So You Want To Make A Living Making TTRPGs
Be rich, con the rich into conning people or take three other jobs.
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Okay, let’s delve deeper.
The main way to make a living from TTRPGs is to roll into them with a small fortune, backing of a major company or publisher, sponsored by venture capital and their best friends FinTech and hedge funds, or benefiting from millionaire revenue digital marketing corporations.
if you roll in with millions, you can make money. So hope you have money to lose1.
You don’t? Well, then you can alternatively seek to become the finest proveyer of TTRPG Funko Pops. Become adept at making the most treats and toys and branded IP deals with the people that actually own stuff, by offering to make them cheaper than anyone else by exploiting the precariat and dumping the risk and production costs on investors that think they are pre-ordering consumers. Or even better, spin out to try to create your own IPs.
Oh, you don’t have money? Or an IP? And you cannot get someone else to let you use theirs?
You actually want to work through it to make a living?
So you sit down and try to make the damnest to make the best game you can. And it does not work?
Because it takes a lot of work, and you don’t get paid to do it. You just become the precariat the previous two rely on to make2 bank. You can "make a living out of making games" but... not by making games.
Influencer work is all too often derided, and much less understood3. Influencing is a psychopolitical job complex that is both a victim of soul cop society and massive precaritization to even exist4. Influencing is a job complex of three elements: advertising, marketing and management. That's it. No need to be weird about it; it is what it is.
You do advertising, marketing and management work. If you do a lot of it, you are not more likely to succeed; if you luck out, then you are captured into platform economies and get to do more and more advertising, marketing and management work that gets paid.
That is what you get paid for. Not writing. Not art. And definitely not game design. For managerial class work, not productive worker labor; only post-production, post-material shit gets some tickle down from the other two.
And this is not sustainable. This is going to burnout you. Because of course it will. Are we kidding, influencing is extremely psychopower taxing, it involves and absurd amount of social violence you take directly on in the performance of this labor, there is no obvious relationship between the work you put and outcomes, and it is even more alienating than other jobs because it alienates from yourself. On top of that, you are doing it because you wanted to make games and it seems to more you “Made It In Games” the less time you get doing the thing you wanted to do! It is just going to get to you5.
So the advertiser, marketer and manager will eventually Get Very Normal and/or have an exit strategy. Which, in this case, means conning someone into giving you their money for you to lose while keeping a small part and/or becoming an IP owner and moving in to collecting rent from the precariat yourself.
And that’s it. These are your options.
You are still here?
You still want to make games?
You want to work on them?
You know we don’t do prescriptions here, right?
Okay, if you gonna do it, better have a sobering attitude. There are people that still managed to create balance job complex without becoming landlords and monsters; and they still make games. Let me share you what I learned from them.
So let’s see what seems to be happening around games. They need writing, editing, graphic layout, illustration, maybe even some actual game design for a change. Then we need the administrative managerial/advertisement/marketing work that precarization has pushed into influencing. There is also all the work you can either afford the time, money, talent and abled status to acquire the skills or delegate to consulting and precariat. And of course, you gonna have to accept some capture by platform economies for sales and/or printing and distribution.
So, for most people trying to work in games, the process of making a game would look somewhat like this. This is the direction and relationship of all the labor involved into getting a game made.
However, where does the money come from? Well…
Money hemorrhages from almost everything: you put work, and that costs you money. As mentioned before, what makes money is all post-production, rent-seeking, post-material stuff. Yes, you need to deliver something, but what directly is rewarded is the influencer job-complex labor.
So, this is the important thing to take from looking sobering at where we put our work when make games and what are the reward incentives.
Success means moving more of this unproductive/costly labor to be either abandoned or delegated to precariat. The inertia of the current system is to slowly cannibalize everything else and focus entirely on commercialization of high-volume, low-labor (productive), low-effort (productive), output.
So, working on games means… stop being a worker. Or least, a “productive” laborer. So, success at Making TTRPGs For A Living, requires one to accept that you need to stop being a worker as soon as possible. However, you are not to become petit borgeouise or whatever; you don’t own shit.
Again, that is as much of a fantasy as believing you can labor through life making games: the fantasy that are an owners. So let’s take a moment to look into that as part of this sobering analysis. You don’t own an IP. You don’t own platform economies. You don’t own a printer. You don't have the distribution infrastructure You don’t collect any sort of rent across the process of making a game. Because that is all that remains of the so called petit borgeousie today: petty landlords. In the 21st century if you don’t collect some sort of rent in a process, you are not an owner6.
No, Making It In TTRPGs requires you to be a monster. Being this kind of monster is a fantasy.
You Make A Living in TTRPGs by becoming a manager. You don’t own shit; you become part of the managerial class for those that own thing. Not a worker, not an owner, but a third secret thing. You manage for the rent-collectors: IP holders, distribution companies, printers, platform economies, platform economies, platform economies, social media, etc7.
And what you manage? The precariat. The microworkers. And the main one?
Manager of your own labor? Kinda fucked up. 8
But yeah, you are compensated from how good a manager you are at squeezing from workers (including you). Which is all work that unless you are rich, is probably be covered by the influencer job-complex.
Yes, this is grim. Yes, this sucks. But if you understand this, you can balance choices. You can be aware of the displacement of the precarity and well, manage it. But maybe you will be able to make games, not delude yourself, then learn of what works and not, and recognize what are things you can accept putting up with or not. And then you also learn to recognize this in others and see what are your class allies, economic interests and act accordingly.
And hopefully, at every least, stops you from looking at the venture capital backed people, rich failscions, IP owners and other rent-collectors and going “she’s just like me fr.”
Please, stop ignoring this. Stop thinking you too can be like them if you hustle and grind just enough. If it is not working, stop and look at it.
Really look at it.
Someone’s else is fine too.
Or lose money from both ends.
Often in sexist ways, as turns out influencer is often just a gendered version of microwork of jobs that have existed for most of Modernity.
I swear, this will make much sense after Power Fantasy Part 3, it is coming right after part 2 and I may even not take a whole ass year to write it this time.
And you have to continuously capture more people in platforms and keep the pretense they too can Make It In Games, as aware as you are of the reality… that will eat you.
Some exceptions remain, such as dwindling idle middle class or tiny local monopolites.
It is more scary because unlike the petit borgeouise, we may very well end up still having managerial monsters after the revolution. It hurts. I am professional managerial class in my day job too; it is hell.
THIS IS WHAT PSYCHOPOWER IS LUDO, WHY DON’T YOU JUST SAY IT