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Owen Stephens Continues 'Real Game Industry' Posts

I've been collecting together the Real Game Industry posts that game designer Owen KC Stephens has been posting on social media. You can see Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

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  • Full-time writing, developing, or producing in the TTRPG field means regularly having to create great, creative ideas, that fit specific pre-determined parameters, on command, whether you feel like it or not. This can be awesome and fulfilling... or awful.
  • The board of GAMA, the Game Manufacturers Association, (the big non-profit trade organization for the hobby games industry) are unpaid volunteers with what time they can spare from trying to survive the harsh industry itself.
  • Most TTrpg professionals get a lot more hate mail than praise or notes that their work is appreciated. BUT Those few notes hold a LOT more weight, per-word, than the ranting and whining. One person letting me they enjoyed a thing gets through 2-3 weeks of bile.
  • No one, not any analyst, not any company, knows how many total copies of ttRPGs are actually selling in a given week, month, or year. Some big companies don't know the numbers for their OWN ttRPGs. Popular "rankings" are a compilation of unverified impressions.
  • Even when I just had a couple of Dragon credits and no one knew me; at game pro gatherings I was NEVER asked if my girlfriend got me into gaming. Or if I was just there with a date. Which has repeatedly happened to women colleagues with decades of experience.
  • When ttRPG professionals get to play RPGs together entirely for fun, the level of Ghostbusters and LotR quotes, bad puns, digressions to discuss recent movies and look at pet pictures, and fart jokes... is EXACTLY the same as when it's just fans playing. :D
  • When a ttRPG professional makes a statement that is unpopular with a segment of fans there is always a group who, with no evidence, begin discussions to claim A: The pro is incompetent, B: the pro is lying to gain attention or sympathy, or C: all of the above.
  • It is not unusual for ttRPG professional who like each other, and enjoy hanging out together, and live no more than 20 miles apart, to only see each other 1-2 times a year and only at after-hours gatherings during major conventions.
  • The most common retirement plan among full-time ttRPG professionals, freelance and on-staff both, is "Work until you die."
  • People who constantly struggle to have enough money to cover basic needs, with no job security, while being bombarded with community demands to do more, be better, and make games just for love and not money... are generally too stressed to make their best games.
  • In ttRPG industry, you will find both employees who think the very games that cover their paycheck are "dumb," and CEOs who will move a meeting out of the executive boardroom so you can play a game there. But I've met many more of the latter than the former.
  • Amazon sometimes sells ttRPG items cheaper than retailers can get from distributors. No one admits to selling them to Amazon at this price. Either Amazon is taking a loss (perfectly possible), or there's a hole in a distribution tier. This pisses off retailers.
  • When a ttRPG pro makes a change or comment regarding the real-world impact of game themes or ideas, people come out of the woodwork to strongly present their view (in the real world) that real-world concerns (presumably like theirs) should not impact the game.
  • Some ttRPG storylines, setting, themes, & even rules concepts are so tainted by racism, bigotry, and sexism that they cannot be redeemed. Even revised versions serve as a dogwhistle to toxic fans. There's no broad agreement about for which concepts this is true.
  • Much less professional material from the big and well-known ttRPG companies is playtested than you thought, and playtesting takes more time and effort than you thought. Much more material from tiny 3pp- and Indy ttRPG companies is playtested than you thought.
  • One advantage of being an established ttRPG freelancer is you can get as much work as you want. Of course most of it doesn't pay enough, so you now have the option of working 60-70-80 hour weeks to make ends meet. But unlike some folks, you DO have that option.
  • You don't HAVE to have a spouse with good benefits and insurance to be a full-time freelancer in the ttRPG industry. But it's the most common answer on how to survive doing so.
  • If you write work-for-hire on a ttRPG in the US, you can expected your work to be edited. Usually with no consultation or warning. You'll find out when the book is published. That's normal. For everyone.
  • The more mainstream a ttRPG is, the more competition there is for jobs to design for it. For staff jobs, you're often one of several hundred applicants. Sometimes one of thousands. Of course, this also means you seem easily replaceable, even if it's not true.
  • While doing contract work for a ttRPG company occasionally leads to a staff position, this is very much the exception rather than the norm. Especially if you don't already have many years of experience. It's normally a stepping stone, not a quick route in.
 
