Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Rationales for Professional Gamesmastering

Recently a group of us GMs over on Google+ began talking about the idea of Professional Gamesmastering. To facilitate the conversational brainstorming and debate of this idea I started the Professional Gamesmaster Society... It has been eye-opening. We've had some mixed reactions, ranging from "No way - that's impossible" to "Where the heck do I sign up?!"

Some people were curious why we would consider such a thing, given that the hobby has been around for over three decades and there's been no great effort to professionalize it. So I thought I'd chat a bit about what we think are valid reasons for doing so. Here's our thinking:

Gamemastering is Hard Work and GM's Deserve Something For It

Many Gamesmasters invest a huge amount of time and effort into their games, especially if they run their own homebrew system and craft their own adventures. In fact it is enough effort that it turns out few people are willing or able to actually do it. I think the ratio of Players to GMs has been pretty steady at roughly ten to one for thirty years. The fact is, GMing is time consuming and difficult, requiring numerous skills that are not easily acquired, both technical and social... and therefore GMs are something of a scarce commodity. Gamesmastering is both an art and a science, and those who are good at it are frankly providing some of the best entertainment in the world. The only people I know who can put me into another world the way Tolkien did with 'Lord of the Rings', are good Gamesmasters. We think that's got to be worth something. We pay for music, artwork, literature, movies and practically every other form of entertainment. Why not Gamesmastering? Given the amount of work, and the greatness of their creations, we think good GMs deserve remuneration for their efforts.

When Money Is Involved The Quality of the Event Goes Up

When activities involve money everyone gets a little more serious. And the quality of the related events go up. Lets face it - today a lot of games are run kinda sloppy. People show up late, they don't have their character sheets, they don't remember the rules, key facts that were revealed in the previous game sessions, the GM was busy helping a friend study for a test, etc, etc. This is especially the case in online Virtual Table Top games where the most common complaint I hear is that online Players fail to show up. It's pretty consistent and most VTT GMs factor in that half their Players may fail to show up at any given game - often without notice. But this also happens at regular Table Top Games, too (although not to the same degree, of course), and generally people tend to not take any of it all that seriously. After all its just a game, right? And for something informal like a game between friends, we kind of just accept that it's a loose ship and stuff happens and people don't show, or it's not that well prepared, and so on, and it's all just kind of "ok" like that. What else could we expect, after all? It's just a game and "it doesn't cost anyone anything" We accept the low quality because we can't really argue that people should take it any more seriously as no one is paying anything and it's all "just for fun". Which of course it's all just for fun. So is going to the movies. But we still expect high quality. But not so much with our RPGing experiences. We accept that things just kind of sluff, and that's fine. There's nothing really wrong with it, actually, if that's all you expect out of the experience. There's no skin off anyone's back if everyone just kind of slouches through the thing. And even with all that sloppiness the games are still quite fun, which is of course why after more than three decades the hobby has grown to its present size and has garnered so much enthusiastic support from its fans. In fact, I think most RPGers agree - there is nothing else like it out there. It's an awesome hobby.

Yet still, the games, we think, are not really as great as they could be. And we suspect that if we bring money into the equation then suddenly the quality in fact will change for the better. Now people get serious. You mean I'm paying for this? Oh now I care. Now my fellow Players better get here on time. Now the GM better be prepared. Now I give a damn about what is going on and I don't want to waste time on my cell phone. And so on. We believe that everything improves as soon as money gets involved because then, and only then (pretty much), does everyone actually have skin in the game. And it makes a big difference. Money = Higher Quality Gaming. A theory. But we think it will turn out to be true.

Improvement of the Art

If Gamesmasters were to be paid, and sufficiently (ie - able to make a career out of it) so that they could actually focus on the art, their mastery of the tools and their skills as GM would go up. And up. And up. They'd have a vested interest in making sure that their Players are thrilled by each game. They'd be willing to put in the time it takes to truly prep for their games in a way that makes them absolutely amazing. They'd study for it, do research for it, bring the art into it, and live it and breath it. And what we would see blossoming from this is a class of Gamesmaster-Artists who produce truly phenomenal, professional quality Worlds. We would see the flourishing of RPGs as the new 21st century art form. And it would be awesome! I'm convinced of that.

Can it work? Let's Do the Pro-GM Math

But how can Gamesmasters make the kind of money necessary to make this happen? Enough to actually devote themselves to Gamesmastering as a career? Instead of speculating, lets do the math.

I need $1000 / week to pay my rent and live comfortably, and save some money for retirement. Ok. How many games at what price would I need to charge my Players to work that out?

If I charge $5 / hour per Player and I had 5 Players per game, I would need to GM 40 hours per week to make $1000 / week. Do those numbers seem completely crazy to you? They don't to me. It seems doable. You can even tweak the yellow values to get different balances according to your needs and preferences. But your goal would be to achieve the $ needed / week in any case. I'll tweak mine a bit again because I figure I want to have enough between game prep time. So I want to play only 20 hours per week. What does that look like? I merely need to either increase my hourly fee to $10 / hour, or I need to have 10 Players per game. Conversely, I could nuance it further and charge a little more and have a few more Players per game... (note values given are arbitrary - you can fill in a $ needed / week based on your own cost of living)...

So what I'm showing here is that Gamesmasters could possibly make a decent living if they could muster up 7 Players per game and play 20 hours per week, if they charge $7.14 / hour per Player. For me this would mean I'd run 4 games of 5 hours each per week. I could do two on the weekend, and two in the evenings during the week. Does that sound doable to you? It does to me. Does it sound easy? No, not really. Presently with the current tools available GMing is a time intensive activity, and it's not all just airy fairy sitting around thinking about what kinds of castles and monsters are around. It's tough grinding grunt work planning for a Campaign. There's a lot of stats and a lot of number crunching and record keeping involved. And there aren't very good tools around to help with it. Yet.

Tools of the Trade

I'd want to have a bunch of professional quality tools to make my life as Gamesmaster as easy as possible, of course, so that I could streamline the prepping of my games down to a bare minimum of time so I could focus on the fun stuff - the castles and monsters and all that airy fairy stuff I really enjoy. If we had such tools would this now sound more doable? It does to me.

Tools of this kind are on the way, and some already exist, at least in their infancy-form. If you consider the possibilities of Virtual Table Top Systems such as Roll20... the feasibility presents itself as within striking range. Not 100% there at the moment, but coming along, and showing promise. And with a better improved set of tools it could be that supporting the number of Play Hours needed to make a living on GMing might be all the more feasible. There would be more to it than just that, of course, and I'm not factoring in additional costs such as taxes and advertizing. I'm merely showing that the math indicates that there's a possibility to make a living Gamesmastering, if you can make the arrangements for it with enough Players and can schedule enough hours at the right price.


Just some thoughts for you folks. There will be more thoughts coming along soon on this topic as things move forward. We're working on a Website for Professional Gamemasters now, and hopefully we will have something to show for the effort soon.

So let me ask - If you could manage to make a career out of Gamemastering somehow, would you want to do it?

By the way, if you are interested in contributing to the thought processing, planning, and implementation of this concept, and you feel you have something to offer in the way of experience, knowledge, or enthusiastic support ... do drop by our Professional Gamemaster Society Community and give a holler. We're looking for bright and engaged members to help put this all together and actually make something happen. I will periodically be posting here regarding our progress.