This post is primarily intended for other aspiring designers like myself, but it can be a (long) interesting read for others nevertheless, offering insights into the decisions and work behind the scenes of SAKE.
It has been a few days more than two months since I published SAKE (Sorcerers, Adventurers, Kings, and Economics) Basic Edition, and titled myself as a game designer (Link to First Field Report: https://sake.ee/field-report-after-the-first-week-of-publishing/ ). It’s going to be a long post, so let’s get right to it.
The Basic Edition has been downloaded exactly 708 times at the moment of writing. 30 people who downloaded it decided to pay for it, and I am immensely grateful for that. So, in total, it’s a 4.2% paying rate. However, it’s not that simple. There was a post in the TTRPG designers subreddit a few weeks ago discussing that on DriveThru RPG, more people decide to give money for PWYW (Pay What You Want) products. I see a similar trend here, as 24 out of 30 payments are from DriveThru RPG, but only 317 downloads are from there. So, that is something to keep in mind if you are planning to sell your products at the price of PWYW and hope to make some money out of it. As for me, the Basic Edition is meant to be a free preview, and I am very thankful for people who have decided to support my endeavour.
After finishing the book, I started simultaneously with three things:
- Sending out review requests.
- Making the first official dungeon crawl – Crime Districts of Irongate – for the game.
- Fiddling with Facebook ads.
I have sent out 23 review requests, and to be honest, I am very positively surprised. Before, I was afraid that I would be sending those emails into oblivion (or the spam folder) and nobody would answer. But that’s not the case. Even if nothing has come from it yet, many people still took their time to answer (around 1/3), and I am very thankful for that.
Also, in three cases, something more has happened:
- Freddy from rpggamer.org has made two videos about the game.
An overview of the book: https://youtu.be/UhgWQ76Nf7I?si=p2MP0Pr0fQMqIMMR
A quick breakdown of combat rules: https://youtu.be/4m07e7UwK2c?si=m8zz4nrglRWCZgDS
- Moe from Show & Tell asked me for an interview, which was grand, but oh my – my spoken English is not good at all: https://therpgacademy.com/show-tell-135-sake-ttrpg/
- Guys from 2 Legit 2 Crit have taken a look at SAKE: https://www.youtube.com/live/1YjoOl61U5w?si=aFvbBdd3zipKm4Hv
They also took a look at the adventure module – Crime Districts of Irongate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEj_hARmBPU&t=667s&ab_channel=2Legit2Crit
Also-also, they are always fun to listen to!
So, all together, I am very happy with this, and writing it down reminds me that I probably should get some more emails out.
3. Crime Districts of Irongate
After releasing the Basic Edition, I straight away started working on an adventure module Crime Districts of Irongate, which I published in January. But mind you, I didn’t write a whole book in one month; I mostly edited and rewrote material that I had written throughout the year when taking part in the Dungeon23│City23 challenge. Most of the blog posts here are about the Irongate City.
I priced it at $5,99 and sold exactly… drumroll… two copies (Thank You so much for You two!).
That sounds like a total failure, but I don’t see it that way, mainly because of two reasons:
- I plan to add it as an add-on to the Kickstarter campaign with the same price and sell it this way. Maybe it will find more buyers this way.
- SAKE is still in its earliest phase of adoption, and I think having an adventure module out there gives some proof that this will not be a one-time thing – I am trying to build its own tiny brand, and more adventures and books in Asteanic World are to come.
Anyway, if you want to take a look, here are the links:
DriveThru RPG: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/468117/Crime-Districts-of-Irongate?affiliate_id=4178266 (affiliate link)
4. Facebook Advertisements
The Importance of Facebook Ads
There were an estimated 13,7 million active D&D players (WotC made that estimation in 2017). How many active TTRPG players that translates to in 2024 is hard to say, but it’s likely more. All types of groups on Reddit, FB, forums, etc., have a lot fewer participants, and the active participant count is even lower. (r/rpg has 1,5 million users – hard to estimate how many users per day or week).
So, the reason for FB ads basically comes down to reaching those people who play TTRPGs but don’t actively take part in online communities.
For personal economic reasons, I have only spent on ads as much as the book has earned.
I have tried several advertisement combinations, and the best one seems to be this sort of simple combination.
Link to ad post: https://www.facebook.com/SAKEttrpg/posts/pfbid02XeGG75QMHgsr35c6Tsp1v3MbaY6cGg8kQdoPmDvAnWdtx87dwFPGJrNU4LU5EGUjl?notif_id=1707735218187328¬if_t=feedback_reaction_generic&ref=notif
As you can see, it’s a long descriptive post, without an advertisement button (the click here thing), without any beautiful pictures or videos. Picture or video ads I have tried have worked more poorly than this type of simple posts, and for some reason, people tend to like it more when the main link is to DriveThru RPG.
