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Where's the Indie Game Success Story?

I just posted something over on my blog about marketing and Indie games, to the effect of I think indie game makers need to learn more about marketing.

It raises a good question: are indie games ready to make a mainstream breakthrough? Greg Stolze says that four cents a word ain't bad for a game writer. If you're publishing and indie game, does your ambition have to be a rather meager break even? If not, then what are indie game makers doing wrong?

Edit OK, as John points out, there are plenty of Indie game success stories. Nevertheless, I think there's a huge potential out there for greater success.

EVERY indie game publisher I know is making a profit. Significant, rent paying profits are common.

Being noticed by the "mainstream" of the hobby is not the same thing as success, either critically or financially. The mainstream RPG publishing market, taken as a whole, generates less revenue than ONE of Parker Bros. games in a year. That's hardly a cash avalanche that anyone should be clamoring to enter.

Your comment about "break even" is way, way off base. Sorcerer, Trollbabe, Donjon, Dust Devils, Primetime Adventures, Dogs in the Vineyard, The Shadow of Yesterday, Universalis -- all of them are far into the black and continue to sell with no end in sight.

What "meager break even" cases are you talking about? I haven't heard of any. I don't see "indie game makers doing wrong" at all. I see a lot of very small publishers avoiding the distributor/game-store model and making handsome profits as a result.

You know more about how people are doing in the indie game market than I do, so I'll defer to your judgement that people are doing OK.

I'm not hating on the rent-paying indie gamers, but in my perpetually dissatisifed heart, I know that there's a breakthrough game out there.

Maybe Trollbabe and Universalis are doing as well as "D20 du jour"; maybe better. Maybe they have more staying power. My point is that they should be doing WAY better.

I'm convinced that the potential players for these games aren't a sub-set of RPGers, they're a larger set.

This is what I want to hear:

"D20, what's that?"

"It's kind a like Trollbabe, but with may more rules."

On that, we are of one mind. I think PTA is the best candidate for "breakout" game right now -- as in reaching beyond our tiny little geek hobby and into the much larger world of people who like to play Taboo at a party.

But trying to legitimize Trollbabe (financially, anyway) by selling to the D&Ders? Total waste of time, in my opinion.

(John) EVERY indie game publisher I know is making a profit. Significant, rent paying profits are common.

You both know a lot more about this subject than I do, so don't take this as a challenge -- but is this data available somewhere? I'd love to see how different indie games are doing.

I saw Vincent's recent post on anyway. about the sales of DitV, with the graph -- but what about, say Burning Wheel? My FLGS in Michigan and my FLGS here in Utah both sold the BW books. I've never seen another indie game in either of them, although I could certainly have missed.

Game stores are not the outlet for most of these sales. Not by a long shot.

Matt Wilson has posted his sales data for the first few months of PTA sales (for the first printing, which is now sold out). It's here:

http://dog-eared-designs.com/sales.html

I know that other indie publishers have posted their figures, too. The really important thing is that these people are turning a profit almost immediately. Within like, 30 days of printing. Which is unheard of in the mainstream distributor/retail model.

(John) The really important thing is that these people are turning a profit almost immediately.

Is this a profit solely based on costs vs. revenue -- i.e., Matt spent X to make PTA, and has made X+Y on it? Or is it a profit after factoring in the time it took to make the game, playtest it, etc.?

Dogs in the Vineyard has paid me over 20 cents a word. That's after all my expenses - 20+ cents a word profit, straight into my pocket, and obviously more to come.

I expect that there'll be breakout games in the future, but the present is pretty good. It's not as good as writing for the New Yorker, but it's credible.

Any links to other data?

I know that John Nephew gave some details on an Ars Magica module in Game Pricing: A Detailed Example a few years ago (a small Ars Magica module).

There's also the previously pointed out recent postings of DitV: a Year's Sales and Primetime Adventures Sales Data.

But I'm hoping someone knows about other postings of sales data.

The data for My Life with Master is here:
http://www.halfmeme.com/

Anvilwerks (Clinton's various games) data here:
http://www.anvilwerks.com/2005q1/

The Universalis numbers (quantity only, no revenue info):
http://ramshead.indie-rpgs.com/Sales%20Data.htm

And Dogs in the Vineyard:
http://www.lumpley.com/comment.php?entry=78
(btw, he's sold out now. 500 books total, I believe)

Not to play devil's advocate, but looking at the numbers that have been supplied (thanks everyone- that was very illuminating), well, maybe the word meager goes too far, but it is not crazy to call the profits minimal.
To wildly ballpark some of the figures, if Vincent makes $10 off each copy DitV, which he doesn't- and sells 500 copies, he's made $5000 dollars. Nice to be paid for your hobby, but as much work as you put into it, no one is living off of 5K a year.
So I guess my point would me that while Indie game publishing is (happily) not an economic black hole, it is by no means a "day job", it's not a self sustaining career. And I think many of the people here, and Tony's original post, point to the idea that we'd all like it to be. But perhaps that topic deserves a post of its own.

Different part of same topic, I tried to find a copy of Trollbabe and Dogs and my local gaming store and came up empty, but did manage to purchase a copy of Sorceror. I'll have to go back for the supplements later.

Yes, you're right, Doug. It's not a day job. Not by a long shot. There are very few "game designers" in our hobby that can claim a day job, however. And those people generally do not own the products they create. The large corporate entity that they work for does.

But "profit" does matter. Vincent *makes money* by thinking about games, playing them with his friends, and then writing down instructions so you can do it too. I think this is so incredibly cool.

We should not discount this fact just because the figures are not a year's salary.

How much money have *I* made in the last year by thinking about games and writing stuff down? Zero.

I make a lot more than $10 per copy. I make $14 per. Dude, $7000 in my bank account in the past 11 months. That's not a day job, no, but it's real money.

It's not going to be too many more years before one of us indie RPG folks DOES quit our day job. It won't be me, it'll be someone without kids to support, but it'll happen.

Sorry for the error, Vincent- I thought I saw somewhere in the data that you were only making $6-$7 on printed copies after costs, and presumed you were making more like $14 on the PDF's, and averaged them together. I agree 7K is real money, and I do think that it's great that its done well for you, just too bad it can't be a "day job"

It's just, you know, where's part of that $1 billion I keep hearing about the computer game industry making?

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