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Revolutions are Always Verbose: Effecting Change in the TTRPG Industry

MGibster

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

Whatever we attribute it to, it's still the current reality. It doesn't mean it can't change though.

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."
t 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.

I think both of you must have missed the part where I specifically mentioned that I didn't blame the unions for the terrible American cars produced during the 70s and 80s. It is however a good demonstration that a union made product isn't necessarily a good product.
I don't place that blame on the unions of course, but union labor doesn't necessarily lead to better products.
There it is. Just in case you missed.
 

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dragoner

Dying in Chargen
It is however a good demonstration that a union made product isn't necessarily a good product.
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."
Or maybe quality of writing, but not like if the pages fell out of the book. Automobiles are not a good comparison. While with movies, one can still say they saw a bad movie, yet not think the actors were mistreated somehow.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Or maybe quality of writing, but not like if the pages fell out of the book. Automobiles are not a good comparison. While with movies, one can still say they saw a bad movie, yet not think the actors were mistreated somehow.

So, I'm trying not to get too sidetracked into the more abstract and political side, but unions are a but not necessarily the solution; part of the issue is the specific way that unions are implemented in America- which is to say, more adversarial (some countries tend to be more collaborative between unions and management), and with certain obligations that require them to defend "bad" workers.

When it comes to TTRPGs, my initial take would be that, at a minimum, those companies that are large and profitable (the Hasbros of the world) are not taking advantage of an antiquated system. Just because a small indie publisher might have to use a free-lance artist/writer for a specific project does not mean that Hasbro cannot bring on employees to shepherd D&D on an ongoing basis - for example.

In 1983, for example, TSR had 386 employees. Just try to put that in the context of today. Look - it's not like TSR was the best-run company, but what killed them was a lot of managerial decisions, including the killer Random House nonsense and not knowing how to utilize their assets. Say what you will about them (and their periodic purges) but at least they paid people ... for a while. ;)
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
So, I'm trying not to get too sidetracked into the more abstract and political side, but unions are a but not necessarily the solution; part of the issue is the specific way that unions are implemented in America- which is to say, more adversarial (some countries tend to be more collaborative between unions and management), and with certain obligations that require them to defend "bad" workers.

When it comes to TTRPGs, my initial take would be that, at a minimum, those companies that are large and profitable (the Hasbros of the world) are not taking advantage of an antiquated system. Just because a small indie publisher might have to use a free-lance artist/writer for a specific project does not mean that Hasbro cannot bring on employees to shepherd D&D on an ongoing basis - for example.

In 1983, for example, TSR had 386 employees. Just try to put that in the context of today. Look - it's not like TSR was the best-run company, but what killed them was a lot of managerial decisions, including the killer Random House nonsense and not knowing how to utilize their assets. Say what you will about them (and their periodic purges) but at least they paid people ... for a while. ;)
Considering the pushback against organizing, I am pretty much convinced it is the right way to go. I mean there are arguments against, but are they good arguments against? I don't think so. I'll note that I really haven't drawn politics into it, other people have been talking communism, and where I am not a communist, nor am I anti-communist, it is that living in the US and talking communism is rather eh. A union or guild for RPG writers and creators is not actually a political stance, imo.

What I do think is that it should be it's own thing, and flexible, dynamic. Something good for everybody, including Hasbro by giving them a clear set of rules to operate by. Freelancers do not necessarily have to be excluded from that, except I would like to see them protected as well. They could also benefit from a virtual "Union Hall" where they could get employment, like a job board. Small publishers would be also protected from hiring those that didn't deliver. Also that Hall could be a place for virtual democracy, so that everyone involved could have a say in issues affecting the community, both inside and out. I mean, I am really seeing a lot of positive benefits to the idea.
 

DrunkonDuty

Adventurer
What I do think is that it should be it's own thing, and flexible, dynamic. Something good for everybody, including Hasbro by giving them a clear set of rules to operate by. Freelancers do not necessarily have to be excluded from that, except I would like to see them protected as well. They could also benefit from a virtual "Union Hall" where they could get employment, like a job board. Small publishers would be also protected from hiring those that didn't deliver. Also that Hall could be a place for virtual democracy, so that everyone involved could have a say in issues affecting the community, both inside and out. I mean, I am really seeing a lot of positive benefits to the idea.

