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Revolutions are Always Verbose: Effecting Change in the TTRPG Industry

MGibster

Legend
Back to the op, creatives often make very poor money versus the few who make a lot. This is where public policy is better than individual initiative, things like a functioning NHS in the US, and either higher minimum wage or expanded public assistance would help people, creatives in particular.
Given that a lot of writers are contract workers, a higher minimum wage wouldn't really help them very much. Now if organizations like the National Endowment of the Arts was better funded and willing to give money to manufacturers of RPGs that might be something.
 

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DrunkonDuty

Adventurer
I think the fact that you were willing to put in thee year's of unpaid labor into television is indicative of why artists are often paid very little. Many of you are willing to do the work for peanuts because you love doing it. I suspect many game designers either do it as a side job or they move into other more lucrative industries once they get tired of scraping together the rent money month after month.

True on all points. Alas as a young and naïve hopeful you allow yourself to be taken advantage of. This is a major problem with internships and similar things. They are a broken system that cannot be dismantled or even avoided by a mere individual. You can do what I (and most TV wannabe's do) and get taken advantage of and thereby undercut the value of the labour your are performing. Or you can give up and naff off. <sigh>
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Given that a lot of writers are contract workers, a higher minimum wage wouldn't really help them very much. Now if organizations like the National Endowment of the Arts was better funded and willing to give money to manufacturers of RPGs that might be something.
It all comes down to a question of priorities, I read today where the US adopting a copy of the UK's NHS would save us 200 billion, then of course whoever is making that 200 billion extra will fight to save it. So it is not like the resources are not there, and investment in the NEA is good, though that might not help RPG writers either, rent control might be more directly.
 

There is little to no barriers of entry to write an RPG product. You can charge whatever you want, but if no one buys it you are not making any money.

There are lots of people that treat this as a hobby (I am one of them). I did a fair amount of conversion work for one of the larger 5e 3PP and I was happy to just have my name in the credits. I was offered the standard rate, but compared to my day job, having fun working on it was more important to me.

I honestly do not think that is solvable.
Please do not tell me about Hollywood writer unions when there is YouTube and TikTok and others that have so much unpaid or barely paid labor put into them.
 

Professor Murder

Adventurer
As a side note to these discussions, there is a very simple thing we can each do to make a difference: Financially support your hobby. Buy games. Pay artists. Contribute to Patreons for projects you follow. I buy multiple books a year knowing I will never run the game in question, just to read it and to support the hobby. There are many free options, both legit ones and shady. (Hello The Trove). If you love this hobby, spend your money on it. We all have our budgets, but working retail taught me that people with means are the cheapest people on the planet.
 

loverdrive

Makin' cool stuff
Publisher
5fskjo.jpg
I'm gonna steal this one.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
There is little to no barriers of entry to write an RPG product. You can charge whatever you want, but if no one buys it you are not making any money.

There are lots of people that treat this as a hobby (I am one of them). I did a fair amount of conversion work for one of the larger 5e 3PP and I was happy to just have my name in the credits. I was offered the standard rate, but compared to my day job, having fun working on it was more important to me.

I honestly do not think that is solvable.
Please do not tell me about Hollywood writer unions when there is YouTube and TikTok and others that have so much unpaid or barely paid labor put into them.

Saying that you think a problem is not solvable ... means you don't want to solve the problem. All problems that aren't impossible to solve (because, you know, SCIENCE) can be solved; some people just find it more convenient not to.

In the instant example, we can look at solutions alluded to in the OP (and I apologize, but I will be addressing this from a US-centric point of view given that I am most familiar with that):

1.
Obviously, a sweeping change that provides for reasonable security (health care, direct payments, etc.) and allows people to "do what they want" to supplement this would suffice, but is not particular to RPGs.

2.
Changing the law (FLSA, for example) to prevent abuse of independent contractor status would also work. There is currently a push-pull regarding this, and related issues (use of unpaid intern work, being an example). This is an easy one- the retort that there are always people willing to work for free has been used to prevent all positive changes in the past that you currently take for granted, from the FLSA (minimum wage, overtime), to the FMLA (leave), to the standardized work week, to child labor laws.