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Russ Morrissey

Comments

Von Ether

Adventurer
It's worse than journalism or academic publishing which have internal quality control (like peer review) or writing standards (like the Chicago Manual) in place; or require writers to get certified, join a professional association, or what have you. Still a far cry from how lawyers and doctors get certified, etc., but it's there. Not so in RPGs.
There's GAMA, but it's a bit broad and includes all games and even retail.

SFWA (Science Fiction Writers Association) has also tried to be more welcoming to game writers but it seems heavily slanted towards video games by dint of:
1. Minimum qualifying pay is $3k, which most TTRPG writers have told me that if they can repeatedly earn that much in a year, they're networked in enough to not need a professional organization
2. The last two years of Neb nominations only had one TTRPG selected.

And there's a unspoken hierarchy. So much so that a media tie-in fiction organization has popped up as competition.

But an organization could help on the retirement and benefits front.

As a side note, more and more TTRPG companies are following WotCs lead and are adopting the Chicago manual. Which kills me an old AP guy like me.
 
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dragoner

Dying in Chargen
In short, the industry's lack of internal and external regulation is hurting the very people who want to make a living in it.
No. What you are describing are market forces, competitive mechanisms to make the best survive. The surplus and low barrier to entry are a feature, not a bug. Changing it, would not necessarily make for better games, and would for the creatives, saw off the branch they sit on, because how did they get in? Things like the d20 glut are just how the system works, either work with the system or find something else? Innovate, even in the worst of situations there is opportunity. You are also going to hear more from the unsatisfied than satisfied, that is also how things work. "What place does bad art have in a free society?" Is the age old question.

I am for ubi, uhc, and programs to make society less cut throat; they are the right thing to do to lessen people's suffering, as well as pennywise and pound foolish not to do, except that is another discussion.
 


aaronm

Explorer
This is obviously and unarguably true. Especially because you wrote, "Designing RPGs" and not "Designing RPGs that sell well" or "Designig RPGs that win awards like the Ennies." You didn't, and yet that's the goal posts people moved to, to more easily dismiss your post.

The other point you made is "requires." You didn't say "RPG designers don't have skills" or "Published designers don't have skills." Yet that's the opinion you got attacked for.
I actually had no intention of returning to this thread (or this board, really), but I do feel the need to do so in order to say thank you. All too often "logic" on the Internet amounts to dog-piling; it's nice to see the occasional exception. (y)
 

R_Chance

Adventurer
I actually had no intention of returning to this thread (or this board, really), but I do feel the need to do so in order to say thank you. All too often "logic" on the Internet amounts to dog-piling; it's nice to see the occasional exception. (y)
To say what has been said very often, the internet lacks the context clues of either face to face or (even) voice communication. People will "define" (or interpret) what you say through their own lenses / bias. All you can do is offer further explanation and have patience. It's happened to many of us. This would all be easier if we were sitting around talking it out. But, this is what we have, and I would argue it's (considerably) better than nothing. So, hang in there. Or here. And relax.
 

Huh? No skills?!?!

That is a pretty absurd claim. Game design requires writing and design skills, which can be performed poorly or well. If the job required no skills, then there would be no quality difference between products.

There are actually a few programs on game design at various universities, although they don't focus on tabletop RPGs specifically. At nearly 50 years in, the hobby itself is still relatively "new" and there aren't standard qualifications to get a job at one of the few companies that hire designers full time.

But the idea that game design is essentially unskilled labor that any bloke off the street could do equally well . . .
The writing and design skills are fairly common. They're common enough that most gaming groups have someone in them that possesses the skills to at least a mediocre level.

I've seen SO many homebrew game systems that were at least as good as mediocre professionally published games, and I've seen plenty of homebrew game worlds and game settings that were at least comparable to the bulk of (not the best, but as good or better than at least some products on the shelves).

One big reason that tabletop gaming as a hobby has SO many people wanting to get into it as a business is because, quite bluntly, most gaming groups have at least one person in them that can cobble together a playable, passable setting, and people who can make a workable (if not exceptional) new game system aren't horribly rare either.

