Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Patronage and the Role-Playing Game Industry

Patronage, according to a definition found at Wikipedia, " is the support, encouragement, privilege and often financial aid given by a person or an organization." During previous eras various artistic and engineering feats and projects occurred under the act of empowerment found via a patron or group of patrons, such as City-States and religious groups. Michelangelo and de Vinci both had patrons, several, throughout their years who fueled their endeavors with monies, resources, and even places to create at, and look at the wonders that came from those times.

Yet, over the years, the act of patronage turned more and more into employer and employee, with less and less freedom of the previous eras and a more modern mercantile thought applied to various creative projects. Society often changes a concept, yet there are still exceptions to those facts and there are still patrons today, yet they apply more and more to the arts like music and painting, with the occasional author in resident seen from time to time.

It's been over two years since Wolfgang Baur brought the patronage concept to the RPG industry and, I think, it's quite evidently a success for Baur, as well as a torch that others in the industry are looking at or, in the case of Rite Publishing, a torch to be touched from and carried on their own. The patronage model has obviously been kind to Baur, as he has not only worked with others on projects, but he's also launched Kobold Quarterly, an analog and digital gaming magazine that has taken residence in the niche that Dragon magazine once filled.

Recently, Rite Publishing has decided to use the patronage model to bring Frank Carr's Heroes of the Jade Oath, a setting powered by Monte Cook's Arcana Evolved, to print via two levels of patronage, patron and senoir patron. Originally, Lands of the Jade Oath was a homebrew, yet it's fan popularity and interesting flavor has brought it quickly to the land of (soon to be) published RPGs. How many other new worlds are waiting such a launch to prominence and are they more likely to see the light of day due to the patronage model?

At the height of the d20 boom, self-publishing brought a new age to the small press RPG designer and developer, especially with services like Lulu enabling them to go to print, as opposed to just PDF. Not only were these designers and developers successful in the digital world, but many of them soon found success in the analog world, too. Which brings to question, what and who will the patronage movement bring to the forefront?

Thus far the patronage movement has had no real stumbling or examples of misuse of trust of it's patrons, which is a good thing and, hopefully, will continue for some time to come. If folks follow Baur's example and professionalism, not only will the patronage movement take a firm hold in the industry, but it could bring a new age to the RPG where people get the exact product that they've hoped for, tailored to their needs and desire. Not only will this add a desired product to their patrons' gaming tables, but it will also fuel the creative engines of the companies that use the model, but bring an interesting level of freedom to game designers and developers who would like to work outside of the mainstream industry.

Although some of the higher levels of patronage are of a higher cost level than most products, they bring with them extras such as manuscript and art review, creation process updates and articles, as well as a hands on tutorial in game design and development. In addition to producing custom products that their patrons want, the patronage movement is also training new designers and developers who might use the same model to bring their own work and ideas to gaming tables. While some could look at this as adding hairline fractures to a multi-faceted industry, a more positive outlook is that it is an excellent training ground for future professionals who are taught by experienced veterans using patronage to supplement their own income and lives.

While the patronage model is new to the role-playing game industry, with few examples of its success, these existing examples are so strong that the potential benefits outweigh any, as of yet, theoretically misgivings. Not only is the patronage model a boon to the individual game designer and developer, as well their patrons, but I feel, in the end, it will show to be a boon to the industry, too.

But, that's just my thoughts, what's yours?


Stormhierta said...

Overall we are moving towards new, and original, business models in the RPG industry. Dreamscarred Press is doing Custom Design, where a singular customer (or group) can place a custom design order for something, which DSP can then release as its own product.

Fundable offers ways to sell large quantities of Print-on-Demand with minimum buy-in from all parties. Just look at how Arcanis is doing it, with a limited number of Printed books.

A variant on patronage would mean that a book, once paid for by patrons, is released for free, for all. Which is quite similar to the Ransom model done by Greg Stolze (among others), where an author writes something and then ransoms it to his fans. Once paid, it is FREE.

We're currently seeing a "trickle-in" basis for most of these too, where a hundred people pay a couple of dollars each. But how long until we see larger companies paying patronage to authors?

Imagine Blizzard paying a number of well-known people to create tie-in games to Warcraft? Available for free once released. Or a company wanting to build buzz and word-of-mouth for an upcoming movie, game or tv-series? Imagine a HEROES game, or a PUSH game?

The possibilities are becoming endless and both the Long Tail and Freeconomics are playing into how the RPG industry evolves.

mxyzplk said...

The biggest problem of patronage is that it cuts off the "long tail." If you are a slavish follower of that designer, you hear about it and can get in on the project. If you're not, and you find out afterwards - you can't buy it. I'd like Kingdom of the Ghouls, but "too late." This is leaving money on the table. IMO there should be some modification to the patronage program where people *can* buy after. Lower prices for patrons and higher for after, lag time, whatever.

Stormhierta said...

Oh I agree completely, Rite Publishing does it this way versus Baurs closed projects. Much better!

Louis Porter Jr. said...

We ar Louis Porter Jr Design are planning to use the Patron model to release the upcoming Obsidian Twilight (A Dark Sun-Ravenloft mash-up) setting. This works great for everyone involved. Talking to the guys over at Rite Publishing really convinced me to give it a try.

Steven said...

Great article.

The big benifit of patronage IMHO is to the niche market like the dedicated fans to Monte Cook's Arcana Evolved or the fans of Lands of the Jade Oath. Now you can have a smaller customer base and still remain profitable, because your threashold goal covers your costs.

That was one of the changes, I added in to Rite Publishing's Patronage Projects rather than the exclusive nature of Open Design.

The promise I made in place of that is no specials, the price of the book for sale when released to the general public is the exact same cost a patron pays.

Heroes of the Jade Oath will sell for $60.00 no more, no less.

A Witch's Choice, our newest patronage project will sell for $10.00 no more no less

I give full credit to Wolfgang Baur for our projects, as I was inspired by his semminar. You can bet I will be a patron on his next book.