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Revolutions are Always Verbose: Effecting Change in the TTRPG Industry

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I've worked in a service industry - multiple, actually - but not ones where I got tips. Fast Food, Education, Retail Management (of a music store), and Receptionist. (One of the receptionist gigs was in Mental Health; one was in the National Archives system)
I've NEVER seen a check with a suggested tip. Not once. Not anywhere I've paid for a sit-down meal... Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Florida. The only suggestions have been at the register when paying by card, on the tablet or touchpad.
On the internet, no one knows you are a dog.

If you've never seen a check in a restaurant with the suggested tip at the bottom, then you're either blind or you literally don't bother reading the check in your haste to give 5-10%. Most POS systems will print it out now.*

*Seriously- it's everywhere. It was at Chili's 10 years ago before they switched to the touchscreen that ... also has it. Chili's isn't exactly the vanguard either. I can't recall the last time I didn't see it. Denny's ... DENNY'S has suggested tip amounts when you pay now. At a certain point, I don't know what to say when it comes to your personal anecdotes and my knowledge of reality.


Square does allow changing the 3 displayed. Same source, next section, rendered on same screen. Read your sources carefully before implying that someone's a liar based upon them.

As I wrote-

1. Square does not have a default 10% setting. Source. Give that it is not a default setting, and I've never seen it customized to that in the wild, I have to assume you have either a mistaken memory, or a very bizarre and self-selected set of places you visit.

That didn't take careful reading, did it? Next time, just try normal reading!

More importantly, you missed the point- if you are proudly declaring that you tip 5 and 10%, people will judge you for that because it's against societal norms.

It's the same as if you say, "I like to fart loudly in public, and then scream at the top of my lungs, 'SNIFF MY GAS!'"

You can do it, but people will question why you so proudly proclaim it.
 
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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Somewhat orthogonal - but in Australia tipping norms were always a bit unstable, and with a general shift from cash to credit card payment (especially in the pandemic) tipping seems to have largely died out, at least at the casual cafes/restaurants I eat at. There was a brief period, probably 5 (?) years ago, when the credit card machine would give an option to add a tip, but I don't see that very often these days.

We also had a big scandal a couple of years ago where one of our biggest celebrity chefs was caught out underpaying staff. I don't know if wage theft is a concept in US law or public discourse, but it's become a big thing in both respects here. (And well beyond the hospitality sector - multiple universities, for instance, have had to pay sessional teachers and markers who were underpaid for the work they did.)

Wage theft is a massive problem in the US. While there is a robust regulatory/legal mechanism in place (FLSA), it doesn't suffice for the issues. Most wage theft is in the following categories:

1. Outright wage theft (usually in hospitality/service, such as hotels and restaurants, and construction). This would include appropriating wages, failure to pay overtime, and failure to pay minimum wage.

2. Classification wage theft. In America, salaried employees (exempt) are not paid overtime. So if a company falsely classifies an hourly employee as a salaried employee, they avoid paying overtime. This is shockingly common.

3. Classification wage theft, part 2. Classifying employees as independent contractors in order to avoid paying wages and taxes.

4. Overtime shenanigans. OT is paid based on a 40 hour week; employers will often do things like use "comp time" or look at the two-week pay cycle to avoid paying OT.

5. Clock in/out. Having employees do things "off the clock" (like open or close the store) in order to avoid paying for it.

6. Unlawful deductions. Forcing employees to pay for certain items that are not allowable, or that place the employee below the minimum wage.


The primary issue when it comes to this in TTRPGs is the independent contractor distinction; as I wrote at the beginning, it seems that Hasbro/WoTC should not be using the same economic model for vast profits that Mom & Pop joints are using to get by. In other words- they should be relying on employees.
 

pemerton

Legend
The primary issue when it comes to this in TTRPGs is the independent contractor distinction; as I wrote at the beginning, it seems that Hasbro/WoTC should not be using the same economic model for vast profits that Mom & Pop joints are using to get by. In other words- they should be relying on employees.
In Australian law this is tackled in the tax system but not the wage system.

There are laws that enable casuals to get reclassified under certain circumstances where they are de facto permanent, but I don't think that would have much implication for pay-per-word RPG work.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
In Australian law this is tackled in the tax system but not the wage system.

There are laws that enable casuals to get reclassified under certain circumstances where they are de facto permanent, but I don't think that would have much implication for pay-per-word RPG work.

Well, the primary issue is that in America, it is so advantageous for employers to treat employees as independent contractors, that they do so regardless of their actual status. The cute-sy name for it is "the gig economy."

I have no real issue with smaller operations commissioning work-for-hire from independent contractors (payment per word for written pieces, payment for pieces of art), provided that it meets the usual standards that the individual is able to take on other work from other companies at the same time, is using their own talent and discretion etc.