3.
Agitating for the big players to make changes. You are correct- TikTok doesn't necessarily have writer's unions, but Hollywood does. The Avengers? Unionized. But not just the movies. Your TV shows too. There is an entire well-paid industry (not just the writers, but the entire industry ... ) based on this creative enterprise. Yeah, RPGs are not blockbuster movies. But D&D? D&D is owned by Hasbro. D&D is incredibly successful.

Why don't we spend a little time demanding that Hasbro employ great writers and great artists, and pay them? Not just keep a skeletal staff and pay some independent contractors a desultory rate per word? Hasbro is profiting immensely from us, the consumers, on this product. We should demand that the company put some of those profits into the labor pool.

And if Hasbro ups their game, other players will too. That won't stop the "tiktoks" of the world (people publishing independently) but it will provide creatives (writers and artists) a stable income, and will provide a guidepost for the industry.



(EDIT- I should add this- none of these proposed solutions, and these are not the only possible ones, are "costless." Changing things ... changes things. There are always tradeoffs, and, for example, increased costs for labor means either decreased profits for the company/shareholders or increased costs to the consumer.)
 
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Yora

Hero
Of course you can demand, but why would they care?
There needs to be some leverage for demands to mean something.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Of course you can demand, but why would they care?
There needs to be some leverage for demands to mean something.

The same reason any company makes changes - because of consumer pressure.

It's relatively costless for Hasbro to make Tasha's "responsive" to consumer demands, while this would not be relatively costless. So yes, it would require consumers to actually care about the way that creatives are treated, as opposed to just how much the books cost.

I believe there is an OP about this ... somewhere. :)
 
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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
@snarfzagyg - I assume the Trotsky quote was "Hi Dr. Nick, Hi Everybody!" I mean Trotsky and Dr. Nick do have the same facial hair...

Revolutions are always verbose, and the Bolsheviks did not escape from this law. But whereas the agitation of the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries was scattered, self-contradictory and oftenest of all evasive, the agitation of the Bolsheviks was distinguished by its concentrated and well thought-out character. The Compromisers talked themselves out of difficulties; the Bolsheviks went to meet them. A continual analysis of the objective situation, a testing of slogans upon facts, a serious attitude to the enemy even when he was none too serious, gave special strength and power of conviction to the Bolshevik agitation.

-History of the Russian Revolution, Vol 2., Chapter 36.
 

Yora

Hero
In the end, you got to put your money where your mouth is. Or in this case, not put your money.
Wagging fingers means nothing if you still buy their books and praise its content to other people who get encouraged to buy it.

Though I expect in a niche industry that does not fill a required need and competes with other industries for the same consumer money, it's probably going to do little to improve conditions in that sector. It's not like there's any rival competing with WotC and D&D for the top position. If D&D shrinks, it will be seen as simply a shrinking market and not a move of customers to competing companies that provide a comparable product under better conditions. And what we see in practice is claims of D&D only growing.
Deciding not to buy D&D books probably only helps your own sense of integrity, but I don't think it will put a single dollar into any creator's pocket.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Nevertheless, imo the answer to the op seems to be a writers guild similar to Hollywood, or another sort of union.

I am skeptical that it would be helpful. Unions are useful when there's a massive power differential between employer and employee. The only place that's true is at WotC, but they are already likely the largest employer of full-time RPG creative staff with salaries and benefits.

Outside WotC, the vast majority of the RPG space is tenuous - the common question isn't how many millions of dollars of profit the company can squeeze out of the employees, it is whether the product will make any profit at all.
 

You want the sweeping changes in 1? Move to Canada. Can still be underpaid writing RPG books but at least you will have healthcare.

I see these whines about how underpaid RPG staff are every year and I have been playing for 4 decades.

The fact is that it is a niche, the creative talent is fairly easy to come by, and there is only one huge winner with the occasional lottery ticket Kickstarter.

Every time I see a creator raise prices above market claiming “living wage”, I then see a product that does not sell.

There are a few companies that try over a long time. Raging Swan, for example, used Patreon to keep raising their word rate to freelancers.

