RPGs Have a Health Problem

As the game industry ages, our iconic game designers are aging with it. Increasingly, they are turning to crowdfunding campaigns to fund their medical costs. Although gaming hasn't always been a lucrative field for designers, it's clear that even our most experienced designers aren't making enough to manage a medical crisis. Can we do anything about it?

gofundme.jpg

The Scope of the Problem

For some designers, yearly deductibles have crept up to the $10,000 range; with game designers often working as freelancers without insurance, costs are even higher. Incidental expenses, like wound care supplies, specialized diets, and transportation all add to these costs. To address these expenses, GoFundMe (and it is usually GoFundMe, which accounts for 1 in 3 crowdfunding campaigns for medical costs) has become the crowdfunding platform of choice, with over 250,000 medical campaigns raising over $650 million each year.

Is it possible to make a living working on games? We have some notable data points.

It's Not for Everyone

Fred Hicks shares his perspective:
Through a combination of: Running Evil Hat (I made $0/month for several years; then we got a little success, enough to justify $450/month for a while; I’ve gotten to increase that since, but I am pretty sure I’m still not quite rating McDonald’s wages, and unless Evil Hat can improve its product output over the next few years, I’m not sure the increase can be sustained; behold part of my motive to grow the company! I should note I don’t charge the company anything else for any writing, development, or layout work I do beyond this monthly draw.) Running Jim Butcher’s online presence (the site has amazon referrals, other referral programs, the occasional ad revenue, cafe press gear, all of which funnels to me to pay the website costs and then pay myself the remainder for doing the work of creating & running all that over the past ten-plus years) Freelance layout work (which is bursty, unpredictable, and can sometimes wind up with late or very late or never-happened payment if you’re not careful)… I am just in the last year or two finally at the point where I’m making about what I made when I started in the internet industry back in 1996. Only without any benefits (save those that I get as a spouse), which is a lot like saying that I am making 30+% less than what I was making in 1996.
Louis Porter Jr. responded to Fred's post:
But there is another side to this. The side of what is "making a living"? I live is South Florida where I own a house, two cars, have a wife, one year old son and mother-in-law all living in the same house. My wife and I do well financially (She's a therapist and I am a graphic design / web designer) and LPJ Design gives me extra money to do a few fun things. But can I live off of it? No. But do I work it like a 40 hours a week job where I get full medical, weekly paycheck, 401k retirement planning, free use of internet, copier fax machine and roughly four and a half weeks off and 2 weeks of sick time? No. But I do know if I worked the LPJ Design business as well and hard as I work my "real" job the out come would be different.
Louis mentions the 1,000 fans theory, and given the success of crowdfunding in role-playing games it seems there's some merit.

The 1,000 Fans Theory

The 1,000 Fans Theory espouses the belief that creators don't need to have a large number of fans, they just need a highly-engaged base that will support them:
Here’s how the math works. You need to meet two criteria. First, you have to create enough each year that you can earn, on average, $100 profit from each true fan. That is easier to do in some arts and businesses than others, but it is a good creative challenge in every area because it is always easier and better to give your existing customers more, than it is to find new fans. Second, you must have a direct relationship with your fans. That is, they must pay you directly. You get to keep all of their support, unlike the small percent of their fees you might get from a music label, publisher, studio, retailer, or other intermediate.
If each fan provided $100 per year, that would amount to a $100,000 year income. It's worth noting that a percentage of this number also covers things like insurance and medical bills. The total number of fans can be adjusted up or down according to the individual's needs and goals -- those creatives who live in areas where they can get by on $50,000 need only 500 fans, while those who have fans with less disposable income may need double that amount. Where do RPG fans fit in this model?

There are two constraints that working against game developers hoping to make a living using this model. For one, tabletop RPG fans are not nearly as large a market as video games or other creative outlets. For another, gamers are accustomed to lower price points than other entertainment, including the aforementioned video games.

As the market continues to expand, we're seeing movement on both of these factors that may give future designers hope. The market is growing -- Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner told Mad Money that "people are more into Dungeons & Dragons today than ever before. In fact it's enjoying its best year ever, it's been the last couple of years where it's grown. People are reengaged with that brand because it's a face-to-face game, it's immersive, and it's a game that people really enjoy playing with one another. We have more new users coming on board -- double digit, new user growth."

Along with that growth is a fan base willing to spend more, as Andrew addressed in his article, "How Expensive is Too Expensive?" This in turn means creatives can get paid more. Russ has written an excellent reference piece on EN World that every writer should read. It's worth noting that when it comes to paying fairly, Russ is a leader in the industry -- and I speak from personal experience working for him.

A third factor to consider is that the barrier to entry into role-playing games has dropped considerably. Thanks to digital platforms like DriveThruRPG and the DMs Guild, creators can make and sell games at very little cost. By keeping their expenses as low as possible, game designers can net more profit from their games. There are also more platforms to allow fans to directly contribute to creators, like Patreon.

Adding this all up, the 1,000 fan theory seems more achievable for game designers than ever before. But until the market expands enough to support more creatives in the field, economic conditions will continue to push everyone in the tabletop RPG field to test the 1,000 fan theory in the worst way...when they have a medical crisis.
 
Last edited:
Michael Tresca

Comments

pemerton

Legend
everyone in Australia who keeps claiming that healthcare is "free" is being willfully ignorant of the fact that it isn't free - the costs are just shifted from point of service to prepay via taxes.
I'm not ignorant wilfully or otherwise. I've published on the topic of income tax;

But the number of people who go bankrup in Australia due to medical bills is not very high. (In fact I've never heard of such a thing happening.) A single national purchaser of health services creates a very significant downward pressure on prices. (There is no legal cap on doctor's salaries - the Australian Consitution expressly excludes the possibility of civil conscription.)

