After going through just about every tribulation possible while selling stuff over on DTRPG, I have concocted the perfect plan of attack for getting the most out of selling stuff on the platform. Not to say that I would do this, but there is definitely a way to create a sales loop there. If you watch the market at all then you might’ve seen Zweihander, specifically, just running amok and kicking ass; and after talking to Daniel Fox about his means-and-ways I think I’ve figured out the way to nail it. In steps 1 through 6 there are embedded links to take you to specific parts of the publisher dashboard. If you’re not logged in then they won’t work, and if you are not a publisher (yet!) then they will double not work.
TL;DR: Make the best thing, earn that PPP, and put it’s ass to work.
Make a really good fucking thing. This is the hardest and most important step; if your thing sucks the rest of this plan won’t work. Do a good job. Put love into your thing, playtest your thing, make it as good a thing as it could possibly be. Don’t cut corners, make your thing cohesive and tight. Keep your design goals tight, and make sure it looks spectacular. Don’t hire two handfuls of different artists unless you hire artists who can all work in the same exact style. Etc Etc. This post isn’t about how to make a good product, it is how to sell a good product on DTRPG, so just assume that from here on out we’re talking about a work of genius, or as close to it as you can make it.
Kickstart it. Those great artists aren’t cheap and your time isn’t free. Kickstart that fucker into oblivion. If your product is good (bonus points for having an established name and community involvement) then the backers will follow. Kickstarter is a good hype machine all by itself because there are so many outlets and aggregates looking for the good stuff instead of waiting for the good stuff to come to them. Kickstarting is exciting, and generally people know that when they’re backing a project they’re helping it get made and getting a little something in return. That’s not to say you don’t have to put in any work marketing your Kickstarter, you definitely need to do that.
Don’t fuck your Kickstarter up.
Updated And Interluded
When I first wrote this article, I didn’t occur to me that you need to be a verified publisher on DTRPG to use some of the promotional tools. I’d like to give a shoutout to Ben Milton over at Questing Beast who figured this out, when he went to use his PPP to set up a featured message and couldn’t because he is not verified. To become a verified publisher on DTRPG you need to have at least 2 products and I want to say there a minimum of a month’s time selling on the site too, but I am not sure. That potentially can make this whole article useless to a lot of the people who might need it most. Sorry y’all. – cecil.
Fulfill your Kickstarter through DriveThruRPG. Not only Fulfill it through Kickstarter, try to find a way to earn PPP (covered in a bit) while also getting your thing out. Kickstarters that fulfill through DTRPG generally send out at-cost coupons for POD products and complimentary copies of PDFs and these do not earn PPP or sales rankings. You can tack stretch goals on to your campaign that result in the backer dropping a few extra bucks on DTRPG later on, or even have some supplemental material ready for when your book is finished and ready to go that your backers would be interested in. PPP is what you need to grease the wheels of the DTRPG in-house promotion machinations, and you only get PPP when you make a sale. If you Kickstart your heartbreaker and it’s popular and 30 jillion people back it, and you send all 30 jillion of them free PDFs through DTRPG you’re not going to earn a single PPP and none of those people’s purchase will count towards you hitting a top seller list or a sales medal. I am not going to cover the different ways you can try to get PPP while also fulfilling your game through DTRPG, but I will say this: I do not in any way condone lying to backers or customers. If they are going to have a tacked on cost to their Kickstarter pledge then you make damn sure they know it before they pledge.
Some people might think it sucks butts, or not know it’s going on, but Kickstarting POD books is pretty common. I recently illustrated some maps for the upcoming Sly Flourish’s Fantastic Adventures and that’s being fulfilled through DTRPG via print-on-demand. I think this is fairly viable, but I do think that if you can, you definitely should hire a good print shop to roll the book out all-fancy-like. If you run out of physical copies, POD is a good backup. But if you have qualms with Kickstarting a print on demand book, then this article is only half for you. Do I have plans to Kickstart a print on demand book? Nope, but I won’t shit on it. I think we live in the golden age of DIY RPG publishing and I think that it’s a good time to explore all opportunities to get that Werewolf Clowns versus Vampire Elephants RPG you’ve been cooking up since 8th grade into hungry hands. So yeah; don’t ignore the fact that sometimes you just need the money for the art and you can save yourself a headache by going POD.
