Tuesday, April 19, 2016

An Atrocious Suggestion

Jeez, I just want to start this post with an apology.

As soon as I'm done, I'm going to put up a poll.  I really want honesty - because I've just gotten off the phone with a friend who decided what I needed was a swift, spiritual kick to the head meant to alters my perspective.  There was yelling involved.

I ran an online campaign for 5 years.  That's evidence of commitment.  The campaign included maps, geographical and social details, combat, a continuous character narrative arc and a personal player sandbox agenda.  I did it for free.

My friend feels I should be paid for it.  I asked, how much would someone pay for that and he said, quote, "Why the fuck don't you ask them?"

My part-time job, which I am leaving for in about two hours, pays be about $1,500 a month.  Unlike the job I had when I was running the online campaign, I don't have a desk, I don't have a computer and I have zero free time.   Right now I am working, writing, getting a little bit of D&D done and that is about it, since occasionally my partner likes to see me.  The only way I would have time for an online campaign would be if I were working even less hours than I am now (about 28/week).  This works out to the measly sum of $75 to $100 dollars a day.

I figure I could probably manage two to four parties of 4-5 people each, either scheduled for a given night of the week and run partly on skype, or continously on email throughout the day as I did on the campaign blog.  This is a maximum of 20 people.  20 divided into $1,500 is $75 per person per month.  Let's further establish that I'm on the hook for at least 6-8 hours a week per party, both in direct playing and in answering questions, solving problems and prep-time.

Or I could cut the number of my shifts, keep working half the time I am now and charge less - but that is more work for the same amount of money.

The real problem, I think - and my friend admitted the issue - is that this is something of an all-or-nothing thing.  Right now, because of exhaustion and scheduling, I can't even run one of my live parties; and they get me in person, for free, when we play.  I don't know what or how I would run people on line.  Perhaps when the book is packed away and done.  I can't see it happening now.

I'm just going to ask in a poll, however - and christ on a cracker, I'm sorry as shit for doing this - what people would pay on Patreon to run online in my world.  It would at least tell me how many.  I remember when I offered this for free about five years ago, it wasn't that many people; but I would never have expected then that people would give me $3,000 in donations, either.


The results to the poll were as follows:


Arduin said...

Good goddamn, but I wish I could offer something up here. I would literally flip my lid for a chance like this, but having my crap job with it's equally crap scheduling/pay, I'm afraid I've got nothing this time.

I genuinely hope you get a few parties to take a bite here, and I'd be grateful in the extreme to both you AND those parties if the sessions were in some way available to the rest of us to view/listen in on.

The blog has only been getting better as its gone on, and these past couple of months have had a lot of great content despite your troubles. You've got my best wishes, as ever.

Ozymandias said...

I have to agree with Arduin. I put in my vote, for the record, but my job effectively prevents me from partaking for at least the next year (give or take a month).

But if you ever offered other documents from your system, I'd be willing to pay. Like for, say, a weather system...?

Wandrille Duchemin said...

That may be a dumb question, but are the prices in canadian dollars or in american dollars?

Alexis Smolensk said...

Hah! Not silly at all!


Wandrille Duchemin said...

Then I can give more $!

I will vote, not what I would ideally want to (same reason as the others), but what I can and am willing to.

Discord said...

If it's not something that we are able to do, either based on schedule or personal preference, would you like us to vote what we think a reasonable amount is?

Alexis Smolensk said...


It is a simple market survey; so 'reasonable' is what you think it would be worth to you.

I deliberately left off a negative option, as I'm only interested in people who would find the cost fits their budget.

James Clark said...

There's no option for zero dollars so I decided to post a reply. This is in no way meant to be a slight against you Alexis or your capabilities. Further, I sympathize with your current situation. I'd also like to note that I have purchased everything you've had up for sale to date, so I am a supporter. If you choose to not allow this to post to the blog I will understand and not say another word about it.

