Insiders and Outsiders
February 2, 1996
We're adding a lot of reviews this week to the site, finally. Email has overwhelming been telling us "we want reviews!", so we're putting up our Review section in our traditional thorough (yet over the top) manner. Expect them to dribble online over the next day or so, and hopefully ramp up from there. Why will they suddenly increase in number? Because, we have a Review Form! Write an intelligent review of any RPG related product and we'll put up on our site. New games, old games, magazines, miniatures, GM tools, dice, anything that makes sense. This is gamer democracy in action.
The RPG industry is many things, but it's certainly not democratic. In some cases, it's a meritocracy, and good products succeed. Other times it's a lottery. But most often, a product makes it to press through endurance and perseverance-- perhaps with only a 2,000 copy press run, but it does make it to press. The industry is large enough to have its share of dramatic news. Bad news-- Mayfair games just folded up this month. Good news-- SJG and ICE agreed to share the "Black Ops" trademark for their upcoming projects, rather than wage a legal war. Such things remind us that it's not just a hobby for many, it's their livelihood.
Now, we hear constantly how "the Web is the next big wave in business." Umm, maybe. How RPG companies approach the Web is as mixed as the companies. Some believe the Web is irrelevant, others let fans make sites for them and leave it at that. Other companies actively use the Web to support and promote their product lines. In the best of these cases, they provide timely errata via the Web, have online support materials and neat free stuff. I'd typify the range of responses to be from "We admit the Web exists but we don't like it" to "We wouldn't have sold out the entire print run had it not been for the Web, or least for Usenet." Sort of the West End to Daedalus span.
The role of individuals here is vitally important. Most Web pages are designed in-house by whomever at the company knows HTML. Many net-reps, Web curators, and online reps are not employed (or marginally compensated) by the companies they represent. It's a status job for many fans and troop followers. In at least one case, a miscommunication resulted in harsh feelings between a former Web-rep and the company he served. In short, for such a hyped medium, the Web is cluttered with amateurs (relative to, say, software development and other resume-requiring fields).
But what's an "amateur" in the context of the RPG "industry", where 3 people can qualify as a "big company", and many designers still keep a day job? Outside of the top 5 or so, most companies have to focus on the basics of publishing-- editing, production, marketing, sales. Having a full-time professional Web designer is quite a luxury. Many companies already rely on freelancers for all the writing and art, so freelance web designers are just good thinking. And like with writing, some web freelancers are clearly better than others.
It gets really hard to pin down what an "Industry Member" is. A thread on Usenet recently tried to define who's in and who's not. General consensus was that, besides the actual full-time employees and publishers, it comes down to a mix of publication credits and networking. If you're a prolific freelancer or if you hang around with the right people, you're in. Which starts making the RPG industry look more like the conventional business word, where talent and connections, taken as a pair, are what count.
In the whole scheme of the industry, where this Web column (and rpg.net) stands is a bit interesting. The information I present is not quite "insider secrets"-- I'm only a lowly freelancer. Rather, it's culled from the huge flow of info swirling around public and semi-public channels. I faithfully take all the news I can find and try to present the most significant in a coherent and hopefully lively format. It's all somewhat relative, after all. Since this is the Web, though, you have the ultimate say, through the instant feedback of email. Feel free to let your voice be heard. Because however you define the RPG Industry, it wouldn't survive without the gamers themselves.Until next month,