Dungeon Masters Guild: One Author’s Business Analysis

Before DMsGuild came along, and outside of blogging, I worked on the sidelines of the RPG industry: I playtested a few things, edited some mechanics and writing, and otherwise was mainly just a consumer. That all changed when Wizards of the Coast said, “Come play in our sandbox; we’ll even let you take some money while you’re at it.”

I like money, so why not?

After a solid month (and a couple of days) of having product up, here’s what I’ve seen.

Dungeon Masters Guild

Money Matters

I put up two products on January 15th: the Calendar of Harptos (a time and campaign tracking tool that also lists all the officially-mentioned religious and regional holidays), and Hexcrawling: Wilderness Exploration and Random Encounters (a guide to the practical pieces of running a hexcrawl and building memorable random encounter tables that don’t feel random). Both were set as Pay What You Want, but at the time, Hexcrawling was a bit longer and more involved, so I set them up like so:

  • Calendar of Harptos: Pay What You Want (suggested $1)
  • Hexcrawling: Pay What You Want (suggested $3)

I got some good reviews, some great feedback, and ended up totally revamping them, with a lot more organization and layout work done on the Calendar. It ended up pushing its page count well beyond Hexcrawling, but honestly didn’t take so much more time that it bothered me. I ended up dropping the suggested price of Hexcrawling after a week or two.

  • Calendar of Harptos: Pay What You Want (suggested $1)
  • Hexcrawling: Pay What You Want (suggested $1)

So, did I make any money? You betcha!

  • Calendar of Harptos: 34 people paid for it, netting me a little over $17 (after royalties).
  • Hexcrawling: 67 people bought it, and I’ve almost made $55 after royalties.

Freeloaders!

Not too shabby. But then you run the report when checking the box labeled “Include free downloads in quantity” and I found staggeringly different numbers!

  • Calendar of Harptos: 293 total downloads (34 people paid).
  • Hexcrawling: 493 total downloads (67 paid).

That means that only 11% of the folks picking up the Calendar paid for it, and about 13% of the people checking out Hexcrawling (which took a lot more work) are paying for it.

And I’m a-okay with that. Ecstatic, even.

No Such Thing As Bad Press

Well, there is a such thing as bad press, especially on a site where your product lives and dies on reviews. But I’m lucky (some would say talented, but I don’t really know how to judge myself): I made two products that just happen to resonate and have some usefulness, I put some elbow grease into them, and then, once I got a couple 3 or 4 star reviews and some feedback, I immediately acted on that information and improved the products. Five days after uploading them to Dungeon Masters Guild, I updated them with better layout, and in the case of the Calendar, a significant revision of the appendices to better organize the various holidays of the Realms. Top it off with a list of Sources, and now people can look up those holidays and have more than just a name and patron/region; now they’ve got loads of roleplaying resources, and since the sources are official D&D products available as PDF downloads on DMsGuild/DnDClassics, that’s a no-brainer right there.

I’ve used these things in my campaigns, so it’s no surprise a few other people are gonna do the same.

(Secret tip for the money-makers out there: any links I use on my blog or on social media have my DMsGuild affiliate tracking link appended to them, so if people buy, I get an extra couple of cents on the transaction. Not exactly blowing up my bank account here, but every penny hoarded is a penny spent on ice cream, or whatever the hell it is I do with my cash. I dunno. It probably just ends up being spent on Indian food and wine. I digress.)

As of right now, both products are sitting pretty with an average review rating of 4+. Snazzy.

A Summary

So just above 10% of people picking up my Pay What You Want products are paying customers, and they taught me that 15-20 page PDFs that are not big on sexy graphics are worth somewhere close to $1 or $2 at best. I think one or two individuals threw me more than that — biggest I recall was $5 — and believe me I appreciate that, but I get economics, so I’m okay with making a little less per thing-a-ma-blob because my name is getting out there, and the people rating and reviewing my products obviously like them.

All good news. I just gotta keep up the good work.

What’s Next?

But that’s just two niche products, very specialized in what they do. They are useful but only to certain audiences and in pretty specific ways, so while they may be “evergreen,” they aren’t designed to be blockbusters. One’s really campaign world specific and is just a way of recording stuff, useful to players and DMs (but probably more often DMs, let’s be honest). The other is rulesy stuff and design theory, solely in the DMs’ court, and only if you’re looking for something outside of stuff that already exists in the Dungeon Master’s Guide and elsewhere online (in different form, speaking to many different levels of complexity).

