A Look at Eclipse Phase and DriveThruRPG’s "Metal List"

Most gamers are interested in numbers. Most business people are interested in numbers. So the numbers behind a gaming business ... well, they're fascinating. Not just for the sake of them, but for the story they tell, and the questions they prompt: Why did this work? Why didn't that work? Why did these two similar books sell very differently?

Over our years of publishing Eclipse Phase, we've tried a few experiments, changed tactics in response to feedback and numbers, followed our gut more than a couple times, and most importantly: made a bunch of great stuff that people have fun with at the gaming table.

OneBookShelf has sales accolades, the so-called "Metal List." They're one of the only public-facing ways in the game industry to gauge sales of one project against another. There's a couple important things to remember about the metal list:

  • First, the metal list is calculated individually for each storefront -- a sale on DriveThruRPG only counts for their metal list, a sale on RPGNow only on their metal list, even though on the back-end those sales numbers are combined. This is the same for their Top 100 / Top 15 charts!
  • Second, anytime you give out a complimentary copy, it does not count towards the metal list. This includes copies given away as a result of Kickstarter campaigns and also copies fulfilled by OneBookShelf that are sold via Bundle of Holding.
  • Third, the metal list doesn't take into account the age of a title: selling Platinum-level numbers in three months looks the same on the list as selling the same numbers in three years. Firewall is Platinum after only 11 months; the most recent release at that level for us. Our most recently-released Gold title is Million Year Echo.

Firewall

What do those things mean for our standings on the metal list? The first doesn't have much impact: for most of our electronic titles, 90% of the OneBookShelf sales happen on the DriveThruRPG storefront. That number is normally higher for new titles, and then gradually drifts downward during the long tail, but still stays above 80%. We specifically link to DriveThruCards for card projects and DriveThruFiction for fiction.

The second has had more impact on some recent titles, due to the number of copies that were sold as part of the Transhuman Kickstarter. We still got compensated for these copies (although parsing exactly what each of those titles earned via the Kickstarter is tricky!), but OneBookShelf didn't, even though we used their system to send out complimentary copies (In the long term, OBS still benefits from this because it helps them gain new customers and retain old ones.)

Also regarding the second, Bundle of Holding sales pay the publisher directly and are fulfilled by OneBookShelf, but OneBookShelf is also paid a fulfillment percentage. We ran Eclipse Phase Bundles of Holding in June and December 2014, putting over a thousand copies of the books offered in people's hands. Well over a year later, people are still redeeming those bundles!

There's one other factor that has influenced some of our titles. For a couple of our early releases, Sunward and Gatecrashing, we distributed to full book as part of a Hack Pack sale. This divided the actual book's sales into two SKUs: the standalone PDF and the Hack Pack. This had a dual impact on our standings on the Metal List and the Top 100 chart: Sunward and Gatecrashing have depressed rankings, and their respective Hack Packs have higher rankings than other Hack Packs!

Below is a list of our Platinum/Gold/Electrum-level sellers. The titles in the lists are not in any particular order. What trends do you see? My answers are after the list!

Eclipse Phase Platinum Level Sellers

Title Print POD Type Note
Eclipse Phase Core Rulebook 4th Core
Rimward 1st Sourcebook (Large)
Panopticon OOP Y Sourcebook (Large)
Firewall 1st Sourcebook (Large)
NPC File 1 Y Sourcebook (Small)
The Stars Our Destination Y Sourcebook (Small)

Sunward

Eclipse Phase Gold Level Sellers

Title Print POD Type Note
Transhuman 1st Core Transhuman Kickstarter
Morph Recognition Guide 1st Core Transhuman KS Stretch Goal
Sunward 3rd Sourcebook (Large) Previously bundled with Hack Pack
Gatecrashing 2nd Sourcebook (Large) Previously bundled with Hack Pack
Zone Stalkers Y Sourcebook (Small) Transhuman KS Stretch Goal
Continuity Adventure
Bump in the Night Adventure
Ego Hunter Adventure
Glory OOP Adventure Previously bundled with GM Screen

Eclipse Phase Electrum Level Sellers

Title Print POD Type Note
Transhumanity's Fate Core Transhuman KS Stretch Goal
The Devotees Y Adventure Transhuman KS Stretch Goal
Million Year Echo Y Adventure Transhuman KS Stretch Goal
After the Fall Fiction
An Infinite Horizon Fiction
Sunward Hack Pack Hack Pack Previously bundled with PDF
Gatecrashing Hack Pack Hack Pack Previously bundled with PDF
Panopticon Hack Pack Hack Pack
Firewall Hack Pack Hack Pack
Scott Fox - Morph (Fury) Music
Scott Fox - Firewall Music
Scott Fox - Blight (Exsurgent Virus) Music

(Also numerous Copper and Silver sellers, not listed here for brevity!)

Musings on the Numbers

  • Adventures don't break into Platinum, as they're gamemaster-focused, and also only sell to a subset of GMs. But they reliably hit Gold, with the exception of Kickstarter-impacted ones.
  • Accessories (Hack Packs, Scott Fox's soundtrack music, etc.) tied to a release sell proportionally to that release, not proportionally to other products in that category. For example, the three Scott Fox tracks that are Electrum were all linked to Firewall, which is Platinum. The two Scott Fox tracks that are Silver are linked to Million Year Echo, which is Electrum.
  • Fiction underperforms on the metal lists, due to sharing sales with DriveThruFiction and Amazon.
  • Attempts at appealing more to tablet users (such as producing landscape-oriented PDFs) didn't seem to have a major impact on sales.
  • Releasing print on demand versions of PDFs that aren't brand new has never resulted in a particularly large number of sales (less than 10% to total sales), which is why some PDFs that have sold well haven't been upgraded to POD status. That will eventually change as all our PDF-only titles become PDF & POD.
  • When the print on demand version is released at the same time as the PDF, print on demand sales rise to about 20% of total sales.

Musings on the Future

  • We expect POD sales to rise as more of our titles become available in that format, as people bulk-buy to save on shipping costs.
  • Sales numbers don't tell the whole story. Over time, discounts and other promotions tend to drive down the average per-unit gross (not including the impact that free copies have); but sales and promotions are important for catching the attention of new customers.

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