The best stuff out there is better than homebrew, but there's been a lot of junk on the shelves over the years that would definitely be of the same quality as decent homebrew (assuming it had a decent editors and production staff to polish it up).

Are there skills needed? Yes. Not horribly rare one though.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Luck counts more than skill, why the rich rule.

edit: There is some skill, that might not be immediately thought of, such as the skill in taking 50k of one's own money, writing a 80 page business plan, and getting 450k in grants and loans, then paying someone else to write out their ideas. They will go much farther at making a successful game rather than someone writing and starting from zero, or with limited resources; so luck is important there too.
 
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Tyler Do'Urden

Soap Maker
RPGs are a "free for all." There's a reason we talk about the d20 glut. And that was 2001! Talk about 2020. With self-publishing PDFs, the RPG "industry" has become a quagmire as rudderless and unmoderated as Facebook. Ironically, this means we have greater diversity of content, but it's also completely out of control. My favorite recent work is Gene Weigel's self-published book on Amazon which you can buy for $40. Go ahead, click on Preview, and you'll see that the author is illiterate of even the most basic Word formatting functions. Even using bold font is too much. That's cool. It's still a better dungeon than a lot of other stuff people put up for sale.
I just went and pulled that one up... it actually doesn't look too bad, it just looks like he was purposefully trying to make the adventure look "OSR", like a D&D module from 40 years ago. The font, the formatting, everything screams that, and from what I saw flipping through the preview it's not too badly formatted once that's taken into account.

Have we moved beyond that, though? Well, yes. If you want to see the pinnacle of current quality, don't even look at WotC or Paizo - look at Monte Cook Games. Everything he publishes these days is a work of art. I'd leave them sitting on the coffeetable if I didn't think my five year old son might inadvertently rip them apart!

(And Broken Castle... looks like fun. I'd probably buy a copy if it was available in PDF; I generally don't buy modules in print as I run them from my laptop.)

None of that is a knock against authors like Owen. Quality in this hobby obviously does exist, but it fights an uphill battle against every last person who thinks they can publish their home brew and charge money out there.
This is where gatekeepers are helpful - one reason many people won't touch "third party content" is because they see being published by WotC or Paizo as being a clear mark that they're getting a quality product. There are smaller press that do just as good (or better) work - see Monte Cook or Kobold (all ex-WotC people, of course!), but it's an understandable prejudice.
 

basilforth

Explorer
Not to detract from Owen's statements, but this is true for any career in the arts. It's incredibly difficult to make enough money to live comfortably and responsibly prepare for retirement. On one hand, why should we consider artistic pursuits as full-time work rather than part-time interests? On the other, the products of artistic expression can generate a lot of money, which often gets claimed by those other than the artists themselves. Our society values art, but undervalues and takes advantage of artists. And yes, game design is art. Fight me.
This seems true. Creative industries are harsh. I wonder how many artists enter the field with different expectations?
 

Quickleaf

Legend
Thank you @Morrus! Some great wisdom from Owen here. I've been a fan of his work since Green Ronin's Mythic Vistas line and WotC's Star Wars SAGA Edition.

Amazon sometimes sells ttRPG items cheaper than retailers can get from distributors. No one admits to selling them to Amazon at this price. Either Amazon is taking a loss (perfectly possible), or there's a hole in a distribution tier. This pisses off retailers.
I'm unfamiliar with how distribution to retailers works. Can anyone explain what he means – or might mean – by "a hole in a distribution tier"?
 

I'm unfamiliar with how distribution to retailers works. Can anyone explain what he means – or might mean – by "a hole in a distribution tier"?
I think this means that Amazon buys things like a wholesaler does and then turns around and retails them directly, so they fulfill both roles, rather than the producer selling to a wholesaler who sells to the retailers who sell to the customers. One less person in the supply chain means more flexibility for Amazon, and other big online companies who do this, for what they can sell items for and still not lose money on the sale. Direct sales can sometimes mean better prices for the consumer, so getting rid of the middleman/wholesaler can mean more profit for the producer and lower prices for the customer.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
This is obviously and unarguably true. Especially because you wrote, "Designing RPGs" and not "Designing RPGs that sell well" or "Designig RPGs that win awards like the Ennies." You didn't, and yet that's the goal posts people moved to, to more easily dismiss your post.

