What Does It Mean to be a Professional Game Master?
The term “professional” is open to interpretation. It simply means different things to different people. Sometimes it’s met with an air of deference and respect. Sometimes it leads to immediate suspicions of wrong-doing. Other times it simply stands as a vague and equivocal statement of self-worth. So what does it actually mean to advertise oneself as a Professional Game Master?
How Do We Define Professional?
Perhaps we even need to begin with a definition of Game Master for those who may not be familiar with the Tabletop Roleplaying space. A Game Master is the person tasked with overseeing the details of a role-playing game. Role-players are assigned control over their individual characters, and the Game Master is in control of everything else: the world, the non-player characters who inhabit that world, and the events that unfold in the collaboration that will become the story of that world.
A Game Master is a necessary role at the table for many of the complex fantasy role-playing games that have been flooding the market since the creation of Dungeon’s and Dragons in the late seventies, but what (if anything) makes that Game Master a professional?
Most who consider this question will tend to settle on the second set of definitions from the list above. This burgeoning new field of endeavor certainly doesn’t qualify among the traditional “learned” professions (Theology, Medicine, and the Law). The amount of study required to work in this role simply doesn’t approach the prerequisites of the “big three,” and few if any of the technical and ethical standards that have been established for those professions would apply to a Professional Game Master. However, the concept of a Professional GM does involve an amateur activity in which an individual may engage for financial gain and as a permanent career. There are thousands of Game Masters around the world who have been doing that very thing for decades.
What Makes a Game Master Worth Paying?
If your best buddy from high school has been running a game for you and your friends for the past 20–30 years, then this is probably not a question that you’ve ever been forced to ask yourself. At the very least, it’s a good idea to reimburse a loyal GM for some of the many inevitable expenses that come along with the role. But there’s a generation of new TTRPG players who are coming up in a very different environment. As sad as it may seem to some readers to boil this down to basic economics, it’s little more than supply and demand. There are more prospective players than the current population of game masters can accommodate, effectively creating a shortage in the marketplace.
Because the supply of game masters (Q1)is relatively low compared to the demand for TTRPG opportunities (Q3), the equilibrium price for a paid GM is higher than it’s ever been. Even paid GMs are finding it difficult to keep up with demand . . . that is, if they meet certain standards.
What Standards Set a Quality Professional GM Apart From the Crowd?
A prospective player can find any number of pay-to-play opportunities on the Web these days. Are all of these Game Masters “professionals” just because they get paid to run games? What qualities give certain GMs staying power over the competition?
As with just about any other abstract business idea, there tend to be some serious misconceptions about what customers of paid GMs are truly seeking in return for their hard-earned money. In reality, it’s not about fancy voice acting, or a creative writing background, or some sort of celebrity status. All of those things are worthy aspirations that can help a GM hone the craft, but they don’t keep customers paying the invoices. Instead, the more important factors come down to just a few basic business principles. This important truth could be the impetus for a dozen additional articles, but I’ll settle for focusing on a few highlights.
When people are paying for a product or service, they want to believe that the team of people behind that product or service is experienced, knowledgeable, and trustworthy. When these three characteristics exist in abundance, one very important quality emerges: consistency. One-time customers become repeat customers because of consistent quality.
Notice that consistency is created by a team of professionals, not a single individual. No matter how good a GM is at creating an immersive and enjoyable game experience, there are limitations to how much one person can do. There are only so many hours in the day. A Professional Game Master who must also take on the roles of marketing, invoicing, bookkeeping, community-building, networking, product development, market analysis . . . you get the point.
At Next-Level Gaming, the focus of our team is consistency. Our customers know that we’re going to bring a hard-working, experienced Game Master to the table each and every time. And that’s a service that has proven to be worth paying for.
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Next-Level Gaming is an organization of Professional Game Masters from across the U.S. If you’re interested in being a part of one of our weekly drop-in games, or if you would like to learn more about becoming a part of our team, please contact us at Next-Level D&D or at StartPlayingGames.