#1 in principal I'm against the notion of paying a DM. In a weird sense I think it erodes and not bolsters the DMs role as arbiter and therefore creates a situation within which I'd have no interest in participating. That said, I'm sure there are people out there so desperate for a game they'd be willing to pay... but I question whether these are the sorts of desperate suckers you'd want to run in a game.

#2, in more practical terms can you satisfactorily answer the following:

What happens when a character dies in a per-pay enterprise like this? Should they expect not to? Imagine the furor around a video game costing $59 where character death was permanent. Now multiply that by 100.

Should players expect a certain amount of magic or treasure for their investment? A certain amount of success?

What happens when "better" players seem to be reaping more rewards in the game? They are paying the same amount as poor players, after all. Or, can everybody pretty much expect to get the same out of the game either way? How long will that be satisfactory?

How would an unsatisfied customer/ supporter seek redress?

How would you handle it? You're establishing a vendor-customer relationship here and to do it and succeed you're going to have to eat a bit of shit from time to time, especially if this is "public" in the sense that the play-by-blog was. If not, every interaction is still just a screen capture away from public view & comment.

Should this effort actually get started I'd fear that it would blow up in your face, to the possible detriment of other efforts.

There it is, in all honesty.

James Clark said...

For any interested I can personally attest as a player that the online campaign linked to above was a great deal of fun; very engrossing with a lot of depth and detail.

Alexis Smolensk said...


Apart from the label "suckers," I have no problem with the content of the email. I personally, in the past, have paid hard-earned money for all sorts of bizarre, irrational things that my parents or friends would have clucked their tongues at; spending money on something we like isn't the act of a 'sucker'; it is a personal choice that reflects a personal will to have something we cannot get otherwise. It isn't fair of you to denigrate another person's assessment of their spending capital in this way. After all, when I worked in a cushy, comfortable office job with minimal responsibilities and menials to do work for me, I was making enough money that $25 or $50, even $100 a month wouldn't have made the least dent. Now it feels like a lot to me. Circumstances have a lot to do with what people have the freedom to spend.

Please apologize to my readers.

That said, you're quite right about the aspects of what I'm proposing. But when visiting a prostitute, it is generally made clear what the prostitute won't do, not for any money. I have considered those problems.

If someone dies, well, that's the game. They get to roll up a new character and rejoin.

Magic or treasure? Everyone pays the same amount of money so everyone gets a fair share of the treasure. Not what they think they deserve for their $50, but what EVERYONE gets, approximately, for $50.

If you pay to get on the roller coaster and you don't like it, you don't get your money back. You pay the prostitute and you don't get off, that is your issue. People who don't like the game can count the loss of their investment for one month and then discontinue their patronage.

It may be a vendor-customer relationship but it isn't the sort that you're describing. I'm not rebuilding YOUR kitchen. I'm letting you visit MINE and sit there for a price.

There will be some who won't get that - but they will be warned (as I'm doing now). It will be the buyer who will beware and it will be the vendor who tries hard to ensure they get an experience that is worth their expenditure.

Sounds like capitalism to me.

James Clark said...

I hope you can appreciate that I won't be apologizing for something that I don't feel sorry for saying. I will, however, say that I am wrong and adjust my thinking if proven so and hope you accept that instead. As for everything else, I do wish you the best with it. I'd happily eat crow if it works out that way.

Alexis Smolensk said...


I'm not asking you to apologize with regards to the potential idiocy of my proposal.

I'm asking you to apologize for taking a position of moral 'superiority' regarding the manner in which people spend their money, using an improper label to describe people who would do so in a manner that you would not.

I think the need for that apology is self-evident.

Discord said...

I feel like $50/month is a reasonable donation for this service. However, my personal cutoff would be $25/month, and that's how I've voted.

I hope that I didn't cause any issues with my original comment, but I wanted to be able to provide data to you, even if I wouldn't actually participate.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I consider that very good of you, Discord. The information you give matters to me; I only wish I could hear from others, as these fine distinctions can make all the difference in how such a service is offered, as well as in how much it might cost.