The other point you made is "requires." You didn't say "RPG designers don't have skills" or "Published designers don't have skills." Yet that's the opinion you got attacked for. Very typical for this forum where people become extremely defensive when they smell an affront to their beloved hobby.

It's a fact that there's no quality control inherent in the RPG industry. None whatsoever. It's worse than journalism or academic publishing which have internal quality control (like peer review) or writing standards (like the Chicago Manual) in place; or require writers to get certified, join a professional association, or what have you. Still a far cry from how lawyers and doctors get certified, etc., but it's there. Not so in RPGs.

RPGs are a "free for all." There's a reason we talk about the d20 glut. And that was 2001! Talk about 2020. With self-publishing PDFs, the RPG "industry" has become a quagmire as rudderless and unmoderated as Facebook. Ironically, this means we have greater diversity of content, but it's also completely out of control. My favorite recent work is Gene Weigel's self-published book on Amazon which you can buy for $40. Go ahead, click on Preview, and you'll see that the author is illiterate of even the most basic Word formatting functions. Even using bold font is too much. That's cool. It's still a better dungeon than a lot of other stuff people put up for sale.

None of that is a knock against authors like Owen. Quality in this hobby obviously does exist, but it fights an uphill battle against every last person who thinks they can publish their home brew and charge money out there.

The final ingredient is sheer quantity overload. Someone once analyzed how long it must have taken Hogsmead Publishing (?) to put together Warhammer 1st RPG. I think it took years. And they were shy putting out supplements, which were equally labor-intense. These days, the recipe is: throw as much sh_t on the wall and see if any of it sells. Of course there's not much time that way to get playtested. That, I think, was one of Owen's points here too. And he makes the great point that often 3PP publishers playtest MORE than the big publishing houses. I think FFG gave up playtesting and proof reading (I'm serious) for their product in 2008 or so. It just wasn't worth their dime.

In short, the industry's lack of internal and external regulation is hurting the very people who want to make a living in it. That's not a knock against the people who try to enter the industry; perhaps the only mistake in your post was to not make that clear from the get go. Other than that, I find it hard to argue with your point.
I think you just arqued that his words were devoid of meaning. Brain surgery requires no special skills. Unless the patient cares to survive the experience...
 

Windjammer

Adventurer
All too often "logic" on the Internet amounts to dog-piling
Yes it's frequent and I've come to accept it as a given. I would encourage you to not take it too personally though. As Christopher Hitchens once said, "When my opponent moves for the ad hominem in a debate, I know that I have won. Because they have no substantive argument left." That's how I decipher online debates once the name calling starts. The argument is over but one side is too proud to admit it. At other times, the argument is too opaque for certain people to understand, so they attack what they think they do understand. That's what I think happened to you. You made a point that made people very uncomfortable (you even led with "this may sound insulting" so you were aware of it), and most people go for the shortest route to get rid of things they find uncomfortable--attack and dismissal.
I think you just arqued that his words were devoid of meaning. Brain surgery requires no special skills. Unless the patient cares to survive the experience...
Haha, ok, funny come-back. Great example. It doesn't hold up to muster, and I hope I can be forgiven for trying to write a serious response. :)(Though again, I did find your reply genuinely funny.)

His point was that certain professional activities have lower thresholds to be categorized as a bona fide instances of that activity than others. And that's all his post needed.

Consider the difference between these activities: "Swim 100m" versus "Swim 100m at the Olympics." It's safe to say many people like you and me and others can swim 100 meters, given time and occasion, yes? But if you or I showed up at the Olympic games and jumped into the pool, that wouldn't qualify as swimming the 100 at the Olympics. It wouldn't even qualify as attempting to do that. At best, it would be a funny publicity stunt. Why? Because we're not in contention for that activity. We didn't go through the formal qualification to be in contention.

If that sounds like Captain Obvious, you need to ask why the point needs to be made in this thread. Apparently because making it is deserving of scorn and ridicule.

