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Emmett Plant Talks About the Paper-Based RPG Game Business (Video) 64

Posted by Roblimo
from the paper-games-never-quite-went-away dept.
Emmett has a good rep as a video game music composer, and he's worked on a number of Star Trek-related projects, including the recently-released audio book, How to Speak Klingon: Essential Phrases for the Intergalactic Traveler. Emmett freely admits that he has no experience with RPG games. The closest he's come was running a major D&D meetup some years back. But he has experience and contacts developed from many years working online not only within the Star Trek community but (years ago) on Slashdot and as editor for Linux.com. And, he says, when he was a teenager he ran comic book stores. So is Emmett suited to run an RPG company? Possibly. He's actively looking for games to publish. Sales aren't going to start for six months or so, so there is no website for Arrakeen Tactical quite yet. Until there is one, you can contact Emmett about his game venture by emailing angelaATclockworkjetpack.com.

Tim Lord: So, Emmett, you’ve had over the... I guess 15 or so years that you and I have known each other... you’ve had a number of jobs and right now

Emmett Plant: Yeah.

Tim Lord: Today I want to talk to you about your foray into the world of RPGs.

Emmett Plant: Okay.

Tim Lord: But first what is your day job now. What do you tell people who say what do you do?

Emmett Plant: Usually I tell them that I work on Star Trek which I do, which is kind of – that’s something people recognize. I am also a systems engineer and an automation engineer. So it’s hard for my mom to understand what automation engineer is, such as it is with so many other people. So I say, well I work on Start Trek but I am also a tech dork. So I write music for video games and I work on Star Trek. I produce Star Trek audio books and How to Speak Klingon available in stores now from Chronicle Books.

Tim Lord: And you’re writing games for – writing music for video games rather?

Emmett Plant: Yeah.

Tim Lord: What part of your life is that, how much time does that occupy?

Emmett Plant: It’s interesting because the business side of that is you know the money side of that comes from royalties, from stuff I’ve done long time ago. So building up the number of games I’ve done music for is actually been more important than the amount of time I spend on it. Generally I get to play with synthesizers and filters and toys and sound and shaping materials and just dorking out on the real and music is the end result of that and my clients want that.

So I kind of need to do music to balance other stuff I am doing in my life, because I get really bored really easily. So I have to manage that. So, generally I know that if I write a piece of music I am going to be able to sell it at some point.

Tim Lord: And what you are getting into now with RPGs, no music involved, all paper?

Emmett Plant: No, but interestingly enough I wrote an album called Honor Bound which is a bunch of Klingon themed music. And people play it, when they have D&D night at their house. I was like okay, may be it does, I don’t know, I probably won’t put out any music specifically for this though.

Tim Lord: Now how crazy or not crazy is it to get into the field of making paper based, turn based, role playing games in the era of iPod and iPad and computer games in general, who is playing paper games?

Emmett Plant: A lot of people and also I think who is getting into that, I think drunk people; people with substance abuse problems, people unloved by their parents and desperately trying to do something with their lives that they can justify as worthwhile.

Tim Lord: That’s a pretty big demographic?

Emmett Plant: It is and those people are all wrong, because role playing games will not help them do that. But, no, it’s interesting because we’ve seen role playing games go from inexpensive endeavor like D&D games back in the day where you could roll up your own characters and create your adventures and now it is a product, Dungeons & Dragons is a big behemoth of a product. There are miniatures, there are books, there are toys, there are games, there are obvious little pieces and now they are produced at a much higher level than they ever have been before, which is cool because you know the money is there, people are going to buy those products. But people still play, they play D&D at PAX every year; they plat D&D at comic book stores constantly.

Tim Lord: What does it take to get into the business as a new player, like that is to say as a new maker of games, you as a player in the industry?

Emmett Plant: Right.

Tim Lord: What does that mean, I understand that you have bought an existing corpus or games

Emmett Plant: Right. I found actually most of the independent stuff that’s coming out is from one guy who does his own art and his own layout and his own story. And a lot of times you’ll find a writer who is very, very good at kind of attention to detail that you really enjoy both as a reader and a player. But you’ll find that may be the art is clip art or it’s not as good as it could be or the layout is not as good as it could be, so it’s kind of watching a show where you love the actor playing the main star but nothing about the show is interesting to you.

