Hobbyist vs “Professional?”

I still can’t believe we’re doing this. It truly makes me ill. I haven’t been this traumatized by an argument since World of Warcraft players were crying “Casuals are ruining the game!”


RPG Family, are we really doing this? Seriously?

This whole discussion is why I take meds. It’s as if Imposter Syndrome weren’t bad enough. It’s royally pissing me off. Seriously, it should come with a unique Trigger Warning.

Disclaimer: Statements expressed in this article are strictly my opinion. If you disagree or have a different opinion, that’s okay. I’m not an expert on everything. I’m not always right. I’m just writing from my experience as I know it. Your mileage may vary.

*TRIGGER WARNING* 
This entire debate is stupid, unproductive, divisive and generally fails out loud. Only consume in small quantities. Has been known to cause seizures in Old Grognards. It's right up there with the old MMORPG saying of "Get better, NOOB!" Jeff is not responsible for any brain damage caused by this debate. You were warned. 

Let’s define “Hobbyist” first.

I still can’t believe we’re doing this. It truly makes me ill. I haven’t been this traumatized by an argument since World of Warcraft players were crying “Casuals are ruining the game!”

Sigh… A Hobbyist in the TableTop Role Playing Game sphere is defined as someone who creates mostly free content. It’s part of the ttrpg experience. It’s what a GM/DM/Judge does for their campaign every day, every game session. New creatures, magic items, characters, cities, maps, dungeons, adventures, and so on are all a GM’s bread-n-butter as part of the hobby/game. It’s what we do!

The same can be said for Twitch streamers, YouTubers, Actual Play podcasters before they’re monetized. Artists, too. Sometimes people sketch their character. Some GMs sketch their monsters. We all have to start somewhere.

I use Bitmoji for my website. I would never *sell* anything with my Bitmoji on it. Ethically it’s a bit sketchy to do that. Legally, it could potentially cause a lot of trouble. This is similar to the arguments revolving around AI art right now.

I would like to point out a couple of Hobbyists that created this game called Dungeons & Dragons. T$R, the original company who produced D&D, was started when Mr Gygax and Mr Arneson got together with some friends and turned their hobby game into a money-making endeavor.

People are forgetting THE WHOLE DAMN INDUSTRY STARTED OUT AS SOMEONE’S HOBBY!!!

Yes, I use Bitmoji and stock photos on this site. Probably because my own art is mediocre at best and I know it.

There’s a monomolecular wire thin line between Hobbyist and Professional. Let’s talk about Pros.

Sorry, family. We all know how I feel about perfeshunalz. Sorry, Professionals. It’s a lot of things I don’t readily identify with because I’m pretty laid back. Yay, money. Boo snobby, pretentious, gatekeeping crap.

We’ll define “Professional” as someone who makes a living in the TTRPG space. They create games. They sell games.

The title likewise applies to the myriad of artists, editors, layout experts, and others who contribute to the TTRPG industry for a paycheck. Technically, if one has sold a PDF product on DriveThruRPG or Itch.io, they should be considered an RPG industry professional.

Professional is also an attitude. After some folx start making serious money selling their TTRPG products start looking down on the rest of us. Suddenly there seems to be some kind of competitive rivalry with anyone looking to break into the industry. It’s like people are afraid new writers are going to cut in on their bread and butter.

Where I become annoyed or even enraged:

Gatekeeping in the TTRPG sphere is not a new phenomenon. I’ve been personally seeing it in the RPG industry since 1988-ish. I once made the mistake of sending a letter (via snail mail, kids) to Dragon Magazine asking how to become a “professional game designer.”

The gist of what the editor told me was “Come back when you’ve been published elsewhere in the industry, kid.”

Yeah… 16 year old me was almost discouraged for life at that stage. Luckily, I’ve had plenty of teachers, friends, and even professional game writers tell me I’ve got potential.

Back in the 1980’s and 90’s, breaking into the industry was considerably harder than it is now. Now all I have to do is publish an adventure on DriveThruRPG or similar PDF sites. I have to make sure all the legalese is included and pay the artist if I have one. It’s not terribly hard.

Back in the day it was either sweat it out to hope to maybe get published by a major company or start one’s own. I dare say old T$R was indirectly responsible for starting several game companies. Those other companies were started because other writers had a plan and a dream that almost got shut down by professional gatekeepers.

Please forgive me if I rage on social media about this.

I love creators of all sizes when it comes to TTRPGs. It’s been my hobby and joy for 40+ years. I dream of having publishing credentials in the RPG field. I’ve only been on this quest since I was a starry-eyed nerd in a small Iowa town with my gaming books and legal pads.

I recently saw someone who used to work for Wizards of the Coast and is now in a similar position for another creator talking mad crap about us “casual hobbyists.” I won’t name and shame on my blog. Needless to say, I’m pissed.

Okay, I’m not working for Matt Colville or Matt Mercer. It doesn’t mean I’m not important. It doesn’t make me less of a creator. It sure as Hell doesn’t mean professionals are any better than the rest of us.

Yes, please be proud of your own accomplishments. Yes, love yourself. I never begrudge anyone for doing well. Don’t we all want to do what we love all day? Don’t we ALL want joy in our lives?

But, don’t shit all over the “hobbyists” who buy those products y’all produce. Don’t tread on the people who got you where are are today. And stop treating anyone trying to break into the industry as competition. There’s enough room for us all.

End rant for now. I’ll say it again when it comes to gatekeeping: Just. F*ckin. DON’T!!!

Thank you for hearing me out. I appreciate you being here. Game on. More tomorrow.

Author: Jeff Craigmile

I'm a tabletop role-playing game writer and designer from Des Moines, Iowa always looking for more work. I'm the father of four boys and human to three cats.

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