All Hail The PPP. At this point you’ve made your masterpiece, Kickstarted it so well that great great great grandad himself came back to life to smooch your forehead, and you’re ready to play the marketing game. So PPP, or publisher promotion points are earned through sales on DTRPG. The DTRPG publisher knowledge base doesn’t mention if you earn them on net sales or gross sales, but the answer is you earn them on gross sales. For every $10 you sell you get 1 PPP, plus a bonus of 10 PPP if you’re not exclusive or a bonus of 20 PPP if you are. You do not get PPP for selling anything at a 100% discount, and according to DTRPG an at-cost coupon counts as a 100% discount. The reason you want to find a way to generate PPP alongside your Kickstarter is because that is going to be the largest concentrated customer base you will have access to at a single time, thus the largest opportunity to get a lot of PPP at once. (Seriously run your kickstarter like normal, and then after everyone’s gotten their book and rewards are fulfilled, email your backers a link to some other cool shit you made. Tell them straight up.)
So let’s first assume you have a non-exclusive agreement with DTRPG, and then let’s assume your game gets 1,500 backers who all get a coupon to nab a supplemental PDF for 2 bucks instead of the retail 10 bucks for non-backers. Assuming all of your backers use the coupon (they won’t) and use the coupons all in a single month (they won’t do that either) to get the PDF then you’ve just earned 310 PPP. Add that to the PPP you’ll earn from folks who didn’t back your KS (who will be less plentiful but earn more PPP per person) and you’ve got enough PPP to start the machine to promote the main book the whole Kickstarter was for to begin with.
Originally, right here there was a long section about being upfront and honest with your backers about tacked on costs and add-ons and shit like that. Now it’s two sentences. For a look into why this changed click here.
Start the cycle of promoting and selling the PDF. There are lots of ways to spend your PPP; you can submit your product as a deal of the day, you can use them to get your thing as a featured product on both the front page of DTRPG or the category pages. You can even spend them to circulate an old school banner ad around the site. Fuck the banner, in my opinion. But the spotlight and the DotD are key. Another thing you can do is email people who haven’t bought your book yet by spending PPP (see tips and tricks below). The PPP cost of these things fluctuates with how many publishers are spending their PPP on them. For example, when we launched the Hex Kit Kickstarter we had a pledge level that was cheaper if you already owned Fantasyland on DTRPG. So I submitted Fantasyland for the DotD and spent 145 PPP on it, thinking it might entice more backers. Fantasyland never became the DotD because we launched the KS earlier than expected and I pulled it from the queue and lost those PPP. Six Weeks ago yesterday, I submitted Cold Winter as the DotD and it cost me 305. Today’s cost is 321.
The PPP cost of the spotlight features works the same way; last week I spent 28 PPP to get a featured spot in the category pages and today the same number of impressions (people who see your spotlight, not clicks) costs 30 PPP. Another thing to note, is that the DotD queue process kind of sucks. Six weeks ago I submitted Cold Winter and it has still not been the daily deal as of this writing. Zweihander has been the DotD three times in that six week period. DTPRG’s publisher support team says the queue is completely random, that when you submit your product it goes into the queue and waits to be plucked. DTRPG if you could change this to reflect the date the product went in then I’d really appreciate it.
Get that beautiful baby into the DotD queue as fast as possible though, and then put it right back as soon as you can. Make it the deal of every day. You can just put your PDF on eternal sale, sure, but if you have to point people to it instead of it being in their face and email inboxes, what’s the point?. I’ve heard tale that you can increase your daily sales up to like fives times this way, which means more PPP, that you use to submit as the DotD again as soon as possible. Don’t sit on your PPP, spend them like you need to hide money in real estate and boats. Got a little extra PPP? Buy yourself some featured spotlight impressions and pay attention to your click-through rate. Spend the that PPP like mom just gave you a blank fucking check at the comic book and candy store.
