Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Gygax on Hobby vs. Business

Thanks to my friend Anthony, I was able to obtain a copy of an interview with Gary Gygax from issue #1 of a fanzine called Gryphon (whose fourth issue, ironically, Jeff Rients is currently seeking -- talk about serendipity). The issue dates from Summer 1980 and is pretty wide ranging. The reviewer, Rudy Kraft (who did a lot of work with Chaosium in the early days), at one point asks Gary if there's anything he'd like to say that he hasn't had the chance to. He responds:
Just a comment that it is an honor to be asked to give this sort of interview. I hope that what you have got answers people's questions, and helps them understand what it is like [in] changing from a pure hobbyist to a business man. Because that is what you must do if you are going to run a gaming company. Today you can't run a growing company without devoting your time and your efforts to business rather than playing games. It's sad but true that the idea that you can merge your hobby with your business or your avocation with your vocation and come out with some sort of happy marriage isn't really feasible. You end up working at something which pertains to what you like but not actually playing the games. It does take real attention to normal business affairs to keep a company going. Even the game designers have noticed that they must look at things other than "how does the game play?" in order to come up with a successful design.
Even leaving aside whether Gygax was correct in saying that you can't merge your hobby with your business, it's sad to see him imply that he'd worked on things he hadn't actually played. I consider that a recipe for uninspired, soulless game products, but, considering Gary's record in producing awesome material, perhaps I'm mistaken. Still, it's one of those things I hate seeing written nonetheless, especially from one of the founders of the hobby.

18 comments:

  1. Seems to me he was referring to running a business and not game design itself. He had less time to play and I would assume design games. Would seem to be the case considering how long ToEE took to come out, not to mention Greyhawk and the rest...

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  2. You may well be right, as Gary notes earlier in the interview that he only runs the Greyhawk campaign 3-4 times a year at most. Still, that too is sad.

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  3. Running an organization can be very difficult, both time consuming and emotionally draining. One gathers that Gary himself had hoped creating a game company out of his beloved hobby would not be so hard, that he would still have been able to be primarily a gamer and only secondarily a businessman. His comments feel like words of wisdom to warn off others from going through what he went through unless that's really what they want.

    Kudos to Rudy Kraft for drawing out this moment of insight.

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  4. You know, all the successful video game companies I worked with or near were started by two guys, childhood or college buddies: one with an engineering degree, the other with an MBA.

    It's possibly tragic that Gygax didn't have a second partner that he found trustworthy at TSR to handle the business end.

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  5. I've just been promoted from staff writer to deputy editor on a weekly magazine, and I hardly have time to write any articles now, no matter how interesting I find a given topic.

    My week's mostly filled with copyediting, fact-checking and managing workflow between editorial and design. Writing takes a very different frame of mind to all that.

    I can't imagine how much Gary's workday must've changed with the insane growth of TSR!

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  6. quote: "it's sad to see him imply that he'd worked on things he hadn't actually played"

    @ James: I don't want to be nasty, but have you played all the material you produced as freelance over the years?

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  7. @ James: I don't want to be nasty, but have you played all the material you produced as freelance over the years?

    Nope -- and I'd be the last person to call that a praiseworthy practice. My best stuff, then and now, arose out of actual play and, having had the experience of freelancing, I don't think I'd ever want to go back to it.

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  8. I'm not sure Gary worked on things he didn't play, but rather he was providing a cautionary tale that running a business is more than just playing games all the time and then publishing your best work. There's a lot involved in running a company like early TSR--payroll, accounting, earnings, taxes, licensing, coordinating sales and business/convention trips, etc. Even assuming most of the busywork is handled by staff, it is a tasking job.

    I have a feeling if things proceeded as they did, Gary would have still authored but he would have given primary D&D writing duties to another--either Zeb Cook or Jeff Grubb or both seemed to be the candidates being groomed for those roles, before the fights with the board started.

    They say when your hobby becomes your job, find another hobby. However, I did see Gary playing and enjoying games, so I doubt it was as grim as some profess.

