d20 Questions with Eden Studios
Part 3 of our (ever-increasingly unlikely to be) 10-part series has arrived at long last. Amidst rumors of Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast shakeups that could affect the future of the d20 movement, we found the time to chat with Alex Jurkat, CEO/Editor in Chief of Eden Studios, a 4-year-old company that's heavily involved in d20 publishing.
GG: How would you introduce yourself to someone who had no idea who you were, what you did or who you worked for? (i.e., name, rank, serial number, job title, company affiliation, etc.)
AJ: Alex Jurkat, CEO/Editor in Chief, Eden Studios.
GG: How long has your company been around (alternately, or additionally, how long have you been in the industry)?
AJ: Eden was founded in 1997.
GG: What are some of the major projects you've worked on recently?
AJ: Everything Eden produces -- the recent ones are KODT HACK!: The Tomb of Vectra, Eden Odyssey Akrasia, Eden Odyssey Wonders Out of Time, Armageddon RPG, GURPS Conspiracy X, and about 15 others in the pipeline.
GG: What are some of the major projects you've worked on in the past?
AJ: Rail Empires: Iron Dragon computer game, All Flesh Must Be Eaten RPG, WitchCraft RPG, Conspiracy X RPG, Abduction card game.
GG: What's your favorite project? (this assumes you worked on it)
AJ: Armageddon RPG, the definitive Unisystem statement!
General RPG Publishing 101
GG: I have a cool idea for an RPG. How do I get it published?
AJ: Spend a year or more learning everything you can about the gaming industry at as many levels as possible (particularly marketing and available talent), find a top-notch graphic designer and convince him to work with you, collect $50,000, set aside another year to build a business, produce the book and market it correctly. From what I have learned, marketing is the starting point and ending point. Unless you are solely interested in creation for creation sake, and have money to burn, and don't care about returns, you need to make every effort to get your product sold. A cool concept, a well written game, a well constructed and playtested game -- all that is base line because that will make gamers glad they bought your game. Still, you need to know how the distributors are going to feel about your game concept, you need to raise awareness of your concept and game, you need to get consumers excited about what you will be offering, you need to devote substantial resources to marketing, sales and promotion. This efforts should all be intertwined with the concept and planning stage. The easier route (and it's by no means easy) is to work on each step in sequence. The successfull route is to know your market and industry as well as possible before you start creating, and have sales clearly in mind as you are creating.
GG: How do I get writing/art/editing/playtesting credits in the RPG industry? (Include any contact info/writer guideline URLs/etc.)
AJ: Contact the game manufacturer of the game you like the most. Bug them to do playtesting, or submit a steady stream of material (either text or art), until they cry "uncle" and accept something you do. Prepare to work hard for a year doing whatever they ask without pay. At that point, you may be able to get them to assign you something for pay. Make sure you sign a contract when you do so. Prepare to be screwed even so. If so, move onto to next company and start again (it will get easier each time because the industry is not that big and folks remember competence and dedication). The easier way is to review my answer to question 6, and start your own company. Then you get to choose who gets listed in the credits and who gets paid.
GG: Assuming I'm crazy enough to try this on my own, what sort of software and hardware will I need? (i.e., Can I do this all in Microsoft Word?)
AJ: Depends on what you are doing. With the text side, Word or other word processing program, and a relatively decent computer, is sufficient. With the art or layout side, you need Photoshop or other art program, Quark or other layout program, a boat load of RAM, the best processor you can get, etc.
GG: How much money does this take?
AJ: Does what take? Starting a company -- $50,000 is safe, $30,000 is possible. Otherwise, getting equipped to contribute to the RPG industry is not so tough. You probably have a computer, email access and a word processor already. That's all you need to start creating and networking on the text side.
GG: How much money will I make? (Gross vs Net, Ideal vs. Reality)
AJ: None. In fact, you will spend lots of your disposible income and savings. At worse, you will get frustrated and go spend your time at another professional which will pay considerably more for the same skill set. Most likely, you will contribute some good creative stuff to the industry, get your name on a game or three, and be lucky to earn $20,000 a year for as long as you can stand it. If everything falls right, you could land a steady job for one of the big companies, or build a successful small company, and make $40,000-$60,000 a year for a few years. If lightning strikes, you could develop the next GURPS, Paladium or Vampire and make a good amount of money. If the celestrial stars cross just right, you could devise the next Magic and make goobs of money. I would go in with the idea that you will make barely enough money to survive and continue to work in the industry, but that you will keep at it until you have a nice shelf of books you have contributed to. That way, if you make out better financially, you will be pleasantly surprised. If you don't, you will have a significant creative outlet for a number of years, and you will have fun.
