Thursday, 1 November 2012

Cross My Palm With Silver

"Everybody needs money. That's why they call it money."

The idea of monetizing RPG products is somewhat divisive. Huge Ruined Scott has always been adamant, as far as I can tell, that his creations will always be available for free. Kent also has strong views that RPG-related stuff should be created and shared for free, and people who try to sell them are grubby, greedy and vain.

I have some sympathy with that sort of stance. I used to have a button for PayPal donations which I never really felt comfortable with and eventually removed, because it didn't sit right with me to imply that I expected anybody ought to feel that I thought I deserved money for this constant stream of bullshit I spew forth onto the internet. The clumsiness of that sentence is strong evidence for the argument that I don't deserve it.

Moreover, I think there is something honourable and good about creating things for others to use, for nothing in return. It is something to be encouraged.

And nor do I need the money. I have a good job. When I finish and release Yoon-Suin, it's not as if it will make a material difference to my life even if I were to charge money for it. I'll spend it on booze and women and just waste the rest.

On the other hand, let's not kid ourselves: I like money. And being paid for doing something is a nice feeling. It shows that your work is valued. I have done enough freelancing to be aware of that - working hard to produce something and sending it off for financial reward gives you warm fuzzies simply by dint of showing that your work is worth something. It wouldn't be human not to enjoy that feeling.

I'm also of the view that people value things they pay for above what they get for free. I've downloaded plenty of free products (lawfully) that I have never so much as looked at, because since they are free I subconsciously view them as throwaway. If I've paid for something, though, you can be sure I'll give it due care and attention.

"I listen to money singing. It's like looking down
From long french windows at a provincial town
The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad
In the evening sun. It is intensely sad."


  1. I put out about as much free RPG stuff as anyone alive right now and I'll say: getting paid isn't about the feeling. Screw the feeling.

    It's about being able to take off work and just work on that project and nothing else. Vornheim was much better for me getting paid to do it--I had a solid month to look at it and nothing else. Or, at least, it was out much faster.

    That's a concrete and real thing.

    Kent's "anti-money" stance has always only ever been his way of saying he doesn't think anything anybody else puts out is very valuable, certainly not valuable enough to pay for, and Scott just avoids it because he doesn't want to feel like he owes anybody anything.

    1. You're saying that as somebody who doesn't have a day job to go to. "Being able to take off work and just work on that project and nothing else" is something I can only do if I am going to take extended research leave to work on a project related to my job, and I'm rather lucky that I'm in a profession where I can even do that.

      I'm not complaining about that, because I like my job, but you see my point - that's just not a consideration for me. Unless I'm likely to earn hundreds of thousands of pounds a year by producing RPG stuff, thus allowing me to quit my day job, which is maybe a teensy bit unrealistic.

    2. Sure, but it's true of a lot of people who aren't you who'll be reading this.
      Noisms has gotta do what Noisms has gotta do, but I suspect a lot of people who might put out a DIY RPG thing (teachers who have the whole summer off but may need supplemental income, illustrators, etc) are in a different boat.

      Also: pictures-- Yoon Suin (to take just a random example off the top of my head)--deserves really good, labor-intensive, pictures in order to come alive, and those cost money. Kent is (not coincedentally) on the record as hating pictures, and Scott was perfectly willing to pay Russ Nicholson to make a map for him.

    3. Are you trying to say my pictures aren't really good?!

    4. Does anyone in the Uk ever use the "?!" punctuation earnestly?

  2. So long as our economic system demands we exchange magic tickets for things like food and shelter, I'm not going to fault you if you charge money for your stuff.

    If magic tickets weren't necessary, I still wouldn't fault you. It would be like "Money? Who cares about money?"

  3. Im a visual artist - people try to tell me my work is fun so i shouldn't need pay or it has no skill or they dont like what they asked for or get pretty offensive to drive agreed prices down. People tell us look at the exposure well get - many artists i know will punch ppl offering this in lieu of cash. If you want a pretty product, that's professionally edited and has nice art - basically more effort than printing up old blogs then you may have to pay. People dont expect free theatrical release movies, harry potter books, chocolate bars, plumbers, etc. DnD is in part about creativity and sharing ideas but Ill pay someone who can give me something i really want because they deserve encouragement to make more. Id rather pay the little guys more.

