log in or register to remove this ad

 

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.

starfinder.jpg

  • 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.
 
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad

Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

Warpiglet-7

Adventurer
The discussion about supply and demand and talent miss an important point.

generally If it does not cost anything to gain a skill or set of skills it will pay less. If you need an MD, PhD, JD, masters or bachelors you are investing and generally a job requiring this will pay more.

I think this can be the case too for lengthy apprenticeships in trades.

you cannot tell me my favorite musician or author is not skilled! It’s just that in those fields skill does not guarantee success. At all.

it is about supply and demand. Not everyone who could get through medical school will do so or want to. Lots of people enjoy playing music for fun and the material outlay is not huge to get started.

As to some “unskilled jobs” that don’t require much training or investment or particular talent...they can often hire kids for a first job experience. Tons more people fall into this category.

it’s not about value of the person but the rarity of the qualification and ability to do the job. I suspect there are a number of people with talent and skills to design games. If you whittled it down to those that had forked out a bunch of money to train for the job ahead of time and fewer people qualified, the wages would be different.

you cannot part time your way into becoming a surgeon.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
you cannot part time your way into becoming a surgeon.
Well you're kinda drifting into public safety legislation there. You can't part-time your way into become a surgeon by design, because it's important that somebody other than 'the market' evaluate your skills due to the cost of failure. It's a risk thing. In theory you could have a society that lets anybody be surgeon and have the market decide which ones succeed and which don't, but we choose not to.
 

Warpiglet-7

Adventurer
Sure. But I think my argument generally holds.

talent is not equivalent to pay and whether a profession requires outlay for public safety or some other reason, it will usually demand more pay.

it’s not 100%. I am in a regulated profession that does not demand as much pay but it’s popular and people clamber to get into it.

but it’s also not bottom of the barrel either.

I am the same person I was when I held entry level food service jobs but it’s only now that I have lots of training and paid for a
Bunch of school that I can demand more.

my raw ability did not change that much. It’s talents/skills that are refined that generally demand more from the outset imho.

otherwise there is too much competition
 

Emirikol

Adventurer
That's quality fiction, folks.) The audience for RPGs doesn't know what quality is, not in any way that matters and that is economically sustainable. It's possible things would change if that were so, but probably not. The market's too small.
I wish I could disagree. Many of us here think we are professional writing critics and because we wrote a couple crap-ass adventures for our game group, we think we know how to make useful commentary to a process that we expect is someone "making a few clicks on a computer." But hey, "I've been playing this for a fek-tillion-decades!" It's the same mentality when I call into the phone company and ask a remote person, "why does my phone have static?" Then I unload about how stupid they are and how they don't know quality and the cell phone (designed by a different company) . I've bought cell phones for 15 years so that makes me an expert. I also used a plunger once, so that makes me a plumber and all plumbers are assholes when they tell me not to put pistachio nuts and feminine products in the drain.
I get your bitter [honesty]. I see it in the typical inappropriate criticisms of game materials of any company--there's a spelling error so I expect free products (make inappropriate sound here)! We mumble under our breaths 'OK Karen.'
To be constructive, I would simply say, "We're not perfect and neither is the process. Please help us out by keeping up constructive comments and fan-errata where possible." Toxic fans and assholes will emerge and well, try to help out those who aren't.
 
Last edited:


Dire Bare

Legend
Supporter
I wish I could disagree. Many of us here think we are professional writing critics and because we wrote a couple crap-ass adventures for our game group, we think we know how to make useful commentary to a process that we expect is someone "making a few clicks on a computer." But hey, "I've been playing this for a fek-tillion-decades!" It's the same mentality when I call into the phone company and ask a remote person, "why does my phone have static?" Then I unload about how stupid they are and how they don't know quality and the cell phone (designed by a different company) . I've bought cell phones for 15 years so that makes me an expert. I also used a plunger once, so that makes me a plumber and all plumbers are assholes when they tell me not to put pistachio nuts and feminine products in the drain.
I get your bitter [honesty]. I see it in the typical inappropriate criticisms of game materials of any company--there's a spelling error so I expect free products (make inappropriate sound here)! We mumble under our breaths 'OK Karen.'
To be constructive, I would simply say, "We're not perfect and neither is the process. Please help us out by keeping up constructive comments and fan-errata where possible." Toxic fans and assholes will emerge and well, try to help out those who aren't.
Eh.

Are there fans, of any art form, who take on an air of expertise they don't possess, and use it to unfairly criticize art they consume? Sure. I certainly see plenty of that on this and other RPG forums. I don't think that's what @Pleroma is talking about however. I think they are saying that the average person, or perhaps the average RPG fan, couldn't recognize quality it it walked up and bit them on the nose. Which is utter elitist crap.

Many of our most revered pieces of art over the centuries began as "trash loved by the ignorant masses", only over time and popularity they take on the patina of unquestioned quality. Shakespeare is a great example of this. I'm not saying that any particular RPG book is the next "Hamlet" . . . but to dismiss what the "average person" likes as not possible of containing quality, and to dismiss the "average person's" ability to recognize quality . . . utter elitist crap.

