On Fantasy Heartbreakers, Feedback and Advice
I've had these thoughts floating around for a few months, and then every week or so the Discourse brings one of them up.
As I posted about on Twitter a week or two ago, I have an ongoing project with absolutely no commercial value, and I took a bit of a break to poke away at it. It’s not really like D&D, but is also kind of like D&D. It is probably not good “game design”. I’m making it just for fun. And I think if you have the opportunity to make something that is fun to make and is not financially useful, that’s a valuable thing not to take for granted. Don't feel obliged to squander it.
I also love making things that other people will end up using. I love making things that are a product that people will be happy to own. It’s satisfying in a different way. But that’s not the only worthwhile reason to make something, and it’s good to remember that business advice is not necessarily life advice.
I am in some ways kind of opposed to the notion of "good" TTRPGs. I think it can push people towards making things that are less creative than they otherwise would have made. And I think the hobby would be a sadder place if people always put commercial viability first. I want things that are weird, things that are super niche, I want people to take risks that fail (if their financial situation allows for it).
I also don't judge people for doing what makes money. I also have a job that makes money. And I want you to do what you need to do to keep creating (as long as it's not like NFTs or something overtly harmful) and people also make cool things within the constraints of profitability. I even want people to make things that I don't like, that I think are bad (as long as it's not actively harmful, e.g. promoting racism). It would be a shame to have only the types of games I like in the world.
And yeah, ok, there are some TTRPGs I think are bad, but I don't think it makes sense to spend a lot of time dwelling on them. I think it can be tempting on social media to dwell on what you don't like, but it ends up just poisoning your interests for yourself.
Now, every now and then someone shows up on Reddit saying they have spent the last 5 years writing thousands of pages, now how do they publish it, and I don't recommend that. I do recommend writing your thousands of pages for the sheer joy of it with an understanding that it probably won't sell. I think it might make it easier to give people realistic advice if this is something we accept. It's hard to tell someone, "you aren't good enough to do that thing". Because we know it isn't quite how the world works, for one thing. A lot of bad products are commercially successful, because they have big marketing budgets and people who know how to use them. I think if we realize that we can value things other than through their ability to make money, then it becomes a lot easier to temper people's expectations about financial success in this industry, because we can do so without attacking their game.
The Problem with Giving Advice
I do think most online advice is bad. People often bemoan The Discourse, but I think The Discourse is often caused by the fact that it's very hard to give useful advice over the Internet. Good advice is specific, accounts for a person's situation, and can be acted upon. (Also, advice is usually more useful when it's solicited). It almost never will be found in a tweet. As I have mentioned several times, a lot of advice on creating TTRPG stuff is not useful for most people, because the advice you will see will be from people who are good at getting their message out on social media. It's not a representative sample of people's experiences, or even of people's goals.
I do find discussions in private discords to be often more helpful, because there's a more even playing field in whose voice gets heard, and you can seek out people with similar situations and backgrounds.
Feedback is, I guess, a type of advice. I definitely recommend asking for feedback, if you are aiming for an external audience. Share drafts and early versions, ideally in other communities where others are doing the same. Volunteer to help give people feedback and practice your feedback-giving skills. Hire an editor, if you've got the budget for it.
I think people get this idea into their head that unsolicited feedback is good, because it's the hardest type of feedback to accept, and if it feels bad, it must be useful, like eating your vegetables. There are however some problems with it. First of all, you aren't always able to act on it (or want to act on it - I see a lot of reviews of things in general where the person is simply not the target audience). Whereas when you ask for feedback, you generally are doing so because you intend to act on it.
Feedback, especially in public and written form, e.g. the form of a review, is also a product you are creating and putting out in the world. For a review, though, if your target is not the general public but the creator, you are basically yourself creating something and demanding that the creator be the appreciative audience of what you have created. And so you're setting yourself up for disappointment. You have in fact put in a bunch of work, but for someone who didn't want it, and it makes sense to be disappointed that your work was not appreciated, but you can't ever expect that one particular person will like what you created for them unless you asked them what they wanted first.
Update: I recently discovered this post which talks about reviews specifically and is relevant to this topic: Here