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I was an early adopter of for-pay electronic publishing. I was used to it - after all, there had been netbooks floating around Usenet's RPG groups for years before anyone thought to charge for RPGs. Then there was a push to get old TSR products out on PDF, and White Wolf jumped into it, and RPGNow, and the d20 boom, now here we are today and a truly remarkable number of electronic RPG publishers still seem to have no clue what the hell they are doing.

So here are some of my pet peeves and happy smiles for electronic RPGs:

Don't Just Scan Your Print Product

I can't emphasize enough how disappointing it is to see an electronic version of a game that is just the RPG put through a scanner. Even today there are plenty of games being published where you can't even cut and paste text! These products clog up your printer if you want to print any of it, they often have fuzzy text where the scanner didn't scan perfectly, and they are incredibly large in file size.

If you have a legacy product that you really can't do anything with BUT scan, see "Price It Right" below. You're not really offering an electronic RPG, what you're offering is access to an older product that collectors or other interested people might want to take a look at.

Use Bookmarks

Gang, a lot of what I'll say is "it's nice if..." but this is not one of them. This is an industry standard. This is the bare minimum. If your product is more than 10 pages long, use bookmarks to aid the reader in quickly getting to the part of the eBook that you want them to get to. Name the bookmarks properly and clearly. (By the way, this is a good way to be sure that the headings you selected for your book are good - would they make sense as a bookmark?)

Do Not Cripple Your Product

I'm still seeing products sold which could be cut-and-paste enabled, but which are not. This is even worse than just scanning a print product, because instead of just being lazy, you're actively being malicious. I don't buy any gaming material, either paper or electronic, just for me to read in the safety and comfort of my own mind. I buy it to play with. If your game gets me psyched up, I want to copy off page 4 and pass it around to the players: "Hey gang, here's some rules for this thing, aren't they neat?" I want to write in margins and make my own cheat sheets and reference materials. Putting up a big wall around your product gains you absolutely nothing - people stealing your product will still steal it - and it keeps your legit customers from using your product to its fullest potential. Do not ever disable copying-and-pasting or anything like it, not ever, not ever, not ever.

Price It Right

So maybe your electronic product is not the greatest thing out there. Maybe the bookmarks are unhelpful things like "Chapter 34" or "Chap34" (yes, I have seen this). Maybe it's too short, or maybe the market is glutted with Third Edition feat PDFs. The great thing about electronic publishing (and the scary thing too) is that many customers will drop $1-$4 on a product that doesn't have the same amount of polish or content. I will always remember with great happiness the half-d20, half-homebrew sky pirates setting I bought off RPGNow during the d20 boom. It was clearly someone's campaign notes, haphazardly typed up in Microsoft Word, exported to a PDF automatically, with art scanned from someone's Trapper Keeper and incomprehensible organization and completely unexpected around every corner. I bought it because it was two bucks and I got every penny's worth! I was a satisfied customer for that product not because it was a brilliant product that led to endless supplements - but because for $2, a hefty brainstorming tool, even a very haphazard one, is a good purchase. (This has some broader implications for electronic RPG publishers as a whole, but it's beyond the scope of today's rant.)

So (for example), if you have a legacy product you want to get out to the long-time fans of the game, but you don't have the capability (financial, temporal or technical) to actually make it a fully featured electronic publication, just price it cheaply and call it an "archival version" or something. Don't let those inflated eBay prices fool you! Your game is not worth that much.

Use Electronicness

So many electronic publishers don't take any advantage of the format that they work in. Does it support hyperlinks? Can I click on a jargon term and automatically be taken to a glossary to remind me of what it means? Are there layers which show statistics from different systems (or different sorts of narratives, or other presentations) depending on which one I want? Did you package a separate character sheet file at the end so I can easily forward it to an interested friend? How about an electronic catalog of your products with a $1-off coupon for the Next Thing you want me to try? You have so many advantages as an electronic publisher that a print publisher just flat doesn't. You can do so many things they can't in terms of presentation. Do you have a website? Can I click on your company's name in the credits and be taken there? Why not?