Now, when it comes to brain surgery or playing Mozart's piano sonatas, the distinction is even clearer. There's no such thing as a botched "attempt" at these activities by someone with no training in surgery or piano playing. All such people are doing is something else altogether--like a monkey at a zoo, they are mimicking the overt physical behavior of someone else.

The point you're responding to, and that some in this thread were deriding, is that RPG design is a lot closer to swimming 100 meters at a public swimming pool than being a concert pianist. That's not to say that there can't be people who do the former exceedingly well--they do it so well that we give some of them Olympic gold medals. But it's also to say that for someone to put something forward that qualifies as a bona fide instance of "RPG design" is so minimal that a Capitalist economy does not attach high monetary value to it as such. It's only when, e.g., they have proven in competitions over and over that their ability to perform it at certain levels is literally outstanding. Which is that other activity we were talking about.

That's an extremely basic, and not even that value-laden, observation about basic economics. That it should get attacked as severely as it did seems to be something in need of an explanation. My explanation was that the post got mis-read, and the distinction between doing an activity at all and doing it exceedingly well got glossed over. But maybe that was too charitable?
 
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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Haha, ok, funny come-back. Great example. It doesn't hold up to muster, and I hope I can be forgiven for trying to write a serious response. :)(Though again, I did find your reply genuinely funny.)

His point was that certain professional activities have lower thresholds to be categorized as a bona fide instances of that activity than others. And that's all his post needed.

Consider the difference between these activities: "Swim 100m" versus "Swim 100m at the Olympics." It's safe to say many people like you and me and others can swim 100 meters, given time and occasion, yes? But if you or I showed up at the Olympic games and jumped into the pool, that wouldn't qualify as swimming the 100 at the Olympics. It wouldn't even qualify as attempting to do that. At best, it would be a funny publicity stunt. Why? Because we're not in contention for that activity. We didn't go through the formal qualification to be in contention.

If that sounds like Captain Obvious, you need to ask why the point needs to be made in this thread. Apparently because making it is deserving of scorn and ridicule.

Now, when it comes to brain surgery or playing Mozart's piano sonatas, the distinction is even clearer. There's no such thing as a botched "attempt" at these activities by someone with no training in surgery or piano playing. All such people are doing is something else altogether--like a monkey at a zoo, they are mimicking the overt physical behavior of someone else.

The point you're responding to, and that some in this thread were deriding, is that RPG design is a lot closer to swimming 100 meters at a public swimming pool than being a concert pianist. That's not to say that there can't be people who do the former exceedingly well--they do it so well that we give some of them Olympic gold medals. But it's also to say that for someone to put something forward that qualifies as a bona fide instance of "RPG design" is so minimal that a Capitalist economy does not attach high monetary value to it as such. It's only when, e.g., they have proven in competitions over and over that their ability to perform it at certain levels is literally outstanding. Which is that other activity we were talking about.

That's an extremely basic, and not even that value-laden, observation about basic economics. That it should get attacked as severely as it did seems to be something in need of an explanation. My explanation was that the post got mis-read, and the distinction between doing an activity at all and doing it exceedingly well got glossed over. But maybe that was too charitable?
It didn’t get misread. The basic concept was obvious and non-contentious. Then people expanded on it, as happens in conversations.
 

GrahamWills

Adventurer
I just went and pulled that one up... it actually doesn't look too bad, it just looks like he was purposefully trying to make the adventure look "OSR", like a D&D module from 40 years ago.
I am an associate editor for a journal; this piece of writing so bad that I would reject it with no encouragement, and not even consider sending it out to review. I might check if English is the person’s first language and if not suggest that they find a co-author who is a native speaker. I only looked through the first 3 pages (including cover) but it would take me more words to comment in what is wrong than are actually present in the material.

I can understand buying it purely for the content (if you are willing to decode it) but the writing is unsalvageable. I’m sorry if the author happens to read this for being so blunt, but honestly, this is not his skill and I’d strongly encourage them to find a different way to express their creativity.

Now a lot of people may not care about poor quality in writing, but since this thread is all about how difficult the business is, suggesting that being a bad writer or even merely a good writer is not a problem is just ... wrong. Any professional rpg writer is light-years above this author, and above the average and even talented rpg enthusiasts. It is a business I know I would absolutely fail in, and I have ~60 publications, a book and a play to my name.
 


