A lot of people are filled with dreams and illusions of fame and glory writing an RPG that will be the next (insert game they like here), and leading them into a life of fast cars, hookers, and cocaine. That sort of thing just doesn't happen. Never really did. The only people I can think of that ended up doing really well off of RPGs are Gygax, Adkinson, and Dancey, and I'm not sure that any one of them still have a penny to their name (I know for sure that Gygax ended up losing more than he ever made from RPGs, and others like Siembieda, who I once suspected of making good money off RPGs are now known to be publicly NOT doing well). And after that, the number of people who have lost their shirts on RPG ventures is enormous.
In a certain way, these days it's a lot safer. The investment required to become a "published RPG author" is a lot less; but of course, that's because the potential benefit is a lot less, to the point of being practically non-existent. All the people who are running their own companies these days are doing so with the full-on knowledge that they are not going to get rich from it. Most of those who get into it at these points are doing it not for dreams of fame, but for fantasies of being "important people" in the RPG "Industry". But here's a hint: If people aren't becoming millionaires or losing their shirts on RPGs, then there is no "Industry". The only real "Industry" in RPGs these days is Wizards; everyone else who claims some kind of "specialness" for being RPG writers, whether its the Pramases or the Eyebeamses of the world, or the intellectualoids of The Forge, are full of shit, because they're not in a real "industry". They might be in a little self-affirming clique of "cool kids" desperately trying to play at being significant, but that's it.
So the only GOOD reason for getting involved in writing/publishing RPGs these days is for the love of the game. That's it. That's the only reason. Mike Mearls said so, and frankly he should know better than most. Your chances of making real money writing RPGs, either as a freelancer or as a designer, are virtually nil. And frankly, that should never have been your motive in the first place. Frankly, the only motive ought to be love of the game.
No surprise that the "industry expert" types chose to piss on Mearls for that comment above all others, going as far as to ludicrously suggest that people who actually love the RPGs they're writing will produce crappier products than the so-called "industry experts". I think if you're looking for people who are feeling threatened, its them you should be looking at.
To me, neither path (freelancing or self-publishing) is inherently better, one than the other. You do one out of love for a specific existing RPG, or you do the other out of love for making RPGs.
Mike Mearls is probably right that, given how much companies are capable of paying their freelancers these days, you will have a better chance of making slightly more money by self-publishing than by freelancing. And, these days, Freelancing jobs are harder to come by.
But the fact remains that in either case, it's very few people these days that can make a full-time job out of either self-publishing or freelancing. If you aren't working as full-time staff for one of the three or four major companies, or owning one of the wanna-bes, you pretty well have no chance of being able to make a living wage from freelancing.
Currently Smoking: Dunhill Amber Root Bulldog + C&D's Crowley's Best
( Originally posted June 27 2006)