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Mutants & Masterminds Patreon: An Interview With Green Ronin Publishing

Are you a fan of Mutants & Masterminds from Green Ronin Publishing? They’ve launched a Patreon to continue the production of great M&M products. Patreon is an excellent tool as EN Publishing has several Patreons (EN5ider, EN World, Morrus’ Unofficial Tabletop RPG Talk, and E.O.S.) that help fund the many projects Morrus crafts. Green Ronin going the same route proves the importance of Patreons to the financial health of RPGs. Joining me are Crystal Frasier and Steve Kenson to talk about the Mutants & Masterminds Patreon.

M&M Banner.PNG

EGG EMBRY (EGG): Crystal, Steve, thank you for taking the time to discuss Green Ronin Publishing’s Patreon for Mutants & Masterminds. For those that have not played M&M before, can you tell us a bit about the setting and system?
CRYSTAL FRASIER (CRYSTAL)
: Mutants & Masterminds at its core is a “roll a d20 and add your bonus” style game that adds a lot of elements from storytelling games so players have more freedom to use their abilities in creative ways or even add elements to the story. The game is presented without setting in the core book, but we spend a lot of time fleshing out Earth-Prime, which pays some homage to our favorite comic book characters and storylines while adding a lot of “four-color modern” flavor.
STEVE KENSON (STEVE): In brief, Mutants & Masterminds is a d20-based system built around the d20 + modifier vs. a difficulty class system familiar to players of D&D and other d20-based games. It has developed considerably since it’s D&D 3rd Edition based roots. Although there’s considerable content for Earth-Prime, the setting Green Ronin has been supporting since the first edition of Freedom City, M&M itself is a “setting agnostic” game system, suitable for all kinds of super-powered settings.

EGG: This isn’t the “standard” Patreon, it’s an official Green Ronin Publishing endeavor. What advantages does Green Ronin see for M&M with this service?
CRYSTAL
: Printing physical books is becoming increasingly difficult and is a slow process, so we can’t deliver new M&M content as often as we or the fans would like, and it unfortunately means a lot of older content can’t get the attention it deserves. Patreon gives us the option to release small bits of content at a time in a platform where we can easily hear about what fans want and deliver exactly that, or work on small projects that don’t have an obvious place in the normal print release schedule. Case in point: Our fans on M&M Monday told us they were craving more villains, so the first series of releases for the Patreon are villains!
STEVE: The pandemic has affected how we deliver content to our fans. Patreon both provides Green Ronin with another venue to provide Mutants & Masterminds fans with content for the game, and another kind of content we can deliver. In particular, Patreon lets us tackle smaller projects that don’t necessarily fit into a larger product.

EGG: What edition of M&M will the content available through this crowdfunding platform support?
CRYSTAL
: The material will all be for 3rd edition, with a big focus on updating material from previous editions to the current one. We’re hoping to also tinker with some optional rules ideas that, again, don’t have an obvious place in our print books, and that might include updating rules and feats from older editions to 3rd edition.
STEVE: Although the M&M Patreon will focus on 3rd edition content, one of those aforementioned smaller projects is updating some earlier edition content to 3rd edition, so there will definitely be things for fans of “classic” M&M products!
M&M Backer Levels.PNG
EGG: You offer several backer levels. What does the “Sidekick” level offer to backers?
STEVE
: I like to think of “Sidekick” as the “core” backer level. It gets patrons pretty much all of the actual content we release through the Patreon.
CRYSTAL: Like Steve said, “Sidekick” is the presumed default for most of our backers. At the current release schedule that gets you one character PDF a week for the same price you’d pay for a single Rogues Gallery or Threat Report installment. As the Patreon grows and we can dedicate more time to it, however, that value grows because you’ll start getting access to new setting material and eventually twice as many villains.

EGG: What do you get at the highest level, “Prime”?
CRYSTAL
: “Prime” is the level that gives dedicated fans some personal investment in Mutants & Masterminds. At that level you can participate in developer chats to get answers to your burning setting and rules questions and ask for advice, and you also get name-dropped into the Earth-Prime setting, preserving you as a part of superhero posterity.
STEVE: The “Hero” and “Prime” tiers are more interactive, for really engaged fans, offering things like voting on upcoming projects, interacting with us through development chats or live-streams, and chances to even get name-dropped in new M&M content!