This sounds like a good start. I know that there are similar organisations (For the Australian Film and TV industry there's: Australian Screen Editors' Guild, Producers' Guild, Writers guild, Directors' Guild.) I have found that they do good work in helping people to know their worth as employees. They also help people find work and do some advocacy for wages and conditions. In this particular example I feel they would benefit from merging into a single, larger body, but I digress.

I think that legal changes are needed as well. Don't get me wrong - unionising is important but it's only part of a solution. There needs to be effective changes to legal codes governing employment that reflect the changes in the employment landscape. Another Australian example: no-one in this country seems to know what award film and TV employees fall under. It would be very, very hard for a (theoretical) Australian Film Workers Union (there isn't one) to make a legal argument about wages and conditions when no-one can work out what the wages and conditions actually are. Now I think about it, it might be hard to form a legal union when you don't know what award(s) you are talking about... Might have to research that.

Anyhoo, I've just stopped myself going off on a very political, albeit Australian-centric, rant. I'm gonna pop over to another thread and see if dannyalcatraz actually tried vegemite yet.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
This sounds like a good start. I know that there are similar organisations (For the Australian Film and TV industry there's: Australian Screen Editors' Guild, Producers' Guild, Writers guild, Directors' Guild.) I have found that they do good work in helping people to know their worth as employees. They also help people find work and do some advocacy for wages and conditions. In this particular example I feel they would benefit from merging into a single, larger body, but I digress.

I think that legal changes are needed as well. Don't get me wrong - unionising is important but it's only part of a solution. There needs to be effective changes to legal codes governing employment that reflect the changes in the employment landscape. Another Australian example: no-one in this country seems to know what award film and TV employees fall under. It would be very, very hard for a (theoretical) Australian Film Workers Union (there isn't one) to make a legal argument about wages and conditions when no-one can work out what the wages and conditions actually are. Now I think about it, it might be hard to form a legal union when you don't know what award(s) you are talking about... Might have to research that.

Anyhoo, I've just stopped myself going off on a very political, albeit Australian-centric, rant. I'm gonna pop over to another thread and see if dannyalcatraz actually tried vegemite yet.
Yes, this is what I am thinking of as well. I don't think it can be some universal panacea to fix every problem. It can be step towards recognizing what we can fix internally, such as general labor practices, and external issues such as public policy. There it could work within the fabric of organized labor to help promote change. In general, I think that the pendulum has swung against unions and organizing in the last 30 years or so, and it has hurt people's livelihoods, time to swing it back again. Hopefully with that, putting extra money in people's pockets, will also let them spend more on entertainment such as role playing games.
 

pemerton

Legend
My own experience is that it can be quite challenging to maintain a union presence even in a workplace with a high number of long-term permanent employees whose work circumstances give them ample opportunity to come together, form common lists of concerns, etc.

I've never been involved in a "creatives"-type union or guild. I think the challenges of organising would be significant. That's not to say no one should try; but expert advice from those who have experience would probably be a help.

Given that a lot of RPG production is by self-employed individuals (perhaps using a corporate structure) I think that @Yora's idea of a producers' collective also makes sense.

Re what the market will bear: yesterday my partner and I went to a film. We paid $20.50 each for tickets, and another $11 (I think it was) for choctops. That's a bit over $50.

I paid about that much for a copy of John Harper's excellent Agon 2nd ed. I think there is probably some scope to step up expectations of outlay for RPG products.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Re what the market will bear: yesterday my partner and I went to a film. We paid $20.50 each for tickets, and another $11 (I think it was) for choctops. That's a bit over $50.

I paid about that much for a copy of John Harper's excellent Agon 2nd ed. I think there is probably some scope to step up expectations of outlay for RPG products.

Points of reference:

DMG was released in 1979 at a cost of $15.
Today, that would be $61.93.

