It’s a perennial question isn’t it really? Roleplaying is cool, could I make it my job as well as my hobby? Essentially that’s what we writers and game designers are doing, after a fashion, and it’s not that easy at all.
MMOs have professional paid GMs, but that’s not really like being a tabletop GM. It’s more like tech-support and forum administration, only with less sociable hours and even less money.
Let’s assume you’d want to make minimum wage with your professional GMing services. In the UK the minimum wage is £6.08 per hour, let’s call it £6.00 for ease of mathematics. You want to match a 9-5, 5 day a week job. 35 hours a week, four weeks a month. That’s about £840 a month. Let’s call it £850.
You might get away with £10 per person, per month for a subscription service – broadly compared to MMO subs, which means you’d need a client-base of 85 people. That’s the equivalent of 15 or so six-player gaming groups (that’s about the size of a normal convention group).
Thing is, you’d likely be working weekends as that’s when most people would play and running yourself ragged you might be able to host three games a day, Saturday and Sunday.That’s 24 potential slots per month on a first-come first served basis, but you’d likely burn out pretty fast at that pace.
You could supplement that with GMing ‘services’.
EG: “I need adventure notes for a level 3 D&D group”, or “Run me off a dozen NPC orcs…” or “I need a villain for my campaign.”
Anything you do make up could also go into a ‘secure’ wiki or something, adding value people could raid all the time as and when they wanted (so long as they kept up their subs).
For a lot of games – now we’re in an open-source age – you would also have the basis for supplementary products that wouldn’t take that much effort to turn into a saleable PDF and would also provide incentive for you to do the best possible job when putting it together at the start.
I think this is… just barely… feasible as an idea. If you could combine those ideas, but there are definitely some non-trivial problems:
1. Taking it to a professional level isn’t free. Sure you could do all of this – running games over Skype or Google Hangouts, hosting documents in the cloud etc, using a free wiki host, but it’s not going to look very professional. You’re going to need some sort of storefront, way of tracking subs, access etc.
2. Paperwork is going to eat into your time to do the bit you want.
3. Creativity cannot be turned on and off like a tap. Being creative full time is exhausting and you’re only as good as the last thing you’ve done.
4. What if you get sick? Can’t hold up your end of the bargain? You need a way to refund people.
5. You need a way to make sure your customers have equal access to you, fair access to you and are getting their money’s worth.
6. You need to have a rep. To be a rockstar GM, in order to attract people willing to shell out.
7. Some companies might by huge arseholes about you making money from running sessions of their games or charging for content for their games. Even though RPG magazines used to do his all the time.
This is all assuming that you’d be doing things on an individual basis. A company could match GMs and people wanting to play together and pay GMs on a game by game basis but that would be even more complex, a sort of Infrno-plus.
This isn’t something I would do. Maybe if I was still in my early twenties and was single it would be tempting to try, or if some investors could be brought together for the Infrno-plus idea. This is just an exploratory study, if you want to give it a bash, feel free to use this as the basis for your business plan and let me know how you get on.
But you’re mad.
Here are a couple, but not in the UK:
If you did this the key wouldn’t be in small games for your usual gaming groups. You’d actually have to market your services as a corporate team building exercise. That way you would charge around £200 a time (or more) to come into an office and run a game for a bunch of execs that would teach them teamwork, problem solving and crisis management (by killing orcs).