EGG: Like many crowdfunding projects, this one has stretch goals. When these are unlocked, what will they offer to the backers?
STEVE
: The Patreon doesn’t have “stretch goals” so much as it has just regular old goals, or what we might call “benchmarks” that represent a point at which we can devote more time and resources to producing content through the Patreon. As the Patreon has more support, it “levels up” and can offer more to all of the patrons in terms of content. It’s a win-win.
CRYSTAL: The benchmarks basically tell us when people are interested enough in this weird side material that we can start dedicating more time and resources to it. The first benchmark is generating some new content; basically every month both Steve and I will do a short blog-style entry describing something in detail in Earth-Prime, like discussing a specific store or urban legend or organization. Later benchmarks will unlock even more content for the same price.

EGG: Those are cool offers. This Patreon focuses on updating existing content. Will this content be made available to non-Patreon backers somewhere else?
STEVE
: I think the only exclusivity we can promise patrons is that they will see content on the Patreon first. That said, since a number of Patreon projects are things we wouldn’t have done or released as stand-alones, there’s a good chance they’ll remain Patreon “exclusive” until we find another venue suited to release them, such as an updated edition of a sourcebook or the like. We are… weren’t not great at long-term planning. That’s why we’re not villains.
CRYSTAL: The plan is for this material to be available for exclusively to patrons for the time being. A later benchmark will open the basic statblock material for everyone, and I’m not going to rule out the idea of putting together print “M&M Annuals” from Patreon material or something similar, but hopefully if we do something like that we’ll include a special nod to our patrons to let them know their faith in us is appreciated.

EGG: Beyond the Patreon, what other 2021 M&M content can fans expect from Green Ronin?
CRYSTAL
: 2021 is finally going to get the print edition of Danger Zones ready for everyone, with expanded material beyond the individual PDFs, and we’ll be continuing the Astonishing Adventures line with new material to get GMs and players busy. We’re hopefully also going to squeeze the Vigilante’s Handbook in with some Astonishing Adventure support. Just keep in mind that we’re just a pair of part-timers.
STEVE: The overall M&M schedule is Crystal’s bailiwick. I’m just looking forward to being involved in as many of those projects as time and scheduling allow!

Crystal Frasier.jpg
Steve Kenson.jpg

EGG: What non-M&M projects are you working on for Green Ronin or for yourself?
CRYSTAL
: I like to chip in on other Green Ronin lines when I can, especially AGE. I also have a few writing projects going outside the industry like the upcoming Love is a Battlefield anthology for DC Comics and an unnamed graphic novel from Oni Press. I also publish some of my own game tinkering and writing advice on my personal Patreon.
STEVE: I write for pretty much all of Green Ronin’s game lines to one degree or another, so I have various irons in the fire for AGE System projects for Blue Rose, Modern AGE, Fantasy AGE, or The Expanse, as well as Mutants & Masterminds. I also just launched another Patreon to support content for Icons Superpowered Roleplaying from my own Ad Infinitum Adventures imprint, letting me apply the notion of “short, monthly content from a grab-bag of diverse ideas” to that game as well. It’s at [my Patreon].

EGG: Thanks for talking with me. Where can fans find this Patreon and follow your work?
CRYSTAL
: The Patreon is [here]. You can follow me most easily on Twitter, though I post a lot more about politics and queer issues than I do about game design, sadly. I’d much prefer to write only about games and comics, but these are challenging times and it’s important to use the platform you have to spread awareness.
STEVE: We definitely appreciate folks checking out the Patreon and giving us a new way of continuing to bring you the Mutants & Masterminds support and content you enjoy, and hope that you’ll consider becoming a patron.

Mutants & Masterminds from Green Ronin Publishing

“Creating the world’s #1 superhero roleplaying game.” Special thanks to Owen KC Stephens for suggesting this article as well as Troy Hewitt for arranging it with the creators.

Egg Embry participates in the OneBookShelf Affiliate Program and is an Amazon Associate. These programs provide advertising fees by linking to DriveThruRPG and Amazon.
 

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Egg Embry

Egg Embry

ibenny

Explorer
Are you talking software services, like a subscription to MS Office or Photoshop? I can see those as "necessary" for you, depending on your job.

I totally get the frustration of subscription piling on top of subscription and becoming rather expensive. But you'll be paying for the "required" services one way or another, either all-at-once or month-to-month.

Not having the option to "stop paying altogether" doesn't really float with leisure and entertainment services. The folks making that content need to get paid, one way or another. Even with more "required" services, folks got to get paid.
Something like that, if not necessarily for work.

The problem is, though, that these subscription services tend to become more expensive in the long run than a onetime purchase. And that's the whole point of this sort of model, the constant milking of the users, which I definitely don't agree with. I really miss the "old" model when I could buy something once and not having to pay for it every month, and it was really not that long ago, whatever the goods.
 