It isn't healthcare that is the issue in the US, it's the health insurance and big pharma racket that profits off of managing rather than curing or preventing illness.
My understanding is that, of OECD countries, the US has one of the highest levels of expenditure on healthcare but some of the poorest results. Whether that's a sign of a healthcare problem or not maybe isn't as obvious as it looks?
 

Xenonnonex

Adventurer
My understanding is that, of OECD countries, the US has one of the highest levels of expenditure on healthcare but some of the poorest results.
Where you have a system that spends one of the highest amounts in the world and you get so little benefit for the people. Where so many people go bankrupt because of healthcare costs. Where you need goddamn frigging gofundme campaigns just to cover healthcare costs. This is not just a fundamentally broken system. This is not just a fundamentally useless system. This is a fundamentally goddamn malignant system.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Where you have a system that spends one of the highest amounts in the world and you get so little benefit for the people. Where so many people go bankrupt because of healthcare costs. Where you need goddamn frigging gofundme campaigns just to cover healthcare costs. This is not just a fundamentally broken system. This is not just a fundamentally useless system. This is a fundamentally goddamn malignant system.
1. The outcome differential between the US healthcare system and other OECD countries is actually very small. It's played up for politics. So, calling it broken or malignant is hyperbole born of ignorance.

2. I'll actually agree the US system is badly flawed, though, despite 1) above (I don't agree the stats show the flaws well). However, the solution isn't single payer or remaining flawed -- this is a narrow policy preference that is only grounded in personal beliefs.

2a. I say this because the current US system is so badly flawed because of government intrusion into the system. Not that there should be none, because that's silly, but the specific intrusions made into the system are actively damaging to cost control or quality of outcomes. This is what happens when the laws governing your health are made by politicians without knowledge instead of being between patient and doctor. Add to it that the US politician is well captured by the large medical organizations that are built to take advantage of the current system and also by the insurance market which does the same. Neither wants the system to become more transparent.

2b. The idea that the solution to this problem in the US is to rely on those same captured politicians to create a sweeping change in system that will have good outcomes. The very suggestion that they're capable is ridiculous. The only form of socialized medicine that might work would be to have the Federal government step out of regulation altogether and let the states work out their own systems, creating at least a 50 member think tank with real outcomes to find a reasonable solution. Any federal system will be worse that what we currently have.

3. The biggest problem I have with socialized medicine programs is that your medical choices are constrained by non-doctor politicians. There's a persistent canard that doctors direct care, but it's bogus -- they direct care within the bureaucrats' guidelines of what's to be available. Faceless bureaucrats determine if this disease is worth spending on or if you'll just get palliative care if unlucky. Supply is determined by the bureaucrat, not the patients or doctors. There are problems with market based health care systems, sure, but the blind faith that papa government will do the right thing has been shown to be endlessly misplaced throughout history.

4. To create a market based health care system in the US, we need to get off the insurance pays for routine care model. Having insurance pay for a office visit obscures the costs entirely, allowing the system to create byzantine ways of hiding costs which leads to both doctors advising unnecessary procedures to cover malpractice suits (tort reform is also necessary) and the patient failing to understand the full cost ramifications of accepting the procedures. Just trying to get cost information before agreeing to a procedure is often met with 'but you have insurance, don't worry about it.' It's decidedly flawed because at the point of service, costs are completely hidden (I've noticed most doctors don't know actual costs at all). Transparent pricing at point of service will act to reduce overall costs greatly, as people will be able to make informed choices about procedures and require doctors to justify the procedures as medically necessary to the customer rather than the bureaucrats at the insurance office (and, to be fair, he hires someone to do this).

Socialized health care is not the only model possible. Pretending it is just betrays political leanings. If the goal is actually good care, the method achieved should not matter. Sadly, the health care fight is more about displaying political bona fides in supporting specific policy outcomes than discussing ways to find better care.

Some things about me: I've been hospitalized twice without insurance in the US. Both were life-threatening and required weeklong stays in the hospital. The first was acute appendicitis and the second was a runaway staph infection in my left arm (that almost had to be amputated). I am not wealthy, nor are my parents. I was unemployed the second time (just went back to school). I did not have to declare bankruptcy, and, while I carried medical bills for a few years, did not have to skimp terribly to make it through. Both times I was able to work with the hospitals and doctors to get cash pricing instead of insurance pricing, which drastically reduced my bills to workable amounts. I've been there, and done the hard work of finding out what costs and prices actually are to negotiate better cost/benefit for me. It took a lot of time in billing offices, and would have been well served by having the system be less obscure to everyone involved.
 

Xenonnonex

Adventurer
1. The outcome differential between the US healthcare system and other OECD countries is actually very small. It's played up for politics. So, calling it broken or malignant is hyperbole born of ignorance.

2. I'll actually agree the US system is badly flawed, though, despite 1) above (I don't agree the stats show the flaws well). However, the solution isn't single payer or remaining flawed -- this is a narrow policy preference that is only grounded in personal beliefs.

2a. I say this because the current US system is so badly flawed because of government intrusion into the system. Not that there should be none, because that's silly, but the specific intrusions made into the system are actively damaging to cost control or quality of outcomes. This is what happens when the laws governing your health are made by politicians without knowledge instead of being between patient and doctor. Add to it that the US politician is well captured by the large medical organizations that are built to take advantage of the current system and also by the insurance market which does the same. Neither wants the system to become more transparent.

2b. The idea that the solution to this problem in the US is to rely on those same captured politicians to create a sweeping change in system that will have good outcomes. The very suggestion that they're capable is ridiculous. The only form of socialized medicine that might work would be to have the Federal government step out of regulation altogether and let the states work out their own systems, creating at least a 50 member think tank with real outcomes to find a reasonable solution. Any federal system will be worse that what we currently have.

