Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Value of What You Do is Your Call (It Comes With a Free Thing at the End)

Sentiments like the one to the right, which was the beginning of a contentious Twitter thread about how you should price your rpg work, are essentially well meaning--but I've begun to find them more and more hectoring in tone and frequency.

I agree with much of the underlying ideology at the root of these kind of posts: reaching a state of fair wages is a conversation we should be having, creative work in rpgs is undervalued, etc. (1). But what bothers me is the assumption than anyone has a right to tell me how I should price my work and the unspoken insistence that the primary way I should find value in what I do is economic in nature.

Part of the issue, for me, is that no matter how sympathetic I am to some of the stated goals of this kind of thinking is that it reduces the creative endeavor to its capitalist expression. If "I don't care about the money" is the wrong thing to say, than it must be important to care about money. If "I'm not looking to get rich" is an errant perspective, than looking to get rich must be the correct orientation toward creative work. 

This problem is pervasive in the language used to discuss the topic. Product. Strategy. Loss leader. The assumption is that to create is to engage in commerce. I can think of a lot of reasons to give stuff away for free, none of which have to do with a lack of self-respect or a sales strategy. 

Sometimes I give stuff away for free because I don't think of it as a "product." Sometimes I just want to share something without making a transaction out of it. Sometimes it means more to me that someone finds a use for the thing I made than me getting beer money out of it. Sometimes I want to pay it forward because of all the free stuff I've gotten use out of or enjoyed (2).


But don't take what I'm saying here as prescriptive. The best answer for you is the one you're happy with. I think you should charge as much (or as little, or nothing) for your creative work as you want. $200 deluxe hardcover, $10 handmade 'zine, $1 pdf, pay-what-you-want for a full game, or zero-cost "here's a Google Drive link," it's your choice.


Sometimes I give things away for free (every episode of my podcast, all the posts on this blog, and the occasional free pdf) and other times I set a price I'm comfortable with (the books and pdfs published under the Dolorous Exhumations imprint). I get to make that call because it's my work. I resent being told I should be ashamed to make that call.

The screencaps used in this post are not intended to harangue anyone for voicing their sentiments; the examples I've used here just outline the shape of what I'm addressing, and I've made them anonymous because I don't want this to be a "call out"(3). As I have said previously in this post, I think they're coming from a place of magnanimity and solicitude. But what I ask for is simple courtesy: please do not tell me how and why I should value what I do, and I'd appreciate it if you don't imply that what I do only has cogent meaning if I attach a dollar value to it. appreciate your concern, and I acknowledge that your opinion is well intentioned, but you do you. 


Unless you're pushing that "Devaluation of creative work" line, of course--I totally get why people are dunking on that. That shit can take a hike, especially if you follow it up with some but you're harming the community rhetoric. I'm not putting my hand in your pocket and if you're taking the tack of shaming people into compliance, I'm pretty sure we do not share a community in common (4).

NOTES
(1) - Something I never (conveniently, perhaps) see: any indie game designers note that they pay their playtesters a living wage.
(2) - In fact, much of what I've done creatively wouldn't have been possible save for the generosity of people making free software available. Makers of open source software like LibreOffice, I salute you.
(3) All of the screencaps come from public, non-locked accounts, however, so I'm not putting anyone on blast here. For the record, the four posts I capped came from three separate Twitter accounts.
(4) - I have strong doubts that anyone who has ever played the what about the community? card on me reads my blog, has promoted my creative work, or purchased anything I've made. No one is obligated to, obviously, but it's rich to claim that we're bound by some notion of communal standards of support that clearly aren't reciprocal.

* * *


Oh, hey, a free thing!

If you click here you will be taken to the pdf of a supplement called A Fistful of Cinders. This pdf is an expansion for my Cinderheim setting, and I'm offering it to you for free. 

A Fistful of Cinders started as a challenge to make twelve pregenerated characters (one for each 5e D&D class), themed around the tropes and conventions of the Western genre. We're firmly in Western + Fantasy territory here.

Then I decided that those characters needed to be a posse, and that the posse needed a reason to exist...so I made a few random tables that generate a situation that calls for the posse to ride out into the wastes and seek justice. 

Eventually it came together as a playset intended for a one-shot game when your group is missing a few players but you want to play something anyway. Think of it as a stop-gap, but I won't be mad at you if it leads to a longer campaign at your table.


Of course, since I'm all about choice, if you absolutely must throw money at me for my creative work (in the name of community, perhaps) then you can always pick up something from Dolorous Exhumations Press over at DriveThruRPG. If you like A Fistful of Cinders, The Liberation of Wormwood is the most similar in tone and purpose.

28 comments:

  1. I see the kind of arguments you quoted as essentially bankrupt. As you pointed out, they reduce the creative endeavor to a purely economic enterprise. I wonder how much fun these people actually have creating their Products?

    Also, as soon as anyone says "deserve" I start to tune out. Much better to deal with the world as it actually is.

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    1. It's really interesting to consider the different motivations that go into making things, but sometimes those motives are so alien to me that it feels like certain parts of rpglandia are divided into "the business" and "the hobby" without much overlap.

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  2. I wholeheartedly agree.

    For one, I'm totally in favour of providing a fair compensation for creatives, but I also believe it's merely part of a much larger economic issue (huge wage gap and thus wildly different standards of living by region and social stratum, and it's only the tip of the iceberg).

    However, the solution cannot be sacrificing the hobby aspect of making up fun stuff and sharing them among our peers. It cannot and it isn't.

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    1. Yeah, I am 100% behind fair compensation for creative work when the creative wants professional compensation and I believe that current rates of compensation are too low. (They're too low in many, many fields.)

