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It’s been a few months since I posted an update about where Arc Dream stands and what we’re up to. It’s long overdue. And after some great discussions at GenCon we have some exciting things in store.

First, though: Your books are on the way!

There are people who have been waiting for Bigger Bads for months, and others who’ve been waiting for Targets of Opportunity for two years. I know that annoys you, but rest assured that it causes stress that rises to the level of physical pain to me.

While Bigger Bads and Targets of Opportunity were at the printers, we signed a deal to have our publishing partners at Cubicle 7 Entertainment handle fulfillment of our direct-sales books as well as the titles that we develop for them to publish. The advantage there is that people can buy, say, Wild Talents Second Edition (a Cubicle 7 title developed by Arc Dream) and Progenitor (an Arc Dream direct title not yet sent to retail) at the same time and have them ship from the same place.

However, right about then Cubicle 7 was switching to a new warehouse. It was necessary; they had been sharing facilities with Mongoose, and Mongoose parted ways with both companies’ parent company The Rebellion Group and took their warehouse with them. So Cubicle 7 set up with the new warehouse, and I started having our printings delivered there, and everything just stalled. It was a lot of product for the new place to absorb at once, and it’s taken them a long while to adjust.

The latest I’ve heard is that the warehouse is up to speed and is starting to move things out the door. People should start getting shipping notices this week (it’s now Monday, August 16). Not all of you will have your books by the end of the week, but they’re on the way at last.

Now. What’s next?

The Walls Upon Which We Beat Our Heads

A few months ago I wrote about the ransom model, and Arc Dream’s plans to continue to rely heavily on it to avoid some of the pitfalls that face a small publisher in a small industry.

Well, that worked out for a short time. We held two successful ransoms, but it turns out there are some distinct dangers in holding ransoms too close to each other. So we stepped away from ransoms for a time.

For the last seven months Arc Dream has undertaken a crushing production schedule. We released Wild Talents Second Edition to worldwide retail distribution, and we aimed to bolster it with enough supplements, sourcebooks and related games that they would all catch and hold the attention of gamers, retailers and distributors. In the first half of 2010 we released one book to retail every single month. For a company that consists of one full-time editor, one part-time writer, and a handful of part-time freelancers, that’s a huge accomplishment, even with some of those products being new editions of old works.

The trouble is -- and there are a lot of reasons for this -- we just don’t usually do well with traditional releases.

I’m not just talking about the dangers of massive print runs, where you hope to sell a bunch of books so you spend a huge lump sum to print two or three thousand, and then it takes years to sell through the run. You can get around that with print on demand, if you don’t mind paying a lot more in the long run for the sake of avoiding that lump sum and long warehousing.

No, I mean that whenever we release a book that hasn’t been ransomed, sales tend to be way slower than we need to pay for the work that goes into their creation.

I’m told Wild Talents 2nd Edition has actually done reasonably well compared to other small-press retail releases. But we see a very small slice of its sale price from retail. If it sells in large enough numbers, that small slice adds up. But if it doesn’t -- well, then it doesn’t.

And we’re not going gangbusters with books that we release directly to consumers without sending them to retail, either. The recent Progenitor is a fast mover by our standards, with about 125 having sold in its first month; but again that’s nowhere near enough to pay for it. Other books are going more slowly. It leaves us and our writers and artists scrambling to pay the bills.

That brings us back to ransoms. With a ransom we put a book mostly together and then we see if the fans want to buy into it. If enough of them do, that allows us to pay the writer and artists. If the fans don’t go for it, then we cancel the project or just release it as an ashcan and pay the writer for his or her time.

Where we run into trouble is holding ransoms too close together. Many of the same gamers want to support all of our projects, but their wallets and energies get worn out when we hold one big fundraiser after another. And sometimes things take longer to come together after a ransom than we want, and it’s not fair to the customers to encourage them to support one product on spec when the last one (or two) that they supported hasn’t yet arrived.

So ransoms are a great solution to our financial challenges, but only if taken in moderation.

And yet we have a lot of great ideas, a fair number of fans who like them, and we want to support the things that we publish.

That points to a third publishing avenue: PDFs. We’ve been selling PDFs since the beginning, but we haven’t really focused much on the PDF market except as an offshoot of our printed books. That’s going to change.

The Plan

Our publishing model for the foreseeable future aims to make the most of our strengths without bogging us down in the weaknesses of the small-press RPG market. That means a mix of occasional ransomed print books, retail editions that follow a short while later, and rapidfire PDF publishing.

We’ll have nowhere near as many big setting books like Progenitor, The Kerberos Club and This Favored Land. Instead, a project of that scope will likely be produced as a standalone game, with the rules tailored to its setting and characters.

