Social anxiety holds me back. There, I’ve said it. That’s the post. I hope you’re doing well today. Let’s do this again tomorrow.
Okay, I need to say a bit more than that.
Many people will tell you that you need to be an extrovert to do this. I’d like to be the exception to the rule, but to be honest, I think I would be further along in this career if I were more outgoing. A podcast or YouTube channel would open up opportunities. One of the reasons I’m sharing this developer journal is an attempt to communicate with the community while remaining closer to my comfort level.
It’s not that I have a fear of public speaking. I’ve given talks in from of hundreds of people, live, many times. As I’ve gotten older it’s become harder. The anxiety is greater. The number of negative experiences I’ve had has increased, which only serves to make me more reluctant to pop my head up.
The internet doesn’t help. Trolls are bad-faith time-wasters and emotional parasites. The only way to win is to not play, which serves to cut you off from nice people, which isn’t a win at all. Having been both a call center supervisor and a retail manager in the past makes me reluctant to deal with strangers. People randomly yelling at me was the norm, and that sticks with you even when you’re out of those specific circumstances.
I Hope You’re Doing Well Today
This is why I’m trying to focus on quality. My hope is that if I release killer products, you’ll help me with good ratings, reviews, and general word of mouth. It’s why I’m developing The Secret Newsletter, as an additional means of communicating with people in a way that doesn’t completely stress me out.
And I know, I know, that this is an innately social hobby. It’s weird for someone as introverted, reclusive, and borderline misanthropic as me to run this sort of business. All I can say is, I wasn’t always like this. I’m not always like this. I’m fine when I’m with my home group, and with friends.
That said, my philosophy that you should focus on my work and not on me is sincere. All tabletop roleplaying books should be about you, what you do with them, the imagination that you express. I just provide the tools. You’re the true creators.
Here’s a mid-month update on my current goals. As you’ll see, things are going well so far. I’m on track to get all of this done. On to the September 2021 goal review!
Goal: Release the Director’s Cut Books
The goal was to have at least the first three waves in process at the printer by the end of the month. I stated that I’d likely have the first wave sent off to the printer by the 5th. That didn’t happen. I’m spending more time being meticulous about the editing. I do not want to rush this, especially with Building Characters, Building Worlds, and Building Adventures. Everything else rests on the foundation those books provide.
As it stands, the revised goal is to get the first wave sent off by the end of this month. It’s possible that the second wave will go off to the printer by the end of the month, but the third wave almost definitely won’t go out until October. I’m okay with this.
Launch The Secret Newsletter
Before the end of the month, I want to have the first edition of The Secret Newsletter out. This is on track, and unless life throws me another unexpected curveball it might go out as early as this weekend.
Drop Our First Merch
The goal was to have merch available by the end of the month. This is on track. Current estimate is that t-shirts will be available to order on the 28th. It’s my first time doing this, so don’t be surprised if that date changes. I’d rather push it back for quality control purposes than rush to hit a deadline.
Keep a Developer’ Journal
So far, so good. I’ve been posting something every day. Response has been mixed, but that’s par for the course. Some entries get more views than others. I don’t expect that this will remain daily, simply because of the time it takes. My expectation is that it will drop back to 2 or 3 times per week during October or November. It might revert to daily around December or January, when all of the Director’s Cut books are put to bed and I can go back to working on one project at a time.
An aspiring game designer posted an odd question to Twitter: What percentage of a core book should be art? The answers were interesting, and from a design perspective, a little frightening. There was an assumption that there was a universally correct answer. People seemed to feel there was a magic formula. Some started pulling out core books from their collection and counting pages. If that’s what such-and-such publisher did, then it must be the correct answer. This approach, of course, completely ignores why the publisher chose to include that amount of artwork in that specific book.
What I found frightening were the people who said books without pictures were “difficult to read.” They didn’t expand on that. There was no clarification. Were they talking about diagrams to make tactical maneuvers easier to understand? Did they need random pictures of spellcasting elves and roaring dragons? I have seen people state that they find books without pictures “boring.” All I can do is look over at the stack of novels sitting next to my desk and weep.
Some people think that I’m anti-art. To be clear, I’m not. My answer to the question isn’t a knee-jerk zero. My answer, which I steadfastly believe to be the only correct one, is this: How much art do you need to explain the rules?
The books that DXP publishes don’t have art (so far) because they don’t need it. Yes, I understand that people like art. So do I. Pretty books are pretty. It’s possible to draw inspiration from illustrations that enhance the look and feel of a setting. Just sticking in a bunch of art because that’s what everyone else does isn’t thoughtful design, though.
Art is expensive. The expectation that a percentage of pages will be art creates a barrier to entry for designers and publishers. It increases the price of a book for customers. If a book needs less art or no art at all, that should be considered a viable design choice.
What I’m about to say isn’t intended to be negative. I’m not trying to disparage anyone. My intention is to help people that are suffering through the same thing, so they know they’re not alone. I’d like to warn any aspiring game designers and writers so they know what to expect. The truth is that the hardest part of being a game designer is not being taken seriously.
My wife and I have lived exclusively on what I earn from DXP since June of 2016. This is my full-time job. I have no other side hustle. We receive no assistance from the government or anyone else. What my wife makes goes directly into savings, or toward things that aren’t rent, groceries, and recurring monthly expenses. I would like to think that this is evidence enough that being a game designer/lo-fi publisher can be a viable career.