One way is to think about movies, but I'm move convinced when thinking about dining out.

A good restaurant meal, for three, is usually $100 + tip (20-30%). A truly great restaurant meal can cost between $200 - $500 (plus, you know, tip). Number can, and will, vary, depending on amount you drink (if you drink), and factors such as the type of restaurants. But still ...
 

Yora

Hero
I believe when the original White Box came out in 1974, it was the most expensive game on the market for $10 or something like that.
 

One relevant question is if the solution is for TTRPGs to somehow move beyond 'cottage industry' status by finding ways to stabilize the necessary sales to support more companies or independent creators, or if it really is better handled by remaining mostly hobbyist-- I offer this as a real choice because I see systems designed to better distribute economic security as possible, essential, and necessary.

A world where self-driving cars are ubiquitous alone is probably sufficient to strain the credibility of 'we can employ everyone at rates that allow them to live' so at some point I think we have to own up to the possibility of economies where needs are taken care of (food, shelter, healthcare, education) collectively, and with a lot of people working a little, instead of few people working a lot. Either things get dark enough that we'll have bigger things to worry about (e.g. regular people consumers will no longer have money to sustain the RPG market at all, at best it forcibly goes hobbyist if we still have a free internet) or we go 'full star trek' or something approaching it to avert what would functionally be feudalism.

Traditionally, expectations for such a society essentially entail conditions in which people participate in the arts and take up other pursuits because they have the leisure time to do so-- personally as a writer, I think that would be a major benefits for many artists, to be able to create without having to commodify, and RPGs are absolutely something that can be produced without the engine of capitalism, though they might look different. I honestly think you only really need leisure time and a sufficiently literate population.

Less state-directed creation of RPGs, and more "In Praise of Idleness" or "The Soul of Man Under Socialism" style hobbies-in-a-post-scarcity world. A lot of people already do stuff like this, I know I got into TTRPGs in the first place because it was a space where I could design adventures and be a 'game designer' without having to devote a whole career to it, or pick up a lot of technical skills I didn't have, its still a big reason I write homebrew adventures, study up on so much game design and TTRPG culture-of-play stuff, try different games, and build out my own worlds.
 

Blue Orange

Adventurer
I'd much rather see a Scandianavian-style expanded welfare state (so people have time and energy to spend on hobbies that aren't amazingly profitable...you know, work to live rather than the reverse) than actual government ownership of industry (technically in socialism the "workers control the means of production", so you could have syndicalism as well). Can you imagine government-produced D&D? They'd come out with a new edition each time the White House changed hands. Which...OK, wouldn't be that different from what goes on now, but the massive shifts in rules...OK, never mind.

That said a lot of ideas here about self-production are good and already happening. That said you have a lot more room to do something if you can do it full-time...
 



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.
The second job of most successful RPG designers seems to be Fiction Author... Margaret Weiss, Tracey Hickman, Miller, Ed Greenwood, Jefferson Swycaffer, Ken St. Andre, Conrad Hilmer, Charles E "Chuck" Gannon, to name a few. Martin J. Daugherty is a non-fiction author as his day job. (I wish he'd gotten the go for Avenger Traveller...)

(Jeff Swycaffer may not be successful as a game designer. But his novels are said to be very much Traveller, and he's published an article or two for it.)
 

Considering the pushback against organizing, I am pretty much convinced it is the right way to go. I mean there are arguments against, but are they good arguments against? I don't think so. I'll note that I really haven't drawn politics into it, other people have been talking communism, and where I am not a communist, nor am I anti-communist, it is that living in the US and talking communism is rather eh. A union or guild for RPG writers and creators is not actually a political stance, imo.
Given the way unions in the US work, and the organization of HasBro, an attempt to unionize WotC would likely see WotC simply disbanded before final vote. D&D would probably wind up at one of the other games companies that HasBro owns, in a whole different staff, and with a new, more politically correct, edition...
A thin but legal justification of consolidating creatives to a single workplace could be used to evade the federal anti-retaliation laws, provided the pink slips hit before the vote. (My cousin, a retired DoL attorney, has complained about how that's been done too often...)
 

