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BoardGameGeek» Forums » Gaming Related » General Gaming

Subject: RPG books are easier to make and publish than board games... rss

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Jay Little
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At least, that seems to be an increasingly common opinion.

Over the last year I've seen a lot of posts and talked to a lot of convention attendees and players who assert that a roleplaying game is easier to make than a board game. It seems especially prevalent when talking about the fulfillment or failure of different Kickstarter projects.

What do you think? Are roleplaying game products easier to make than board games? And during which stages - design? development? production?

For those that do think a roleplaying game product is easier to publish than a board game, I'm curious as to their thoughts or reasons behind this opinion.

For those who don't, what elements do you feel make a roleplaying game most challenging to make?

(I use "make" generically here since it's rarely specific how/why or clarified with more specific terms)

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It's extremely easy to get some books printed and mailed. Sourcing components, printing a book, cards, and board then assembling all of it and shipping is many times more complicated. That makes the fulfillment end of an RPG far easier.
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'Bernard Wingrave'
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cormor321 wrote:
It's extremely easy to get some books printed and mailed. Sourcing components, printing a book, cards, and board then assembling all of it and shipping is many times more complicated. That makes the fulfillment end of an RPG far easier.


I agree with this, and the subject mentions "books" so it fits. Now if you are talking about RPG products in general, that could include dice, miniatures, maps, and probably a lot of other things I'm not thinking about at the moment. Those would make fulfillment more difficult.
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Jay Little
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Most of the conversations seem to generically refer to an RPG as its "core book" or "core product" for such comparisons.
 
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I think it depends on how original you're being. A hack and slash RPG based on d20 or Pathfinder is pretty easy.

When you're talking about serious worldbuilding things get harder. You're kind of writing a characterization of everyone in the world, how the world works (if not like our world or some period in history), the places and things and social institutions in the world, its economics and politics.... All that is much more complex than a board game.

If you create your own mechanics, then you can run into math problems. Storyteller had some problems in that area. Also, character creation can get unbalanced and force players into peculiar choices: I've seen both systems that require you to dump your points into one thing or you'll never get high in it; and, contrariwise, systems where you have to dribble points everywhere you think you might want to do something because you can't get it later.*

*This is minmaxing to an extent, but I've never seen a system without some minmaxing or a player who doesn't minmax some; you want your character to be effective, after all, or you let down your team. I've had Hero System people say, "Obviously, you put three points into something and take advantage that it rounds up to five points," yet bitch an moan about a character development totally consistent with the character concept, which happens to overpower the character due to the quirks of Hero System. It's the same for every system, pretty much.
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RPGs (i.e. books) should indeed be easier to publish than board games, but that's just the physical components. In regard to the design process as a whole, I wouldn't automatically give the edge to one or the other.

Theoretically, an RPG core book would have to cover a whole world of possibilities whereas a board game typically restricts possible actions much more strictly. However, albeit more capacious, the design of an RPG ruleset is also a lot more forgiving than the mechanics of a board game, simply because game balance and flow is also at the discretion of the GM. And to be honest, even the most popular (and thus best tested) RPGs are riddled with inconsistencies, imbalances, and "strictly worse"-options that couldn't be tolerated in a strategic board game. In this sense, I'd assume that the "mechanical" side in board games tends to be more demanding than in RPGs; however, in RPGs the "thematic" side of the game is typically much more developed than in board games, and that factors into the game design as well.

Small point of notice: What makes these comparisons a bit academic in my opinion is the wide range of different products in either category. I mean, BGG hosts 24-hour-design contests for board games, but it's probably safe to say that Terra Mystica wasn't built overnight.
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Ken Lewis
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If we are talking about the design of RPG's and board games, I think it depends on the scope of the individual games.

If we are talking about the production of those types of games, I would say RPG's are easier to produce as is any game book that doesn't require additional components.

It was easy for me to self publish my game Giant Monster Rampage, it is just a book. I do not think it will be easy for me to publish the board game version of Giant Monster Rampage and I certainly wouldn't be able to do it alone (which is why I am looking for a publisher for it instead ).