Most importantly, perhaps, they are also things I already had laying around in some form or another, and just need a quick coat of paint (layout) to make ’em presentable. They didn’t require more than a few hours of work each (multiplied by two because I re-did some of the organization and layout due to feedback), and that means I’ve definitely made a profit of some kind off of them, even with only 10% of people paying for them.

What if I’d done an adventure? Adventures are a dime a dozen now, but they only appeal to Dungeon Masters. Seems like the ones from the big name partners — Kobold Press, for instance — or that include a lot of setting material aside from the adventure have any legs in terms of sitting on the best seller lists. So far. It’s a lot of design and development work, it kinda isn’t that great if there isn’t artwork, it totally sucks if there’s no map, and if you’re actually going to run the thing through some playtests and not just rely on the encounter balancing guidelines in the DMG, you’re talking about dozens and dozens of hours of working on the thing before it’s presentable.

(Hint: I’m working on my first adventure for DMsGuild, and it’s something I’d already spent 5-10 hours on before DMsGuild is a thing. Now that it’s going to see “for reals” publishing, I’ve dumped I don’t know how many more hours on it, have a half dozen maps to design, and commissioned $60 in art. And I’m like 1/4 or 1/3 done with it. It’s a beast! I could *maybe* publish an adventure quarterly, at this rate, and I’d have to sell a bunch of copies to make it at all worthwhile to do every single quarter.)

What about mechanical stuff, like player options? Frankly, that’s not my strong suit. That stuff sits up there, though, and clearly sells. There’s a lot more players than DMs, no matter what the name of the shop might suggest. I’d be wise to get good at mechanics, but I’m more of a story and organization/prep guy. I DM way more than I play. And making sure I’m actually not reinventing the wheel means being up on the latest releases from the experts at player mechanics stuff: the guys releasing new Classes or Specializations, Feats, Gear, Magic Items…there’s a lot of them, and some of them are extremely talented and prolific. I can’t come close to that, but if you or someone you know can, you could easily make double or triple what I’m making in a month with only a couple hours more work, I’d suspect.

1-Month Conclusion

Ultimately, DMsGuild is what you make of it. If you put in the work and respond to feedback, assess the audience, and watch what sells, you can make some cash. I mean, I did what I’d consider a minimum of work, offered the stuff for free but with the option to throw me a buck or two if you really like the cut of my jib, and here I am sitting on enough money to buy at least two of the D&D Fifth Edition Core Rulebooks off Amazon, and cover shipping (yeah right! As if I weren’t a Prime member!). I mean, I already own them, so realistically I’m going to buy like 5 pizzas at Pizza Studio in Burbank and 2-3 cheap craft beers at Circus Liquor, but my point still stands: it was worth my time.

We’ll see what happens when I publish my adventure. And if any of you are looking to publish stuff and need a proofreader, editor, or mechanics guy, hit me up. I’m a cheap date.

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neuronphaser is an editor, eCommerce consultant, web producer, and analyst living in sunny Hollywood, CA. He's been playing tabletop RPGs of all kinds since 1985.

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5 comments on “Dungeon Masters Guild: One Author’s Business Analysis
  1. Is it my understanding that I can now create a product and incorporate your holiday calendar as part of the product? Then sell my product and you would not get a dime?

    • neuronphaser says:

      Incorrect. As the owners of OneBookShelf (creators of DMsGuild) and Wizards have clarified, the intent is not to allow exact or significant duplication of other people’s work, repackaging it and selling it. The community as well as the employee moderators of the site look out for such things, and would take action against a seller doing such a thing.

      From here:

      “Create, don’t copy. We reserve the right to stop publishing and selling your work if we think it goes against the spirit of the Dungeon Masters Guild program.”

      And it goes on from there.

      • Jonathan says:

        Well, you are both right, in my opinion. I think what Sean Kelley is saying is that he could create a new campaign setting book and reference your calendar, even use parts of it, and sell his book on DMsGuild. But obviously, he couldn’t just re-package it and sell it.

        • neuronphaser says:

          Ah, I see what you mean. And yes, I don’t doubt that’s correct.

          It could be reported, but if it’s not a significant copy job, then yes, it’d be fine. Consider, too, that my calendar is just an expression of the official FR content (thus the Sources section at the end of the PDF): I didn’t create anything “new,” just formatted it in a manner that is helpful as a campaign tool. So if someone is using it as a reference for noting holidays or whatnot in their product, I wouldn’t expect to see a reference or dime 😉

          The terms are vague enough that you could possibly directly copy a single a month, or a big swath of the Appendices, and probably “get away with it.” I’d certainly not come after someone who did so. But if the majority of the content is duplicated, that’s where someone might get involved.

          All for the love of litigious America!

  2. Damned inspiring. Might just give it a go!

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