Building and Publishing a RPG series in France (2013)
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!
Image : Titanic de Jo Lienhoop
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)