GG: Assuming your audience knows nothing about any of this, what's the difference between the OGL, the d20 License, the SRD and all these other crazy acronyms?
AJ: The OGL allows several different folks to play in the same game mechanics universe under a common set of rules. The d20 license allows you to use the d20 logo (a proven market draw) if you follow certain conditions that protect WotC's rights in that logo. The SRD sets forth the d20 game material that may be used and modified in your own publications without paying any kind of royalty to WotC.
GG: What's the biggest misconception about d20 Publishing you've come across?
AJ: That it's substantially different from any other kind of publishing, or that it's substantially different from a business.
GG: It could be argued that similar attempts to create a unified game engine did not succeed as hoped. In your opinion, is the d20 effort succeeding, failing, or is it too soon to tell?
AJ: That's wholly dependant on what game engine you are discussing, and how you define success. I would say that GURPS has been highly successful. I would be overjoyed to be part of such a success someday. From all indications, the d20 effort is a huge financial success. As a unified game engine, there will always be detractors. I'm not sure that the d20 engine will port well to a modern setting but that's just because we haven't seen many such ports. The nice thing about RPGs is that with a good Game Master, the mechanics are relatively unimportant. So, the bottom line becomes how well the system is accepted and how much money is to be made producing for that system. By those criteria, the d20 effort could disappear overnight and it still must be considered an enormous success. As that's not going to happen, it will simply continue to be successful.
GG: How would you rate the overall quality of d20 products that have hit the marketplace so far? Who's doing the best job?
AJ: The quality varies from horrendous to "pretty darn spiffy." In my opinion, WotC is doing the best job, but that's not really fair since they have more money (and thus talent) than anyone else. After WotC, several folks are doing very competent jobs: White Wolf, Atlas, AEG, Fantasy Flight, Green Ronin. But the gems in the d20 area are the Eden Odyssey materials, of course! ;)
GG: Obviously, you probably feel to some degree that the d20 concept is worth investing your time and money in, but why? Is it because everyone is doing it? Is it the only viable way to get things to market today? Is it the future of the industry?
AJ: Every RPG product takes a certain amount of time, effort and money to produce. At this point, d20 material creates the biggest payoff for that time, effort and money. It allows us to continue to produce games of all sorts, and even to grow so that we can produce even more games. The fact that everyone is doing it is actually a disincentive to continuing, but we feel that when the inevitable shake-out occurs, the quality producers have the best chance of remaining standing. That's what we hope to be. It is clearly not the only viable way to get things to market. Our non-d20 lines continue to sell, and there will always be a market for something that is not d20 (gamers are just contrary that way). d20 is certainly the "now" of the industry, and will continue to be a dominant part of the "future" of the industry. No one game has been the "future" of the industry, nor will it every be (again, that contrary gamer thing).
Cheap Plug Stuff and Errata
GG: What are you working on right now?
AJ: The Liber Beastarius and Secrets of the Ancients books for Eden Odyssey d20 line, TerraPrimate, a new intelligent apes Unisystem RPG, the Rosicrucian and Book of Hod sourcebooks for the WitchCraft RPG, the Enter the Zombie and Fistful o' Zombies sourcebooks for the All Flesh Must Be Eaten RPG, an anthology of zombie stories, several submissions for our various websites, and a super-secret project that will change the face of Eden (hopefully more on that later). If you really want to know what's going on at Eden, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll subscribe you to our monthly newsletter, Whispers.
GG: What are you playing right now (both computer games and pen-and-paper games count)?
AJ: I just finished Might and Magic VI and VII. I am in the midst of Abe's Odyssey and Fallout 2. I play board games and card games every week (tonight I played Chrononauts and The Works), and I am about to start a new 3e campaign as a player.
GG: Why is everyone in the new Player's Handbook dressed in bondage gear? What ever happened to pointy-hats and horned helms?
AJ: How about pointy-hats, horned helms and bondage gear? Leather and steel have always been tough, professional and heroic. You call it bondage gear, gamers call it KEWL.
GG: URL(s) - your home page, your company's home page, etc.
GG: Where can your stuff be purchased online?