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

Dire Bare

Adventurer
Medicare for all.
This is the political aspect of our discussion, of course. But if we did have "universal healthcare" or "socialized healthcare", we would be creating a society where folks don't have to worry about healthcare the way we do now in America. You could choose any career, make any amount of money, or even have severe mental/physical handicaps that limit your options and put you onto the street . . . . and you would not have to worry about receiving quality, basic healthcare. Those aging creatives who never made enough money for good preventative healthcare when they were young, and have no savings now for healthcare as they get older, they would be okay (at least, their health would be).

And of course, under the current system, even those of us with good jobs and good health plans are one health disaster away from financial ruin. Even a simple visit to the ER for stitches can put a severe financial strain on a family.

Medicare for All sounds pretty good to me. Will my taxes go up? Yes. But my high deductible, co-pays, and out-of-pocket expenses for healthcare would (mostly) go away and I'd be better off in the balance. Will my taxes go to support the healthcare of folks who "don't deserve it"? No, because everyone, including the most incompetent and lazy humans on the planet, deserve quality healthcare. I'm totally cool with my taxes supporting that! Much more comfortable than I am with my taxes going to the many never-ending wars my country is involved in that don't really improve the safety of American citizens.

It's fun to get that out on ENWorld! :)
 

Aebir-Toril

Scion of Ceres
And, honestly, whether in a mixed economy or in a laissez-faire capitalist economy, it's not unreasonable that collectively more money gets spent on lip gloss than NASA. There's nothing inherently wrong with a lot of people liking lip gloss (unless it's really environmentally damaging) and buying it with their discretionary incomes.
The problems really come from prioritization at the political level - specifically, prioritizing maximizing incomes at the higher levels vs directing society's riches toward developing science and technology via grants and improving collective health.
Correct, the lip gloss example is a commonly-cited, but somewhat silly, statistic. I agree completely.
 

GrahamWills

Adventurer
Businesses are against it for ideological reasons,
This is getting perilously close to being pure politics, but as a point of fact businesses are not against it. Small businesses in fact are generally way in favor of it (for obvious reasons). However health care businesses tend to be against it (again for obvious reasons) and they have significant political power in the US, whereas small businesses have almost none.
 

GrahamWills

Adventurer
it's dishonest to say that people are often made destitute by healthcare costs.

The average cost of an ER operation is (I believe) $350, not including the fraction of cost deducted as a result of deduction eligibility.
66.5 percent of all bankruptcies were tied to medical issues (This is the real reason most Americans file for bankruptcy)

500,000 people go bankrupt every year because they cannot pay their medical bills (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/08/28/sanderss-flawed-statistic-medical-bankruptcies-year/)

The average emergency room expense for uninsured persons in 2008 was $1,265. This includes $150-$3,000 for the base visit;Services, diagnostic tests and laboratory fees which will add to that; doctor's fees, and which are added separately (How Much Does an Emergency Room Visit Cost? - CostHelper.com). This does not include ambulance fees ($400-$1,200) and assume the patent does not stay overnight.
 

GrahamWills

Adventurer
> How are pastors feeling
Probably pretty good, I imagine. With churches not having to pay any kind of tax.
I dunno. Our church is in a pretty well off area, and yet when I look at our 2019 budget, we budget $112,000 for out three pastors (http://onecumc.net/wp-content/uploads/2019-Budget-Approved.pdf) which isn't exactly a stunning amount each. We pay $220,000 for our other salaries (which are not exempt from tax).

We pay $12,369 FICA tax; and $45,000 for health insurance (you can see full details in the linked form). I'm not sure I'd characterize anyone's feelings as "pretty good".

Bringing this back on track though; I do agree that pastors are not really in the same "gig economy" as writers. It's really the other salaries/wages our church pays out that are comparable, basically part-time / gig work for Child care providers, Band / Musicians, Organists, Teachers and a few other roles.

I was on the HR committee and it's a pretty awful feeling looking at people who are working their asses off for the good of others, making barely more than minimum wages and realizing that of the amount you're paying them, a huge percentage is being eaten up by health care insurance. I imagine many roleplaying companies have the same feeling when they look at their end of year books and have to decide how many cents they are going to pay per-word, knowing it means many of their authors will have to forge insurance and just try really hard not to stay healthy next year.
 

GrahamWills

Adventurer
Medicare for All sounds pretty good to me. Will my taxes go up? Yes. But my high deductible, co-pays, and out-of-pocket expenses for healthcare would (mostly) go away and I'd be better off in the balance.
You'd be much better off. In the US pure taxes are relatively low. But in addition to taxes, there are payments workers and employers are legally compelled to pay to private parties. They function just like taxes, but they aren't taxes. NTCPs are no different from taxes except that NTCPs are made to private corporations like health insurance companies rather than to the government. When you add those into the mix, you find that the US is nearly the highest "taxed" nation in the world.

A lot of that is due to the extreme costs of health insurance. Stupid things like the US having 8% of all health care costs being administrate as opposed to a typical 1% in a universal system.