After the Crime Districts of Irongate adventure was published, I have fully focused on preparing for the Full Release Kickstarter, which will open in the first half of April. And, as you can imagine, it’s a lot of work when you want to do it at as a professional level as you can.
5. The Full Edition Book Itself
I started with the idea of one book of 450 pages Printed on Demand. 450 pages are a lot, but the Basic edition is almost 250 pages – the game just is large as it has all sorts of other systems for domain management, large battles/sieges, economy, and so forth. The PoD pre-calculations showed exorbitant prices for a hardcover full-colour book of this size. Just rechecked – over 90 dollars on Lulu. Adding my expenses, Kickstarter expenses, taxes, and we’ll be looking at a book with a selling price of almost 150 dollars – which is just crazy, and even crazier when taking into account the questionable print and paper quality of Print on Demand.
So, I decided to go with offset printing as it’s a lot (and I mean a LOT!) cheaper, better quality, and somewhat easier for me as I can communicate with printers quicker. Or so has been my experiences (I have published and printed 2 books in my time). For the time being, I decided not to bother with that more and started working with the Kickstarter video, also, not thinking much – decided that maybe printing two books would be better – that’s why you see two books in the Kickstarter video right now.
But. Think about it! The price of offset printing is cheap because you print a lot of books – print run under 300 would get very expensive again and basically costs the same as 300 books. So, two books would really mean 300 + 300 books for me, and that would be too risky for two reasons:
- I would have to have a Kickstarter base goal of almost 20 000 dollars, which is too much for a first-time indie Kickstarter, as it will just scare away potential backers – they will think I don’t have any idea how money works. So, the Kickstarter succeeding with such a base goal would be meagre.
- Thigh success on that goal could mean I am left with a lot of books nobody bought and no money.
So, that’s why back to one book, with that, the base goal can be around 10 000 dollars, which shouldn’t be too frightening for such a large book.
6. Kickstarter Video and all Small Bits and Pieces
There is one thing extremely useful for me in this endeavour – my artist background. I am a metal artist, and while not as at home with illustrating or graphic design, I still can do them at some levels.
Also, another thing I have recently decided to do more – is play on my stronger suits – which is 3D – an important thing when visualizing large sculptures and engineering their structures – but same useful for modelling ships and castles. And those models can be used in wildly different settings. For example, you can see this one ship in:
- Kickstarter video. https://youtu.be/S98xm_MQAG8?si=sytKtpFjTj7Lg0Gi
- On the cover of the book.
- And it will find its way to the pages of the book also.
Same with the castle, that will be added to the video also.
So, as you can see – I try to work as efficiently as I can, using the same things in different scenarios, as for Kickstarter you need a lot of small bits and pieces: Mockups, icons for pledges, page spreads, and so on – and a lot of this stuff is useless for the final product, so I really try to make it in the way I can use it still in the final product and don’t waste my time on useless graphical bits and pieces.
I could write so much more, but I think the most important things have been mentioned for now, and the post is getting huge (4 pages in Word). So, best wishes and Thank You for reading!
With last year’s Dungeon23 │ City23 still unfinished (don’t worry, it will be finished) I thought that it would be a great idea to take part in Lore24. I won’t be posting every day or even every week, but from time to time, as I will be working naturally with the lore of Asteanic World – a thing I have to do anyway, as the lore chapter still needs to be translated for the Full SAKE Rulebook.
And what’s a better place to start with the lore of the Asteanic World than its history. So here is the first part translated just now:
The Short History of the Asteanic World
Asteanic chronology divides the world’s history into four eras: the Mythic Age when Thefna (the Asteanic motherland) was home to the lost Azzurian civilization, the Age of Heroes when gods walked the earth and ancient heroes cleansed the world of all kinds of monsters, making it habitable, the Age of Kings when the first Asteanic kingdoms rose, marking the beginning of credible written sources, and the Age of Empires or the New Age, that marks the start of the Asteanic calendar.
Little has survived from the Mythic Age, likely ending approximately 3000 to 4000 years ago. During this time, Thefna was home to the Azzurians, a completely extinct or assimilated people among the Asteans. The remnants of this era on Thefna include several ruined cities with massive necropolises and ziggurats. The largest among them are Urtari, Hatussa, and Mitanni, located away from the main civilization. Cities closer to civilization have largely been dismantled by the Asteans for their construction projects.
From the Azzurians, Asteans inherited something of immense significance: their gods. Asteans consider the Azzurian gods as deities of natural forces and continue to revere (mainly fear) them to this day. Azzurians identified themselves as the children of the sun god Azzur and worshipped and feared their gods fervently.
While some aspects of Azzurian writing have been deciphered, the absence of significant texts raises more questions than answers about their culture. Historians debate whether the Azzurians were aware of the Astral Projection magic school. What led to the demise of their culture and paved the way for the Asteans? Some signs suggest that the Azzurians harboured immense fear of otherworldly forces and death. Why, what was so different in that time?
