This has been an ongoing debate for years. Many blogs, and news sites have discussed this. There are 3 camps on this it seems. There are the ones who are completely against it for various reasons. There are the people who think it makes sense to pay someone for the service to run games for a complete stranger and there are those who are indifferent because it has no bearing on them. There are many arguments both for and against paying a dungeon master but not many have discussed pay to play players. Lets try to look at all viewpoints for paying a DM and or Players.
First lets look at some of the reasons people are against paying someone to run a game for a group of people.
They believe this promotes a financial side of the hobby that will hurt the game overall.
They think it allows players to get away with a lot of problematic behaviors due to the fact that they are now a paying customer.
This hobby is something that should not be for profit and everyone should play it for fun and not financial gain.
No DM is good enough to warrant being paid outside of pizza, snacks, and a few beverages.
Now I don’t share any of these sentiments. These are all things I have read on comment threads on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, and other places. I personally don’t think this will hurt the hobby. To me this only helps the hobby.
When I was first getting into RPGs I moved away from my first game master. I had a hard time finding people to play for a long time. The one group I did find was full with 8-10 players. I had to game in online chat rooms and I was desperate for an in person group. I probably would have been willing to pay for a regular game back then.
The argument that this will allow players to be disruptive doesn’t seem like it is any more a problem than normal games. I have friends who are paid DMs and they have said those games tend to have more respectful players because they are financially invested. This makes sense to me because if I was paying to play I would understand that others have paid as well. It would not be fun for me to ruin everyones good time.
Why anyone would be upset that someone is able to make a living doing something they love is beyond me. There have been times in my live where I was working so much I didn’t have a lot of free time. If I was being paid to run games I could have some fun while making a living. This is a win win in my opinion. I would never charge a group of friends but strangers who are willing to pay me I would certainly charge for my services. This doesn’t mean I can’t have fun. It does mean that I need to do everything in my power to ensure that as a paying customer they all have fun. If they don’t though I am sure they won’t be paying me for very long.
Due to the fact that there are DMs who make upwards of $1,000 dollars a session to run games and even more if you are talking about someone who is a celebrity inside of the hobby I think it is safe to say there are DMs good enough to warrant being paid. The market dictates the price. If people weren’t good enough then they wouldn’t make as much as they do sometimes. Now this statement might be true for a lot of people out there and I respect that. You might not ever be willing to pay someone to run a game for you. There are people out there who would pay so there is that.
Now lets look at reasons why someone might pay someone to run a game for them.
They can’t find a group.
They really want to play with a celebrity.
In their home game they are normally the DM and never get a chance to be a player.
They want a specific experience and are willing to pay for it.
Not being able to find a group is a very common issue. It is easier to find Dungeons and Dragons games than it is to find other systems games to play in. This is a problem I experienced for a long time. I played Palladium Books and couldn’t find a group. I lived only 30 minutes from where that company is located at too.
There are Kickstarters and Patreons out there where if you pay a specific amount you can play in a game with the host. This is something that is really common. Their time is worth a specific amount of money and the demand is high for most of these people.
If you have been gaming long enough you know most groups tend to have the same DM every single time. Occasionally they might get a break but they usually have the same DM for years. Paying a DM might be their only option to find a game to play in rather than running it themselves.
Some people want to play some pretty obscure scenarios or games and have the option to when paying someone to run it for them. Most paid DMs go out of their own way to provide the best gaming experience for the player or players.
A lot of people are just indifferent to the idea. It doesn’t matter to them because it won’t impact their own gaming experiences whatsoever. They just choose not to participate and that is fine by them.
Looking at some of the previous points what about pay to play players? Would you pay anyone to play in a game with as a player? Maybe someone like Stephen Colbert? What about Vin Deisel? Has it ever crossed your mind what it might be like to play in a game with Ed Greenwood? How much would you pay? I think this would be a ton of fun. There are people who do get paid to play in some of the streamed games. In fact I know of a few games that are streamed on YouTube and Twitch where the players and DM all get paid for their time and are still just playing for fun.
What are some possible ways a DM or Player can be paid to play games?
Convention games with celebrities.
Streaming on Twitch. (DMs and Players get paid for this option.)
Broadcasting games on YouTube.
Paying for a specific DM to run a game online through Patreon or Kickstarter.
Paying a DM to provide a service to a company as a team building event.
Paying a DM to run a game in person.
Many conventions charge people to play in games with celebrities. Some conventions like PAX include tickets to watch games. In fact Acquisitions Inc streamed a game once in movie theaters and I happened to watch it with my friend Jake over at Mini Terrain Domain. That was an awesome time. I would do it again for a game like that.
Streaming games has become very popular since around 2015. Critical Role has found a way to make good money doing this as well as by selling products off of their massive popularity. They aren’t the only ones though.
It is becoming more common for people to broadcast their games on YouTube including me. The guys of Absolute Tabletop have their really popular series The Provokers which I was once a player in. They do it mostly for the love of the game but it did lead to them starting Absolute Tabletop off of the audience they grew. Sponsorship is another great way for someone to make money off of streaming games.
A lot of Patreons have a limited amount of spots that offer the service of running games for their Patrons. With Kickstarters it isn’t uncommon for one of the highest tiers to offer an in studio game with someone like Satine Phoenix or Matt Mercer for example. Usually you have to fly yourself out to LA for this but it is still offered.
There are schools and companies that are willing to pay someone for programs that teach people how to play games as well as for team building exercises. These are usually short term but if doing it for a program they can go on for years. My friend The Dead Aussie Gamer runs games for a large group of kids and has even employed other DMs.
Earlier I mentioned that I think all of this is good for the hobby. Since 2014 when D&D5e has been released the hobby has really felt strong. Is this because of the new edition being so good? Is it because of streaming taking off in popularity? I think both have helped each other to be honest. They will continue to help grow each other. I am waiting for a system outside of Dungeons and Dragons to really take off on a streaming platform. There are plenty of games played online and this will continue. Could some obscure indy game get noticed for a stream and become the second largest Tabletop RPG in the next few years? It is certainly possible. I could see it happening.
What are your thoughts on pay to play? Do you frown upon it? Do you think there is a place for it? Let us know in the comments below.
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