[Toolbox] On the Business of Tabletop RPGs

It's long past time to close some browser tabs. I've managed to collect a pile of links on the business of RPGs, whether sales numbers, potential printing services, or tips for running your tabletop game business. I've filled the ranks with a few older gems and categorized the whole mess.

Most of the posts are geared toward or about Tabletop RPG publishers, so if you're a freelancer like me you can definitely use those articles as market research.

Please pardon the wall of text - this thing took a while to compile. Enjoy, and feel free to share anything you've read that helps you in your RPG-based business.

(Warning, this post got long. Buckle up.)

On Product Sales
Moebius Adventures publishes their sales numbers fairly religiously, and also ties that together with their blog traffic for a comprehensive view inside a small RPG publishing business. The January 2015 Report talks about the holiday slump and focuses on recovering momentum.

Martin Ralya at Engine Publishing worked up the year-end sales numbers and found they sold over 21,000 units between 2010 and 2014. Releasing one solid product per year over the past 5 years seems to be a solid business plan, but it also requires constant promotion. The industry awards don't hurt either.

Evil Hat Productions compiles and publishes their sales numbers quarterly in terms of units, not dollars. Here are their numbers for Q4 2014.

Lumpley Games gave us a look at 10 years of RPG sales as of 2/28/13. The graphs, analysis of the customer's first purchase, and hard numbers are well worth a look.

On Kickstarters
"Catastrophic Success" is a term coined by Fred Hicks at Evil Hat, which very nearly happened with the Fate Core Kickstarter. Fate Core Kickstarter Breakdown To-Date and What We Actually Kickstarted looks at the expenses and rationale behind the effort as of November 2013. Spoiler: $433,365 raised stocked the warehouse and let the publisher break even with zero profit.

Eloy Lasanta is recording a Design Discussion series of videos where he talks about behind the scenes topics for game designers and publishers. His first video in this series covers Running a Successful Kickstarter, and it's well worth the 14 minutes for all the tips he gives based on his own experience.

Chris over at gameswithoutstrings posted an article dedicated to figuring out ways to minimize your shipping costs. It's called Using Amazon Fulfillment to Ship your Kickstarter Product (Part 2), and it walks you through how to price out all the niggly bits of shipping from buying shipping boxes to postage to warehouse costs (which could be as simple as "Where do I put the car now?").

On PDF Sales Platforms
One Bookshelf (the company behind DriveThru RPG) is the 800 pound gorilla in the RPG PDF space. They also have sites focused on cards, comics, fiction, and war games. They also offer all of the official D&D PDFs from Wizards of the Coast.

For game-based online PDF sellers that aren't DriveThru but still do a little marketing in exchange for a cut of your sales, you can sell your stuff through the d20PFSRD Store (email Debra for more details) and the Paizo Store (request a Consignment Agreement).

If you're planning on delivering only ebooks and PDFs and want to sell to people more directly, take a look at PayHip. It's all direct sales, but it's only a flat 5% on top of PayPal fees, and last I heard they handle the EU VAT nightmare for you.

On Print-On-Demand Platforms
One Bookshelf uses Lightning Source as their print-on-demand service for books. There's no reason you couldn't cut out the middleman and use them yourself, but you'll be investing more of your time in setup for a higher margin every time one of your books sells.

Lulu seems like it's the de facto standard for print-on-demand services. It's easy to print and ship a single vanity copy of your book and never make it public, so it's a good way to proof a print product.

If you want a print/PDF service in one package with cheap worldwide shipping, try MagCloud. They specialize in brochures and smaller books, but they can handle up to 384 pages with perfect binding in digest size.

For board/card game printing and prototyping, take a look at The Game Crafter. They also sell blank boards, meeples, boxes, and various game bits.

One Bookshelf also prints playing cards on demand through DriveThru CardsHere's a list of sizes, formats, and costs for playing cards.

On Business Advice
Simon Rogers of Pelgrane Press recently wrote up a fantastic economics article on ENWorld detailing how the publishing process works in terms of dollars and cents. It looks at a fictional product and explores the costs of bringing it to market, the overhead associated with different sales avenues, and flat rate vs. margin payment types for writing.

Fred Hicks of Evil Hat looked at the expenses and methodology of the publishing process in a long post called The Mysterious Costs of Publishing... Revealed! He covers writing, editing, art, layout, printing, shipping, distribution, pricing, advertising, and marketing, so it's a comprehensive look at the whole process. Definitely worth the time to read.

Jeff Russell of Blessing of the Dice Gods published a series of articles about applying traditional business practices to your tabletop RPG business. It's a great read, all 4 articles, and you can find them under the How To Business tag. I'm particularly fond of Part II: Marketing & Pricing.

If you want an ongoing source of business articles, consider backing Adam Jury's Patreon. This 12-year veteran of the RPG industry and co-owner of Posthuman Studios plans on publishing a monthly series of articles about the publishing business, probably starting with the state of OGL publishing, Pathfinder, and d20 and exploring those licenses in today's climate. For $1/month, I'm in.

Food For Thought
Vincent Baker of Lumpley Games compiled a list of RPG business advice he shared on Twitter into a single post entitled #IndieRPGBiz. Good stuff.

Daniel Solis is one of the best graphics and layout people out there right now, and he's a heck of a game designer to boot. His blog is a treasure trove of advice and tips. And now he's organizing classes to teach everyone about how he does what he does. Design Your Own Print-Ready Cards for Table Top Games on Skill Share caught my eye recently, and it's on my "not relevant at the moment but someday soonish" education list.

What's a Freelance RPG Writer Worth? lists the starting per-word rates of several RPG publishers over at ENWorld. It's an interesting read, especially the caveats and gotchas, and it precipitated the publisher's view article by Simon Rogers mentioned earlier. Spoiler: Don't quit your day job.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Excellent roundup. Thanks Jim!

    1. Thanks for reading! A roundup article like this is only useful if it's used, so please read and share!