Progression of the RPG Professional Game Master Industries Update 2021

Overwhelming Demand, Lengthy Training and Experience Requirements, Challenges Finding the Right People With The Right Stuff


The evolution of the professional Game Master, Game Master Educator, Game Master Therapist, etc. is still very much in an infancy phase, though around for decades.

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An RPG Professional Human Services Entrepreneur's Experiences Shared

In 2021 we finally hit 6 employees at RPG.LLC from diverse backgrounds. In the coming months we'll be ramping up their hours significantly, and we are still trying to find a minimum of 5 more employees to hire in the coming months (will be updating the jobs listing page soon), preferably one or more CTRS professionals with the RPG experience/training we require.

Meanwhile RPG Research nears the 200 volunteers across 6 continents mark.

I have been involved with role-playing games (RPGs) since 1977, and online and software development since 1979, and researching the effects and how to optimize RPG experiences since 1983, running RPGs in the classroom and other educational settings since 1985, with incarcerated populations since 1989, in healthcare settings since 1990, and in therapeutic settings since 2004. Which lead to the creation of the online research repository and non-profit RPG Research, which incorporated as a 501(c)3 non-profit research and human services charitable organization in 2017. Professional peers, interviewers, conferences and conventions began introducing me half a decade ago as "The Grandfather of Therapeutic Gaming", which I initially resisted from fear of ageism, but now that I am actually a grandfather I warmly embrace with gratitude.

Wizards of the Coast Dragon Talk Interview: Hawke Robinson and John Welker Watch interview

I have been a paid Professional Game Master since 1983 (though usually as a side-gig while working in other careers). I have made between $1-5/hr in 1983 as a kid running  up to 3 paid groups a weekend, to over $300/hr in more recent years, in this RPG Professional Direct Human Services Delivery industry. Since 2010 this has ranged between $90-$150/hr typically, though I still run plenty of volunteer/charity and friends-only, free games. The for-profit typically charges $120/hr for my employees to provide services, and my regular rate is now typically $250/hr. It isn't yet enough to fully supplant my steady pay as a technology and information security consultant, especially since I make paying my employees first, then business expenses (Washington state is painfully expensive to have employees compared to other states, thus we're expanding rapidly back to other states), and donations to the non-profit the top priorities, but as things are going it is expected to supplant my six-digit tech income in the coming year.

Hawke Robinson at Seattle Children's Hospital - click link to see article and full video of presentation with closed captionsMy private practice as an RPG consultant, therapist and educator was under the for-profit company RPG Therapeutics LLC. As a Washington State Department of Health Registered Recreational Therapist with a background in music and therapeutic recreation, computer science, education, research psychology, and neuroscience, by 2014 I had too much overwhelming demand for professional RPG services to keep up. In 2010 it was only the occasional special project or client, but soon I was at 90+ hours a week and having to turn prospective clients away almost daily. I hated having to say no to so many that would benefit, and I was having some life-threatening health issues that would take years to resolve, so I needed others to help take up the load.

The ideal candidate is someone with a background in something like a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) plus 5 to 10 years of general RPG experience, and at least 2-3 years of specialized RPG experience working with special populations, knowing how to pick the right RPGs or adapt other RPGs to be a better fit for those populations to optimally achieve their measurable goals in the most efficient time and efficacy possible.

Inlander Magazine about resurgence of D&D: RPG Research's community programs at Spark CentralI tried hiring from the existing talent pool, posting all over the many job boards and social media, open to people all around the world. I received hundreds and hundreds of applications, ranging from high school students through post-doctoral PhD's, from therapists to educators, from camp counselors to professional actors/entertainers. It took months to wade through this backlog and interview the best candidates. Unfortunately it became abundantly clear that the desired workforce did not exist. Everyone would need anywhere from 1 to 3 years of additional training, on top of their great baselines from various professions, before I could hand off the workload I already had to them, let alone grow capacity. So I needed to shift focus to work toward the longitudinal goals.

This meant building an entire fledgling industry's workforce from scratch! What a challenge!

The RPG Mobile Fleet, wheelchair accessible controlled environments bus and trailers

To resolve the scalability issues, I ramped up the RPG.Education online self-study platform which went well until Godaddy blew up the servers, and I have been rebuilding it since (now self-hosted not trusting it to others after that), and shifted more of more of my focus toward the non-profit RPG Research, ramping up the research and free community programs further, and notably also trying to improve and formalize the RPG Professional training.

Videos: KREM2 News: Hawke Robinson introduces the wheelchair accessible mobile therapy facility RPG Trailer

This training has gone through many iterations, and will continue to iterate each year as research and evidence-in-practice dictates. This has lead to breaking the training down into smaller, more manageable, bite-size chunks from, the original 2-3 years-long intensive training program. Originally offering 4 levels of training based on specialty: recreation, entertainment, education, and therapy (from least complicated to most  training needed). This became 7 levels, then 10, and is now currently at 20 levels of training (see current diagram of training levels and specialties). This continues to revise each year, but is increasingly stabilizing.

I have been interacting with international communities, including RPGs online since 1979 (thanks to connections through the University of Utah to the pre-Internet), and have been running video-conference supported online tabletop RPG sessions since the mid-1990s. Plus we have the wheelchair accessible RPG Mobile facilities that we take across the continental USA (loaning out to RPG Research for free as well to help support their research and human / community services programs), in addition to offices, and client on-site locations. This diversity of delivery medium has also helped us to be very resilient during changing market trends.

