OverviewPosthuman Studios was actually founded back in 2008 by Rob Boyle, Brian Cross, and Adam Jury. At the time, two of us were working with Catalyst Game Labs, which had just gotten started a few months earlier after the collapse of FanPro. Between the three of us we had two games that we wanted to see published, so we established Posthuman as a holding company for the IPs of those games. We licensed our first game, Eclipse Phase, to Catalyst Game Labs and worked with them to bring it to publication in 2009.
In 2010, we decided to part ways with Catalyst, so we ramped up Posthumans operations in order to lay the foundation for an independent creative studio. Our first real year as an independent business was a thrilling, if trying, time for us. We are both a small and virtual company consisting of three owners (we operate collectively) and no physical offices. In order to produce our games, we work with both a stable of awesome freelance staff and a publishing partner, Sandstorm Productions, which assists us in getting our games into print and distribution.
Successes and FailuresFor a first year, 2010 was quite good for Posthuman Studios. Here is a quick summary of the highlights and low points:
- Our separation from Catalyst Game Labs was not nearly as painful as it could have been.
- Our new partnership with Sandstorm Productions has worked out quite well so far.
- Eclipse Phase sales exceeded our projections.
- Eclipse Phase won numerous awards (see below).
- We instituted a policy at the start to pay freelancers when the book goes to print, and we have stuck with this.
- We stuck to other policies we enacted at the start, such as never having to ship a book ourselves.
- We followed through on experimenting with and improving digital releases.
- We failed to establish a direct-ordering option for customers.
- Our release schedule slipped with our second book (Gatecrashing)
- We did not get out as many PDF-exclusive releases as we hoped.
- We had some issues getting our stock correctly listed on Amazon.
- We failed to get the Posthuman Studios website up (separate from the EP site)
Eclipse Phase Core BookOur first print run of EP under Catalyst was 3,000 copies. It debuted at Gen Con 2009, hit retail in October 2009, and sold through by January 2010. Our second print run (unfortunately an exact replica of the first printing due to a printer error), another 3,000, hit retail in June 2010, after we purchased this stock from Catalyst as we parted ways. By the end of 2010, we had sold 2376 of those copies. Altogether we have sold 5,376 copies of EP in 14 months.
We expect to run out of stock no later than April and are taking it in for the third printing soon. This third printing will be the first under Posthuman directly, will incorporate all of the errata to date, and we even put it through another proofreading pass to catch any lingering issues. We are also replacing the few pieces of artwork that were not Creative Commons licensed, so the entire book will be CC. You will be able to tell the third and later printings from the earlier versions by the Posthuman Studios logo.
How do those sales numbers stack up? It’s hard to say, since not many publishers share this data, but we feel quite good about them. In fact, for an entirely new game, not a licensed property, with no pre-existing fan base, and tackling a complex science fiction subject like transhumanism (sci-fi in general being a traditionally harder sell than fantasy)—well, we think it’s kicking ass. Our sales velocity is good and we have an active line with new and well-received products, so we qualify it as a success.
Another measure of strength is PDF sales. We took the lower price point route on the core book PDF and sold it at $15. We did this for several reasons. For one, PDF pricing is still in flux, and $15 seems to be the upper limit on what many consumers are willing to pay. When you price a PDF at $20+ or somewhere near the print cover price, you lose people who might throw down a few bucks to check it out. We also had to balance against the fact that with our Creative Commons license, people are free to share the PDF. We are, in effect, giving it away. That said, we do think PDFs have value above print books (especially when they are bookmarked as ours are and layered for easy printing), and they do cost money beyond print production costs—at least if you’re doing them right. And given the thin profit margins on print publishing, PDF sales are essential for small publishers like ourselves to stay afloat. So we needed a balance between "free" and "too pricey for a PDF," a range where the people who want to support us for our work will still feel comfortable paying for a PDF.
This was not an easy decision—in 2009, we had to convince Catalyst that this was a good idea, as they feared the lower price point would result in less PDF sales income. So we put our royalties on the line and struck a deal—if sales for the EP PDF at $15 did not match double the sales of an equivalent $30 PDF within 18 months, Catalyst would take the difference out of our royalties. In order to meet that goal, we had to sell 800 PDFs in 18 months.
We beat that goal in 6 weeks.
To date, after ~15 months of PDF sales, we have sold ~1,400 PDFs. There is no question that we made the right choice.