What makes something a quality piece of art is pretty damn subjective. What's quality to me? Something that I like and gives me pleasure. It might be riddled with spelling errors and bad grammar, it might be derivative of other art, it might be illustrated with "cheap" drawings . . . but if I get enjoyment and pleasure out of it, it's a quality piece of art. You might not take the same pleasure and enjoyment out of the same work, and find that it's not a quality piece for you. Doesn't make me wrong.

Expertise in art is real . . . but overrated. How many cult-classic movies were trashed by the expert reviewers? The entire sci-fi and fantasy genres were denigrated for decades by literary experts, and now they are a dominant art form in books, comics, movies, television, and games.

When an expert reviews a work of art, including a tabletop role-playing game book, they aren't really telling you whether it's quality or not, objectively. They are telling you whether THEY find it a quality work, according to THEIR tastes. The only value their opinion holds is that if, over time, I find that their tastes tend to align with mine, and I can trust that their judgement is a valid predictor of my own enjoyment of a work. That's it.

EDIT: I'll add . . . an expert can, sometimes, deconstruct a work and point out elements of it that I might not notice on my own. This can be useful when I'm deciding whether I'll enjoy the art myself. This doesn't require expertise, but is more easily accomplished with expertise. I certainly don't mean to say that expertise itself is a fantasy, but I do feel that it's often overrated.

The "false expertise" or "unearned expertise" you mention some fans take on . . . . attempts to deconstruct a work in such a manner, but often focuses on things that are not really there or not going to overly affect someone's enjoyment. The best RPG example I can think of is all the cries of "it's broken!" when assessing new rules elements for D&D, or any other game. Are they? Are they really? To the point where my fun will be ruined if I use them in my game?
 
Last edited:


Dire Bare

Legend
Supporter
Okay, this is definitely a longshot, might have to put on my tinfoil hat for this one, but anybody wanna bet that this is Luke Crane's sockpuppet throwing a hissy fit and slagging off his colleagues after what happened yesterday with that joke of The Perfect RPG Kickstarter that turned out to be a smokescreen for an attempt to smuggle Adam Koebel back into the industry?
For those who have no idea of what you're talking about . . . summary? Or link? :)
 

Aldarc

Legend
For those who have no idea of what you're talking about . . . summary? Or link? :)
Long Story Short: Luke Crane put up a Kickstarter for a series of zines called Perfect RPG. Adam Koebel's name was (likely intentionally*) buried in the list of contributors, and a number of other contributors for the project were unaware that Adam Koebel would be a contributor, and once they found out, they (e.g., Sean Nitter, Sage LaTorra, Carol Mertz, Vincent and Meguey Baker, etc.) began quitting the project en masse. [insert additional stuff happening on Twitter here] And in basically the span of a single day, the Perfect RPGs Kickstarter was cancelled.

* Contributors were weirdly listed in reverse alphabetical order by first name, which put Adam Koebel's name at the bottom.
 
Last edited:


The dragon magazine review of conan the barbarian (1982 one) lambasted the movie as awful. So maybe gamer critics don't know everything lol
No, it fails in many ways as a movie. But no critic is going to determine whether any individual person is going to enjoy something. That's not a failure of criticism itself, but it may be of what we're told the role that criticism actually performs.
 

Long Story Short: Luke Crane put up a Kickstarter for a series of zines called Perfect RPG. Adam Koebel's name was (likely intentionally*) buried in the list of contributors, and a number of other contributors for the project were unaware that Adam Koebel would be a contributor, and once they found out, they (e.g., Sean Nitter, Sage LaTorra, Carol Mertz, Vincent and Meguey Baker, etc.) began quitting the project en masse. [insert additional stuff happening on Twitter here] And in basically the span of a single day, the Perfect RPGs Kickstarter was cancelled.

* Contributors were weirdly listed in reverse alphabetical order by first name, which put Adam Koebel's name at the bottom.
For those who don't know Koebel's name off the top of their head, like I didn't: Creator of Dungeon World, quit a WotC streaming show after he sprung a sexual assault scene on his players without warning.
 

MGibster

Legend
No, it fails in many ways as a movie. But no critic is going to determine whether any individual person is going to enjoy something. That's not a failure of criticism itself, but it may be of what we're told the role that criticism actually performs.
Yeah. If you're a fan of Howard's Conan I can see why the movie was so disappointing. Conan was a polyglot, literate (including some dead languages), a world traveler, and knowledgeable about history. To see the character reduced to an unintelligent brute who had spent his formative years into adulthood as a slave was no doubt disappointing.

I'm sure a lot of people were upset about Dr. Doom in both Fantastic Four movies.
 

Warpiglet-7

Adventurer
Yeah. If you're a fan of Howard's Conan I can see why the movie was so disappointing. Conan was a polyglot, literate (including some dead languages), a world traveler, and knowledgeable about history. To see the character reduced to an unintelligent brute who had spent his formative years into adulthood as a slave was no doubt disappointing.

