I saw an article today that really made me stop and think.
I guess it’s not your grandpa’s TTRPG industry any more, but still. This article from Flagons and Dragons really is cause to pause. Here’s the article: https://medium.com/@FlagonsNDragons/is-money-destroying-ttrpg-91627fd8981e
I have several points in the article that caused me to raise an eyebrow, but I’ll just touch on a couple of points from my old guy gamer point of view. Yeah, I’m “old” officially. I turn 49 in June. Sigh. My last trip to Gen Con was almost 20 years ago. Dude… But we’re not here to discuss that.
Yes, D&D in particular has become big business since 5th Edition happened.
With Critical Role and D&D 5th Ed causing quite a stir and pushing the game into the limelight, we’re no longer just nerds rolling dice. Obviously Hasbro has money to go around from years of action figures and board games. It’s truly sad that the lawsuit baggage follows D&D around like a hungry revenant or a pack of ghouls. This has not changed since, um…. ever? Those new to the game might not be aware the #TTRPG world is littered with bitter lawsuits from way back in the day.
I don’t think it’s fair to say “money ruined the game” so much as greedy people are ruining the game. That’s been the case for a long time, as the article mentions. D&D 2nd Ed was a result of Gygax’s divorce. You can’t even hint about a lawsuit in front of certain Palladium folk. Same thing with Paizo if I’m not mistaken. The current debacle over Dragonlance is probably going to kill whatever chance we had of the 5th Ed official setting. It’s sad.
What hope is there for the future?
There are a lot of fresh faces in the #TTRPG field. Again, it’s not just all of us old farts sitting around a table laughing and rolling dice. Yes, books have gotten pretty pricey. As the article mentions, you used to be able to outfit your entire gaming library for less that $50 USD. I think my 1st Ed PHB was $15? Maybe? Now you can’t even get a pdf sourcebook for much less.
And who thought it was a good plan to charge paper prices for PDFs? Seriously, if you want to talk about greed? There you go. Bless One Bookshelf for their creations, DriveThruRPG, DMSGuild, etc… They’re great sites and they help new designers get pdfs out for (usually) reasonable prices. Which is not to say I approve of certain industry giants who dominate the market and charge the same for pdfs as they do for print.
“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” –Snake Pliskin, Escape from L.A.
So, I tracked down one of these $35,000/year jobs the article mentioned. Then, I sighed the old familiar sigh when I read the requirements:
“Previous published game design experience.” Gosh, it’s like 1985 with T$R all over again. It’s like saying, “We won’t hire you until you’ve been in the industry for a while,” but then no one will hire you to give you the experience you need to get into the industry.
Solution: Self publish a pdf or know somebody with their own company. Only back in the day, there were no pdfs. It’s still the same old, tired, song and dance. Pretty sure the people you’re looking to hire already have jobs. Just sayin.
The rest isn’t all that surprising or hard to come by even for someone fresh out of high school or more likely college. Although I would be curious to hear what “Deep hobby or professional experience” looks like sometime.
And as another side note, the preferred qualifications made me sigh the same old sigh again. A year or more self-employed or freelance game design work and “Experience as a game designer and writer without formal guidance…” Seriously? No offense intended to whomever wrote this description, but I think you’re reaching considerably. Without formal guidance? So, no editor. I mean, I get it, but if I was doing all of this as a self published writer, why on Earth would I want to drop everything and work for any other company?
We’ve had other recent events in the RPG industry that really make me scratch my head. Paizo employees just formed a union because they wanted better pay, benefits and working conditions. Jolly good for them. Interestingly enough, Pathfinder Infinite and Starfinder Infinite started at about the same time. There is no such thing as coincidence, folks.
What are the odds?
Do I personally think I have a snowball’s hope in Hell of getting hired? Not really, but what’s the best that could happen? I did apply for the one quoted above, btw. The problem is, and I suspect this for many of us, is that my actual resume and my gamer resume look nothing alike. Gaming has been my hobby for the most part and my side hack at best.
Is being a game designer/writer my dream job? Ya think?!? Of course it is! I ate, slept, ran and played RPGs for years before I “settled down.” My college degree is in Sociology/Journalism. Think about it. People + Writing/Editing = RPG Industry. There were no classes in 3D printing or Diceology back then. Heck, I’ve watched the publishing industry go from print and hand-drawn layout to completely online publications and I still have the border tape and Pica ruler to prove it.
I’ve been getting turned away by publishers since Gary Gygax ran T$R and the RPGA was still around. Gen Con was still in Lake Geneva for crying out loud. The first two RPGs I ever ran both came from T$R and came in a box with dice you had to ink yourself. I remember Star Wars RPG before it was a 30th Anniversary reprint. I used to play with one of the original play testers for that game.
Writing for RPGs has literally not changed in almost 40 years. You need a good imagination, a grasp of game mechanics, and a certain degree of map-making as well as writing skills. It hasn’t, sigh, changed on the publisher end, either. As I mentioned above, it’s pretty much easier to start your own company before you can get hired by the big guns. If you’re going to do all that, why not just stick with your own company?
I still drive by the abandoned building that used to be The Game Shop (Yes, that was literally the name.) where I bought my first books, minis, and dice. I still have the dice, too. The thing that amazed me the most about old-time game stores was the cottage industry that sprouted around the various game products. People sold minis they painted for resale. Writers sold copies of rulebooks they printed and stapled themselves. Art and jewelry used to be sold right alongside comics in many places.
Grouchy old men used to talk about 14mm scale Historical battles in front of the same counter where us nerdy kids went to buy the latest copies of Dragon and White Dwarf. Anyone could make a game with little cardboard chits and plain paper hex maps and get it published locally if they had a little startup cash.
The RPG industry has the greenest of grass roots. Only the labels and the technology have improved. There was literally a company here in Iowa that started in a little old abandoned schoolhouse. They published the most epic and phenomenal D&D 1st Ed adventure modules. Why did they break up? Beer in the vending machines. Even if that were legal, the fistfight that ensued because the employees were drunk wasn’t. Tis sad, but illustrates a point. Indie RPG publishers can turn a few dollars even off of licensed properties. Just maybe no beer in your office vending machine?
What’s the takeaway?
The original article is basically correct. The RPG industry is a cottage industry first and foremost. Big corporate mentality might work for games such as Magic: the Gathering and Warhammer 40,000, but the RPG industry has always been and industry by fans, for fans, and primarily made up of fans.
I hate to say it, but D&D may be the top dog forever, but the massive wave of popularity the game is riding currently will eventually die down. WotC is already gearing up for a new edition as early as 2024 in anticipation of this happening. If you look on Kickstarter today, the number of 5E products from indie publishers is phenomenal. (Hey, I’ve backed some. I get it.) Looking at DMSGuild.com, the number of published alternate rules, adventures, and supplements puts good ole 3rd Ed to shame. That’s quite a feat if you think about it. (Yes, I went there.)
I’m not even anticipating people getting burned out on the hobby. The fire has been lit. RPGs aren’t going to up and vanish overnight. The hobby will still be going years, if not decades from now. Board games have been around for, um… ever? RPGs can probably expect good longevity. I think the large corporate mega-giant RPG companies may never become a thing, however. The industry will probably keep going, just more spread out and diverse.
Also, if by some fluke a game company exec reads this:
Stay safe. Game on!