Building and Publishing a RPG series in France (fifth and last part)

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Fifth and last part of my review of the Esteren adventure. You can find the previous articles here: part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.


The Monastery of Tuath

The highlight of the first quarter of 2014 was a new Kickstarter campaign for The Monastery of Tuath. Once more, it was a success with a final result of over $130,000 (!), slightly more than Book 2 – Travels, which previously established the record during the summer of 2013. A huge amount of money for “only” a supplement! Esteren had just reached a new level: since the first Kickstarter of summer 2012, we carried out 6 fundraising campaigns for a total funding of $500,000. For a role-playing game, half a million dollars is a considerable amount of money, and today still, the Esteren series holds the financing record for a French creation. As we will see later, such scores have a certain impact on logistics…

This new result allowed us to finance our first board game. We have also been able to release several resin miniatures made by the highly talented Roberto Chaudon. It was an immense pleasure and an honor to see our favorite characters sculpted by one of the greatest miniature artists!

From Reality to Production Monitoring

I did not know it yet, but the production monitoring of Tuath was going to be very taxing–not for the book itself, but rather for the board game and, to a lesser extent, the minis. Even though I had some experience in crowdfunding, with several successful campaigns under my belt, I had not anticipated how complicated to produce a board game could be. The Black Rose was our first game of this type, and I was about to realize that it was an entirely different sort of process. From designing to manufacturing, we were faced with problems we had never encountered before, and we had to roll with the punches.

For the record, at that time, we had a much bigger board game project in development, featuring a large game board, several dozens of minis, and plenty of counters and cards… A game of management and strategy that would involve the whole Tri-Kazelian peninsula with several possible playstyles, including one replaying the War of the Temple. We'd gone all out! In comparison, The Black Rose was a “small game”: one game board, a deck of cards, and a few counters. Yet, carrying out the project without falling behind too much was a real challenge for us, and it did not go without a hitch. What about the big strategic board game project and everything? Scrapped! I can tell you we are not ready to get into that! Today, the amount of work–and the budget–such a project requires turns out to be beyond our production capacity. It was a lesson we painfully learned during the game-making of The Black Rose. Just look around: Kingdom Death, which gathered over 2 million dollars, is still in development. Of course, it’s a mammoth project on many points. But the lesson is, one must never get ahead of oneself!

At the same time, and even though it proved less difficult, the manufacturing process of the five minis required its share of attention. We were saved by the expertise of Roberto and the Historex workshop, with whom we worked in close collaboration. The Tuath campaign also allowed us to finance a longstanding dream: metal reproductions of the Daols–the currency used in Shadows of Esteren–which meant its share of additional work…

To all this, add the fact that we were making an English AND a French version of Tuath at the same time, since we had opened the subscription to our French-speaking audience so that they may get the limited edition of Tuath and its bonuses. Also,The Black Rose was released in two languages AND with a limited edition in addition to the standard one… Processing the source files, writing of the data sheets, and the manufacturing proved to be a lot to chew! Not to mention the management of transportation, the distribution in the USA and in Europe, etc.

In short, it was a logistical nightmare, which came in addition to all the editorial work required by the ongoing creation of the original series in French. To be honest, many times I thought I would never get to the end of it all and that we were rushing toward our doom: the Titanic was about to sink!

Fight to the Finish

All the work that bringing The Monastery of Tuath and all its bonuses represented was made all the harder by something else: it was all very costly. In particular, the transportation cost was exponential: more backers = more manufacturing volume = higher shipping costs = a higher budget for individual shipments to backers. Though the spending estimates for production proved to be rather accurate (books, minis, board game and Daols), the estimates for the transportation costs based on the former campaigns were not.

All in all, in spite of the huge success of Tuath, the costs were significant and the situation was very clear: we still could not professionalize. It was a bitter pill to swallow, all the more so since the amount of work involved in tracking the manufacturing process was absolutely huge.

Despite this setback, we managed to carry the project to its happy end. Sending The Monastery of Tuath to our backers on time–with The Black Rose, the minis, etc.–was all the more crucial that we had planned to be at GenCon 2014 and to showcase our latest releases. We gave it our all, and this period was very taxing. But I did not go through all of this alone: there was the hard work of Iris, of our layout designer Asami, and of our most dedicated illustrator Gawain, in addition to the steadfast contributions of our translator Clovis, and of his copy-editors, to name but a few. Our efforts were rewarded since the shipping to the backers started shortly before we left for the US and we were able to be at GenCon with the latest Esteren products! Phew!

A New Editorial Project

From the beginning of the year 2014, one of the authors of the Esteren series was assuming more and more responsibilities in the editorial direction: Iris. A very early member of the project, she takes care of an essential set of tasks in addition to carrying on with her work as an author.

As you can imagine as you read this article, the first half of 2014 was very busy. Being in a hurry makes designing and carrying out an editorial project all the more complex. Yet, this work is fundamental to adapt to the new stakes and find solutions to emerging problems.

