I started designing games years ago, but I started releasing them earlier this year. It all started with Zine Quest 2. Then lockdowns happened, and suddenly I had a lot of time on my hands to give this thing a proper try. When I decided to do so, one thing was clear to me from the start:
I'm not going to make any money doing this.
Or, at least I won't be making a living off of TTRPG design. And that's ok, because I have a stable full-time career, and so design doesn't need to be my primary source of income. That's important to acknowledge at the top here, because that mentality was behind a lot of the decisions I made for my projects.
But as we approach the end of the year, I thought I'd crunch the numbers! See how the year actually shaped up, costs and gains. Let's take a look at the books, shall we?
Where did the money come from, and how much of it was there? Fair questions! I had four primary sources of income for my RPGs this year:
Kickstarter, this website, itch.io, and DriveThruRPG
Starting with the least lucrative, we've got DTRPG. I have three actual games for sale on DT (Score, Slayers and Corvid Court). I do virtually no advertising or promotion for this site, because the rate they give creators sucks shit. It may be the top dog right now when it comes to the digital RPG market, but itch is making a name for itself, and Role is coming out soon, and hopefully those two force DT to be a bit kinder to the people that make their platform relevant. Across the whole year, I raked in a grand total of:
DTRPG Revenue: $150.93 (after they take their cut)
Alright, so not paying rent anytime soon with that. But what about itch? All of my games go on itch, where I sell PDF copies. I tried my hand at using itch as a platform for selling the printed copies of my zines, but it was too much of a hassle, and I gave up after about two sales. That means the revenue is coming from sales of the digital version of my games. Itch is incredibly kind to creators, defaulting to only taking 10% of sales. I ran a number of sales throughout the year, and am a strong advocate of using community copies, but even still, the number is pretty decent:
itch.io Revenue: $1210.50 (after they take their cut), across 221 payments
Next up, this website. I sell my physical games here, and technically my PDF versions as well, though those pretty much never sell (people get them on itch). Physical games are more expensive, so they make more money, but I make fewer sales here than on itch (purely based on sale count). I have been trying to link things to this site more often than to itch, so that folks grab a print instead of a PDF. It's been working a bit, but I could always do more.
My Website Revenue: $1361, across 63 payments
Some quick math, because I love math, that's an average order of about $5.50 on itch, and $21.50 on this site. That's why I want people buying physical goods. "But Spencer, the cost of the books! Don't forget that!" Don't worry, I didn't, but even factoring those in sales on this site are way more lucrative for me.
Now the big one, Kickstarter. I'm going to report the amount of money that Kickstarter sent me for my three campaigns this year. This number is what Kickstarter sends after they take their cut, and after that payment processing fee. So this is the revenue for the campaigns:
Hey now, that's some actual money! Very exciting numbers to see no doubt. But boooooy don't get too excited, because they are about to shrink when we talk costs. Before we do that, let's get a grand total on revenue:
Total Revenue for Gila RPGs in 2020 (as of mid-November): $24,625
If only I was pocketing 25k, I'd consider leaving my job and just doing this! But all that above, that's just revenue. The only "costs" factored in so far are the fees that various platforms charge to use them.
What do I mean by costs? I categorize them into four categories:
Printing, shipping, commissions, and "other".
Absolutely the biggest cost of them all, printing the damn games. This year I've printed 6 different games:
Score, Corvid Court, Seasons, Slayers, Rigged, Dust
I've done reprints of all of those games except for Rigged (and Dust, but that one is still being printed for the first time). I'm really proud of the fact that I not only designed that many games, but I printed them and made them real. But all that printing costs money. I exclusively used Mixam as my go-to printer this year. Across all of my print runs, that cost me:
Total Printing Costs: $7438.15
After printing, shipping is the next most expensive cost. International shipping is absolutely brutal, so it's hard to incentive non-US backers to buy my physical goods, and when they do, it's really expensive for them. I'd love to figure out a solution to that eventually, but for my first year doing this I didn't have the experience or brain space to do so. Shipping costs, just including the postage and none of the supplies, came out to:
Total Shipping Costs: $6833
I was extremely fortunate in being able to commission a number of incredibly talented people to make my games actually look good. My primary commission was for art, and then layout. I paid artists their rate, so I let them set the terms that were fair to them. The little bit of writing commissioning I did I paid $0.25 per word, because $0.05 is fucking criminal. Some things, like Slayers and Dust, were heavy in their commission costs, while Seasons had none because I did that layout myself (and it shows haha). For all the art, logos, graphic design, and layout work for my games, I paid:
Total Commissions Costs: $3928
A category for all the smaller things, like supplies. Envelopes, mailers, printer ink, paper, etc. It adds up, but I don't have the exact numbers on this unfortunately, so I'm estimating it to be about $350.
Total Costs: $18,549
Where does that put me at the end of the year? There are tons of things I could calculate (net for each Kickstarter, most/least lucrative game, etc.), but for now, let's just focus on the big number:
2020 Financial Net: 24,625 - 18,549 = $6076
There it is, the money I have left over, that's going to me! About 6k. But that's not entirely true, right? The taxman is going to want his cut, and of course you can count on me claiming as many expenses as I can, but I'm not keeping all of that money right there.
What's the takeaway? I learned a lot of lessons this year in terms of my design process, but I also learned a lot about being a smarter self-publisher. No more free hardcover upgrades for Kickstarters (what a DISASTER that was on the Slayers revenue). Figure out effective shipping. Get folks to buy things on this site, because that's where money is made more effectively. And if I could learn how to do art and/or layout on my own...that would help a lot.
But the other lesson? I'm not quitting my day job anytime soon to become a full-time RPG designer. I love doing this, and like I said at the beginning, I'm not doing it to make a living. I hope that these numbers are useful or insightful to someone out there. Maybe you're just getting started, or have been at it a while. Either way, I think data is useful, and want to try and be as transparent with my data as possible to help folks out.
Let me know what you think, and then go over to my store and buy something ;)
2021 is going to be even better!