Building and Publishing a RPG series in France (2013)
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So we're back in 2013… After a year with no release in France, one might wonder: how had the Titanic not sunk yet? The answer is: Kickstarter!
Crowdfunding: Becoming a Businessman or Giving UpKickstarter opened the possibility of professionalizing our adventure. This was starting to become an obsession of mine as the whole team kept giving their all… How long could we keep on working in the evening and on weekends? Even though it was a major preoccupation, it only brushed our minds and was swept away by the intense excitement we felt at that time. The first successes in the USA were overwhelming, and we were psyched!
I very quickly realized that these successes went hand in hand with heavy work: preparing several hundreds of parcels certainly brought us back to Earth! At the beginning of 2013, the situation was thus: the amount of editorial work had soared in the course of several months– logistic matters, production monitoring, account management, email answers, etc. Valentin, our editor, has always taken part in the adventure in addition to his work in movies. It was becoming obvious to him that he could no longer take care this huge amount of work by himself. Therefore, I started contributing. His pragmatism combined with my determination made it possible for us to make it through this brutal change in our activity.
I will have to talk more in detail about the crowdfunding experience and what it implies–especially when it is successful. The managers of the project must keep in mind that when they start such an adventure, they are not just developers or creators, but must also become efficient businessmen as well.
Here we go back to the Titanic metaphor: we felt lost in deep sea, sailing through the reefs, watching other ships sink in the horizon as a wrong choice led them to a ghastly end... just like that project launched several months before we did Book 1 – Universe on Kickstarter–gulp. This is no secret: many crowdfunding projects do not make it.
Staying the CourseOver the months, a complex equation arose: the activity was growing strongly–and so was the work!–but the company still couldn't take off–which would mainly imply being able to pay wages so that the members can focus more on the project and absorb the work. It was certainly a lot of sudden pressure. There is a big difference between being in charge of an associative project on one’s own and managing sales amounting to tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of backers eager to receive what they have pledged for. Managing all that in addition to a job can quickly become exhausting (euphemism).
However, I offered my crew to stay the course. We had worked so much, and it now seemed to us that we were inches from our dream. We had to keep it up! So in March 2013, we launched another fundraising campaign–this time in France–for Book 3 – Dearg.
The Adventure of Book 3 – DeargThere had been no release in 2012, but we had still been hard at work. The big campaign for Shadows of Esteren was in progress even as we had started writing other books–one of them is the Thema about occultism that you will soon be hearing about… Most of the texts for Dearg were already ready, and it seemed realistic to me to announce a release date for December 2013, that is to say eight months later. I thought that we would have more than enough time to complete and send the books. I did not know that I was way off (another euphemism).
When we launched our fundraising campaign on Ulule for Book 3 – Dearg, we did not know what to expect: crowdfunding remained little known in France, and the record at the time was held by Les Ludopathes for the translation of Ars Magica, a big US license. At the end of 2012, it had raised just over € 25,000.
I would have considered reaching as much money as a considerable achievement, all the more so since the funding was for a campaign book; not a license or a core rulebook. Once more, I was wrong, as it raised more than € 60,000 and made possible the production of a project that seemed a far-off dream: a symphonic recording of the Dearg soundtrack with the Hungarian Radio Symphonic Orchestra, conducted by a Frenchman! Even I had not seen it coming, that's saying something! The icing on the cake was that the success was so spectacular that we were also able to finance a classical concert of this soundtrack. It was a historic first for an RPG, and a memorable moment in Lyon's Grand Temple. This magical event that gathered more than 500 people and that we will remember for a very long time!