I'm sure a lot of people were upset about Dr. Doom in both Fantastic Four movies.
I remember that “language and writing” were made available and Arnold debated philosophy as well as read scrolls in the film!

I will agree his martial prowess and strength however were the focus.

how much can be crammed into a film and have it still have an emotional impact is a reality.

but agree that the Conan I met when I read the stories looked different than the one I met in the film...and the sequel (shudder)
 

MGibster

Legend
I remember that “language and writing” were made available and Arnold debated philosophy as well as read scrolls in the film!
Conan did tell us what was best in life. While Arnold's acting chops improved over the years, I don't think he had the ability to play Conan as presented in the books. Which is odd because in real life I think Arnold's a pretty clever guy.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
I think Kong ran over one of his own grenades, either that or did a bootlegger suffering severe tire damage, either way losing traction. I mean the logic circles back on not wanting to pay more than $5-10 and then complaining about quality? Otherwise it is all about preference, somebody may want a pseudo-intellectual, crypto-fash OSR paean to Ayn Rand, I certainly don't, it's not worth anything to me. I have gone to the FLGS and dropped a piece of change on DnD and others that were worth it in I gave some $$$ to my local game store, and even if I don't use the books in total, if there is a small piece of info or idea I can use, it is still value received by my judgement. If someone comes in complaining that something is good or bad, oh well. It is like about the Conan movies, I was entertained, if they are true to the books is a different deal; the first one is really a classic.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
I can’t speak for anybody else, but we make more money when people buy directly directly from our website. But that’s speaking as the publisher. That said, we’re happy when somebody buys our stuff from anywhere.
It should always be that way. A middle man has to make money and if you are smart you don't undercut your middle men. (And yes I just did say you were smart at least in that regard). I also think if you are a real fan of a game it might make sense to buy direct if you want more stuff. On the other hand, a good network that sells your stuff is a good thing.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
As a long time creative, I hear this comment levied to more than just RPGs, but also fiction writers, other artists -- and even teachers. There was even the story of a novelist being introduced to a rich matriarch, who proclaimed, "all you do is write and tell tales? That's a skill I picked up at four."

And in my life, when someone says, "How hard can it be?" It's more a sign of what we used to call ignorance but now goes by the phrase, "The Dunning-Kruger effect." I've also noticed that for many professions have certs and education can be as much about being methods of social gatekeeping, and adding prestige than ascertaining mastery.

So those who ask such questions, I posit to your own RPG core book and be willing to be judged on the writing, the layout, the editing and the design. Most (of the very few) who take this challenge probably won't even finish the first draft.

And since I mentioned teachers I'll just drop this classic here.
I would agree with you on a degree. I'm a computer programmer and with the intense demand we hire people without degrees. In my profession that ought to matter, but I see way too many with degrees that are incompetent and don't know the first thing beyond how to code a for loop. I blame the institutions but why get better when every single graduate of a computer science department has a job the second they want one. Full disclosure, I have a degree. It did teach me mental toughness but what little I could use in an applied sense is no longer even used in the industry.

I think creativity is one of the most valuable skills in a lot of lines of work, very much so in programming. If anyone thinks writing a novel is easy then get at it. If you can write a half decent one you can make money. Most can't.
 

rknop

Adventurer
Mental toughness is what you're supposed to get out of a degree. Too many college students think that college is job training. And, yes, there are vocational schools out there. But that's not what a college education (as in liberal arts sorts of things -- and, yes, computer science fits into the liberal arts) is really about. It's about learning how to think. It's about learning how to learn things. It's not about learning specific facts and techniques.

As you note, in many cases, you get 5-10 years out of college and the techniques have changed and there are a whole bunch of added facts. College is way too expensive for it to be job training for the first job you get out of college. It needs to be something more. Alas, a substantial fraction of college students don't get this, and actively fight against it. (How often have you heard "I'm never going to use this" as an implicit argument for not having to think about something in a college class?)
 

Dire Bare

Legend
Supporter
Mental toughness is what you're supposed to get out of a degree. Too many college students think that college is job training. And, yes, there are vocational schools out there. But that's not what a college education (as in liberal arts sorts of things -- and, yes, computer science fits into the liberal arts) is really about. It's about learning how to think. It's about learning how to learn things. It's not about learning specific facts and techniques.

As you note, in many cases, you get 5-10 years out of college and the techniques have changed and there are a whole bunch of added facts. College is way too expensive for it to be job training for the first job you get out of college. It needs to be something more. Alas, a substantial fraction of college students don't get this, and actively fight against it. (How often have you heard "I'm never going to use this" as an implicit argument for not having to think about something in a college class?)
Same thing in K-12. Certainly, practical skills are taught, but public K-12 education isn't intended as job training any more than university education is.

I teach middle school, and my students complain all the time, "When are we going to need this?!" My response, is, "I don't know, you might not. But I'm using this topic to try and teach you HOW TO THINK." There's a strong anti-intellectual streak that runs through American culture sadly, top-to-bottom.
 

Visit Our Sponsor

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top