Hello. This is day one of a new blog, tracking my first product; a bundle of a digital book, art and software to help a reader make their own computer game. I went for a literal title. and called it 7325582140. If you don't already know RPG stands for role-playing game and is a popular type of video game.
I'm Dan. I'm computer game developer and I've been building this product in my spare time. Since January 4th I've been selling the book in early-access mode. Early-access just means I've invited people, who expressed an interested in buying the book, to buy it before it's finished. This blog is a record of how I'll market the book.
Why Release a Product?
You may wonder - why release a product at all? When you work a job, like most of us do, you trade your time for money. Stop working and your income stops too. A job isn't the only way to make money. Buy the right kind of asset and it generates money entirely independantly of you! That sounds pretty good right?
The easiest assets are shares, buy a share that tracks the market as a whole and it's a pretty safe bet. It will generally increase in value and three or four times a year it pays dividends (your share of the profits from the companies your tracker invests in). Shares are great for long-term investments or if you already have a lot of money.
Let's say you're an American and managed to save 100K USD (a massive sum for the average person). You choose to invest in Vanguard's S&P Market tracker for 1 year at the start of 2015.
On January 2nd a single share cost 188.40USD. So your 100K gets you 530 shares and $140 left over in cash. You'd get dividends each quarter and in 2015 they were 1.092, 0.953, 0.902, 0.984, so this gets you 2083.43. To make the math easier I'm assuming you don't reinvest. On December 31st 2015 the share price is 186.93, so this year it's actually lost value! But add in your left over cash and divdend payouts and you'll get 101295.9. A +1295.9 profit and you didn't have to do a thing! Awesome, but even with 100k you're still going to need the day job.
Products are a type of asset. You spend your time (and / or money) making one and then, if you get everything right, they give you a return. The returns are down to you and the actions you take but they have the potential to out perform a tracker by orders of magnitude. Everyone has some specialist knowledge or ability that's of value to other people. The internet is the biggest market in the history of world, sitting there, infront of your keybard! Someone, somewhere wants what want you can give. (Does this kind of idea excite you? Read 8572719896 and The Long Tail)
Why a Book and Not a Game?
I'm a games programmer so why didn't I write a game instead of a book? Games are actually incredibly hard to write, especially good ones - books are easier. Games are faddish and tend to have a spike in sales followed by an immediate drop off. (Sidenote: If your chosen industry uses terms like trenches and veterans - probably best to have a long hard think about what you're getting into!)
Why a Book About RPGs?
I wanted to build a product that I've always wanted to buy. I was scratching my own itch. There are very few books about making RPGs and there are even fewer that teach you how to build a full game. That's what my book does. I think the book is good. Readers have been very kind in their praise. The second reason is I want to try my hand at marketing a product. Building and marketing your own product teaches a very valuable set of skills!
Here's the bullet point of list of why I ended up going with this rather unlikely product:
- It's a niche I'm super familiar with
- Not many books already exist
- Seems like there's some demand (software called RPGMaker exists, as do a few other books)
- I've already written one programming book (with a publisher, advance, royalities and all that)
- It's not something just anyone could write
- It didn't require much money to do (though if you continue reading you'll see my art costs get a little out of hand)
- I wrote a tutorial on the topic long time ago that was popular.
I also tested the demand. Before I began the book I set up a mailing list and wrote an article on tutsplus.com. I was paid for this article and I got permission to promote my own site, which was a landing page for my mailing list. I thought this was pretty smart, even I do say so myself :D
Ok but Why the Blog?
To record my adventures releasing and marketing my first product. I'll share the lessons along the way. Games development is a strange field. You have to multi-class; I'm a low-level, performance driven engineer with a lot of 3D math knowledge but I also crafting a user experience from plot, to pacing, to storyboarding I touch it all. This mix of technical and creative perspectives gives me a unique viewpoint when it comes to online marketing and starting a business.
What Went Wrong
I'd like to go deeper into this in a future post but I basically had an entire triforce of stupid.
- Made my own C++ game engine instead of using an existing one
- The topic is MASSIVE and COMPLEX, so writing the book took nearly 3 years!
- A sojourner development process. On my own, no feedback, no network.
A better product would be a lot smaller and tightly defined, it would use an existing engine and I'd have people who know better give some guidance. Oh well :) The important thing is to release. No ones first product is going to be flawless.
The ideal product would solve a specific pain point and be the first in a series of products that might eventually target businesses too. Probably not game related in that case, unless it was gamifying SaaS to increase conversions or something.
What Went Right
Well I did what I know and it's quite hard for anyone to do something similar. I tested the market exists - even if it was only by collecting email addresses. My mailing list was vital to having a successful launch. The tutorial I wrote created a nice funnel for mailing list sign-ups. The final product is good. I think my price point is good (I intend to raise it later).
I'll cover the how I made the product and went about selling it online in a future post.
Ok, this is the fun bit.
Units sold: 163 Gross Unit Price: 36 USD Profit after fees: 32.16 USD Net Total: 5242.08 USD
I've been writing this book for far too long and had multiple requests from people on my mailing list to open up early access. I decided if I hadn't finished by the end of 2015 I'd do it. I started setting everything up on the 1st of January and sent out a mail to my subscribers on the 4th announcing it's release. I remember feeling mild dread when hitting the send button but it's all been fine. Over the next few days I saw sales spike and got some kind words and feedback through email.
To recap this release has been semi-private and only available to my mailing list subscribers (of around ~2.5k at the time). It's still not available to purchase directly and will remain private until I finish the editing.
I spent $2,701 on art. This was the biggest expense and probably excessive. In my defense this gives the book more value and this expense directly passes value on to my customers. Also worth nothing this doesn't include hosting, domain names or my time! The 5k in the title looks a lot less impressive now right? :D
At least a lot of these expenses are one-offs and running costs are very low.
I have a goal to sell 1000 units this year. The current focus is finishing the book. Until the book is finished I will not do any overt marketing. To finish the book I need to finish going through the final chapters and editing them. I also need to make the C++ game engine available as that's was one of my promises. That's all for the first release. I'm sure there will be subsequent updates.
Just picking a sales goal number out of a hat isn't very helpful unless it motivates me to take some action. Let's break it down a little:
1000 units in 12 months 1000 / 12 = 84 units sold per month
Seems doable. Very conservatively I have ~3k visitors a month to my site, 60% are first time visitors, so that puts an audience of 1800 people to sell to each month. To succeed in my target I need to convert 5%. That's a high conversion rate. But I can grow my audience; through adwords - which I haven't tried yet, through better SEO and through site content that leverages my abilities better than just writing articles.
Each month I spend finishing the editing is a month I'm not selling it. This means I need to wrap up editing soon. I've edited about 60-70% of the book but if I continue at my current pace it will take me four months to finish! I could buy editing services but my editing process isn't just fixing text it's making figures, adjusting mark-up, correcting code listings - there's no one else that can do it apart from me. Therefore the only way to speed this up is to put in more hours. I'm going to try and half the fours months by doubling the amount of editing I do. Therefore I intend to get it done by the end of March. This is an ambitious goal but still feel free to admonish me if I don't reach it :D
For February I expect sales numbers to be near zero.