SEP: Business Vs. Hobby
When my associate and I created Sword’s Edge Publishing, we had a very limited goal – we were going to publish a collection of military adventures for modern d20, and then another series of adventures for d20 fantasy. In there, I intended to write a supplement for playing covert, special operations characters in modern d20 and my associate wanted the series of fantasy adventures to lead to a setting. We expected a relatively tight timeline and then we’d likely sit back, see what happened and maybe see about publishing other people’s stuff.
We did complete the Albenistan series, just that we were eight months late. The fantasy adventure series never saw fruition. We totally departed from our plan. How did it all go off the rails? Can you guess? Real life and project drift took its toll in that first year.
However, while we were not doing exactly what we had planned, we had found a niche. Our production schedule followed the generally favorable reviews our modern d20 products received, and it was this critical praise rather than sales that informed my plans for SEP.
And it was very quickly my plans that mattered, as my partner could invest less and less time in SEP, and when his dream job came through, he was gone. Long before that, I had become solely responsible for SEP and I was not then, and am not now a businessman.
I’m sure there were methods I could have used to help me decide our way forward. I did consider our sales numbers, but they were small. Critical reception and personal interest informed my decisions rather than business considerations.
When we got critical praise for our Roles & Classes line, I pushed forward with those, but that line only lasted as long as my personal interest. A last Roles & Classes product was almost finished, but I dropped it when I ran out of enthusiasm for the line.
That was a ridiculous business decision. The praise we were getting for R&C helped to create our brand – and, yes for a while there we did have a brand identity and mindshare, small though it may have been. A real professional would have continued forward with R&C, at least release that last product. People were just starting to recognize the brand through the R&C line, and then that disappeared.
I chased after a pet project of mine, adapting modern d20 for pre-industrial play. Modern Medieval didn’t strike the same chord as R&C, and that project died well before the planned core system product even started production.
I had lost our modern fans and didn’t pick up any medieval ones. This was not what people wanted or expected from SEP.
These decisions were bad from a business standpoint, but they were good from a personal one. Listen, I was making beer money at best from this venture. The team working on these products was professional in design and delivery, but it remained a hobby. Yes, I made a bit of coin, but it was only because I loved what I was doing that I did it, and continued to do it.
And here’s where I fell down: I wanted to publish my games rather than be a publisher. A publisher would have made the right business decisions. The thing is, it is very nice to have total, absolute control over your work, over when, where, and how it will be released. I don’t know if another publisher would have bothered with Covert Forces. I’m pretty sure none would have pushed me to update it.
And these days, could I have sold another publisher on Sword Noir or Kiss My Axe (discussed earlier on the Black Gate blog here and here)? I honestly don’t know. I started writing modern d20 adventures and supplement because that’s what I was playing. Once I published a version of Covert Forces that I was happy with, a lot of the motivation to keep plugging at SEP dissipated. As my two daughters arrived, that motivation dissipated further. It likely wouldn’t have for someone serious about business, but in case it’s not clear, I’m not very serious about business.
And now SEP has returned. It’s returned in a whole different fashion with an entirely different model.
But that’s another story.
[…] written previously about starting Sword’s Edge Publishing, mistakes I made in running the company, and about publishing Sword Noir. When the time came to publishing Kiss My Axe: Thirteen Warriors […]