The following is a rant. I use salty language. I disparage some people who get paid to make RPGs and their employers.
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I differentiate between doing a job and doing work, in the professional sense. You can do work, you might be doing it at your job or you might do it outside of the time you spend at your job.
A job means you are an employee. You are doing something and someone pays you for doing it. You probably don’t get to decide what you do, how you are going to do it or when it has to be done. Someone else gets to tell you that because they take on the risk of you not doing the work properly.
Work is what you do. If you are lucky enough, you get to do work that you like and find meaningful. Many of us, judging by the polls and studies, don’t like the work we do at our jobs. We often like other forms of work but not that one.
Sometimes we will take a job that pays less or comes with other downsides in order to do interesting work…like say… designing tabletop RPGs.
Anyone who has a serious obsession with a hobby, fantasizes about making their hobby a career. Truly enjoying your work every day is appealing. And yet, the reality of the job is often a massive disappointment.
In my late 20’s, I took a substantial pay cut to work in a startup brewery. I’ve never been so happy to spend my day in a rubber apron. After less than a year at that job, I was laid off. Four years later, the brewery failed.
The pay cut crushed my finances. I learned the hard way that doing work you love is not always the best financial choice. Sometimes you have to step away. It is hard but if you don’t want to be broke, that’s what you do.
Unfortunately, there are people in the tabletop role-playing business that don’t like their jobs but enjoy the work.
Being an employee in the RPG business can suck.
Years ago, I talked to some industry veterans and read some interviews about the tabletop industry. I learned there are no designers getting rich. Very few people make a living as full time RPG freelancers. Most freelancers have a full time job doing something else and write RPGs on the side. The pay rates and expectations in the RPG business are terrible. They want 5000 -10,000 words a week at $ .05- $.10 and you don’t get any rights to the work after you turn it in. You can get better money writing clickbait ad copy for generic Viagra distributors on Fiverr.
I decided that if I was going to work in RPG’s it would be self-published or something like the deal that Lamentations of the Flame Princess makes with their writers.
There are reasons why an individual would accept a job that pays less money than a Walmart greeter. The joy of doing work you find exhilarating and exciting is not to be discounted. Some things you can’t put a dollar sign on.
I have had good paying jobs that I loathed going to every day. It is miserable. The golden handcuffs are real. You might hate your job but be wary about leaving if you have taken on some debt for a nice car or a home in a good zipcode.
If you don’t have a lot of lifestyle overhead, you might stick with a high satisfaction, low pay job for years. Job satisfaction matters a great deal. Eventually, the low pay is going to be something most people will want to address. One assumes that as they get experience, improve their skills and develop new skills, that there is a commensurate raise in pay. That doesn’t seem to be the case in RPGland.
The bad thing I’m seeing from Paizo and WotC people is that they aren’t happy about the pay and they aren’t happy about the job. They like the work but the job… Not so much.
I am confident that the Paizo staff have many legitimate grievances.
It is clear to me that Paizo’s leadership sucks and needs to take a hard look at how they pay, how they treat their employees and freelancers. They need to have honest, open conversations about the challenges they are facing and collaborate with their people on solutions. Will they do that? I have no idea. I don’t know anyone involved.
Simultaneously, I can hold in my head the possibility that some of the gaming professionals in the WIRED article are assholes.
Maybe, they are a little bit complicit in their own situation.
I have a job in a warehouse. This is not complicated work. I select an order. I check the product to make sure it is correct and load the goods into a box. I put packing paper in and seal the box with tape. I make a shipping label. I put the box on the pallet. I select another order and start again. Over and over for 8 to 10 hours. Sometimes I work on Saturday, but not often. My base rate at 40 hours a week pays better than Paizos salaries and I have great benies.
With pay and the dollar value of benefits included, I earn more than $50K. Most full time RPG freelancers make less and have no benefits.
I don’t like warehouse work. It’s boring as hell. This particular job is OK. It is one of the easiest jobs I’ve ever done. I earn my pay but it is easier than working on the kill floor in a slaughterhouse. Yes, I have done that. Yes, it sucks.
If the warehouse job was awful…
If they didn’t pay me a rate that I could live on…
If they didn’t keep the space clean and safe…
If they treated me like an object to be paraded for the “optics” of it…
I WOULD FUCKING QUIT.
I have quit some jobs over the years. Jobs that I needed. Jobs I used to feed my family. I’ve never been in a position that I could afford to quit at my leisure. When the job was bad and I thought I could do better; I quit. It sucked but I was better off in every case.
If working for Paizo is so shitty…Why stay?
Most of these folks have college degrees. They could be making double or more in another industry with their experience and university credentials. There are all kinds of jobs for inbound marketing content writers, copy writers, and designers of all types that pay a lot more. A half assed search on Linkin and Indeed pulls up thousands of opportunities for people with writing skills. If you want to stay freelance, there are people who make six figure incomes as freelance copywriters and content marketing writers. You don’t even need to meet or even speak with your client if you use one of those freelancer websites.
If you MUST work in RPG’s because you are a crazy person like me…
The internet has made it possible for all of us to make and sell our own products and services. We have a potential market of billions. You can make do with a 1,000. With DriveThru RPG, Shopify, Stripe, PayPal, Patreon, Kickstarter and the US Postal service, you can work for yourself. You are already getting shit pay. You might as well keep your IP.
If Jim Raggi can make enough money to live in one of the most expensive cities in Europe whilst selling game books entitled Fish Fuckers (and who can forget the classic Fuck for Satan?) you should be able to make rent with your third party thing for the world’s most popular roleplaying game. By all accounts, he pays better than Paizo. Maybe you should pitch him something.
