Advances in technology are always changing the process of publishing, from the advent of desktop publishing to the development of electronic publishing, print-on-demand, tablets, and fundraisers like Kickstarter. We at Green Ronin work to keep up on the latest innovations and how they can help us to bring you new products in new ways.
One of those ways was producing smaller, focused products we could deliver electronically in PDF format to provide support for our games. We started with the launch of Mutants & Masterminds, Third Edition, figuring the most useful support for that game out of the gate was villains for the heroes to fight. So we came up with what we initially called "Villain of the Week": a single bad guy, written up with game stats, background, and adventure hooks, with an "app price" of 99 cents, like buying a song on iTunes. We worked on getting at least a month’s worth of releases prepped and ready to go before we launched the series, which we eventually named "Threat Report" making it a weekly update from AEGIS, the super-agency dealing with villains in the setting.
Threat Report was well-received. It didn’t do as well, sales-wise, as a print product, but it also didn’t need to: the overhead costs for the individual issues was lower, so we could sell to a smaller audience. Some villains did better than others, but all of the issues at least broke even, and continued to do well afterwards. It proved to us that a weekly series of smaller products was viable, and a good way to provide continuing support for a game that didn’t involve producing a large book. As a plus, we could compile the smaller products and use them to produce a book eventually, as we’ve done with Threat Report.
Of course, the weekly publishing process was also a learning experience. We had to greatly compress our usual production timeline. Even getting a month or so ahead of the publishing dates, we needed to produce and develop text, art, and layout quickly. Having a standardized layout helped, something we carried over to the Power Profiles series. We needed to make sure our art orders were planned well in advance. Even then, art did not always keep pace with the text, leading to occasional hold-ups or reschedules as art came in late or in a different order. We also learned to standardize our art: in Power Profiles, each issue has the same art specs in terms of size and placement, allowing finished art to fit into the layout quickly and easily (unlike the character pieces in Threat Report, which often involved reflowing and adjusting text and layout).
On the other hand, the weekly schedule made our products more responsive: we got regular feedback from fans on our forums about what they liked and didn’t about the format and content. Threads began devoted to speculation and wish-lists on future releases as well as reviewing the current ones. So later issues in the series benefited from information we would not have gotten if they had all been chapters of the same book.
After we completed a full year’s worth of issues for Threat Report, we decided to wrap it up and launched the Power Profiles series. Fans of Threat Report were initially uncertain but Power Profiles has proven, if anything, to be more popular than Threat Report, allowing us to provide another type of regular support for M&M. The smaller electronic format has done so well that we’ve expanded it to our other games lines, offering similar (although not weekly) products for Dragon Age (and, eventually, A Song of Ice & Fire Roleplaying). The format has also allowed us to provide more "generic" support for the Adventure Gaming Engine, which has met with great fan approval.
As new innovations continue to change how publishing happens, you can expect to see us continue to experiment with new formats, new kinds of products, and new ways of delivering them to you for your gaming enjoyment. With the popularity of Kickstarter as a funding and marketing mechanism, who knows, there might be an offering there in the future…
Have a type of product or publishing you think we should be exploring? Hit our forums and let us know!
Steve Kenson has been an RPG author and designer since 1995 and has worked on numerous book and games, including Mutants & Masterminds, Freedom City, and Blue Rose for Green Ronin Publishing. He has written nine RPG tie-in novels and also runs his own imprint, Ad Infinitum Adventures, which publishes material for Icons Superpowered Roleplaying. Steve maintains a website and blog at www.stevekenson.com.