Building and Publishing a RPG series in France (2010-2011)

2:37 AM Esteren 0 Comments

One of my responsibilities is to build the Shadows of Esteren series by defining the contents of the books that will be published. I carry out this task in concertation with Valentin of Agate RPG, our french editor. For several months, Iris-one of our authors-has been involved in these exchanges as well. To give a better picture of the role of each of the three of us, and if we compare Esteren to a movie, I am the director, Valentin is the producer, and Iris is my first assistant.

During RPG conventions in France (and sometimes abroad), I often talk about these aspects with members of the community. Also each year, we discuss the releases for the upcoming year. This article is intended to be a glimpse at the life of the series to be shared with everyone who follows us on the web. Before taking stock of the ongoing projects, I think it interesting to come back to the start of the series, between 2010 and today.

Image : Florent Darrault


2010: Associative Beginnings

During the first years, Esteren was a solely associative project. Created by the Forgesonges collective  (update: the association has been closed in august 2017), the project's main aim was the creation of a complete book, especially in France where the market is small. We already had the idea of cross-media and many other things–like any self-respecting association–but a first publication was a great challenge in itself. This major step was taken in September 2010 with the release of Book 1 – Universe–Shadows of Esteren's core rulebook–during the 2010 Paris Games Festival, Monde du Jeu. We already had more in mind at the time, in particular the famous Book of Secrets, but we lacked a clear picture of the series’ future. For the publication, we relied on the small Agate, the small publishing house that we had founded in 2006 with Valentin. At the time, Agate was releasing some independent films on DVD. It was a story of friendship with Valentin but no employee and we had our own day-time job. Agate had gotten into debt to publish the first book, with personnal guarantee, and everything depended on how successful it would be

Adapting to Success

It was indeed successful. Just see for yourself: the 2000 copies of Book 1 were sold in less than one year and the book remained out of stock for months. For France, it's a big success. The biggest success (Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu) exceed the 5000 sales, but they are very few.The vast majority of books sell 1,000 copies or less. This first release in 2010 was also our first contact with the challenges of the publication of a role-playing game in France. Professionals (distributors and retailers) strongly urged us to work on a new release right after Book 1 to keep the initial momentum. The Book of Secrets was well on the way, but far from being finished, and the series needed a key supplement: a Game Master screen. That is how Book 2 – Travels was created, along with game material for Leaders, including a small bestiary requested by the growing community, a large map, and said gaming screen. The year 2010 ended with the publication of Book 2, which also met immediate success.

2011: The Evolution of the Project

In retrospect, I think we did not really consider the future of the series beyond the release of Book 1. From the beginning, I had great ambitions for our project, but let us be honest: they were disconnected from the reality of the market, production times, etc. In my defense, although I had taken part in many projects, Esteren was the first I fully managed.

In 2011, the first conclusion was that we had clearly underestimated the necessary work to complete the Book of Secrets. I think that any collective willing to get into a publishing project should take time constraints very seriously. Taking into account our attention to detail, publishing such a massive book would have taken several years of full-time work. After all, Book 1 required 4 years of development. Even though a good chunk of Secrets was done, it was obvious there remained a lot to be done to reach a finished book with the same quality standards as those of Book 1.

Add to this the fact that the team mostly work on Esteren during their free time, and you see how complicated it gets. Depriving the emerging series of publications for several years would mean its end. So what could we do?

2011 turned out to coincide with the culmination of a project that had been in gestation since 2008: the first music album in the universe of the Shadows, entirely composed and played by Delphine Bois. And I had a scenario in the works: Vengeful Words, a tribute to The Name of the Rose by Ecco. The supplement, named The Monastery of Tuath, was born and with it the principle of themas: a short book exploring a theme in Shadows of Esteren, and sold with cross media content.

The end of the year 2011 was marked by the release in France of Book 0 – Prologue. One of its scenarios–Loch Varn–had been pre-published in a French RPG magazine, “Jeu de Rôle Magazine”. For the anecdote, I had first envisioned Book 0 – Prologue to be the first publication of the series along with a point’n’click video game (reminds you of something)? The development of the video game started in 2009 (take a look at this archive from 2009; but sorry only in French), one year before Book 1 was released, and it is still not finished yet... Anyway, Book 0 – Prologue was released by itself at the end of 2011, at a very cheap price. The aim was to promote our universe. It proved to be another success, and the 2000 copies of The Monastery of Tuath and Book 0 were sold through 2012. Again, I want to thank Valentin who gave us the green light to make Book 0 freely downloadable and to put a selling price below €10 on the book (later, it was also released for free in its english version, check this). The development of Shadows of Esteren has benefited a lot from this.


The way I see it, there is a clear break between the first two years of the project and what happened next, from 2012.

In hindsight, I can see how things have come together in a way that was difficult to predict. What followed, starting from summer 2012, was much more unexpected: the unpredicted success of the American version, a symphonic concert, and even a meeting with a Hollywood producer to consider an adaptation of Shadows of Esteren… I can easily understand why some people scratch their heads at the strange development of the Shadows series. I am surprised myself by our progression and the scale the project has taken–much from its success than through its place in our lives. This extraordinary adventure reflects the evolution of a project whose organization has long been non-professional and associative. It has now changed so much that professionalization can actually be considered. Still, let me make myself clear: in my opinion, what mainly differentiates amateurs from professionals is that the latter can make a living from their work, as opposed to the former who work during their free time. Today, I would describe Esteren as a semi-amateur project–or a semi-professional one, according to one’s point of view.

In another article, I will go back to the years 2012 and 2013 before talking about what we are planning for the end of 2014. Then it will be time to make plans for the future.


See also:
Part 2 (2012)
Part 3 (2013)
Part 4 (2014)  
Part 5 (fifth and last part)


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.