This, of course, doesn’t count the thousands of free, legal PDF downloads that people have made. Demonoid alone tells us that the EP core book was downloaded as a torrent at least 14,000 times (2k stand-alone and 12k as part of larger RPG bundle downloads), and that’s just a single tracker. Those don’t pay directly, but those are thousands of people who have been exposed to our game who might otherwise never have heard of it. Certainly some of those downloaders are reading it, playing it, and sharing it with other friends. That translates into more print and/or PDF sales, quite possibly better than any form of advertising or marketing we could do, because it costs us nothing.
We hear often that RPG sales are down in the industry, but EP is seeing good initial sales and selling steadily. It’s available in chain bookstores and on Amazon, it’s winning awards, and it has a good buzz. We couldn’t be more pleased.
Eclipse Phase Gamemaster PackWe went for a sturdy 4-panel design for the Eclipse Phase Gamemaster Screen and it was received well both for its durability and its design. The adventure we packaged with it, Glory, was the first EP adventure to be released. Catalyst printed 2,000 of these, which we also purchased from them. It hit retail in August and we sold 1,258 by the end of the year. Pretty good for a GM Screen. This will probably not be reprinted, so get it while it’s still in stock.
We also released the Gamemaster Pack in PDF form (including screen and adventure) and with a Hack Pack version that offered construction and art files. By the end of the year, we had sold 164 PDFs and 143 Hack Packs (307 total). We later made the Glory adventure available separately, selling 93 of those.
SunwardThis was the first sourcebook for EP, dealing with the inner half of the solar system. Sunward was about 90% complete when we split from Catalyst. We acquired it just in time to wrap up the artwork and layout and get it out the door in time to make Gen Con. We printed 3,000, using a new printer in Texas for the first time and going for a sturdier paper stock than the core book, and adding a cloth bookmark.
We sold 128 at Gen Con and just shy of 800 in the first month of distribution. It hit retail in September and sold a total of 1,889 copies by the end of the year. We released the PDF in July, along with a Hack Pack version with extra files. By the end of the year we had sold 390 PDFs and 292 Hack Packs (682 total).
We had some unfortunate issues with Amazon when Sunward came out. The original listing for Sunward had come from Catalyst Game Labs, with a different ISBN, so that listing had to be killed (invalidating all of the pre-orders that had been made). For some reason, Amazon literally took months to get the new listing up and to place an order from us, despite us haranguing them on a weekly basis. This meant that Sunward was not available on Amazon until two months after it came out. While this probably helped drive retail sales, it was not an ideal situation for us, considering also that we had no direct order option at the time. Some people simply don’t have retail shops in their area, so Amazon or direct ordering is their only option. To make matters worse, Catalyst re-used the ISBN they had originally assigned to Sunward for a different product (something you’re not supposed to do), so a number of our customers who pre-ordered Sunward were shipped a BattleTech book instead. Amazon was very good about making sense of this situation and refunding/replacing books for our fans. Still, this was a frustrating situation all around and we hope to avoid it in the future.
GatecrashingGatecrashing was the first sourcebook for which we pulled together the majority after leaving Catalyst. It deals with exploration through the mysterious Pandora gates. We originally wanted to get this out before the holidays, but we missed the window, so it became an early 2011 title. We did release the PDF and Hack Pack in December, however, selling 260 and 157 of each respectively (417 total).
PDF Exclusive ProjectsAside from our print releases, we aim to supplement the Eclipse Phase line with regular PDF-exclusives. Our main goal with these is to offer items that probably wouldn’t sell as well in print, particularly gamemaster-specific stuff like NPCs and adventures. We also plan to eventually release source material that is unlikely to make its way into upcoming sourcebooks but that would still be of interest to players. Budgeting PDF-exclusive releases is a challenge because you don’t have the print release to soak up all of the costs. With a price point of $5, we are aiming for something in the range of 5,000 words with only one or two pieces of art. That enables us to break even on what we paid everyone after about a month or two of sales.
We released three PDF exclusives in 2010: NPC File 1: Prime and two adventures, Bump in the Night and Continuity. Of these, NPC File 1: Prime has been the best-seller (it was also the first released), but Continuity, released in late November, has been the fastest seller.
Though we are not making a ton of money on these digital exclusives, we are not doing badly. In fact, it was roughly 10% of our total income in 2010. These releases do quite a bit to fill the void between print releases and keep the line active, however, so we plan to increase our output in the future. We’d like to get to a point where we are releasing at least one digital exclusive each month.
