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Owen KC Stephens' Tabletop RPG Truths #2

Last week I posted about Owen KC Stephens posting about the 'Real Game Industry' on Twitter. He didn't stop there though! Here are some more of his thoughts.

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  • While there are absolutely exceptions, there are two common paths to becoming a manager in the TTRPG world.
    One is to be a game creator who does that so well, that you are promoted to the entirely-unrelated field of managing people, with no management training.
  • I have been extraordinary lucky and well-treated in my RPG career. I love most of the companies and people I have worked with. It's just a harsh industry. This hashtag isn't intended as complaints. They're facts and alerts I wish I had gotten 20 years ago.
  • Someone having tons of RPG writing credits is no guarantee they'll do a good job on the project you hire them for. They might have had amazing editors. Their day job may go into crisis during your deadline. They might burn out. Especially that last one.
  • A freelancer absolutely mustn't cease communicating with their developer/producer or conceal how far behind they are on a project. When things go south as a freelancer, there is a huge urge to cease communication and conceal how far behind you are on a project.
  • It is clearly unreasonable, and potentially inappropriate, to suggest freelancers make friends in the game industry to get more work and be treated better. People in the game industry tend to give their friends more work, and often treat them better.
  • On some projects, the writing is easy but the research is hard. On some the reverse is true. For the other 80%, it's all hard. Some need new rules systems. Some need playtesting. Some need map sketches. Others don't. None of this normally impacts your pay rate.
  • It is extremely common for gamers to offer to give professionals an idea, and offer to "let" the pro "finish" the work and the "split the profits." They rarely like being told coming up with an idea or starting a project is not the hard part of writing.
  • There is a crucial difference between collaborating with someone on a project, and being their assistant. Either can be reasonable, legit work, but not everyone in the industry understands the difference (and how to say which of those a project is going to be).
  • Editors are the most unsung heroes of the industry. The better they do their job, the less people notice. but without them, I'd be posting under @RealGameInustrya and $RealGameIndustry as often as #RealGameIndustry
  • It's impossible for backers to tell from funds raised by a crowdfunding campaign raises how much profit it earns. Huge numbers can mean a minor miscalculation or change on the ground becomes a huge loss. Companies don't even always know until its all fulfilled.
  • The majority of TTRPG professionals--staffers, freelancers, owners, et al., are substantially underpaid for their skills. Saying "they shouldn't be in this industry if they want to be paid more" is saying "I don't want any professional RPG content to be made."
  • The reason you don't know how you are supposed to get your first gig, climb the ladder of TTRPG freelance, get the attention of developers and producers without annoying them, or improve your craft, is that game companies mostly don't know those things either.
  • Many TTRPG fans are lovely to interact with. Some are so awful that many companies who brought me to cons told me their secret signs to indicate when you needed another staffer to pull you away from a horrible interaction. It is, of course, worse for women.
  • TTRPG careers are advanced the most during after-hours bar gatherings at big cons. Nothing else is as effective. By not going to drinks early in my career, I set it back 5-8 years. Club soda would have been fine, though the industry does drives folks to drink.
  • Though it is far from universal, many TTRPG creators have all the fun of playing games removed by deadlines, toxic fans, and an endless grind of monetizing their creativity. "Do what you love for work, and you can no longer escape work with the thing you love"
  • Many RPG companies depend on "Institutional Knowledge," which means there are things done by people who know, but none of it is written down anywhere. Largely because budgets are so tight staff is always overworked, leaving no time for things like documentation.
  • It is common for TTRPG professionals to think various other people in the industry are asshats. It is rare to say so outside of tightly-controlled comments to groups of trusted friends. This reticence can unintentionally spill over to not calling out bad actors.
  • While there are absolutely exceptions, there are two common paths to becoming a manager in the TTRPG world. One is to be a an experienced manager from another field that is hired to be a TTRPG manager, with no prior experience in the TTRPG publishing industry.
  • There are great managers in the TTRPG industry... and awful ones. Many TTRPG employees have such little experience working under a manager, they often can't tell the difference between the good ones and bad ones. Occasionally, company owners can't either.
  • An example of how small, but important, things can be overlooked in the #RealGameIndustry.

