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From The *Somewhat Twisted* Mind Of Dulux-Oz

Why I Oppose Paid Games

Rating: 2 votes, 3.50 average.
First of all, this is not aimed at any one individual or group of individuals. Instead, it is an explanation of my views on an activity, not on the people who engage in that activity.

For the record, when I use the term "paid game" I am referring to RPG sessions where the Players pay the GM to run the game for them.

As the title of this blog indicates I am opposed to paid games. I find the idea... distasteful, even cheap. While I hold no ill will to those who do engage in paid games, it is not something I can support or even condone. Others will, of course, hold different views, and I respect the people who hold those views, even though I may disagree with them and they with me.

Role-Playing Games are exactly that: they are games. Games are ment to be a fun activity, typically shared between friends. True, most activities grouped in under the "games" umbrella are competitions, but RPGs are different, even unique in that the Players don't compete with each other, nor do they compete with the GM - well, at least not in a properly run RPG, anyway. Yes, there are a handful of board and other games which are co-operative, but even with most of these the Players are competing against something, usually the clock or some other random element such as a deck of cards or such-like. No, it is only in the RPG hobby that the unique aspects of this "non-competition" are found.

So these games are unique, and are shared among and played by friends. As a GM I construct my games with care because I'm presenting something that I can enjoy with people I want to spend my time with: my friends. When I put together a new group I'm not looking for just Players; I'm looking for friends, both old and new. When we sit down and game we're not just rolling dice and playing at being "Murder-Hoboes"; we're building a relationship between friends and telling personal stories. I find it... uncomfortable to pay or be paid to be someone's friend.

Can you imagine paying someone to play a game of tennis with you? I don't mean as a coach or with both of you being paid to play as a spectacle, but just as a "friendly" game between two people? I know it could happen but its certainly different from just two friends having a game.

Then there's the idea of corruption. As a paid GM, do I go easy on the Players because I'm afraid that if I'm "too tough" they won't come back and therefore I won't make as much money. Or as a Player to I insist of having an easier time of things for the same reason. I know that this can happen in a regular game, but surely the temptation is greater when there's a direct, tangible reward on the table. We all know (those of us who have gamed for a while) that the best games and the best stories are the ones where the Players aren't handed everything on a silver platter (or even a copper platter, for that matter). And even if as a player I don't want the GM to go easy on me, how do I know that this isn't happening even sub-consciously on the GM's part when the GM's getting paid, and therefore I'm not getting a "true" RPG experience. Again, this ties back to trust and to friendship: how can I trust a "friend" who is only there because money is changing hands?

On a different note: How much hubris does a person have to have to think that they're a good enough GM to charge others for the privilege of playing in one of their games? I've been GMing for over 30 years, and I've gamed with a number of other GM's over that time who were as good or better than I am. And where as I'm one of the most arrogant, stuck-up know-it-alls that I know, I don't have the sheer balls to think I'm good enough for people to actually pay me - well, actually, I do. I just don't think that much of myself to actually go ahead and charge people. And I can't imaging any of the other GMs I know - the true Master GMs - changing people either, for the same reasons that I'm outlining here.

The more I wrote, read, re-wrote and re-read this blog the more I realized that the best analogy to this situation was one of sex versus "making love". Sex is fun, it is shared between two (or more) people (depending upon your personal level of kink), and is usually done by those with a relationship; with friends (or lovers). True, you can participate in a "one-shot" one-night-stand; in a series of "casual" encounters with people you know; but the best sex is when it moves beyond just sex into "making love": when the campaign of the physical act takes on the spiritual aspects and you find yourself sharing an intimate story with someone you trust and respect and genuinely care for: your "friend".

While you can certainly pay for and be paid for sex, you can't really pay for or be paid for "making love", because the trust, intimacy and "friendship" just isn't there.

And its the same (to my mind, at least) with paid games: you can't really get the full effect of the game when you have to pay someone to run the game for you - its like paying someone for sex: you get the physical act, but you're missing out on the deeper, more spiritual level.