The industry is not that big and the wages are not huge as well in writing the stories for computer games. Writing can be sourced globally. Really hard to raise wages there.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
You want the sweeping changes in 1? Move to Canada. Can still be underpaid writing RPG books but at least you will have healthcare.

I see these whines about how underpaid RPG staff are every year and I have been playing for 4 decades.

"Move to Canada." "I see these whines ..."

Okay then! Thank you for your input!
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Unions are useful when there's a massive power differential between employer and employee.
Something like the SAG, Screen Actors Guild, where the dues on the highest earners, helps to pay for healthcare for all members. Unions are helpful beyond simple wages.
 

"Move to Canada." "I see these whines ..."

Okay then! Thank you for your input!
And ignore the points below?

Canada (I grew up there and live in an expensive area of the USA now) has a bunch of what you seem to be asking for in social support but still is not utopia for RPG companies.

Change USA drastically when there are living examples that show it does not help?

I don’t see the more socialist European countries being all that for living even middle class writing RPG.

As long as supply of product (and supply of talent) exceeds what the market will bear, prices will never be where you seem to hope they will be.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
3.
Agitating for the big players to make changes. You are correct- TikTok doesn't necessarily have writer's unions, but Hollywood does. The Avengers? Unionized. But not just the movies. Your TV shows too. There is an entire well-paid industry (not just the writers, but the entire industry ... ) based on this creative enterprise. Yeah, RPGs are not blockbuster movies. But D&D? D&D is owned by Hasbro. D&D is incredibly successful.

You are comparing elephants to mice, though.

And if Hasbro ups their game, other players will too.

I think you overestimate the profit margin for anyone outside of Hasbro/WotC.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Something like the SAG, Screen Actors Guild, where the dues on the highest earners, helps to pay for healthcare for all members. Unions are helpful beyond simple wages.

How many "high earners" are there in RPGs?

You guys are talking about unionizing what is basically a cottage industry.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I think you overestimate the profit margin for anyone outside of Hasbro/WotC.

....interestingly enough, companies (such as Hasbro) are able to leverage the existing model that the rest of the industry uses to exact excess profits from D&D.

In other words, and I am quite sure you know this- Hasbro, despite having an incredibly profitable and successful brand both in and of itself and as a source for IP, continues to use the same model that the rest of the industry does, with a high reliance on free-lance artists and writers.

Which would be like Disney saying, "Hey, we know that these MCU movies make a lot of money, but people make TikTok for fun, why not just not pay our people? The Mouse needs to EAT!"
 

MGibster

Legend
2. Structural Change, Part 2: Changing the law (FLSA, for example) to prevent abuse of independent contractor status would also work. There is currently a push-pull regarding this, and related issues (use of unpaid intern work, being an example). This is an easy one- the retort that there are always people willing to work for free has been used to prevent all positive changes in the past that you currently take for granted, from the FLSA (minimum wage, overtime), to the FMLA (leave), to the standardized work week, to child labor laws.

I remember years ago that a few RPG companies had ambassador programs where they had volunteers demonstrate their products at conventions/hobby shops in exchange for free or discounted products. But a lot of those programs seem to have disappeared over the years. (It looks like Steve Jackson Games still has their Men in Black program.) I was under the impression that these programs disappeared, in part, because of concerns over establishing an employee/employer relationship between the company and program participants. Though perhaps there were other factors such as more effective means of getting word of their product out to the public with the advent of social media sites.

At work, I'm the jerk in HR who puts a stop to bringing aboard a contractor if we run into the risk of getting in trouble for a misclassification of an employee as an independent contractor. The Department of Labor did revise their fact sheet on how to determine the difference between a contractor and an employee back in 2008 based on what they call the following "significant" factors:
  1. The extent to which the services rendered are an integral part of the principal's business.
  2. The permanency of the relationship.
  3. The amount of the alleged contractor's investment in facilities and equipment.
  4. The nature and degree of control by the principal.
  5. The alleged contractor's opportunities for profit and loss.
  6. The amount of initiative, judgment, or foresight in open market competition with others required for the success of the claimed independent contractor.
  7. The degree of independent business organization and operation.
What's notably absent from this list is mention of a formal employment agreement. i.e. You can establish an employee/employer relationship without entering into a formal agreement.
 

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