 
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'Bernard Wingrave'
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Another couple of ways of looking at this:

An RPG book could be published as a PDF. Very easy to distribute. While a boardgame could be published as an app, I think the programming required would be more difficult than a simple PDF.

An RPG book potentially has at least a couple of audiences -- people who want to read it (and I have friends who just read RPG books) , and people who want to use it to play the RPG. With a boardgame, I don't think there are going to be very many people who just want to buy it to read the rules, so the audience is going to be smaller.
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Max Power
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bwingrave wrote:
Another couple of ways of looking at this:

An RPG book potentially has at least a couple of audiences -- people who want to read it (and I have friends who just read RPG books) , and people who want to use it to play the RPG. With a boardgame, I don't think there are going to be very many people who just want to buy it to read the rules, so the audience is going to be smaller.


I've genuinely never heard of this. How many friends do you have who read RPG books just to read them?
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Phil Bolger
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ByDeadlyHands wrote:
bwingrave wrote:
Another couple of ways of looking at this:

An RPG book potentially has at least a couple of audiences -- people who want to read it (and I have friends who just read RPG books) , and people who want to use it to play the RPG. With a boardgame, I don't think there are going to be very many people who just want to buy it to read the rules, so the audience is going to be smaller.


I've genuinely never heard of this. How many friends do you have who read RPG books just to read them?


I know I'm not the one being addressed, but I'll but in and agree with Bernard-- I've a couple friends who will pick up RPG sourcebooks, in particular, because they enjoy the world and enjoy the fluff.

Then, a separate category, I've friends who will pick up RPG books with little intent of playing them (because their existing backlog is too big), but who are always looking for new mechanics or individual parts they might want to incorporate.
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ByDeadlyHands wrote:
bwingrave wrote:
Another couple of ways of looking at this:

An RPG book potentially has at least a couple of audiences -- people who want to read it (and I have friends who just read RPG books) , and people who want to use it to play the RPG. With a boardgame, I don't think there are going to be very many people who just want to buy it to read the rules, so the audience is going to be smaller.

I've genuinely never heard of this. How many friends do you have who read RPG books just to read them?

There is quite a large group of RPG folks who buy and/or acquire many of the more popular large/small/free indie RPGs (Fiasco, anything based on the Apocalypse World mechanics such as Dungeon World, Dogs in the Vineyard, Burning Wheel, Mortal Coil, Mouseguard, Prime Time Adventures, Wushu, 7th Sea, etc) to read, discuss, and inform their views and ways of playing other RPGs, but not necessarily to play that specific RPG.

I've steered clear of most mainstream RPGs since AD&D 2nd edition to focus on buying and learning about the more narrative/indie RPGs that offer less crunchy gaming, and more focus on story-telling or unique mechanics.

The IPR booth at Origins is a great place to explore ... I picked up a copy of The Warren I'm keenly excited about reading through, think "Apocalypse World mechanics meets Watership Down".
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bwingrave wrote:
An RPG book potentially has at least a couple of audiences -- people who want to read it (and I have friends who just read RPG books) , and people who want to use it to play the RPG. With a boardgame, I don't think there are going to be very many people who just want to buy it to read the rules, so the audience is going to be smaller.

I have to agree with this, too.

Some just want to experience the world. Some want to take the ideas and transplant them into their favorite generic system (d20, Hero, Fudge, GURPS). And some, like boardgamers, buy because they'd like to play it, but like boardgamers, sometimes don't get to play some obscure title.
___

On physical publishing, as opposed to print and play or PDF, I think RPGs are harder to publish.

For a board game, if it actually has a big board, then that's kind of hard to make, but it isn't high volume: one per game quantity 1000+ for a small run; it's specialized, but a board game has room in its budget for the board and mounting. The board game rules may just be a page or a folder, like Carcassonne, which could be laser printed at home or in a copy shop. And a retail price of $40-60 is accepted.

For an RPG, you have at least a hundred pages, probably hundreds. If you pay the ~$0.10 per page of laser printing, that's a cost of $10-30, or so, plus cover, binding, boxing, distribution--you're way over the $30 or so acceptable price for an RPG. You have no choice but to go to a professional printer and use offset printing, folding, trimming, binding; yes, it's all a standard process, but it's got a lot of up front costs, and the metal plates for offset printing can't be re-used.