Follow the Twitter hashtag here.
 
Last edited:
Russ Morrissey

Comments



Dire Bare

Legend
Supporter
While part one has many shocking eye openers. I have to say that the majority of these second set of points are common to most industries... particularly the three or four points related to promotion and management.
Yeah, but they tend to remain unspoken in those other industries as well. Still good to know for those interested in a career in TTRPGs.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
The promotion to management without management skills or training is super common. Really good managers are unfortunately not as common, at least in my experience.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
While part one has many shocking eye openers. I have to say that the majority of these second set of points are common to most industries... particularly the three or four points related to promotion and management.
True, and where in a few years I went from design and installation of steel towers for elevators, to managing multiple projects with hundreds of people, all without a management degree; now I do have the degree and work alone as a consultant. haha

It is still interesting to hear, and others might not have heard it.
 



Olaf the Stout

Adventurer
The promotion to management without management skills or training is super common. Really good managers are unfortunately not as common, at least in my experience.
Even worse is when you have a manager that doesn’t even want to be a manager. It was just that was a part of the promotion. So they end up leaving you to manage yourself (and don’t back you to higher management).
 

TheSword

Hero
It is clearly unreasonable, and potentially inappropriate, to suggest freelancers make friends in the game industry to get more work and be treated better. People in the game industry tend to give their friends more work, and often treat them better
Isn’t this called networking? What is inappropriate about ‘making friends’ in the industry, whatever ‘friends’ means. If by friend you mean someone you like, trust and wish to associate with them I would assume making friends is important in any number of industries.
 

philreed

Explorer
"It's impossible for backers to tell from funds raised by a crowdfunding campaign raises how much profit it earns. Huge numbers can mean a minor miscalculation or change on the ground becomes a huge loss. Companies don't even always know until its all fulfilled."

This one is big. Shipping always costs more than anyone expects, and using a fulfillment service adds on hundreds -- if not thousands -- of dollars to the shipping costs.
 

ruemere

Explorer
"It's impossible for backers to tell from funds raised by a crowdfunding campaign raises how much profit it earns. Huge numbers can mean a minor miscalculation or change on the ground becomes a huge loss. Companies don't even always know until its all fulfilled."

This one is big. Shipping always costs more than anyone expects, and using a fulfillment service adds on hundreds -- if not thousands -- of dollars to the shipping costs.
That's why I support keeping shipping costs separate from kickstarter's initial cost. It also saves some pocket money in case a kickstarter fails to deliver.
 

sigh Wow...never thought anyone could make me feel bad about my hobby again. Makes me wonder if there are ANY people in the TTRPG field who actually love what they are doing.
 

dchart

Explorer
sigh Wow...never thought anyone could make me feel bad about my hobby again. Makes me wonder if there are ANY people in the TTRPG field who actually love what they are doing.
Everybody still working in the TTRPG field loves what they are doing. Given all these problems (and Owen is right about all of them), why would you stay in this business if you didn't love doing it? You can literally get a pay raise by going to work for minimum wage.

This may also be why Owen doesn't see the need to be talking about the positives. If you can't see the overwhelming positives in writing TTRPGs for a living, you aren't trying to get into the business in the first place.
 

philreed

Explorer
sigh Wow...never thought anyone could make me feel bad about my hobby again. Makes me wonder if there are ANY people in the TTRPG field who actually love what they are doing.
I'd say the majority of creators working in the RPG field love what they do on most days. Every single creator is human, though, and will have good days and bad days.

