Games for Free"
  • November 4, 1997 "Women in Gaming?"
  • October 2, 1997 "Fear of a Gaming Planet" (Welcome to the RPG ghetto?)
  • September 2, 1997 "Rush" (fame and adoration in lieu of pay)
  • August 2, 1997 "For the Money" (convention mating rituals)
  • July 2, 1997 "Good Deeds" (the dearth of evil game companies)
  • June 2, 1997 "Dirty Laundry" (copyright and slander on the net)
  • May 2, 1997 "Communications Breakdown" (company and player schisms)
  • April 2, 1997 "The Quick and the Dead" (dying companies versus new ideas)
  • March 2, 1997 "It's All in the Timing" (on hype and late deliveries, and on genres)
  • February 2, 1997 "Insiders and Outsiders" (who's who and who uses the web)
  • January 2, 1997 "Fits and Starts" (web presences, print runs, live roleplaying)
  • December 2, 1996 "Procastination Season is Over" (delays and new products)
  • November 1, 1996 "Best of Times, Worst of Times" (on rumors, survival, and larps)
  • October 1, 1996 "Post-Con fallout and not that many new games"
  • September 1, 1996 "Our launch, news from GenCon, demos, new LARPS"
  • Our reason for existence

    Other columns at RPGnet

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