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
No, health care in Australia isn't a "business expense" - it is funded through our taxation system. There is a levy of 2%, part of income taxes.



Hey, good idea! In Australia everyone, the entire population that is, banded together to set up our universal health care system about 50 years ago. Such "banding together" brings the costs of health care down dramatically, for everyone.
Just a couple of comments from a fellow Australian (who still works in higher education):

* The funds raised via the Medicare levy don't come anywhere close to covering the full cost of public health provision in Australia;​

* The modern system of Medicare was introduced by Hawke's government following the 1983 election, although was broadly inspired at least (I'm less sure about technical details) by the Whitlam government's Medibank, which Fraser's government repealed;​

* The public health system rests on a combination of (i) government-provided insurance for doctor's visits, pathology services, pharmaceuticals etc (Medicare + the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme) and (ii) government-provided hospitals, in which rationing is achieved via urgency-determined waiting lists rather than ability to pay.​

Speaking for my own family, which does not have private health insurance, we have had two children born, had me hospitalised and receiving emergency treatment for over a week when I had encaphilitis, my partner being hospitalised and undergoing surgery three times for various conditions, and one of my children being hospitalised and undergoing surgery to treat a minor infection, without ever paying a cent. When we visit a GP we make a copayment that is pretty modest relative to our incomes - these probably amount to two or three hundred dollars a year at most.

The striking contrast for us is dental care, which - for reasons dating back to the dentists' union falling out with the Hawke government when Medicare was introduced - mostly sits outside the scheme. That is much closer to a US-style system. Hence the level of oral health in Australia is, I believe, noticeably below that of the general health of the population, particularly in lower-income sectors.
 
All of this skips the point. This should not be a discussion of politics and national healthcare. It should be about whether it is anyone's fault except the game creator who chooses a career path that cannot financially support him.

Starving artists have existed since the time of the Renaissance it is no one's problem but their own and no one is obligated to support them so they can continue their starving artist life comfortably.
 

eyeheartawk

Explorer
All of this skips the point. This should not be a discussion of politics and national healthcare. It should be about whether it is anyone's fault except the game creator who chooses a career path that cannot financially support him.

Starving artists have existed since the time of the Renaissance it is no one's problem but their own and no one is obligated to support them so they can continue their starving artist life comfortably.
Yeah, I don't want to live in a world where we gate services literally required to continue living based on their chosen profession.

But, you know, you do you.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Starving artists have existed since the time of the Renaissance it is no one's problem but their own and no one is obligated to support them so they can continue their starving artist life comfortably.
"That is the way it has always been, so we should not change it!" From a person typing on a computer the likes of which didn't exist 50 years ago.

That people in the past suffered is not a justification for people doing so in the present or future.

Progress. Improvement of the human condition. It's a thing. Embrace it.
 
Yeah, I don't want to live in a world where we gate services literally required to continue living based on their chosen profession.

But, you know, you do you.
Okay, I would like to quit my current job and start a new career where I dont play video games, I dont rate video games, I watch other people play video games and the rate the games and the players.

Please make sure that I am financially secure with full access to everything to make my life fulfilling while I live out my dream in the worlds most absurd nitch profession.

If YOU want to chose a profession that most find little worth in then it does not become MY problem that you have financial difficulties.
 
"That is the way it has always been, so we should not change it!" From a person typing on a computer the likes of which didn't exist 50 years ago.

That people in the past suffered is not a justification for people doing so in the present or future.

Progress. Improvement of the human condition. It's a thing. Embrace it.
Yep because comparing computers and nitch hobby activities are the same thing. Try a comparison that actually makes sense.
 

eyeheartawk

Explorer
Okay, I would like to quit my current job and start a new career where I dont play video games, I dont rate video games, I watch other people play video games and the rate the games and the players.

Please make sure that I am financially secure with full access to everything to make my life fulfilling while I live out my dream in the worlds most absurd nitch profession.

If YOU want to chose a profession that most find little worth in then it does not become MY problem that you have financial difficulties.
Who's arguing for that exactly?

Perhaps some strawman of your own creation, because I certainly haven't.

