Friday, November 25, 2011

RPG Professionals: Rude Question, Luckily This Is A Blog So You Don't Have To Answer

So, full-time RPG professionals...

How much do you make? A month? Per project?

You don't have to answer, (obviously, since I don't even know which of you are reading) and if you want to email it zakzsmith at hawt mayle dawt calm then go ahead. Your anonymity will be preserved.

But I've been looking at old Dragons and White Dwarfs and wondering about the economics of how it all fits together.

Data provided may or may not contribute to forthcoming useful insights.


  1. Per project I can get up to 3 cents a word.
    Others I get a flat rate, but it is about the same.

  2. How many words? Or, to cut to the chase--how much does that add up to per month, on average?

  3. I'm just curious how many "full-time RPG professionals" there are. I'm one of the many, many freelancers who I assume makes up the vast majority of the hobby.

  4. @peter

    Can you tell me a per hour/per month rate approximately?

  5. When I was a freelancer for Shadowrun I made 3.0-3.5 cents a word, for projects from 5,000 to 50,000 words. (Most ROG freelancer rates are 1-6 cents a word, no royalties.)

    It's hard to call it on a "per monthly" rate because depending on the contract I would be paid either when I turned in a final completed draft, or more often when the book actually went to print - three to six months after I submitted a final draft.

  6. @ZakS - it's hard to break it down because I don't track the time I put in to the project per se, and I almost always get per-word, a flat check for the project, or just royalties. I could potentially tell you I make X a year, divide that by 12, and tell you my monthly income - let me know if that's still useful to you.

    But it won't get you close to the time spent and therefore a per-hour payrate. RPG writing is the one thing I do that doesn't involve tracking and billing for hours. I bet if I did it would be depressingly low. :)

  7. The more you can break it down the better. Like how long does it take you to write, say, 10,000 words?

  8. Matthew Sprange of Mongoose wrote a pamphlet on the economics of RPG publishing called I am Mongoose and so can you ( ) which goes into the economics side of the industry.

  9. @prince herb
    ...for 24$--so according to tim and peter you'd have to write 800 words to be able to afford it.

  10. My rates are:

    $80 for a full page, b&w. Fractions are as you'd expect (40 1/2 page, 20 1/4 page).
    Double that for colour.
    Half that for digest sizes.

    Layout has been all over the place. The amount of art I do for each project is all over the place, too. Trying to gauge an average by project or even try to calculate by hourly rate isn't really helpful, but I'm definitely under minimum wage. (Of course, the amount of stuff I do on my own time that feeds into any project is a pretty hefty chunk.) Since I'm so far under the poverty line, tax season is like a late Xmas present.

    I've been 'full-time' since June, and I'm eking by. (Important datum: I'm in Toronto, so housing is medium-to-expensive.) I've been hand-to-mouth for years before this on a bunch of jobs I either quit or got laid off from, though, so I'm used to it. Is it a 'fair wage?' No, of course not. But I'd rather be poor and make things than be poor and work in the 'service industry.'

    I'm doing better at it than a lot of other people I know from art school—I know exactly one person from the fine art side who's still painting and getting cash from it. I don't think any of the people who actually went through the illustration program are making much money off it. My initial plan was to try and focus on comics (cue chortling) but I just happened to know people who know people who needed art, and they made games.

  11. @huth

    The question for you as an illustrator would be how many 80$ (approximately) do you expect to do per month? On average?

  12. I'm just curious how many "full-time RPG professionals" there are.

    I'm in the group of one, but he also writes novels, mostly tie-ins. I'm not sure he counts, and if he doesn't count, then...

  13. The question for you as an illustrator would be how many 80$ (approximately) do you expect to do per month? On average?

    "Expect" and "average" are pretty much meaningless to me. I have relationships with specific clients, but I can't let myself imagine that that's indicative of anything universal. This month, I'm doing a lot of colour work (quarter x4, half x1, full-page x1, a couple others I might finish by the end of the month) plus a b/w half-page and stuff for Shane. Brings me up to $500ish, possibly more. And there's layout stuff that's been ongoing for the past few months on top of that.

  14. Whether or not I'm pinched enough to need to use PayPal vs. a cheque also affects things, since any international money transfer has killer fees.

  15. That Mongoose book is a good case study.

    Say I'm a freelancer who normally works 3 cents a word when I can get it. Then I get the idea to do something like "I Am Mongoose."

    It looks about 25,000 words which might take a good freelancer a week or two to pump out. Or I could fill that time with 25,000 words from someone else -- assuming for the moment that the assignment is available -- and bank $800.

    Drivethru takes 30% to 35% so if I sell more than 40 copies of "I Am Mongoose" at $30 apiece -- ever -- I break even.

    If price point is an issue, keep tinkering with it.

  16. I could probably crank out 10K words in 4-5 weeks, given some standard of "good words" and "rules and formatting compliant." But my overall rate is lower because I end up writing in fits and spurts. Plus I'm not always doing a project. But yeah, offhand I think 2,000 - 2500 good words a week is a reasonable average.

    I'll see if I can't scare up some numbers based on that, but right now I need to get stuff together for game tomorrow . . .

  17. IIRC, Robin Laws mentioned at a seminar at GenCon Oz 2008 that there were, maybe, something in the range of half-a-dozen full-time, professional freelancers in the industry, worldwide, with a decent standard of living. (Obviously, there are more writers directly employed by gaming publishers as editors, line developers, etc., but still, it's not a large field.)

  18. I'm with hüth in the art rates: 80-100 bucks for a b/w full page, 40-50 for half page, 20-25 for quarter page, doble for colour. But I must to say that the rate vary wildly from one publisher to another: some small companies can pay me double than Mongoose, for example.

    Said this, I can do barely a living from drawing, like 300 bucks a month. (It's the reason why I must to work in a bookshop if I want to pay the bills).

  19. Oh yeah I used to get 3 cents a word for short works. Longer works tend to scale down a little, and these days I do stuff for close to 100% royalties instead. So my 10K in words in 5 weeks might not pay me back at all, or it might pay back well.

    This is why it's a part-time gig at best, and my deadlines get accepted around my other jobs.

  20. The rates discussed here sound on par with those offered by most magazines and small publishing houses.