    1. Yes - too many sad writer and artist bios - norman spinrad has some good things to say too. I earn most of my money doing sreet art, talking about graffiti and drawing cartoons for children. Most of my peers do community and charity work. Graffiti world has people questioning authenticity of paid artists - but ive done it for over 20 years, people want me to do more so they pay me for my valuable potential gamer blogging time

  4. I think many people (like Kent) get confused between "getting money" and "making a profit". And between "making a profit" and "being profit-oriented".

    Most of the hobby publishers I've seen seem to only be making enough to pay for their costs and maybe some other hobby products, or a trip to a con. Which, as I recall, was the complaint of "eyebeams" (What was his name, again? Malcolm Sheppard?)

    Which reminds me: how can both Kent and eyebeams be correct? One says the hobby press is evil because they create stuff for money instead of for free; the other says it is evil because they charge so little, it drives real freelance artistes out of business.

    1. People who paint with brushes that broad shouldn't really be taken seriously.

  5. Kent's contention that the OSR has become a primarily commercial rather than creative movement that rewards and exalts talentless hacks adept at manipulating nostalgia while de-emphasizing substance has merit as an observation. That being said, it is a tad extreme to call for the clearing of the moneylenders out of the Temple of Elemental Evil. The dissemination of the original D&D booklets was itself a commercial endeavor, and Gygax is generally acknowledged as the creator of D&D over Arneson because he undertook to author the game as a product to sell. Kent himself has frequently acknowledged that Gygax had the burden of making his home campaign intelligible to others, and has expressed admiration for his ability to do so. Gygax didn't do this for free, nor should he have done so.

    I think Geoffrey McKinney makes an excellent point here- (skip to 8:54.) If someone is going to be motivated to share their creations, however excellent or poor, to do so in a format intelligible and useful to others requires much additional work and I think it is fair though not obligatory to ask others to pay something for that. This point is essentially what Zak already mentioned above.

    Kent has never bound himself to this exchange- he presents his (admittedly excellent) material for free, at random intervals, piecemeal and is selective about answering questions. I am not paying for Agonmayar and he isn't particularly tying to make it accessible to me. I have no problem with this & I've enjoyed the effort of putting together the larger picture from dropped details. However, accounts of Geoffrey's Carcosa & Zak's Vornheim campaigns similarly compelled me to know more and I don't mind having paid them for an immediately usable & relatively complete look at their creations. I do find Agonmayar more engaging and I wonder if this may have something to do with the fact that I haven't paid for a consumable version of it.

    1. >> Gygax had the burden of making his home campaign intelligible to others

      This he has done.

      I want to say too that the technical means were not available in the 70s & early 80s to disseminate gaming ideas as freely as we can. In addition the hobby was reaching out to new youngsters in those days where now its appeal persists only within a tight group of experienced aging D&Ders.

    2. >>*cough*

      I considered posting this to your blog as well, but figured you'd see it here, given that the OP is a direct response to you.

      >>I want to say too that the technical means were not available in the 70s & early 80s to disseminate gaming ideas as freely as we can.

      I hadn't really considered this and it's a very good point. I would still contend that Gygax was a commercially minded fellow who would have treated his distribution of the game as a business.

      As for reaching out to other young people, I can hardly blame the OSR for not bothering. I'm in my 20s so a good bit younger than the average person interested in pre 2E D&D. I've met practically no one else my age who shows an interest in older D&D unless I'm the one offering to run it, though I have convinced a few to convert to AD&D for their own games. I don't think interest in the fantasy works D&D is based on isn't prevalent in people under 30 or so.

    3. *cough* in this instance just reflects being surprised by what you said.

      >> I've met practically no one else my age who shows an interest in older D&D

      D&D will be buried with the last of those born in the 70s. I predict a resurgence in the 25th century on foot of archaeological investigations.

      >> I don't think interest in the fantasy works D&D is based on isn't prevalent in people under 30 or so.

      That on the other hand is a disgrace if true but I don't know if it is true. Is it that those under 30 prefer George RR Martin to Leiber-Vance-Eddison or that they don't read fantasy at all or that they don't read at all? I say disgrace because great writing is immediately apparent.

    4. Fantasy is still very popular owing to Steve Jackson and World of Warcraft, in addition to the genre's inherent and enduring appeal. However, Lieber/Vance/Eddison are virtual unknowns and I've only had conversations about them with people older than me or those I've introduced to them. Lovecraft is as popular as ever, though I frequently encounter people familiar with his characters and themes who've never read any of his works.

      Tolkien is still very widely loved, particularly among young women. George RR Martin and his ilk (those who write 8+ volume series of 700+ page tomes) rule the roost. Many modern fantasy readers myself included were introduced to the genre by Harry Potter in elementary or middle school.

