Monday, March 8, 2010

Sad News from AGP

James Mishler has announced on his blog that Adventure Games Publishing is closing its doors for good.
The decision to close AGP was neither easy nor quick; it has been brewing in my mind for a long time. It is the end result of far more mistakes being made than successess being earned. At one point a good friend, who knew of my work on Comics & Games Retailer, asked me point blank why I did not take the very good advice I dished out in that magazine. I still do not know why myself.

The closure is, essentially, the final result of ever fewer sales on each new product, both print and PDF, such that at this point, I'll end up paying people to take my next product. 100 Street Vendors of the City State, barring a handful of sales of Noble Knight Games, sold a grand total of three print copies. Yes, you read that right, three copies. The PDF sales were not much better, a grand total of 13 copies sold as compared to 15 copies being taken free by reviewers (and many, many thanks to the two of you who have actually posted reviews!)

As though the dreadful sales on what I considered to be my best, most tied-in work of the Wilderlands was not enough, this is also tax time, and looking over the results of the prior year was most educational. The end result, even after pinching every penny and keeping all expenses down to the bare minimum, was a grand total net income such that I earned a total of less than $2 per hour for all my work on AGP in 2009. Were this simply a sideline to a full-time job, that would truly be a nice result. As this is supposed to be my "day job," that result is, as we call it, a "reason to quit."

And so we are done.
While I cannot fault James for his decision, it's sad nonetheless. I've consistently enjoyed his work, some of which has been truly excellent, including his recent 100 Street Vendors of the City State, which is, ironically, the next item in the queue for review here. I regret now that I hadn't been able to review it sooner, although it sounds as if a single review, even a glowing one, wouldn't have made much difference in the end. James says that, sometime in the future, he plans to take up writing again, this time likely as a hobby, and I am glad of that at least.

Good luck, James, and thank you for all the hard work and creativity you've shared with us these last few years. I adore the copy of XXXI I bought from you two years ago and hope you'll share more of your marvelous imagination with us in the years to come.


  1. While I didn't like James' City State work, I would say that a major issue for him was invisibility. I am aware of a more or less constant flow of OSR material coming out over the last year but I can't remember the last time I was aware of James producing anything. So, certainly some marketing issues methinks.

  2. I really hope that this isn't the first sign that the OSR bubble has burst, as I'm just starting to have fun!

  3. Sad indeed. Although, why not just move this to a side project and pursue something more lucrative full time?

  4. @kelvingreen: I thought OSR was people enjoying playing older editions of RPGs? That bubble only bursts when people stop playing - not when publishing isn't profitable. :)

  5. I think this is the right call for James. His work looked high quality, but was set in a niche of a niche (OSR>Wilderlands>non-JG Wilderlands). I think Nagora is right about marketing, AGP did not have high visibility within the OSR network (compare to James Raggi, say, who also got the Finnish govt to subsidise him!).

    I have a friend who writes and publishes RPG material for 4e and 3e D&D(Craig Cochrane, Eternity Publishing/ and for him it's apparently a very nice little earner, but he targets (a) current edition of the most popular game on the market and (b) deity-level play, a perceived gap in what WoTC offers, with inherent demand. Even then, he can't quit the day job - in fact the way British Welfare law is, his success with Eternity Publishing meant he had to *get* a day job for the first time since college, as he was earning too much to stay on benefits!

    Earning a full-time-equivalent income in today's RPG market is a fearsome prospect indeed, and very few can pull it off.

  6. James' stuff was designed for Castles and Crusades, so I don't think its reflective of the OSR per se (not to say that many old-schoolers don't enjoy C&C). As to why so many C&C players weren't supporting the line, I couldn't say, nor could I accurately say what "could have been" if the line had been statted for S&W/LL/OSRIC etc instead...

  7. Stuart, perhaps you're right. Without getting into an inevitably pointless argument about what the OSR is, my personal view of the movement is of a community devoted to producing new material for those older games, and their clones.

    Of course, as Al points out, and I completely overlooked, the AGP stuff was mainly for C&C, which is arguably not a major part of the OSR, if it is part of it at all.

    So let's all pretend I didn't say anything. ;)

  8. James put out some nice material and I hope he continues his effort at a hobbyist level.

    I think his misfortune was that method of publishing to a hobbyist market was in flux. Particularly if you want to do a print product.

    By the time I was ready to throw my hat in the ring the alternatives were way clearer with several proven paths that others trail-blazed before me.

    We still have a dicey situation when it comes to poster maps.

  9. I am in the process of writing a review for "Vendors" myself. Since most of my gaming is with C&C, his stuff works well for me as is, although it would take little effort to use with OSR systems. It saddens me that he is dropping out of the RPG market (at least for now) but, in this economy, it is probably the wiser choice.