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Dire Bare

Legend
Something like that, if not necessarily for work.

The problem is, though, that these subscription services tend to become more expensive in the long run than a onetime purchase. And that's the whole point of this sort of model, the constant milking of the users, which I definitely don't agree with. I really miss the "old" model when I could buy something once and not having to pay for it every month, and it was really not that long ago, whatever the goods.
For me, it depends on the nature of the service. If I'm paying a monthly subscription fee, am I getting a monthly value?

A while back, I needed various Adobe software tools for a class I was taking. Paying for them all at once would have been prohibitively expensive, but by then Adobe had moved to a subscription model. I only paid for the service for the months I needed to take the class, and got a student-discounted rate as well. Worked out pretty well. I think if I hadn't been a student, the monthly fee would have been higher, and it would have come with a year-long commitment . . . which worked out to be a very similar cost to what Adobe used to charge for the one-time fee. So, the overall cost (for a non-student) would have been roughly the same, but paid in monthly installments rather than all-at-once.

While I was a subscriber, I got access to an entire suite of software apps which I could explore and learn to use. I got free software updates, whereas in the old model, when the "new" version of the software came out, you had to pay for it all over again. Now, if I required some of these Adobe programs to do my job (and my employer wasn't paying for them), year after year of paying monthly fees might just become more expensive than the old model, one-time purchase followed by another one-time purchase down the road for the updated software version.

Anyway, this is straying off-topic. Sorry to badger you. Managing multiple subscription services, for both work and play, can become a hassle and certainly can add up and become very expensive . . . but this is the environment we live in now, and I'm okay with that as long as I'm getting value for my subscriptions and staying within my budget. I'm perfectly cool with Green Ronin offering this M&M Patreon, and possibly additional future Patreons as well, as ENPublishing does.

Every couple of months I review my Patreon account to make sure I'm only supporting content creators who I'm currently enjoying their content and that my overall Patreon bill doesn't get too big. I add, drop, and re-add creators all the time, as my needs and wants (and budget) changes. I follow a lot of creators without actually subscribing too, as a way to keep tabs on folks whose work I like, but I'm not ready to start paying for.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
For those leery of crowdfunding and subscription services like Patreon, something else to consider . . .

These various crowdfunding tools are allowing all sorts of creators to make a living delivering content that they were not able to do before. How well would ENPublishing be doing without their Patreon accounts and Kickstarter campaigns? Would Green Ronin even still be supporting Mutants & Masterminds if the Patreon tool was not available? How would Kobold Press be doing without their Warlock Patreon account and their Kickstarter campaigns (just backed their latest, Vault of Magic)? There is a lot of content that simply would not be produced without these new tools.

There are tons of game designers, visual artists, authors, digital sculptors, and other artists who used to have to hustle to book clients or sell products . . . but now enjoy more freedom to pursue their own artistic visions, create what they want, and connect to a community of fans willing to support them in their creative endeavors. I just watched a TableTop Minion video about the recent explosion of digital miniature sculptors on Patreon, and this scene sounds amazing.

As a consumer, is it easy to get carried away supporting all of these amazing projects and artists? Oh, hell yes. I've had to make a conscious effort to stop backing every slightly interesting tabletop Kickstarter campaign, and I had to trim my list of Patreon subscriptions as well. But that's part of being an adult, is budgeting, making choices, and the realization that you can't purchase everything cool that comes out, unless you are independently wealthy.
 

Speaking purely for myself, I'm of the view that not all crowdfunding is created equal. I'm fine with kickstarter campaigns for RPG material, but dislike patreon and subscription fundraising intensely.

It's just a fact of life that putting out RPG material is expensive, and putting out PRINT rpg material involves a big up-front printing cost that you need to find before you can even remotely look forward to getting a return on your investment (which normally won't happen for months, as you wait on your shipment of books to be printed and then shipped back on the slow boat from China). There aren't many multi-millionaires in RPG design, plus the standard of books in the industry (art, design, colour, paper quality, etc) continually get higher (and more expensive), and it gets to the point when a small-medium publisher that invests in big expensive full-colour hardback books is risking its existence every time it tries. So it seems perfectly reasonable to me when a company tries to raise the funding first, before committing to big hit of printing costs. The economic arguments are hard to get past.

But kickstarter vs patreon?

