2021 Retrospective: Publishing

This is part 2 of my 2021 retrospective, you can find part 1 here: Sales.

By almost every metric 2021 was a positive step in the right direction for me as an indie designer/publisher. I ran my first Kickstarter, finally published Project Cassandra and designed, wrote and published Signal to Noise.

If you’ve read the blog before you’ll know that Project Cassandra was in development for far too long. I started it in 2013, initially as a hack of Lady Blackbird. It quickly drifted into its own thing and then went to development hell after a bad playtest right before I was hoping to release it. I know, however, that it is a better game because of all that. I’m a better designer and a far better layout artist. That long development time, coupled with the release of the Affinity suite of programs I was able to release a game that I’m proud of and that has made its way to close to 200 people. If I had released the game when I originally hoped to it would have disappeared into the void and gotten little to no traction.

A lot of that is down to funding it through ZineQuest but I know that the extra time improved both the rules and presentation of the game. Is it perfect? No, but it’s a damn good game. I also learned a lot about the behind the scenes aspects that I hadn’t encountered that go into crowdfunding. All in all it was an enjoyable experience and one I’m keen to repeat in 2022.

My second major release of 2021 was Signal to Noise. As a remote, epistolary game it’s a significant departure from my usual style and in some ways, I am prouder of it than I am of Project Cassandra. Once I had the concept the design came together fairly quickly and I’m keen to continue exploring the design space around both duet and epistolary games.

Sales of the game have been modest but did well enough to pay for editing and my hope for 2022 is to produce an expanded print version. My aim had been to run a ZineQuest Kickstarter but with the whole blockchain kerfuffle, I don’t know how I’m going to proceed. In a weird twist Signal to Noise also has the honour of being not only my first game to be pirated but also to have been translated (without my permission) into another language. On top of all that they’ve produced print copies, something I haven’t even done yet!

While those two games took most of my focus I managed to release a few smaller products. The Duskbringers is an ongoing series of adventure pamphlets, with versions for both Brighthammer and D&D 5e. They’re inspired by an adventure I ran a few years ago but I’ve primarily created them to exercise the creative process. Near Carbon Blades was a similar ‘what can I quickly do with this idea’ and came together in a burst of creativity one evening. Both of those, produced under no pressure ensure that I don’t get to caught up in trying to make big, perfect products that will ultimately fizzle.

Of course, not everything went to plan this year and there are a number of projects that have languished on the sidelines. For the most part that’s down to a combination of aiming to do too much, the ongoing pandemic and losing a lot of momentum after shipping the print copies of Project Cassandra. What’s the unfinished list look like?

  • The Ajax Stratagem – The stretch goal supplement for Project Cassandra. It’s close to being complete and should (fingers crossed) be released to backers within the next week or two.
  • Say Aargh! – An adventure for Demon Hunters to complement Dr Ahoudi’s Mutant Menagerie. That this remains unfinished is particularly frustrating as it’s inspired by an adventure I first ran over a decade ago. I just can’t get it down on paper.
  • The Cyclic Void – A hack of Stealing the Throne, designed to act as the closing bookend to The Dyson Eclipse, the space opera setting I am slowly developing.
  • Red Roots of the Rose – A short adventure for mythos games, primarily the Cthulhu Hack. I’ve run it twice now but it needs tweaking to fix some issues.
  • Rockhoppers – A Wretched & Alone game for the Dyson Eclipse, partially drafted but still missing close to half of the prompts.

My primary publishing goal for 2022 is to finish those 5 products. On top of those releases I’d also like to do another crowdfunding campaign to get Signal to Noise into print. My aim had been to do so as part of ZineQuest until Kickstarter decided to go down the blockchain route. I’m looking at alternative options right now and am considering going with GameFound but that’s very much dependent on completing The Ajax Stratagem ASAP so I can start working on the new campaign.

So that’s a quick list of thoughts on publishing in 2021, all that’s left is for one more post talking about the actual gaming I’ve managed this year.

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