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Limitations Met

Realising when play has turned to work

I’ve decided to take a break from this site for a bit. Nothing earth-shattering, but this is as good a time as any to step away for a spell.

Explanations

I’m reluctant to make a big deal of this, because there’s really no drama here. But I’d like to offer an explanation to those of you who’ve been kind enough to support my efforts so far—at least you’ll won’t be surprised when you see this site go quiet for a few weeks.

Sisyphus Sleeping

The long and the short of it is that since releasing Chimera Basic, tending to this site and working on the game has become more work than play, and certainly more stressful than fun. Pretty much your typical “burnout,” along with a bit of reflection: After 16 months of weekly posts, am I getting out of this all that I’m putting in? And: Is what I want to get out of this even realistic?

This site was started a long time ago on a Web server far away, with the intent to sell the Chimera RPG so I wouldn’t have to work at a grown-up job ever again. Since that time, I’ve…well, grown up, and priorities change, as does one’s perspective and time commitments. What hasn’t changed is the fun I have creating campaigns and characters and maps, or inventing a random table, or dreaming up encounters.

Only, instead of creating campaigns, et cetera, my RPG time these days is spent trying to be a clever marketer, cranking out 1,200-1,500 words a week for this site, prioritising the Chimera product line, finding the time to actually develop said products, and finally, engaging in email and forum discussion variously expanding upon or defending my design decisions.

I’m not complaining—these are tasks I assumed when I chose to become an independent publisher. Problem is, the financial return is very small compared to the hours spent. I have little to no actual playing time. And—most importantly—this is a hobby, not a job.

Which is a significant distinction. I’m fortunate to have a very good career in Manhattan, and I can gratefully say that it’s a far more reliable source of income than Chimera ever will be. Though, despite the 4 commuting hours each day, the occasional impotence of occupying upper-middle management, and being in the most reviled industry of the 2008 financial crisis, it’s actually less stressful than supporting Chimera. Clearly, things have gotten out of hand.

It’s time to re-evaluate, and I think stepping away for a bit will give me some clarity.

Implications

First, I think this means that turning my RPG hobby into a business is not a productive or satisfying avenue for me. Please note the emphasis on “for me.” There are a lot of independent publishers out there, many of whom have carved out a gratifying and successful niche within the industry. Nevertheless, it occurs to me that I may not have the time or, frankly, the inclination, to follow in their footsteps.

Provided you care about what you’re selling, there is a considerable obligation associated with charging money for what you produce. The last few months have showed me that I cannot effectively prioritise the support Chimera deserves by virtue of charging for it. In other words, I cannot in good faith ask people to pay for something that won’t receive 100% of my best and available effort. To paraphrase Geddy Lee, gaming isn’t everything I want to do with my life—just one thing.

That doesn’t mean Chimera is going away. But for now, it does mean that my planned production schedule is (1) on hold, and (2) subject to significant reclassification. I may go the Creative Commons approach. Or I may quietly work on the larger Core rulebook and release it…whenever. Or I may simply continue to supplement the Basic rulebook and grow the Core organically, perhaps eventually offering a Print-On-Demand copy of the completed version to cover the cost of Web hosting and domain names.

Second, you’ll likely hear less from me in public. Certainly, I will have fewer comments and even fewer forum posts. At least for awhile. An assumed requirement of selling your work is a level of correspondence with customers that I simply can’t maintain. It’s invariably time consuming—justly so, because as a producer one wants to communicate with one’s consumers. That’s expected and appropriate.

What isn’t expected or appropriate is the related stress. Gamers are a passionate lot, that much is known. What was not known (or, more accurately, not known to me) is how draining it is to engage in repeated disagreement or to constantly defend oneself against those who either don’t share your vision or who want the product to be something it’s not intended to be. While these instances are isolated, they exhibit disproportionate gravity. For the record, of course Chimera can stand improvement. But some aspects of the game simply won’t be changed. As the author, I believe I have the right to stand firm on that position, for good or ill.

Nor am I, by any means, above criticism, and I’m certainly aware that we all have different approaches and expectations of the hobby. But people—customers or not—are obliged to show a certain level of respect in public. Anyone checking the forums of late may note that trolls have raised my hackles, and I’m afraid that I haven’t responded in the most gentlemanly fashion. When it becomes impossible to “agree to disagree” and a conversation devolves to personal insults—over a game?—it’s high time to step away. It’s not worth the aggravation.

With that, I’ll take responsibility for inappropriately contributing to such fervour, and I apologise to those who rightly expect more from me.

Third, there may be a significant shift in what I write, when I decide to continue writing. It seems that the things I enjoy most about gaming—creating campaigns, settings, encounters—have very little to do with any particular version of any particular game. That may be my cue to worry less about Chimera and concentrate more on “systemless” material to share. As of right now, that sort of subject matter is more appealing to me; in the long-term, it’s also of greater potential use to a wider audience. Besides, that’s what this site is supposed to be about—tools for a busy GM, not tools for the Chimera player.