Kickstarter I pay once, and i know what I'm getting, and i can choose not to pay for something i don't want, and the developers can develop the product in a way that makes for the best product rather than having to twist it to fit the subscription model. I've backed kickstarters from Kobold Press, Privateer Press, Onyx Path and a bunch of smaller publishers, and i do like it this way because it lets people with good ideas and presentation get started in publication - there really was nothing like this pathway back a decade or two, and it're really broadened the industry and increased the average production value quality of the stuff we get.

As an example of this, check out the Good Society reprint kickstarter - https://www.kickstarter.com/project...e-austen-rpg-reprint-and-new-deck/description. I backed this one. This is the sort of thing that would never even have have been published 20 years back - a collaborative and diceless Jane Austen RPG with no combat mechanics at all? - much less in a couple of beautiful full-colour hardbacks. But kickstarter made it possible.

Patreon, though, seems to incentivise a steady stream of small releases. And that, as i spoke about in a previous post, very much affects the nature of what goes through to the customer. You end up with either lots of tiny little throwaway products, or a larger product made up of lots of smaller roughly-even-sized bits. You CAN do a reasonable monsters/adversaries book structured like that, but there's many, many more book types (campaign books, core rulebooks, worldbooks) that either don't fit that model, or their quality suffers for being forced into it.

I really wish Green Ronin would move more towards kickstarter rather than patreon. It could only increase the quality and scope of what they put out. I'm honestly not sure why they haven't already - there used to be a sort of stigma or view that kickstarters were for little companies or people just starting out rather than for established names in the industry, but people like Onyx Path and Kobold Press have been running kickstarters for years, surely we're past that now?






.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
Ultimately, if you don't like the subscription model of Patreon, that's fine of course. Don't subscribe to any. But a lot of folks complaints about this model boil down to a few judgement errors, all IMO of course . . . .

Judgement Error #1: Subscriptions result in micro-content pushed out too rapidly for quality control. When creatives produce a subscription service, there IS a lot of pressure to come up with something NEW and EXCITING on a regular basis. This potentially can exhaust an artist creatively. We've all seen YouTube videos from influencers striving to put new content in front of their fans that are just . . . . kind of empty. But how is this any different from Dragon Magazine back in the day, with that looming monthly deadline for the next issue? Quality, or the lack thereof, isn't inherent to this model, it's inherent in the creative process, regardless of how the content is being delivered. Hell, I've purchased more than a few hardcover RPG books that were rushed and/or of low quality.

It certainly IS easier to deliver micro-content (like a magazine article) on a regular basis than a full-blown book, but 1) micro-content isn't bad content, 2) it can be later collected in a traditional book form, and 3) not all Patreon creators actually deal in micro-content. However, most RPGs are PERFECT for micro-content like character options, monsters/adversaries, and adventure "scenes" (encounters).

Judgement Error #2: If a creator decides to start a subscription service, that means that they are giving up on making the kind of product that I want. This is marriage of fan entitlement (as a big fan, I know what's best for the thing, and I deserve a say in how it's being created) and the theory of limited good (there's only so much "good" out there, and if you waste it . . . . ). Crowdfunding options like Kickstarter and Patreon don't take away from our industry, as creators or fans . . . they only expand our options and the ability to get content out there. Making a living as an artist or creator is HARD, many talented artists haven't given it a go for that reason, and many who have eventually give up, and those who stick with it often sacrifice financial stability (raising a family, preparing for retirement). They deserve to explore every option that can shake up that reality, and crowdfunding is certainly doing that for many creators in a variety of fields. I find the armchair quarterbacking from entitled fans a bit tone deaf on this. And as a result of Patreon alone, we are getting SO MUCH MORE content from so many incredibly talented artists than ever before! It's overwhelming how much good visual art, music, narrative fiction, game design, and so much more is out there now!

On the idea of limited good . . . . if the folks behind my favorite game are "wasting their time" making products that I don't like, then they are NOT making the products that I do like. They WOULD be making those products if it weren't for this fancy crowdfunding FAD. Sure, possibly, if Green Ronin wasn't going to start an M&M Patreon, maybe instead they would publish a new M&M hardcover. Sure. But . . . . 1) they can still do that, 2) publishing a more traditional book supplement doesn't equate to MORE or higher quality content, and 3) maybe, without the revenue from the Patreon, they would instead simply cancel the M&M line completely.

There certainly are challenges in delivering content via subscription model . . . . but they are simply different challenges than the traditional model, not extra challenges that make the subscription model a foolish, faddish option. Will Green Ronin's M&M Patreon be successful? Only time will tell, but I have a lot of faith in Chris Pramas, Steve Kenson, Crystal Frasier, and the rest of the GR team.
 

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