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Sean K. Reynolds talks RPG salaries, puts his on record.

Myrdin Potter

Adventurer
What income should a rpg designer make?

As an income where your partner (wife/husband) is also working, $75K is enough in the USA in all but the most outrageously expensive places. As a single income, if that includes medical, you can sort of scrape by in a one bedroom apartment in a suburb (they run around $2K plus utilities and such) even in a pretty pricey area, but really no margin of safety.

So I would say that somewhere between $50K and $75K is an “ok” income in the USA. Especially if you can work from home.

That will not get you rich except over time via compound interest and you will have to be reasonably frugal. In smaller and less expensive places, they actually is pretty decent and you will save a lot more (rents go to $1K pretty quickly outside of expensive areas).

Ignoring that someone in the Philippines can compete with you if work from home is fine, what do people think is a decent range? (This is at or below the current Big 4 entry level in my profession, but this is a different skill set).
 

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payn

Hero
50-75K seems fine assuming you also get health insurance. Be nice to also get 401K profit sharing though im guessing you only get this at a corp and not a small business.

It would be great if everyone got a livable wage+, but many industries cant produce it. Folks have to decide if doing what they love is worth a lower wage.
 

What income should a rpg designer make?

Depends where they live. Rent is the key feature. Where I live, you can get a 3-2 apartment for $500 a month. Where my baby brother lives, its $1800+. Based on the concept that rent should equal 25% of your salary, the range is pretty wide.

However, the reality to the question will always be: what the market will bear.

At present, that number would appear to be set at 'keep your day job' levels.
 

However, the reality to the question will always be: what the market will bear.

At present, that number would appear to be set at 'keep your day job' levels.

"What the market will bear" is, ultimately, the only real answer to that question. You can spend all day debating what an rpg designer "should" make, or what is "fair," but in the end it is limited by market forces.

I don't know if many people realize that a pretty significant percentage of professional fiction writers also have regular day jobs. That includes authors who have multiple books put out by well known publishers and who are fairly well known within their genres. There was a time when a fiction author could put out one or two books a year and make a living off it without a second income, but these days you usually only see that with writers who have reached predictable bestseller status. For example, The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America consider 8 cents a word to be a "professional rate." That is 8 cents a word for the final published work, too. They don't get paid for all the research, planning, re-writing, and re-rewriting that preceded that.

The rpg industry is still very small, and is REALLY small once you get outside of the realm of official D&D stuff. Most rpg products are put out by tiny companies with only a couple of employees, or by individuals. Most of them don't make enough money from their products to keep writers on staff, or even to pay more than the bare minimum to freelancers. It isn't that they don't want to. The money just isn't there.

Depends where they live. Rent is the key feature. Where I live, you can get a 3-2 apartment for $500 a month. Where my baby brother lives, its $1800+. Based on the concept that rent should equal 25% of your salary, the range is pretty wide.

Yep, that varies a LOT from place to place. The average 2 bedroom, 1 bath apartment where I live (suburbs) is $1,000 a month, on average. Go 30 minutes south, and it is $1,500 a month, minimum. Go 30 minutes north, and it is closer to $700 a month. There are areas that are even cheaper, even within an hour of where I live.
 

"What the market will bear" is, ultimately, the only real answer to that question. You can spend all day debating what an rpg designer "should" make, or what is "fair," but in the end it is limited by market forces.

But this is just a tautology, yes? "What the market will bear" is the question, not the answer. "Why will the market bear this" and "how will the market bear that" being important corollaries.

Also, keep in mind that "the market" is not some mystical eldritch force. It's just people and money. The purpose of discussing things like inflation, real estate values, urbanization, book sales numbers, PDFs vs hard copies, etc, is to understand the market, what influences it, and how we can influence it.
 

But this is just a tautology, yes? "What the market will bear" is the question, not the answer. "Why will the market bear this" and "how will the market bear that" being important corollaries.

Also, keep in mind that "the market" is not some mystical eldritch force. It's just people and money. The purpose of discussing things like inflation, real estate values, urbanization, book sales numbers, PDFs vs hard copies, etc, is to understand the market, what influences it, and how we can influence it.

No. It is the answer.

The market is pretty simple: it serves a niche hobby. Currently, there is a glut in the creative production labor force. That means that the value of those workers' labor is depressed.

That will continue to be the case until the supply of creative workers diminishes, or the demand for material increases without a corresponding increase in the number of workers.

That's it, really. Like anything else, the value of labor is based on scarcity.
 

TheSword

Legend
Sometimes we intervene in the market though when it isn’t capable of fulfilling the needs of those that function within it. The minimum wage for instance. Power within the market is not evenly distributed.

Apparently in the TTRPG industry it’s held by the Streamers.
 

Campbell

Legend
Markets are not primordial forces. They are agreed upon sets of rules for engaging in commerce. They can and should be designed. They are also often dysfunctional. From my perspective there are serious issues with current models. We do a relatively poor job of group match making within the hobby which has all sorts of downstream effects on product markets. There are also huge visibility issues with the product markets where the vast majority of consumers have very limited visibility of most product offerings. Kickstarter, itchi.io, drivethru, and even most game stores are not visible to the vast majority of potential customers. From a match making economics perspective there are some pretty big barriers to successfully running a small business that really should not be there. I don't know how to fix the market design issues, but they can and should be addressed.
 

No. It is the answer.

The market is pretty simple: it serves a niche hobby. Currently, there is a glut in the creative production labor force. That means that the value of those workers' labor is depressed.

