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?
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.