But as a normative matter, it feels wrong when large companies like Hasbro take advantage of this system and are making vast profits. I would compare their actions as D&D has taken off to those of, say, Games Workshop.*


*okay, GW does benefit from the minis addiction. :)
 

BrokenTwin

Adventurer
Canadian here, the standard tipping amounts I usually see at PoS machines are 10%, 15%, and 20%. Really annoyed by how American tipping culture has been creeping in here. Really prefer the model of just paying your bloody employees properly.

[I had a really long rant here about how most of the problems in the OP are more systemic issues of American capitalism than anything manageable at the individual level, but it was rambling, half incoherent, and partially self fluffery, so I cut it.]

I'm curious as to what companies besides Wizards of the Coast would be considered industry and not cottage industry. Paizo, probably. Fantasy Flight, if they're still in the RPG business (I honestly don't know). Whoever currently owns White Wolf, maybe?
 


Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Canadian here, the standard tipping amounts I usually see at PoS machines are 10%, 15%, and 20%. Really annoyed by how American tipping culture has been creeping in here. Really prefer the model of just paying your bloody employees properly.

[I had a really long rant here about how most of the problems in the OP are more systemic issues of American capitalism than anything manageable at the individual level, but it was rambling, half incoherent, and partially self fluffery, so I cut it.]

I'm curious as to what companies besides Wizards of the Coast would be considered industry and not cottage industry. Paizo, probably. Fantasy Flight, if they're still in the RPG business (I honestly don't know). Whoever currently owns White Wolf, maybe?

So, a couple of things. I can't speak to Canadian tipping culture or the POS systems you use there. A quick check of google shows that Canadians are supposed to be similar to the US (maybe a tad lower) at 15-20%. Again, it seems that most places I'm looking at indicate that it's 15-20% (minimum 15) in the more urban areas, and 10-15% in rural Canada, and maybe more in the francophone places. This tends to track my somewhat-dim memories from a while back when I would visit ... um .... "Upper US." :)

But ... Canada has much better overall worker protections and benefits (call it a 'social safety net') than America. All of that is ... interesting, but not particularly important. I mean, unless you're in Canada.

I wanted to key in on the last part- not saying you are doing it, but a sentiment some people often express is the whole, "I just want to society to fix the problem." And it reminds me of the famous scene from Repo Man:

Duke: The lights are growing dim Otto. I know a life of crime has led me to this sorry fate, and yet, I blame society. Society made me what I am.

Otto : That's bullcrud. You're a white suburban punk just like me.

Duke : Yeah, but it still hurts.



Ahem. Look, the point is kind of twofold. On the one hand, I agree with that sentiment completely. Collective action solves problems a lot better than depending on people to always do the right thing. Because ... well, people suck. People are inconsistent. People are weak. Even the best of us. And, yeah, it would be better for servers if they didn't have to depend on people tipping them well, if they just received good wages and benefits instead of knowing their paychecks could be ruined by a "I've got a tip for you- get a better job! DERPITY DERPITY DERP" customer. And it would be better for most of us.

On the other hand, we can't use the problems in the system now to absolve us from moral action. The perfect is the enemy of the good. I want mandatory service amounts included (and priced into the food, and passed on to the workers, etc.), but that's not what we have. I can either work with what we have, and tip appropriately, or I can make up excuses not to do the right thing. It's like the people who say, "It's fine for me to pirate that book and use it. I wouldn't have paid for it anyway." /facepalm

Anyway, your TTRPG question is a good one. I know WoTC (Hasbro), Paizo, GW (but they already do), FFG being up there.

But I'm not really up on my smaller, but not quite cottage-sized, publishers. I think a good rule of thumb is usually the 15 employee mark to distinguish between going concerns and growing concerns.
 

BrokenTwin

Adventurer
I mean, I do my part where I can. Don't buy stuff off of Amazon, minimize purchases from the most immoral companies, patron indie creators, try to buy sustainable where I can... but I'm one barely middle class person, and trying to live a completely moral existence is impossible, and exhausting to attempt anyways.
Regardless of how hard I try, I can't solve systemic problems by myself. That doesn't mean I have a free pass to be an immoral person.
In the meantime, RPG creators having a pay-what-you-want model with a minimum floor is a good start, and allows those of us with better means to pay more.
 

