Collaboration on RPG design and publication

In the creator-owned culture of RPG design, collaboration is difficult. It happened, certainly, but it was the exception not the rule.

Now, I’m calling collaboration here actual assistance on the creative process. This is in contrast to something I’ll call mutualism, which is creators helping each other out with publication and marketing and so on. But, it’s murky. Is playtesting collaboration or mutualism? See? Murky.

But, it’s different enough to talk about.

In the creator owned model, if two (or more) talented designers wanted to craft a new game, it’s an uphill battle, and sometimes a battle of egos. Some people did this successfully. Some people — myself included — tried and failed before they even got out of the gate.

This creator-owned thing was important to people. It was — and probably still is — definitional among my publishing peers. It was the foundation, both philosophically and financially, upon which everything was built as a movement. There are good reasons for this.

But, it also means the model is potentially limiting. If you’re a creator, and you want full control of your efforts without others — even partners — contradicting your wishes, you’re very likely to hit obstacles. This means that most people are one-man bands. And, for many of them, that works just fine. They do seek out assistance from people. For example, they hire someone to do art or layout. And, those are creative works (usually artists retain rights to their works in this model, but layout folks do not).

Right now, I’m collaborating with a friend on his game. I seek no ownership of his property. I just like collaborating with him and with his game. In the short couple weeks I’ve been doing this, I can clearly see his game improve significantly. We’re doing things that he doesn’t have the resources to do alone. Collaboration is powerful.

I can do all this because I’m not really following any model at all outside of having fun with a hobby and helping a friend. But, it’s instructive. Should I seek out to create something new — say, a new game design — why shouldn’t I enlist a team? It’s almost certain that while I may compromise on some level of unique and passionate vision, I’ll gain much more in quality and resources for a better product.

I wish we saw more of this in the indie scene (there is some, it’s true). Of course we see it all the time in traditional RPGs. So, it clearly comes with some downsides. But, the indie scene it’s really taking advantage of the benefits.

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