3. The biggest problem I have with socialized medicine programs is that your medical choices are constrained by non-doctor politicians. There's a persistent canard that doctors direct care, but it's bogus -- they direct care within the bureaucrats' guidelines of what's to be available. Faceless bureaucrats determine if this disease is worth spending on or if you'll just get palliative care if unlucky. Supply is determined by the bureaucrat, not the patients or doctors. There are problems with market based health care systems, sure, but the blind faith that papa government will do the right thing has been shown to be endlessly misplaced throughout history.

4. To create a market based health care system in the US, we need to get off the insurance pays for routine care model. Having insurance pay for a office visit obscures the costs entirely, allowing the system to create byzantine ways of hiding costs which leads to both doctors advising unnecessary procedures to cover malpractice suits (tort reform is also necessary) and the patient failing to understand the full cost ramifications of accepting the procedures. Just trying to get cost information before agreeing to a procedure is often met with 'but you have insurance, don't worry about it.' It's decidedly flawed because at the point of service, costs are completely hidden (I've noticed most doctors don't know actual costs at all). Transparent pricing at point of service will act to reduce overall costs greatly, as people will be able to make informed choices about procedures and require doctors to justify the procedures as medically necessary to the customer rather than the bureaucrats at the insurance office (and, to be fair, he hires someone to do this).

Socialized health care is not the only model possible. Pretending it is just betrays political leanings. If the goal is actually good care, the method achieved should not matter. Sadly, the health care fight is more about displaying political bona fides in supporting specific policy outcomes than discussing ways to find better care.

Some things about me: I've been hospitalized twice without insurance in the US. Both were life-threatening and required weeklong stays in the hospital. The first was acute appendicitis and the second was a runaway staph infection in my left arm (that almost had to be amputated). I am not wealthy, nor are my parents. I was unemployed the second time (just went back to school). I did not have to declare bankruptcy, and, while I carried medical bills for a few years, did not have to skimp terribly to make it through. Both times I was able to work with the hospitals and doctors to get cash pricing instead of insurance pricing, which drastically reduced my bills to workable amounts. I've been there, and done the hard work of finding out what costs and prices actually are to negotiate better cost/benefit for me. It took a lot of time in billing offices, and would have been well served by having the system be less obscure to everyone involved.
My bona fide opinion is 'everyone is worthy and deserving of an equal quality of healthcare'. Not 'only the wealthy has a right to a higher quality of healthcare'. Not 'only those who know how to work the system should have a higher quality of healthcare'. But you absolutely need the right supports and structures in place for this. The socialized healthcare model is one solution for this.

My opinion is not born of ignorance. Namely for the high number of people filing bankruptcy due to healthcare costs. The OCED countries with socialized healthcare all do not have barriers to healthcare. Whereas the States does. The OCED countries all have equal access to healthcare for their population. But the States does not.
The OCED countries nearly all have outcomes that do not result in bankruptcy of the patient. In the States a great number of the population files for bankruptcy because of the outcomes of healthcare.

I did not claim a socialized healthcare model is the only solution. And claiming it is my position that it is the only solution is complete and willful misinterpretation and ignorance of my position.
What you have in the States is actually too little governmental oversight and too little governmental regulation. Where you have corporate entities and margins of profit dictating patient healthcare that is entirely and utterly F'd up.
The for profit model of healthcare is entirely to blame for the sorry situation the States is in.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
My bona fide opinion is 'everyone is worthy and deserving of an equal quality of healthcare'. Not 'only the wealthy has a right to a higher quality of healthcare'. Not 'only those who know how to work the system should have a higher quality of healthcare'. But you absolutely need the right supports and structures in place for this. The socialized healthcare model is one solution for this.
This is a wonderfully pithy statement that doesn't actually do anything. I think everyone should be rich. How is that a statement of actual utility?

Equal access is absolutely a right -- no one should be denied access to healthcare because of who they are. But access is not the same as outcome -- I strongly disagree that everyone deserves equal outcome on the basis that this is impossible to achieve. Healthcare is not infinite, it must be rationed. You disagree with ability to pay as the rationing factor, fine, that's your prerogative. But don't pretend you have a higher horse than others that say that things should be determines by market forces. Market forces have done the most for elevating people out of abject poverty and providing levels of healthcare undreamed of 100 years ago.

My opinion is not born of ignorance. Namely for the high number of people filing bankruptcy due to healthcare costs.
"High" is a relative term with little meaning. The reality is that it's very hard to disentangle medical costs from bankruptcies. The leading cited studies all hail from the Great Recession, so that certainly skews data, but, interestingly, how you count medical bankruptcy depends on how much medical debt load is part of the bankruptcy. For instance, the leading cite on social media is from a study that considered ANY medical debt as part of a bankruptcy filing to be a medical bankruptcy. The average amount of medical debt counted was about 10% of total debt load. Hardly the main driver, although any stress is unwelcome. A similar study done at the same time only counted medical debt loads of 50% of total load or over 50% of yearly income. That study found about a third of the total medical bankruptcy rate as the other study.

So, yeah, "high" depends on what you make of it. Also interesting, during the same years as the above studies, bankruptcy rates in Canada were the same as in the US, presumably absent almost all medical debt, right? Don't take the first set of numbers that pleases your assumptions -- it's almost always more complicated than that.

The OCED countries with socialized healthcare all do not have barriers to healthcare.
Sure they do, it's just not how much money you have.
Whereas the States does. The OCED countries all have equal access to healthcare for their population. But the States does not.
Actually, you cannot be refused service at a hospital with an emergency room in the US for inability to pay. They have to get you fixed. So, access is absolutely universal. You just then get a bill for it.

