Ron Edwards Too Good For Indie Press Revolution

Ah, the RPG community.  No difference is too small to be an excuse to fragment it further!

Background for the Uninitiated: There are such things as “indie” role-playing games, for those of you who consider using rules from Dragon Magazine in your D&D to be “living on the edge.”  What “indie” means is of course immediately up for debate; to some folks it’s any games from single person or small shops (e.g. not from a big publisher).  Of course, in the RPG world pretty much everyone but WotC and White Wolf has less than a handful of employees.  Some people draw a distinction between “storygames” and “traditional” RPGs, which is also a very arguable distinction between RPGs that are more story-oriented, or, frankly, just more “newfangled” and games that seem to be constructed just like every RPG since 1970.

The Forge (aka indie-rpgs.com) is a forums site run by Ron Edwards, author of the RPG Sorcerer, which is for certain indie game design folks to collaborate. (I say “certain” because they have a very specific view of what’s indie and other views are not welcome.)

Indie Press Revolution is a distributor that carries indie titles, from the FORGE and others.  There’s some overlap in publishers with the mega-RPG sales site RPGNow.com, but they focus on small press titles. They’ve grown quickly; now my FLGS (Rogue’s Gallery, in Round Rock, TX) has an IPR mini-section.

Anyway, on the FORGE site, Ron Edwards has declared IPR not “indie” enough and is starting his own distributor (well, a couple hours a week of some chick named Meg) to do fulfillment for him and a couple other companies.  He’s concerned that his “definition of independence” is a low priority for IPR taking on new publishers, and that his books are not “front and center” on the IPR home page.

Unlike the RPGPundit, who dismisses the whole kerfluffle as storygamer silliness, I enjoy some indie games, storygames, whatever you want to call them.  I own octaNe, InSpectres, Lacuna, Don’t Rest Your Head, Spirit of the Century, some of the GUMSHOE titles…  In terms of older games I’d consider indie, Feng Shui changed how I play all RPGs.

Anyway, this whole thing seems to be a case of ego run wild.  I defy you to read the FORGE thread and not say “Man, that Ron guy is being an assmaster.”  He claims to not have a beef, but then casts IPR as some huge demon corp with tremendous overhead used to fleece the publishers, then when one of the IPR guys very politely responds to say “we’re like two people and I pull only 10 hrs/week salary from it”, goes into full attack dog mode, even threatening to moderate him so he can’t reply.  Stay classy, Ron.  He claims that “No one owns independence” but you get the clear idea he thinks he does, or at least is its pope.  For someone that’s published exactly one game, that’s a bit of a tall order IMO.

And franky, it’s not a good idea to split off on your own.  I’m sorry his game isn’t “front page” on the IPR site any more.  But there’s a reason you get mileage out of a good distributor – their reach and quality.  IPR has become (like RPGNow and Paizo.com, at least for me personally) a destination to go look at when you’re in the market for games.  They have a great and usable Web site with helpful features, a problem-free store, they take credit cards and not just PayPal – all that stuff that junky little one-man Web pages don’t have.  I mentioned there’s an IPR mini-section in my FLGS.  All that gets your game out to people.   And the woods are littered with well-meaning self-fullfilment folks who just end up screwing it up and alienating customers and publishers.  Like everything else, fulfillment/distribution is a discipline and people who specialize in it will do it better – more reliable, get you your books faster, etc.

In fact, Pelgrane Press posted an interesting thing to the FORGE about their distribution model and how they do some self-fulfillment *and* IPR – their self-fulfillment was plagued by the expected problems (bad store software that can’t calculate shipping, etc.) and reasonable costs.

If you don’t like the store site not having  your books on the front page, or not making a “shared and enticing concept,” have a Web site of your own to push it – I don’t know why you have to get into the distribution business for that.  That’s sour grapes, not good business.

Some of the folks supporting this make the somewhat odd claim that “we don’t want to get our games out to just anybody, but only to those who would enjoy them.”  If you think only your fellow FORGEites can appreciate your brilliance, just give them all PDFs, it’s a quite small community.  I think that’s an inherently stupid and elitist attitude to talk about who’s worthy to buy your game.  “Some dude in some game shop in Iowa is obviously some redneck retard who could never enjoy my game without being a part of the FORGE community for five years first.”  Do you think so little of your product that you think there might not be others out there who would enjoy and appreciate it if they had access to it?  And they are proud their new scheme “isn’t a business model.”  You know, things are profitable because they provide something people percieve to be of value.  Many big companies got big because it was doing things better for their customers than the smaller one.  Shocking, I know.