We also experimented with a PDF-only release that was a simple reformatting of the Eclipse Phase Sample Characters, in dimensions optimized for the Apple iPad. We gave this release away for free and also sold it for $5: it was downloaded a good amount but sold in the low double digits. Since the only thing it cost us was a Sunday afternoon of tweaking, it didn’t technically lose any money, and the free version was well-received.
Amazon-Kindle ExperimentsWe have also experimented with releasing the opening fiction pieces from our book as separate digital releases. We’ve made these available on Amazon for the Kindle, but unfortunately the contract stipulations for that do not allow us to reveal sales numbers. The numbers have been low, though—we’re not penetrating very far with non-gamers. We do better selling fiction on DriveThruRPG—easily double the amount. This may in part be due to the fact that the DriveThru download includes the fiction in PDF, MOBI, and ePub formats and so is cross-platform. Another factor is that our existing customers are already used to buying our stuff from DriveThruRPG, and many are tech-savvy.
Selling Kindle titles for $0.99 is a quantity game—Amazon pays the publisher 35% of the sale price if a title is $2.98 or lower, and 70% if the title is $2.99 or higher. This means that a single sale at $2.99 is worth seven sales at $0.99 ... but we simply don’t think that $2.99 is a fair price for a single short story.
We’ll continue releasing fiction on the Kindle store, while looking for ways to better promote it to non-gamers as well as make it more profitable.
PDFs — Going Beyond the BasicsWe do our best to take full advantage of PDF formats and utility. All of our PDFs are bookmarked and searchable and so are quite useful for reference at the gaming table. They are also layered so that you can turn off backgrounds, images, etc. for easier printing. We’ve recently begun to use better software (Cross References Pro, an InDesign plugin) that makes each page reference within a PDF into a hyperlink, so you can jump directly to that page. The next update of the Eclipse Phase core rulebook PDF will bring layers and hyperlinks to the core book!
We’ve been experimenting with other ways to improve upon them, particularly with our PDF-exclusive releases. The PDFs of our print books are of course limited by the fact that the layout is designed for hardcopy books. Double-column layout is often not ideal for PDF use, especially if you’re trying to read it on a mobile device. Changing to a landscape or single column format is a significant and costly effort, however, so we are not currently in the habit of doing this for the PDFs of print books.
When it comes to the PDF-exclusive projects, though, we have a lot more leeway. We’ve been using our traditional two-column portrait layout by default, because that’s how our templates are built. We have offered several of them in a landscape format as well, making them more useful for iPads and tablets. We are also experimenting with presenting the information offered in the PDFs in different formats to make them more useful for GM reference or for printing.
With the Continuity adventure, we took a stab at incorporating audio MP3 files for dialog from one of the main NPCs, playable from a link embedded in the PDF. This went over quite well.
Creative Commons Lessons
One of the biggest features of Eclipse Phase that we like is the fact that we released it under a Creative Commons nc-by-sa license (see http://eclipsephase.com/cclicense). This means that people are free to share, remix, and otherwise manipulate our text and artwork as long as they do so non-commercially, provide attribution, and license any derivative works under the same license.
The first practical application of this is that people can share our stuff online for free. We wholly support this and in fact encourage it—we’ve seeded our own files via BitTorrent. For a new and growing game line, obscurity was a far greater danger than piracy, and there is no question in our minds that the Creative Commons approach helped to expose EP to thousands of people that might otherwise have missed it. This approach is also beneficial to gaming groups, as players can easily share files with each other to make characters and get a game going. Most importantly, our fans appreciate the freedom this gives them and the fact that we don’t try to punish them or treat them like criminals, and they support us even more because of it.
The Creative Commons license is about more than just getting our stuff for free—it’s also giving our fans the tools to play in our sandbox. As a result, we’ve seen some great resources and tools produced by EP players, including auto-calculating character generation spreadsheets, alternate character sheet designs, various visual aids, a digital fanzine, and a dice roller android app, among others.
We still have to spend time explaining just how Creative Commons works to many people (some of the misconceptions are hilariously sad, with an emphasis on the sad side...), but this is far preferable to spending time telling people un-fun restrictive things!
Our ad-hoc research indicates that many active Eclipse Phase groups are sharing the core rulebook PDF within their group and that the majority of groups have multiple copies of the print rulebook as well. By charging very reasonable prices for our PDFs and allowing groups to share them, they’re better able to buy copies in print!
