Be honest, you’ve thought about it. Whether you’re working a regular job, a kid still working your way through school, or have a few freelance pieces with your name on them, you’ve always wondered what it’d be like to work in the RPG industry as a full-time gig. In fact, odds are good that you’ve likely thought of not just working in the industry, but of founding the next major RPG mover-and-shaker. But eventually, you stop daydreaming, shake your head, and go back about your life with a chuckle at the mere thought. After all, what do you know about starting an RPG business? You wouldn’t even know where to start.
Now, the answer is here. You start with this book: I am Mongoose, and so can you!
Written by Matthew Sprange, co-founder and owner of Mongoose Publishing, one of the undisputable big boys on the RPG block, I am Mongoose is his book about how you start an RPG company from the ground up. He takes you point-by-point from just having the idea, up through the end of the first year, and even slightly beyond, evaluating what should and shouldn’t be done at each step to help your new company survive and thrive. Before we look at this book any closer though, it’s important to establish what this book doesn’t do; being that it’s about starting a business, that’s just as important as knowing what it does bring to the table.
To be clear, this is NOT a complete guide to founding a new business. You won’t find here information on how to properly file taxes as a business entity; you won’t find a discussion on what business laws you should be aware of in your area; and you won’t find a section dealing with good business ethics in the marketplace. Make no mistake, the purpose of this book is to serve as an outline for how you can successfully create and market your RPG materials; it’s not a gamer’s version of “Business Management for Dummies.”
That said, as far as outlines for a business plan goes, this book really knows its stuff, and walks you through things step by step. Insightfully, the very first question is poses to you is to ask what your current position is – knowing where you are and what resources and materials you have before you try and found your new business is extremely important, and the book doesn’t try to gloss over the details of how much work this will take, and what you’ll be sacrificing to make it happen.
Beyond this, I am Mongoose covers the natural progression of making a company – what your basic costs and returns will be to produce and sell a typical product, creating a cash flow plan for the year, print vs. PDF publishing, distribution, and more. The writing here is informal in its style, and often punctuated by examples from what Mongoose was just starting out. At several points, mostly when discussing managing your finances over time, example graphs are given breaking down how much money goes to what in a given period of time.
The book is frank, almost surprisingly so, about the details of some particular aspects of getting your business going. If you’ve already got a high-paying job and a family, for example, I am Mongoose doesn’t hesitate to tell you that you’re in a riskier position than a single person with less money, as you’ll be giving up the high-paying job (remember, this book is devoted to the idea of creating your own full-time company) and putting your family’s finances at risk. That same level-headed advice is given for things from whether or not you should have a business partner, to whether you should go for your own distributing service or use a fulfillment center. The book’s honesty is refreshing, as it doesn’t try to sugar-coat things.
…well, maybe one thing. When the book gets to the subject of distribution, it then begins to discuss Mongoose Publishing’s Flaming Cobra imprint, and this takes up almost the last third of the book. Now, to be fair, the way I am Mongoose describes Flaming Cobra makes it sound really great. Basically, as an imprint, you retain being your own company, letting Mongoose Publishing handle the printing (and possibly the PDF hosting) and distribution (and even a bit of the advertising) for your book, paying the distribution costs and taking a relatively small share of the profits, and passing the rest back to you. You still have to make the books yourself, but once you’ve got them completed, having a Flaming Cobra imprint means that Mongoose largely takes it over from there.
I did like reading about Mongoose’s Flaming Cobra imprint and what it offers new companies – which is truly impressive – but this particular section was slightly off-putting to me for two reasons. The first was that I always feel a bit suspicious when someone starts describing their service, and just how incredible it is. I’m not saying the book’s not being honest about anything; I certainly don’t feel that it’s misrepresenting Flaming Cobra; I just think that it’s pretty clear they’re hawking themselves, and no one ever presents themselves in a bad light. My second problem with this was that the book devotes a fairly generous amount of space to Flaming Cobra…maybe a bit too much. Again, it’s a good service, but I think more could have been said for going it alone.
One other minor nitpick I had was with the technical construction of the book itself. While it’s a relatively short book, weighing in at just over three dozen pages, the lack of any sort of easy-navigation functions were a tad frustrating. The book is laid out in section, not chapters, so there’s no table of contents or anything like that, nor are there bookmarks. If you want to find a specific part of it to look back over, you’ve just got to scroll through until you find it. I’m sorry, but PDFs should always have bookmarks in them, at the very least.
Lest any of the above turn you off to this book, let me reiterate: if you seriously want to start your own RPG company, this book is your holy scripture. It will honestly and accurately lay down what you need to do, and what it’ll likely cost you, in plain and simple terms. It’s a roadmap on your quest to make your own game company – yes it’s an expensive roadmap, but it’s worth it for the penetrating honesty, specificity, and clarity with which it presents the things you will need to know. If you want to start your own business making RPGs, I am Mongoose, and so can you! isn’t just your best bet, it’s very nearly essential.