Nobody is saying that we should guarantee a wage or a standard of living in this thread. It's simply about having access to healthcare. Which should not be dependent on how much money you make. In the same way that everybody has access to the public roads regardless of income everybody should have access to healthcare. That's it.
 
Maybe one day we can all live in a world like the Expanse where everyone who does not want to work or does not want to work on things society values can live on Basic with a guarantee of a certain level of living and free universal healthcare good enough that someone dying in their 80s is unusual enough to notice.

We do not have that right now. This means people need to chose professions that allow them to financially care for themselves and leave low paying hobby activities as hobby activities.
 

lordabdul

Villager
The striking contrast for us is dental care, which - for reasons dating back to the dentists' union falling out with the Hawke government when Medicare was introduced - mostly sits outside the scheme.
I think this is very common throughout the world. My 2 home countries, Canada and France, also have dental care and eye care depending vastly on private/employer-provided insurance coverage (to varying degrees between the 2 countries but still quite different from other types of health insurance).

I don't want to speak too much for him but another example similar to @Michael O'Brien is Dennis Detwiller, the co-author of Delta Green. He's very vocal on Twitter about politics in general of course but, particularly, about the stark differences between Canadian and US healthcare -- he indeed specifically moved to Canada (and to a relatively low-cost-of-living part of BC as opposed to Vancouver) in order to work on RPGs full time.
 

pemerton

Legend
Starving artists have existed since the time of the Renaissance it is no one's problem but their own and no one is obligated to support them so they can continue their starving artist life comfortably.
However, it does seem perhaps a little exploitative to benefit from the work of starving artists while sitting back and doing nothing as they starve.
 

pemerton

Legend
I think this is very common throughout the world. My 2 home countries, Canada and France, also have dental care and eye care depending vastly on private/employer-provided insurance coverage (to varying degrees between the 2 countries but still quite different from other types of health insurance).
In Australia optometry is within the national health insurance scheme - so for us it's only dental. In fact, it's very common here for optometrists not to charge a copayment, so eye checks are free at the point of service provision (ie the optometrist only gets the amount they are entitled to from the national insurer). I don't know why it is that it is more common for optometrists than GPs not to charge a copayment. I also don't know what exactly happened in the early 1980s, in the negotiations that accompanied the introduction of Medicare, that led to optometry coming in while dentistry stayed out.

We have had some gradual extensions of Medicare to cover dentristy over the past 10 or so years, but targetted only at particular (eg low income) sectors of the population. The Opposition had a plan to expand this at the last national election (earlier this year) but the Government was returned and so I don't think it will happen.
 

3catcircus

Explorer
In Australia optometry is within the national health insurance scheme - so for us it's only dental. In fact, it's very common here for optometrists not to charge a copayment, so eye checks are free at the point of service provision (ie the optometrist only gets the amount they are entitled to from the national insurer). I don't know why it is that it is more common for optometrists than GPs not to charge a copayment. I also don't know what exactly happened in the early 1980s, in the negotiations that accompanied the introduction of Medicare, that led to optometry coming in while dentistry stayed out.

We have had some gradual extensions of Medicare to cover dentristy over the past 10 or so years, but targetted only at particular (eg low income) sectors of the population. The Opposition had a plan to expand this at the last national election (earlier this year) but the Government was returned and so I don't think it will happen.
Again - 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.

In the US the indigent, in fact, do have health insurance via Medicaid (whether or not it sucks is a different conversation). Likewise retired people can apply for Medicare.

The real problems with healthcare access in the US are that large corporations can self-insure their employees through various insurance companies. The insurance companies negotiate costs with hospital networks, state/fed govt, and pharmaceutical companies. It's essentially one big racket that is also negatively impacted by doctors and patients engaged in insurance fraud.

Those who lose are people working for smaller companies or the self-employed who aren't part of the network of collusion.

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.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
Again - 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.

<snip>

Those who lose are people working for smaller companies or the self-employed who aren't part of the network of collusion.

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.
The healthcare is free - at the point of distribution (or for a relatively small copay). That makes it extremely convenient and removes barriers to people seeking the care they need in a timely and effective fashion. Nobody's actually ignorant about it coming from their taxes.