The OCED countries nearly all have outcomes that do not result in bankruptcy of the patient. In the States a great number of the population files for bankruptcy because of the outcomes of healthcare.
I talk about the distortions of this above, but wanted to say that "bankruptcies" when you're alive is kinda a weird pill. I mean, aggressive taxation means many will have about as much buying power as the bankruptcy filer in the US, with equivalent health outcomes (better in the US if it's cancer), but "bankruptcies" are treated like the person died or something. It sucks, and medical bills suck, but you're alive and can try again. Recall, I've been on the no-job, no-insurance having expensive hospital stays thing -- I'd gladly have taken a medical bankruptcy rather than die, and, luckily for me, that wasn't even a choice in the US system -- they had to fix me.

I did not claim a socialized healthcare model is the only solution. And claiming it is my position that it is the only solution is complete and willful misinterpretation and ignorance of my position.
I'm sorry, but page after page of you saying that the US will only be fixed once they've socialized healthcare led me astray. Where did you discuss another option? I'd like to review your ideas.

What you have in the States is actually too little governmental oversight and too little governmental regulation. Where you have corporate entities and margins of profit dictating patient healthcare that is entirely and utterly F'd up.
This is very ignorant of what actually has happened over here, and points directly at you saying more government involvement is the way to go (presumably single payer, but, hey, you say there are other options you'd consider). The government and health care regulations are the large part of how the system over here works. It's covered in government regulation, smothered in it. I actually think some single payer systems have less government involvement than the current US model. Don't confuse lack of single payer to be lack of government involvement.

But, this statement goes right back to the weird idea that more government always the best answer. It never looks at what's already there and how the system actually works before deciding that more bureaucrats and non-doctors should be involved to solve the healthcare problem. You're moving medical decisions away from the doctor and patient and onto people that have no stake in your health and saying this is an unabashed good. It might be, but you've done no work to show that it is true.

The for profit model of healthcare is entirely to blame for the sorry situation the States is in.
It isn't, at all. This is like saying that it's the rules of footy that allowed Carlton to take the wooden spoon last year. Market based systems are the rules, but you can still have a terrible game, especially with bad umps. It's not the rules that did it.
 

Tom B1

Explorer
I like your analysis of the situation.

I live in Canada. These healthcare-related issues are fairly different here. When it comes to medication, we're mostly in the same boat: can't pay, can't have.
Also Canadian.

I've had family that have went through horrible, expensive medical regimes here and I know some friends who have faced comparable scenarios in the US. In my family's case, dual mastectomies, then a catastrophic car accident plus bones almost invisible on scans on the one hand and heart attacks, stents, stroke, loss of limb, prosthetics, and cancer treatment on the other. I compare that with my cousin's wife's son who got married, had a kid arrive, and then passed from while waiting for dual lung and heart transplant and another friend whose wife has a chronic and expensive conditions who lost coverage when she changed jobs. My folks weren't out of pocket too much (some meds, a few bits of equipment, a few co-pays) and my cousin and his wife are still paying for $100K US they put in trying to save her son and my other friends have debt now because their 'pre-existing condition' isn't covered now.

Scenarios vary a lot by where you live. The US simply does not, as a whole (some states do more than others) provide much of a safety net for the less wealthy members of society for health or retirement.

Interesting fact: The friend with a condition no longer covered used to work for the state gov't in Louisianna in reconciling State - HMO billings.

Louisiana did a study and determined that 42% of the state's medical budget was going to the legal/arbitration processes with the HMOs.

You have to have a vastly, epically inefficient single payer to consume 50% of the pool of a state or province's budget for health. You can be 20% less efficient and it still ends up looking much more cost-effective.

[/QUOTE]

Other trades, such as plumbing or factory work, have seen a significant increase in salaries and work conditions. Why is that?

Because those skilled trades are an absolute legal requirement - plumbing especially - anytime you touch a pipe of any sort for any reason, you require a plumber, a permit and an inspection. That helps their business a lot.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that art, in general, has a lower value than other activities
...and perhaps justly so. Most other highly paid groups (doctors, lawyers, nurses, engineers, and skilled trades) all have extensive education and professional certification requirements as well as dues and upgrading requirements. Where's that in the art world? It's not a necessity and art is not covered by acts of parliament as are professionals and skilled trades - they have colleges that they must answer to and if they don't, they can lose their ability to work in the field. Never seen that in art or most other creative endeavors.

Perhaps more pertinently, most of these trades fall into:
  • shelter and infrastructure creation
  • keeping people alive and bringing new ones into the world
  • helping deal with the law (or with the tax man)

The first two seem like foundational blocks in the pyramid of needs. Art is more up the pyramid and its urgent day to day survival aspect is almost non-existent. Societies need it, but they don't tend to need it with the urgency of doctors or builders.

I am friends with a fair few game developers - some that make a living at it, some that have it as a side hobby that sometimes generates a bit of revenue. Those who dabble at it and don't have a full time company they own where they are publishing and producing all the time, those casuals tend to roll a project every so often and it takes years to recoup costs and make profits for a print run.

Any creative endeavour will always be subject to tastes, to competition and to the varying amounts of excess wealth to be spent in a society. That limited amount of luxury wealth comes after all the spending for critical things (professions and skilled trades). Then it gets split between different products and producers in ways that vary over time.

To succeed in that environment, you have to frequently roll out new product which is compelling and in line with current tastes. And even then, you are still subject to overall economic situations.

I know people talk about paying X or Y for games - video, board, card. I can't anymore afford to buy $150 game orders every two months or $400 of miniatures 1/year. I can't even justify $30 books or $40 Blu-Ray seasons anymore. I've probably spent no more than $120 in an entire year for RPG products now, vs. doing that every 1-2 months years back when my circumstances were better. More calls on a much smaller pool of money and more dependents now. And everything is going up - fresh vegetables went up 11% year to year here. Salaries didn't.

