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.