Gnarlo

Gnome Lover
Supporter
I mean, I do my part where I can. Don't buy stuff off of Amazon, minimize purchases from the most immoral companies, patron indie creators, try to buy sustainable where I can... but I'm one barely middle class person, and trying to live a completely moral existence is impossible, and exhausting to attempt anyways.
Regardless of how hard I try, I can't solve systemic problems by myself. That doesn't mean I have a free pass to be an immoral person.
In the meantime, RPG creators having a pay-what-you-want model with a minimum floor is a good start, and allows those of us with better means to pay more.
We can only be asked to do what we can; I don't think any of us can be expected to quit our jobs and go out in the streets to organize marches to improve fair wages for RPG creators :) I'm the same; I minimize what I buy on Amazon to only what I can't get locally, there is a certain chicken sandwich place I won't frequent even though I loved their sandwiches because I want to be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, the same with a certain hobby and craft chain, I pledged on an OSR kickstarter from one of our members here promoting diversity even though I don't play OSR (hell, I haven't actually played an actual old or new pen and paper RPG in over 10 years) because I wanted to put my money where my mouth is... Are you or I going to change the world? Hell no, but in the end we have to sleep with ourselves at night, and I sleep fine :)

Back on topic, I think part of the problem as well is the attitude of "It costs how much?! I'm not going to pay that!!" keeping prices below what folks can live on. Up thread someone posted how the 1e DMG cost $15 when it came out, and that would be over $60 adjusted for inflation today. Can you imagine the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth if WOTC tried to charge $60 for the rule books today?** It's easy, just go look at any of the message threads when Hasbro announced the reprinting of HeroQuest at $100 and the outrage at the "money grab" at charging that much, even though several of us did the math and pointed out that the $100 was within a dollar or two of how much it cost in the 80's, adjusted for inflation...

**Now, whether or not the extra money at $60 would actually go to the artists and creators or stay in the company coffers is an entirely different argument for another time ;)
*** and yes, there's probably economy of scale issues and etc where WOTC and Hasbro are involved as well when compared to the old TSR back in the day, but quit messing up a perfectly good example :p
 

pemerton

Legend
When I bought my AD&D books in 1984 (I think?) in rural Australia, they cost $16.95 (MM), $19.95 (PHB) and $22.50 (DMG) - the prices are still marked in pencil on the inside front pages. Let's call that an average of $20 for simplicity.

I remember paying $20 for Essentials books around 2010/11. They're smaller and soft-bound but have coloured interiors.

I think I paid $20 for a 3E PHB back when it came out. I think most of my 4e hardcovers were $30-ish.

According to the RBA's cost-of-living calculator, $20 in 1984 is just under $40 in 2000, a bit over $50 in 2010, and a bit over $60 in 2020.

I don't know if/how the amount that goes to writers/designers compared to printers etc has changed over that time - I assume that printing costs have gone down.

Exchange rates are also probably a factor - they've moved around in that time, although looking at a graph going back to the 90s there doesn't seem to be a consistent trend up or down.
 

MGibster

Legend
Classification wage theft, part 2. Classifying employees as independent contractors in order to avoid paying wages and taxes.
Yeah, this is one that employers can run into on accident at times. I've had to explain to a few managers why it might be a bad idea to keep a contractor around for 5+ years.
  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.
I think numbers 4, 5, and 6 are particularly easy problem areas to fall into. I once had a manager call to ask me how he could issue a formal warning to a contractor on his team. "He's not our employee," I explained, "We don't have that kind of control over his actions." I don't know a whole lot about the inner working of the RPG industry so I don't know if they actually have a problem with misclassification of employees as independent contractors.

Super cute avatar by the way!
 

MGibster

Legend
I mean, I do my part where I can. Don't buy stuff off of Amazon, minimize purchases from the most immoral companies, patron indie creators, try to buy sustainable where I can... but I'm one barely middle class person, and trying to live a completely moral existence is impossible, and exhausting to attempt anyways.
I try to buy what I can from the FLGS. They provide me with space to play games and they're decent people so I do what I can to keep them in business. I feel as though I'm paying about the right price for most of my RPG books. I don't know if I'd be willing to actually pay a whole lot more than $60 in most cases.
 

I think you have to look at it with time in mind. Like, an hourly rate kind of thing. When we go to a movie we’re getting about 2 hours of entertainment. And it costs a good amount if you break it down per hour.

How many hours of entertainment will you get from a good RPG book? In most cases, you’ll get many, many more hours for your investment.

So maybe we need to accept the costs? Maybe we can in some cases of PWYW and similar, when possible, pay a little more? Maybe buy direct from smaller press companies or individuals so that more of your dollars go to them?

I’ve a pretty middle of the road income, but I like to support the folks who are making things I enjoy. If there’s a way to make sure they can make a little more, maybe that’s something we should collectively try to do more often.

And for the love of all that’s good and decent, tip more than 10%. Good lord.
 


The current art contest thread is a perfect example where a creatives guild/union would have stepped in with a quick nope, with the benefit of no artists having to risk their career by speaking out.
And such a situation is precisely why a goodly number of people think creative arts unions should be proverbially taken out back and put out of everyone else's misery.
As one actor of my acquaintance said, "The only thing SAG's done for me is take my money and tell me where not to work."
 

