Op-Ed: Don’t Screw Over Freelancers – Ever

  • 4 min read
  • Aug 10, 2022

Op-Ed: Don’t Screw Over Freelancers – Ever

The unveiling of Jamison Stone & Satine Phoenix comes courtesy of our freelancers, next generation enthusiasts, and creators.

One of the biggest TTRPG scandals in 2022 involved two celebrities and allegations of misconduct. The couple hired several freelancers for various purposes like tattoo art and writing etc. In case you don’t know, the two celebrities in question are Jamison Stone and Satine Phoenix. These claims themselves have been covered fairly comprehensively elsewhere, so this article is not, strictly speaking, about Jamison and Satin. Instead, this article is about how to treat freelancers.

Freelancing is where new creators start

I started as a freelancer in the tabletop RPG world over 22 years ago. I did a lot of work Knights of the dinner table Magazine, Atlas Games, and Wizards of the Coast, just to name a few. Freelancing helped me pay a few bills and – most importantly – helped me get my foot in the door.

I tried very hard to never forget where I came from. Later, I hired a lot of freelancers to work on the projects I was managing. Warhammer 40000 Roleplaying lines I tried to put myself in their shoes and overall I felt I did a pretty good job of making sure the freelancers I worked with were paid on time and given proper credit for their work.

Honestly, freelancing for tabletop RPGs doesn’t pay well. The standard rate was $0.05 per word for almost two decades, and I think it’s only gone up a bit since then. Keep in mind that writing in other media usually costs 5-10 times more! Most freelancers don’t work on RPGs for money… they do it because they love it. To be clear, I am 100% in favor of freelancers getting paid for their efforts. I will point out that in my experience the pay is generally low.

Expectations from a freelancer are low. A freelancer should generally expect to receive:

  1. Agreed payment
  2. A copy of the work (if possible, more often expected for printed RPG products rather than digital or artistic works)
  3. Credits are done (and their names must be spelled correctly!)

The myth of “getting famous”

Some of the allegations against Jamison and Satin include promises of publicity and access to celebrity projects. This concept is often called “introduction” and is often used as an incentive (or rarely as total compensation) for freelancers. The truth is that “exposure,” even if it comes across as advertising, marketing, etc., is something that is mercurial at best and difficult to quantify as a benefit. For example, if I were a freelancer and a big store like critical role Offer to help promote my work, that could be a great profit However, I make no guarantees that my client will advertise in an effective manner (note that I am not the accused critical role (from having poor marketing) and I also have no confidence that the publicity will actually help me get bigger and better gigs in the future.

Exposure is, simply put bull sheet. Freelancers get paid, receive a copy of the work they’ve worked on, and receive proper credit. Dangling a “promotion” as a bonus is simply too inconvenient. It’s nice if it works, but you absolutely can’t count on anything.

In my experience, most freelancers’ issues and concerns can be resolved with good communication. Regularly checking in with freelancers is a great way to fix problems in the pass. Honestly, as a freelancer, nothing worries me about a project more than when a client goes silent for too long.

Predators and prey

What is not often discussed is that freelancing is somewhat predatory by nature. As a freelancer, you are protected by the client. The contract becomes your leverage, but most freelancers can’t take a client to court if the client is a bad actor. Being a freelancer and realizing that your livelihood depends entirely on people not being stupid can be scary.

How people treat freelancers should be treated the same way you treat anyone in the service industry, and they should be judged accordingly. Yell at the maid? Are you a flaming idiot, bully the freelancer you hired to tattoo you? Equally reprehensible.

Freelancers are the future. Be nice to them and let them lead the way

If you cultivate a freelancer who works for you, they can become colleagues and then teammates. I know this to be true for a fact. Freelancers I’ve hired in the past are now product line developers, marketers, and content managers for other tabletop RPG companies. They are part of my professional network and I am part of theirs. Treating a freelancer like crap is slamming the door on any future interaction. I’m not here to say that every freelancer is a great person to hang out with…but there are a lot of freelancers that have become industry staples over time.

It’s important to remember that freelancing is where a lot of people go pro in the tabletop RPG world. This means that freelancers often represent the future of our entertainment. They are the ones who will design the games for the next ten, twenty or thirty years. They are the ones who will remember how they were treated, and that will inform how they treat any freelancer they hire, etc.

Don’t miss out on the next generation of creativity that powers the entertainment we all love. If you do, then you deserve to live with the consequences. As for me, I will be excited to see what lies ahead. And, I will continue to encourage those who remember how to treat freelancers well.

Ross Watson is an award-winning game designer and writer with over 20 years of experience. Ross has worked for Games Workshop, Fantasy Flight Games and many others. Check out his sponsor for more info.

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