One Year on DM’s Guild


After a little less than one year selling products through the DM’s Guild, I figured this new year would be a good time to analyze some actual numbers. I’m probably on the smaller side in terms of sales on the platform (no bestsellers), but I’ve got consistent sales and well-reviewed products across a range of purchase models and product types, which gives me a lot of ways to slice and dice the limited amount of data I’ve got.

So here’s a few Interesting Things, if you’re into the data crunching. It’s a long post, but I am kind of a nerd about this stuff! Sneak Preview:

  • I made about 1/10th of what I’d make per word as an actual writer (or less!)
  • Pay What You Want might not be worth it from a creator’s standpoint
  • People don’t comment on products
  • Products linked to WotC Storylines lead to better sales overall

Want some more details? Okay!

Continue reading “One Year on DM’s Guild”

Max Weber and The Swindle

It’s a theme that keeps coming up! Fellow Brooklynite Riley MacLeod has a juicy bit of commentary over at Kill Screen about how The Swindle in some ways thwarts the usual narrative of hard work and unique specialness that plays into the philosophy of capitalist societies. He doesn’t draw the same parallels to the game industry’s work ethic in general, but it’s cool to see game journalists thinking in the same space.

Indie Games Are Doomed, Crowdfunding, and “PR”

A lot of my recent jive about the business of making games has been about the weakness of the AAA Crunch-style development cycle, how it is untenable and vulnerable and not actually making great games and based on little more than a misplaced value on “hard work” martyrdom over actual productivity. But lets get real – this is not something a relative outsider like me is in any position to change any time soon.

The antidote to this has, for the last few years, been an indie gaming community, often supported with crowdfunding. DoubleFine made Broken Age that way, I’m currently playing through Pillars of Eternity which was made that way, and I’ve personally worked on a D&D-style project made through smallish publishers that was launched via crowdfunding. I can say legitimately that indie gaming paid some of my rent! So there, while I’m still new to certain levels of it, I can say I’ve got a more reasonable basis for commentary.

The challenges facing crowdfunded indie devs aren’t the same challenges facing the big salt mines, but what provokes this post of mine is this doomsaying over at Gamasutra, which calls indie games doomed and espouses a familiar mantra about the character of hard work being the antidote (oh, and make sure you’re serving an under-served corner of the gaming market).

Ultimately, I think I agree with Jeff Vogel’s thesis: there has been an indie gaming “bubble” that has burst as AAA competition has come to muscle some great games out of the space they might otherwise occupy – folks have X amount of dollars they’re spending on games, and that amount isn’t going up. It’s harder to “strike it rich” making an indie game than it was 3-4 years ago, but it’s not impossible to make a living.

I think what a lot of successful crowdfunding that isn’t from well-known names does right is that it hits a dedicated fandom that isn’t being served. That might be adventure game fans, or isometric RPG fans, or hexcrawl adventure fans, or Pathfinder fans, or whatever. This might be part of what hurt Tale of Tales – reaching out beyond a passionate audience is competing with devs with more dollars and connections and worker-hours than you’ll ever be able to muster as an indie team. In comparison, it’s what makes Steam Early Access kind of successful – you can create a community around your game, create fans who want to see it developed and improved, people invested in its success.

That kind of community can benefit from crowdfunding in a major way. It won’t usually be multi-million-dollar mania, but it can be adequate, and it can be sustainable, and sometimes, when the stars align, when luck is on your side, and maybe when you can attract the right kind of attention, you can have a fairly major success. If you’re wanting to roll in filthy lucre, no, that’s not your path, but if you wanted to do that, video games aren’t going to be your best bet anyway.

So my outlook is a lot more optimistic than Jeff Vogel’s, in the end. While he might extol the virtues of hard work, I’d rather extol the virtues of community – what matters is a passionate core. If you can find that, if you can earn that, and if you can keep that, that’s all the “PR” that’s truly necessary. Everything else is tweetin’ in the wind.

Two Reasons to Question Crunch Culture, with a side of Weber

I’m a bit of an outsider to the Industry, but consider the story of one of the founders of Facebook about what he regrets most about launching his business – specifically about how the productivity gains were by and large phantasms, and not borne out in practice. This supports the data that the employees of the games industry are killing themselves without making better games.

Or consider this data on what happens to your body and mind when you don’t take vacation. Again, the repeated mantra – the benefits we think we’re getting are not the benefits we’re actually getting.

So why do we think we’re doing it? Well, it’s actually the two things I spent my college years studying in great detail: culture and religion.

Or to put it pithily: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is the best management book I’ve ever read. You can go read it right now, if you want, but wikipedia has a good summary, if you ain’t got time for 90-year-old academia. There’s also this video from the School of Life that digests it (and Weber overall) quite well:

The tl;dr is this: in America, we think good people work hard, and hard workers are good people.

This is not logic. It is culture, it is religion. The idea that what makes you a worthy and respectable person is how hard you work is deeply ingrained in our society, regardless of your actual religious practices. It is morality. It is social structure. It is why your manager can’t tell you not to work overtime, why employees that never leave get promoted (or not fired), why you feel guilty about going home to sleep and see your family.

Changing this requires a change in values, a willingness to do the hard work of self-analysis. We must look at how our work adds to the profitability and quality of what we make, inclusive of what we make of our personal lives. That’s not easy, and it requires bucking the trend and going against established wisdom. The data is there, though – it is time to do away with the puritanical idea that being obsessively dedicated to your job is good. It is harmful to you, to your company, to  your peers, to your industry.

The Center Cannot Hold

Though the Double Fine documentary was the first time I had seen it “in action” as it were, I had heard about the vagaries and struggles of video game industry employment in a lot of places before. One of my brief flirtations with entry-level video-game-industry stuff was at a studio that needed me one moment, didn’t the next, and then needed me again 5 months later (and probably would’ve dropped me a few months after that, like they did a friend of mine who worked there). That’s normal practice, but it doesn’t make it any less disrespectful or unprofessional or, if my rent check depended on that job, terrifying.

One of the qualities of a good designer listed out in the James Portnow School of Design is that a good designer can recognize and respect the constraints put on game production – especially budget and schedule.

More game projects fail because of teams with a poor sense of scope than any other reason.

It seems like this is a “do as I say, not as I do” scenario for devs in practice. According to a pretty thorough review, crunch doesn’t even produce better games. This pair of Jason Schrier articles from Kotaku serve to underscore the point:

I don’t know if it’s viable for me to enter an industry that treats its humans so roughly – at least not without controlling my fate more directly, or being desperate to begin with. If I ever get laid off or something, maybe the temporary work and long hours won’t seem like a bad trade-off for entry level industry experience, but only if the alternative is “don’t work at all.”

This is a problem that can be solved – clearly, other game devs believe it must be solved. I’m in agreement there. I think I can be a part of that solution. Perhaps not as a visionary designer in the trenches right away – that time shall come, and under my own terms. But perhaps as a “Video Game Business Guy,” I’ve got something to offer today and right now. I’ve been a software business operations analyst for 3 years now.

That might be my approach as an in to this industry. As I hone my design skills to a fine point, I see an instance of poor design that is causing human suffering and that I think I can have a hand in fixing. For the last year or so I’ve been focused on Analysis. That will still happen, but perhaps it’s time to inject the Discipline of Design into the mix more often – the business side of the video game industry, and how I can make it better.