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Writings > Dragavan's Den (closed) > 8: Choosing A Publishing Format
8: Choosing A Publishing Format
Published by Dragavan on 2007/9/8 (6821 reads)
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Choosing a Format

The State of the State Address

When designing a game (or any kind of product for that matter) you have to take a lot of things into consideration. One of the main things to plan out is the format you are going to deliver the product in. With RPGs this may seem like a no brainer, but things have changed a lot in recent years. Not every game has to be a hardcover or perfect bound book in one of three standard sizes any more.

Thanks to the growth of electronic media and distribution, game designers no longer have to rely on expensive physical print runs of large numbers to get their books out. This also means people are stuck only using the common sizes for the books either, since Print on Demand allows for many new shapes and sizes for relatively small print runs. Online electronic distribution also allows for several non-print based formats to come to the forefront as an option too.

With all these new options comes the problem of choosing the one that is right for your creation, which can be overwhelming. How you write or create your game can be highly dependant on the format you choose, so deciding should be made fairly early in the process or you will have a lot of rewriting and reworking to make it work in the chosen format. This is an issue I am dealing with right now, in fact.

In the modern world of publication and distribution there are far more options to choose from, and many of them are very inexpensive or even free for the game creator to get their products to the market. The following are some of the most common and easily accessible forms of new media distribution.


If you still want to have physical books to put into people's hands, the relatively new format of Print on Demand (POD) makes doing this very easy (and inexpensive for the designer). Rather than having to print thousands of copies at once just to get a price point that makes the books worth selling, POD allows for small print runs (even as small as just one book at a time) at reasonable prices. There are both positives and negatives to using both POD and classic publishing, but for the small game designer POD is usually the best way to go.

Using classic publishing and printing techniques you can get books printed that cost relatively little per book, allowing for huge profits, but it relies to a few things that are hard for small designers to pull off. The first of which is that it has to be a large print run of thousands of books made at once, which can be very costly to do (even if the per book cost is small). Then the books have to be sold before any profits can be made, and a large number of them have to actually be sold before you recoup the money spend on making the print run. If it can be pulled off, this is the way you can make the largest profit.

Print on Demand has introduced a new way of getting books printed and even out in the market, without large up-front costs to the creator/publisher of the books. POD allows books to be created as needed, often even printed just one at a time. Some services (like Lulu.com) have no cost up front, but you have to allow your book to be available through their service for a percentage of the profits. Many of them will also allow your book to be sold through Amazon or even be available to bookstores, but this can add extra costs (possibly even up front ones).

Depending on which POD company you go through there can be some limitations on what sizes, binding types, paper, page count, or other aspects of production. If you look around you can usually find one that can do something at least close to what you are looking to do, unless it's very unusual or difficult. So far finding a POD shop that can do cards, boards, or other non-book type gaming material is not available (at least not that I could find), but it is said that some are coming soon.

Individual profits have the potential to be much larger when classic printing methods are used, but it also requires much more to be done by the creator/publisher up front and to sell the books. POD opens up the market to the smaller publishers and creators, adding smaller print runs and less expense on them.


Using modern electronic production and distribution methods allows games to be published and sold without ever having to deal with a physical book of any kind. This is mainly done through the creation of PDF (or other electronic file formats) that are sold through a number of web stores or even on the creator's own site. Most of these are created to be printed by the purchaser, but non-printable items and extras can also be done this way.

This is often done as a precursor to physical printing or as a cheaper alternative to a printed book, giving the customers a choice in what form they want the book. Some small publishers do nothing but PDF e-books through online stores for their goods, allowing them to keep all their costs and prices down. Customers can then choose to print them out at home or use them on the computer screen.

There are a few major online dealers who sell these PDF games, with the merger of RPG Now and Drive Through RPG creating the largest and most well traveled of them. Steve Jackson games also has their own store that sells more than just their own products, called e23 Games. All of them have web stores that sell downloads of the PDF books and materials for the creators, keeping a percentage of the sales for themselves and passing the rest on the creator directly.