Hornblower

Hornblower!

Fourth, I need to start playing more, and I’m pretty sure that means revving up a new campaign. Naturally I’ll use Chimera to run it, which has the added benefit of helping me playtest updates to the Core. On the downside, it means that Chimera’s resulting development will be limited to the genre I run. For example, if it’s fantasy (which I’m almost sure it will be), I’m not going to get much done on the Chimera sci-fi front.

But I wonder if that’s such a bad thing. If Chimera is ultimately a personal venture to contrive a system I’m comfortable with, then maybe Chimera sci-fi can wait until I feel like running a sci-fi campaign. Or post-apocalypse. Or WWII. Or my oft-considered Frogs and Limeys campaign, based on the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars.

Fifth, this should have some residual benefit as the driver for a more “e-Friendly” way to package Chimera (i.e., a Fantasy Grounds port or editable-text version for NBOS’ The Keep). While the PDF format seems to be the expected norm in terms of a  soft-copy medium, it’s rather static. What would be more useful is a format that lets you to easily jot down and access your own “notes in the margin,” as it were.

Final Words

So there’s my 1,200+ words on why I’m taking a break from writing. (I can never make it easy, can I?) It’s been educational, and I’ll be back, but I need to recharge. Cheers.

Categories: Blog - Smale's Tales Tags: ,
  1. January 13th, 2011 at 14:39 | #1

    (I would have commented last week, but I’ve been in hospital for the past seven days.)

    I’ll be sorry to see you leave – and I hope you find what you are looking for. I believe I mentioned previously about you possibly being “cynical and jaded,”, which resulted in your hostility.

    I am sorry for my part in the forums, as I’m pretty sure that I have been branded as one of the trolls of the forums that have raised your heckles.I’m not going to continue such discussions here, but I do want to highlight some things which I hope you will reflect upon, and aid your return – should you return.

    “To paraphrase Geddy Lee, gaming isn’t everything I want to do with my life—just one thing.”

    “And—most importantly—this is a hobby, not a job.”

    The second quote is important, because for indie developers and publishers, it is neither a hobby nor a job. These are two extremes on a spectrum which needs to be balanced, and for the most part most successful developers will regard their work as a living, not a job or a hobby.

    To call it a hobby implies a lack of professionalism, respect, commitment, and drive for what you do. it implies that you do it for fun, and as soon as the fun stops, you’ll leave. It implies that the hard parts, the parts that are not fun, will never get done because you won’t do them, unless you enjoy doing them.

    Yet, to call it a job implies that it is a chore, and that you’ve lost your enjoyment, and passion for what you are doing. it implies you’re not putting your heart and soul into it, and in most cases that you are doing it for the wrong reasons. In many cases, calling it a job implies you are just doing it for the money, or some other goal, rather than because it is what you want to do.

    By regarding it as a living, that it is literally your life, you are combining the best of both the definitions of hobby and job into a balance that is highly satisfying, but can also be very hard to maintain. All to often, something which starts out as a living, as a life, becomes cluttered as you lose sight of the forest for the trees. At such points, a step back is called for, and a New Year often brings such wobbles.

    Getting back to playing is a good start – and you should look to ways to make Chimera RPG and the Welsh Piper relate to your life, not the other way around. If you want to play – then play. Maybe running a Chimera RPG campaign and keeping notes online through something like Obsidian Portal will work better for you. Maybe turning your newsletter material into blog posts to enthuse about Chimera RPG a bit more is another approach.

    You are a member of the Gamer Lifestyle Program – which is designed on the basic assumption that gaming is your life, and you want to focus on that to make your living. With all the changes in technology and the industry over the years that even this program has been running, there are many more opportunities to make gaming your life, rather than just making a living from your game.

    I hope whatever you decide, you do what you feel happy and comfortable with. This may seem arrogant, and arrogance isn’t the intention here, but some people just cannot cut the industry and the models in place as they are. When that happens, there are are several choices – one of them is to leave, but my personal favourite is to change the model to something that you CAN handle. You’ve got to do it your way, in your world, focusing on your strengths and passions. You need to Rule 0 your life, and your living, to something that you are comfortable with.

    “But I wonder if that’s such a bad thing. If Chimera is ultimately a personal venture to contrive a system I’m comfortable with, then maybe Chimera sci-fi can wait until I feel like running a sci-fi campaign. Or post-apocalypse. Or WWII. Or my oft-considered Frogs and Limeys campaign, based on the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars.”

    This sums it up nicely, but don’t just limit yourself to Chimera RPG. Just as Chimera RPG is an attempt to create an RPG System you are comfortable with, then maybe it is time you start looking at the very fundamentals – to see if you can’t also change the Welsh Piper to be a “business” system you are comfortable with.

    I bid you success in your time out, and hope you find what you seek, Erin.

  1. January 15th, 2011 at 05:59 | #1

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