As a follow-up to my last article where I talked about the Perils of Edition Wars, today I’m going to discuss the problems with engaging in speculation.
Consider the following scenario: Company A announces X Game or License. Cool, right? Cool. Then what? Well, often what happens is discussion coupled with an endless array of speculation on Twitter, forums, blogs, Facebook, etc. A long-time fan knows somebody at the company and they heard a rumor. A person who’s heard of the company and hates their games claims that they’re going belly up.
If you’re remotely connected to the hobby games industry, you know this to be true. Countless threads have popped up about companies that supposedly weren’t doing well or game lines that were rumored to be poor performers. In some cases, yes, bad news does happen. In my time as a freelancer and in the industry, I have dealt with companies who have gone bankrupt, who’ve lost the license to an RPG, and embezzlement. For those of you who have followed me or my work, you may have caught on to something.
I don’t fan those flames especially if I am not directly involved. I may be a contractor, but to many companies I am still a representative of the product I worked on. Bad-mouthing a company or making egregious claims will quickly put a freelancer in hot water. Mind you, some companies are more conservative than others, but if you want to leave a good impression? Distance yourself from fan. The minute you submit work to be considered for publication you are not just a fan anymore — you’re a professional.
We’re all fans of something. However, no two business models are the same. For hobby games, many of these businesses are run with a lot of love in people’s spare time. That’s not always the case. Companies like White Wolf Publishing, Wizards of the Coast, Paizo Publishing, and Steve Jackson Games are full-time businesses with offices, personnel, etc. Even then, the business models are wildly different. Often, what speculation does is clue the folks working at these companies that that person has no idea how their business actually runs.
That’s pretty normal for an industry where fans can connect with companies. However, I caution freelancers that even though you may mean well? Feeding that rumor mill may cause you some strife later on down the road — especially if fans regard you as a representative of the company that you’re working for.
When you see a rumor or something you’re dying to know, take it up privately with your contact at the company. Tell them that you want to know if this is true because you were hoping to write more for them. Then, when they respond? Ask them if you can share that information as a quote. Trust me when I say that in some cases you do not want to ask forgiveness. Permission and manners will get you a lot further especially if you’re dealing with companies that have licenses and products slated for the next year or so.
Having said all of this, I don’t think that freelancer speculation is an issue, but it does pop up every now and again for new writers and game designers. Often, it becomes a challenge if and when the fan believes that a decision is made to personally affect them, rather than be based on financial or resource-management concerns. Understanding the business side is part of the process if you make the transition from fan (consumer) to designer (creator). I hate to make a big deal out of it, but if common sense were common then… Well… I wouldn’t have to crack a joke about it. Still, some freelancers never have to worry about the business stuff because they get paid on time and their experiences have been nothing but positive. Oh, if only we could all be so lucky.