      But I don't think either of those problems get solved by badgering someone who wants to put out a quick, free pdf because it's their hobby and they just wanted to enjoy making something.

      In a weird way it feels like "punching down" under the guise of "lifting up."

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    2. "Punching down under the guise of lifting up" seems like a pretty good summary, honestly.

      I also feel like I detect a bit of sour grapes in there, like "if the rest of you AMATEURS would stop following YOUR dreams and making stuff, then all the potential customers who currently don't buy my products would HAVE to, because they'd have NO OTHER CHOICE!"

      Or maybe I'm misinterpreting their intentions. Then again, these authors seem to feel very free to interpret the intentions of the audience they're addressing, so I don't feel very sorry about that.

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    3. @Anne, it's hard to tell motivations (or what the precise admixture of motivations are) and they certainly vary by the individual, but sometimes it looks like this kind of thing comes from a place of conflicting ideals not lining up.

      That's the generous take on it, at least.

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  3. I just don't understand why all these good Samaritans are giving away such awesome advice for free. Don't they respect their own opinions? They should have solicited at least $10 per advice!

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    1. (Movie narration voice) In a world where everything is labor, nothing is free...

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  4. I gotta ask... Why does the "Tubular Mage" have 12 Constitution? I know it's good from a game perspective, but for a one-shot-based thing I feel like story should maybe come above optimizing type stuff lol

    Otherwise love it tho lmao

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    1. Hah! I figured they used to have a 16 Con and now it's down to 12.

      And thanks!

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  5. I gave my dumb thing away for free because maybe, just maybe, there's a kid out there who needs something to do and doesn't have 10 bucks but can download a PDF. It's not great, but it can keep somebody engaged. I was lucky enough to have somebody lend me the Moldvay boxed set when I was a young lad and here I am today. I get enough money at my day job that anything I do in RPGland is icing on the cake. I don't begrudge creatives their money, but I do begrudge that they are the only ones who can create. It's the "I create and therefore I deserve money" that was the downfall of Google Plus. My lame-ass .02$

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    1. That's a pretty good reason to give a thing away. Anyone giving their core rules, even if in an art-free or stripped down version, is doing a fine thing.

      The G+ thing was probably more gradual than I remember it being but it felt like when I went to bed one evening everybody was collaborating on things for everyone to use but when I woke up the next morning my feed was wall-to-wall "Back my Kickstarter!" adverts.

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  6. I like your take, it's thoughtful and calm. No idea how I feel about it but it's thought provoking.

    This also reminds me why I miss blogs being at the front of discussion

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    1. Thank you! I figure that even if someone disagrees with me I don't need to add them to an Unpersons List or something silly like that.

      There are some great blogs out there. Check out DIY & Dragons or Bearded Devil if you get a chance.

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  7. Badass. Fair compensation for all is a good conversation to have but I don't know if elf books is where it happens. I see about 100,000 products on the drivethru right now and 23,000 of them ask $1 or less. That's not a glut or a problem. It's a tremendous reservoir of talent and ideas. Creative heaven. Commercial hell.

    Even if I need my $10 per download to pay the bills every freebie that people choose instead doesn't really hurt the math much. A gamer could use nothing but one freebie a day and run a campaign for the next 60 years. That side of the market has already "raced to the bottom." It's a commodity. There's no putting those products back in the bottle even if you go to each of the authors and get them to accept your pricing discipline. Browbeat 23,000 people to shift up to $10 and you probably would have accomplished more creating more products or promoting the ones you have.

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    1. Thank you.

      I think anyone who wants to get into the "business" should receive fair compensation for their works. I would say that, though; I feel that about all industries.

      Hell, I'm on Wilde's side when he talks about the "sordid necessity of living for others."

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    2. It is a hard conversation. So happy to see that this one made it up here.

      Thinking through it I think there's a way we can all be not only artists but working artists but for most people (even most gamers) it might require something more radical than shaming discount competitors. Wilde just came up in the latest Wormwood. The review of the recent bio (Sturgis) brings home how tireless a promoter he was. But anyhow!

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    3. I haven't read the Sturgis. Recommended?

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    4. Me neither but the Wormwood guys consider it a work of genius in itself, coherent and engrossing to the bitter end with only a few regrettable fact check challenges.

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    5. Who are "the Wormwood guys"? I think I am unfamiliar.

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    6. http://wormwoodiana.blogspot.com/ ultimately leads back to http://tartaruspress.com/wormwood.html for me the hottest thing around.

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  8. Cool free stuff is what got me into this hobby, it is what has kept me in the hobby, and when all is said and done it will be what I look most fondly upon retrospect.

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    1. Yeah, I refuse to believe that it's a devaluation of creative work if people can game for years without spending a dime. To me, that's awesome and enables more creativity.

      It also doesn't mean that putting out products you want to make a profit on is bad either. I don't get how people see them as mutually exclusive.

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  9. This is why I could never warm up to Google+, and why I use Mewe only to lurk. A lot of the content there is people marketing their stuff, or posting easily digested, easily upvoted fluff and images to move up on the voting algorhythms to in turn have a better marketing platform.

    The 90s internet of static websites and the 00s internet of blogs and web forums was about people creating and sharing stuff simply because they could get the stuff out there to a potentially large audience. The late 10s internet has become the counterpart to 24/7 infomercial teleshopping TV, and is just as tranquilizing.

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    1. The comparison to infomercials didn't occur to me, but feels pretty accurate.

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  10. Social currency is what the invention called money rides on.
    The three primary carriers of social currency are picture making, story telling, and music. And variations in degree of different combinations of those.
    For instance most film currently being made is a combination of all three to one degree or another. And no business deals will happen without a good story being told. Business like Art was around long before the invention called money and do not depend upon the invention called money to exist.
    Thankyou for your good social currency.

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