Crowning AchievementAfter this new success that surpassed the scores of Book 1 and Book 0 in the USA, months went by. Completing Dearg, of which I am the main author, turned out to be more complicated than expected. The playtests and the community’s intense feedback added a new dimension to the necessary work to finish some parts of the book. Summer came, and it was time to launch a new Kickstarter campaign, this time for Book 2 – Travels. At the request of the community, the French version of the book was launched on Ulule at the same time. All this at a time when the Esteren Tour was in full swing with several dates abroad and when the core rulebook had been nominated three times for the prestigious ENnie Awards, Indianapolis's ultimate RPG award. No need to say that these months were a time of frenzied activity... but still in a semi-professional context: still after work, in the evening…
The success of Book 2 – Travels went beyond our wildest expectations. It outranked Book 0 and Book 1, and we actually made more than with the first two campaigns put together (!!!). $130,000 for a supplement, what a doozie! Today still, Travels is in the top 50 RPG projects on Kickstarter. What’s more, the Ulule campaign was also a success, which made it possible to finance a new print run of this long sold-out book. Around that time, we went back to the USA for GenCon, where we experienced our crowning achievement: Shadows of Esteren won three ENnies: two Golds for Best Art and Best Production Values, and one Silver for Product of the Year. It was the very first time that a French role-playing game had won. We were like in a waking dream. The ENnie ceremony that took place remains a magic memory. Seeing my longtime friend Gawain, who had been illustrating the series since 2006, reach the podium was a very intense moment. So was it for Valentin, who had been working with us since then, or for Clovis who accomplished a remarkable translation work.
You had been WarnedCrowned with these new successes, we came back to France, and quickly had to come to terms with this reality: Book 3 – Dearg would not be ready for December 2013. The project was well under way, but there was still much to do, especially with the addition of bonuses that had been financed during the fundraising campaign and that came on top of the initial content of Dearg.
I admit I could have anticipated it. Yet, such is often the case: you only realize the full extent of difficulties when you face them. Although this setback did not compromise the project, its consequences were still difficult to measure. It also showed us the complexity of the project we wanted to make sustainable: an isolated success was a good thing, but repeating it was another story.
What’s Next?We were going toward the end of the year 2013, and new releases came in France: the Game Leader Kit–with a brand new screen–in spring, and episodes 1 and 2 of the Dearg campaign. When I look back, with such an eventful year and the context of the creation of the books–which were still homemade–it was already something! Of course, we wish we could have done more and sent Dearg on schedule. This misadventure would start in-depth discussions within the team, and even change the way we work.
It was already time to think of the upcoming year. The professionalization project was getting clearer. 2014 could be a crucial year and we were exhausted, but more motivated than ever!
Part 1 (2010-2011)
Part 2 (2012)
Part 4 (2014)
Part 5 (fifth and last part)
Building and Publishing a RPG series in France (2012)
1:37 AM Esteren 0 Comments
This is the second part of my article about the development of the Shadows of Esteren series. I will carry my review on with the year 2012. In January 2012, the series consisted of four publications in France (and none in english): Book 0 – Prologue, Book 1 – Universe, Book 2 – Travels and the Game Leader screen, and finally The Monastery of Tuath with Delphine Bois's music album, Of Men and Obscurities.
The Tour de ForceFor me, releasing four books in two years was a tour de force. When I look back, I am proud of the whole team that busted their chops to reach this point. I'm not so much proud of the book themselves–creative people are generally merciless towards their own creations–as of the conditions we produced them in: mostly in the evening after work, very early in the morning, or even during the night–in short, on our free time, year after year.
Most of our readers associate the beginning of the project with the release of Book 1 – Universe in September 2010 in Paris. The project actually started in 2006 with the Forgesonges collective. In 2012, me and some others had already spent six years working on the Esteren universe. This difficult context was marked by the departure of some of the team's members due to changes in their personal or professional lives or to evolutions in their creative aspirations. After several years of faithful service, who can blame them? I even considered pulling the plug on several occasions. At the beginning of the year 2012, we couldn't deny it (violins): in spite of the remarkable book sales in stores, our hope of making a living from our work was definitely gone.
Making a living from RPG is impossible in FranceThis was what we realized. In truth, it wasn't really a problem or a surprise for us. Of course, none of us got into the project with the main ambition of becoming a professional and making a living from the game. Esteren had arisen from the determination of an association, but deep down, we believed in taking it to the next level. When, during six years, you spend most of your free time creating books, it inevitably puts in your mind questions about priority, availability, etc. Of course, royalties bring in a little, but compared to the time spent and the number of authors, it's not that much, and it's still very far from the minimum wage (what we call “SMIC” in France, around 1000€/month). The money we earned was mainly used to finance the next books and bear the costs of the famous Esteren Tour.
