Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Doing It For a Living

There are people out there who make a living writing OSR stuff. There aren't many, but they are out there.

Back of the envelope calculations suggest to me that if I quit my job tomorrow I would need to produce a Yoon-Suin about every two months to allow me to live in something approaching "the manner to which I have become accustomed". Admittedly, I deliberately priced Yoon-Suin cheaply, didn't kickstart it, and I think back then the market was also a decent amount smaller than it currently is. Maybe it would be more like every three or four months. But even if I quit my job and just spent all my time doing this, could I make, say, three or four Yoon-Suins a year?

I doubt it.

The important point to be made, though, is that this OSR/DIY D&D/whatever train that we're on seems like it is going to keep chugging along. It has its own momentum now, and I don't really see that stopping. It will never be able to sustain an industry even as big as truly marginal pursuits such as, say, airfix models, poetry, or historical re-enactment. But it has gone on for far too long now to be a flash in the pan. Indeed, it seems now to be entrenched in what you might call a "mature phase", bigger than the personalities involved - too big, as a matter of fact, to realistically keep track of everything that is happening (I gave up years ago), too big for gossip to be serious issue, too big for anybody's opinions in particular to really matter, and too big to just sink without trace.

This has made it actually feasible for somebody to give up a career and make OSR stuff, relatively secure in the knowledge that there will still be people there willing to buy things in 10, 20, even 30 years' time. A lot can change in 30 years, admittedly. But it's already been 13 years since I started blogging. And it's been over 40 years since people have been playing D&D. Maybe in 30 years' time we'll all be being wheeled around in pods drinking 7-Up like in WALL-E. But we'll still be complaining about the UI of roll20 as we do so. 

The world is probably objectively worse now than it was in the 1990s. But one thing that's better is that there is now a realistic career path towards "Making Stuff Up for Role Playing Games" that has a fighting chance at having a long-term future. 

10 comments:

  1. It's actually just over 50 years (since the last month) since the first RPG run by Arneson!

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  2. I see a lot of people who shouldn't be charging money for the stuff they put out. Much of it is average at best in both content & production values. It doesn't seem to sell particularly well either at even the low prices asked, so I doubt they're really earning from it.

    Certainly if you're starting out, it might be better for your development to simply publish for free on a blog or website. More people will see your work. Their comments & questions will help you improve. And then at some point, later on, you can put out something substantial that will actually be worth the price you ask.

    Not charging money can also give peace of mind. It allows your hobby to remain a hobby and not turn into a job. There's no pressure to succeed in the marketplace or to keep the revenue stream up by producing new stuff all the time. You don't have to make compromises or tweak things in the hope of pleasing potential customers.

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    1. Ah, but average quality highly priced items are just Sturgeon's Law at work! No need to buy them, but for those with some spare cash it drives our tiny hobby forward (ala zines)

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  3. I hope it does last. But it will most likely mutate in another 10 years. Into what, I have no idea. Should be a fun ride, regardless!

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  4. I do think there is something to be said for the fact that the OGL has made OSR rulesets the GMs in the truest sense of the word. The hobby seems to run off the fact that, well, this stuff can be yours. That's not even mentioning the wide-open licenses of Knave, Troika, Into the Odd, and other NSR games.

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    1. WotC deserved huge credit for the OGL. I'm sure many of the consequences were unintended, but they really didn't have to do what they did.

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  5. If you pick almost any metric you like, the world is significantly better than it was in the 90s. There's an interesting website called humanprogress that keeps track.

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    1. I'm sure that materially that is true, but not spiritually.

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  6. For the "do it for a living" what really helps is a large back catalogue. If you keep on producing stuff the new stuff you make draws attention to the old stuff and you get a small but strady trickle of sales from the old stuff. If you have enough old stuff you can get a decent cash flow from that. Just takes a long time to build up a good back catalogue.

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