Freelancers, Incentives, and Shit Like That
Yeah, I’ve been keeping up with Olivia Hill, Ryan Macklin, and Michelle Lyons on the current state of the industry for freelance game writers and designers. Might as well weigh in.
Those of you who a) read me on Livejournal and b) I trust can see that I’ve had my own thoughts around this. I’m not making that post public as it’s tied in to my personal feelings of frustration in addition to the broader topic.
Fundamentally though, I agree with the others:
- Per-word rates do not reflect the work that game designers put in
- Pay-on-publication leaves writers hanging when publication is delayed
- Too much work is done in the background (reading, research, probability, systems design) that isn’t compensated at all
- People above “writer” in the game development chain should be treated (and paid) as consultants rather than just by the wordcount of a given book.
- If per-word won’t die, the rate needs a serious increase and a secondary revenue stream needs to come in to reflect the non-word related workload.
These issues have been in the back of my mind for quite a while — they’re hard to avoid when you’ve been doing the job for eleven years and have one and a half million words in print — but I’ve not generally talked about this before, even as compensation’s dropped (when I started with WW, we got 3 print comps, now it’s a voucher for a standard-color PoD at cost) and pay rates increased glacially if at all.
I’ve not talked about it because it feels like I’m calling out one publisher because 95% of my work is through them, but I’m really not. I repeat, this is not about any one publisher. It is about the industry as a whole. Freelancers talk. We know what goes on at other publishers, and we know that these problems are endemic across the traditional games space.
The tabletop gaming space operates on razor-thin margins. People say “the market pays what the market can bear”. But y’know what? If the market can’t afford good designers it doesn’t deserve good designers. If your market is shitty it deserves to die. That’s the point of markets, right? Unfortunately, it’s kept alive, artificially buoyed up by people willing to work for peanuts out of love.
If the non-indie side of the tradgames space doesn’t change, it won’t die but it might as well, as it suffers a sudden and significant dearth of talent.
I was somewhat reluctant to write this because I don’t have any solutions, no suggestions for how to make things better.1 Part of the problem-solver’s brain in me feels like a failure for not coming up with something better. Any solution has to be twofold. It needs to ensure that all of the work a designer does is fairly compensated, and it needs to ensure that publishers have the funds available to afford that compensation.
Really, it comes down to a bunch of whining grognards who will spend from now until forever crying about howbooks aren’t priced the same as they were in nineteen-fuckety-five, rather than being priced equivalent to books of similar size and production values. It’s this sense of entitled bullshit that aritificially deflates prices and keeps margins thinner than a blue Rizla.↩