Gaming Ballistic started as a blog in late 2012, and then became a company in its own right in October 2016, as the company formally launched its first product, Dungeon Grappling.
2019 marks the third full year of the company’s operation. It still has but one person doing all of the administrative work: me. During 2018, Gaming Ballistic existed as a vehicle to deliver Douglas’ game ideas; that was supposed to change in 2019…and it did. Hugely.
Gaming Ballistic is a producer of games and entertainment.
2018 Recap and Goals for 2019
In 2018, Gaming Ballistic posted a roughly $6,000 loss. There was a lot of loss for admin and overhead, and more losses and expenses on shields that took a huge increase in revenue over 2017 and turned it into a loss. Spend money to make money, seed the fields, etc. Even so, I considered 2018 a good year, as my revenue went up by a factor of five or so, and I scored some important license permissions from Steve Jackson Games. (Spoiler: that was super-key in 2019).
My stated goals for 2019 were
- Be profitable in 2019
- Publish several Dungeon Fantasy RPG releases, including Citadel at Nordvorn and Fantastic Dungeon Grappling.
- Produce a minimum of 10 short adventures for The Fantasy Trip, beginning a series of on a once-a-month cadence
- Publish The Dragons of Rosgarth and Forest’s End
- Publish a Viking-flavored OSR release by James Spahn
- Do more original content publishing on my blog
That was a tall order. How did I do?
2019 Executive Summary
To hit the highlights:
- Gaming Ballistic increased revenue by nearly 3× in 2019 over 2018; I easily cracked the six-figure mark, bringing in $116,000 in revenue.
- I was profitable. Not only was I profitable, it wasn’t even close: Revenues exceeded expenses by about 17%.
- I published two Dungeon Fantasy RPG books, five adventures for The Fantasy Trip, and reprinted Hall of Judgment in a luscious 2nd Edition with an offset printing.
- I manufactured and distributed three different “not-books” products! Two of them, for The Fantasy Trip, were hugely popular.
- 2020 has a minimum of 10 projects queued up, with a potential for two or three more.
- I have launched and delivered eight kickstarters. Six were on time or early, TFT was just a tetch late due to issues at the printer and getting transport secured. The eighth, the Nordlond Sagas project, is running about two months behind schedule.
- I utterly burned my candle at both ends for reasons discussed below. This interfered with a whole lot of stuff that’s my job to not let it interfere with, including spectacularly neglecting my blog.
The High Points
Gaming Ballistic, oddly enough, makes games. Roleplaying games, to be precise. Ultimately, making and selling such things are why GB exists.
In 2019. I managed to get a minimum of seven stock-numbered products into customers’ hands. I also produced three physical products.
The Dungeon Fantasy RPG
In 2018, I obtained a license to publish a supplement for the Dungeon Fantasy RPG . . . the first (and currently only as of 2019) third-party license for that game. The effort went so well that as Sean noted in his foreword to the upcoming Citadel at Norðvorn, it changed the course of SJG’s intent for the Dungeon Fantasy RPG. We have since seen several SJG Kickstarters (Magic Items 2, Monsters 2, and a reprint of the boxed set) for this line, with another, the Dungeon Fantasy RPG Companion, queued up in 2020.
Did I have something to do with that? Maybe.
The Citadel at Norðvörn campaign was successful, delivered on time (except for some shields, which were delayed when I moved. See Off Target below!), and also saw the fruits of going to GameHole Con. “Hey, SJG! Mind if I turn the grappling rules from HoJ into a short stand-alone book?” “Yah, sure, you betcha.”
And Fantastic Dungeon Grappling was born.
Both projects did very well, and the Citadel campaign made enough money I decided to print a few hundred copies of Hall of Judgment in a second edition, with an offset print run. So folks got really, really pretty books.
Nordvorn was and is a great book. It’s gorgeous inside, and my art team did a fantastic job. I ran the game twice at FnordCon, to great reviews. I also started down the pathway to produce four more books, which were supposed to launch in mid-to-late 2019 and sorta did.
The Nordlond Sagas campaign followed on the example of my TFT work, attempting to publish several books at once, all by authors who were not me. Two of the books, the short ones, were character-stat heavy and Kevin Smyth, the author, is a freakin’ genius at making sensible, well-reasoned characters and templates. So Nordlondr Folk and Hand of Asgard were completed on time, on budget, and are in backers’ hands as a preliminary PDF.
I ran out of mental bandwidth to do the heavy lifting I needed to help my two new authors, Merlin Avery and Kyle Norton, over the hurdles of writing lore-heavy adventures on their own. Ultimately, Nordlond Sagas will see print (and the two big adventures will see PDF) in the first half of 2020. And they’re really pretty as well . . . but not on time, and I hate that.
