Unsung Heroes of the Gaming Industry
  • Unsung Heroes of the Gaming Industry


    Role-playing games clearly use a lot of writers and artists, but these people are only one part of the team that gets a book published. The rest of this team are often underappreciated even though their work is just as essential. But writing and art remain the jobs people think of when they want to ‘get into the gaming industry’. They are the ‘actors’ rather than the ‘backstage staff’ in gaming. So, as I also work backstage as a lighting technician in theatre, I felt it was time to grant these unsung roles some applause.



    Incidentally, if you want to work ‘in house’ for a gaming company, writing and art is not the way to go, they are almost always commissioned from freelancers. However, the following positions are highly sought after and few companies let a talented person with these skills slip through their fingers!

    Editors

    An editor takes the final draft from the writers and corrects it for publication. But it is not just a proofreading job, or even just about fixing the grammar. Any good writer will tell you that a good editor makes a book. An editor needs a good eye for how that text might be more succinct and interesting. A gaming editor also needs to be able to spot mistakes and confusions in the rules writing as well as the fiction and setting material. To take an analogy from Japanese swordmaking, if the writer is the bladesmith, the editor is the polisher, who brings out the true beauty of the blade so everyone can see it.

    Graphic Artists

    One of the least known artistic jobs is that of a graphic artist. They create the page borders, title and font styles and the overall template each page will follow. This template is then handed over to the layout artist (so anyone who can do both jobs is like gold dust). While page borders and sidebar design might not seem very exciting, it is what makes the book look truly professional. I’ve done plain layout on books of my own and it’s looked OK, but with the graphics it looked amazing.

    Layout Artists

    Even if you just want text on a page, someone has to make sure it fits. Add the art and graphics to the page and that job becomes a lot more complex. While layout doesn’t quite get the same artistic options a graphic artist might, they are the craftspeople of the industry. Like a carpenter making a finely crafted joint they make sure each page looks right and reads well. When you open a book and look at a page spread, the ‘wow factor’ is mostly down to the layout and graphic artist.

    Office Management

    Outside the actual production of books lies the whole administration of the company. In general, people get into gaming so they can make games. But the demands of running a company, usually takes people away from that. Finding someone who understands the products but can also keep the office and administration side of the company going is a godsend. These office managers are the people who make sure books go where they need to. They chase up printers and shipping, make sure orders are collected and sent out and ensure freelancers get paid. Their work is rarely noticed until it goes wrong, because the best of them make it look like everything is flowing seamlessly.

    Marketing

    In today’s market, no one will know about your game, unless someone knows how to promote it. It is rare to find dedicated marketing people in an RPG company unless it is quite a large one. There are plenty of marketing people out there, but few who know gaming and how to reach the gaming community (as well as the mainstream). However, if you find one it can often mean the difference between your game being the new product everyone is talking about and no one ever hearing about it.

    Hopefully this has given you a little more insight about what goes on behind a credits page. You will notice each company is a little different and sometimes employs people with a variety of these skills. But whatever they do, you can rest assured that anyone with their name in the book played an essential role in its creation.

    This article was contributed by Andrew Peregrine (Corone) as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. We are always on the lookout for freelance columnists! If you have a pitch, please contact us!
    Comments 11 Comments
    1. pauldanieljohnson's Avatar
      pauldanieljohnson -
      You forgot about the accountants. They tell you what your products cost you to make, guide pricing decisions, plan your company's strategic goals, and let you know whether you're operating profitably or not.
    1. lowkey13's Avatar
      lowkey13 -
      Ha!

      The true unsung heroes of the gaming industry are those of us who fearlessly and tirelessly comment on the internet, telling the game designers what they should have done.
    1. Henry's Avatar
      Henry -
      Quote Originally Posted by lowkey13 View Post
      Ha!

      The true unsung heroes of the gaming industry are those of us who fearlessly and tirelessly comment on the internet, telling the game designers what they should have done.
      Wouldn't that be more like, "The constantly-singing antiheroes?"
    1. Corone's Avatar
      Corone -
      Quote Originally Posted by pauldanieljohnson View Post
      You forgot about the accountants. They tell you what your products cost you to make, guide pricing decisions, plan your company's strategic goals, and let you know whether you're operating profitably or not.
      True, accountants are a vital part. But most of the decisions you mention are made by the CEO and/or project manager. Most printers can give you the costs per page for any book type and layout determines how many pages you need. So the boss decides how big the book can be, and how much art they can afford and then writers are commissioned to fill that amount of pages. Accountants in a gaming company are often brought in to make sense of everything at the end of the tax year! Larger companies may have their own accounts dept, but few accountants make decisions about book size or company strategy as far as I know. They just tell the boss what they might be able to afford for the next book (sometimes with a despairing sigh).
    1. Satyrn's Avatar
      Satyrn -
      Quote Originally Posted by lowkey13 View Post
      Ha!

      The true unsung heroes of the gaming industry are those of us who fearlessly and tirelessly comment on the internet, telling the game designers what they should have done.
      Ha!