The Role-Playing Game Professional Training Workbook (Level 1) now available through AmazonLast year, at long last, we finally published our Level 1 Role-Playing Game Professional Training Workbook (originally 24 sessions, then 16, now looking stable around 18 sessions). We expect to release more minor updates each year or two as trainees point out typos, errors, etc. We are continuing work on the level 2 Workbook publication and hope to publish it some time in 2022. We're continuing to iterate through our instructors manuals as well. We have regular requests from schools, therapists, educators, and other professional for our various instructor manuals, but they require a lot more editing before they can be shared with the general public (there are a lot of block quotes useful to the trainer but pushing the limits of copyright publication). We hope we can publish the level 1 instructors manual some time in 2022, and level 2 instructors manual in 2023. Expect this alternating process with the workbook published 1-2 years before the associated instructors manual.

The workbooks _can_ work as self-study guides, you do not _have_ to attend any of the formal training to benefit, but you have to do the work to fill in the blanks .The workbook is a lot of blank questions you have to answer, and then it becomes a useful, indexed reference manual once completed. All of the information you need to find to answer the questions within is freely available on the RPG Research and RPG.LLC websites and the general Internet because we are a radically open approach to sharing information, though attending either the free RPG Research Volunteer RPG Game Master training, or the paid programs through RPG.LLC provide the most benefit, especially from the peer review training process.

We are continuing to refine the formal RPG Professional Certification program with input from many alpha and beta participants. This is a lengthy process, especially since we intend to continue to be the gold standard in RPG Professionalism. We're not doing training and certification to make money, we are doing it for the benefit of the growing global industry and trying to protect participants from the increasing number of bad practitioners we are learning about that are starting to cause harm to their clients due to their lack of baseline training and peer review professional support.

Video: 8 Hour Gaming Marathon Fundraiser for RPG Research

Finally, a few years ago, I was able to begin hiring trained RPG professionals. While I am still looking for the ideal candidates who have both the necessary RPG training that meets our strict standards PLUS the CTRS certification, the trainees that have joined us from diverse backgrounds with several years of RPG Research related training have provided some increased capacity, and so now I can finally allow our client base to ramp back up. My goal is for us to have at least 10 full-time employees, with one or more CTRS staff members in the coming year to accept the current backlog of clients. Many have been waiting years for us to be ready, because there are no other alternatives even close to our service offerings meeting their facility and client needs.

Brief RPG Market Growth Overview

RPG Therapeutics LLC Website following is a combination of actual market reports, and unfortunately conjecture-based gut-feel educated guesses because there aren't yet any formal reports available for some of the sectors discussed. As more firm data is available, we'll update accordingly. Meanwhile, this is our best understanding of the market currently.

The RPG _Publishing_ industry has always been small slice of the overall game industry's tabletop games subset, even during the previous peak periods.  In 2008 the video game industry was in the trillion of USD per year, while tabletop games were only around $300M USD and RPG publishing only around $20M USD annually. The RPG Professional services industry wasn't even a blip of a blip on market share, and is still an unknown tiny quantity. If I had to guess, probably much less than $1M/year globally, but that is really just a gut guess on very rough estimates from my contacts in the industry.

Then the 2008/2009 crashes happened. By 2016 the video games industry (including mobile) had lost around $2 Trillion USD, but tabletop games began its (continuing) generous double-digit percentage growth, anywhere from 20-50% each year! By 2016 tabletop games were around $1.3 Billion, and RPG Publishing around $50-60 Million USD. The RPG Professional direct human services delivery industry was definitely on the rise, my own business experiencing triple-digit growth, though from still a very small number. Perhaps in 2016 it might have broken the $1-2M USD global market share, but again, this is more a gut-feel from being in the industry.

COVID hit global markets, and lives, in full force in 2020 through 2021, with many industries taking a terrible beating, and the supply chain weaknesses revealed once again (we saw this in the 90s as well, yet another example of how quickly people forget). After 2016 the video game industry recovered from the downward slump and has been in excellent trillion dollar growth once again.  Meanwhile tabletop games broke the $2 Trillion USD mark in 2020, and RPGs somewhere around $80 to $100 Million USD mark! The RPG Professional Services are getting a lot of attention now. The Kickstarters mix of old and new publishers, but the media attention of Critical Role, and many consultants popping up all over, may indicate possibly around a $5 Million USD market for direct RPG Professional human services. We experienced over 300% growth in 2020 at both the non-profit RPG Research and the for-profit RPG.LLC! 

These are still tiny total numbers in the much larger market place, but it is one of those "being at the ground floor of a new industry" opportunities that do not happen often. We are planning for the probability that RPG.LLC will be exceeding $100k USD revenue soon, and if projections remain on track, hitting the $1M mark within the next 1-2 years at just RPG.LLC alone!

The RPG industry proved to be resilient both during a global market downturn of the 2008+ "Great Recession", and the global reaction to the COVID outbreaks. There is a looming global crash building exacerbated by all the supply chain issues, that if not addressed soon will possibly lead to economic issues similar to the 1970s stagflation or worse. It will be interesting to see if the RPG Services industry continues to show such resilience in the face of such challenges. We do see from our RPG Therapy services an expected uptick in business during such difficult times.  Because RPG.LLC is well diversified in services, we expect to continue at least double digit growth (if not the triple digit growth) for years to come, though we expect fluctuations in the different service areas: recreation, entertainment, education, and therapy sectors.

-Hawke Robinson, President and Founder RPG Research and RPG.LLC

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You can read more detailed accounts from the past on this topic here:

Michael Tresca:

2018 - Should Game Masters for Role-Playing Games be Paid? It Depends.

2018 Wizards of the Coast Dragon Talk -