This happens a lot just watching TV, but the same is true of independent games. So I am trying to go out and find the writers I like, doing the things that I like to play and then building an army of people behind them, giving their work to a layout artist and a digital artist and layout people and letting them really build this game into what it should be for people who want to play.

Tim Lord: So, you’re cultivating rather than necessarily only making complete games in-house?

Emmett Plant: Right. And I know there is, I mean, we’ve already bought the first original game that we’re going to be releasing. So it’s column A, column B. Some stuff we’re buying because we like the author, some stuff we’re buying because we like the writer and we want him to write something new for us. So I’m always in the lookout for new stuff to purchase and writers that I enjoy who want to try this out, to see what’s up.

Tim Lord: Now this is a new field for you, is that right?

Emmett Plant: It is. Yeah. I’ve got zero experience in RPGs. At one point, I ran the third largest D&D meet up in the country, nobody knows me from that and it’s not as though, oh, well, this guy who works on Star Trek is starting a game company, therefore it’s going to be a success. No, it doesn’t work that way. Any ____6:01 I have won’t transfer over. It’s not going to turn into sales. What’s going to turn into sales are when we put out cool games that people like and they buy them or they hear about them in one way or another and they come back to us and say, “Well, what else have you got?” And then if they find more games they like by more writers they like, then they’ll keep buying more stuff.

Tim Lord: Why don’t you talk about distribution? Because with electronic games nowadays much of it is instant download, people still buy some games in shops.

Emmett Plant: It’s true.

Tim Lord: How does it work for RPGs and what do you picture for the ones that you would like to release?

Emmett Plant: Unfortunately, we don’t have that GameStop mode. People taking this pay per game that they have purchased as PDFs and taking them to GameStop and have them, I don’t know, pulped into other books, there is no used market there, but it’s all going to be watermarked PDFs. It’s essentially copy protection. I mean, literal copy protection like a Xerox machine. That doesn’t really interest me as much as the distribution venue in terms of here is a way you can get the stuff we have made on the cheaps. That’s a lot more interesting to me than tracking how many copies have been sold or have been copied from other people and whatnot.

If you find one of our games and you find like a PDF lying out, the name of the person who bought it is going to be sitting there and you should try and get it back to them. But please, by all means, you should read it, see what’s going on. I don’t think there is anything good to be had from the watermarking, but there is a lot of good that could be had from the PDF side of – this is a format that people understand and can use.

Tim Lord: So you are not terribly worried of someone ends up playing your game without ringing the till?

Emmett Plant: Without express written permission of the company, no, that doesn’t bother me. Like I’ve – that would be crazy because all the music I’ve ever bought, I bought because at one point someone handed me a cassette with that band on it, and I’ve spent probably hundreds of dollars with the Talking Heads at this point and I was exposed to them on a mixed tape. So, maybe that’ll happen with my company if people really like what we are doing. That will be awesome. That will be great. But really, I don’t even try to think about the business side of it all. It’s just, let’s do something cool and let’s do something fun. And if we’re all having fun doing it, people are going to have fun playing it and then it’s just good.

Tim Lord: Can you give us some hints about what kind of games more specifically besides being RPGs? Now, what sort of roles, what kind of players do you expect?

Emmett Plant: I think we’re probably going to have – people talk about the filthy casual players of games is that if you never played role-playing games for the past 20 years, then you are not coming to the table with the experience necessarily we need. I think that’s bullshit. Like I think that’s rough. And I think that pushes people away who would otherwise really enjoy what we are doing.

One of the problems I have is when I was a teenager, I ran comic book stores, which I guess is not surprising to anyone ever, but my favorite comic store locally, they have a D&D night. And it’s six people and they’re playing an adventure where they have been working this adventure for the past few months. If you go to the comic book store on that night, you cannot join that game. It’s basically just a place for that particular group to play without dirtying up someone’s living room.

I’m fine with that if the six people that come in there and play regularly ring the till and go to the people who run the store and buy all their dice through them, buy all their materials through them. That’s the way that should work. I think in a lot of cases that’s not what happens. It just turns out to be like “Well, comic book store said we can do it here, so we’re going to do it here.” It’s like “No, you have to support the businesses that are helping you get your fun on.”