The internet has changed everything in every entertainment business. Paizo and WotC are facing a real dilemma. This is an existential dilemma that every creative industry faces. Music, film, books, games.. Creators can sell direct to customers and distributors. They don’t need studios, publishers, or even agents or management anymore. The creators can say, “Fuck you. I am going to collaborate with other creators, make something better than you are selling and cut you (Paizo, WotC) out of the transaction.”
Many of the best designers in RPG’s have done just that.
Which leaves behind only the people who lack the skill and heart to do good work; like the next person I’m going to talk about.
The following quote comes from a certified asshole.
“They want experience and a proven track record,” one worker says about the companies. This worker adds that, even at some of the most inclusive and forward-thinking publishers in the industry, “almost all those who make hiring decisions that impact the makeup of industry professionals don’t want to risk their own capital to diversify their organizations.”Tabletop RPG Workers Say Their Jobs Are No Fantasy
Have you read a posting for any job, ever? Pick one at random, in any field, even at entry level.
EVERY industry wants proven people. Nobody cares about your potential. They want to know what you’ve done. At the very least, they want you to have some education credential and an internship to prove you can get out of bed and show up in the morning.
“Most people can only get experience and exposure if they’re privileged, because they can afford to write for free, spend hours self-publishing their own work, or so on.”
This is some weak sauce bullshit. Experience and exposure requires EFFORT and personal sacrifice. There are bunches of designers who got their start while working full time jobs, taking care of their families, working on their material during lunch breaks and bath time for their kids. It’s not like this is something unique to RPG industry. RPGs are easier to break into than any other entertainment business.
Anyone who has tried to work in film knows that the baseline is spending your own time, your own money and massive effort to make it happen for yourself. You can’t get even a minute of a casting directors time if you haven’t done that much on your own. Years of work and 99.9% never make it. Each year, there are hundreds of graduates from film school who never make a film as a professional. Maybe thousands.
Spend a weekend in Nashville. Every waiter, short order cook and Uber driver is a singer/songwriter trying to get discovered. Do you think the ones who make it whine about all the privilege? They take voice lessons, write song lyrics on a napkin during their break, pay for headshots with tips, sent out demos they recorded on their phone and just plain work.
That’s not privilege, that’s dedication and commitment. That’s love for the craft.
The RPG business is easy when compared to every other form of entertainment business.
You spend a year or two submitting material; when you get a shot; make the best of it and you will probably get more work. Editors are in constant need of reliable writers who can deliver on time and on spec. If you can get your assignment in on deadline, you will get more work. The churn in RPG writers is continuous.
Most RPG designers quickly learn they can write SEO blog posts for a drop shipper’s ecommerce site at a higher rate. Most of the best leave the business. They work in video games, write novels or get a job in an different industry.
The reality is that if you deliver the words on time, you’ll probably get more work even if the writing is sub par.
“almost all those who make hiring decisions that impact the makeup of industry professionals don’t want to risk their own capital to diversify their organizations.”
Do you think industry professionals are going to risk their businesses or their jobs for anyone without a body of work to show?
The number of middle aged white guys who would LOVE to quit their bullshit jobs and write Dungeons and Dragons is astronomical. Ask around, you will find very few of them can get WotC to give them the time of day. The reason minorities can’t get in the door without something to show is because NOBODY DOES.
The primary thing a business takes on when they hire someone to do work is risk. A publisher doesn’t want to risk their business for an unknown. An editor isn’t going to risk their job for an freelancer who doesn’t have a body of work. The editor has rent, food, college loan payments and you are an unknown creator with no reputation. If the writer flakes and the editors boss wants to know why that writer was hired, the editor wants to have something to show his boss, “They did all this other work, the seemed like a safe bet.” If a freelance writer/designer can’t provide evidence that they will produce the deliverables, no editor is going to hire them.
Would you hire a wedding photographer without a portfolio? A caterer who has never worked a banquet?
This is basic business sense.
Do we need more diversity in gaming. Yes.
Is expecting people to prove their competence an example of prejudice? No.
The Business Can Do Better
Some of the other practices described in the article were vile and shows the mindset of management in some of these companies.
Treating people like a token and not a pro is despicable. I am not surprised to learn that the diversity and inclusion plans of WotC and Paizo are more about pandering than they are about real inclusion. It takes more than a rainbow ampersand and some BLM icons on social media to convince me you are serious.
The major tabletop companies are not paying a fair wage. Fuck that noise about “you should be honored to work here.”
Pay your designers. Treat them like professionals. Do right by your people and they’ll do right by you.
Designers and Writers Can Do Better
I know, I’m going to be accused of victim blaming. Whatever. You are making a choice. Don’t give me the lame ass excuse that this is all you can do. That’s nonsense. This is not privilege talking. It’s reality knocking. There are so many jobs available right now that you have all the leverage in the world. The Instacart driver who delivers your tofu makes more than you and works on their own schedule.
In my opinion, if you are sticking around for the abuse and low pay, then you are part of the problem. Anyone with enough skill to write in RPG’s could do better in a dozen other industries. You can work for yourself, work for someone who treats you better and pays more or go do something else.
WotC, Paizo and all the other publishers do what they do because designers sign the contracts, turn in the work and customers buy the products. Unless talent stops working for poor rates and customers stop buying product, the trend will likely continue. There are some companies that treat their staff and freelancers fairly. I hope that those businesses grow and overtake the big companies but there are many factors that lead to successful products that have nothing to do with the quality of the product being sold.
Paizo has voluntarily recognized the union. They probably didn’t have any other choice. I wouldn’t necessarily consider this an indication that they had a change of heart about how they treat their employees. They could have required the vote. The vote would have passed and Paizo would have union to deal with anyway. If you’ve already lost the fight, you might as well salvage the situation as best you can. We’ll see what happens as they negotiate a contract.