The old watercolour map of Thefna Archipelago, the new – fancy one, still doesn’t have all the names. But this one has been used for years in my games. The mentioned Azzurian cities: Urtari, Hatussa, and Mitanni, are findable here.
Age of Heroes
The Age of Heroes marks the beginning of Asteanic mythology. The era commences with the tale of how the Asteans descended from the Eternal Waters (pocket of the Otherworld) to the human world. All stories of the deeds of Asteanic gods fall into this era.
The Age of Heroes also encompasses tales of various human heroes and the slaying of monsters and dangerous lesser gods.
There are no written sources from the Age of Heroes because the Asteans had not yet developed writing. All stories have been preserved as oral traditions and are therefore more myths than subjects for serious historical inquiry.
It is unclear whether the Azzurians lived alongside the Asteans during this time. Oral tradition is contradictory in this regard. In some tales, Asteanic heroes battle seemingly foreign nations, but these may also be kinfolk of the Asteans (Asteanic language only becomes standardized in the Age of Empires) or the Hattu peoples who lived in Northern Thefna. In other stories, the Asteans find Thefna seemingly empty, abandoned by its ancient inhabitants.
In some ways, the Age of Heroes has the most stories, being the core of Asteanic mythology, but it has the least credible historical information. Modern Asteans view these stories as what they are – myths. Certainly, some tales may contain a grain of truth.
Age of Kings
The Age of Kings is considered to span seven to eight centuries before the Age of Empires. During this period, writing emerges, providing ample opportunities for a more detailed study of this era. However, there are challenges in precisely dating events because it is nearly impossible to reconcile the different calendars used at that time with the contemporary one.
At different times, dozens of small kingdoms coexisted in Thefna.
This era also marks the first attempt at empire building when Pyrdema, the sorceress queen of Niobe, compelled all the Southern Thefna kings to swear allegiance to her over her long life. Pyrdema’s grand empire lasted for several decades until her own grandchildren rebelled against her and dethroned her.
As I type this, the SAKE Basic Edition has been published in Itch.io and DriveThru RPG for exactly one week. This field report is aimed more at myself and other novice game designers. I aim to describe the behind-the-scenes aspects as accurately as possible, but there might be some limitations – for instance, I am unsure if I can take screenshots from the Publisher section of DriveThru RPG or Itch.io without violating any rules, so I refrain from doing so just in case.
Everything preceding this: designing the game, testing it, and designing a beautiful book, is generally straightforward. However, the real work begins after this process is complete, and as a novice game designer, it feels like uncharted territory. Although I have designed and/or compiled two books in my lifetime, I have never had to sell them myself, and they have mostly been local publications.
The Field Report (nr 1)
The first thing to note is that the feeling is good. Now, it’s done. Before publishing, I had this sort of ambivalent feeling, thinking of myself as a TTRPG designer. Yes, I have been designing this for years – it should mean I am one, but nobody else than my groups had played or even seen it – so, am I really? Would anybody else believe that I am? Like, if you study jewellery and never finish or sell a piece of jewellery, then are you a jewellery artist? So, I am happy I pushed it out, even if I would have liked to have an accompanying adventure, which it doesn’t have yet.
In the first week, SAKE has been downloaded 298 times: 95 times from DriveThru RPG and 203 times from Itch.io.
On Itch.io, there are 1062 views on the page, so that’s 19.1% of page views.
On DriveThru RPG, those 95 downloads came from 484 views, so that’s 19.6%. Surprisingly similar. I am not sure if I can know how people found their way there.
Most of those downloads on Itch.io (135) happened in the first two days, and Itch.io shows me that most people came to the page from Reddit, followed by Itch.io’s own new and popular category, and after that is Facebook. Which is understandable because…
Rant on Facebook
I have always been able to share pictures and links to the webpage with the SAKE Facebook page, but this time it was impossible, like Facebook understood that those links are shop links and no-no, those things we don’t share freely – you have to buy advertisement or not share at all. Comparison: some random map picture – 2800 views (just checked, some even have 10K views), an important post about SAKE being published – 485 views. And the first several days it was under a hundred. Okay, no problem, I understand this; that is their business model, just was not prepared to discover it this way.
Anyway, 300 downloads sound great (maybe, I am not sure, first time doing it), but it comes with a big ‘but’ – the game is PWYW (Pay What You Want), so the number of readers may be a lot lower. But that’s something that I can’t evaluate yet.
About the PWYP model
I have been told that I should ask money for the game as nothing else than this book is needed to play it, but I still decided to go with PWYP because at this moment I feel that getting the game to as many people as possible is more important than trying to earn a few hundred bucks. I am unknown and building some audience is crucial.