Live and Let dieYou may be moved by what you are reading, but wipe your tears! For the past years, we've had exceptional experiences. First, we were able to see the culmination of a project we had been working on for several years, which is a simply indescribable feeling. Another milestone is the tour we started in 2010, and which is still going strong with more than 140 dates. Weekends spent at conventions, signing books, building castles in the sky, and still dreaming about making a living from our work–yep, we're not giving up on that! In 2009, I met a young illustrator at the Paris Games Festival Monde du Jeu, and a few years later, I was a witness at his wedding. Esteren has become one big family, a group of buddies, which even includes some community members. We sure had magic moments... All this became true thanks to the Esteren Tour. In hindsight, I think the tour brought us closer and encouraged us to carry on. Seeing sparks in people’s eyes, leading game sessions until we lost our voice, spending our weekends traveling across France, etc… we will forever remember these moments fondly. Traveling and meeting our fans became a reward in itself.
What Next?The overall result was rather positive. We could not make a living from the game, but we sure had fun! However, another problem quickly emerged: we had nothing else to release at the moment. The Book of Secrets, still in the works, was going to require even more elbow grease than the core rulebook. So would the whole Dearg campaign. Some will remember my demos featuring ravens even before Book 1 was released in 2010… this scenario should be published in 2015.The first four publications of the series were based on contents that had been brought to various stages of completion over the first six years of the project’s life. And we lacked new contents.We clearly had one foot in the grave. Without a new release, the editor’s income would decrease and it would be difficult to finance the continuation of the project, including the Esteren Tour.
A New Hope from GermanyI could already feel that our adventure was risky, but as I wrote this review, I realize how full of obstacles and twists–sometimes unexpected ones–our path was. One of the major turning points of the Esteren adventure took place on March, 28th 2012 when I received the following email from a German correspondent, Ingo (wow, I even dug up his email in my box, which is undoubtedly mythic in the history of the series):
Do you see what I am getting at? In fact, my dreams of grandeur had precisely led me to start the translation of Book 1 – Universe at a time when it had not been released in French yet. For the anecdote, I was doing many playtesting sessions at that time, and I met Clovis during one of them: he was one of our many playtesters. We chatted a bit, and he told me he was doing English studies. I then seized the opportunity and directly asked him if he wanted to translate our book (which, let me remind you, was not even released yet). Either I was very convincing, or Clovis was actually as crazy as I was. Fast-forward three years later, to the day of Ingo's email. At that time, the translation of Book 1 was nearly finished. We had no idea of how we would publish it. But Clovis had been working on the translation of the whole book for two years, and had been managing the copy-editing (done by native English-speaking volunteers) for one more year. Following Ingo’s email, I quickly felt the potential of Kickstarter, and we launched one in June or July in the same year, with a goal of $3,000 for a short-run printing. And one month later, bang, $55,000.In just one month, almost twice as much as the sales of Book 1 – Universe in one year in France. And things went on from there. One month later, we were at GenCon in Indianapolis for an exceptional Esteren Tour date. Being there, in the temple of RPG, was simply unreal. Two months earlier, we were concerned about the next release in France, which seemed to be indefinitely delayed, and our expectations for the Kickstarter were rather limited... Four months later, after sending the books to the backers, we were at it again with another Kickstarter for Book 0 – Prologue. Re-bang: $65,000; more money for an 80-page book (which, by the way, we made freely downloadable) than for the core rulebook.
We were in December, still dazed by the success of the American version, but with no additional release in France.
This was a strange year that changed our future prospects. Very quickly, the embers of our cherished dream burned anew. Could making a living from RPG in France actually be a reality?
What could we expect from 2013?
Read more about it in the next article!
