1. What do you see as the “next big thing” in gaming?
If you’re talking pen and paper RPGs, then probably 4th edition D&D. That’s the 900 lb. gorilla, isn’t it? For me personally, I love Savage Worlds and there are always really cool new settings coming out for that system. If you mean “gaming” in the larger sense, then probably a MMORPG with collectable cards, minis, or some other do-dad that gives you in-game bonuses. Personally, I’d love to see a good horror game for the Nintendo Wii. Imagine swinging the controller like a machete while you fight off encircling zombie hordes.
2. RPGNow and Drivethru recently merged. What do you think this means for the PDF market?
I think it was a smart business move on their part. From the outside, it seems like they’ve had a rocky transition but of course none of us are privy to the inner workings. I don’t necessarily see it as a bad thing for the market. To those of us who have been publishing PDFs for a while it may feel like the market itself is on solid ground, but lately I’ve started feeling like we’re more vulnerable than we care to admit. There’s something to be said for having a single, easily identifiable flag to rally around—like Amazon.com. I’d argue that in the ‘90s they did a lot to introduce people to the idea of buying merchandise online and allaying new customer fears. Customers usually had good experiences shopping online there and kept coming back. RPGNow has served that kind of an entry point role in the past, and DriveThru brought several well-known publishers to the PDF market, so it stands to reason that a combined company has a better chance of bringing new customers to the PDF market and ensuring its long-term health. Of course, mergers are tricky things so it remains to be seen how well they’re positioned to follow through when the new store is complete. That’s the PDF market from the customer’s perspective. From a publisher perspective, it rarely pays to put all your eggs in one basket. We started diversifying our sales outlets nearly two years ago, and this spring we are opening a store on our own site. We’ll continue to give our customers multiple places to buy our titles and leave it to them to use the one that suites their needs.
3. Related to question #1, where do you see PDFs specifically headed in the next year.
I think we live in interesting times, in the sense of the Chinese curse. I’ve heard enough people say that the OGL won’t be included in the next edition of D&D that I believe it. I suspect that sometime in the next 12 months we’ll learn the official release date for D&D 4e, and that it’ll send many PDF publishers into panic mode. From the publishers who decide to tough it out, we’ll start seeing more support for other game systems and the development of new systems. Of course it is hard for new systems to get a real toe-hold, but that won’t keep people from trying. I’m not saying that d20 material will dry up—and certainly not in the next year—but I think we’ll start seeing more variety. We’ll also probably see the conversion of older but more popular PDF titles to new systems.
4. Now look further into the future. Where do you see PDFs five years from now?
I’m going to choose to interpret this question a little differently than you probably meant. I think five years from now we’ll see PDF as only one of the “flavors” of e-book out there, and it may not even be the most popular. The RPG market is the only one that I know of that has settled so exclusively on the PDF format. There are major corporations out there spending millions of dollars in R&D to develop “the next iPod”. To at least some, e-books look like virgin territory. Once someone develops a relatively cheap, easily readable screen somewhere between the size of a paperback and a comic book, in the thickness of a PDA, with WiFi access, long battery life, and the ability to play MP3s, we could see an explosion of e-book use. I’m simplifying things here, but the e-book specs put forward by a cross-section of the publishing industry calls for an XML + CSS + XHTML format. One benefit of that kind of format is that you can change the text size based on your preference, and all the text and tables would reflow on the page accordingly. No more zooming in to read one column of text, then zooming out and panning over to the next column, then zooming in again to read. Many people who buy PDFs still print them out because they are so hard to read on screen. With the hardware problem solved, people will find that PDF isn’t the best tool for the job anymore. So my prediction is that once the new generation of hardware reaches a critical mass of customers, we’ll see RPG publishers either publishing in both formats or eventually migrating entirely to the new e-book format.
5. How did you get into the RPG business? What was your first job in the industry?
My first job in the RPG business was this one. My partners and I are all mutt and no pedigree. We’ve had to learn everything the hard way. In a lot of ways it would have been easier if we’d known what we were doing, but on the other hand that ignorance has given us the freedom to create some small innovations that our fans really seem to appreciate.
6. If you were just starting out today and were ready to try and break into the RPG business, what would be your first step?
I wouldn’t start my own company. I’d write some good stuff, polish it till it shone, then pitch it to companies I respected until I got a bite. Trying to self-publish is either going to break you or turn you into a business owner. Other than some Modern Dispatches, I haven’t written anything for publication in a year and a half. But I’ve written a lot of scene descriptions for artists, sent a lot of contracts, edited a lot of other people’s words, and made of lot of updates to our website.
7. What was the first RPG you ever played?
I got the basic red box set for my birthday when I was in 6th grade. I lived on a ranch in the country and it was pretty rare for me to get to spend time in town hanging out with more than one friend outside of school, so it was quite a while before I actually got to play. In the meantime, I spent a lot of time drawing dungeons on graph paper and letting my imagination run wild. Eventually I did play at a friend’s house when his older brother DM’d for us. When he got tired of us he killed us with a pit trap by insisting that because we hadn’t specified a marching order we were walking side-by-side down a corridor and stepped into the trap simultaneously. Some lessons are hard learned.
8. What are you playing right now?
Right now I’m on a break from playing, but before I dropped out late last year I’d started the Age of Worms campaign as set in Eberron. My group is still playing through it and I still get to hear how it’s going. I’m trying to use my time productively and have started writing again.
9. If you could snag any licensed property for an RPG, what would it be?
That’s a tough call. Steven Brust’s Dragaeran books really appeal to me and seem to be begging for a RPG. I’ve always been a fan of The Shadow, so that would be a close second.
10. What’s coming up for you? Sell me something damnit!
We have our very first fantasy adventure coming out. It’s called Wild Things, and it’s just this fun fantasy adventure with a “classic” feel. It’s very unlike anything we’ve done before, which is the whole point. We have a new Pinebox adventure called The Beast Within coming out this quarter. It’s a low-level adventure that could be a great entry point to a Pinebox campaign. We’ve got another Pinebox adventure called The Prodigal. The really big news is that this summer we have a 12 part serialized adventure in the style of the TV show 24, called 12 Hours to Midnight. Each episode takes place in one hour of game time, and we plan on releasing them at the rate of one a week beginning in June and wrapping up in August. Like all our other titles, it’ll be available in both d20 and Savage Worlds, but it’s too early to know for sure if the release schedule will be the same for both editions.
Bonus Question: Horror is hard, adventures are hard, you guys write horror adventures. Are you masochistic or just weird? (Totally not a loaded question)
I think this goes back to question 6. When we started we made a conscious decision to make a name for ourselves in one niche instead of randomly publishing whatever seemed like a good idea at the time. We had no idea that horror was such a small segment of gamers (after all, World of Darkness and Cthulhu seemed popular) or that adventures were one of the lowest sellers among roleplay products. Doh. But you have to write what you love, and this is what we love. I think the fact that we’re one of the top 25 sellers at RPGNow despite the way the cards are stacked against us must mean that our passion shows through in our work. Or maybe it’s the magic runes that say “buy me” carefully woven into each PDF. Meh. Whatever.
Thanks again Preston!