Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Bush League

Extra Credits has been an excellent video series about the game industry, which I've followed since its debut on the Escapist. Recently EC left the Escapist due to a dispute over money. I'm not going to rehash that argument here. I don't have all the facts at my disposal and I doubt it would matter if I did, since both sides are burning with righteous indignation right now and neither willing to concede a yard of ground. Trench warfare didn't work out so well the last time it was used, but every time lawyers get involved it seems both sides start digging.

However it intrigues me (in a morbid look-at-the-car-wreck way) that the dispute is over non-payment of money owed. Judging by some of the twitter responses this may not be the first time that's been a problem. Now, I have a dog in this fight, as I've written for the Escapist before and hope to do so again. That dog may be small and puny, but it has four legs and fleas: it's a dog.

They're not the only company I've written for. I've done a little for Ars Magica and a lot more for Call and Trail of Cthulhu, among others. No, I'm not going to tell you who pays late and who on time. That'd be wrong of me, and childish to boot. Any discussion along those lines is between me, the other fella, and my bank account.

However the Escapist debacle reminded me of a forum discussion I had on YSDC about NDAs and their use by pen-and-paper RPG companies. My position was, I didn't see the point in anything as official or as restrictive as an NDA when the subject of the agreement was as trivial, in the grand scheme of things, as an RPG product. A licensed property, perhaps; something technologically complex, perhaps; something worth a lot of money, perhaps. The average monograph fits none of those categories. At that rate of pay, you're looking at just a touch over $0.01/word. You don't pay rent with that cheque. The Horror Writers Association suggests (in their membership requirements) that the minimum professional rate is $0.05/word, which is not a rate that all of the RPG companies I have done business with have paid. Of course Chaosium's a bit unique in that their monograph system has the contributor doing all the work, and there's always the chance they might get more if the thing 'goes gold', to borrow a term from a different gaming industry. But low pay is a fact of life in the RPG biz. The one piece of advice everyone involved repeats again and again is 'don't give up the day job.'

A few things came out of the NDA discussion, some of which I agreed with and some I did not. Yet some of them seemed to suggest a mentality I've come across a couple times before: "if you want to play in the big leagues, you have to play by our rules."

I'm pretty sure the big leagues can afford to pay more than $0.01/word. I'm also pretty sure the big leagues can afford to pay on time. The Penguins, the Pan MacMillans, the Times, they're the ones in the big leagues. Even they screw up, but I doubt they make a habit of it. Down here in the dirt, we play bush league stuff.

Now, I don't mind the minors. I see it as a proving ground. I expect one day to move up to the majors, if I'm good enough, and I constantly work towards that goal. I like the Escapist. The people I've done business with there, particularly Susan Arendt, are good people. I'm sorry to see them in this mess, and I'm sorrier still that it had to be Extra Credits, a series I admire. I think this is a situation that could have been avoided.

However I do wish one thing: that we all stopped pretending this is the big time. It's not. This is scrabbling in the dirt, praying that the ump is cross-eyed enough not to notice our screw-ups. That can still be a hell of a game, and it demands skill, but it is not the majors.

Maybe it never will be, but that shouldn't stop anyone from trying to be professional. From bush to big isn't an impossible gap, but it demands a certain commitment to standards, on both sides.

Again, I'm sorry it had to be Extra Credits, and I'm sorry it had to be the Escapist. I wish everyone concerned the best of luck.   

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