"Tabletop RPG Workers Say Their Jobs Are No Fantasy" (article from WIRED)

Mongoose_Matt

Adventurer
Publisher
And speaking of freelancers and the union, one of the reasons Paizo were so fast in recognizing the union was that they were told by many freelancers that they were withholding labor until the union was recognized. In other words, while Paizo employees didn't go on strike, freelancers did (or as close as you can get as a freelancer). So if Paizo wanted to replace truculent employees, these are the people they'd go to for replacements, and they don't seem particularly inclined to be scabs.
That is interesting, I had not heard that. Is there a source?
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Then "abysmal rates" suggests there's something wrong. But when you have an almost endless queue of fans willing to write for basically nothing, yet reach comparable quality levels, why expect higher rates?

(Emphasis mine).

I have half a dozen friends who think they are great novelists. They contend that the only reason they are not New York Times Bestselling authors is that the industry is against them in one way or another. My wife and I have, on occasion, been asked to proofread their works.

They are... not good.

Everyone thinks they are a Great Author. Most aren't.


There just is no money in this "industry".

Um... you may not have meant literally nothing, but the actuality is more like tens of millions of dollars.

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Source: Million Dollar TTRPG Kickstarter Club
 

estar

Adventurer
This is certainly a big difference - being in the position to do this full-time, each and every day, tends to get better and more consistent results.

In a free capitalist marketplace, both approaches are equally valid. (It probably wouldn't fly in a "communist paradise" like the Nördic countries, but I digress :)). The reason we're having this discussion, I would say, is that many people thought Paizo was in the former category when it may be that they're in the latter. (Hopefully I have added enough conditionals to not make definite claims about businesses I know nothing about!)

As one of the smaller independent, Bat in the Attic Games, I think the focus on what companies is only partially relevant. Barriers for an independent to do their own thing have dropped so low that everybody is on a even playing field. There are exceptions in areas that involve physical parts (packaging, pieces, posters, etc) that remain a bigger hurdle but by and large it is a level playing field.

The basic problem is making people aware of this especially for those newer in the hobby. We are so used to the idea of employment and having a job that if you didn't know any better that seems to be route to go. The alternate path is to work at something else and use your hobby time to grow your own effort. With the prevalence of open content (D20 SRD, 5e SRD, Cepheus, OSR, Legends, etc.) writing your own system doesn't have to be the first thing either. Folks can focus on writing adventures if that their thing.

However it still work, a lot of work. And it require to one to assume more responsibility especially in the area of promotion. But if a person is concerned with fair wages and creative freedom well that is the path to take.

Also the independent path can be tailored to one's interest and circumstances. I personally don't write fast. That would be a problem if I had a job because a company has overhead including salaries. So it need regular revenue and can't wait for me to finish something once a year. Likewise if a person is a real go-getter and is that rare individual who can crank out quality material, which has it own issue for a company with multiple projects and product lines.

Also another consequence of being an independent is that the market will judge what fair for you. You may do a couple of kickstarters and find that it hard to budge beyond a certain number of folks. Or that what you write isn't as good as you thought it would be. I have folks who like my material, but I am not under any illusion that it is the hottest thing out there. I have a particular taste and style that works for some and doesn't work for many others. In the 10+ years I been doing this, I met people who were bitter about their work not selling as well as they think it should.

I didn't know what was going to happen when I started writing in the 2000s. Over time I found that I prized my creative freedom. While I was willing to help other with their own project either by contributing something to being paid to do something. I wasn't interested in taking on the responsibility of making another person's creative vision happen. Matt's job at Mongoose isn't my cup of tea so to speak. But it great that he and his team is making a go at it and having success.

Next one doesn't have to go at it alone. You could be part of a co-op of individual working together to realize the group's creative vision. The difference from a traditional company is that you go into this with the idea that it is a team. Sometimes equal, but often with people having different shares agreed to beforehand. Some things are the same as with a employee-employer relationship but fundamentally it is a democracy rather than the enlightened feudalism the best companies represent.

Personally I been part of several ad-hoc teams usually doing some of the mapping and got a cut of what the project took in.

Wrapping it up
People in the industry need to be aware that thanks to technology, and open content, they have power to change their circumstances if where they work is not ideal. That it is still work it is doable and many have been successful at it. It like sticking to a RPG system one has grew to dislike or no longer finds enjoyable. Stop playing the game and play something else. Especially when it already exists.


Me too, as it happens - not claiming I have all of this figured out (yet)!
Being a Traveller fan since 1980, I think you done a pretty darn good job. Especially taking on projects that extend Traveller like the Great Rift. I won't kid, I think it still a bit pricey ($5 or $10 more than I am comfortable with) but I been buying a lot more recently from Mongoose because of the recent improvements in the past few years.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Everyone thinks they are a Great Author. Most aren't.
Absolutely true. We aren't discussing writers of literature here though.
Um... you may not have meant literally nothing, but the actuality is more like tens of millions of dollars.
I am well aware of the Kickstarter effect.

Not sure you want to add an argument that depends on Kickstarter though.

(Kickstarter is great. Still doesn't mean you have any particular reason to pay great wages though)
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Absolutely true. We aren't discussing writers of literature here though.