TheSword

Legend
Given the way unions in the US work, and the organization of HasBro, an attempt to unionize WotC would likely see WotC simply disbanded before final vote. D&D would probably wind up at one of the other games companies that HasBro owns, in a whole different staff, and with a new, more politically correct, edition...
A thin but legal justification of consolidating creatives to a single workplace could be used to evade the federal anti-retaliation laws, provided the pink slips hit before the vote. (My cousin, a retired DoL attorney, has complained about how that's been done too often...)
The problem is that there is a great amount of supply in what is still a niche industry.

Negotiating power in this industry is based on individual cachet not through collective bargaining power.

Any writers guild would have little to no leverage over the big players and the small players would probably just never get started if the cost became too high.
 

Blue Orange

Adventurer
The problem is that there is a great amount of supply in what is still a niche industry.

Negotiating power in this industry is based on individual cachet not through collective bargaining power.

Any writers guild would have little to no leverage over the big players and the small players would probably just never get started if the cost became too high.

That's exactly the problem (IMHO). There just isn't enough of a market for TTRPGs--it's a niche entertainment product (thus elasticity of demand is high) and the supply of people willing to do the job of writing RPG content is too high. People will post their own homebrew monsters, classes, items, and the like on the web for free!

Dumb question, though--say you had a frugal lifestyle and more than the usual amount of disposable income, but not nearly enough to do something truly transformative like buying back the rights to D&D. What could you do for the industry long-term if you were willing to, say, throw a few thousand around?
 

TheSword

Legend
That's exactly the problem (IMHO). There just isn't enough of a market for TTRPGs--it's a niche entertainment product (thus elasticity of demand is high) and the supply of people willing to do the job of writing RPG content is too high. People will post their own homebrew monsters, classes, items, and the like on the web for free!

Dumb question, though--say you had a frugal lifestyle and more than the usual amount of disposable income, but not nearly enough to do something truly transformative like buying back the rights to D&D. What could you do for the industry long-term if you were willing to, say, throw a few thousand around?
I would suggest campaigning.

Movements now are carried by social media, Twitter, Change.org, Vloggers and named individuals with large followings.

Get enough of them together, and enough PR you may be able to persuade the more established companies to improve standards due to the PR issue.

Once a petition is getting 10,000 names it starts to be mainstream news worthy.
 


Mongoose_Matt

Explorer
Publisher
I don't have particular suggestions or exhortations. But I do think it's important to keep in mind that a lot of people- some of whom produced the art, the text ... the games that you love, well, they aren't getting rich off of this. We live in the world that we create. If you don't shop at the FLGS because you want to save money by going to Amazon, don't be surprised when it's no longer in business. If you aren't willing to pay more for your product, don't be surprised when you find out the creators aren't doing that well.

This dovetails into something I have been considering.

How much would someone, as a purchaser of RPGs, think a writer or artist who works on those same RPGs should earn?

The simple answer is 'I want to support the people who help create my hobby and if they do well, good for them.'

But are there limits? If you were to discover that the person who, say, laid out your latest RPG book earned more than you, would you be okay with that? Suppose you discover they drive an Aston Martin? That they outright own a 5 bedroom house out in the sticks with a swimming pool? That their other hobby is flying helicopters and that they are seriously thinking about their first purchase in that field?

More to the point, at what level would you, the purchaser of RPGs, start thinking... 'If the producers of this book were not being paid so much, it would be a hell of a lot cheaper'?

Again, the simple answer is 'if the book is worth that much to me, I will happily pay it.' But are there limits here?

The reason I ask is that the majority costs for Mongoose are rooted firmly in content - writers, artists, and those who support them - with other costs (such as printing) way, way behind. This is a position I very much support (indeed, engineered), and I like the idea of being able to tell customers that the majority of their purchases go directly to the creators. The flipside is that if I go into specifics, there may be some thought in the back of some minds that says maybe the latest Traveller book could do with being $10 cheaper...

So, I would very much like to hear peoples' thoughts on this. In the great social strata, where should/could RPG creators sit?
 

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