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Revolutions are Always Verbose: Effecting Change in the TTRPG Industry

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
....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!"
This also dovetails back into the unionizing idea, because the actual cost is on the corporations which employ the highest earners, as part of their compensation.

I guess this is part of the reason my friends call me a Bolshevik with a Business Degree.
 

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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
...
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.

Well, of course. But not for the reason you think. The oldest scam in the book- get the employee to sign a contract saying, "I am not an employee." They got wise to that a long long time ago. But that's pretty far afield from the topic, and RPGs, and I don't want the thread closed. :)
 

MGibster

Legend
You guys are talking about unionizing what is basically a cottage industry.
I agree with the esteemed Doctor Umbran here. The vast majority of role playing games are produced by companies that are small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. Look how excited we get over $1,000,000 Kickstarters for RPGs. We're not talking about a robust industry like automobile manufacturing, Hollywood motion pictures, or even restaurant employees. We're talking about very small companies with very limited staff. You can't judge the industry as a whole by looking at WotC any more than you can measure the success of all musicians by the standards Beyoncé sets.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Well, of course. But not for the reason you think. The oldest scam in the book- get the employee to sign a contract saying, "I am not an employee." They got wise to that a long long time ago. But that's pretty far afield from the topic, and RPGs, and I don't want the thread closed. :)
It is also things like these are why people are so anti-union, is that the unions long ago fought against bad employment practices, and are responsible for the good ones. Fair compensation is one thing, another is being treated like a human being is also good.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
....interestingly enough, companies (such as Hasbro)

I am not saying Hasbro/WotC is some paragon. But on the other hand, before we lambast Hasbro, we really ought to document that it is, in fact, acting badly. Anyone know what WotC pays per word/hour for their contractors? Can anyone here quote me that number from a reliable source? How about their payscale for full time employees? Anyone here actually have that information?

Furthermore, I think the only company who might be pulling in dollars such that they could consider using another model is Hasbro. The bulk of the creative folks working in the industry are working for tiny employers, or themselves.

If you want to compare RPGs to movies... outside of WotC, the RPG space is much more like local access stations than Hollywood.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
It is also things like these are why people are so anti-union, is that the unions long ago fought against bad employment practices, and are responsible for the good ones. Fair compensation is one thing, another is being treated like a human being is also good.

Well, that's the thing- people take for granted the things that they have, and don't really think about other people. The ethos of "I got mine" is unfortunately common. Something something Rawls Veil of Ignorance.

But one of my all-time favorite scams is when high-end jobs have the "unpaid intern" barrier to entry. Here's how it works- in order to get X Job, which has a high salary and amazing benefits, you have to be an unpaid intern for a period of time in an expensive city.

So ... what does that do? That's right! It completely excludes a large number of people from ever getting the high paid job- people who might be qualified, but can't afford to have an unpaid internship in an expensive city. So in effect, these high-paying jobs are "reserved" for the children of the already-wealthy and connected. But on the surface, it's just an example of the meritocracy at work ... because you're showing how much you want the "real job" by hustling at the unpaid job.

Ugh. Same as it ever was.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I am not saying Hasbro/WotC is some paragon. But on the other hand, before we lambast Hasbro, we really ought to document that it is, in fact, acting badly. Anyone know what WotC pays per word/hour for their contractors? Can anyone here quote me that number from a reliable source?

Look at the OP. You read the OP, right? I linked to someone you might know at a website you might be familiar with ... maybe?

If you want more recent figures, I suggest asking him. :)
 

MGibster

Legend
Well, of course. But not for the reason you think. The oldest scam in the book- get the employee to sign a contract saying, "I am not an employee." They got wise to that a long long time ago. But that's pretty far afield from the topic, and RPGs, and I don't want the thread closed.

We sometimes speak about the RPG "industry" but many of us are just customers with no real knowledge of the ins and outs of running a game company. And I include myself here as I am not involved in the production, sale, or marketing of role playing games in any way, shape, or form. But I do have a pretty decent grasp on employment laws in the United States. And if we're going to discuss the use of contractors by companies such as WotC and others as part of our desire to see working conditions improve, I think it's important that we understand the difference between an employee and a contractor according to the United States Department of Labor. (Apologies to our friends across the pond. Obviously it doesn't matter what our DoL thinks so far as your employment laws are concerned.) I run into a lot of people who don't understand the differences, including some of my managers who should know better.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Well, that's the thing- people take for granted the things that they have, and don't really think about other people. The ethos of "I got mine" is unfortunately common. Something something Rawls Veil of Ignorance.

But one of my all-time favorite scams is when high-end jobs have the "unpaid intern" barrier to entry. Here's how it works- in order to get X Job, which has a high salary and amazing benefits, you have to be an unpaid intern for a period of time in an expensive city.