    I feel a similar situation came with Roger Moore. Roger Moore was one of my favorite authors in Dragon Magazine. Yet, as soon as he became the actual editor (as opposed to "contributing editor", a fancy word for a writer who's in every issue), his output was almost non-existent. I kind of wish somebody else had become editor because I missed Roger Moore's writing so much.

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  9. I work in games, full time. I'm a designer, and that means I play a lot. I playtest my own stuff, and I play a fair amount of other people's stuff.

    But it's not really about me. I'm not a business guy. My bosses, and their bosses, the business guys, they all play weekly games.

    Sometimes, yeah, you come home and you don't want to run a game because you've been scratching out probabilities all day or checking lists of powers for problematic side effects. It happens.

    I know jack shit about Gary Gygax, but I know you can make games and play games. It's not something I'm willing to let go of.

    Maybe Gary didn't have time, and, you know, that's cool. Different things take up different people's time. I think he had kids, among other things.

    But I don't want to leave aside the insinuation that once you get a job it all becomes "uninspired, soulless," and worst of all, unplayed. Not true.

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  10. But I don't want to leave aside the insinuation that once you get a job it all becomes "uninspired, soulless," and worst of all, unplayed. Not true.

    I'm glad to hear that. I don't think it has to be true, which is why I find Gary's comment a little frustrating. Perhaps I'm naive but I see no reason why one's avocation cannot also be one's vocation.

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  11. "I'm glad to hear that. I don't think it has to be true, which is why I find Gary's comment a little frustrating. Perhaps I'm naive but I see no reason why one's avocation cannot also be one's vocation."

    There's no absolute reason. I mean, sometimes you have to grow up, but that doesn't mean you can't grow down again. Life is change, and so are schedules.

    Plus, and maybe I'm going off the deep end here, but. Some things are vocations, the old-fashioned literal Catholic way.

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  12. Plus, and maybe I'm going off the deep end here, but. Some things are vocations, the old-fashioned literal Catholic way.

    If that's the deep end, I'm off it too.

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  13. Following up on your comment, I think it may have to do with how close your hobby is to your job; when I was in the business of casting up miniatures and flogging them off at conventions, the last thing I wanted to do when I got home was paint up more of the things. The art of writing, versus the art of playing, may very well be 'different enough' to avoid the problem.

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  14. @Chirine ba Kal

    "The art of writing, versus the art of playing, may very well be 'different enough' to avoid the problem."

    Well, when I get home, I usually don't want to edit any more text. I realized this rather sharply when I started preparing S&W pamphlets for an upcoming game.

    Playing is a different job from reffing is a different job from designing, but they share a core you have to stay connected to. Or that I have to stay connected to, anyway.

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  15. Didn't exactly do EGG much good, did that?

    Bob Bledsaw managed both well enough. As did Greg Stafford. As did the GW guys. etc.

    (aside: prozine, not fanzine; another one that didn't quite make it, alas)

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  16. (aside: prozine, not fanzine; another one that didn't quite make it, alas)

    You must forgive me; I'd never even heard of Gryphon until this week. Looking at issue 1, though, you're right. It's quite clearly intended to be a professional magazine on par with Dragon or Different Worlds. Its subscription price was $40 annually, which would have been rather expensive in 1980, I think.

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  17. I know Gary had a weekly game when he was working on Lejendary Adventure. He also worked on designing stuff about twelve hours a day before his stroke. He was proud of his work ethic...

    Anyway, maybe the man was going through a frustrating period at TSR, and wanted to warn would-be designers that it ain't all "fun and games", that it's hard work. Who knows? He'd said such things in the past. When asked about working in the RPG industry, Dave Arnesons advice was simply, "don't quit your day job". Just so.

    I do know for a fact he played through his own material when designing for Lejendary Adventure and Troll Lord material. And I also know, beyond a doubt, he wasn't one to cynically push out formulaic filler crap, just to put it on sale with his name on it. He always took pride in his efforts (however it was received).

    -dan cross

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  18. Freud once wrote that the mark of human maturity is the capacity to balance work and love. I think we all, like EGG, struggle with that balance at times. I suspect Rudy Kraft caught him on a bad day.

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