Building and Publishing a RPG series in France (2012)
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.
Image : George Smyth
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)