In that scenario, I would much rather get screwed than you screw your comic book store owner or manager. If any comic book store needs one of our games – this is my mother again, Slashdot, it’s going to be a problem. It is. Hi mom, I’m being interviewed. This is really bad. Bye.

Tim Lord: We’ll make sure that gets edited out.

Emmett Plant: Oh, one would hope. No question where we are at.

Tim Lord: That’s fine. That was actually – you were at kind of a conclusion there. But I do want to ask about the name of your company. So, tell us about the name of your company?

Emmett Plant: Well, the name of my company is Clockwork Jetpack, but the name of the RPG company is a subsidiary of that and it’s called Arrakeen Tactical because I’m the huge fan of Dune, and I now live in Arizona and most of the people who work for this company, both employees and contractors, live out here in the desert. So I thought, well, let’s name a game company after something in Dune, the capital city of Arrakis, which I imagine got blown up.

Tim Lord: The logistics of shipping a game, it doesn’t involve brown trucks bringing packages.

Emmett Plant: Yeah.

Tim Lord: Still needs people, so what are some of the roles that it really takes months to go even with somewhat of the staple games that they purchased already?

Emmett Plant: Yeah, well, you can’t just magically assume something is going to happen, people need to do work and for that they need to be paid. So you have to get those people onboard, and make sure that they have what they need to get the job done. I don’t actually have the time to run this company in day-to-day operations, and I won’t be. There are people that have been working for Clockwork Jetpack for a while that have been amazing and looking for a chance to do something new and fun, and when I bought this up to them, they’re like, yeah, I think it’d be fun to run the game company.

So I was like, okay, well, let’s do it. So I’m going to make the final business decisions and my name is going to be on everything, but I’ve got to trust my people at this point and they’re great. If more people learn about the folks that work for me, so much the better, it’s going to be good for them and I think my team is really excited about bringing more fun to people, especially fun that doesn’t have to break the pack. I mean, I think our average cost of one of these games is going to cost maybe a couple, three bucks, we’re not talking anything crazy. So cheap thrills are still thrills, so

Tim Lord: One more question I want to ask is, given that there are a lot of people in the world who have ideas for games?

Emmett Plant: Yeah.

Tim Lord: More than your or any other company in the world is going to put out, what should they do? How do you get from an idea in your head, what steps would you suggest if somebody thinks they have a game that could be worth publishing?

Emmett Plant: I think the first thing they should do is save some money because typically the market rates for what people are paid for working in this market are terrible. I mean they are often lower than original science fiction writing which is hysterically low, given time. I would encourage people to focus on what they’re good at and then try to find the things that they’re bad at, and either learn to try to do them themselves and do them well or just gathering up their cash and finding good artists, and finding good play testers who give you valuable feedback and not just people who eat your pizza.

Realistically though, all of my answers on this are going to be bullshit because I don’t know anything about bringing the game or game material to market. I’m really new with this. And like most of my other businesses, even the ones that are profitable, I have failed a million times, like that doesn’t bother me at all. It’s what you learn from that process, I think we’re going to fail a few times. I think we’re going to step on our own dress and then it comes off at the dramatically appropriate point.

Tim Lord: Do you review where you are at with a given endeavor every 6, 9, 12 months?

Emmett Plant: One thing I like to do is ask people what I’m doing wrong and the people that work for me know that, “I think you’re doing great,” is not an acceptable answer. I mean, working for Slashdot once upon a time, at first you’re annoyed at the people telling you that you’re doing everything wrong and then if you cannot be a douchebag for a while, and think about what people are saying, you can usually get some valuable feedback.

We’re going to stumble and crawl sometimes and nothing is going to be perfect. We’re going to probably blow some money on stuff that we didn’t need to blow money on. We’re probably going to overpay some people, but we’re going to underpay other people, but it’s almost a Toyota/Kaizen thing, it’s continuous improvement, it’s like just be aware that you might be screwing up everything.

So try to build your [true jail] of framing from a systems point of view, build that sandbox and then make it so that when you blow something up, it doesn’t take everything else with it. So try and compartmentalize what you can and then you can kind of take a running jump and if you do well, then it’s awesome and if you do badly, well, you’re going to be – you need to come back up to speed in a little bit, but it’s a little bit, it’s not like you’ll never do this again, because you’ve blown all your money and that’s the end of it.

