Over the past few days a few of us have been discussing the pros and cons, and ups and downs, bright sides and dark sides of the Indie RPG Book Publishing industry. You can find the full conversation here: Original Thread on G+. What follows is my summary and the conclusions that I've drawn thus far. I'd be curious to hear what you think.
At the end of the day what really matters? That's the question. I think a lot of people who read this thread might come away with the feeling that I'm pretty gloom and doom about the Indie RPG Book Publishing industry. And that's a fair take on it, frankly. As an industry I think it's really problematic. In summery there are two reasons for that.
1) There is already a massive glut in the market of RPG Books, and most of those are minor innovations on previously existing systems.
2) The glut has produced a downward spiral in terms of pricing, and this has a deleterious effect on everyone in the industry, not just the people who are pricing at zero or Pay-What-You-Want. The fact that this option has become so prevalent that DriveThruRPG has created a special button for it suggests that the state of the industry is such that negligible price points have become the prevailing expectation for Indie Games. And what this does is make the entire effort (and it is massive) to produce an Indie RPG completely worthless monetarily speaking. And in fact, most Indie Publishers who have been through the ringer will tell you - don't expect to quit your day job doing this. There's 1500 RPG titles out on DriveThruRPG now, and that number is growing by about 10 a month. You are far more likely to lose money at this than make money.
So where is the bright spot in all of this? Actually, I see several.
1) The drive towards negligible price points will weed out those who are in this for the wrong reasons. If you are in this for money, you will be disappointed and probably not do it again.
2) Those who are in this for the love of the art will still proceed to produce wonderful RPGs because it is easier now than ever before, and that's cool.
3) Since it's hard to imagine completely original rules systems for RPGs given the plethora of systems out there we can probably be satisfied to know that most likely if we have a vision of a way to run an RPG that works best for us, there are probably rules out there that do it that way (or close enough for us to reasonably easily house rule), and so we don't have to invent new wheels. There's lots and lots of wheels rolling around.
The upshot for Indie RPG Rules Book Publishers is this ... you will probably lose money at it, but if you don't care about that, and are doing this for the love of the art, then you will likely be satisfied in the end. You will learn a lot, hone your own game down to a fine system through play testing up the wazzu, you create enthusiasm for your efforts among your friends and acquaintances, you wind up with a really spiffy rules book that looks fabulous and you're genuinely proud of, and you'll have shared it out the world and maybe there will be 200 people out there who downloaded it, and 20 of those who actually paid for it, and of that maybe you'll get 5 or 10 people who play your rules system, enjoy it, and write to you about it saying Thanks, and offering their viewpoint on it. Which is actually pretty awesome.
Maybe all of that will cost you a lot of time and some money (to get the artwork and layout and stuff). But hobbies always cost people money. That's normal and who cares?
But for the RPG Artistes who simply enjoy the process of honing and working on creating a quality game for themselves and a few friends and handful of strangers, and don't mind spending some money on it, it's a wonderful time indeed to be alive. Never before have we had such a fantastic opportunity to create high quality work at such a low cost. We should revel in it.
But for Pete's sake... don't expect to quit your day job.
At least for now. My final note on this (probably not final, come to think of it) is this ... I believe the future of RPGs as a form of entertainment in the 21st Century is bright. There will come GM assistance tools, and all kinds of amazing technologies that will make GMing easier... and potentially profitable. And though creating new Rules Systems may not be a promising area of endeavor as there is already a glut of those, the area of promise is in creating settings and honing one's skills as a GM to play those settings with fantastic creativity and style. And if I don't miss my guess in the coming years we will find out that _that_ is where the money is.
So keep the faith, and don't be discouraged if your Rules Books don't top the charts and you can't quit your day job on it... keep honing your creative skills. You'll have a great time doing so, your players will appreciate it, and who knows? Maybe there will be in fact a market for you to enter once the industry catches up with technologies that make it possible for you to do GameMastering Professionally. Just a hunch. ;)