So when I see producers cranking out $60-100 hardcovers, there's no way I'll get them unless I see a clearance for $30 someday or see a PDF for $25 one day. And even then, not more than 1 a quarter. And I don't have $5/month to contribute to patreons of web artists and authors I highly respect. I can't even afford the $13 softcover book price. Things are that much harder and I'm not alone.

So the overall economic situation also impacts RPG authors. And expecting those of us with little or no money to kick out $50 for an adventure path book or $30 for 6 minis.... well, won't be doing much of that, sorry. It's not disagreeing the artists' work should be worth that, it's not having it to spend.

So now I update old modules, use old minis, and free maps, and design my own adventures. Works for my folks and lets me play even when I can't support hardly anybody like I'd like to.

It's not just the 'I want it free' culture, it's the 'things aren't as easy as they once were financially' for an awful lot of people.
 

Dire Bare

Adventurer
It's not just the 'I want it free' culture, it's the 'things aren't as easy as they once were financially' for an awful lot of people.
You make a lot of good points. It's arguable whether we should create a society that mitigates risk for artists excessively, so they can pursue art full time without starving. I'd argue for it actually, but I don't think my POV is "obvious" or "right".

However, there is a difference in saying, "I can't afford your product, therefore I'm not going to buy it" and saying, "Charging that much is unfair, because I cannot afford it". Or as others have argued recently, "Charging that much is unfair because teenagers can't afford it."

Like you, I've had to drastically reduce my "fun" budget and I purchase much less gaming products than I used to. I also always take price into account, if something looks amazing and I wants it, it still might be priced out of my affordable range. Oh well. But I'll never complain about high, but reasonable, pricing on gaming products just because my financial circumstances don't allow for me to indulge.

I didn't purchase the fairly recent Conan board game (from a Kickstarter) that was jam-packed with Conan miniature goodness, because even the basic package was really expensive. I really wanted that game too, and every once and a while I stumble across a good review of the game and I sigh wistfully. Their pricing was very high, but very fair for what you got. I couldn't afford it anyway. Oh well. Should the publisher have created a version of the game that included less toys and be more affordable? Should the publisher paid the various artists involved less so that my pocket book could be more happy? Or taken a smaller profit margin? No. They created a luxury product for a high price that was none the less fair, knowing not every body would be able to purchase the game. And that's okay.

Gaming companies (and other creative industries) NEED to pay their staff and artists fair and livable wages so these folks can at least hope they don't end up an aging creative with a Go Fund Me page to pay for their cancer treatments. There's a lot more to it than that, of course, but it starts there.

Should artists be able to expect to work creatively full time and meet their overall financial and health needs? Or pursue their art as a side-gig next to their more traditional well-paying jobs? Should our society manipulate things so they can? (Universal Basic Income, Universal Education, Universal Healthcare, etc). I think this doesn't really have a "right" answer and it comes down to what kind of society do we want to have. I'm on the progressive side of things where I WANT a society where we take care of everyone at a basic level, regardless of how much they "contribute" back to society and what their contributions are "worth" (artistic vs trades).
 

Tom B1

Explorer
I didn't purchase the fairly recent Conan board game (from a Kickstarter) that was jam-packed with Conan miniature goodness, because even the basic package was really expensive. I really wanted that game too, and every once and a while I stumble across a good review of the game and I sigh wistfully. Their pricing was very high, but very fair for what you got. I couldn't afford it anyway. Oh well. Should the publisher have created a version of the game that included less toys and be more affordable? Should the publisher paid the various artists involved less so that my pocket book could be more happy? Or taken a smaller profit margin? No. They created a luxury product for a high price that was none the less fair, knowing not every body would be able to purchase the game. And that's okay.
To be a bit progressive, as you say you are below, should you and others encourage elitism in the gaming community? Making of games and products only for those with lots of disposable cash? That's exclusionary.

(Really, just speaking to a point that it isn't obvious what is the 'right' or 'good' option in many of these cases and it can be sliced a lot of ways)

As a gamer, I find nobody is doing what the original TSR modules did:

For $8, with a PHB at $12 and a DMG at $18, I could have an adventure module that usually lasted multiple sessions and took characters up a level or 2. And most of them were fairly generic and relocatable. And their production (maps, art) were sufficient for use in the ways modules are used - maps to be gamed on or drawn to be gamed on, text to be readable, just enough art to illustrate key points. One way or another - a one way tour through a product that may well not be revisited (unlike PHB/DMG).

So now what do I get? $50-70 hardcovers with complete campaign arcs, tightly coupled to a location and a particular overarching arc that I may or may not like and whose individual adventures I may or may not like.
Most don't usually fit in a home brew world easily, the layout and paper choice makes pages sometimes hard to read and hard to justify annotating with a pencil.... and maps are often not done in simple line art for use in the game or for redrawing. And $8 then is not $70 now. $8 then was about 2 weeks allowance for an early teenager who did chores. My 12 year old step daughter now gets $15 on a good week $10-12 otherwise and so that'd be 4-5 weeks allowance for her to get a hardcover adventure path.

I'm an old school D&D player - not nostalgic for the obscure, pointlessly-divergent mechanics and the clunky tables.... but the old school gave us Sandbox Gaming - a setting, some factions and some interesting NPCs and enemy groups, and then off you went - including going in ways fairly different than the modules suggested (join the Caves and help them take the Keep or wait until they try and rip off the Vault and the Castellan's Room, rob the moneychanger in Hommlet and join the Temple's forces, or whatever). Most new games are 3-act or scripted arc on a railroad. That robs players of true agency although that is useful for GMs who don't want to do the design work or aren't comfortable with Apocalypse World style reactive game mastering.