On the one hand, so someone’s doing something stupid for fulfillment, welcome to small business.  But the real risk is that this is going to be used as an excuse for infighting, fragmentation, or “purges” as RPGPundit puts it.  Sadly, my many years experience with the online RPG communities leads me to believe that’s a likely outcome.  The RPG community is very small.  The indie game community is even smaller.  Don’t let someone with a big ego goad you into fighting with each other.  There is value in collaboration and in dealing with people that, God forbid, do not share the 100% same worldview that you do.  In fact, it might *improve* what you produce.  This isolationist mindset is not useful and will generate bad feelings and a weaker indie RPG industry.  If you would like to see more people in general play RPGs, and see more RPG players play innovative, new games – don’t fall into this trap.

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17 responses to “Ron Edwards Too Good For Indie Press Revolution

  1. “Man, that Ron guy is being an assmaster.”

    In other news, water is still wet.

  2. Ah man, I would like to add in my two cents to about the forge but do not want to provoke the wrath of the self proclaimed indy gamers and their manifest destiny to own independence.

    Seriously man, there are some gems in there, but a lot of the community are ass hats. ron is most definitely the ass master.

  3. A correction. He’s got at least five games:

    1. It was a mutual decision.
    2. Trollbabe
    3. Elfs
    4. Sorcerer
    5. Spione.

    As for the rest of the opinions you posted…

    Ron can be as ego-heavy as he wants, no skin off my nose; I’ve got a nice ego on my own self. But trying to make *Fred* look like the bad guy?

    That’s not ego. It’s straight-up bullshit.

  4. Doesn’t this guy have a track record for being a douche? I wouldn’t have done business with him in the first place.

  5. I read Ron’s original three post announcement and found no issues with it at all. I thought the idea of creating a new distribution model is fine for game designers. I mean, it is their work, let them get it to me how they wish. It’s a book, not a china cabinet.

    I haven’t read the replies mentioned in this blog where things supposedly get unfriendly (and cannot do so until I get home where I don’t have a work firewall to deal with). If it is truly a scurfuffle, that’s disappointing. I have met Ron Edwards at the last two GenCons and spoke with him. I find him to be a very intelligent and likable guy. I hate how the internet twists people into conflict so easily.

  6. thanks for the links. Ever since I started working on publishing the RPG Blogger Anthology, any insight I can glean about the indie market is well taken. Although, until I get the Anthology out the door – I’m still just an outsider looking in.

  7. It all seems to me that some folks take their gaming way too seriously.

    I’ve always considered the FORGE community to be the essence of obsessive compulsive nerddom but only at this point did it occur to me that they are also obsessively political in a very Marxist sort of way with all this talk of ‘independence’ and the rather odd implication that any kind of distribution business is some sort of ‘capitalist oppression of the gaming masses.’

    The best ‘indie’ games I’ve ever played (Wushu & Engles Matrix Games) were free and created by folks who had fun making games, not using them to grab fame, popoularity and to realize failed real life political aspirations…

  8. Y’know, I don’t really bear Ron any ill-will over that. I don’t think he handles having authority very well, thus the behavior on that thread, but the break-away from IPR is something that none of us at IPR are particularly worked up over.

    Ron won’t be alone in the departure. That “some chick named Meg” you’re referring to is Meg Baker — Vincent Baker’s wife. You can draw a few conclusions from that as to who else might be departing from IPR in the near future.

    That thread, though, just spiraled out of control. I was trying to offer a few calm facts that I think were misrepresented, and Ron basically tried to assert that no facts were present in what he said to be misrepresented. I’m not too proud of the response I gave to that, but it’s not really any secret that Ron-as-Ron-is-on-the-Forge is someone who gets under my skin really fast and brings out the Old Demon Fred that I’ve tried to stop being on the Internet.

    Regardless, I’d really appreciate it if folks didn’t dress this up as some kind of major schism. At the end of the day, it just isn’t, not really. It’s a small group of small publishers looking at diversifying the way the market handles the fulfillment question.

    If anything, this move to diversify may turn out to be a healthy thing for IPR, giving us a little extra competition to goose us into making some additional publisher-centric improvements, and offering a solid alternative to folks who are less into small-press RPG publishing as a *business* and more as an *art form*.