There are still relatives who wonder when I’m going to get a “real job”. People that have never run a business want to give me advice on how to run my company. Folks that have never had a word published try to tell me what to write and how to write it. Writers and designers that haven’t found a way to earn a living in this field throw their hands up and say that it’s impossible, implying that I’m lying.
If you’re one of those nay-sayers, I’m not talking to you right now. Come back tomorrow, when I’ll be posting a designer journal entry about something else. Right now, I want to talk to the people that are making a living, or are on track to doing this full-time, or are hungry enough to succeed in the near future.
The Hardest Part of Being a Game Designer
Learn when to listen to people, and when to ignore them.
You need to trust that you know what you’re doing. Trust that you’re making the best decision for yourself both creatively and financially. If you don’t feel you know what you’re doing, find a vetted expert to ask. Never crowdsource opinions from random strangers.
This is why I don’t do open playtests. It’s why I never read reviews. I will listen to feedback or course, and politely thank people for their input. Doing so does not oblige me to follow it. That way lies madness.
Years ago, I sold ebooks through a website that I don’t currently do business with. A particular book sold extraordinarily well and got many positive reviews. One customer, to put it bluntly, wanted me to rewrite a section of the book to suit him. I thanked him for his feedback. Not satisfied, he wrote to the site owner, who wrote to me. Shouldn’t I do something to appease this customer?
Um, no. What about all of the other customers who like the book exactly the way it was? Consider the precedent set by changing things every time on customer felt something should be different? How can you appease everyone? Think also of the value of my time, and the book I’m currently working on. If there’s an egregious error, I will absolutely take the time to fix it. Stopping work to indulge one person’s preference? That’s not how this works.
You, creator, don’t have to do that.
Art, Commerce, and Tradition
In my experience, not being taken seriously is a mood that comes from one of three places. The first originates with the “art for art’s sake” crowd. You can define art in a number of different ways, but because I have a profit motive, I’m not doing it right. I have compromised my artistic integrity but choosing to do things in a way that helps pay the bills.
The whole “make art affordable for both creator and customer” seems to go right over their head. See resource limitations as a creative challenge. Figure out less expensive ways to solve problems. Redirect your energy from managing logistics to expressing your imagination.
The second has to do with how I run my business. More than one industry professional has told me that the only way to be profitable is to churn out full-color hardcovers. Those are all customers want. Other pros have told me that I have to be running several Kickstarter campaigns per year. I’ve been told that if I’m not creating with the intention to win awards, no one will be interested in my books.
Not to name names, but I know for a fact that what I spent relocating from Finland to Delaware was more than a certain famous, award-winning game designer makes in a year. That doesn’t mean I’m rich; it means he’s poorer than I am. He’s taken seriously, yet I am not.
Do What Makes Sense
The final reason people refuse to take me seriously is tradition. Things have to be done a certain way because that’s how they’ve always been done. They never investigate why things were done that way in the first place. There’s no consideration that there might be a better way. It’s not to say that they won’t embrace new ideas. They’ll happily jump on fads and trends when a lot of other people are doing it.
I don’t genuflect to tradition. If something doesn’t make sense to me, either creatively or financially, I’ll look for another way. I’ve been playing tabletop roleplaying games for longer than some of these people have been alive. I graduated from business school summa cum laude. So again, there’s a distinct possibility that I know what I’m doing, and why I’m doing it.
Herein lies my point: do what makes the most sense for you. Create the way you’re able to create. Publish in the way that you’re able to publish. Control costs and increase profits by whatever means are at your disposal. Do not rule out ideas because people think they’re stupid, especially when you know what you’re doing and they don’t. Never bow to the pressure of that one guy that insists he knows more about your creative drives and business plans than you do.
As long as you take yourself seriously, you’ll do okay.
The End is Near — for the Reference Series! I’ve created a reference closeout mega-bundle containing all of the titles that are going away at the end of this month. Individual titles are already marked down to $1 each. The bundle is 20% off, which takes the total to $25.60, rounded to an even $25.
Even though these titles are recent additions to our catalog, the Reference Series books are being discontinued. These include the Medieval, Pirates, and Witchcraft lines. As of 1 October 2021, they will no longer be available through DriveThruRPG.
This month is your last chance to grab some great stuff. To make that easier, I have reduced individual titles to $1 each, with bundle prices adjusted accordingly.
There are several reasons for this decision. As a company, Dancing Lights Press has changed over time. These titles do not always represent our best work. They certainly don’t reflect my vision for the future. Mainly, I want to focus on original works that are more concretely roleplaying-oriented.
Dancing Lights Press | DXP is a tabletop roleplaying company with a lo-fi approach to design and publishing. Utility of content takes precedence over ostentatious production value. Graphic elements should only be used to enhance the message of the text, not merely as filler and eye candy. Physical books need to be compact, portable, and study.
This minimalist aesthetic results in powerful toolkits that are both useful and affordable. After all, tabletop roleplaying isn’t the book. It’s the expression of creativity and heartfelt collaboration that takes place around the tabletop. Our mission is to give you as much as you need, and then get out of your way.