Yeah, I’ve been keeping up with David 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.


  1. Really, it comes down to a bunch of whining grognards who will spend from now until forever crying about how books 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. 
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I made a new game. It’s called Unfinished, it’s about ghosts, and it’s just 150 words long.

It’s small enough that it fits in a tweet:

I put it up on DriveThruRPG as a Pay What You Want download, so if you like it (or just think I’m mad enough to reward) you can toss me a buck or two. It’s CC-BY licensed, so share it with whoever.

EDIT: Unfinished was just featured on BoingBoing!

 

You all know I make games, right?[1] Not just for myself, but also for Onyx Path Publishing?[2]

OPP don’t just let me play in their sandbox, they gave me a corner of it as my own — I’m the madman line developer for both Werewolf: The Apocalypse and Werewolf: The Forsaken.

A little over two years ago, I sent in a pitch for what would become Werewolf: The Forsaken Second Edition. You might have heard me wittering about it. Two years of my life went in to that book.

Werewolf: The Forsaken Second Edition is out now for you to purchase with your earth-monies. Go check it out!

If you like werewolves, I think — hope — you’ll like Werewolf: The Forsaken. We did our damndest to capture a broad range of werewolf mythology and story beats, and used them to build on the excellent foundation of the game’s first edition. Much of what changed has been discussed on the Onyx Path forums, the RPGnet forums, and the open development blog posts on the Onyx Path site.


  1. If not, I dread to think how you found this site.  ↩

  2. For those who haven’t been paying attention, when CCP/White Wolf got out of making roleplaying games, Onyx Path got the license. We’re a bunch of ex-White Wolf staff & freelancers putting out new material for pretty much all White Wolf games at a rate not seen in the past six years.  ↩

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This is pretty much a followup to yesterday’s post. People thinking I should talk about games more and the industry/community less can go fuck themselves. This shit is important.

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One of the less enjoyable parts of being on the internet is dealing with other people. Don’t get me wrong, some of them are lovely—Matt McFarland and the fine folks of Growling Door, Alyssa and the Fünhaver crew, Avery McDonaldo, and many others that I’m forgetting.

But of the seven billion people in the world, a lot of them are arseholes.

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Part of me wants to talk about the closure of the World of Darkness MMO. It’s not an easy thing to think of – the people working on the MMO were the remaining parts of White Wolf. I have friends among the people who have lost their jobs. I don’t want to trivialise the fact that they must now find new places to work.

At the same time, I do want to note the passing. Papa Chuck must have taught me wrong, though, because I can’t find them. So instead, I’m going to point you to the words of two friends, and two better writers: Chuck Wendig and Aaron Debski-Bowden

I guess I don’t share quite their outlook. I’m heavily involved in writing and developing World of Darkness games for Onyx Path. I’ve got both Werewolf games to my name. I’m working on the system for the new edition of Trinity and Scion (which Onyx Path own outright). I’ve got my name on Vampire books – something I was sure would never happen when I started. We’ve been publishing what people think of as White Wolf tabletop RPGs for a couple of years now and that’s continuing apace.

I think part of why I can’t find the words is that so many of us at Onyx Path are ex-employees and ex-freelancers for White Wolf. From my perspective behind a keyboard in Scotland I’m talking to the same people and writing words for the same game lines – and some new ones – as I was when working for White Wolf. Sure, some of the friends I needed to get through those first books — people like Aaron and Chuck — have gone off to become bestselling writers, but that’s how the world works.

I played White Wolf games as a teenager. One of my first characters was a bitterly sarcastic Corax with long hair and a leather trenchcoat; not so much a character as a prediction of what I would become. I created him for the first edition of Werewolf: The Apocalypse when I got my hands on the Werewolf Players’ Guide. Just recently I dug out his sheet and converted him to the updated rules in Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition and W20: Changing Breeds – the latter being the first book I developed. He’s still the same, though I’d play him differently now.

The key thing, I think, is to note White Wolf’s passing but not to mourn the pale pooch – not as an entity. White Wolf, as a collection of games and worlds, hasn’t died – it’s changed. As the God-Machine Chronicle says:

What rises may fall. What has fallen may rise again.

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Back in September I wrote about my experiences during the first three months of Pay What You Want on DriveThruRPG. I went back to look at a longer span.

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Black Seven is now an electrum best-seller on DriveThruRPG — it’s in the top 4% of products sold there.

To celebrate, I’ve reduced the PoD price to $10 — the same price as it was during the recent new-year’s sale.

If you’ve already bought a copy of BLACK SEVEN, make sure you can receive emails from DriveThruRPG, or email me directly (stew@zeropointinformation.com). I have an extra discount for you!

DriveThruRPG does a yearly “New Year, New Game” sale. This year, over 80 core rulebooks are discounted by 50%. The big one, at least from my perspective, is Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition — I can’t not mention the game I’m line developer of, natch.

But what if you already have W20, or want more than one new game? Below the jump, I’ve listed seven great games that you’ve probably not heard of.

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First of all, I’m having a post-Hogmanay sale: if you want a print copy of BLACK SEVEN it’s only $10 from DriveThruRPG. This offer is for a limited time only: on the morning of the 6th of January (GMT), the price goes back up to $14 (as long as I remember to change it on time).

Also, as you probably know I’m W20 developer over at Onyx Path. We’ve had quite a few releases in a small space of time:

  1. Changing Breeds is out in PDF and Print on Demand.
  2. Rage Across the World is out in PDF with Print on Demand to follow.
  3. The W20 Cookbook is out to Kickstarter backers, and people are already posting pictures of the dishes they’ve come up with.
  4. Rites of Renown: When Will You Rage II is out in electronic formats. I wasn’t in the hot-seat for this one, but I do have a story in the book.

And things are only getting warmed up. I’m really hoping that this year I can get some more BLACK SEVEN setting kits out. Here’s hoping.

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