Windjammer

Adventurer
I just went and pulled that one up... it actually doesn't look too bad, it just looks like he was purposefully trying to make the adventure look "OSR", like a D&D module from 40 years ago. The font, the formatting, everything screams that, and from what I saw flipping through the preview it's not too badly formatted once that's taken into account.
This is actually where I think the product fails hardest. Even by Judges Guild Ready Ref standards, there's so much missed opportunity here to re-create a genuine throw-back to retro design it's painful. See below for what I concretely mean.
I can understand buying it purely for the content (if you are willing to decode it) but the writing is unsalvageable.
Gabor "Melan" Lux wrote a wonderful review of Gene Weigel's book; his review came down on exactly that note. Because of my great respect for Melan as a writer and reviewer (and I do think Weigel is a significant figure in our hobby, controversies of old aside), I gave the product a more serious look myself. I found I disliked it so much visually I couldn't engage it productively. So I took the published preview and reformatted it for my own reading pleasure. Results see below. This took about 2 hours, and started with a font choices etc. all selected for the OSR retro effect. This can be done very quickly and takes not much effort. The fact that the author didn't go through this process themselves means they're either incapable or unwilling to do it. Because it's Gene Weigel, I think there's a certain grunge attitude in his product, and I like that a lot as such - just not enough to read his product page by page.


 
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clearstream

Be just and fear not...
His point was that certain professional activities have lower thresholds to be categorized as a bona fide instances of that activity than others. And that's all his post needed.
I like your summary above - it is neat and incomplete. His contention was not about whether a given RPG designing activity is / is not a genuine instance of that activity. He is silent on what counts as authentic RPG designing activity. His point is that certain professional activities have lower thresholds to be paid than others. It relies on a fundamental assumption that skill = pay.

The obvious problem this faces is the notion that skill and pay are close-correllants. Strong factors in pay include the economic value of the industry itself, the organisation the activity is performed in, and its location. Game designers exercising similar skill in pen-and-paper RPG, and in videogames, will be paid very differently. Game designers working in more commercially successful companies are often paid more than those working in less commercially successful companies. Those working in Geneva might be paid better than those working in Dundee. A person working in oil or finance will be paid much more than a game designer with a similar number of training hours or peer-recognised mastery of their field.

And it is worth reiterating that what he wrote has to be taken as about professional, and not amateur, game designers. We certainly could claim that amateur RPG design is bona fide RPG design, without claiming that it is professional RPG design. It is paid game design - professional RPG design - that is at the heart of his claim. He is offering an explanation, so we should seek explanatory power. Yet the explanatory power of his explanation is extremely doubtful. He offers one simplistic correlation - skill = pay - without detailing what skill is, or what multivariate factors might influence pay. Far from his post providing all that's needed it is far too simple to do any decent lifting work at all.

Consider the difference between these activities: "Swim 100m" versus "Swim 100m at the Olympics." It's safe to say many people like you and me and others can swim 100 meters, given time and occasion, yes? But if you or I showed up at the Olympic games and jumped into the pool, that wouldn't qualify as swimming the 100 at the Olympics. It wouldn't even qualify as attempting to do that. At best, it would be a funny publicity stunt. Why? Because we're not in contention for that activity. We didn't go through the formal qualification to be in contention.
Most Olympic athletes earn nothing for participating. So the key term of his explanation - skill = pay - turns out to be the one-legged stool that it is, and falls over.

The point you're responding to, and that some in this thread were deriding, is that RPG design is a lot closer to swimming 100 meters at a public swimming pool than being a concert pianist. That's not to say that there can't be people who do the former exceedingly well--they do it so well that we give some of them Olympic gold medals. But it's also to say that for someone to put something forward that qualifies as a bona fide instance of "RPG design" is so minimal that a Capitalist economy does not attach high monetary value to it as such. It's only when, e.g., they have proven in competitions over and over that their ability to perform it at certain levels is literally outstanding.
Subject to the criticism above. It's straightforward: if one wants to argue that skill = pay, so that low-skill = low-pay, then one has to show that, that is true. Ideally by using examples across a wide range of activities showing very clearly that skill = pay. And equally show - in order to have offered a worthwhile explanation - that this one factor (skill) is the sole or strongest factor in predicting pay.
 
