On Rushing to Publish
I feel like I’ve said this a lot, but it’s time to say it again:
If you rush to publish for Gen Con, Origins, or in general, and you don’t have much experience at publishing games, you’re asking for a distaster and do not respect your audience.
That might sound like hyperbole, so let me break it down.
Part one: Questioning Conventions
If your first exposure for your new game or game company is at a large convention, and you buy a booth, you’re looking to sink a lot of time & money into a daunting prospect:
- Think of the few hundred dollars that booth will cost you. That’s just the starting price, before you get into amenities like padded flooring (seriously, get that), displays, stands, banners, etc. Some of that’s reusable, like the displays and banners, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still an expense.
- Only selling your game at a booth is a weak way to make sales happen. Running demos at the booth can help, but running games on the schedule or in free-play means is how you generate critical interest. That interest doesn’t just translate into sales at the con — it gives people who play confidence in running the game at hope, as well as something to talk about on social media. So, if you’re just at a booth the entire time with few games going on, you’re wasting your manpower.
You can get away with this if you have built up a community around your game, company, or personality. When you have people who intentionally go to your booth as a destination, or you have other people running your game, then you’re more likely to be successful. However, if you’re truly launching your game at a convention, you don’t have any of that stuff.
Instead of launching at a convention, launch well before one. This is the age of social media, so your best way to get critical exposure is to show something that everyone in the world can see. Have a free downloadable taste. Run games on G+. Be on Twitter and all that. It’s like having a booth at a convention, except: it doesn’t cost a fuckton of money, you can sit down, and when you want to take a break, you don’t need to ask someone else to cover your booth.
Then, if your game’s taking off, you’ll know if a booth at a con is a good idea for you. You could have a follow-up thing, either a supplement or another game, at that con. Or just be there to promote your awesome idea.
You can buy into a booth with people, so that you have time to go run your game (or, I don’t know, eat lunch). Or you can go with a consignment shop like Indie Press Revolution, and let them handle your game’s sales while you do the real work of getting people interested.
Part two: Rushing to Publish is Bad
Here’s what happens when you put yourself in a situation where you choose between:
- Skimping on playtesting, editing, and layout because you have a cool idea and the hubris to get it out at the next major convention.
- Taking your damned time and making something that won’t be mocked or shat upon by the community.
My credentials on this subject: The Dresden Files RPG. We got mocked for years about how long it took to make it, but a fuckton of critical acclaim & awards tells me that the time was worth it. So if you tell me “No, I need it done for Origins,” you’re really telling me “I’m am amateur and I care more about pretending that I’m a game publisher than actually being one worth a damn.”
When you go to print (or to PDF release), that’s a permanent record of your accomplishment. If your game sucks, if it’s poorly edited, if it looks like crap, you don’t get to take that back. You fucked up, and you let the world see that. And you were happy to charge good people money for your slapdash book. People will remember that.
So if you’re happy to look like an asshole to your potential audience, keep on with the rushing. The world totally needs more hastily made shit that’s not worth the cover price.
Don’t Rush for Conventions
If you combine these ideas, then you know that you shouldn’t rush at the expense of your book, and that launching at a convention when you’re an unknown is a weak prospect, then you have the option of “hey, I can take a few extra months and also release it online.”
Yes, yes you can do that. If you’re relatively unknown, better to make a strong splash that an quick, weak one. And even if you’re not, better to make good products than show that you don’t care and put something weak out.
 If you have a strong, existing brand, much of this doesn’t apply because you are a destination and people will already be interested in you. Of course, by then you probably know what you’re doing right, and don’t need this post.
 If your goal isn’t to be a publisher, but just to engage in the party that is “we’re all game publishers,” and you have money to blow, go ahead and disregard this but on not launching at a con. You might have a fun time. (But don’t you disregard the second part.)