August 12, 2022

Wolves Upon the Coast Grand Retrospective

It’s been a little less than year since I started selling Wolves Upon the Coast Grand Campaign on itch. Rather than finishing the entire (huge) hexcrawl, I decided to experiment with a different model - the price increasing as I finished more and more of the writing. Additionally, it features no art nor layout - using pandoc formatting only. The one exception here is now it has nice maps - the originals were hand-drawn and photographed. Finally, its all self-published.

This is obviously a major diversion from how things are normally done for me, and largely came from frustrations with default’ approaches to how game books should look and be sold.

Accountants Upon the Coast

Data taken 12/08/22.

Calculating exact performance is slightly tricky due to the bundles combining Wolves with Volume 2: Monsters & and &&&&&&&&& Treasure - I’ve tried to account for these, but only in very crude ways.

  • Total Purchases: 170.
  • Total Income: $2992.

This being a digital-only release, I’m pretty happy with this so far. Eventually, once the entire project is finished, I’ll be looking to do some sort of print release where I expect to see higher returns. I get it, I’m not wild about PDFs either.

The much more pertinent measure here is how sales have changed as the price point has increased - a $30 pdf isn’t common outside of big traditional publishers.

Breaking it down:

  • 65 Sales @ $5 minimum over 44 days.
  • 25 Sales @ $15 minimum over 64 days.
  • 42 Sales @ $20 minimum over 122 days.
  • 27 Sales @ $30 minimum over 79 days.
  • 11 Sales @ $35 minimum over 14 days.

(These include the bundles which will be at higher prices, as well as people who kindly over-paid, hence the minimums being specified.)

I suspect the $5 starting point was too low, although there is a side-advantage here: more people talking about the game. This is huge - it’s rare that someone posts or talks about Wolves without me getting at least one sale - especially the recent review by Sam Sorenson. You can see some of this in the most recent 11 sales over 14 days, although this might be purely that the purchases are front-loaded around release days.

I tried advertising in an indie RPG newsletter - which was cheap, and paid for itself with one sale. I’ve not looked further into advertising because I run adblock, and I don’t think a PDF-only release is likely to see much return.

So the big question - does this work?

Maybe. The big thing I can’t really quantify here is the fact I’m the one writing it. Unfortunately, I’ve become a known quantity - people will have read something else I’ve done or heard of my other works, and so more likely to take a punt on what is quite an expensive PDF. I’d extremely leery to suggest others try this for fear it’s not replicable.

I don’t doubt a KS campaign would’ve had higher income. It also would have been many times more stressful, and not really feasible until around this point, with 2-3 areas left to write. I also think the no-layout would’ve chafed much more - KS seems to have a much higher expectation of a polished, slick product - which Wolves, in my mind, is not.

Another factor that helped is using the function of having a demo - including the first region as a free download. Whilst I don’t have any reports to confirm it, having a free offering (downloaded 481 times) like that suggests confidence and lets people be sure they want it. The latter aspect is important to me since the presentation of Wolves is very stark and at-odds with… most game books. If anyone did read the demo and then decided to buy in as a result, I’d love to hear about that.

Whilst I track my writing time day-by-day, I don’t associate with any project in particular. What I do know is that I’ve probably spent several months of writing time on Wolves, albeit spread out. This has benefited it, giving me more time to read, research and get inspired, but I don’t know that it works out favourably in a cost-time ratio. That said, if I was worried about that I’d probably write 5e.

Gearings Upon the Coast

I’ve fucking loved writing Wolves. Having a constant background project between other projects to escape into has been a blast. It’s also, I think, a pretty firm statement around my beliefs that content trumps everything else. The rules are tiny and vestigial - the largest section, magic, is really just more content. Taking on something so sweeping and intricate has been a blast, as has doing the supplemental Volume 2: Monsters & and &&&&&&&&& Treasure. Hexcrawls have always been one of my favourite tools of play, and getting to do one on this scale is a delight. I’ve felt myself improve as a writer working on this project, with a number of people saying the most recent update is their favourite so far. Moving away from the style of something like Gradient Descent and instead just trying to write good memorable prose has been rewarding - you can see some similar efforts in The Isle, which was mostly written before Wolves but shares a lot of sensibilities.

A more challenging element is having to go back and change prior releases to ensure things are smoothed other - early Ruislip releases referred to a single unified tongue of Albann, rather than the multiple languages of Pictish, Brythonic etc. Having a digital-only release makes this a snap, and removes a lot of stress about needing to plan it all out ahead of time - you can just write, and adjust the previous text as required.

Money aside, please write your big unreasonable project. You will enjoy it if no-one else does, and you might be surprised at who else wants to come along for the ride.

The Yearing of the Gearing continues. If you see Luke Gearing in the street…

On Twitter, @vagrantdwarf asked:

How did you land on the name? How has the project impacted your designs as a whole?”

Names are weird for me. It’s almost always just the first one I think of that gets stuck - although I also have a section in my notebook for any phrases which feel powerful’ which sometimes become names or dungeon rooms or whatever. In this case the name came to me wholecloth - I couldn’t tell you where from.

In terms of impact its made me want to do more prose-heavy work, as well as bigger more ambitious projects. Its changed my perspective on size as well - now I just see opportunity rather than being intimidated by the scope.

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