Home » Ancient Posts » Free RPGs Are Hurting Professional RPGs!? — A Randall Rant    
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Raul De La Garza III

This is a problem or obstacle I have respecting my own involvement in the gaming hobby as a means to put food on my table. I would love to produce adventures and/or unique role-playing games but as my time is already limited I cannot justify the effort if I cannot realize at least a reasonable return on investment.


It sounds like someone is trying to create a new equivalent replacement for the "Piracy MacGuffin". For decades the computer, TV, music, movie, book, an comics industries have, to one degree or another, claimed low level piracy as the cause of all there problems. This has been proven time and time again to be false, and neither the public, or the companies that paid out for years to industry groups to fight the non-existent threat.

Now, it's "Free Games" killing the industry. Just because someone isn't getting "enough" profits. Paizo and Wizards(Hasbro) are selling products like hotcakes. Chaosium is still selling BRP. Flying Buffalo is working on a new edition of T&T.

Evil Hat is doing well with Fate Core. "But, wait, they GIVE that away! It's (apparently, what ever "it" is) all there fault! Them and those LotFP people! And Paizo, because you can play just using the PFSRD. Just like you can with the D20 SR… Errr…"

The problem with blaming problems on "Free Games", is that the biggest sources are the big companies in the industry. Costco gives away free samples, because enough people that try the product buy it. Just as someone that tries a free version of a RPG tends to come back and pay for more products, if they like it.

No, it sound like the author of the referenced article is out to make a name for themselves. Starting with a forgone conclusion, he has uses "economics logic" (an oxymoron if I ever heard one) make his claim, in hopes someone will pay him to study it, or give them a solution to the problem he "found".

And, we all know what to do when someone calls you out of the blue, to tell you that there is a problem with your computer, and they can fix it for you, if you just give them your credit card number. Hay, it worked for the RIAA for years. What's that? Who is the RIAA, you ask? Just a bunch of lawyers, currently under suspicion of defrauding there clients out of millions. Nothing to do with the topic at hand, though.


RPG's are a unique industry in that, not only can amateurs create their own games, but even those buying published games are implicitly/explicitly expected to modify the game and create their own adventures.

Published adventures focus on production values, tested rules, and endless customization. The amateur production probably doesn't have all of this, but their rules and adventures may ironically be more playable and fun in-game, as opposed to the meta-game (rules lawyering and customizing your character).

What published rules really offer is a lingua franca, so that RPG players from anywhere can sit down and play the same game together pretty easily. New players can usually also be taught more quickly with a professional product. Of course, this doesn't exactly work smoothly in practice, especially with multiple versions and unlimited supplements. Connecting players, like with D&D's Encounters program, and creating a common experience is what publishers should be focusing on.

They should look at free games as the ultimate complement: your game inspired me to make my own. This is one field where there's endless room for everyone.


Like I said, twice:

"This I claim have nothing to do with freely available games. "


There's a difference between piracy and choosing a legal free game. We're not talking piracy. We're talking about legitimate free games.


I totally agree with your ideas about free content. But, I disagree about gamers not being cheap.

Far to often have I heard gamers grumble that it cost $12 when they grew up, and it should do so today.

I've also far to often heard people grumble that a new games costs to much but they wont bat an eyelid at the costs of watching Avengers or Batman at the theatre.

Many gamers are cheapskates, and have no idea how much it costs to produce a game.

If it costs $25 to produce a game, and the gamers instead grab a scan online and be surprised when the company producing the games goes under, then I claim gamers are cheap and don't understand basic economy.

Fair is such a wrong word to use in the same sense as economy that I'm not even trying.

This I claim have nothing to do with freely available games.

Rachel Ghoul

It seems to me that the love of good work will always win out over the motive of profit. Particularly when it comes to a creative endeavor.


Charles, you are correct that "Open Market Value" is the more technically correct economic term for what I'm talking about in the second paragraph of this post (and the entire post referred to in that paragraph). However, most non-economists know this as "fair market value."

Holly Oats

Charles, the fair market value is, by definition, "the price at which the property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell and both having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts." FMV refers to what the price would be if the free-market's working as it should be (from the perspective of free-market proponents like myself)

Jasper Polane

I don't think professional businesses compete with amateurs by providing "better" product. I doubt it would be very hard to find an unpublished erotic novel that's better than 50 Shades, or an unpublished fantasy novel that's batter than Eragon (or the Dragonlance Chronicles, for that matter). The key to selling product is marketing. People who say free product devaluates their own are often people who put their book up at Lulu and expect it to sell. If they don't try to sell their product, of course it will not sell.

Charles A

I generally agree with what you're saying, but would take issue with the idea of "fair market value", the key word being "fair". Market value, as you point out, has absolutely nothing to do with fair. To me, "fair" means that the people involved in the production of the item are appropriately compensated for their time and the rarity of or difficulty of attaining their skillset – neither being paid nothing, nor making 5000% profit.

I can't be persuaded that there's anything "fair" about charging $5000 for something that cost $5 to produce just because you can get away with it.

Market value, or value on the open market is a more accurate term.


If you want people to buy your product, give them a reason to buy your product. If they see more value in paying for something than they do in getting it for free, then they'll pay for it.

Holly Oats

What's sad is that it's not like they can even use the excuse that there's some already reached limit to how good rules can be, leaving no room for improvement on the part of professionals. Back when I played 3E, I saw WotC put out so many rules that someone else (usually KenzerCo) had already done better. There were so many nuances to 3.0 they completely ignored, leading to alot of the bloat we saw in 3.5


I actually got back into gaming the same way as Joe. I ran across the free GURPS light and went on to discover other free games. I then started spending money. Not as much as Joe but I do consume pay games that I think will be fun.

Joe Nelson

Randall, let me tell you something. I spend upwards of $3,000 a year in gaming, if you count physical books new and used, PDFs from RPGNow, and dice (precious, precious dice). It's a lot of money. But it's my hobby.

I will never begrudge a publisher their fee for a book. Work has been put into that book and they deserve to be justly compensated.

That said, I would be spending exactly $0 on this wonderful hobby if, a few years ago, a friend hadn't directed me towards a game called Labyrinth Lord, which was available for free. After that, I was hooked. I must have downloaded 100+ free (and legal) RPGs in that first year (from classics like Mazes and Minotaurs, to Risus, and everything in-between). I loved them. I became hooked.

Now, I still download free RPGs, but I'm also entirely willing to pay for quality work from good people. And I never would have spent a cent if it hadn't been for freely available games. So anyone who claims free games hurt the hobby earns a sad shake of the head from me.


I agree with your assessment. I read more rule-sets than I actually play and have to say that other than better art and layout, etc., the actual rules are as good or better. Sometimes the only difference is that professional games have better fluff or more setting.