And you're right that it isn't healthcare that's the problem (barring issues for women and minorities for whom care is regularly substandard). It's distribution - and it's more than just big pharma and health insurance at fault. Not all health care providers are non-profit either. Others are limited by self-imposed "moral" stands like expanding Catholic health care organizations. And still more are struggling to provide good geographic coverage so that services are well distributed as population distribution changes.
 

GreyLord

Adventurer
All of this skips the point. This should not be a discussion of politics and national healthcare. It should be about whether it is anyone's fault except the game creator who chooses a career path that cannot financially support him.

Starving artists have existed since the time of the Renaissance it is no one's problem but their own and no one is obligated to support them so they can continue their starving artist life comfortably.
Possibly...

But the world would be a FAR lesser place without art and artists.

Many of the writers and artists that have impacted us, history, and how we think about things were those same starving artists. The impact they have had on the world was not commensurate with the amount of money they made or living in style, rather many struggled with poverty and died relatively young.

While they died young but their impact was large, many wealthy individuals who made a LOT of money are mainly remembered for the tyrannical nature of how they made that wealth and the bad effects they had on the world (and even more today with the concern of climate change upon us).

So...yes...starving artists have existed since BEFORE the Renaissance and no one is really obligated to support them...

Yet, ironically, those same starving artists probably have had a more positive impact on the world in the long run than the powerful and wealthy who have started wars and other such things in the pursuit of wealth and power.

In our modern age the dream has to overcome these violent and terrible tendencies to become more of a higher individual in a better society, but yes...nature still exists and survival of the meanest and toughest still is something many hold too as being their path of choice. Nature still exists...and some still feel what nature is and how it does things is the best way to proceed.

I don't necessarily think that may be the BEST course of action at all times, as one could also see nature as something we have struggled to exceed and conquer, putting down the natural emotional state of man in pursuit of something higher and more evolved.
 

GreyLord

Adventurer
I try to make my way as one of those starving artists these days, though my output is not as great as many others. I have been lucky in that I currently (that's currently, we'll see what happens in the future with the stock market and other things that currently allow me to stay afloat financially) am retired and have medical coverage from that (as well as a pretty steady income currently).

It would be very tough in today's working environment in many ways to have writing as my only means of income. That applies to most locations, not just the US. IT is obviously hard in regards to medical costs in the US, but there are many other hidden costs as well, even with medical coverage that can make it hard also.

In other nations many times you get medical leave, but as a freelancer there is no such thing. If you are not working or producing something, you may have medical coverage, but you still aren't bringing in money on which to live off of.

I think it is good to have medical available to all so that none have to suffer and that helps alleviate a LOT of the costs of a medical emergency or situation, but sometimes in severe emergencies, it still isn't enough for the low paid writer or artists. For those who are not with a big company or on a pension, if you aren't working, you have other difficulties associated with not being able to work during that time period or having lesser ability to create and produce the art, writing, or other material that you freelance.
 
We do not have that right now. This means people need to chose professions that allow them to financially care for themselves and leave low paying hobby activities as hobby activities.
Gating creative professions behind affluent birth circumstances means that you necessarily restrict creative voices to those affluent people. In America that's primarily white people. Doing so doesn't just homogenize creative expression, it turns it stagnant. You know how everyone complains all movies look the same and are just reboots of remakes? it's because it is all the same people making movies now that were making them 40 years ago (or worse, their kids making them now).

In context of this discussion, what something like a national health care system does is lower the bar for that "profession that lets [people] financially care for themselves" you mentioned. Healthcare costs, especially in an emergency or unexpected illness, are a massive source of debt and financial ruin. If you have a terrible idea -- say, reviewing video game reviewers -- such a system won't make you suddenly successful. But it will give you a better opportunity to try a thing and see if it successful.

Above and beyond that, such a system all makes it easier for folks to try their hands in other sorts of business, creative or otherwise. People NEED health insurance and many people feel trapped by their professions or even just bad employers. But then, I guess, some people like the idea of keeping a collar on the workforce, especially the lower income tier of it.
 

Advertisement

Latest threads

Advertisement

Top