That will continue to be the case until the supply of creative workers diminishes, or the demand for material increases without a corresponding increase in the number of workers.

That's it, really. Like anything else, the value of labor is based on scarcity.
It is an answer. Whether it is the answer depends on the question. The question is "What income should a rpg designer make?" and there is no one answer to that question, as the term should covers a lot of ground. If one interprets should to be 'ought' (as in 'what do you personally wish this number was?'), then the answers can be all over the board.
We get it. All salaries are based on the free market system. This isn't the economics section of grade school social studies. Everyone understands these basic principles. They simply aren't always the most pertinent , useful, or sometime just discussion-worthy answer based on the question asked.
 

Markets are not primordial forces.

Actually, they are.

Unless the dynamics (volume of sales, number of workers) change drastically, the status quo will continue (ie, RPG writers will continue to be a low-paying, often unsustainable, profession).

As noted elsewhere, we see the exact same situation in many of the arts: acting, music, writing, stand-up comedy, etc.
 

Campbell

Legend
I recommend most people acquire a better understanding of types of markets and the fundamentals of market design. Most layman are pretty familiar with how commodity markets work (where one product is a substitute for another), but most of us have limited understanding of matching markets (where products are not substitutes and matching the right buyer with the right seller/product is a nontrivial problem.

This book from Nobel laureate Alvin E. Roth is a pretty good place to get started.
 

S'mon

Legend
Even if you are in the top 5% of wage earners, you see about a doubling of your income over the span. Only the very top end of wage-earners see a 10x rise over their careers.

I'm an academic on a national-set pay scale, I have gone from £24K to £57K in 20 years 2000-2020, no inflation adjustment. That seems pretty typical; people who get promoted to senior ranks will get a bit more, but mostly not a huge amount more. So x2 in 40 years adjusting for inflation sounds about right, but could be closer to x3. I hope! :D
 


If game designers aren't earning a living wage, then the proper action is for them to form a union, and to use their collective leverage to force distributors and retailers to not work with publishers that are paying a non-living wage. This would be really difficult, of course, because the industry is fairly small and scattered geographically, and so much of it is done by freelancers, and there are a lot of people doing self-publishing.

Like, if your options were "pay $90 for a Player's Handbook that you know will pay a good salary to the writers, editors, and artists so they can survive in Seattle" or "pay $30 for a self-published game with cheaper art that's only available online," would people buy the 'union-made' book? Is it a feasible effort when, like, so many people in so many industries aren't getting raises?
 

S'mon

Legend
If game designers aren't earning a living wage, then the proper action is for them to form a union, and to use their collective leverage to force distributors and retailers to not work with publishers that are paying a non-living wage. This would be really difficult, of course, because the industry is fairly small and scattered geographically, and so much of it is done by freelancers, and there are a lot of people doing self-publishing.

Like, if your options were "pay $90 for a Player's Handbook that you know will pay a good salary to the writers, editors, and artists so they can survive in Seattle" or "pay $30 for a self-published game with cheaper art that's only available online," would people buy the 'union-made' book? Is it a feasible effort when, like, so many people in so many industries aren't getting raises?
I'd rather they all moved to Austin TX, got paid enough to marry and raise kids, and gave me a $60 game.
 


Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
If a union formed, companies would likely go pure freelance and/or contractor to not have to deal with it.

Depends on the union, right? Some unions you have to deal with because they're on the climb, they're movin' up, they're gonna race, they're gonna break through the borderline ....


Lizard people. They are EVERYWHERE!
 


If game designers aren't earning a living wage, then the proper action is for them to form a union, and to use their collective leverage to force distributors and retailers to not work with publishers that are paying a non-living wage. This would be really difficult, of course, because the industry is fairly small and scattered geographically, and so much of it is done by freelancers, and there are a lot of people doing self-publishing.

Like, if your options were "pay $90 for a Player's Handbook that you know will pay a good salary to the writers, editors, and artists so they can survive in Seattle" or "pay $30 for a self-published game with cheaper art that's only available online," would people buy the 'union-made' book? Is it a feasible effort when, like, so many people in so many industries aren't getting raises?
Interesting. Hollywood writers have unionized. Of course, there's a huge amount of money to work with in that industry.

As to the second part, I remember back in the 70s when the textile unions bought TV ads with workers singing 'Look for the union label'.
The US textile industry, and the unions, are largely gone. Myself, I wouldn't pay $90 for an RPG book. Or $50. Not that I couldn't afford it, but I simply wouldn't.

You know, a positive step in this entire process would be a serious attempt to poll RPG buyers to ascertain both financial resources and ROG hobby budgets. If you had an idea of the depths of the 'cash lake', it would shed a lot of light on the viability of options.
 

S'mon

Legend
What income should a rpg designer make?

Less than me (hey, a PhD in commercial Law has to be worth something...) but more than they are actually making, at least at the big companies. WoTC and Hasbro pay their staff designers ridiculously low amounts (even when Paizo was the market leader) and the result is a lot of cruddy, mediocre product. A bit less 'pay peanuts-get monkeys' would be affordable, certainly for WoTC. WoTC should be able to compete with the smaller videogame design studios for talent, if not on salary then at least on the whole package. As it is, either you get guys who are quite talented but working for peanuts out of love for RPGs, or guys who love RPGs but aren't very talented. I remember reading (a long while back) a post from Monte Cook about his life as a WoTC employee, I don't recall the pay he mentioned but it seemed horrifyingly low for one of 3e's lead designers. That's without starting on the whole "Christmas firings" culture. :(
 

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