2012-03-12 : Indie POV pt 1: the Very Basics
What does “indie rpg publishing” even mean?
Small Company / Small Press
We all know it: there aren’t any big companies in rpgs. Maybe 1 or 2. Most rpg companies consist of like 3 people.
Everybody here is small press.
If a publisher buys copyright from a creator (“work for hire”), the creator doesn’t own the work. Down here, Chad Underkoffler says that all the freelance work he’s done has been work for hire. Freelancers typically don’t own the intellectual property they create.
When I hire an illustrator, I license her work for publication, I don’t buy the work from her outright. She still owns it.
Some rpg companies publish games for their creators, but without buying the games’ copyright. The company publishes it, and the creator still owns it. This is like Chad’s arrangement with Evil Hat Productions, or Dev Purkayastha’s arrangement with NDP Design (here); Galileo Games and Cubicle 7 do the same thing too. This is kind of uncommon now, but getting more common all the time. My guess is that it will become pretty widespread in the future, as creators find that they kind of hate publishing and someone else can do a good job of it for them.
The publisher of an rpg is the one who controls its publication - that is, controls when, where, and how it’s presented to the public. The publisher decides whether to print or distribute electronically or both or neither, orders print runs or lets the game fall out of print, sets prices and retail terms (including distribution), decides how many free copies to give away and to whom, and so on.
When I license an illustration for publication, I license non-exclusive rights, meaning that the illustrator is free to do (almost) anything else she wants with it. She can even sell rights to a competing publication if she wants (as long as they too are non-exclusive).
Publishing my own games means that they aren’t just creator-owned, they’re creator-controlled. I make all the publication decisions for my games, and I don’t have to run them by anybody first. I personally like having this kind of control, but we all know that I’m a crank.
Ben Lehman sells his games for pay-what-you-want. As a creator-publisher, he’s able to just decide to do it that way, and he doesn’t answer to anybody else for it.
Which is Indie?
“Indie,” the word, doesn’t automatically or exclusively mean any of them.
Sometimes fights break out over who’s really indie, whatever that means. But usually when a fight busts out, it isn’t over the word, it’s across the lines of creater ownership or creator control.
Sure, but Vincent, what does it mean to ME?
If you aren’t an rpg creator or publisher, I don’t imagine that it means anything to you at all. When you sit down to play a game, it doesn’t make any difference on earth whether it’s work for hire, creator published, creator owned, or what. Why would it?
Creator publication means that a guy like me can publish weird, pervy little games about teenage Mormon gunslingers, Satanist pirates, sexy postapocalypticans, or getting murdered by ghosts. If I had to negotiate with a publisher, those games probably wouldn’t exist. In general, overall and over time, the fact of creator-publishing means a wider variety of available games. I dig that, and you might too.
If you’re a creator or publisher of rpgs, that’s when the difference matters. You get to choose how you’re going to publish your creation, or how you’re going to handle others’ creations for publication. Which you choose has financial, ethical, and practical consequences (same as anything involving money, rights, and effort). But it’s ultimately your own to choose, and you sure as hell don’t answer to me.
(Coming next, Indie POV pt 2: does it pay?)
1. On 2012-03-12, Tim C Koppang said:
2. On 2012-03-13, Simon R said:
3. On 2012-03-13, Vincent said:
4. On 2012-03-13, Moreno said:
5. On 2012-03-14, Leftahead said:
6. On 2012-03-14, Leftahead said:
7. On 2012-03-19, Paolo Guccione (RosenMcStern elsewhere) said: