Monday, August 3, 2015

The RPG Industry and fair compensation

So an interesting discussion has started about compensation for freelancers in the RPG industry (see here for David Hill's initial blog post and here for Ryan Macklin's continuation of the theme). They basically bring up that working for hire on a per word basis at current RPG industry rates is frankly both unfair and untenable, and although they aren't sure what the alternative is right now. For those who aren't already familiar with the problem, freelance author rates in RPGs run from $.01 per word to $.08, with perhaps WotC and Paizo paying .08 and Onyx Path paying $.03 to new authors, with a cap at $.05 for established authors. Terms are typically half upon completion, half upon publication.*

This level of pay is shit, to put it mildly. It is difficult to ask for more, however, because RPGs do not in any way make the money they once did. If you sell through a print run of 1000 books, you're doing well. The bigger names do far better than that, but by and large the retailer and distribution chains that once supported RPGs have been crumbling for years, and new companies often work exclusively in PDF and PoD formats because they can't afford the back end costs associated with warehousing, fulfillment, and distribution. They don't make much money, so they can't pay much money; and if you love games and have a skillset in writing technical material about horror and fantasy and sci-fi stuff, you end up working for practically nothing because there are hundreds of other fans out there like you who are willing to work for practically nothing, because this isn't a job, it's a hobby.

It's important to hit that last note, so I'll do it again: "this isn't a job, it's a hobby."

I hear a lot that we don't have an "industry," that we have people who do stuff for love and it's wrong to expect anything else. That is incorrect. What we have is an industry made up of people who started doing things on their own after a bunch of the businesses from the previous generation, based on actual small-presses, closed up shop in the 2000s, and the new ones were one- or two-man set-ups trying to squeak out a living on minimal expenses. That we began that way isn't a problem; that it's 2015 and most of the businesses haven't moved on to an actual business model with employees IS the problem.

If you put out one game a year, hire freelancers. Seriously. Pay them well, as with crowdfunding you have no excuses not to, but hire freelancers. If you put out multiple games/books a year, then you ought to hire the people who do your line development and organization, getting the extra work off your freelancers and onto the people you're paying to do that job, so that everyone can do the work they're being paid for and doing it for a reasonable fee. Either as a long-term consultant or a part-time employee (or a full-time employee, in some rare cases). The Green Ronin model is one that works for distance offices, with teleconferencing and occasional trips into HQ twice a year to confab, work out directions for the company lines, and get things organized and outlined and ready for the next year. Treat businesses like businesses. Treat professionals like professionals. That's the solution for this.

*My company, Growling Door, pays $.06/word, half upon first draft and half upon completion, just for the record. We would like to be able to pay half up-front, half upon completion, but that hasn't yet proved tenable for us. We've historically paid $.05 for new writers and bumped to $.06, but we're considering that across the board.