Wage theft is a massive problem in the US. While there is a robust regulatory/legal mechanism in place (FLSA), it doesn't suffice for the issues. Most wage theft is in the following categories:
Just thought I'd put this into context (source with data taken from here)
1627987759437.png

Employers steal more than all other types of criminal combined in the US and it's not even close.
The primary issue when it comes to this in TTRPGs is the independent contractor distinction; as I wrote at the beginning, it seems that Hasbro/WoTC should not be using the same economic model for vast profits that Mom & Pop joints are using to get by. In other words- they should be relying on employees.
I can't entirely agree here. I'd rather more diversity in adventures than the number of staff that's economic for WotC to employ. For example in a product like Candlekeep Adventures I'd like to see a different writer for each adventure (they may have done this) and most of those writers being from outside the house team and very possibly from outside America. It makes perfect sense to make these external writers independent contractors, initially employed for one adventure, and this also widens the pool to outside the people who can write adventures. But those are employed as independent contractors because they genuinely are.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I can't entirely agree here. I'd rather more diversity in adventures than the number of staff that's economic for WotC to employ. For example in a product like Candlekeep Adventures I'd like to see a different writer for each adventure (they may have done this) and most of those writers being from outside the house team and very possibly from outside America. It makes perfect sense to make these external writers independent contractors, initially employed for one adventure, and this also widens the pool to outside the people who can write adventures. But those are employed as independent contractors because they genuinely are.

To be more specific- I'm not saying that they can't use independent contractors, ever. There are talented artists and writers that thrive on that model, and there will be times when a company needs to reach out (consultants) in order to fill a specific need that they don't usually have.

What I am getting at is that, from what I understand, WoTC uses the IC model much more than they need to- in other words, because it is such a norm within the industry, they are able to get away with not hiring employees. And in America, that can make a huge difference. Traditionally, an IC is someone like a plumber or an electrician- people hire them for specific jobs, and they bring their own tools, experience, skill, and so on. But it is so advantageous for companies to use the IC model that they try to treat everyone like an IC- and while that flexibility (and labor savings) is great for the company, it usually sucks for the workers, because employees are subject to all sorts of protections that ICs do not have.

In my ideal word, Hasbro/WoTC would have more employees to put out their materials and have reliance on ICs. And when they do use ICs, they would lead the way by paying higher rates (per word and for art).
 

Fundamentally I don't think that there's room in the RPG business to support more than a tiny number of full time professionals partly (as has been discussed) because there is too much competition by people creating RPGs for the love of it and partly because of how ludicrously cheap they are in terms of hours of entertainment per pound or dollar.

For an example take Apocalypse World as a very good Indie game. A softcover copy of Apocalypse World is $28 plus shipping which for a softcover black and white book can sound high; it's a lot more than most novels and many computer games that have been out for a year or more for example.

The value of it in terms of hours on the other hand is ridiculous. Let's say that counting costs and printed character sheets and dice (2d6) it costs $30 - in other words the cost of a couple of cinema tickets plus snacks or a main + desert + drink (+20% tip) for one person at Olive Garden. Or in other words if you play somewhere like a pub or restaurant each of you might spend more in a night than the game costs. And assuming five of you and ten four hour sessions that's 200 hours of entertainment off $30 for the game for more than six hours for every dollar with just one campaign.

At that good value it's amazing anyone can make money out of relatively rules light RPGs. I think it's why rules heavy and metaplot dominated the 90s, and there was a massive splurge of D&D books 2e and through 3.X; if you want to hire a large staff what do your people do when you've put the books out?
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
And such a situation is precisely why a goodly number of people think creative arts unions should be proverbially taken out back and put out of everyone else's misery.
As one actor of my acquaintance said, "The only thing SAG's done for me is take my money and tell me where not to work."
I'm sorry that your friend feels that way, nevertheless, I still think that an organization protecting artists from predatory behaviors is best. The other options are none (bad) or government (meh).
 

On the internet, no one knows you are a dog.

If you've never seen a check in a restaurant with the suggested tip at the bottom, then you're either blind or you literally don't bother reading the check in your haste to give 5-10%. Most POS systems will print it out now.*

Not weighing in on the thread, but I worked in the service industry for ages at restaurants and doing delivery, and my wife continues to. I think this might be explained by variations from state to state and place to place. Also I suspect what is considered a good or appropriate tip varies a lot too. Here 15-20% is considered an appropriate tip. And servers notice when you tip below the appropriate level (it does impact your service in the future for sure). Good tips are well above that. When I was doing delivery it wasn't actually about the percentage (I really couldn't care what the total food cost was, I just new I only made a good living if everyone on average tipped 5 dollars per delivery). I can't recall if the bills here suggest a tip (I don't recall seeing it, but it is possible I have missed it). I do know that the menus and bills usually mentioned the standard gratuity costs (will ask my wife what they do at her restaurant when she gets home). EDIT: Just talked to wife and she said the bill does suggest an amount at her restaurant
 
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