Tim Lord: The experience is accumulative.

Emmett Plant: Right, right. So I honestly don’t know what people should do, but if they have a cool game they should probably try and call me or something or call one of my people. But yeah, we’re going to get stuff wrong. But I think that’s probably a good point of view rather than this thing that we’re going to do is going to change the world, like I think that maybe works only if you are Steve Jobs, and I am out of turtlenecks.

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Emmett Plant Talks About the Paper-Based RPG Game Business (Video)

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  • by msobkow (48369) on Monday January 06, 2014 @05:53PM (#45882175) Homepage Journal

    'nuff said

  • I don't like it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by i kan reed (749298) on Monday January 06, 2014 @05:54PM (#45882179) Homepage Journal

    The article opens with a line explaining why we should ignore whatever this guy says in the video, as he has no useful experience.

  • I've never heard of an Emmett plant. Can it survive a cold winter?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Pay attention! It is a plant that produces rocket propelled grenades or RPGs. Right now they are making them out of paper, but I'm sure they will be 3-D printing them in the near future....

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Klingon is spoken on in the Milky Way and would be about as useful to an intergalactic traveler as a useless thing is to a utilitarian.

    • Judging by how much utilitarians love trolley problems, I guess that means "very"

    • ...at how often people who work on 'Star Trek' take an extraordinarily dim view of some of the products that surround the franchise. You are not alone.

      • ...at how often people who work on 'Star Trek' take an extraordinarily dim view of some of the products that surround the franchise. You are not alone.

        You may not be surprised at how often fans of 'Star Trek' take an extraordinarily dim view of some of the products that surround the franchise. Ever been to the star trek store in vegas? The only interesting thing there was that there was an actual woman in the store. She was alive, and appeared to be there willingly as well.

  • No. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ArbitraryName (3391191) on Monday January 06, 2014 @06:03PM (#45882271)
    He is not. I see no mention of any business experience. Working in a comic book store clerk as a teen doesn't count. In running an RPG company, the emphasis is on "running" and "company". Just like every alcoholic dreams of owning a bar, every gamer and comic book nerd dreams of opening their own game or comic store. Just about every one is disastrously unqualified. If you've never worked in a responsible position on the business side of the game industry you have no idea what you're getting in to.
    • You're not wrong. (Score:5, Informative)

      by emmett (131645) on Monday January 06, 2014 @06:16PM (#45882369) Homepage

      I run a profitable media production company called Clockwork Jetpack, and I've been on the business side of video games for more than the past decade. I understand your point-of-view completely, and I agree that working in a market is a hell of a lot different than *playing* in a market. For instance, working in video games makes it almost impossible for me to enjoy video games.

      • by BobMcD (601576)

        I think this is one of your strengths - you don't seem to particularly like RPGs, but you intend to hire people that do. That's a good feature for the leadership to have. You ought to be able to counter-balance any starry-eyed optimism with actually business sense.

        Best of luck to you sir.

        It's times like these where I wish I had explored that English degree instead of doing IT... :)

        • I like 'em, but... (Score:4, Informative)

          by emmett (131645) on Monday January 06, 2014 @06:46PM (#45882585) Homepage

          I like RPGs, and I've played a lot of them. Ultimately, I try to hire people smarter than I am. This means that part of my job is hiring those people, but another part of my job is keeping them interested and excited about doing stuff. If they feel like they're wasting their time, they're going to haul ass and work somewhere else.

          Starting this company was a really weird way to connect a lot of them together. They like new things, they like games, they share an interest. They enjoy open-ended problems. We bounced the idea around, and here we are.

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Out of curiosity, what is it that you're hoping to bring to the industry? E.g:

            • Novel mechanics (i.e., not a modification of D20)
            • Novel setting
            • Novel "infrastructure" (e.g., tools that help GMs run better/more organized sessions, etc.)
            • Content for an existing system/setting

            Based on your interview and initial focus on authors and writers, it seems more like you're setting up to essentially produce premium content for existing settings/platforms.

          • another part of my job is keeping them interested and excited about doing stuff. If they feel like they're wasting their time, they're going to haul ass and work somewhere else.