More than anything else, the organization of a realistic planning was becoming a top priority. It’s a complex issue that concerns all those who follow the path of edition: how to match a realistic release schedule with the economic needs of a company, especially concerning possible wages? It’s very delicate work, and many know that RPG editors are infamous for being late. So how could we plan ahead for the creation a book and deduce a release date, even an approximative one? When you know all the random factors involved, the question seems unsolvable. Yet, without a schedule, there is no way to imagine an ongoing, economically viable activity. What to do then?

Iris and I went over our past work and tried to make some conclusions. The first one was obvious: the books that constitute the series' backbone( the core book (Book 1), the official campaign (Book 3), and The Book of Secrets for Leaders) due to their number of pages (more than 250) and the design work they require, are very hard to fit in a realistic schedule. Book 1 took us four years of work, and so will probably Book 3 and The Book of Secrets. All things considered, even Book 2, whose structure was simpler–basically a big toolbox for Leaders–took a fair amount of time to make, which would have been difficult to foresee. Of course, we could cut the production times, but our approach to Esteren forbids it. The final quality of the books comes before the planning issues. Though this decision means that we give a lot of care to our books, (which must be among the reasons of their success), it goes against the economic reality of a company that needs regularity. However, today still, it’s out of question for me to cut production time to release a book faster. As long as a book needs time, we will make time. You can see how difficult this equation is to solve.

Core Books and Themas

The solution I have thought of is in the end quite simple. Since we cannot make a precise schedule for the biggest books of the series (or since the required time is too long for a company’s economic timing) we may manage to fill the gaps with shorter books. In that regard, The Monastery of Tuath would be our model. After all, this 60-page-book has reached a high level of funding on Kickstarter.

The concept is thus:
  • Core books: numbered books with a hardly predictable release date.
  • Themas: shorter books about a specific theme, along with cross-media content, if possible.

Iris worked the numbers and they showed the following reality: from start to finish, it takes six months to make a Thema. To go from the concept to the release in stores, it seemed like the basic minimum to me.
If we proved up to the task, we could release two books a year. We had our new–last?–hope!

Of course, things were not so simple: some Themas could take more time and rework for research, copy-editing or playtesting. As always, it was out of question for me to cut corners: each Thema had to make sense and be well made. Nothing should be neglected.

Very quickly, Iris and I agreed that it was necessary to work on several books at the same time. I had intuitively begun following this method (with the Thema on occultism, whose realization started during summer 2012), but we had to define things more clearly. Therefore, Iris would work on several Themas at the same time and I would be in charge of the core books. And first, there was Book 3 – Dearg to take care of. 

In the end, we hoped to produce two Themas a year and strengthen these publications with one or several (let's be optimistic!) other releases: a license (hence the acquisition of Vampire – The Requiem by our editor) the release of a major book of the Shadows of Esteren series when it would be finished, or the completion of a cross-media project (a video game, for example).  The development of all these projects was meant to be ongoing, and I was in charge of starting new ones.

The 13th round

After this aside on our editorial choices, let’s get back to the thick of things.

Throughout the eventful year 2014, the creation of Book 3 – Dearg had never stopped; a development that had led me to structure a fifth episode for this campaign. At the same time, the third episode of Dearg would soon be ready while the re-edition of Book 2 – Travels (an augmented  version with more than a hundred additional pages) was about to be released in stores after more than one year of the initial version being out of stock. We had still been working on the translation and copy-editing of Ghost Stories while Iris was taking care of the development of the Themas.

Last September, I tackled the new challenges with a mixture of weariness and elation. 2015 would be the 13th round of a battle whose outcome was uncertain, but which presented fascinating opportunities.

And now…

Will we manage to implement our 2015 editorial work plan? What will be the outcome of our appointment with the Los Angeles producer we met last summer? Will we be able to hire? Will we survive one more year? There are many more questions that could be asked, and I would be hard-pressed to answer any of them. However, 2015 has just come and gone, and we still have plenty of fight in us.

To end with this review, I would like to talk about the role of our community in this adventure. For some years, many people have been following and supporting us. They come to see us during conventions and encourage us. Their smiles and all the good times spent with them are highly treasured, and play a decisive role in our adventure. A special mention to all these people who help us during our tours or proofread our work as volunteers. Without our community, without you, the Esteren project would not exist as we know it today. Most people do not truly measure the importance they have in our great adventure.

As for me, and beyond all the considerations I mentioned in my previous articles, the community gives me the strength and the drive to make books. For this reason, and in the name of the whole team, I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I feel ethically and innerly committed to this community. My quest boils down to one very concrete goal: to finish and release The Book of Secrets. This is the least we can do in exchange for all that you have given us and allowed us to do. Then, I will allow myself to give it a rest. But the time has not come. Not yet... ;)

Nel






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