If they didn't love working in this industry, then they would do everything possible to find work in a field that pays better.
 

dchart

Explorer
Owen KC Stephens tweeted: The reason you don't know how you are supposed to get your first gig, climb the ladder of TTRPG freelance, get the attention of developers and producers without annoying them, or improve your craft, is that game companies mostly don't know those things either.
I did try to make these clear when I was Line Editor for Ars Magica. Well, apart from "climb the ladder", because once you were on my author list, I had no further ladder to offer. In particular, I think it's really important for all RPG publishers and all RPG lines to have absolutely clear, explicit, and well-publicised ways for anybody to submit work that can get them involved as a regular writer. (I did Open Calls, where anyone could submit things for a particular book. This worked for ArM, where the size of the fanbase meant that I did not get utterly swamped with submissions. This would probably not work for Paizo, because I suspect they would be.)
 

rknop

Explorer
Everybody still working in the TTRPG field loves what they are doing. Given all these problems (and Owen is right about all of them), why would you stay in this business if you didn't love doing it? You can literally get a pay raise by going to work for minimum wage.
This is not true. (The last sentence is ay be true, but the first is not.)

Inertia is a thing. People don't move because it's both effort to move, and introduces lots of uncertainty into your life to move. People can be stuck in a job or industry that is sucking the life out of them, but they don't leave because they're afraid to leave, afraid that something else might be worse. They may not even realize how bad it is for them. They may worry that while, yes, they're not happy, it's transient burn-out, and if they leave the industry for something else they will feel a much deeper regret longer term for having left. They might feel responsible for things in progress, and feel bad about the projects and people that they will cause problems for if they leave. They may be determined to make this work, because it was always their dream, and you're always told you're supposed to follow your dreams, right? Their jobs might on balance be awful, but there are some things about it they can't bear to think about giving up... even if they are kidding themselves that it's worth putting up with everything else for the things that they value. They may have devoted much of their life, and much of their creative effort over their life, to being in this industry, that the prospect of leaving (or being forced to leave) is like giving up a core piece of their identity, even if they're not happy, and they might well be happier somewhere else. (The fact that our culture encourages us to so tightly tie our identity with the way we make money only makes this worse.)

(I have never been in the TTRPG industry, but I do speak from personal experience.)
 

Xaelvaen

Stuck in the 90s
  • TTRPG careers are advanced the most during after-hours bar gatherings at big cons. Nothing else is as effective. By not going to drinks early in my career, I set it back 5-8 years. Club soda would have been fine, though the industry does drives folks to drink.
I feel like this is (almost) every "ladder industry" - did you have to eventually cave to it, or did you, despite the mentioned setback, manage to climb to the top whilst avoiding it? - @Owen K.C. Stephens
 

I feel like this is (almost) every "ladder industry" - did you have to eventually cave to it, or did you, despite the mentioned setback, manage to climb to the top whilst avoiding it? - @Owen K.C. Stephens
It's worth noting that I wasn't avoiding it intentionally. I just didn't know how effective it was, didn't drink, and got tired easily.
In many ways, I have reached a level where it has less impact on me. because I get invited to private events, and if I sit in a lobby of a hotel where convetion folks are staying, people end up dropping by and saying hi. I can gather a circle of great folks without going to a bar, and we can chat, catch up, plot, mkaing plans to have dinner or go play games together, and so on. The socialization still occurs.
Having said ALL that:
I spend a lot more time in bars at conventions than i used to, and still still an accelerated benefit in networking on discovering opportunities and possibilities when I do so.
 

Xaelvaen

Stuck in the 90s
It's worth noting that I wasn't avoiding it intentionally. I just didn't know how effective it was, didn't drink, and got tired easily.
In many ways, I have reached a level where it has less impact on me. because I get invited to private events, and if I sit in a lobby of a hotel where convetion folks are staying, people end up dropping by and saying hi. I can gather a circle of great folks without going to a bar, and we can chat, catch up, plot, mkaing plans to have dinner or go play games together, and so on. The socialization still occurs.
Having said ALL that:
I spend a lot more time in bars at conventions than i used to, and still still an accelerated benefit in networking on discovering opportunities and possibilities when I do so.
The socializing without the specific atmosphere seems a step in the right direction, for many reasons. Thanks for the clarification.
 

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