Part 1 (2010-2011)
Part 3 (2013)
Part 4 (2014)
Part 5 (fifth and last part)
Shadows of Esteren at Dragonmeet!
We will be at Dragonmeet in London this december Saturday 6th! We can't wait!
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You can find more information about this mythic game convention here: http://www.dragonmeet.co.uk/
Volunteer ?Your help on the booth would be so much appreciated! If you want to become a volunteers and help us on the booth, please let a comment or contact us.
Building and Publishing a RPG series in France (2010-2011)
One of my responsibilities is to build the Shadows of Esteren series by defining the contents of the books that will be published. I carry out this task in concertation with Valentin of Agate RPG, our french editor. For several months, Iris-one of our authors-has been involved in these exchanges as well. To give a better picture of the role of each of the three of us, and if we compare Esteren to a movie, I am the director, Valentin is the producer, and Iris is my first assistant.
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During RPG conventions in France (and sometimes abroad), I often talk about these aspects with members of the community. Also each year, we discuss the releases for the upcoming year. This article is intended to be a glimpse at the life of the series to be shared with everyone who follows us on the web. Before taking stock of the ongoing projects, I think it interesting to come back to the start of the series, between 2010 and today.
Image : Florent Darrault
2010: Associative BeginningsDuring the first years, Esteren was a solely associative project. Created by the Forgesonges collective, the project's main aim was the creation of a complete book, especially in France where the market is small. We already had the idea of cross-media and many other things–like any self-respecting association–but a first publication was a great challenge in itself. This major step was taken in September 2010 with the release of Book 1 – Universe–Shadows of Esteren's core rulebook–during the 2010 Paris Games Festival, Monde du Jeu. We already had more in mind at the time, in particular the famous Book of Secrets, but we lacked a clear picture of the series’ future. Agate RPG had gotten into debt to publish the first book and everything depended on how successful it would be
Adapting to SuccessIt was indeed successful. Just see for yourself: the 2000 copies of Book 1 were sold in less than one year and the book remained out of stock for months. For France, it's a big success. The biggest success (Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu) exceed the 5000 sales, but they are very few.The vast majority of books sell 1,000 copies or less. This first release in 2010 was also our first contact with the challenges of the publication of a role-playing game in France. Professionals (distributors and retailers) strongly urged us to work on a new release right after Book 1 to keep the initial momentum. The Book of Secrets was well on the way, but far from being finished, and the series needed a key supplement: a Game Master screen. That is how Book 2 – Travels was created, along with game material for Leaders, including a small bestiary requested by the growing community, a large map, and said gaming screen. The year 2010 ended with the publication of Book 2, which also met immediate success.
2011: The Evolution of the ProjectIn retrospect, I think we did not really consider the future of the series beyond the release of Book 1. From the beginning, I had great ambitions for our project, but let us be honest: they were disconnected from the reality of the market, production times, etc. In my defense, although I had taken part in many projects, Esteren was the first I fully managed.
In 2011, the first conclusion was that we had clearly underestimated the necessary work to complete the Book of Secrets. I think that any collective willing to get into a publishing project should take time constraints very seriously. Taking into account our attention to detail, publishing such a massive book would have taken several years of full-time work. After all, Book 1 required 4 years of development. Even though a good chunk of Secrets was done, it was obvious there remained a lot to be done to reach a finished book with the same quality standards as those of Book 1.
Add to this the fact that the team mostly work on Esteren during their free time, and you see how complicated it gets. Depriving the emerging series of publications for several years would mean its end. So what could we do?
2011 turned out to coincide with the culmination of a project that had been in gestation since 2008: the first music album in the universe of the Shadows, entirely composed and played by Delphine Bois. And I had a scenario in the works: Vengeful Words, a tribute to The Name of the Rose by Ecco. The supplement, named The Monastery of Tuath, was born and with it the principle of themas: a short book exploring a theme in Shadows of Esteren, and sold with cross media content.