Two final aspects to the Creative Commons license that rarely get discussed are simple accessibility and permanency. Our game is available to anyone regardless of their income or their ability to afford it. While we live in a capitalist society and we hope to make money from our creativity so that we can continue to produce more games and still feed ourselves, we take satisfaction in the fact that people do not need to have money to access that creative output. That availability is perpetual: no matter what happens to us or Eclipse Phase in the future, our Creative Commons works can be legally distributed and redistributed forever. Even if we all suddenly pass away in a Red Bull, vodka, and enthusiasm "incident" (#16 in the list of reasons that game companies suddenly disappear...)—Eclipse Phase won’t disappear with us.
Foreign Language LicensingWe’re excited to announce that we’ve signed an agreement with Black Book Editions in France to translate and publish Eclipse Phase in French. The translation is already underway and we hope to see the book out by the end of the year.
We are currently negotiating to have EP translated into other languages, with several promising licensing leads and talks underway. We are always looking for more opportunities to spread EP into other markets. In the meantime, our fan base has already been busy with a number of self-organized translation projects, including Italian, Russian, Spanish, and other languages!
Marketing and Con PresenceOur relationship with Sandstorm Productions places us at a variety conventions and trade shows; many of these are industry/marketing focused and aren’t open to the general public. We had a presence at Origins Game Fair, Gen Con, and Penny Arcade Expo in 2010, and we plan on being at all of them again in 2011. We also try to hit local conventions in an unofficial capacity—keep an eye on our blog for announcements about those!
This past year saw us scrambling to get someone to Origins so soon after our split from Catalyst. But it was a good thing we did since we ended up taking home the Origins Award for Best Roleplaying Game, which came as something as a surprise to all of us given the other excellent competition in that category.
By the time Gen Con rolled around we’d gotten a lot more settled and were ready to show up in force with Sunward hot off the presses! Gen Con 2010 was a great year for us, we ran twenty games and received some great feedback from the players whom overwhelmingly enjoyed playing Eclipse Phase. Thanks also goes out the excellent writers and GMs who made it such a great experience for our fans.
Gen Con was also where we went up against the Pathfinder juggernaut at the ENnie Awards and took home three awards. We won the Gold for Best Writing, something we personally were quite proud of since we strive to make Eclipse Phase a game that’s not only fun to play but also a joy to read, the Silver for Stephan Martiniere’s excellent cover, and the Silver for Product of the Year.
Finally in September we made our first trip up to Seattle for the Penny Arcade Expo. We weren’t exactly sure what to expect but the response was shockingly good with all of our demo slots full to overflowing. PAX also allowed us to introduce our game to an entirely new group of fans, many of which had never played an RPG outside of D&D.
This year we will once again be doing our best to hit all three of these shows and perhaps even add a few more onto our list. We are also hard at working writing new adventures for Origins and Gen Con and hope to have even more tables and gaming slots open this year to accommodate everyone who wants to experience Eclipse Phase!
We have a lot on our plate for 2011. Aside from the street release of Gatecrashing, we are hard at work on the next few EP print releases: Panopticon (covering habitats, uplifts, and surveillance), Rimward (the outer system), and Transhuman (a player’s companion). We also have a number of PDF-exclusive releases in the works, including several adventures, a Scum swarm writeup, and more NPCs. There are also plans to experiment with some digital-only fiction releases. In addition, we will be taking advantage of DriveThruRPG’s new print-on-demand program, bundling some of our PDF-exclusive releases for POD. On top of that, we are manipulating parts of the core book to make them available in Amazon Kindle format to increase our exposure in that arena. You will almost certainly see more in the way of digital experimentation projects from us. We also continue to talk to other potential partners for other releases, digital and otherwise.
As the year-end report is being wrapped up, we are also close to striking a deal for direct sales of our titles. We hope to have news on this in February!
Outside of Eclipse Phase, we plan to add some new game properties to Posthuman’s portfolio this year. We are considering RPG, card game, and board game options in-house, and we expect to bring at least one of these to fruition by the end of the year.
ThanksThank you for helping make 2010 a great year for Posthuman Studios and Eclipse Phase. We look forward to bringing you even more great stuff in 2011!
We appreciate feedback, so if you have any suggestions for things you think we should be doing or should be doing better, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
— Rob Boyle, Brian Cross, and Adam Jury
Posthuman Studios, Feb 2011