Even so, taking into account all of the expenses and revenue that accrued in 2019, the profit margin of direct expenses was about 26% for the Dungeon Fantasy RPG line.
The Fantasy Trip
At FnordCon in early 2019, I asked Steve “what else can I do with and for SJG?” His laconic-as-usual answer was “Write for The Fantasy Trip.”
I was nervous about it. I didn’t know the game, the style, and never had played. But I had authors who, with the folding of Pyramid, wanted to work with me. And so after thinking about it, I came forward with a proposal with 10 ideas for adventures, with my pitch being “SJG should pick their favorite four.”
Their response? “Yes, do that.”
“You just pointed to all of them.”
Ok, then. So I would. I queued up four right away, and got things going. All in all, and cutting it a bit short, the writing went well, but initially the Kickstarter didn’t. It was only when I was asked by backers, got permission from SJG, and convinced myself it would not be an abject disaster to produce counters for NPCs and creatures and Decks of Destiny-compatible creature and NPC cards, and added a Fifth Perilous Journey, that the campaign took off and became my most successful (and profitable) to date.
The TFT crowd likes solo adventures. They like David Pulver. And they like stuff.
The five adventures, 63 cards, and five counter sheets have been very well received by backers, and are generating a steady stream of revenue (not a ton, but $4 PDFs and $8 print books don’t make a ton) in 2020. The black and white interiors make them very affordable to produce, and some of the internal art is simply spectacular, and all of it is good. The expenses that could be directly attributed to this product line, compared to revenues, provided about a 28% profit margin.
I’ll note that this surprised me, because I expected to see that TFT was more profitable as a line than the Dungeon Fantasy RPG . . . but probably due to the extra shipping and production costs for the physical goods, it is about the same.
On the other hand, the late-breaking decision to do a fifth adventure and all the counters and cards came at a cost.
I did two conventions in 2019. I nipped on down to FNORDCon in April, and had a blast. The Nordvorn Kickstarter was in production, Dragons of Rosgarth had enough done to have Kyle run a few games, and I had 12 or 13 folks at my table for both sessions: I refused to say “no” to anyone that wanted to play GURPS with me. It was a smashing success. No sales, really, because I didn’t have anything to sell.
I also hit CONVergence in July. That is a Sci-Fi and pop culture convention, with a very tiny RPG element to it. I was the only vendor there selling RPGs, and I did a modest business while there: perhaps a few hundred bucks.
I did make some great contacts while I was there.
I plan on being at Con of the North in 2020 (in a month!) and will be running my table for FnordCon 2 in April. This time I WILL have something to sell!
Shields and Weapons
I’ll give the short-short version here. I made a lot of shields, and still more wooden wasters. I love doing it. Roland Warzecha, who runs the Dimicator school of medieval combat (Sword and Buckler and Viking sword and shield fighting) in Germany, gave my construction his stamp of approval, as did Arthur von Eschen, who owns and runs Asfolk in MN. I got a great source of 36” diameter calf-hide direct from Pakistan, which allowed me to really cut costs on these types of shields.
I have all of the tooling and now that my workshop is set up better, the wood and tools needed to make both swords and shields for folks that want them.
Not many people want them, but I love woodworking. I spent a lot of money on shield materials in 2019, but the sales (and there were sales) were mostly buried in the Nordvorn Kickstarter revenue. If you account for the three shields and five swords I sold during that project, I about broke even in the shield department.
Other Product Lines
The Dragon Heresy/Fifth Edition product lines were on autopilot this year. No new development, no cross-over conversions. I fulfilled the Lost Hall of Tyr (2nd Edition) project and overall the Dragon Heresy/5e segment made Gaming Ballistic a bit less than $1,000 in 2019 . . . but at a nearly 60% profit margin. That’s what happens when all of your costs are sunk.
Lost Hall and Nordvorn went great. On time or early. The Fantasy Trip was a week or two late, but basically went OK. Would have been early but some production problems over in Latvia held things up. Nordlond Sagas is running two months late, but backers have three of the four books in hand in preliminary PDF form. So I’ll give myself a B on this one.
Authors and Artists
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that in 2019 I continued to build a fantastic team. Instead of writing it all myself, I published works from six different authors, plus work I did. I befriended a fantastic editor, Emily Blain, who sees eye to eye with me on the Oxford Comma and other life-altering details. I helped three authors continue to publish regularly after Pyramid folded, and tried to help three more get started. My art team is top-notch and growing: about a dozen artists will be on the credits list for Forest’s End and Dragons of Rosgarth. Nordlondr Folk (p. 15 if you must know) has a piece that has gathered many chuckles, and I will never forget the Triger. Gaming Ballistic has a strong and growing team, and it’s been glorious to help it along.