Turning our hobby into a have/have not in a big way with $200-600 kickstarters and $70-100 hardcovers and core book boxed sets at $130+... maybe not the best idea for opening up the games to new players and definitely leaving out a lot of demographics that could use a bit of constructive fantasy with good role models...

Should artists be able to expect to work creatively full time and meet their overall financial and health needs? Or pursue their art as a side-gig next to their more traditional well-paying jobs? Should our society manipulate things so they can? (Universal Basic Income, Universal Education, Universal Healthcare, etc). I think this doesn't really have a "right" answer and it comes down to what kind of society do we want to have. I'm on the progressive side of things where I WANT a society where we take care of everyone at a basic level, regardless of how much they "contribute" back to society and what their contributions are "worth" (artistic vs trades).
I have a friend who is in a band in the US. They tour. They sell their own music. They'll never be the Beatles, but they can easily make a modest living at it. They say people who complain about the music consumer market now are just people who don't want to get out and tour and provide experiences.

I think art has to be a thing you want to do if you're to really follow it.

I think there isn't an obligation for society to support whatever thing you decide to pursue. That's a choice and the choice can be not to (by individual).

I'm progressive, but mostly in terms of helping the least advantaged to have better opportunities, not those who made life choices that pretty much guarantee that.

Art can't have a value assigned by some odd sense of universalism. It's too subjective. And we just don't have enough wealth to do all the important things we need to be doing (mental health resourcing, dental care, protection of children, education without massive class sizes, healthy eating/exercise education for kids, etc) so we'd better be careful about rewarding life choices people make to go into less secure employment - that was a choice they made. They could have pursued other courses.

I have a friend who competes in Art Battles (speed painting competitions) - He could easily crank out a $500-750 painting in 2-3 hours and it would be amazing. He's won several. He has chosen to step away from video game computer art to teaching art classes with paintbrushes and so on to interested people because that's more rewarding, but not monetarily. He made that choice. I'll support him when I can but that's because I like his art and I like him. If it was done through some tax (such as the bogus tax on all blank media to feed the music industry), I'd have an entirely different view of that support and it wouldn't be favourable.

People choose their paths. We can't and probably shouldn't try to make them all equivalent. Some highly paid jobs are miserable experiences so people surrender some enjoyment and satisfaction for money. Others go the other route. You can't make that across the board equivalent and trying might be worse than not.

I think Patreons are a brilliant approach. But with so many people out there wanting to get into creative endeavours, it is hard to draw in enough to make the bills get paid. Better have a part time plan B just like some of us did in university to pay for school.

Good discussion, but I think art will always be a commodity. It used to sponsored by nobles and similar rich merchants and religious figures. Even MIchelangelo had to satisfy his patrons. That didn't stop great art being made nor will it in the future.
 

Dire Bare

Adventurer
To be a bit progressive, as you say you are below, should you and others encourage elitism in the gaming community? Making of games and products only for those with lots of disposable cash? That's exclusionary.
No, it's not. Making an expensive product that not everyone can afford is hardly elitism or exclusionary. Making a product that targets those with low disposable incomes is fine, but offering more expensive products is also fine.

As a gamer, I find nobody is doing what the original TSR modules did:

For $8, with a PHB at $12 and a DMG at $18, I could have an adventure module that usually lasted multiple sessions and took characters up a level or 2. And most of them were fairly generic and relocatable. And their production (maps, art) were sufficient for use in the ways modules are used - maps to be gamed on or drawn to be gamed on, text to be readable, just enough art to illustrate key points. One way or another - a one way tour through a product that may well not be revisited (unlike PHB/DMG).

So now what do I get? $50-70 hardcovers with complete campaign arcs, tightly coupled to a location and a particular overarching arc that I may or may not like and whose individual adventures I may or may not like.
Most don't usually fit in a home brew world easily, the layout and paper choice makes pages sometimes hard to read and hard to justify annotating with a pencil.... and maps are often not done in simple line art for use in the game or for redrawing. And $8 then is not $70 now. $8 then was about 2 weeks allowance for an early teenager who did chores. My 12 year old step daughter now gets $15 on a good week $10-12 otherwise and so that'd be 4-5 weeks allowance for her to get a hardcover adventure path.

I'm an old school D&D player - not nostalgic for the obscure, pointlessly-divergent mechanics and the clunky tables.... but the old school gave us Sandbox Gaming - a setting, some factions and some interesting NPCs and enemy groups, and then off you went - including going in ways fairly different than the modules suggested (join the Caves and help them take the Keep or wait until they try and rip off the Vault and the Castellan's Room, rob the moneychanger in Hommlet and join the Temple's forces, or whatever). Most new games are 3-act or scripted arc on a railroad. That robs players of true agency although that is useful for GMs who don't want to do the design work or aren't comfortable with Apocalypse World style reactive game mastering.

Turning our hobby into a have/have not in a big way with $200-600 kickstarters and $70-100 hardcovers and core book boxed sets at $130+... maybe not the best idea for opening up the games to new players and definitely leaving out a lot of demographics that could use a bit of constructive fantasy with good role models...
Take those old modules and adjust them for inflation . . . . . WotC could produce similar products, but usually don't, because they are producing what the majority of their customers want. It's hardly elitism or shutting out new players. And there are other companies that do produce products similar to "old school" D&D modules, I think the subgenre even has a name . . . . A product that doesn't suit your tastes and is more expensive that you would like is again, hardly elitism. Not all teenagers can afford the full-color WotC hardcovers? Oh well. The market has changed. And actually, I think WotC's current line up is very much in reach of the average middle class teenager, which has always been the core of their "new" market

I have a friend who is in a band in the US. They tour. They sell their own music. They'll never be the Beatles, but they can easily make a modest living at it. They say people who complain about the music consumer market now are just people who don't want to get out and tour and provide experiences.
Your musician pal probably makes enough to survive and keep touring. But does he make enough to truly LIVE without financial worry, both now and in the future? Decent health plan? Putting away 15% or more into a 401k? Got a healthy investment package? Making the choice (with eyes wide open) to pursue art full time is cool, but mocking other musicians who make other choices is pretty lame.