The news from White Wolf that they may be leaning more on electronic publishing is probably indicative of how things are going to go in the hobby for a while. They have done an overall quite competent job with their electronic publishing, both with the long-overdue Ready Made Characters series, and the recent Changeling and Exalted products. It's time to see who the new innovators are going to be!


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WJ MacGuffin Comment by WJ MacGuffin 1 day ago
Love this advice. I'm looking into both POD and PDF, so for me, it's not doing the same thing twice. I already have to make the PDF for POD, so why not spend some time giving the PDF version some features and whatnot? Yes, it's more work, but from reading the comments below, it appears that customers like PDFs with some semblance of "electronicness". That should translate into more sales and buzz, but as is the case in any industry, who really knows?
Jason Corley Comment by Jason Corley on November 17, 2009 at 8:52am
As I say, I don't know what's economically feasible, the world of business is as alien to me as Mars, I can only tell you what is best. Plenty of people like Budweiser beer, like I say.
James 'Grim' Desborough Comment by James 'Grim' Desborough on November 17, 2009 at 5:53am
It's just not economically feasible to do the same thing twice. We're in a small part of a niche industry and making it work relies on maximum profitability for minimum outlay. Them's just the facts.
Daniel M. Perez (Gamer Traveler) Comment by Daniel M. Perez (Gamer Traveler) on November 12, 2009 at 11:43am
Yup, very much so. Here it IS a case of "money talks" and 0one is the proof positive.
Jason Corley Comment by Jason Corley on November 12, 2009 at 11:37am
By the by, Daniel, you're DEFINITELY right about 0one games doing a lot of this stuff already. Here, folks, check it out for yourself.
Daniel M. Perez (Gamer Traveler) Comment by Daniel M. Perez (Gamer Traveler) on November 12, 2009 at 11:22am
Posts like yours are good in that they explicitly state what a segment of the consumer base is looking for, so keep it up. Just be aware of the realities on the other side of the fence where the products are made, and keep a realistic outlook on how things will progress.
Jason Corley Comment by Jason Corley on November 12, 2009 at 11:19am
Plenty of publishers have made things that don't sell! I am not a publisher, I am only a consumer. All I can say is what a good electronic product is. If publishers don't want to give me the very best electronic products they can, that is their business, of course. I don't like Budweiser beer either, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't make it.
Daniel M. Perez (Gamer Traveler) Comment by Daniel M. Perez (Gamer Traveler) on November 12, 2009 at 10:44am
But if it doesn't sell, it's not gonna get made. At least not by a publisher. It's just a reality.
Jason Corley Comment by Jason Corley on November 12, 2009 at 10:35am
That's an excellent point, Daniel. What I am presenting here is my view of what the best possible product is. I have no illusions that what I propose will gain you more sales. If more sales are what you are after, find someone who understands marketing - I do not, as I still possess a moderately functioning soul. What I'm after is answering this question: "What is the very best way to make an e-published roleplaying game or supplement?" How you sell it after you make it is just beyond me.
Daniel M. Perez (Gamer Traveler) Comment by Daniel M. Perez (Gamer Traveler) on November 12, 2009 at 10:27am
Jason, that's what I'm saying below. The realities of sales in our industry is that, so far, it has not made any financial sense to pursue dual forms of a product; usually the one product is morphed into however many forms it can in order to make it profitable. Note that some bigger publishers (White Wolf, Catalyst) have now started to experiment with their electronic offerings. Even then, they are going very slowly because it is a financial risk and if it tanks you wanna try to minimize that damage as much as possible.

Sales data so far shows that customers for the most part do only want an e-version of the book. The best way to make sure that primarily-electronic products are produced is to (a) let publishers know you want them and (b) support financially those experiments along the way that show steps in the right direction.


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