So why do people pay for a game? I suspect its similar as to why people pay for sex - its "easier" than developing a relationship with a "friend", or its because its quicker to pay someone for a "one night stand" or series of "one night stands" to satisfy their passing "fix" than it is to take the time to find and develop the friendships necessary to fully enjoy this fantastic hobby. Its the "quick fix" versus the "delayed gratification", where everyone knows the delayed gratifications is way, way better in the long run!

I know it can be hard to find a gaming group - its hard to find a true friend and partner, too. But my advice to Players (and GMs) is stick with it, keep looking, and don't limit yourself to just the "popular" gaming systems but expand you horizons and try different systems. A lot of good GMs run games in different systems than the "popular" ones, and we play Role-Playing Games, not just a single game. And if you still can't find a game, seriously consider running one yourself: you become the GM - it's really not that hard, and yes, everyone can do it. After all, most RPGs are designed to be GM'd by 12 year olds - you're smarted than a 12 year old, aren't you?

And don't get me wrong - there's nothing wrong with showing your GM some love and appreciation, especially if they do run a good game. Chipping in and helping out your GM with some of the costs of running the game (buying Rulesets, Tokens, Maps, or Adventures and other Modules for your GM, or even your own Standard FG License) is a fine way to say "Thank you" for putting on a good game, as is the exchange of Christmas and Birthday Gifts as friends do (as my own group does).

So that's my take on paid games. I think SmiteWorks has taken the best stance they can with the topic, and I applaud them for the stance that they have taken as a decent compromise to the situation. But me personally: I don't like paid games, I don't support paid games, and I don't believe paid games are necessary; just deceptively convenient. I also strongly believe that those who participate in paid games are missing out on the full experience of the RPG hobby, which I consider is a real tragedy.

Good Luck and Good Gaming,

"And may all you rolls be 20s"

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  1. BobTheMercenary's Avatar
    I need to find one of these paid games. Im tired of not having a game to play in. At least if the GM is paid he'll be there.
  2. amdawursk's Avatar
    I argue that paying a GM is just the natural progression of any service. Rpgs are becgoming more popular but people like to play, they don't like the pressure of having to build the world, build the npc's, build the adventure and plan out the time. In rough estimate one hour for a players game time is about 4 to 5 hours of just prep for the GM. On top of that, the GM has to work a regular job to survive in general, pay bills, get food, etc. So they have to actively set aside time to plan this out, sometimes on a biweekly basis or more. Gms are in incredible high demand I could post on one of these forums and get 7 players in a few days at most. But if you're a player finding a GM is very difficult.
    Further, a lot of gms are lazy (not the majority). Everyone has some sort of bad GM story where the GM railroads players cause they gate them "going off script", or refuse to adjust encounters to the party's skill level, either up or down, to keep it a fair challenge. Or just lose interest. Paid games would allow gms with the passion to focus all their attention on improving their craft to make it worth the time. And the market will keep quality in check, as more gms start to build businesses around gaming, the market will become competitive. I can understand why many people are against paid gms, but I do not agree that it is the same prostitution. If we wanted to stick to our principles, all services sold for entertainment is the same as prostitution. It is no more prostitution than play actors, than authors than game designers. The world operates on trade. You want me to do something for you, you need to do something for me. You want someone to type out spreadsheets, I'll do it if you pay me. You want read the book I spent 3 years working on, you can if you pay me. You want me to spend 20 hours building an adventure for you to derail for your entertainment, I'll do it if you pay me.
    No, just getting paid doesn't make you good at your hobby, but it is an incentive to improve your craft. I'm currently working on my drawing hobby so I can draw out my npc's and characters for my games, and if I get good enough, I'm going to offer to do commissions for other gamers who want them.
    The one biggest benefit of paid GMs verses unpaid, is control over players who join. The pay wall creates a filter and the gms price determines the guard of the filter. A GM who charges a 20 dollar game per player will have a higher amount of players interested over the GM who charges 50 dollars. I know people who would pay 50 dollars for a 6 hour session with a reputable GM. I know people who would pay 20 bucks just have someone run a game, I've been offered money to GM.
    The ultimate fact is, as long as rpgs become more and more popular, paid gms will be unavoidable. Not everyone can run a game, not everyone wants to run a game, so to help control supply and demand, pay walls will become more and more common. If your not willing to pay, it's going to be harder to find a GM than if you are willing to pay. It's not going to be a super well paying career path like any subjective based service, but it will be like YouTube, some people will do it for fun, some will be able to make a small amount of money, some people will make a reasonable living, and some people will thrive and make a fortune.
    My last point of contention is your advice on, "if you can't find a game, run one yourself..." If you apply the prostitution analogy to it, it breaks that analogy, if you can't find a prostitute for free, become one yourself. GMing most of the time now a days isn't just amongst friends, it's with random people, I get 3 new players every month on average for adventures league and after a while other players drop off. I've made friends yes, but most of the time it's closer to a "one night stand" relationship than "normal" relationship. I know you mean well so this isn't meant to seem over aggressive, but I feel it's kinda insulting to equate paid GMs to prostitution cause the further extension from that is we're a bunch of dumb prostitutes cause we offer our services for free when we could be getting paid for it.
  3. Flyndad123's Avatar
    Would you feel the same if it were to be treated like the American FAA does with Private Pilots? If you are a private pilot you may "charge" someone that is riding with you but only an amount that would be equal to the passengers share of the COST of that flight. So,.. It costs a Private Pilot with a small plane $200 in fuel and expense to fly from A to B. There is the pilot and 1 passenger on board. That pilot can legally receive $100 from the passenger in order to offset the cost of the flight. Thoughts?

