The Failing Business of Hate

September 4, 2015

So, this last week has been full of some interesting news, with several people boycotting DriveThruRPG for carrying about as blatantly open violent misogyny material as one could imagine.  The discussion about the products, or the choice to carry them mostly falls into points I’ve made in the past.

The interest discussion for me, in this, however, is that several other game publishers have noted how much the impact has been on their sales, and argued against a full distributor boycott.  There’s effectively two arguments, but both are empty, and those are both worth dissecting.

What the Market Wants and Business Choices

Before we go into the arguments – the fact is, if your sales have been impacted, then that’s how many consumers have just told you that they not only don’t want to buy hate material, they also don’t want to support businesses (the distributor, in this case) who also profit by them.  A growing gaming community that isn’t built on hate propganda is more important to them than buying a luxury.  I’m sure you’ve made other choices about how to sell your game and how it will fit into the market – here’s one more factor.

Now consider the distributor’s role in this: the distributor exists to make it easier to sell your game.  Part of that is basic PR – ideally they promote your game and make it look good, but if nothing else, maybe not themselves becoming associated with the kind of thinking that gives us mass shooters and violent stalkers is kinda one of those basic PR things.   If your distributor is making themselves look so bad that customers are not buying your games, perhaps, you should look for other options?  (ETA: here’s an example of a videogame company who hired a PR firm… that had bad PR themselves and what that meant for their game…)

In this particular case, it’s not like there aren’t a ton of options for electronic distribution, and, at least, a few good options for print on demand.  A key problem that the Forge folks pointed out in the past was that 3 tier distribution meant you were locked into playing the distributor’s game, even if they fucked you over, said your company had closed to people asking for your game, didn’t pay you on time, or at all, etc.  And likewise, customers had to deal with the chain as well.   These days, you have options – and realize, so do your customers.  They can buy a LOT of RPGs, from a LOT of places, and they can even get them for free.  Sorry, it’s a hard market,  maybe you better make some choices about how to meet it…

Argument #1: You shouldn’t boycott the distributor because it hurts ME (and businesses like mine)

I’ve seen this argument show up in the Sci-fi/Fantasy community before – it’s a very entitled view.  Often people will talk about their kids needing to eat, their medical issues, and so on.  And yes, those needs are real, however customers have no obligation to make sure you pay rent or eat every month – what you’re looking for there is the base needs safety net to be found in socialist policy – not capitalism.

Basically, you’re making a sales pitch combining the value of your product plus the sympathies of the people you see as your market vs:

a) the fact they don’t owe you sales

b) you’re selling a minor luxury

c) market demand for basic human decency

Personally, if your living situation is that dire, there’s many fundraising sites specifically for that purpose – I had to use them several times in the last 2 years during and after cancer.  The passive aggressive “you owe me sales” is a dishonest guilt trip to throw at folks.

Plus, honestly, RPGs do not pay living wages.  If you are a professional writer, editor, layout designer, illustrator, etc. you already know that RPGs do not pay decent wages, or on time.  You already know you can’t afford to do this and make rent.  The only people who seem to not get shorted are the printers, and that’s because they demand money up front and do not accept the 1930s Depression-Era wages other folks will take to “be accepted into RPGs”.  If you have structured your life to try to survive on RPGs, a lot of choices had to go into that.

Argument #2: “This is an attack on Free Speech!”

We’ll hopscotch past the obvious points of Free Speech and government, and consequences, and go into this simple idea:

I can choose to spend my money, or NOT spend my money, on consumer products as I wish.   If you make products that are shit, I can choose to not buy it.  If your store sells Klan Regalia, I can choose to not go to your store entirely, and while I know I wasn’t going to buy an Imperial Grand Wizard KKK hood, I also know I don’t want any of my money going to your store because you’re clearly ok with that stuff.

You’re making a business choice on a principle – I’m making a consumer choice on a principle.  Effectively you’re using the idea of Free Speech as a marketing tool, albeit poorly and dishonestly, however, it’s this idea a principle that you’re selling.

A lot of folks base their business or consumer choices on principles – some people only use specific types of Linux OS because they have views about open sourcing, and how they use their computers or data.  Some people put their products up for free – either as in no cost, or as in available to be reused, re-mixed, etc.  Some people will not sell PDFs or ebooks, only hardcopies.

That’s all your choice to do.  If it’s really important to you to sell your game in a venue that will also carry open hateful material, so that you can stand firm on your principle, go ahead.  Just don’t complain about what the market wants in regards to that.  I mean, you can sell your game only in BitCoin – that’s a choice some folks make – but don’t complain if it gives you a limited market.

At the end of the day

It’s so telling to me about the “we’re not the bad ones” publishers who look at this situation and can neither see business choices to make NOR what the point is when people vote with their dollars.  It really only makes sense if you felt entitled to sales and didn’t think your customer’s desires mattered at all.

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