Art can't have a value assigned by some odd sense of universalism.
Sure it can. Not a hard dollar value, like "Rock musicians are worth $30,000 per year". But society very much could say, "We want to encourage more people to pursue art full time without financial worry" and provide free education, free healthcare, and a minimum income to all citizen. And of course, it would not be all about supporting the arts, but supporting all citizens who find themselves in poverty for whatever reason. It's not a choice we HAVE to make as a society, but it's a choice I think we SHOULD.
 

GrahamWills

Adventurer
There are two different issues being conflated in this thread, one is the state of health care in the US. it was stated that it isn’t really fundamentally much different than other OECD countries. That is simply wrong. It is fundamentally different , and worse, in many well known ways. A simple internet search will let you easily discover that it:
  • It wastes more money than single payer systems with up to eight times as much spent on administrative costs
  • it is less effective than other countries by a lot; it takes much more money in the US to improve someone’s health by the same amount
But this thread is not about how appallingly bad the US health system is. That is a known bad thing. It’s about how the way it is used makes it hard for RPG creators or other contact workers to survive.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
As a gamer, I find nobody is doing what the original TSR modules did:

For $8, with a PHB at $12 and a DMG at $18, I could have an adventure module that usually lasted multiple sessions and took characters up a level or 2. And most of them were fairly generic and relocatable. And their production (maps, art) were sufficient for use in the ways modules are used - maps to be gamed on or drawn to be gamed on, text to be readable, just enough art to illustrate key points. One way or another - a one way tour through a product that may well not be revisited (unlike PHB/DMG).

So now what do I get? $50-70 hardcovers with complete campaign arcs, tightly coupled to a location and a particular overarching arc that I may or may not like and whose individual adventures I may or may not like.
Most don't usually fit in a home brew world easily, the layout and paper choice makes pages sometimes hard to read and hard to justify annotating with a pencil.... and maps are often not done in simple line art for use in the game or for redrawing. And $8 then is not $70 now. $8 then was about 2 weeks allowance for an early teenager who did chores. My 12 year old step daughter now gets $15 on a good week $10-12 otherwise and so that'd be 4-5 weeks allowance for her to get a hardcover adventure path.
Going to point this out, briefly, because people often don't fully think this out.

You can't compare prices over time as if they are the same. This should be obvious, but apparently, it isn't.

The following post does a decent job at analyzing this:


The TLDR version is that, just taking into account inflation, 5e is more expensive, but that's before taking into account other factors.

In other words, while I support purchases from the the FLGS, it needs to be pointed out that Amazon regularly has these books at such discounts that 5e is, in fact, much cheaper, while I do not recall large discounts on books from, inter alia, Waldenbooks and B. Dalton or game stores.

This is before going into .pdf copies (which I hate).

This all factors into the anchoring effect, and getting older. That's why old people (like us, apparently) complain about prices. No matter how much we "know" that inflation occurs, we are still used to the prices we had when we grew up.

HAVE YOU SEEN HOW EXPENSIVE CANDY BARS ARE???? ;)
 

Xenonnonex

Adventurer
There are two different issues being conflated in this thread, one is the state of health care in the US. it was stated that it isn’t really fundamentally much different than other OECD countries. That is simply wrong. It is fundamentally different , and worse, in many well known ways. A simple internet search will let you easily discover that it:
  • It wastes more money than single payer systems with up to eight times as much spent on administrative costs
  • it is less effective than other countries by a lot; it takes much more money in the US to improve someone’s health by the same amount
But this thread is not about how appallingly bad the US health system is. That is a known bad thing. It’s about how the way it is used makes it hard for RPG creators or other contact workers to survive.
It seems some people are willfully and knowingly spreading misinformation and lies about the state of US healthcare. In their minds someway somehow they do not think the US healthcare system is appallingly bad.
 

drl2

Villager
I struggle to understand how any company outside the WotC/GW/Paizo triumvirate can possibly make enough money to offer reasonable pay to full-time employees, let alone afford US healthcare coverage. Sure., the market has grown a lot and become more mainstream, but it seems like the growth is mainly from the big 3... with hundreds of smaller companies competing over the scraps.

How many people outside those organizations are really able to make a decent living as game publishers? I generally assume most of the small-time publishers do it as a side gig - passionate hobbyists trying to make a little extra to help support their hobbies.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Perhaps more pertinently, most of these trades fall into:
  • shelter and infrastructure creation
  • keeping people alive and bringing new ones into the world
  • helping deal with the law (or with the tax man)

The first two seem like foundational blocks in the pyramid of needs. Art is more up the pyramid and its urgent day to day survival aspect is almost non-existent. Societies need it, but they don't tend to need it with the urgency of doctors or builders.
That argument makes a lot of sense... if you live in a world of actual scarcity. If a society has problems meeting the day-to-day requirements of its members, you have to prioritize, and the things that you need are higher value than the nice-to-haves.

But... there's a very big question as to whether that's the case any more. The US has a gross domestic product, per capita, of something like $80K per year. The economy, on the whole, has more than enough wealth to meet the basic needs of all the individuals within it. In terms of what we can and do produce, our economy is post-scarcity. Meeting the needs of the individuals should not be an issue.

But, of course, as a practical matter, we obviously do have an issue meeting the needs of the individuals. We are, in fact, so broadly incapable at meeting the needs of all the members that the fault of this cannot reasonably be laid on those whose needs are not met. We are quibbling over whether the artist is to blame for their condition when they choose art - but the people buillding and maintaining homes, or providing food or basic resources, are not doing well either!