  6. We live in a capitalistic society. Money is how we value everything. Asking for money for your hard work is part of the litmus test to find out if your work is shieete or not. It is not the only metric, but must be considered.
    You find this anti money statement in the arts everywhere. It is a defense by artists against the meaningful critique of money.

    1. Everybody needs money - that's why they call it money.

      But I disagree that money is how we value everything. That is vulgar pseudo-Rothbardian-style capitalism. There are thousands of hugely popular podcasts, blogs, youtube videos and other products that are created for free. I am thankful that I live in a capitalist society, because actually it is real capitalism that allows that to happen.

  7. Since, noisms, you have many more readers than I (being an agreeable lad), I thought Id ask here too for an explanation for the distinction between being paid for the hours spent by a DM tidying up his material for print and that same DM charging his players for running a campaign. For a start it can hardly be guessed which DM is spending more of his free time creating material.

    I want to emphasise that the problem with adventure material accompanied by pictures is that the critical brain tends to get dazzled by the representation of fight scenes and evil grinning wizards in traditional postures so that the same verbal content, by any rational metric, can easily be re-presented simply with new pictures.

    Witness the appalling Delving Deeper and the undecidable AS&SH within which the skilled artist has surely blinded readers from any reliable appraisal of its content. Im afraid that slumming picture daubers available to publishers are more skillful than the available monster describers even though in general good 'writing' is a rarer talent than that possessed by the art illusionists.

    Finally, I want to say that the noticeable feature of the 'leaders' of the community is charisma not intelligence, imagination or originality and they have squandered this natural advantage for paltry gain and the sheepish majority has merely done what they were told.

    1. As I said on your blog, the distinction between a DM tidying up his material for print and the same DM charging his players for running a campaign is the distinction between somebody paying somebody else to fit his kitchen as opposed to doing it himself.

      You are looking at it from the DM's perspective (i.e. that of the nascent seller), but I am looking at it from the buyer's perspective. Anybody can fit a kitchen if they put their mind to it. But because they have other demands on their time, and because it would take them a long time to do it properly, and because they would have to sacrifice time spent doing other productive things to learn how to do it properly, and because they probably can't do it as well as a professional unless they devote years of practice to it which they can ill afford, they chose to pay somebody else to do it instead.

      The same can be true of creating a campaign for an RPG. Anybody can create a campaign setting if they put their mind to it. But for the reasons stated above, they might to chose to pay somebody else to do it instead. Since creating a campaign setting is easier than fitting a kitchen, they can do it for less cost (£20 as opposed to £500). But the principle is the same.

      I'm not saying this is right, because in general I would prefer people to create their own materials, as it is much more authentic and interesting that way. But I have bought published campaign settings (Planescape, Dark Sun, Spelljammer, etc.) which I have played and made use of, and which have inspired me, and which I would not have come up with - certainly not as quickly or effectively as those who created them. So paying money for them was an acceptable trade off.

    2. On the art point, I don't tend to buy OSR materials, or download them either for that matter, so I don't know how good or bad the art is.

    3. And as I said before the kitchen analogy doesn't make sense for the question Im asking. It only makes sense in distinguishing between a DM using bought material and using his own material. The players for example can't fit a kitchen by themselves if they decline to pay their DM who wants to be paid to run his campaign.

      So maybe you or *anyone* could answer the question, without using analogy, why do we all agree that it is wrong for a DM to charge his players for running his campaign.

    4. I'm not sure I'd say it's "wrong," in the sense that I'd use the word "wrong" to describe stealing or vandalism, but I'd definitely call a DM charging to run his game "asinine."


      This is a game. A DM who is charging to run his campaign has turned the game into an economic transaction. This is something that people are supposed to do as a group for fun. I would argue that players contribute just as much to the game as the DM does. (I also say this as someone who vastly prefers DMing to being a player character and who DMs about 90% of the time I'm involved in a game.) Yes, the DM spends a lot of time to create the world, set up the maps, etc, but it's the players that bring that world to life. Gaming is a group effort, so why should one person in the group be compensated while everyone else is relegated to the role of customer rather than participant?

      That's just my take on it.

    5. What McWieg said, basically.

      I don't understand why it's an important question, to be honest.

    6. Well I know you don't understand because of the analogy you kept using. It's very simple.

      You claim you should be rewarded with money for time spent writing up campaign background. A DM who charged his players for doing this very thing we all agree would be regarded as an asshole. How, in your mind, does charging for his endeavour cease to be assholish when the DM decides to make his work more widely available?