In terms of overestimating how many can do it with professional quality, there's no significant difference. We all think we are great novelsts and game designers. We aren't.

I am well aware of the Kickstarter effect.

Not sure you want to add an argument that depends on Kickstarter though.

The argument doesn't depend on kickstarter, that merely provides the evidence. Your contention is that there is little money to be had. Those kickstarters reveal that there's tens of millions of dollars to be had.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
In terms of overestimating how many can do it with professional quality, there's no significant difference. We all think we are great novelsts and game designers. We aren't.
You keep making claims that differ from the claim I made.

Not that I wish to argue with you.
 

estar

Adventurer
Absolutely true. We aren't discussing writers of literature here though.

In terms of overestimating how many can do it with professional quality, there's no significant difference. We all think we are great novelsts and game designers. We aren't.
Yes overestimation is a thing, but also those who done very well, and those who done somewhat well. Another thing not considered in this exchange that with the present state of the market and technology small niches can be efficiently served at a profit by folks. What considered bad for general appeal can be quite good for that niche.

In the past, my experience with these type of discussions usually that they are really about the question of whether one can make a living at writing or making RPGs. The answer is yes, but it difficult. What are we are grappling with today is the fact that middle tier of the industry has radically changed requiring a different set of skills and organization to make a living compared to the 1980s or 1990s. That the bottom tier of small products runs and zines has expanded by several orders of magnitude. That virtual shelf space is infinite while physical shelf space is finite and subject to changing tastes.
 

gamerprinter

Mapper/Publisher
I'm like most small TTRPG publishers, I'm a one-person company, so none of these employee/employer issues have anything to with me. I have a good work environment. I work with some freelancers, and do 50:50 product splits with some authors - so I'm more fair than others, but I see working with other authors more of a collaborative situation, and not employer/employee one. I have done freelance work for Paizo, and while the pay wasn't great to start, as soon as they saw what I could do, they upped my pay substantially - so the one time I did freelance work for Paizo, I was well paid. But I am content at remaining a one-person company, and under no circumstances would I work for any publisher as an employee, so I won't have to endure any of these big publishers employee issues - it will never have anything to do with me.
 

I dunno, just look at what's going on with Blizzard-Activision. Shares are down, what, almost 30% this year as a result of the ongoing mess? While they made some limited inclusion efforts, certainly WoW was still burdened by years of problematic tropes and elements.

With Paizo, the backlash is against the company, not their inclusion efforts. I don't think many people that value inclusion are saying "oh, they shouldn't have had an inclusive game if they weren't an inclusive company" - it's "they should have had an inclusive game and an inclusive company." Sure, it makes them look worse, but the behind-the-scenes garbage was always going to be a bad look for them.

Not sure.

Could also result in a bigger backlash. If Paizo were your garden-variety reactionary stuck-in-the-sixties company, nobody would bat an eye on reports they, say, mistreated women, or people of color. More importantly, that company would not risk losing any customers, because any modern-thinking human would already be not purchasing their stuff.

Paizo, on the other hand, likely has a significant amount of customers attracted to their forward-thinking signaling. Realizing that was merely marketing might make them reconsider their product loyalty.
 

MGibster

Legend
I have half a dozen friends who think they are great novelists. They contend that the only reason they are not New York Times Bestselling authors is that the industry is against them in one way or another. My wife and I have, on occasion, been asked to proofread their works.
I am more than happy to admit that I cannot write a game as well as people like John Wick, Jonathan Tweet, or Kevin Siembieda. I've come up with some humdinger campaign/adventure ideas, but even then I cannot execute those ideas as well as most game designers. I don't think you could just drag your average gamer off the street and get something as good as a Wick produced game. But I do think the market does keep wages down, in part, because there are so many people who would be willing to work on RPGs. Maybe they're not as good as John Wick or Erik Wujcik, but still drives wages down. I think it's a similar problem a lot of artists have.

:-( And I'm reminded that Erik Wujcik passed way more than 10 years ago.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
I am more than happy to admit that I cannot write a game as well as people like John Wick, Jonathan Tweet, or Kevin Siembieda.
On the flip side, you don't have to! :)

Assuming (for the sake of argument only, of course) you are willing to work for the satisfaction to see your particular Elf in print (i.e. for free), you don't need to surpass the people you consider the best in the field. You only need to meet, or even be slightly subpar to, the (paid) employees that do a below-average job.

I don't know anything about you, yet I seriously doubt I would be able to tell the difference if you somehow got Random Dev X's job, where X maybe isn't the trio you like, but a random staffer below them.

In the field of writing ttrpg supplements, the difference between "fan" and "athlete" is not nearly as large as some people try to make it.

Cheers

PS. Paizo held a competition called All-Stars or something a few years back, and I think we agree the best entries were easily marketable as if they were paid.
 
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CapnZapp

Legend
At this point I think I need to clarify:

Am I saying rpg developers aren't deserving fair pay? No.

I am merely trying to discuss the fact they aren't. There are actual reasons for that, other than "evil overlords preferring slave labor". I am not saying I like it, just that it is.

Do I excuse Paizo's behavior? No.

Just that I don't feel it is meaningful to look at this from a traditional labor market angle and get upset about bad working conditions*, as if this was just another "industry" just like any other.

Regards,
Zapp

*) pay, remember, not harassment
 
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