            Well said.

      • In light of this new information I hereby update my response to an unqualified "maybe".
  • The economy is shot, we got that. So people look for new opportunities, that's a given. If we now get a story every time someone does just that what pretty much everyone does who loses his job, I guess the "stuff that matters" part went out the door of /.

  • ..but he will totally show them how to do it right.

    It sounds like his plan is to take indie games & make them more polished. Which might not be a bad idea in and of itself, but there are a bunch of folks at WOTC, Fantasy Flight, and a bunch of others that do this for a living. And they are plenty polished.

    It sounds like he:
    - Doesn't know anything about the industry.
    - Doesn't know what the existing distribution channels are
    - Doesn't have an idea how to build a new distribution channel (never mentions D

    • I've done a lot of research in the market, and if I'd had a solid hour to talk about the industry (instead of about ten minutes in my backyard) I would have done so! We're planning to distribute via Drive-Thru RPG, and one of our authors (David Flor) is chomping at the bit to get something moving on a 13th Age adventure right now, because he's excited about that platform.

      Tim Lord expressed an interest in talking about it, and I agreed to do it specifically *because* we don't have any games out at the moment

  • WTF? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wjcofkc (964165) on Monday January 06, 2014 @06:13PM (#45882341)
    I read the summary three times in disbelief that it is actually on the front page. Every so often something pops on on Slashdot's front page that doesn't belong, sometimes it really bad. This. takes. the. cake.

    It reads like a quickly drafted, brief email where one associate is casually bouncing something off another, or even a scam email. We are not here to do market research for someone that can't do it themselves. Is this a personal favor for someone, Roblimo? Please don't abuse Slashdot like this in the future.

    You all can mod me down all you want. This is bullshit.
    • by HBI (604924)

      Most of Roblimo's posts over the past 10 years have been pretty disconnected from the userbase. This is hardly unusual.

    • by Bogtha (906264)

      It's true to form. This guy tried to make an open-source time travel game a while back, but it ended up him having an idea and wanting everybody else to write the code and create the graphics while he made all the decisions. Needless to say it didn't go anywhere despite him calling in the favours to get it publicised on Slashdot and elsewhere.

  • ..but he will totally show them how to do it right.

    It sounds like his plan is to take indie games & make them more polished. Which might not be a bad idea in and of itself, but there are a bunch of folks at WOTC, Fantasy Flight, and a bunch of others that do this for a living. And they are plenty polished.

    It sounds like he:
    - Doesn't know anything about the industry.
    - Doesn't know what the existing distribution channels are
    - Doesn't have an idea how to build a new distribution channel (never mentions Dri

  • I'm confused as to how much the headline actually relates to the article...

    "Emmett Plant Talks About the Paper-Based RPG Game Business"

    In the summary, the only bit that's anything "paper-based" is a reference to the guy DM'ing (presumably?) D&D at some point...which I'm not convinced would qualify him to speak on "the paper-based RPG game business." And he's starting a company to make RPGs...are they paper-based RPGs?

    And the first sentence starts with telling us he's a *musical composer* and references

  • >> He's actively looking for games to publish.

    I'd start by looking through http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/ [drivethrustuff.com] - looks like there's plenty of off-brands that could use a push from a dedicated publisher.

    >> Arrakeen Tactical

    Always a good way to launch a for-profit brand: rip off a major desert+space+melee-combat science fiction franchise. Hope you cleared that with your attorney first...

    • The first purchase we made was of Darklight Interactive's work which was on Drive-Thru RPG. I think we're going to do a great job with that, and I hope that the final products are good enough to get the authors of other well-written adventures to sign with us.

      • >> first purchase we made was of Darklight Interactive's work which was on Drive-Thru RPG

        Sweet - because I wasn't kidding about the quality out there. Good luck!

        • Sometimes it's like watching a very old science fiction movie that has a fantastic story, but the effects are cringe-worthy. I hope that we're able to grab some more work by those authors, do a great job with it and really expand their vision by bringing in some of the other pieces of the puzzle.

          Even at that, I still think that something like Drive-Thru RPG is a billion times better than waiting for an expensive 'module' at the local hobby shop. I just think we can add some juice, that's all.

  • by arifans (3451345)
    i like game, PES
  • Guy with NO EXPERIENCE in a field decides to run a company in that field.