For a core game book like that, we’ll post plenty of previews, early drafts, playtest documents, and so on. That will give prospective players a chance to get involved, to really see if it suits them, and to help us improve it. When it’s ready, we’ll hold a ransom for a limited edition going direct to the fans (with a PDF version to accompany it). When the limited edition sells out we’ll release an edition for retail sales through our distribution partners at Cubicle 7.

We’ll probably release no more than one big game like this a year, unless a particular game is a new edition that doesn’t require quite as much work as a new release. And we have ideas for smaller games that might come out in between.

What about supplements to support the games and the settings we’ve already published? That’s where PDFs come in.

First off, we aim to do a lot of very short One-Roll One Shots, very tight, focused adventures, two pages long, playable in a couple of hours. (If anyone accuses me of ripping this idea off from Pinnacle, I’ll gladly cop to it. It’s smart.)

We’ll also do supplements -- adventures, setting materials, that kind of thing -- in PDF that are a little more substantial, some in the 8 to 12-page range and some in the 16 to 32-page range.

If PDF supplements for a particular game or setting do well, we’ll collect them into a printed book for retail publication.

Between the One-Shots and the supplements and adventures, we hope to release one new PDF a week once we get up to speed. That ought to provide solid support for the great settings and games that we’ve already produced.

There will be outliers and exceptions. Delta Green and The Unspeakable Oath, for instance, are their own creatures with a long history behind them. The Unspeakable Oath is going forward without ransoms for the time being, on the hope that it will get enough subscriptions and direct sales to cover its costs in a timely manner. It’ll be available in print as well as in PDF and in e-reader format. And the new Delta Green books for Call of Cthulhu that we’re working on with Pagan Publishing will be big, hardcover setting and adventure books like the others in that line.

Bits and Mortar

While Arc Dream is scaling back its print release schedule, we’re staying engaged with physical stores in two ways. First, new printed material that does well will go to retail publication through Cubicle 7. Second, Arc Dream is a founding member of Bits and Mortar, a consortium of small-press RPG publishers who want to make the PDF copies of their games available to customers of brick-and-mortar stores as well as to online orderers. We’re in great company -- Evil Hat, Cubicle 7, Pelgrane, Rogue Games, Cellar Games and Galileo Games are also involved, and we’ll add more publishers in a few months once things get up to speed. For more information check out www.bits-and-mortar.com.

Our Imminent Schedule

So here’s what we have in the works at the moment. The first few printed projects are straightforward exceptions to the Plan that I outlined earlier, because they were completed before all that came to pass. Look for ransoms for several of them soon.

Upcoming Sourcebooks

  • Better Angels (Wild Talents)
  • Black Devils Brigade (Godlike)
  • Operation Torch (Godlike)
  • The Kerberos Club (Hero System Edition)
  • The Kerberos Club (Fate Edition)
  • The Kerberos Club (Mutants & Masterminds Edition)
PDF Supplements and Adventures

  • The Talent Squad (Wild Talents—The World Gone Mad)
  • Eschaton, Inc. (Wild Talents—Grim War)
  • Murders on the Rue Orleans (Wild Talents—This Favored Land)
  • Occurrence on Lookout Mountain (Wild Talents—This Favored Land)
  • The Adventure of the Red-Handed Man (Wild Talents—The Kerberos Club)
  • The Missing (Wild Talents—The World Gone Mad)
  • Cultbusters! (Monsters and Other Childish Things)
  • The Battle of Jericho Bay (Godlike)
E-Reader Publications

  • Wild Talents Essential Edition (rulebook)
  • Delta Green: Denied to the Enemy (novel)
  • Delta Green: Through a Glass, Darkly (novel)
H.P. Lovecraft’s Arkham

This is such a different thing that it ought to get its own website, let along its own section in the product list. Arc Dream is helping to put together a fun web-based MMO game. Play a human investigator, a slavering Deep One or a corpse-eating Ghoul and join the crazed hunt for the fabled Necronomicon. Look for previews -- and a ransom where Arc Dream fans can get early access -- soon.

The Unspeakable Oath

We're about to review the submissions for issue 18, which will appear in December. That'll be the 20th anniversary of the Oath's first issue. Hell yeah.

Upcoming Games

Here are some things that are in the works now, but we don’t have firm schedules for them yet.

  • Aeon Defenders
  • Delta Green: A Night at the Opera (Call of Cthulhu sourcebook)
  • Drachenritter 
  • Godlike Second Edition 
  • Nemesis 
  • The Silver Pavilion 
  • Termination Shock 
There are others being batted around. We’ll talk more about them soon.