Keep the PDF cost low to put eyes on the POD copy. Yep, said it. You may have seen me somewhere on the internet complaining about how PDFs are often too cheaply priced, but I’ll be gotdamned if Zweihander has not used cheap PDFs as the best vehicle for print sales. If your thing is PDF only, then this is where you check out. But if you are pushing a POD+PDF package then you have an opportunity to really up your POD sales using that PDF. Get your ass on reddit, facebook, twitter, and g+ and give that PDF away for cheap as you can handle. The cheaper your PDF is, the more people will get it. This doesn’t mean more people will like your thing, but it does mean that your thing has more access to people who might like it. The more people who get the cheap PDF and like it, the more people are going to buy your POD copy. That’s the big secret: a cheap PDF means more POD sales, it means more PPP which means more exposure.
This means walking outside of your safe zone; it means talking to people and talking about how great your book is (without being a jackass) and it means really putting in work to get that cheap PDF in front of people. You need champs, too. Everyone can like your game but if there aren’t people who love your game then no one will be talking about. I’ve only talked about how to promote your thing within DTRPG, but you still need to work hard to make sure people outside of DTRPG know about it.
Repeat. Real talk, eventually so many people will have your game that it will become irrelevant. But if 21,000 people liked your cheap PDF enough to buy your POD book, then you have a massive amount of people to sell your next book to. I’ve heard that if you sell 1,000 copies of a RPG book in a year then you’ve made it. Zweihander just destroyed that shit, and it did it through a very calculated and brilliant cycle of sales+exposure.
A Tip Or Trick
Send out coupons to wishlist customers. You can spend very little PPP to send a coupon to people who are already interested in your thing this way. I actually do this once every two months or so.
This Article Could Very Well Skip Part Where You Need A Side-Thing To Get A Lump Of Initial PPP
If the thought of Kickstarting a book, fulfilling it through DTRPG, and giving your backers at-cost coupon doesn’t sit well with you I think that’s a totally fine way to feel but also a fine way to run a Kickstarter. But maybe there is room for DTRPG to create PPP and sales-rank incentives for publishers that fulfill their Kickstarters through OBS…
Also, you can do most of this without Kickstarter but it’s a little bit harder. Going into DTRPG sales with no hype means that your product flies off the front page real quick. Having space on the front page is very crucial to being successful there, and that’s why you need to spend your PPP on promotional tools. If you need to promote your thing outside DTRPG for a month to earn those PPP then consider that the PPP cost of things will go up, and you might be locked out of ever affording a DotD slot. Which leads me to the last thing:
The only real way to sell well in RPGs is to make something great. Yeah, you can game the PPP system and increase sales, but you can’t really even access that game if the thing you made sucks.
I want to ahead a thank Daniel Fox again, for being a mensch and answering questions I had about his experiences with Zweihander and just say congratulations to him on his success. Big shout out to Gregory Blair too, who asked some really good questions so I didn’t have to. And also big thanks to Chris Tang from DTRPG who answered a few questions for me to help me sort some mysteries out. For real, Chris and Meredith at DTRPG are great people and have always been really quick to help me out with problem’s I’ve had.
A Personal Note
I would probably not go the at-cost coupon route even though I don’t really see a problem with it. The sequel to Cold Winter is coming out soon, and I did all the work myself so I don’t need to Kickstart it. I wouldn’t turn my nose up at someone doing this though, because DTRPG is the best place to sell digital RPG stuffs but the window you have to keep your thing on the front is really small. The guidelines for having a product up there are close to nothing, and it makes the place very noisy and crowded and it’s kind of like having to dump out all your legos to find that one sword that was actually shiny instead of dull grey.
Second Personal Note, Added on 11/15 Around Lunch
Some folks were talking about the business-ethics of running a Kickstarter where backers get at-cost coupons with a few bucks tacked on. I just want to reiterate that I think Kickstarters going through DTRPG should find a way to rake in some PPP since you don’t get it through the normal means, but don’t be a liar about it. I personally think that giving backers an at-cost coupon is fine, but I would not personally go the at-cost+bucks route because it’s shady, especially if you are not up front with your backers. Originally this article mentioned the method of giving out at-cost+bucks coupons, and in the back of my mind I knew it was a bad idea to even mention it so I gave the article an editorial pass to remove it. If you’re looking for a way to generate sales and PPP of something you kickstart and fulfill through DTRPG, have extra goodies ready to go at launch.