      With regard to player contribution on gameday, I am talking about a DM charging for the time it takes him to create and write up the material. I am not talking about him charging for his presence on gameday so player contribution is irrelevant.

    7. No, I'm not claiming you should be rewarded with money for time spent writing up campaign background. Read my post again, paying particular attention to what I said in my last comment.

      The crucial distinction that you seem to be missing is that when a DM just creates things for his group, he is primarily doing it for his own enjoyment, and secondarily theirs. Why would he charge his players for that, seeing as he is enjoying both the creation of the material and the DMing?

      If he creates material for sale, however, he is serving a wider audience - he is distributing his ideas to strangers. And moreover, he is not getting the enjoyment of running the game for all of those groups, is he? This seems a no-brainer to me.

      I'd like to respond with a question of my own, really: Why should anybody be paid for writing novels? All they're doing is writing down their ideas. Anybody can do that. How assholish to charge for it!

    8. No-one in the osr would be capable of writing a novel, that's a completely different level of talent. Writing novels is a profession, not a hobby.

      Worryingly I infer from your last comment that you think material written for sale has not already been written for that DM's own group and thoroughly played through. That usually results in rubbish.

      On the other hand If he *has* already created the material for his group and used it then he has had the enjoyment from it.

      We are back at a conclusion which is widely accepted that the osr marketplace merely supports cosmetic tinkering in layout and art of material that is already written at the expense of exposing a grubby sort of vanity that the community could have done without.

    9. Your argument is not a very logical one, Kent. "Writing novels is a profession, not a hobby," is an axiom. It begs the question. Once upon a time, writing novels was a hobby and not a profession. Why did it change? Moreover, what is it about writing novels which makes it a profession, and writing game materials which makes it a hobby? Also, do you have any thoughts on the notion that novel writing might eventually retreat to being a pursuit of hobbyists with the revolution in printing brought about thanks to the internet and ebooks?

      On enjoyment, do you think that writing novels is enjoyable for the author? Do you think that once he has completed his novel, which he enjoyed writing, the novelist should thus not be able to sell it?

      I enjoy my work - I am a practicing academic and I like my research. I also enjoy teaching and lecturing. Should I therefore receive no salary?

      Your position is riddled with inconsistencies and circular arguments.

    10. I find your reading comprehension poor. Ive noticed it before and it surprises me considering what you do for a living.

      You brought up enjoyment, not me, and in a different context.

      I look at my bookshelves and I see novels and I see gaming stuff and for me there is no comparison between the two in terms of intellectual achievement in terms of both skill and effort and so I think novel writers should be paid. Since you can't tell the difference there is little point carrying on.

      My point all along is that this community of hobbyists, of D&Ders, would have been better without the presence of an unnecessary marketplace. You feel otherwise. Fine.

    11. So your position is that you (and others) are willing to pay novel writers for their work, and that is why novel writing is a profession. Thus, if people are willing to pay game designers, game design can also be a profession. If your position is not that, and apparently it is not, then it is simply "I don't think game designers should be paid", which is not hugely persuasive.

    12. For what it is worth, I would have zero problem with a DM being paid. If I had the means, I would hire a full-time DM. (That’s the top item on my “if I won the lottery” list.)

      FWIW, I think what Kent is saying is that he sees intellectual achievement in novels, and this is why novelists deserve to be paid. He doesn’t see the same level of intellectual achievement in gaming stuff. The fact that someone pays for the game material is unimportant to whether he thinks it is worthy of asking money for.

    13. So, Honest question Kent.

      Is your distinction one of current quality then?

      If an RPG product WAS made of high enough quality and expended effort or whichever metric you consider important(equalling that of novels), it would be OK to charge for it in your view?

    14. >> If an RPG product WAS made of high enough quality ... it would be OK to charge for it in your view?


      Let me explain with my own analogy. There are pubs in Ireland where musicians, usually folk, gather to play for each other and friends one or two nights a week. How I feel about the osr market is as if one day several singers or fiddlers, incited by X-factor tv talent show fever, announced they wanted to be paid to perform and so they created a pay night to follow the free night.

      It is conceivable that such disruption in routine culture may be justified in extremely rare circumstances where a couple as talented as Richard & Linda Thompson or a Lemmy might believe they are offering entertainment of a different calibre. Their behaviour is still selfish in my view because there is a fixed tiny audience (as in the osr) and the audience was built up through legacy and an egoless generous fraternity which benefited all.

