Feb 242012

Occasionally someone drops by my inbox and asks how to start being an RPG publisher.

Assuming they’re already working on a game, I’m usually tempted to say, “Congratulations, you have,” and leave it there. 🙂

But to dig in just a little, I have some short, sweet, and super brief answers to the usual questions lurking in my brain, and the latest such inquiry to cross my door did me the great courtesy of asking nearly all of the usual questions. So here is my not very detailed, super opinionated FAQ. Call it a quick dash of Dear Deadly, if you like.

How do I start?

Small. Do stuff for free. Get it on a blog. Playtest it. Get others to playtest it without you in the room. Hook into design communities where you can, on forums (story-games, the forge, RPG.net) and social media. Go to your local regional conventions, and run slots of your game there. If you can make it to New Jersey in November, above all, bring your design to Metatopia for some tough, needed love from experts.

Where do I start?

See above.

How do I publish?

See above. But also consider platforms like Lulu and DriveThruRPG. Invest very little up front; until you’ve proven yourself, and importantly, until you’ve found an audience willing to buy your point of view, it’s not worth losing a ton of money.

Do I need to start up a company first?

You could, but it’s not a requirement.

Where can I advertise my RPG?

Ads are an iffy bet. You’ll do better to build strong word of mouth buzz through actual play experiences. That involves going to lots of conventions, or getting fans who’ll do it for you.

Should I go to cons and run games of it to entice people?


Expect it to take years.

And be ready to hate your game at some point — all designers go through it, me included. Push past it. Step away from it. Work on another thing. Come back around and rediscover what was good about it. Use the distance to get clarity on what’s broken, and fix it.

Communicate with your public at every possible turn. Do not shie away from it. Let them see behind the curtain. You do not have secret private information that must be kept in the dark. Folks will appreciate the trust.


  8 Responses to “How do I start?”

  1. In terms of getting your name out there, the RPG Podcast Listener Survey correlates some dollars to influence of the podcasters’ shows.

    Full results are here:


    Though, the last page has to deal with recommendations/dollars.

  2. Man, I hear you on the hating your game. I go through a lot of that.

    I hate it like a friend who’s deliberately getting in the way and being full of non-communicative bullshit. But I have to remember that it’s not a full-grown adult, it’s a baby who can only communicate with me by gurgling or crying, and it’s up to me to put that into words.

    Arcadia’s been through a lot of shapes, some really profoundly broken (by which I mean, “not doing what they’re supposed to, and while we’re at it, not fun, either”) like the one I brought to Metatopia, some workable but not the game I want. It’s an interesting dialogue.

  3. All of the above advice is exactly how I got to the point of having School Daze as a funded Kickstarter (see here: 
    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/170831994/school-daze). I’ve gotten a lot of the same advice from Fred both directly and tangentially since I got to hang with him at Pax East last year. I started puttin gmy stuff up on my website (www.sandandsteam.net), and when I got the idea for School Daze, I ran with it.

    I will say that I’m more than a little of en edge case. I got lucky enough to meet a lot of awesome people in the game industry, and I’ve worked to get as much information on how to not screw this up as I can. I used the following I had built on Twitter to drive my Kickstarter forward, and I’m seeing success.

    The biggest thing that I can reiterate is to not expect it to happen overnight. I went to my first convention two years ago, thinking that game designers would just recognize my brilliance as I interviewed them for the blog I represented, but that did not happen. As soon as I relaxed away from that, got some discipline, and really put work into my design, that is when I started seeing results. People can tell when you’re serious about you work, and when you’re not.

    Just keep going. Talk to people, get advice. Twitter is my best friend when it comes to those two things. In fact, I design right out in the open on Twitter. The hive-mind is a great thing. I’m rambling now, so I’ll leave it with this:

    Listen to Fred. He’s right way the hell more often than he’s wrong.

    • Tracy, that’s not an edge case, that’s good research and recognition of opportunity.

    • I can accept that. =) I’m thrilled with how things have been going, and I wish the same research and recognition of opportunity on anyone who is trying this. Knowing when to jump can make all the difference.

    • Gotta echo Fred here. You don’t get lucky meeting people. That’s making your own luck. You did that and now you’re reaping the rewards.

      If I were getting into games as a designer (which I don’t think is my thing, really), that’s what I’d do – meet a lot of awesome people. And, given the community, it’s not that hard. You just have to have the guts to say, “Hey, I’m me, this is what I want to do” and listen and talk. Listen and talk to the right people enough, get their good stuff and work it into your style and you can’t go wrong. But you know that, obviously.

  4. […] —Fred Hicks, How do I start? […]

  5. As an up and coming Game Developer/Lunatic I find that last statement very… very freeing. Things were getting very tight in the cloak and shadows department and it felt like revealing the whole meant relinquishing EVERYTHING I have been thinking about… working on…. and obsessing over which includes any potentiality for reinvestment into the other aspects of What I Am Doing.

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