As a small-time RPG writer who managed to go full-time freelance before landing a spot at Wizards of the Coast, fan-favourite author Mike Mearls is a shining example to many small-time writers with big aspirations. Perhaps it’s surprising that their hero has proclaimed in his blog that freelancing is dead:
If you aren’t working full-time as a freelance RPG designer right now, you won’t be working as a full-time freelancer any time in the next few years.
The dream’s dead, kids. The reason to freelance in the past, aside from working on a game you love that someone else owns, was to reach that brass ring and design games for a living. You can’t do that anymore. Stop trying to.
Given these things, it makes no sense to freelance. It’s done. The party’s over. Wait for the next batch of companies to jump into the market, or for companies to start investing in RPG lines again.
It seems that not only is the work drying up, but the work that is there pays so little that you’d have a hard time making a living from it. Bad news for anyone who was hoping to go full time any time soon.
At a guess, Mearls’ theory is that with the RPG market slowing down as small games fail and smaller companies go out of business, there will be a limited amount of freelance work that will largely go to the established full-time freelancers, who are by nature determined and by now experienced. There’s still work for the rest of us, but it won’t pay enough for you to make a living on - Dragon pays five cents per word and is both space-limited and highly selective, and one might assume that the other major companies pay even less.
One might also conjecture that as a Wizards of the Coast employee, Mearls is privy to their hiring plans over the next few years, putting him in a better position to guess these conditions. There’s also a small camp of conspiracy theorists who think Mearls might be making this announcement in order to convince competing writers to quit, but Uruguayan blogger RPGpundit rebuffs that idea. I wouldn’t rush to accuse him of the same either; Mearls after all is popular for the respect his name commands, and I don’t think he’d do anything to tarnish it.
Something else that Mearls suggests is that if you want to make a reasonable amount of money by doing this part-time, you have to cut costs by publishing it yourself. To me, this poses its own problems. If you’re print publishing, how are you going to distribute to such a spread-out market, especially when their shelves are probably already competing for space with the big-names like Wizards, Swords & Sorcery, AEG, Mongoose and Green Ronin?
Maybe somebody will pay me to blog.