The end of the year 2011 was marked by the release in France of Book 0 – Prologue. One of its scenarios–Loch Varn–had been pre-published in a French RPG magazine, “Jeu de Rôle Magazine”. For the anecdote, I had first envisioned Book 0 – Prologue to be the first publication of the series along with a point’n’click video game (reminds you of something)? The development of the video game started in 2009 (take a look at this archive from 2009; but sorry only in French), one year before Book 1 was released, and it is still not finished yet... Anyway, Book 0 – Prologue was released by itself at the end of 2011, at a very cheap price. The aim was to promote our universe. It proved to be another success, and the 2000 copies of The Monastery of Tuath and Book 0 were sold through 2012. Again, I want to thank our editor who gave us the green light to make Book 0 freely downloadable and to put a selling price below €10 on the book (later, it was also released for free in its english version, check this). The development of Shadows of Esteren has benefited a lot from this.
InterludeThe way I see it, there is a clear break between the first two years of the project and what happened next, from 2012.
In hindsight, I can see how things have come together in a way that was difficult to predict. What followed, starting from summer 2012, was much more unexpected: the unpredicted success of the American version, a symphonic concert, and even a meeting with a Hollywood producer to consider an adaptation of Shadows of Esteren… I can easily understand why some people scratch their heads at the strange development of the Shadows series. I am surprised myself by our progression and the scale the project has taken–much from its success than through its place in our lives. This extraordinary adventure reflects the evolution of a project whose organization has long been non-professional and associative. It has now changed so much that professionalization can actually be considered. Still, let me make myself clear: in my opinion, what mainly differentiates amateurs from professionals is that the latter can make a living from their work, as opposed to the former who work during their free time. Today, I would describe Esteren as a semi-amateur project–or a semi-professional one, according to one’s point of view.
In another article, I will go back to the years 2012 and 2013 before talking about what we are planning for the end of 2014. Then it will be time to make plans for the future.
Part 2 (2012)
Part 3 (2013)
Part 4 (2014)
Part 5 (fifth and last part)
Esteren at GenCon 2014 !
We will be there and want to see you!
So come chat about the game and whatnot (booth #1317, blue dot on map below).
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Want to play Shadows of Esteren? Register to one of the 13 demos: http://www.bit.ly/1pvH3BB
See you VERY SOON !!
PS : You may ask yourself: What is this date in Los Angeles? Pretty surreal since we have an appointment with a producer in Hollywood! ... Hard to say what will happen but it is already something awesome: present your RPG to a producer :)
Book 2 Travels nominee at Ennie Awards!
We have the great honor to be nominee for Ennie Awards 2014 in the
"Best Art" category for the Book 2 Travels. In 2013, Esteren won three
Ennies. Have an award for a second consecutive year could be really
amazing and help spread the word about Esteren...!
12:42 AM Esteren 0 Comments
You can help us by voting "1" in the Best Art, Interior" category. The link : http://ennie-awards.com/vote/
Meet Us at UK Game Expo!
This weekend, we will be at UK Game Expo!
7:16 AM Esteren 0 Comments
You can meet us in the Library: the two translator Véronique and Aude-Lise, the illustrator Akae, the sculptor Roberto Chaudon, the author Valentin and Nel, author and coordinator of the series.
More info here: http://www.ukgamesexpo.co.uk/
A character for a Seol Patron
Seol Patron are special backers who give the project more money in order to fund original art. Besides helping an artist to live his art, it brings more deepness to Esteren with new characters.
9:23 AM Esteren 0 Comments
Here is one of them, the "Avenger blacksmith". You can see the different steps:
Thanks Ronald for your great support and make this character exists!
The Kickstarter for the Monastery of Tuath is Live!
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In only three days, the intial goal and severals stretch goals are reached! You can visit the page here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1176616619/shadows-of-esteren-a-medieval-horror-rpg-tuath
A new trailer for Shadows of Esteren
Tomorow, we will launch our new Kickstarter...
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This is why...