Unless we can provide basic safety nets to people, then many people will be unable to pursue careers in roleplaying or other creative endeavors; As M.O.B. said, it's just too risky to do it under the US system of healthcare
 

Aebir-Toril

Scion of Ceres
66.5 percent of all bankruptcies were tied to medical issues (This is the real reason most Americans file for bankruptcy)

500,000 people go bankrupt every year because they cannot pay their medical bills (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/08/28/sanderss-flawed-statistic-medical-bankruptcies-year/)

The average emergency room expense for uninsured persons in 2008 was $1,265. This includes $150-$3,000 for the base visit;Services, diagnostic tests and laboratory fees which will add to that; doctor's fees, and which are added separately (How Much Does an Emergency Room Visit Cost? - CostHelper.com). This does not include ambulance fees ($400-$1,200) and assume the patent does not stay overnight.
I'm not sure if you saw my earlier post, but I acknowledged that I was working off very old data, unintentionally, that was taken from a paper.
 

Aebir-Toril

Scion of Ceres
Just how old was your data? Surely the study would have cited a time frame of dates.
Pretty old, I can't find it now, but it may have been from the 1960s(?). I was also a bit tired, and a tad in need of caffeine, when I wrote my original post. I pretty much agree with you in terms of the benefits of socialized healthcare.
 

Xenonnonex

Adventurer
Pretty old, I can't find it now, but it may have been from the 1960s(?). I was also a bit tired, and a tad in need of caffeine, when I wrote my original post. I pretty much agree with you in terms of the benefits of socialized healthcare.
You were using figures from the 1960s to try to claim current stats. What the colossal F. Are you frigging serious. This is beyond tiredness and lack of caffeine.

I am glad we agree on socialized healthcare.
 

Aebir-Toril

Scion of Ceres
You were using figures from the 1960s to try to claim current stats. What the colossal F. Are you frigging serious. This is beyond lack of caffeine.

I am glad we agree on socialized healthcare.
Well, you're certainly being "the colossal rude". And, my original post said that it was $350 after deductions. I do agree with you, and I apologize for not checking the date of my study. As I said, my scientific expertise isn't in economics or healthcare.
 

Xenonnonex

Adventurer
Well, you're certainly being "the colossal rude". And, my original post said that it was $350 after deductions. I do agree with you, and I apologize for not checking the date of my study. As I said, my scientific expertise isn't in economics or healthcare.
I am sure your "Yes. People. Receive. The. Same. Quality. Of. Care. Regardless of income, in the U.S." was the height of civility.
Regardless of what your scientific expertise is you tried to claim that healthcare costs are low in the States. When they are demonstrably not.
You knowingly used a study from the 1960s to form a basis for current figures. And tried to also claim that not many people become bankrupt due to healthcare costs.

This does not require scientific expertise. This is not just a symptom of tiredness and lack of caffeine.
 

Aebir-Toril

Scion of Ceres
I am sure your "Yes. People. Receive. The. Same. Quality. Of. Care. Regardless of income, in the U.S." was the height of civility.
Regardless of what your scientific expertise is you tried to claim that healthcare costs are low in the States. When they are demonstrably not.
You knowingly used a study from the 1960s to form a basis for current figures. And tried to also claim that not many people become bankrupt due to healthcare costs.

This does not require scientific expertise. This is not just a symptom of tiredness and lack of caffeine.
I used the study accidentally, actually. And yes, I did dare to make claims based on my opinions, combined with what I expected to be true. Good day, sir.
 

Xenonnonex

Adventurer
I used the study accidentally, actually. And yes, I did dare to make claims based on my opinions, combined with what I expected to be true. Good day, sir.
When it is something that wrecks people's lives downplaying it and trying to justify the status quo based on figures frankly pisses me off.
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
They apologized for using bad data and admitted they were incorrect. Which almost never happens on the internet. So give benefit of doubt and move on. Don’t continue to lampoon the person. Poor form.
 

Dire Bare

Adventurer
When it is something that wrecks people's lives downplaying it and trying to justify the status quo based on figures frankly pisses me off.
Dude. You and I might agree on the benefits of universal healthcare. But you are being unnecessarily and "colossally" rude. In the immortal words of Elsa, "Let it go!"
 
Yeah. And he said it was the health care system in Australia that allowed him to go all in to the RPG business. It's called a counter example.
Yes, if we lived in the US I may not have been able to take the risk.

Yeah, thanks Australia!

Seriously, your guys' work to bring Chaosium back to where it should be from the shambling corpse of most of the Krank era is most appreciated!
Thanks. It's been a wild ride for us, these past several years, pulling Chaosium back from the brink - but (mostly) a lot of fun and with a lot of goodwill from the wider RPG community. It was very sad that our company founder Greg Stafford died last year, but he was part of the efforts to get Chaosium back on better a footing, and he lived to see that happen, including a seeing a new edition of RuneQuest and also Pendragon returning to Chaosium. It's the anniversary of Greg's passing tomorrow in fact.
 

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