Putting it out through your own site means you get to keep 100% of the sales, but it also requires you to do all the work of setting up the storefront, handling the charges, arranging the downloads, and dealing with any troubles that come to pass. As with anything there are both plusses and minuses to doing it this way. Complete control always means more work.

No matter which method you choose, the marketing and advertising is always left up to the creator/publisher to get the word out. Some of the services offer help in this area, like link exchanges or automatic newsletter distribution, but the actual work always has to be done by you. Since most of them require nothing up front from the creators, these services are a great way to get seen and sell your PDF books online.


Another popular method of publishing a game these days seems to be creating a website that contains the rules and setting information as a series interlinked web pages. Most of these are free, so there isn't a direct profit method connected to them, but some are pay sites or connected to download sites that sell printable versions or extras for use with them.

Formatting games for websites is a completely different animal than for print, especially if made to be highly interactive and filled with reference links. If you try to do a straight print page and convert it to a web page it will look weak and ill formatted, often with incoherent breaks and no interactivity. This is a waste of the format and is often ignored by most users who expect certain standards of web activity.

Unfortunately it's hard to monetize strictly web-based content for gaming, as most people are not willing to pay for access to this kind of information. When it is offered as an additional supplement to some other kind of product (physical of downloadable) the odds of its success is much greater. Even in these cases it is usually a good idea to have a quality free section to show what is truly available within.

If it is given away for free, even as a way to bring people in to see other products actually for purchase, you will have the best odds of gaining a larger following. Unfortunately it will also set a prescient (not only for you, but for all similar products) that your site is not worthy of pay. People will expect to always have access to what you offer for free and you will most likely lose many followers if you ever try to monetize things.


One last thing that is starting to show some promise among gamers and game designers in this new age are podcsts. Most gaming related podcasts are talking about gaming, but recently a number of actual play podcasts (where you hear play sessions of games) and even gamer tools podcasts have started to pop up. These could very easily be a not just a tool but a new way to produce and distribute game material of a completely new kind.

Since these have not really started to become their potential there isn't much I can say about them or what has worked for these areas. It's a completely new ground that you can go out and discover what wonders there are to mine. Think outside the box and create a completely new path in this uncharted land.


In the end it all depends on what you want to do with the game or product, but the format can have some serious affects on what you can do. Give it a lot of thought and make sure you are certain what form you want before you get too deep into your designs and writing of the game or you will have a lot of work ahead of you if you decide to change midstream. Trust me, I know.

When I started work on The Land of Karn it was going to be a standard 8x11" gaming book a few hundred pages long. As I worked on it further the size became an issue, growing well beyond my initial plans. Then I decide to break it into three smaller books, sold together, for ease of use. But this was still going to be done through standard press printing and cost me a pretty penny.

When POD became a real possibility I switched gears on that side, but still planned to do it all as three books. The problem was the cost was going to increase and I would have to sell them separately as well as bundled (due to the way the service I was considering arranged things). But it would end up costing the end customer more because of the three books.

Next I discovered the PDF sales sites and thought I found the perfect way to set them up and sell them in a form that was more what I wanted, but I also knew this could shrink my possible audience for it. I would be able to keep total control over the content and make the books any size I wanted. Plus I could make the price anything I wanted without having to worry about production costs at all. And if people really wanted a print version and were willing to pay that much it could be done fairly easily through a POD shop connected to the service.

Finally I decided to not only create a basic set of book files to sell, but to connect a complete (even more than included in the books) online rule set through my website. It would have to be reformatted and even rewritten in parts to include an interactive interlinked wiki format for ease of use. This would allow me to constantly add to the book, even after they were done and sold as PDFs as well as include all sorts of extras for purchasers of them.

The problem was that I changed formats several times AFTER having been rather far into writing sections of the game. That means I have had to rewrite and reformat it at least twice now. Currently I am working on the interactive wiki version so I have it done before the PDFs go on sale. This means nearly completely rewriting every inch of the game to fit this web based interactive format.

Time consuming, but I think worth it to me in the end... and my gaming group, as they use it make characters and keep up on the rules between games. That also makes them great site testers and hopefully proofreaders. I just wish I would have had this plan from the start, it would have made things so much easier. So you should really do what I didn't and learn from my mistakes.

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