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Windjammer

Adventurer
His point is that certain professional activities have lower thresholds to be paid than others. It relies on a fundamental assumption that skill = pay. [...] the explanatory power of his explanation is extremely doubtful. He offers one simplistic correlation - skill = pay - without detailing what skill is, or what multivariate factors might influence pay.
Thank you for such an astute and well-argued response. Pay certainly doesn't correlate with skills, I completely concede that.
I'm less certain that point was made in the post I was responding to. That post seems to not mention individual pay at all; instead, it talks about an macro-economic equation that has implications for individual pay levels:
aaronm said:
High supply + low (and highly elastic) demand = low equilibrium price.
A profession with low entry barriers (such as absence of certification or educational requirements) frequently results in high supply. That high supply is met with demand that is both
  • low: people don't shop for RPGs like they do for groceries (publishers attempt to offset this by offering subscription services, like 4e did with DDI or Paizo does with Pathfinder etc)
  • and elastic: a publisher can reject with minimal consequences a RPG writer's demands for higher pay; a RPG customer is unwilling to pay a twice-as-skilled writer $100 instead of $50 for the same 200-page hardcover (though certain exceptions are made for absolute star designers).
This doesn't directly correlate pay with skill. It correlates (a) the combination of high supply and low demand with (b) low pay. Skills are but one factor for high supply (a); the suggestion was made that higher skill and entry requirements would lower the supply, which would then offset the supply/demand ratio towards better pay. So no, I don't think the post equated pay with skill, quite the opposite.

Is that argument a bit quick and overlooks pertinent factors? Absolutely. For one, it's empirically false that low entry requirements always generate high supply. You also need market agents' willingness to enter a low-barrier market that's oversaturated. That's something the above equilibrium equation is silent about, and where Owen's posts do so much to help us understand better. Even if RPGs retained their low entry barriers but there were only five people each year willing to write RPG products for the entire industry, you can bet that those writers would be paid a lot, lot more - for now you've just wiped out a key factor in elasticity.

And that goes to your point, that pay doesn't equate skill. In a weird way, I think all of us agree on that, we just put the emphasis on different points in the overall equation. I'm certainly grateful you made me step back and think that equation through more thoroughly than above - so, thank you.
 
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Jd Smith1

Adventurer
[B said:
aaronm[/B]] So this is probably going to sound like I'm trying to be insulting, but I truly don't mean it that way. Is this really surprising to most folks?

Designing RPGs requires no special skills...at least none which I can discern. No manual skills, no technical knowledge, not even mathematical proficiency (thought it really, really should require math, given the probability work -- remember 4E skill challenges?), etc. At most it requires somewhat above average writing ability. Further, there are no educational, certification, or entry requirements. A "fun" job with low barriers to entry leads to a high supply.

Meanwhile, the market for RPGs seems quite small compared to, well, pretty much any other sort of creative endeavor.

High supply + low (and highly elastic) demand = low equilibrium price. It seems rather obvious that the pay would be bad, no? I always just figured most RPG designers do it as a hobby or as a labor of love.
This is it in a nutshell.

I never really considered RPG designers to be a career in the arts before reading this thread, but it fits.

The thing is, IMEO, RPG workers are at a much more difficult situation than those in the arts. Most of us will not (and should not) sing, draw, or act. We purchase to fill our needs in that realm.

But in this hobby, we are all game designers. Every GM has written his our her own adventures. Many will have run a homebrew setting. Some will have homebrewed their own rules systems.

These days, with much greater financial assets and the east of Net purchasing, I'm more inclined towards making tweaks to existing products simply as a convenience. I want products that are high quality, readily available, and cheap. Otherwise, I'll just do it myself.

It does not help that unlike the other arts, RPGs stay in use; you can purchase (or even get for free, legally) older settings and scenarios. So modern day RPG workers are still competing with writers who are are retired, dead, or just smell that way.
 

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