    Said field has been on the commercial denouement (at the very least) for 20+ years, with only a slight bump in the otherwise-downward curve for the last few years as small publishers are able to get into the market (I'm looking at Paizo, fr'instance).

    I can see this ending in nothing but tears.

    Why didn't he just start up a buggy whip company while he's at it?

    • by msobkow (48369)

      As long as there are Amish, there will be a market for buggy-whips. And as long as there are people who like to get together with their friends instead of hunching in front of a computer, there will be a market for paper RPGs.

    • by BobMcD (601576)

      Henry Ford was an electrical engineer.

      Steve Jobs was a circuit board technician.

      Orville and Wilbur Wright ran a bicycle shop.

      And so on, and so on, and so on.

      • by westlake (615356)

        Orville and Wilbur Wright ran a bicycle shop.

        The Wrights were machinists who built and sold bicycles of their own --- recognizably --- modern design. Original St. Clair bicycle [si.edu] [1898]

        In their view, dynamic control in three dimensions was essential to successful heavier-than-air flight. It's an insight that would come naturally to a cyclist.

  • by JMZero (449047) on Monday January 06, 2014 @07:23PM (#45882829) Homepage

    Most companies in the RPG space are very poorly run, and many are hamstrung by preconceptions, their knowledge of how you "have to" do things. Being free from those bad ideas is probably a good head start.

    The other, solitary thing I know about this guy is that he can get free advertising on slashdot without even a hint of an interesting story. That's worth something.

  • Let me get this straight - this is a video interviewing a guy about a business he's never been in, selling something he has no experience with... and his company not only doesn't have a product, it's not expected to for months? And we're supposed to think this is worth watching?

    Christ, who set the wayback machine to 1998 and confused Slashdot with a bunch of vulture capitalists?

  • That was bloody amazing. Too bad such wonderful work got more or less lawyered out of existence. Yes, I understand that Paramount must enforce its trademarks but ...

    • That was one of the first (might even be the first) paper based games I ever played. I remember trying to get the sheets photostatted (not photocopied, get off my lawn etc) to prolong the life. Just looked it up on Google and it still seems to be around. Plus Google images game me a major nostalgia rush so thanks for that :-)
      • by emmett (131645)

        We used to keep the ship sheets in a plastic cover, and mark up the plastic cover with a grease marker as the battles raged on. I really like what I'm seeing with Federation Commander, but to be fair I haven't played either SFB or Federation Commander recently. I made the mistake of picking up a 'battle box' of ships, and I enjoy painting and re-painting them. I don't do it as often as I'd like, but such is life. :)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Rock'nRoll Emmett Plant! This is exciting and wonderful news.

    The traditional tabletop RPG market needs smart, fresh blood and new ideas. The explosion of popularity in board games and card games shows that people want face to face actual play experiences beyond their computers. RPGs offer a unique experience, one that comps can't currently duplicate. There is no reason to fear not having experience in the field. You can certainly learn about the RPG market, its past and present history and the current trend

  • I miss Classic Traveller and my 3 little black books. Spent a huge chunk of my teens/twenties running games. That is all.
  • (Non Brits stop reading now, this won't make any sense) Back around 1980 a friend developed an RPG called Bank Holiday Monday where you could play a Mod, Rocker, Punk, New Waver etc and was based around the regular mass fights that featured heavily at seaside resorts back then between the various factions. He had maps of Southend, Brighton etc and you moved around, using weapons and vehicles etc to try and demolish the other faction. You could build your characters up with skills like 'Motor Cycle maintena
  • by flymolo (28723) <flymolo AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday January 07, 2014 @02:55PM (#45890125)

    Look at Evil Hat. Fred Hicks is the most open I've seen of the RPG publishers. You see hard sales numbers quarter to quarter. Discussions on what makes a kickstarter work. Shipping costs. All sorts of useful stuff. Steve Jackson Games yearly reports are good too, but they are more summarized. SJG at this point is basically the Munchkin company with everything else as a sideline, so their information will be less relevant.

    But this is a good time to be an RPG publisher, print runs and poor management crippled a lot of companies. One of those problems has been eliminated, and the other is easier due to the way the market has shifted.

    Good luck.

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