This is why we are doing Shadows of Esteren night and day:
3:28 AM Esteren 0 Comments
"Hi - just to note that I got my books, box etc and i have to say the quality is breathtaking. The artwork is some of the best i have ever seen in my all my 30+ years of enjoying the hobby." Keith Robbins
"I received my boxes at the weekend and have to say I am nothing short of impressed by the quality of both the boxes and their contents. Shadows of Esteren is going to take pride of place in my RPG collection, I just hope I can find a group to play it with. " Chris Brind
All of our faithful backers, thanks so much for your continued trust and support ! We put a lot of love in our art and your feedbacks just give us the strenght to do more and better ! THANKS !
You can learn more on the last KS update here : https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1176616619/shadows-of-esteren-a-medieval-horror-rpg-travels/posts/736847
And soon, our new Kickstarter for the Monastery of Tuath ! We can't wait to launch it !
Happy New Year !
10:35 AM Esteren 0 Comments
First, we would like to wish you a very happy year 2014! 2013 was a big year for the Esteren adventure: several Ennies, a smashing symphonic concert in France, great success for the Kickstarter campaigns... We look forward to seeing what 2014 has in store for us!
We would also like to take this opportunity to take stock of the production of the various books and add-ons funded thanks to the last kickstarter:
- Book 2 Travels: Done
- A Life Choice - Game Aids: Done
- Travel Journal: Done
- Esteren Interactive Maps Software : Ongoing... A lot of work has been done on the engine and basic features. A new map is currently being drawn.
- Monastery of Tuath PDF. Ongoing... Translation and proofreading are done. The book is currently being laid out. Would some among you be interested in proofreading the layout? We'll send you the current version of the PDF, and it will be up to you to point out any mistake you notice.
- Ghost Stores: Ongoing... All the texts for this supplement have been written. We are currently going through the copy editing phase, and the translation has begun. There is still much to be done, but we are progressing at a good pace!
- Voting for the next Book for Shadows of Esteren: Done! With this threshold, the backers (both from the Kickstarter and the Ulule) got to vote for the next book. In the end, the Peoples book won, with Clans & Families and Magience in tow. The next book will therefore be Book 5 – Peoples!
- Esteren video game BETA access : Ongoing... That's a big one! Our latest step was to design the menu and saving system. There is still some way to go before the BETA, but we are getting there!
- Esteren “Blue Box” Kickstarer Edition: Done! The box has been printed and is now on its way to the backers! If you have been to Gen Con this summer and could not take it with you then, you should get it now.
- Maps of Tri-Kazel: Ongoing... Five large maps for the great cities of Tri-Kazel. Two of them are almost done (Tulg Naomh and Osta-Baille), and the illustrator in charge is getting to the third one (Ard-Amrach, the capital of Gwidre).
- Cave Tiles: To be done. We have not made much progress on them... but we will get to them soon! We are going to make several boards of tiles especially sized for standard figurines (as we have done for the Loch Varn Tiles).
- T-Shirt: Done! These gave us a lot of trouble, but they are now done, and we even have a few extra ones for the backers of Book 0 Prologue (we did not have enough of some sizes)! Every time, the t-shirts have been a big hit... but having them made requires a lot of work. Therefore, we are sorry to announce that we will not do any more of them. There are too few of us to take care of such a production on a regular basis. In the end, we'd rather focus on the books than on t-shirt stocks! So those who have them are now definitely the proud owners of collector's items! The remaining ones we have will be put on sale. More on the subject at a later date.
- Adeliane mini: Ongoing... The figurine has been sculpted, and it is gorgeous. We are now getting busy with the boxes and a few add-ons to be included with it.
There you have it! All in all, things are going pretty well, and the whole team is giving their all! And I can tell you we are working on a wonderful limited edition for the next book: “The Monastery of Tuath.” Several great surprises will be included, which we will be glad to reveal... in due time!
Once more, we wish you all kinds of awesome things for 2014.
See you very soon for the next chapter of our beautiful adventure!
The Shadows Team
You can discover Esteren through the PDF of Book 0 Prologue, freely downloadable here on DriveThruRPG or here on dropbox.
Also, here is a FAQ to get an overview of Shadows of Esteren.
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