James Raggi of Lamentations of the Flame Princess published an EXTREMELY long blog post over the weekend. No one will read it in its entirety. I know I didn’t. It is 3,000+ words of a rambling screed. Entertaining and informative in the way only James Edward Raggi IV can be, it’s much longer than anyone has time, attention or endurance to read.
The TL:DR version; LotFP some new books going to print and the company is in trouble. From what I gathered, LotFP is teetering on the edge of failure and a lot of it has to do with a drop in revenue. His licenses to the major evergreen books on the back list are going away and none of the other titles in his catalogue are likely to make up the shortfall.
Jim faces many problems. Most of them of his own making, which he admits in his post. I do believe he has identified many of his problems. Will he be able to implement solutions that will fix those problems? This remains to be seen.
I expected LotFP to go tits up last year. I thought summer of 2020 was going to be the end. I was completely wrong. Somehow, Jim has managed to keep the thing running with heart and determination. Good for him. I hope he makes it through his current troubles. I’m a LotFP fan and have been since the beginning.
I have no idea if I’ll buy any of the new releases. I’m a fan of some of the designers for this round of releases so I am likely to open my wallet. I certainly won’t be buying all ten at once.
I have a lot to say about one section in the post. Lately, I’ve been thinking very hard about an issue he brings up as “a bit of a tangent.” I’ve wanted to write about it for a while. I had been puzzled over the angle to take with the topic and Jim’s post gives me motivation to dive in.
The sentence below is a fact. You won’t see many admit it publicly. I’ll put it in big bold letters so you can’t miss it.
Lamentations of the Flame Princess has been a catalyst for many positive developments in the tabletop role-playing game business.
One of those developments is that many role-playing game designers are getting paid more because of Jim.
Here is a quote from the linked post:
A bit of a tangent: A kind whistleblower told me at the beginning of the year they’d gotten into some privy areas where RPG industry people gather. (Spaces that not only have I of course never been invited into, but that I didn’t even know existed.) Where there was chatter about LotFP, this person said their problem with me wasn’t the Zak situation, wasn’t politics of any usual sort… but because I’d fucked the payment structure of RPGs with many LotFP titles remaining creator-owned (notice how many titles say “issued under license”) and paying in profit-share percentages rather than flat fees to creators. And some other smaller publishers have followed suit. This hasn’t affected the top-label RPG companies I don’t think, but has caused a real stink at the levels under that. And most everyone is at the levels under that. (funny that the person crowing the loudest about LotFP pay arrangements for years and years ago was also a widely unpopular person in many corners of the industry…)10 New Releases Have Gone to Press. But First, The State of the LotFP Union
I don’t know if this is true but it rings true.
For those who don’t know, most tabletop RPG companies use what is called a work for hire contract for their freelance writers and artists. Work for hire is a common contract across a lot of creative industries. In short, it means the creator is assigning their copyright to the publisher in exchange for a one time fee. This happens in film, comics, and TV. If a publisher or studio owns an IP and wants to make something new for it, then they need some creative people to write new work. It is silly to think the original IP holder is going to let the writer own the copyright to their work. It’s not practical. Jon Favreau doesn’t own The Mandalorian. He does get paid big money for it.
In the role-playing game industry, work for hire, is probably 99% of what the long established publishers offer freelancers. This makes sense. They are the established copyright holder of an IP and if they want to release more work for that IP, they need designers to write it. They can’t give up that copyright so they need freelancers willing to accept work for hire.
RPG freelancers are like plumbers. They install the toilet but they don’t get to crap in it.
In my opinion, work for hire is ethical and reasonable if you pay top rates and/or give a royalty on sales.
If I am doing work that I will only get paid for one time and you as the publisher might make a profit on for the next 40 years, I want to get paid. Think about all the PDF titles on DnD Classics. Do any of the employees from TSR make a dime when I buy a PDF of an adventure published in 1984? Nope. TSR paid them a salary and that is all the money they will ever get from it.
Most RPG publishers don’t have creative staff on salary anymore. They pay a per word rate to freelancers. Word on the street is that rates for RPG freelancers are absurdly low. I happen to think per word rates in RPG’s are garbage for both the writer and the publisher but that’s a different post for a different day.
Publishers have a difficult situation. RPGs are a niche market with low margin. To make a living as a publisher in this space is challenging. The graveyard of dead RPG publishers is massive. The publishers have many incentives to pay writers shit money.
The main incentive is that the number of RPG enthusiasts who want to see their name on the title page of a supplement for their favorite game is legion. Many will work for low rates, or “exposure”, or as part of a contest , because they don’t need the money. Having their name on the book is more important to them. Publishers don’t need to pay a high rate if there are dozens of competent writers willing to work for $0.05 a word. If they can recycle part of the work or chop it into a couple different books, all the better. Once the work is turned in, the publisher owns it and can do with it what they want.
LotFP, fucked all that up. Jim licensed most of the adventures he commissioned from designers. He doesn’t own them. When the adventure goes out of print or the writer decides not to renew the license, the designer gets the rights to their work back. They can have it put into a new edition and sell it themselves or sell it to a different publisher. Not only that, Jim paid designers a generous share of the profit while it was in print. This was unprecedented in the RPG business. No one else did this before LotFP and almost no one else does this now!
Say what you want about Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Jim pays the people who create for him what they deserve and when they want their work back, they get it.
This has pushed a fair number of freelancers to reconsider their situation. I know that it changed my mind about submitting work to any publisher who has work for hire contracts.
Jim’s profit sharing model or something like it was going to happen sooner or later. The internet, POD, and direct to consumer were going to force the situation. The fact that game publishers are still in denial about this amazes me.
Here are reviews on a couple of LotFP adventures I ran over the summer if you are interested.