    Which isn’t to say that IPR isn’t a good home for the artistic sorts — I think it is (though I admit it could be better). But it’s far and away not the only way to fillet this particular fish.

  9. Pingback: Random News Table for October 23rd | UncleBear

  10. This new fulfillment model can be used in addition to sales through IPR. The reason Vincent is taking his games off IPR is to give the new model a kick start, and make sure Meg has enough work to do. It’s not because he doesn’t like the IPR model. He knows he’s welcome back at any time, as is Ron.

    When Vincent has the back end sorted out and if he’s willing to take a non-COP publisher, I’d happily use his software linked to our fulfillment guy in place of my own primitive system.

    As a shareholder of IPR, I don’t really know the company which Ron describes in his email. Aside from convention staff and the piece rate fulfillment guys, the only person being paid this year is Fred and I think it works out at about 50c a publisher per week. I don’t think that really makes us “the Man.”

    This isn’t evidence of Ron’s anti-capitalism at all. He’s trying to make more money per copy. He’s sold through IPR and Key20 too. He just doesn’t want to give a percentage of his profits away. However, the margins are so slim, I’m glad that for a few percent, IPR are taking away of lot of dull grind. I do hope that the new model works.

    The front page of IPR is new releases in strict rotation with a list of best sellers of all time tucked away on the left.

  11. Hey all, thanks for commenting!

    I guess the problem is that even if IPR isn’t sweating over Ron and his cadre departing, I kinda do as a customer. It’s pretty hard as a RPG consumer interested in non-core games to find out about them and get access to them. Hell, I’m all about RPGs, blog, am active on RPG.net and other sites, and hadn’t heard of a lot of the Origins/ENnie/Indie RPG award nominees before seeing them in those lists. So for me, RPGNow and IPR serve an important function in that they provide semi-comprehensive lists of in-print games I might be interested in researching then buying. The more fragmentation of the channel, the harder that is.

    Following sales and marketing best practices is good for your company, because it gets your products into the hands of consumers! I rant about this a bit in my Sales and Marketing Funnel for RPG Authors post from a while back.

  12. When challenged, even mildly, about any of views, Ron simply can’t take it and flips out. Remember Mel Gibson on South Park? It’s like that.

  13. Yes, from our point of view, the only downside of this is the exclusivity. I completely understand why they are doing it – they are hoping that IPR customers will switch over to the new fulfillment house to get their products. If this happens, it makes it worthwhile to do fulfillment, because the more orders, the better on a piece rate.

    I’m hoping that when it’s all up and running they’ll rejoin and find like I did, that most of the IPR sales are additional revenue, not an alternative to mail order.

  14. Ultimately, I feel his model is flawed. The logical extension of his thought process should be to implement your own site, with your own expenses and your control. Ultimately, this is still a case of paying someone else to do the work. He just likes paying Meg instead of Jason. Meh, this is not news. Me, and several other small press publishers figured this out years ago. We now maintain our own networks and reap the benefits.

  15. Leo Richard Comerford

    So for me, RPGNow and IPR serve an important function in that they provide semi-comprehensive lists of in-print games I might be interested in researching then buying.

    But this is exactly the reason why Edwards has a point. This amounts to a position of power over publishers for RPGNow and IPR: control over what RPGs you the customer see and how you see them. It’s a power very similar to – if not as strong as – the power of bricks-and-mortar retailers and distributors over publishers.

  16. @Leo – Sure, but he’s exerting control by going where no one will see him… It’s a bit pointless to have a distributor just for your existing group of slavish devotees. It’s one thing to have your own vanity site but to stay in with other distributors to get your stuff to a wider reach. It’s another thing to eschew that totally. If a normal book writer says “Oh, I don’t let anyone control my distribution,” I figure that either:

    1. They totally suck and no one would want to distribute their stuff normally (Lulu’s niche), or
    2. They will end up on a Law & Order episode one day (freaky religious, political, medical movements)

  17. An update, Ron’s new store is up. I’m not sure it’s surfacing any game, including him, more than IPR did – it’s just a list of games with a minimal description, no links to reviews, only Paypal supported…

    Also, it’s clearly FORGE branded. So much for his “The whole point is not for anyone or everyone to flock to some specific banner…” This is clearly establishing itself as the “FORGE store.”

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