Why I’m Not a Third Party Publisher originally appeared in a slightly different form in HUBRIS: A Commonplace Zine volume 2 issue 1.
Every creator has to follow their heart and create what they need to create. And every business needs to do what’s best for that business. These things don’t always seem intuitive. When people look at how others have achieved success, they love to suggest that maybe you should do that, too. I understand that they’re trying to be helpful. They just don’t comprehend the way you see things. Today I want to talk about why I’m not on one of those paths, why I’m not a third party publisher.
My day job is writing tabletop roleplaying games. That Dungeons & Dragons stuff. I’ve got my own game system, and create original settings. I often get asked why I don’t play in a larger playground. There are industry jobs that I could apply for, based on my talent and experience. The easy answer there is that I don’t want to relocate. Most people will accept that. What’s harder for them to swallow is that I have no desire to work for other people if I don’t have to. Yes, the pay and benefits might be better. I’m happier cutting my own path through life, even when it’s more difficult.
The other obvious arena is creating content for well-known games. Surely there has to be more money in working with a brand name, right? You automatically get better recognition and a built-in audience. There are licenses that you can get for absolutely free, which allow you to create your own original material and sell it. The people who choose to go that route are called third party publishers.
Why I’m Not a Third Party Publisher
When I was getting my business degree, I actually was a third party publisher. I set up a company name, and created a series of small products for the Pathfinder Role Playing Game and the Fate RPG under the Open Gaming License. The company was a learning lab, allowing me to make things at no real cost and use them to test things I was learning. I used them for research, and wrote papers about them.
Fans that support a licensed system have strong opinions. If you’re not turning out material that’s more or less the type of thing the original licensing publisher would release, the fanbase aren’t interested. It puts fetters on you creatively. You can get away with doing something so radically different from the licensed game that it has its own look and feel, but at that point you might as well create your own system from whole close. At least then you’ll own it outright.
Which is at least part of the business reasons I don’t do it any longer. You’re in competition with everyone else using that open license. That runs the range from small companies using a traditional publishing models to some random guy who thinks he can make a thing. It’s hard to stand out in the crowd, and you’re competing for those fanbase dollars. On top of that, you’re also competing with the original publisher, the licensee. Some fans only buy “official” material, and assume third party content is innately inferior.
I want to make my mark on my own. Over time I have created my own fanbase, regular customers who buy, play, and enjoy my stuff. That’s far more gratifying to me than playing with other peoples’ toys and hoping for the acceptance and attention of an audience that isn’t truly mine.