    I see nothing wrong with charging if someone is willing to pay. Being a GM can incur a rather large expenditure. I know I have spent nearly $1000 getting my new group up and running for the new WFRP 4e. With puzzles, metal coins, printer ink, a nice tv and stand for images, new lighting for the game table, etc, etc,.. I would love to be reimbursed at least a portion of these expense as the entire reason for the expense was for everybody to benefit,.. What is wrong with that? I don't get it.
  4. dulux-oz's Avatar
    No, it doesn't change my mind.

    I have nothing against Players "chipping in" to help defray the costs, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the inherent "conflict of interest" and increased potential for for corruption ie the referee being paid by one of the team of players (the only one) and the resulting potential fo the GM/referee to "go easy" on the players *because* if he doesn't then the players (ie the money source) may not come back. It's the same problem with paid universities - there is the incentive to pass the student *because* the student has paid a lot of money.

    That's just one reason, there are many others (some of which are outlined in the original Blog Entry).

    But if people want to do it then that's up to them - I've outlined why I don't favour the practice, and its a position I've come to after many long hours of careful consideration over many years.
  5. mervhd's Avatar
    I understand what you are saying but I don't think you represent the gaming community as a whole. Some people don't have a group and want an enjoyable experience. Some GMs are tough others are soft whether they are paid or not. That doesn't mean you cannot have a great game under each type of GM even if they are paid. I gather that most people that pay for a GM just want an enjoyable experience. If someone asked me to run a game and said we will pay you for the experience of an amazing game, I would take it. I wouldn't even play with people that would be tempted to bribe me... But that's me. I think you are looking at the most nefarious of the paid GMs as skulking in the shadows taking bribes as if it's an NFL game. When did RPGers become "Purists" or "Hipsters". You can have an immensely enjoyable game under a paid GM... Why couldn't you? I don't always play the game with friends... I have played the game with people I could not stand to be around but that didn't take away from my game experience.
    I have taken it easy on my players before and have fudged a few rolls. Some DMs think this is something that ruins games. I think having a TPK on a random encounter is just stupid especially when it comes down to a few random 20s being rolled and these random goblins score a few crit hits.
    To each there own, though. I would never say you have to accept paid DMs but I don't think you should knock it either. Just because it doesn't fit your mold of friends, fun, or social outlook.
    When looking for a GM experience isn't always key. I know GMs that have been doing it for decades and I think they are terrible GMs because that is not my play style. Others players may love them. Find what works for you and if you find a GM for sale and want to try his/her game give it a shot and if you enjoy it and want to keep paying him/her then I think that is great. It's about storytelling as far as I am concerned.
  6. Frunobulax's Avatar
    Well, unfortunately your points, while I understand and 3even agree with them, aren't valid if you can't FIND anyone to DM at all, or at least anyone *good*. I live in a rural area where the gaming population isn't high enough to support any kind of community or have any choice in GMs. So basically I am forced to use FG if I want to game at all. Nothing wrong with that, really - though I do miss the in-person social aspect you talk about.

