It’s Not “Just a Game” When It’s Your Career

It should, perhaps, be no great surprise that when I publicly discuss my various mental health issues, professional failings, and depression-driven concerns of failing others, one common refrain is “Relax. Don’t worry about it. It’s just a game.”

I know that, at least in most cases, these declarations are coming from a palce of caring and a desire to be helpful. But, in fact, they are spectacularly unhelpful for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is: it’s not “just a game” until it exists and you and your friends are deciding whether or not to play it.

When it’s still being written? It’s a project in a business, no different than making the donuts for a coffee shop or writing music for a professional band. It is work that not only pays my bills, but that is used to generate money to pay the bills for my colleagues, coworkers, and friends.

Now in the case of things I am writing for myself, to be published as a pdf or at most POD for Rogue Genius Games? Then if I fail, I most likely impact only myself. I need the money, but anyone else I involve isn’t brought in until the project is done—though in the case of projects I need to develop for freelancers working with me, THEY are certainly in financial limbo if I can’t find the time to get the project out.

But for some of the other companies I work for? The ones who do print runs of hardback books numbering in the thousands, with developers, editors, layout artists, art directors, customer service agents, warehouse/shipping crew and so on? Those companies live and die by the ability to schedule and plan to get these books out on time, with all the steps needed to do that tied to my ability to produce the words. If I fail, there are anywhere from a handful to dozens of people whose livelihoods I am threatening. For them it’s not “just a game,” it’s the product that pays for their health insurance, apartments, mortgages, retirement funds, and so on.

No, I don’t stay up at night worrying about if some player somewhere has to wait an extra 30 days to get their hands on an adventure, or a new character option. But I do feel the full, hefty weight of being one of the early cogs in a financial machine that feeds people.

The game industry is brutal. Even big, established companies are no more than a handful of flops from going under, or at least having to make hard choices that can lead to cutting back, laying off, or changing plans. I work for some very smart people, but I have also seen companies that were common names in the games industry go bankrupt even without a project being late.

This industry is brutally hard under the best of circumstances. Unprofessionalism, tardiness, poor quality, or a dozen other things I could get wrong can have real impacts on the quality of life for other people.

THAT is what I worry about. And, to some extent, I hope every freelancer thinks about it at least occasionally.

Once it exists and is sitting on your table, it’s “just a game.” When it covers payroll, it’s a business. A profession. A career. And, as a freelancer, a duty.

Speaking of My Career

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About Owen K.C. Stephens

Owen K.C. Stephens Owen Kirker Clifford Stephens is a full-time ttRPG Writer, designer, developer, publisher, and consultant. He's the publisher for Rogue Genius Games, and has served as the Starfinder Design Lead for Paizo Publishing, the Freeport and Pathfinder RPG developer for Green Ronin, a developer for Rite Publishing, and the Editor-in-Chief for Evil 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. He has a Pateon which supports his online work. You can find it at

Posted on November 6, 2017, in Business of Games, Musings and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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