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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


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Longspeak

Explorer
Honestly, for a lot of those lines, I forgot he was a game developer and thought he was working in a private medical clinic in the US like me...
 

Mistwell

Legend
Yes, an unfortunate by-product of frat boy culture.

I never used to drink the alcohol and never bothered following the team to bars . Then noticed several times at the office that all colleagues were aware of a new business decision that I did not know about. When I asked them when was that decision made, since our last office meeting did not mention it, they would say, last Friday at so and so bar. :-(
It's not frat boys who go to bars (they go to frat houses). A lot of bars are not what TV portrays them to be, as a generalization (though there are exceptions). Bars these days are even, sometimes, where people play RPGs and board games. You don't need to drink alcohol at a bar. It's just a gathering place. There is a reason the adventurers meet at the tavern...
 
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imagineGod

Adventurer
It's not frat boys who go to bars (they go to frat houses). A lot of bars are not what TV portrays them to be, as a generalization (though there are exceptions). Bars these days are even, sometimes, where people play RPGs and board games. You don't need to drink alcohol at a bar. It's just a gathering place. There is a reason the adventurers meet at the tavern...
Yes, people play RPGs at bars, and the drinks are still expensive, even diet coke, plus, you loose some street cred when everyone else is drinking the alcohol. Also, most bars get their best traffic after day work hours, but not everyone can attend bars after work, since some need to return home to handle family responsibilities. Basically, it is not cool to have office decisions taken at bars if the boss and a vast number of the team are present, since that disenfranchises those who are not. I left that job, anyway. But still got into the bar dive culture because reasons.
 

talien

Community Supporter
I’m saying that it is ungenerous to say that a person who has gone to all the trouble of producing products are mainly marketeers. That said it may well be that “First and foremost” could just mean that they do their market research before designing a product rather than after it refers to when marketing takes place rather than how much time is spent on it overall. In which case I totally agree. I was just interested in clarification.
I'm a marketer so I in no way think this is a slam on anyone creating RPG products. I DO think that being a great writer, or being creative alone, or having really good ideas, is enough to get a product noticed (without the backing of a major publisher). I think marketers are now dominating the field because they know how to use social media channels and branding to sell product. DMDave and Daniel D. Fox of Zweihander come to mind. Their marketing know how gets great products noticed; they're talented in their own right, but there is now so many talented people on the Internet that it's easy to drown customers in product. Marketing makes the difference and for a solitary publisher, I think it's a competitive advantage.
 

Mistwell

Legend
Yes, people play RPGs at bars, and the drinks are still expensive, even diet coke, plus, you loose some street cred when everyone else is drinking the alcohol.
At our preferred bar (MacLeod Ale Brewing Co., which if you ever find yourself in Los Angeles you should try as it's superb) the diet coke is free for the designated driver. No questions asked. No you don't lose street cred for not drinking. Is that a thing still with some people? It's not a thing out here anymore. Nobody cares what you drink. Unless you're drinking a trendy hazy IPA, in which case some hipster might want to argue with you about that.

Basically, it is not cool to have office decisions taken at bars if the boss and a vast number of the team are present, since that disenfranchises those who are not. I left that job, anyway. But still got into the bar dive culture because reasons.
Oh sure I agree it's not cool to have office decisions at a bar. I was simply responding to the very outdated stereotype that bars are for frat boys.

These days, most bars I see are brewpubs full of nerds who like craft micro-brews and who nerd-out over the hops and wheat in a new brew mixture, or argue about whether IPAs suck or are awesome, or argue about whether hazy beers are awful or wonderful, or the quality of the honey in a mead, what kind of barrels were used to age the brew, different methods of carbonation, etc.. while playing the latest German-import board game or geek trivia games or...5e D&D.
 

Staffan

Adventurer
Is that fair to say they are marketeers first and foremost? I mean they have a product that presumably took no little effort to produce. So while we can acknowledge that successful marketing is important your comment kinda suggests they’re style before substance which is ungenerous.
While a bad product with great marketing probably wouldn't do all that well (at least not in the long run – you could probably manage a decent kickstarter or so on that basis), I think an OK product with great marketing would be likely to do better than a great product with OK marketing.

That is, once you're above the threshold of not sucking completely, good marketing matters more than good design.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
There is still a notable difference between people who get involved and those that don’t. I don’t judge those that can’t make it, but I recognize that they are missing a chance to forge stronger links.
This has been true in my experience as well. It may well be that there are perfectly good reasons for not participating because of other obligations and just wanting to go home at the end of the day. But good social bonds can make for better working relationships with colleagues. Ideally, a workplace will make time for 'team building events' as part of normal hours of business from time to time - that way the employees who do not go out after hours can still participate in some of the experience.
 

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