Off Target: Challenges and Missteps
Each year brings opportunities for improvement, and some missed steps.
Goals Not Met
I fell behind the cadence of publishing in the last half of 2019. I’d intended to produce two more DFRPG adventures, and five more TFT books in 2019, than I actually did.
I more or less ignored my blog from about April through December. There’s a reason for it, but no one cares much why I didn’t meet a goal of making interesting blog content. I just didn’t do it.
We decided to move and try and break out of a bit of a “one day we’ll…” rut mindset near Feb/March of 2019. We found a new house, and since our old one was pretty nice (so we thought), we took the risk of buying first, figuring the old one would sell quickly.
This ripped apart my workshop, destroyed my office, and saw day after day after week after week consumed with fixing up the old place and moving into the new one. That was late April and early May.
And it wouldn’t thaw. Seriously: it was cold, and cold, and we had concrete work to do, and it just wouldn’t thaw. You can’t bring heavy trucks on certain residential roads until the City says “OK.” Otherwise the roads get chewed up, and MN is already hard on roads.
So we missed the market. And picked the wrong strategy for going down on price. But then . . . it sold! October 24 was the date.
That closing fell through. They couldn’t secure financing and were totally opaque to questions.
Then it sold again! As stressful (and expensive) as it was, our Christmas would be made merry with a December 23 closing.
That fell through. The loan officer had a meltdown and didn’t do any of the work on the buyer’s side.
So now we’re going back on the market . . . and I never have understood the phrase “I just can’t even” more than right now.
Anyway, we made some major cosmetic upgrades to the old place over the last few weeks (new carpet, new paint, top-to-bottom scrubbin’) that really modernize the place’s look. But we still have one more house than we really need, and it’s a gigantic suck for energy and verve.
Note that this really went down/fell apart right as Nordlond Sagas was kicking off.
Nordlond Sagas: Meh
Nordlond Sagas did not show the response I thought it would. Nordvorn had 600 backers, and was run in parallel with Monsters 2/Box Set Reprint, which probably helped. Four Perilous Journeys for TFT ran in parallel with Decks of Destiny . . . and on the one hand it taught me what the TFT folks wanted, but the sheer amount of awesome available from SJG at the time? Maybe helped, maybe hurt. Hard to say. But again: 600 backers.
I was hoping that Nordlond Sagas, with four books eventually available, would also pull 600 folks. Maybe more. I mean, it didn’t compete with anything, and had the promise of great stuff in it. I figured so long as I hit 500-550 people I’d be good, and growth to more than that was possible. I need it to be possible, and that magical 1,000 number is important.
But nope. Didn’t do it. Didn’t crack 500. And given the ever-expanding content (and therefore art cost) of these books… it puts 2020 off to a hard start.
As noted in 2018, I went from sending DH to the printer to launching HoJ the next day, and then followed it up with Lost Hall 2. That hurt. A lot.
The same thing happened a bit in 2019. Nordvorn went great. Then TFT started off really slow . . . I would fund, but unspectacularly. The market had whispered and I missed it. I also overpriced the initial offering. But I determined to correct it, and David agreed to write a solo, and I scrambled to prove the concept of physical stuff. That went very, very well.
Oh, but what a mountain of work it created, and that pushed Nordlond Sagas managing editor functions, my blog, and my regular gaming with my friends right the heck off the table. Combined with some Real Life stuff . . . it’s mid-January 2020 now and I still haven’t recovered.
2019 Financial Summary
Gaming Ballistic overall was profitable in 2019, bringing in revenues in excess of expenses of nearly $20,000 . . . or about 17%.
This is incredibly exciting. On the other hand, I need $10-15,000 of that to finish up Nordlond Sagas, which means that if I were to pocket the balance, I’d have made less than $1,000 per month of “pay the owner.”
So I’m not quitting my day job any time soon. That’s a shame. I’d love to do nothing but make RPG content for a living.
Revenue: nearly 3× Increase!
First up: GB took in about $116,000 in sales and other income in 2018, 2.9× the prior year, which is tremendous revenue growth. Each of my SJG-licensed product lines independently brought in more revenue than all of my product lines in 2018.
My must-do for 2019 was profitability. I did it.
I will note that all but $4,000 of my revenue came from crowdfunding. Barely any real “tail,” somewhat minimal distribution sales, etc. If past performance is an indicator of future results…Gaming Ballistic’s future is tied to how many crowdfunding campaigns I can run, and how many backers I can land per campaign.
More on that in a bit.
Costs: 2× Increase
My costs went up, of course. I spent something like $96,000 last year. Lots of inventory purchased due to doing offset printing in Latvia, with Livonia printing. I got 1,000 copies each of the TFT books, and still have over 500 of each to sell.
