A Word from Carlos Cabrera

Some weeks ago, I mentioned that if anyone in the writing/gaming field had something they wanted to say, and were looking for a safe place to say it (where comments are moderated and your words remain your own), I’d be happy to be that venue.

Carlos Cabrera has taken my up on that offer. I’m happy to host this article, and invite anyone else who finds themselves without a palce where they feel they can be heard and treated with respect to contact me if interested in having something posted here.

And now, Carlos Cabrera!

What I Learned from the Video Game Industry

And What the Tabletop RPG Industry Could Learn Too

The following lesson was discovered through a series of unique circumstances. I am a game designer developing a turn-based RPG for Android. I am also a third party publisher for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, but for legal reasons I must be very clear about this – my Android game is not a Paizo licensed product. What I aim to do is to simulate some of the lesser-used mechanics of the d20 system, and to use Paizo’s Compatibility License to create a pseudo strategy/conversion guide and campaign setting.

Regularly attending conventions in both industries has shed light on two very different schools of thought. A defining moment for me was my experience with a video game company in England. Several years ago I approached the now-defunct Blitz Game Studios for a partnership. Through their Blitz 1Up Program, they were attempting to fund and publish indie games much like other efforts that exist today. Their method of negotiating a contract was what surprised me the most. Now, this is not the norm in the video game industry either, but their documentation protected all rights to my IP – before we even moved forward to speak on the details. The norm of course, is to protect yourself and your IP, even within the context of publishing other people’s games. Especially so, when you’re also developing games of your own. That’s just good business sense.

In regards to the tabletop industry, I find a very paradoxical point of view. In an attempt to work with another third party publisher, I was asked to design material for them without any sort of agreement beforehand. While attending a discussion panel on how to become a freelancer, I was informed by the moderator that if you can’t trust handing your material over because you’re afraid someone is going to steal it, then you’re probably going to have difficulty finding work. As I began my research in how to best approach the product I’m creating, I felt I could easily equate the tabletop industry (at least where the Open Gaming License is concerned) as very much like the Wild West.

The reason why this occurs is probably not an easy question to answer, but perhaps a possible solution would be for us game designers to also be good business people. And not just good business people, but generous business people. If you look at Paizo’s registry of Compatibility License owners, there are certainly a lot of us. Parallel design is inevitable, and as I’m sure as some Paizo’s employees can attest, even the fans will look at your game so closely that they can predict how rules still in development will work. If we all start working together more closely (as recent Pathfinder Compatible Kickstarters have shown) then let’s agree to do so for the betterment of us all. If you are also a third party publisher, then you have the power to create binding agreements which can be rendered null and void at any time of your choosing. If a comfortable solution cannot be reached with all parties when that parallel design is found, then maybe it’s time to return to the frontier the Wild West provides.

As I move forward with my project which blurs the line between industries, I would like to see more open and cooperative agreements being made between my fellow tabletop rpg designers. I’m going to complete my products first, but if I ever get so lucky as being able to hire my own freelancers, I promise to extend an open hand and offer you an agreement that protects you as well as me.


About okcstephens

Owen K.C. Stephens Owen Kirker Clifford Stephens is the Starfinder Design Lead for Paizo Publishing, the Freeport and Pathfinder RPG developer for Green Ronin, a developer for Rite Publishing, and the publisher and lead genius of Rogue Genius Games. Owen has written game material for numerous other companies, including Wizards of the Coast, Kobold Press, White Wolf, Steve Jackson Games and Upper Deck. He also consults, freelances, and in the off season, sleeps.

Posted on December 4, 2015, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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