I have been thinking about things we pay a monthly fee to receive. Eve Online will cost between $11 and $15 dollars a month, depending on how long you buy in for, up front; the 12-month plan demands an initial outlay of $131. The Wall Street Journal will let you have 2 months free, but after that it is $32 a month. A yearly unlimited yoga pass will cost you as much as $1,000 - a number comparable with gyms and other fitness clubs, which expect people to pay in a fit of wanting to make a change in their lives while likely quitting within a few weeks (so that the gym isn't packed with users).

An exclusive fitness club can easily run upwards of much more money than that just to get in the door, noting that additional programs such as classes, wellness services, personal training, food & beverage and special member events go way, way higher. A personal trainer, who does nothing more than watch me exercise and encourages me to do it in a healthy, more vigorous manner can cost up to $100 an hour. High-powered trainers earn as much as $15,000 for six-week sessions . . . and it is worth noting that many of these people get into that industry not because of an unusual education, like a doctor, but because they have a particular suitable personality that endears them to very wealthy, dissatisfied people.

Then there is someone like a chiropractor, who gets paid up to $150 for LESS than an hour, to permanently fuck up your back while giving immediate gratification - encouraging you to come back again and again, even becoming a dependent user.

None of this begins to compare with people who spend thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars to pull cranks, throw dice or watch someone else spin a wheel in the hopes that they won't lose all the money they have. Above, James asked me, "What happens when a character dies . . ."? Well, what happens when the $500 you've placed on Mown Field to place loses by a nose?

One thing about money - we all wish we had enough to buy the things we want. For someone, the cost of something is always too much; and for someone else, it's perfectly reasonable.

James Clark said...

I know for whom your requested apology is intended, Alexis, and my only regret right now is in responding at all. I do wish you the best of luck with this enterprise and don't want to play the troll. You are right, people do spend money for things of more questionable value than what you propose to offer, and if a bad movie can cost in upwards of $18 a pop, what then is the value of a good RPG experience? I guess I don't know. Perhaps you and your subscribers will educate me. Good luck!

Maliloki said...

I'm in the same boat as Discord. If I could afford it, 50 seems reasonable enough.

I can't, and 25 is pushing it for me at the moment, but I might be able to fudge with my accounting to make that work....maybe.

connor mckay said...

I voted at $25 a month, it is what I could pay now if I had the time to play (though I am not sure I would). I would place the value at $50-$75 a month though depending on the amount of time spent playing. I mean I can easily sink $60 into video games a month and get 30+ hours of game time in per month(total not per game) so $50-$75 a month would be viable considering I find D&D more rewarding than video games.

Ozymandias said...

I have a friend who has often told me that, were he wealthy enough to afford it, he would pay for a professional DM to run games for his friends. Much like you might have a personal chef at your beck and call. It may be a niche market, but I think the market exists nonetheless.

Maxwell Joslyn said...

I put myself down for $50 CAD initially but I've changed it to $25 just now, wanting to be cautious at first. (Currently can't actually pay anything because I'm awaiting a new credit card after fraud attempts on the last one; for the same reason I'm not yet part of your Patreon.) Other than your joking years ago about D&D BnB, I don't think I've seen anyone propose paid D&D before. I've never had to think seriously about it so I don't know for sure what my number would be. I would raise the number if things went well, in which case 50 CAD ($40 USD) would not be unreasonable. That's $10 USD per running.

Let's have a look: the 17 current voters are at 5*25 + 5*50 + 4*75 + 2*100, and let's count the single above-100 vote as 150. That totals to 125 + 250 + 300 + 200 + 150, or $1,025 CAD. Promising start. But that's only if you run every single one of those 17 people, and running those 3-4 games would mean severely cutting into your ability to e.g. continue pulling apart your trade tables in order to start your offline game up in a satisfactory manner when summer rolls around.

Matthias said...

