Paying Writers 1/3 of the Sales Price

One of things that make 6d6 different is our approach to writers. As a socialist and supporter of creator’s rights, it is important to me that my company, 6d6, pays writers fairly for their work. To do anything else would be unethical and hypercritical.

The Traditional Approach*

Early RPGs tended to be published by their writers ( e.g. Gary Gygax / D&D / TSR or Marc Miller / Traveller / GDW ) placing the writers in control of their work and in a good position to benefit from it. As the industry moved into the 80s there was a trend for writers to focus on writing and publishers to focus on publishing. This saw the rise of the royalty model where the writers were paid like a novelist, with (possibly) an upfront royalty payment and if they were lucky, residual payments once sales reached a certain level. This had financial benefits for both parties though it often meant that writers had less control over how their product was produced and marketed.

In the 90s and 00s, the shift was far more to the work-for-hire model. With this approach writers are hired on a per-word basis to produce a specific module or rule book. Now publishers were deciding exactly what product they wanted and commissioning it instead of choosing from ideas that the writers pitched to them. This publisher led commissioning saw the creative process reduced to a production line. Instead of royalties, publishers now paid from $0.05 down to $0.01 per word on completion of the manuscript. In return, the writer gave up all copyright and IP claims on their work and had no control over the work.

The 6d6 Approach

The decision to pay our writers 1/3 of the sales price of a product was driven by several factors.

  • Writers should own what they write
  • Writers need to be able to earn a living wage
  • All 6d6 RPG products are under the Creative Commons
  • 6d6 cannot afford to pay writers before the product is sold
  • Writers should have a direct incentive to promote and support 6d6

It is the first two points that are critical for the 6d6 and RPG business in general. Unless we as a company and a hobby support our writers with a viable amount of income, they cannot devote themselves to writing RPGs and build a career. And without this, writers cannot generate the depth and range of skills need to come up with the first class, ground breaking products. Too many writers in the RPG business are young and inexperienced, retreading the path and repeating the mistakes of those who went before. If we want masterworks, we need some masters.

Own What You Write Versus The Creative Commons

“Writers should own what they write” and “All 6d6 RPG products are under the Creative Commons” can appear contradictory but they are not. When a work is release under the CC, the creator still owns the copyright so they can choose to allow another publisher to produce their work under a different licence and get paid for it. 6d6 cannot and would not stop a writer selling their work elsewhere. However 6d6 can keep selling the work as it was released under the creative commons. Once released, the writer can never withdraw the work from the CC license.

This balance of allowing the writer to own the copyright but allowing 6d6 (and anyone else) to all use the work via the CC is central to the 6d6 business model. It places writer and publisher on an equal footing so that neither is in a position to exploit the other.

Why Should We Pay The Authors?

An interest twist in this is that 6d6 has no legal obligation to pay its writers.

Once the works are in the creative commons, 6d6 would be perfectly within its rights to publish the work and pay the writers nothing. Nada. Not a sausage. Which begs the question, why would a writer produce anything for 6d6?

The answer is trust.

The authors working on 6d6 projects are taking a huge gamble. They invest large amounts of time producing the work with little or no evidence they will ever make money out of it. They then place their work in the creative commons, allowing anyone to use it. The only reason for this act of faith is a belief that 6d6 (which means me personally) will pay back this trust to the best of my ability.

If 6d6 fails to pay the writers or 6d6 tries to take advantage of the writers this trust is destroyed and the entire business model collpases.

Open Trust

What drives the openness 6d6 has about its business model and the publication of our business spreadsheet is the need to maintain this trust. The writers need to be able see that they are being paid their due. Customers who buy the products need to know that their money is being used to support and invest in the hobby.

Only through this level of openness can 6d6 create and maintain a reputation of honesty and trustworthiness. Only with this reputation can we attract the range of writers we need to achieve our goals. Only with reputation can customers know they are buying from a company that has best interests of the hobby at its heart.

*This description is a huge generalisation and there are examples of all three business models in any period.