      We're heroes of the gaming industry the way Handsome Jack was the hero of Pandora.
    1. pauldanieljohnson's Avatar
      pauldanieljohnson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Corone View Post
      True, accountants are a vital part. But most of the decisions you mention are made by the CEO and/or project manager. True, accountants are a vital part. But most of the decisions you mention are made by the CEO and/or project manager. Most printers can give you the costs per page for any book type and layout determines how many pages you need. So the boss decides how big the book can be, and how much art they can afford and then writers are commissioned to fill that amount of pages. Accountants in a gaming company are often brought in to make sense of everything at the end of the tax year! Larger companies may have their own accounts dept, but few accountants make decisions about book size or company strategy as far as I know. They just tell the boss what they might be able to afford for the next book (sometimes with a despairing sigh).
      To a certain extent, yes. But it's important to remember that printing costs are only a fraction of product cost. Particularly when you have a larger publisher with multiple products, there is a lot of accounting work that goes into determining how overheads are allocated to product lines and specific products.

      Say, for example, in a particular year you released 3 hardcover books, 4 paperback supplements, and 1 boxed set for 2 separate product lines. You've got a staff of 25: 3 of them work exclusively on product line A; 2 of them work exclusively on product line B; the rest work on either as they need to. Your annual payroll costs amounted to $2.66M, split across 5 departments. The boxed set involved 22 staff members, although some worked on it almost full time while some just helped occasionally. It was in development for 14 weeks. Hardcovers are in development for about 12 weeks on average, although the staff involved always work on other projects at the same time. 11 staff worked on the first hardcover book. 9 staff worked on the second. 9 also worked on the third, but it took considerably more time in editing because of significant content issues. The paperbacks typically take less labour, using 4, 3, 4, and 5 staff respectively, although two of the books were in development for about 7 weeks, one took 6 weeks, and one took 11 weeks. Senior staff oversee all projects, but the amount of time invested in each is highly variable.

      So what was the overhead payroll cost of each product? Once you've got that figured out, we'll move on to the other dozen or so sections of the P&L. Then we can look at direct costs (like printing) and determine the extent to which each product was profitable, or not.
    1. Corone's Avatar
      Corone -
      Yes, That is all true. People need to be paid and you need to track costs and profits. I didn’t say printing was the only cost. But in most RPG companies accountants usually just keep track of finances and advise the producers of current funds, they do not make decisions about book length and company strategy, or make decisions about what the company spends money on. In many cases account work is farmed outside the company (and few to no RPG companies have a payroll of over 2 million). For a large publishing company what you say is probably true. But most RPG companies are barely a fraction of that, and have maybe ten or so full time staff in total.
      So yes, accountants are important, but there are very few working full time for RPG companies as far as I know, and most of what you describe is done by the CEO and full time production staff.
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      The accountant doesn’t have an input into product decisions in any RPG company I know (excepting mega corps like Hasbro, which I wouldn’t know about). Our accountant handles annual reports, tax, and PAYE, and is the accountant for many UK-based RPG companies.

      The office manager mentioned above? Super important. Does a lot of that stuff. Our office manager (we called it Business Manager) left last summer, and it’s taken all my time to do that job as well as my own since. That job is now advertised, by the way — see the recent ad for Publishing Administrator (my name for the same job!)
    1. pming's Avatar
      pming -
      Hiya!

      Quote Originally Posted by lowkey13 View Post
      Ha!
      The true unsung heroes of the gaming industry are those of us who fearlessly and tirelessly comment on the internet, telling the game designers what they should have done.
      Actually, without comments on the internet...I bet a LOT of non-main-stream games would have never been made or published, to be honest. They would only have sales to go on, and sales would be almost entirely by word of mouth as most "indie" RPG writers don't have the money or the contacts to get word out there. So...yeah...honestly...without "us, the fans" all giving our 2˘ (ok, usually $3.80 or there abouts ), we probably wouldn't have "Zwiehander", "Stars Without Numbers", "OSRIC", "SUPERS!", or many other "indie" games.

      All the "little folk" (re: behind the scenes guys) are definitely important if you can afford them or have friends capable (and willing!) to do it with you. Then again you do get the "wierdos" who do pretty much everything themselves (like http://www.outlandarts.com/mutantepoch.htm William McAusland who pretty much did the first version of his game by himself...writing, editing, art, layout, etc)...but they are the exception to the rule. Without all the folks behind the scenes, and that includes us, the fans who comment endlessly, the RPG landscape would be rather bland and "same-y". Thank the gods for the internet were people of all opinions are on equal footing...well, theoretically at least.

      ^_^

      Paul L. Ming
    1. Michael O'Brien's Avatar
      Michael O'Brien -
      Quote Originally Posted by pauldanieljohnson View Post
      You forgot about the accountants. They tell you what your products cost you to make, guide pricing decisions, plan your company's strategic goals, and let you know whether you're operating profitably or not.
      When the new management team came on board at Chaosium in 2015, our first appointment was Raja, our full time accountant. Having her part of the team has been a significant factor in getting the company back in shape and firing on all cylinders again.

      Our other "unsung hero" is Dustin, our customer support and order processing specialist. Dustin is usually the first point of contact if there is a customer service-related issue. We know anyone who has had interactions with Dustin can attest, he does a cheerfully superlative job getting things sorted out.

      We're thankful to have Raja and Dustin as members of the Chaosium team.

      MOB - Chaosium Inc.

    1. Corone's Avatar
      Corone -
      Well put. Customer service is another one I should add too.
      Will have to do another one of these as there are plenty more that deserve a mention!

      For the jobs I wasn’t able to include, I’d offer this is a good place to follow Chaosium and offer some more kudos.
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