I have a friend who decided to start a small press (Small Tomatoes Press) to print her books and a few others authors’ works. She reads this blog, and she asked me for advice on how to make it successful. Mind you, this was after she set up her business, ran to a high-cost POD distributor, and set up her Amazon, blog, and all those wonderful things that people call “marketing.”
I like her. I wanted to help her. I want her to be successful. If she’d asked me a month or two before that, I might have been able to help her. If I’d had a hand in catalyzing the business concept before it was all set in stone, maybe, just maybe, I might have had some miracle to increase her sales. However, the sad, cold reality is that her ship was scuttled as soon as she launched it.
Self-publishing in any industry (including tabletop games) is just a thin green line from vanity publishing. If you publish, they will not come. The real mistake here, however, is not the type of publishing venture she entered; it’s that she dived into it with very little research or consulting. She had it all set up before she even called me.
She’s not alone; actual, real companies do this all the time. Mongoose Games spent tens of thousands of dollars on a POD setup, only to realize it didn’t work. In the process of trying to fix it themselves, the managed to break it so that an actual expert couldn’t fix it without spending a lot more money*. Wizards of the Coast pushed hundreds of thousands of dollars into a virtual tabletop for Fourth Edition that never materialized (I still love the ad in the back of my original printing PHB). As I write this, Paizo is sinking time and energy into a Pathfinder MMO that reeks of vaporware.
It’s one of the largest mistakes you can make in business, and even the wisest aren’t immune; if Lisa Fucking Stevens can be convinced, anyone can.
So let’s be clear: don’t doom yourself. Don’t dive in. Do the research, do the work, and do it right. Stop writing your game; start planning your business.
*I would link a source, but they have apparently taken down that State of the Mongoose. So much for their whole “transparency” bit.