So ... what does that do? That's right! It completely excludes a large number of people from ever getting the high paid job- people who might be qualified, but can't afford to have an unpaid internship in an expensive city. So in effect, these high-paying jobs are "reserved" for the children of the already-wealthy and connected. But on the surface, it's just an example of the meritocracy at work ... because you're showing how much you want the "real job" by hustling at the unpaid job.

Ugh. Same as it ever was.
Sure, you are 100% correct; those are the abuses that can be stopped too. Also, when I got my degree, going through the course work, there was a strong anti-union vibe, they definitely do not look at workers organizing as a positive. So it is not surprising that it is looked at as "popular feeling" or "anti-meritocratic". Of course things change, and where things were once meritocratic, are not anymore precisely for reasons you state, such as the ability to work for free, and often on top of having an expensive education.

Except baseline, a union can help with diversity in the RPG industry, something we have all heard about, and seen a lot for desired change. So beyond fair compensation, and preventing bad practices, organizing can also help with promoting the change we want to see in the RPG industry as a whole.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
We sometimes speak about the RPG "industry" but many of us are just customers with no real knowledge of the ins and outs of running a game company. And I include myself here as I am not involved in the production, sale, or marketing of role playing games in any way, shape, or form. But I do have a pretty decent grasp on employment laws in the United States. And if we're going to discuss the use of contractors by companies such as WotC and others as part of our desire to see working conditions improve, I think it's important that we understand the difference between an employee and a contractor according to the United States Department of Labor. (Apologies to our friends across the pond. Obviously it doesn't matter what our DoL thinks so far as your employment laws are concerned.) I run into a lot of people who don't understand the differences, including some of my managers who should know better.

Well, again without going into the weeds too much, it's pretty simple.

There's a complex multi-factor test. But that really doesn't matter (because it's a balancing test, yada yada yada). The primary purpose of this test is whether you are serving your own interests, or the principal's. That's why the older language uses "master/servant".

Anyway, that why the quintessential example of a "real" independent contractor is a plumber. A person who uses their own skills and knowledge, has their own tools, sets their own hours, and works for multiple people as they see fit. But because it so advantageous for companies to treat people as ICs, most of them try to misclassify employees either on purpose or because it's easier and less costly.

Something something that's the gig economy.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Sure, you are 100% correct; those are the abuses that can be stopped too. Also, when I got my degree, going through the course work, there was a strong anti-union vibe, they definitely do not look at workers organizing as a positive. So it is not surprising that it is looked at as "popular feeling" or "anti-meritocratic". Of course things change, and where things were once meritocratic, are not anymore precisely for reasons you state, such as the ability to work for free, and often on top of having an expensive education.

Except baseline, a union can help with diversity in the RPG industry, something we have all heard about, and seen a lot for desired change. So beyond fair compensation, and preventing bad practices, organizing can also help with promoting the change we want to see in the RPG industry as a whole.

One of the factors that I think many people overlook is the way in which the economic system of the TTRPG market decreases diversity on the production side (and, likely, the consumption side).

If you assume, as do many people here, that TTRPGs are just a lark, a hobby, and that the creatives that work in this field aren't worth paying "real" money, then you necessarily restrict the labor force. Much like the unpaid intern example above- areas that require some degree of erudition (writing, art in many examples) yet don't pay well often tend to attract people that can afford to not worry as much about the pecuniary benefits.

People, such as a person above, who refuse to accept the minimal piece meal rate because just getting a credit is kind of cool - I mean, it's not their real job.

If you depend on the money, if you have to make rent, if you don't have family to fall back on - you are less likely to take those risks. Which tends to be to the advantage of those who can afford to not worry so much ... which tends to lead to less diversity.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
One of the factors that I think many people overlook is the way in which the economic system of the TTRPG market decreases diversity on the production side (and, likely, the consumption side).

If you assume, as do many people here, that TTRPGs are just a lark, a hobby, and that the creatives that work in this field aren't worth paying "real" money, then you necessarily restrict the labor force. Much like the unpaid intern example above- areas that require some degree of erudition (writing, art in many examples) yet don't pay well often tend to attract people that can afford to not worry as much about the pecuniary benefits.

People, such as a person above, who refuse to accept the minimal piece meal rate because just getting a credit is kind of cool - I mean, it's not their real job.

If you depend on the money, if you have to make rent, if you don't have family to fall back on - you are less likely to take those risks. Which tends to be to the advantage of those who can afford to not worry so much ... which tends to lead to less diversity.
I agree, and the size argument does not strike me as legitimate. Nor is a union likely to affect those that can "do it for the credit". Much of the push back against unions is because in the last century, they were on the front, fighting for social justice and change. In truth, many small publishers will be helped by there being some sort of industry standards code they can look at to determine their budgets. They will know that writing costs so much a word, and art costs a standard price. In that way, organizing helps everyone, and especially those at the bottom, that aren't even capable of "exploiting the market".
 

If you analyze who provides content (use One Bookshelf as the source), you will quickly see that there is a tiny number of publishers that have employees or publish enough content where they hire a steady stream of contractors.