I had wondered, back when you started your jumpstarter campaign, why you hadn't thought of a Patreon campaign and, in particular, why you had not considered reviving / rebooting your online campaign for a fee. I have taken immense pleasure in reading those campaigns, and I imagined I wouldn't be the only person interested in seeing them restarted. I would have thought that even seeing the campaigns unfold could have been made into a Patreon tier: pay a few bucks and you get to see the exclusive new content.

I don't think anyone familiar with your play-style who then decided to pay to game in your campaign would be shocked / disappointed by having their character killed, or disappointed because the storyline did not meet their expectations. But you did have some gamers leaving for all sorts of different reasons, and that is yet another factor to take into consideration before embarking in such a project.

As to the monetary value proposed, I suggested 25 because I couldn't personally afford much more on a monthly basis. But I'm sure there are lots of potential interest out there, and some of them might have deep pockets. I might not be your target audience anyway. I tend to think you should settle for a value you feel comfortable with and see if there are any takers, rather than target a specific sum and divide by the number of players you think you can manage. If at the rate you set, there are no takers, then either give up or lower the rate. Then again, I can fully understand that there is an opportunity cost in embarking on a new project, and that you might need to be sure that you will achieve an income that compensates whatever losses you'll take by redirecting your time and energy to this.

Mark Van Vlack said...

I would spend a base of $25 dollars a month and be willing to go to $40 dollars a month if things really took off and we were playing quite a bit. I am using $10 a session as my base line. Thinking that playing once a week would be the highest possible frequency.

Kerry Harrison said...

While I support the concept of Professional Game Masters in principal, I'm not willing to pay anything for such a service at this time - primarily because I've got more opportunities for gaming than I have time available for gaming. Now if I didn't have the gaming opportunities available that I do, I'd be willing to pay $50 per month and just include it as part of my monthly gaming budget.

LTW said...

I would expect Alexis to command $15-$30 per hour for DMing. So my monthly price would depend based on the hours per month Alexis commits. For 4 hours a week, a party of 5 would pay $52-$104 each per month, but for 6 hours a week, I would expect $78-$156 per month.

It could be that Alexis is able to run multiple parties in the same hour due to the slower pace of text D&D and some efficiencies he has acquired at DMing. If this were the case, then prices could be adjust downward to attract more parties.

I would consider putting $50 in if I felt like I had the time to keep up with a group. As it is now, I hardly have the time to run my own game.

I did think of a different pricing model while writing this. A player or perhaps a group of players would state an action of their character's choosing. They then pay a small fee such as a quarter, dime, or nickel (or Canadian equivalent sorry for my US ignorance) for the results of their action.

A player would prepay Alexis 2 dollars and have say, 10 actions or questions. Can you imagine the seriousness a player would embrace if each action or question were $.20? I envision a player paying a dollar to run through their first combat encounter and maybe 50 cents to a dollar getting to their next. Maybe it costs $5 to roll up a character on your character generator. This sort of reminds me of an arcade game business model.

Scarbrow said...

Please allow me to join the party, even if late. I've been trapped on my honeymoon travel right until now.

When I buy "recorded" (i.e. pre-generated) entertainment, I appraise it as dollars-per-hour. So movie theater tickets are expensive at $10/hour or more, while a $100 textbook that I will spend 40 hours on is quite cheap, and a WoW subscription, on which I will spend at least 3-5 hours/day for a month it's a bargain.

Yet I also value some things over others. Dedicated or unique content is specially valuable, and that's why I'm ready to go to a live theater from time to time, just to have a cast of real persons to act for my viewing pleasure, even if I could have a similar experience with a recording for a quite lower marginal price. Also there is the question of the added value of the professional act. That is the reason I'm ready to pay (from time to time) a hefty premium for a meal prepared by a chef, even if I can prepare it in my kitchen for far less money, because the one I can cook is just not up to par. Content that is custom generated, on the fly, just for me and a few others, by a dedicated professional, would then have to be considered on this basis. Or, as you very helpfully indicate, you can compare this kind of professional, personal indication with the services of a prostitute. I'm told some people pay large sums for this kind of service.