    But I have to say that so far (a couple years) my experience with GMs here has been... ranging from "not bad" to "awful", with most pretty average. I haven't found the "perfect" GM yet, though I've met some nice people. This situation really isn't anyone's fault. A really good GM is a rare and valuable thing. it takes a very specific combination of skills - attention to detail, personality, creativity, acting, and especially willingness to sacrifice a lot of time. The only people I blame are the GMs who are terrible, think they are God's Gift to Gaming, and refuse to take any feedback. Luckily, that type is pretty rare.

    I look at it in a pragmatic way. 1) I really enjoy gaming, and I enjoy it much more with a great GM. 2) I haven't found any really GREAT GMs so far, partly because they are rare and partly because you an;t tell that until you play in their campaign for a while, so you can only "try out" a few of them, slowly. 3) I have limited time for gaming. Like most of you, I'm a grownup with a wife and job etc so I can't just spend as many hours as I want gaming. So I want those hours to *count*. To be *fun*. I want interesting and detailed adventures - either a canned one, or a really good self-made one. But let's face it, most homemade campaigns aren't that great unless you have a great GM who spends a heck of lot of time on it making maps etc. And finally 4) I judge my entertainment budget by dollars-per-hour of entertainment. A computer game is great value because even though it costs $60, I will probably get 100 hours of entertainment out of it, so - less than $1/hour. Totally worth it. Going to see a movie, on the opposite end, is a terrible value - roughly $30 for two hours of entertainment. $10/hour, ten times more expensive than a computer game (and you can just rent them for $5 when they are released). So if I pay a GM, say, $20 for a really good 4-hour session, that's $5/hour for a high quality of something I really enjoy. Good value for me. heck, many people spend $5 on a cup of coffee or a hamburger. It's not hard to spend $50 for 1.5 hours at a nice restaurant, and I do that fairly regularly.

    So the cost is small and a very good value to have a really good time. Very worth it for me. I'd be happy to pay, but I just haven't found anyone so far who is SO good that I would pay. If there were a plethora of really awesome GMs out there for free, that would be great. But there isn't. So when you have a low supply and a high demand, you have a market. I actually wish there were an organized market for professional GMs. It doesn't harm anyone who prefers to play free, but it would help people like me with no local community and high standards. I've been gaming since the eraly 80's and had some really *amazingly* good GMs, so maybe I'm just picky. Maybe I got spoiled. But I know I'd be happy to pay for that experience again.
  7. EthanT's Avatar
    Is it unfair to want others to pitch in for the seven hundred or so dollars that goes into the modules and subscriptions?
  8. dulux-oz's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by EthanT
    Is it unfair to want others to pitch in for the seven hundred or so dollars that goes into the modules and subscriptions?
    No, of course not - and I mention that above. But I wasn't talking about that in my initial post.
  9. skevich's Avatar
    I find your tennis analogy way off point to the point I question if you understand what you are paying a GM for. In my case, people pay because I create the adventures and campaigns from the ground up so they are paying me because they are experiencing a story. I view it as akin to being an author, I create the story and plot lines and the players influence the world I have created. As for your hubris comment, it isn't that we think we are all Mathew Mercer or anything close. It is strickly a matter of this is a story I created so why should I give away all the time it took me to develop it?
  10. deer_buster's Avatar
    If you want paid for your authoring/storytelling ability, package it up and sell it to others, IMHO. Good luck.
  11. Marbanya's Avatar
    First of all, I do not get paid to GM, nor do I pay for that service as a player. However, I ask you to consider this: people pay master storytellers to entertain them -- Book Clubs, and other organizations pay for engagements with authors all the time. Should a GOOD storyteller who's medium happens to be Role Playing Games, not be afforded the same privileges?

    As I said above, I have never paid a GM to conduct a game though if they were REALLY good, I might consider it.
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