That, in effect, is what single-payer health care is about - recognizing that the economy is more than capable of providing care for all the individuals, and making that happen.

It's not just the 'I want it free' culture, it's the 'things aren't as easy as they once were financially' for an awful lot of people.
Yeah. A bit of web-searching finds that something over 10% of the US population lives below the poverty line. Something like half if the population is "low income", without sufficient resources to build wealth, living basically paycheck-to-paycheck. And, those with middling income likely have student debt and high housing costs (in either rent or mortgage) to achieve or maintain that income.
 
The Scope of the Problem
For some designers, yearly deductibles have crept up to the $10,000 range; with game designers often working as freelancers without insurance, costs are even higher. Incidental expenses, like wound care supplies, specialized diets, and transportation all add to these costs. To address these expenses, GoFundMe (and it is usually GoFundMe, which accounts for 1 in 3 crowdfunding campaigns for medical costs) has become the crowdfunding platform of choice, with over 250,000 medical campaigns raising over $650 million each year.
<snip>
I normally lurk on these boards but wanted to comment about an important aspect of the US healthcare system that I believe plays a principal role in the problems designers and creative types face today: health insurance is primarily gained as a benefit for employment and highly subsidized by your employer. This is something that should absolutely change, though personally I'm not sure what the best solution is (but acknowledging that the current US healthcare system needs to improve).

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (passed in 2010) was an attempt to rectify this by creating marketplace exchanges. I agree with the concept despite its flaws because health insurance became person-based versus employer-based.

That being said, have designers and those in the RPG industry considered the following options:

  • Purchasing health insurance through the exchanges? I have a few friends who are tradesman who were initially against the ACA but found that it allowed them to remain as independent business owners.
  • Enrolling in health insurance through professional associations? Many of us I presume are part of professional associations through our day jobs, some/many of whom may offer health insurance to its members. If one does not exist for the RPG industry, could one be created?
  • Finally, could a charitable organization be appropriate for this (justified by supporting the arts, perhaps)? I'm not a tax(-exempt) attorney but it might be worth a shot. I'm particular wary of gofundmes and such for a few reasons, just like I am with donating to charitable organizations without knowing how the money is distributed.

Anyway, some suggestions since this topic comes up every so often, and its disheartening really.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
That being said, have designers and those in the RPG industry considered the following options:

  • Purchasing health insurance through the exchanges? I have a few friends who are tradesman who were initially against the ACA but found that it allowed them to remain as independent business owners
At various points, I have worked as a contractor through an agency not headquartered in my home state. As the agency didn't meet my state's requirements for insurance, I turned to the exchange, and it was a major help. But, I was making too much money to get any of the state subsidies. So, I was effectively paying the full price for insurance, with no corporate contribution. And I gotta tell you, the plans I could afford were pretty pitiful. They got us basic health visits, and would have been some cushion for major acute issues. But, if anything really serious and long lasting had come up, that wouldn't have been a pretty picture.

  • Enrolling in health insurance through professional associations? Many of us I presume are part of professional associations through our day jobs, some/many of whom may offer health insurance to its members. If one does not exist for the RPG industry, could one be created?
GAMA (the Game Manufacturer's Association) does this, I believe. But I don't know any details.

Could one be created? Sure... by someone who wanted to make it their full-time job. Professional associations large enough to have insurance bargaining power don't just grow on trees!
 

Aebir-Toril

Scion of Ceres
It seems some people are willfully and knowingly spreading misinformation and lies about the state of US healthcare. In their minds someway somehow they do not think the US healthcare system is appallingly bad.
You have repeatedly demonstrated that you lack the ability to empathize with the arguments of other posters, refusing to even listen to them.

How would you feel if I simply stated that "the Canadian system is basically fascist, and is a socialist dictatorship, and you're a fool if you can't see that"?

Obviously, I don't believe that, but it's essentially the equivalent of what you're doing. Screaming at people and calling them idiots generally accomplishes little.
 

Xenonnonex

Adventurer
You have repeatedly demonstrated that you lack the ability to empathize with the arguments of other posters, refusing to even listen to them.

How would you feel if I simply stated that "the Canadian system is basically fascist, and is a socialist dictatorship, and you're a fool if you can't see that"?

Obviously, I don't believe that, but it's essentially the equivalent of what you're doing. Screaming at people and calling them idiots generally accomplishes little.
And some posters have repeatedly demonstrated the inability to empathize with the plight of the populace that have been greatly and adversely affected by the healthcare model in America. So good on us all I guess.
I cannot empathize with the arguments of some posters who argue in bad faith. Not when people's lives are being wrecked because of the healthcare model. To say otherwise means I lack humanity.

Your conflation is really something is not? Unless your comprehension ability is being severely affected something to that effect is not being put forward as an argument.
Woe and hambug to us who dare criticize the statistics and arguments brought up by people who think the American healthcare model is not appallingly bad. How dare we say in America everyone is not treated equally.
 

Aebir-Toril

Scion of Ceres
And some posters have repeatedly demonstrated the inability to empathize with the plight of the populace that have been greatly and adversely affected by the healthcare model in America. So good on us all I guess.
I cannot empathize with the arguments of some posters who argue in bad faith. Not when people's lives are being wrecked because of the healthcare model. To say otherwise means I lack humanity.

Your conflation is really something is not? Unless your comprehension ability is being severely affected something to that effect is not being put forward as an argument.
Woe and hambug to us who dare criticize the statistics and arguments brought up by people who think the American healthcare model is not appallingly bad. How dare we say in America everyone is not treated equally.
So, you and only you engage in good-faith arguments? Good day sir, I'm done here. Try using logic to understand other posters, rather than calling them evil or stupid.
 

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