      Now, on the other hand, if you are at best an ordinary musician and you pull such a stunt, in any healthy gathering you would get your arse kicked very hard indeed.

    15. That seems like a strange analogy because there seems to be a naturally existing one that fits much better: pub musicians get together, play for free for whoever shows up. Eventually they decide that there's a lot of people showing up at the bar, they'd like to try putting out a record. They decide to charge money for the record to cover the costs of production and if they make more, than that's gravy.

      I would say that's fairly close to a DM creating material for his group, then deciding to try his hand at distributing a compilation of materials because his blog has certainly turned out to be quite popular.

      So would you find the first example, that of musicians selling recordings of their free performances, selfish? And if not, how is it different?

    16. Kent, I don't think player contribution is irrelevant. Part of a DM's contribution is creation of campaign material ahead of time. That's part of what the DM does to contribute. That the players don't contribute in their time away from the table is just the nature of the player's role. On the flip side, I've been involved in games where players did plenty to contribute to the game between actual gaming sessions.

      I do think that there is some merit to your argument that charging for material involves a certain amount of hubris. I don't agree that a DM charging for his contribution to his own campaign is a parallel situation. I have paid for OSR stuff that I thought was worth ever penny. I have also paid for OSR stuff that turned out to be a disappointing waste of cash that I could have probably done better myself.

      If there weren't a marketplace, I'd probably read a lot more OSR stuff. I don't think these guys are assholes for charging, but I do think it means that there are more people who won't ever see your stuff.

  8. “I'm also of the view that people value things they pay for above what they get for free.”

    I wonder about that. I know it isn’t true for me. There’s many things that I’ve gotten for free that I value above things I paid for. I even go out of my way to tip the people who created them or buy other things they are selling.

    There is certainly a lot of stuff that I’ve gotten for free that I don’t value, but that’s because it isn’t valuable to me. I also don’t value a lot of stuff that I paid for that also hasn’t turned out to be valuable to me.

    But I may certainly be an outlier here. Perhaps, having been someone who makes a living writing computer programs in an “open source” world affects my perspective about such things.

    1. It's a generalisation, obviously. You're right, plenty of free things are highly valued; I do love lots of freeware roguelikes.

    2. This I can weigh in on.

      With NGR for free I got about a hundred downloads over 2 months.

      When I charged $5 (even though I'll give it away for free if you ask and agree to review) I got maybe 1/3rd that in the same time period. I also started seeding it on a torrent, I was tracking about 220ish "thefts" of it in the same 2 months.

      How do you get rid of a washer and dryer on your front lawn? If you put "free" no one will touch it, put "$500 for set" and its gone by morning.

    3. That’s interesting Zzarchov. Especially when you put it with the way some people have found that providing something for free actually boosts its sales.

      Although, based on past analyses I’ve been a part of, I’m always skeptical of conclusions based on the number of free downloads. It’s too hard to separate duplicate downloads or downloads that never actually get used to compare them to sales numbers.

  9. As a hack writer who has self-published a couple "OSR" products via his blog, I'll provide a couple pennies to the mix:

    The reason I charge for my books is because, well, it costs money to print 'em and I don't have ANY spare money lying around. I use the profits from my books to print more books. The fact that there's a demand for them that allows me to be profitable is a source of wonder to me and, yes, pride but more than anything I am just grateful to have people who are willing to support me in my creative endeavor.

    Because that's how I look at writing...a creative endeavor. There was a time I thought I'd go crazy without SOME sort of creative outlet. My great hope is that folks find my stuff useful and/or inspiring to them in the same way I've found so many authors' books useful, inspiring, and (often) thought-provoking. It's more than simple self-aggrandizement.

    I suppose I could quit selling books and simply publish stuff on my blog...but that feels less like creating something of actual worth. And while I suppose I could just create free downloadable PDFs, A) I don't own the software (or have the knowledge) to do so with the degree of quality I want in my creations, and B) I really LIKE physical books. I like to see them on my shelf. I find them easier to use at the gaming table. They're more convenient for thumbing through on the bus or loaning out to an interested buddy. I'm just not very hi-tech as far as "eBooks" and such.

    So, um, yeah...that's why I do what I do. I'm not sure anything "gives me the right" to do so but (like, apparently, WOTC) if people are willing to buy it, I guess I'll keep doing it...even if it's just dross.

    1. I'm with you on that. I enjoy blogging, but it is undoubtedly lightweight. It isn't the same thing as a complete product at all.