I bought 500 copies of Hall of Judgment 2nd Edition, 750 of Nordvorn, and 1,000 of Fantastic Dungeon Grappling. More is better from a cost-each perspective.
I also feel I did well by Steve Jackson Games, sending them a nice set of checks in 2019 for license fees. Given that over 90% of my revenue came from SJG products this year…that’s to the good.
But I did spend $19,000 or so (a bit less) on license fees, admin and overhead, and marketing and convention expenses. I spent a bunch on supporting other Kickstarters, including SJG’s, but also fellow creators. Adobe is still expensive. And even though I’m going to two more conventions in the next two months, and who knows if I’ll do more later in the year…they’re still not paying for themselves at all.
Net: Did I mention Profit?
A company’s business is to make money doing cool stuff. I made money doing cool stuff. Can’t ask for more.
Actually, that’s not true. I can ask for more, but 2019 was a financial and business success.
In My Sights: 2020 Goals
So 2018 was revenue (check). 2019 was profit (check, and also revenue)! But it was also the second year in a row burnt out on the effort to make all that happen.
So I need to look to 2020 cautiously, but there’s room for optimism. Goals, then?
- Finish the Nordlond Sagas books and get them off to the printer and fulfilled. Try and hold “late” to less than three months.
- Take a short break and recover my sanity. A few weeks or a month, during which I will start working out again, and begin a face-to-face gaming circle so that I can blog and rediscover my creative spark.
- Explore not-Kickstarter for crowdfunding (see below)
- Launch “More Perilous Journeys” and see it done. Five more books for TFT, plus counters and Decks of Destiny style cards. I feel like I know more about this one, and can do a bunch of pre-work that will save stress up front.
- I have permission and the intent to make the Nordlondr Ovinabokin . . . the Nordlond Enemies Book. This will be huge. Likely 200-300 monsters and 250-300 pages. Hardback. All-in for art and awesome. But it’s going to take some serious funding.
- Break the 600-backer threshold; I need that to really do the kind of work I want to do, and also take more steps to making Gaming Ballistic truly self-sustaining.
- I need to consider moving my eCommerce platform away from WooCommerce and on to something else. I don’t know what.
- I will look hard into migrating from Adobe to Affinity Publisher and Photo in 2020. I was putting that off until a few features crept into Affinity Publisher…but then to put together Forest’s End I found ways of doing what I was waiting for by other means. That’ll save me real money, which might be better spent on an eCommerce suite that is less painful.
So overall, 2018 was good, 2019 was better…and 2020 has a lot of potential.
Thus far, I have done all of my crowdfunding on Kickstarter. And why not? It’s one of the largest platforms, and it’s done well. After my first few, I also did my post-campaign shipping and add-on phase via Backerkit. I even used Backerkit Postage to fulfill Lost Hall of Tyr.
But there are limits there. Kickstarter only lets you do one campaign at a time, which exercises good restraint on creators, but also can be limiting. Moving from Kickstarter to Backerkit is expensive and time-consuming each time. I mean, you need to do something, because unless you know exactly what production pathway you’re taking, and where all the parts will come and go, and how…you take a mighty risk trying to guess at shipping before the campaign even starts.
For RPGs, if a project does “meh,” then it’s pretty tempting to fulfill by POD. It’s killer expensive, but for fewer than about 300 copies, it’s cheaper to do POD than order excess inventory via short- or long-run digital or offset printing. So you really don’t know where things will come from: Shipping is complex.
And my projects have seen some “grow in place” work that has been to the good. The card decks and counter sheets for TFT; the fifth Perilous Journey; Hand of Asgard. All were conceived, executed, and added to pledges or as add-ons late in the campaign.
That worked out OK for TFT. Hand of Asgard is an amazing book that should have gotten more attention than it did.
In any case…I’m going to be looking at trying GameOn Tabletop for crowdfunding in the future. At least one small project will serve as a trial balloon here. I had a fantastic conversation with one of the owners of the platform, and the features it has to allow easier organic growth of a project, as well as pre-positioned add-ons you can put explicitly in your cart as you pledge for a campaign, plus an integrated shipping phase?
Oh, and you can also feather projects. If I had wanted, I could have done Forest’s End, Dragons of Rosgarth, and Nordlondr Folk as separate entities, and then added Hand of Asgard mid-stream no problem. It allows the backer to say “yes, I want that; no thank you, Asgard” as they wish, and that gives me a lot more information about what folks want.
It’s not perfect, and no platform is. But I’m going to gently give it a go in 2020 and see if the platform is superior (it seems to be). It’s also dedicated to RPG and tabletop games, so perhaps the awareness will be higher? Don’t know. I’ll keep folks posted on the blog and by the Gaming Ballistic mailing list when it gets close.