Anyway, if things go the way I want, then this is just a start. On my computer, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of pages on the Asteanic World, monsters, adventures, etc., waiting to be translated, edited, and converted into books. So having the first one free is not the end of the world in an economic perspective.
Having the Basic Edition published comes with a great benefit in those shops; everybody who downloads SAKE – I can send an email. I will not abuse it, sending some random news, but I will send an email when I publish something new or the Kickstarter opens.
Speaking of Kickstarter, I haven’t advertised it much yet, but the link is in the PDFs and on the Itch.io page (it’s not allowed to put this sort of links into DriveThru RPG page), which has brought in 34 pre-subscribers. Again, I don’t know if those numbers are good or not – I have read that around 20% of pre-subscribers convert to backers. Is it true? Maybe? Anyway, I wouldn’t dare to open Kickstarter before there are around 500 people interested – it’s just a limit I have set for myself. Maybe after I find some more info, I may reconsider it one way or the other.
Apart from Reddit, Facebook (where I invested 10 euros in an advertisement to test the system), Instagram, Mastodon, Twitter (where I proudly have just one follower!), and now Threads, I have posted the game ad on various TTRPG forums across the internet. However, the download numbers have slowed down – yesterday, Monday (18.12.2023), saw 6 downloads on Itch.io and only 1 on DriveThru RPG. So, it’s time to move to the next stage. Simply posting shop links doesn’t work anymore – which is logical, as nobody likes relentless advertisements.
Near Future Plans
I plan to reach out to a few reviewers and hope to see some reviews after some time. Right now, there are none, which is okay. I am unknown figure in the TTRPG world, and the game is a lengthy read (246 pages + all sheets), making it challenging to review right away.
What I didn’t have at the time of release is a sample adventure. That is the next thing I plan to change. This will also allow me to test a few other things, like what happens when I put a price tag on it. Do 300 downloads become 3, or even 0? I would call it a great success if there were 50 downloads with a price in the first week. Let’s see.
So, the plan is to use the material that I have been creating for the #dungeon23 project and convert part of it into a city district-themed dungeon, which is going pretty well.
I drew a basic plan a few days ago:
After gathering all existing materials, I am now reviewing them, adding some Hazards, Opportunities, and Secrets.
The same file this morning:
And the Crime Districts Dungeon Sheets as they are now:
But the main work hours will go into the design of battlemaps because, while mostly done in Rhinoceros (CAD program that I use to draw), they still haven’t been converted into Illustrator.
Right now, I have these:
I still don’t understand how to use all those Meta tools; the business part of the page is extremely confusing to me. It’s pretty hard to even say what exactly I don’t understand 😀 So, that’s the thing I have to study more. I plan to use Meta advertising, just have a 10 euro a week advertisement running basically all the time. But to make this effective, I just have to understand better what I am doing – and find a way to see the results better. Last week’s 10 euro advertisement brought 46 clicks into Itch.io, which altogether has 1062 clicks. But I have no idea how many of those 46 clicks became downloads. There probably is a way to know it.
And I have to do something with the webpage, which hasn’t aged well in one year 😀
Another thing I am thinking of is making the Basic Edition into Print on Demand in DriveThru RPG. It shouldn’t be too complicated – famous last words. Really, probably just add bleed, make a separate file for covers and … ??? The downloadable parts of the file are, anyway, a separate layer in the InDesign file; those will be gone with just one click. But even simple things take time, and that’s why it’s down here in the list of things to do.
So, that’s the report and thoughts for now. I am happy for all sorts of advice! The next report will probably be after the release of the dungeon and seeing how that goes, so probably a month or something.
- Field Report After Two Months of Publishing
- Lore24 and Asteanic world
- Field Report After the First Week of Publishing
- Religions in the Asteanic World
- Astral Projection magic school translated and the Azure Warrior archetype added
- Asteanic Enclave
- In SAKE, Even Your House Has Stats
- Sorcery and Otherworld rules (introduction)
- The Tribal Assembly
- Future Plans and Adventures in Irongate
- Beastmastery Magic School and other stuff
- Restoration school of magic
- Soulcraft and Magical items
- Designing a dungeon in SAKE ttrpg (for GM)
- Day 62 The Start of the Adventure in Irongate
- Day 59. of #city23 │ #dungeon23 Otokos also known as frog-people
- 53. day in Irongate Some thoughts on Campaign in Irongate
- Day 39. The state of Itzan state
- 33. day in Irongate Problems with the Food Source
- 27. day in Irongate Where/What is the adventure?
- 26. day in Irongate #city23 │ #dungeon23 project
- 25. day in Irongate #city23 │ #dungeon23 project
- SAKE eestikeelne versioon väljas
- Day 20 of #dungeon23 │ #city23 project
- Day 19 of #dungeon23 │ #city23 project
- Day 13 of #dungeon23 │ #city23 project