  10. the challenge for OSR seems to be similar as the challenge for TSR or WotC-- you can play a lot of D&D while buying very little product. if I meet with my players this week, I *may* run:
    1) Shrine of Tamoachan that I bought used about 10 years ago
    2) James's Cursed Chateau (which I have not yet bought, but will buy and download the .pdf if the players decide to go that way)
    3) The first of the "A" "slavers" series that I downloaded for free from scribd about a year ago before WotC clamped down on pirating.
    And it's very likely instead that the players will pursue loose ends remaining from the previous adventures I've run (which again include old TSR modules bought used over 10 years ago.).

    I so much admire anyone who "pursues their dreams." It seems that there is almost never any money in it. At least with RPGs, unlike most other mediums, the "hobbyist" is guaranteed the audience of his gaming table.

    Congratulations to James Misher for having made a go of it. You made it further than most.

  11. Definately sad news! As mentioned elsewhere, I enjoy James' writing and hope to see his work in print again in the future in some fashion or other.

  12. Agreed on sad news to lose any source of good material but difficult to know what to say on the selling front as James's focus is definitely to the game playing and world creation rather than hyping a sales pitch and hoping that the playing and use of his materials might follow from /some/ of what is sold, rather than just being shelved and traded on eBay at a later date.... Whilst it's admirable from a purist p.o.v. not to get drawn down the limited edition, etc., route it's certainly a difficult hobby to make any sort of living (even supplementary) as it is without using every trick in the book. This isn't just a "new" trend in the 21st century, mind you; very few people actually made money back in the 1980s, too.

    02c only, anyhow, and hoping that James will continue via Fight On! or otherwise once this is slightly less raw...

  13. It's always sad to see another gaming publisher go down. However, I'd probably look to blame the economy first, rather than suggest that the OSR is coming to an end.

    In addition to the poor economy, there is an additional hurdle for OSR publishers, in that so much OSR material is available free online that it can be very difficult to rationalize paying for it.

  14. As always I am sad to see another artist and a small publisher close his doors. As a DM, I get all my mileage from Gygax PH, DMG, and a handful of other books none published after 1992. Everything else is created from scratch lest my players have read or played through THAT module before! A true perpetual engine that D&D business. However, OSR publishing decline is not unique or new. Way back when in the age befofe Microsoft and PDF I wrote poetry. Overwhelming majority of poetry was self-published in tiny zines and small presses filling the pages of Poet's Market volume. Most publishers were poets themselves and it was good practice to buy each other's magazines to keep each other in business. I was in HS and broke and couldn't partake in this. I tried to write for an RPG company once, back then, and one and only reply form the game publishing world was to become a graphic artist, because who were really needed, were people to draw maps and gameboards, these people went on to become RPG developers. This didn't mesh with my interests and so I went on to do my thing. I will never try to make money off this, my life-long hobby, first, because I am blessed with a great day job, and second, because if D&D becomes work or becomes business, it will cease to be something special for me that it is now. Still, with james Mishler's closing, it is amazing how little things have changed after all.

  15. I'm glad someone (Brooze) brought up the cruel tease that is poetry or more broadly "creative" writing. because I think there are some parallels. including the fact that entry-level participants will more gladly pay for a service (e.g. workshops, classes, MFA degrees-- i.e. the chance to participate) than for product (small press chapbooks, literary journals). In the creative writing world this can't help but be something of a ponzi scheme-- but this doesn't have to be true in the RPG world-- because unlike the poetry workshop where everyone would like to be a published poet, playing D&D with a "published" GM would be an end in itself. I for one, would pay money to play in a regular game with other throughly-engaged players and a really good GM. If it were structured like a "class" with say weekly sessions over a 10-week period, you'd get that continuity that you don't get at a convention or in a meetup group. And at the end, if I got a copy of the materials used, whether to use with my own, more casual group, or just as a souvenir, I'd be inclined to pay "printed" rather than "pdf" prices.
    If that's such a great idea, why am I not doing it myself? Probably because I'm not confident enought in my skills as a GM. Does this sound interesting to anyone else?

  16. I encourage everyone who can afford it to go buy some of James Mishler's fine products to help him recoup his losses. He made a brave effort and published some great work. For those who aren't familiar with his work, may I recommend his 100 Calamitous Curses and 100 More Calamitous Curses, which were so original they made me fall in love again with curses as a gaming trope.

    Here's one sample to consider, for the skeptics among you:

    Curse of Deific Mien: The foolish and stupid will see the face of the Divine in the face of the accursed one, and proclaim him to be a prophet or demi-god or some such promised leader. Not a one of these followers has any useful talent (all having no class levels, no wealth or power, and Intelligence and Wisdom of no greater than 9 each, often total), and they will always be a drain on their “leader,” causing him no end of grief and trouble as they requisition goods and services “in the name of the Grand Crusade” or proclaim the current rulers of the local domain overthrown “in the name of the Chosen One!”

    Give this man some money while you still can.