I wrote this directed at the high volume publishing of Automobile, which has a pretty large manual; but the info on offset printing should apply to RPGs: Re: Bit of a discussion: why does it take publishers so long to get something published?
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'Bernard Wingrave'
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Regarding reading RPG books, I have 2 friends who have told me they have done this. And I can see how this could happen. Playing an RPG requires finding a DM and scheduling to accommodate a group. Reading an RPG book does not require finding a DM or scheduling. Much easier.
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Adam Gordon
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bwingrave wrote:
Regarding reading RPG books, I have 2 friends who have told me they have done this. And I can see how this could happen. Playing an RPG requires finding a DM and scheduling to accommodate a group. Reading an RPG book does not require finding a DM or scheduling. Much easier.


Due to real life commitments(4 kids, ages 6 and under) I am in this group of readers of RPG books. It is interesting to develop ideas for characters. I like the reading in the star wars Edge of the empire right now.
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Jay Little
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bwingrave wrote:
An RPG book potentially has at least a couple of audiences -- people who want to read it (and I have friends who just read RPG books) , and people who want to use it to play the RPG. With a boardgame, I don't think there are going to be very many people who just want to buy it to read the rules, so the audience is going to be smaller.


I buy a lot of boardgames just to explore them, study their design and mechanics, and collect by category (purchasing Tile Placement games so I have several to refer to rather than just Carcassonne, for example). More than half of my collection has never been played, just opened, sifted through, read, set up, and placed back on the shelf. They are part of my personal database of gaming knowledge -- available to look up or cross-reference when needed, but otherwise, largely unused.

In addition to the various editions of a particular board game, I personally think there is a stronger "collector" value attributed to board games. Not that some RPGs aren't collector's items, but I don't need to purchase four printings of a single RPG system, where I might purchase four printings of a single boardgame since it was published by four different publishers, with different art, components, etc.
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Jay Little
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Tall_Walt wrote:

On physical publishing, as opposed to print and play or PDF, I think RPGs are harder to publish.


It's interesting to see the different perspectives, which are strongly influenced by the size of production runs and whether or not a product is printed domestically (in the US, outsourcing to China introduces a number of additional layers of complexity).

For larger, Triple-A titles, I would give the nod to RPG books as more challenging overall. In large part due to the total number of people involved in the process.

If you look at the inside credits page for a core product, like Star Wars Roleplay, Pathfinder, or Dungeons & Dragons, there are dozens -- sometimes 100+ people listed.

Each piece of art has to be sourced and coordinated with an artist. In fact, some times the art for an RPG product can be 50% or more of the entire budget. They all have to go through approvals and revisions before they get to layout.

The writing is most likely divided among multiple writers -- sometimes dozens. Then multiple editors and proof-readers. All coordinated to meet an outline developed and structured by another group of people.

Add a license, like Star Wars, Firefly, or Marvel Super Heroes, and you add a host of additional requirements and expectations -- adding new "fluff" to an RPG setting often gets greater scrutiny than something in a board game, because a board game is different each time, offering different potential scenarios, while RPG fluff is compared against the standards of the intellectual property's Canon.

Then... approvals. There are tons of approvals for AAA board games and roleplaying games, but often there are more teams, more individuals, more stages where approvals are required.

Then... there's the logistics of shipping and distribution. RPG books are 100% weight -- unlike a board game, the size of which is not necessarily indicative of its weight. If you're coordinating the containers on a boat from China, for example, you can't put all the RPG products together at one end and board games on the other -- the imbalanced weight distribution causes all sorts of problems. Shipping a mix of board games and RPGs from a printer requires some clever Tetris to optimize.

For smaller print runs or self-publishing endeavors, I'd probably lean back toward board games because a smaller or indie style RPG can be managed by fewer people and may require less art, fewer voices in the approval flowchart, and the cost-per-unit for paper tends to be less expensive than the CPU for cards, punch, dice, plastic, or other physical components...

Anyway... that's my personal take on it from my experiences.
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