The main problem I see with this approach is that playing tabletop RPGs involves considerable amounts of time. I wouldn't go to a restaurant where I had to seat for three meals a day, for a week, to really enjoy the dishes. I wouldn't assist to a live performance requiring some 40-hours of my time, at $20/hour, no matter how good the story. Even if I'd really enjoy the result, I'd go broke. So I think there is a problem here, it being that while I'm ready to pay, say, $200 for the experience, I would like it to last for many hours. So many hours, in fact, that I'm not sure if the professional could make a living out of it. Which may or may not be the reason you can't find such a professional DM.

This intersection of offer and demand is, of course, a classical problem of economics. I still haven't learned how is it resolved, except through trial-and-error. I don't have a clear answer (the previous paragraphs being just some meditations on the matter) but even though the poll is closed, I will offer what I would consider to be adequate prices.

(continued on a second comment, since this one grew a little too long)

Scarbrow said...

First, as an absolute minimum, I wouldn't pay less for a "session" (the length of which would have to be between three and six hours) than for a movie ticket. That is, €5 to €10 (8.6 to 14 CAD). I would, in fact, consider it much more logical to pay for it as it for a live performance. Since I can find plays in my area for €20 to €40, that is 28 to 56 CAD. However, I can assist to a single play of a good show and be satisfied, while I would probably need either a few sessions (three or four, I reckon) to feel I've played a minimum viable story. Or a certain rate of them (such as one per week) to consider I'm playing "enough" D&D to satisfy my playing wants. I think I can combine both and say that I would feel satisfied to play a weekly session, or four such sessions in a shorter time, for the money I would spend on a play by a good theatrical company, on the higher part of the range. I've paid €50 (CAD 72) for "The Phantom of the Opera". And it wouldn't make a special dent on my budget to allow for such a monthly spending.

The problem is, if I expect, on average, 20 hours of gaming time (four sessions of five hours) for that amount of money, then the DM is receiving just €2.5 (CAD 3.6) /hour from me. Even if attending to six players at a time (again, on average, some times more, some times less) that would be €15/CAD 21.6/hour. Not a bad rate for salaried work (~2400€/ 3456 CAD month, assuming an 40-hour working week), but rather low for a contractor. It may still work if the players are loyal or addicted (like on Everquest/WoW subscription models) or for the same reason the subscription models of gyms work (you can skip your session, but you can't skip your payment).

From here, and going on a speculative side-rant, you could add as many complications as you wanted, like extra fees for extending the session past its usual time, surge pricing (this table/week is full, so prices are up), optional one-time sessions for a fee... I even think the best market for this, should the DM be able to sell it, would be "virtual services". While I don't, for example, buy virtual pets on WoW, I'm told it's a thriving market. A service where the character is still part of the group and accrues XP and treasure even when the player can't make it to the appointment would cost little to the DM. Same as starting characters at a level higher than 1, hiring/recruiting more manpower (supporters) than usual, etc. Heck, if WoW can sell virtual gold for real money, for all I know you could do the same, maybe as microtransactions ($1 for 100gp? Add zeroes as needed). While I wouldn't personally pay for such things I've mentioned, there is no reason not to add them to the menu. At worst they won't be used, no harm done. Of course, like the prostitute example, the DM can always say no, this I won't do no matter the money. But i would be the province of the DM to put those terms.

I hope this meditations offer some value.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I've written a long post describing my current thinking on the matter, Scarbrow, but let me address this last paragraph separately.

I can see many of these things working. My main issue would be that I've been selling a particular philosophy where it comes to DMing. That philosophy is more valuable than short-term gain, so I have to think cautiously about many of the things you name.

They're stuck in my head, however. As long as I can stay true to myself and not compromise the work I've done so far, I may think of a way to navigate through these profitable waters you describe.