As much as communism (I wonder how many have lived in a communist country and I have) and union organizing (is there really a pool of labor here to be organized) sounds, it looks way better typed on an RPG forum compared to reality.

If your writing skills are really so good that you can earn a living from them, I don’t think the you should target writing RPG material.

At the normal benefits cost for a small company (typically via some benefit aggregator like Trinet), the number of viable companies for this discussion goes down even further. And whatever is spent on it is money not available for a per word rate.
 

Yora

Hero
I think unions really only work in industries where the supply of labor is not unlimited in regards to the demand of labor. Say the industey really needs 90.000 welders and there's only 100.000 welders to hire from. If 20,000 of those welders band together as a union and refuse to work under certain unacceptable comditions, the employers will have a deficit of 10,000 welders until their demands are met. No matter how desperate those 80,000 non-union welders are.
I think in something like RPG writing, the pool of people who would love to take the jobs even for terrible pay is many times larger than the total of jobs. If 75% refuse to accept the poor conditions, the industry will still have a big surplus of applicants for the few positions there are to be filled.

I think for situations like these, the better approach is to follow the teachings of the sage Karl of Trier: "Seize the means of production!"
For RPGs in the 21st century, the means of production are actually trivial. It's not like you need to build a 20 million euro factory before you can begin work on your first product. Instead of a union, I would think of forming cooperatives or collectives, where the workers pool their resources together to work more efficiently than everyone doing all the many tasks of self-publishing individualy, and getting discounts for placing larger orders at the printers. And do collective marketing.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
"World Congress of Trade Unions"
World congress of trade unions.jpg

Yes, I was born in the Soviet Union, except it is gone and time has moved on.

The ideas of solidarity are still relevant. A union helps everyone, not only the workers, but consumers as well to know that they are purchasing a quality product. However, a union will not make things perfect, because nothing will make things perfect, it is not a legitimate argument. They can be better though.

I would think of forming cooperatives or collectives, where the workers pool their resources together to work more efficiently than everyone doing all the many tasks of self-publishing individualy, and getting discounts for placing larger orders at the printers. And do collective marketing.
I feel that a union would help to facilitate doing things such as these. Plus it would be a place for everyone to bring grievances, both as workers and publishers. Not all unions are like the UAW, many, like SAG, also work as bodies to help promote the arts as well.
 

MGibster

Legend
If you assume, as do many people here, that TTRPGs are just a lark, a hobby, and that the creatives that work in this field aren't worth paying "real" money, then you necessarily restrict the labor force.
I feel as though you've interpreted some statements in this thread in a most unfavorable light. Nobody has dismissed the creative forces behind the games we love or argued that they aren't worth paying "real" money for. The works of such luminaries as Sandy Petersen, Erik Wujcik, Steve Jackson, and I'll even include Kevin Siembieda and Gary Gygax have provided me with many hours of entertainment and delight. For a variety of reasons, the economic reality is that a lot of game creators really can't eke out a comfortable living working on role playing games. That's just the reality of the current situation and doesn't disparage writers and game designers.
 

MGibster

Legend
The ideas of solidarity are still relevant. A union helps everyone, not only the workers, but consumers as well to know that they are purchasing a quality product. However, a union will not make things perfect, because nothing will make things perfect, it is not a legitimate argument. They can be better though.
American automobiles in the 70s and 80s were built by unions and they were terrible. I don't place that blame on the unions of course, but union labor doesn't necessarily lead to better products.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
For a variety of reasons, the economic reality is that a lot of game creators really can't eke out a comfortable living working on role playing games. That's just the reality of the current situation and doesn't disparage writers and game designers.

...it's weird, that people attribute things that are totally in our control to some sort of "economic reality."

Naw. I mean, I love me some Milton Friedman's Invisible Pimp Hand of the Market that likes to smack down butter when you need guns as much as the next guy, but what we have now isn't some immutable reality. It's what we accept.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
American automobiles in the 70s and 80s were built by unions and they were terrible. I don't place that blame on the unions of course, but union labor doesn't necessarily lead to better products.

And, of course, Japanese and German manufacturers are, quite famously, unionized. So that's a really odd point- it's not about the products, it's about the treatment of the labor. A quality product can also mean, "A product that I know supports people that are working for a living."

EDIT- and to bring this back on-topic, for a union to work in TTRPGs, it would have to be similar to the type of union setup with the Writers Guild. Not an easy ask.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
American automobiles in the 70s and 80s were built by unions and they were terrible. I don't place that blame on the unions of course, but union labor doesn't necessarily lead to better products.
It is a terrible argument, 50-60's also and are considered the best, collectors items, go price a 57 chevy or 70 hemi cuda convertible, the same exact unions made those. Also as Snarf mentioned, benz, porsche, ferrari, etc.. Except as I said earlier, we aren't talking a union such as the UAW, instead more similar to SAG.
 

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