Obsidian Entertainment designer Josh Sawyer continues to address the bombardment of fan-submitted questions he apparently receives on a daily basis over at formspring.me. This time, he answers questions about what defines an RPG, whether single player RPGs will still be around in 20 years, why game developers are typically liberal rather than conservative, and more. A sampling:
What do you think about Bioware's comments about Final Fantasy 13 and whether or not it's an RPG? If you agree that it's not, are all jRPGs not RPGs, or do games like Persona 4 that emphasize expressing the character's personality get to be RPGs?
I think Final Fantasy XIII is not an RPG for precisely the same reasons Daniel Erickson stated. I have not played Persona 4, but if it allows the player to define and meaningfully express their character's personality with tangible in-game consequences, then I would consider it to be an RPG.
I never have cared about "RPG" trappings like character advancement, statistics, inventory, tactical combat, and other mechanics that tons of "not RPG" games (e.g. various Castlevanias, Resident Evils, etc.) have. Lots of games can have those things, whether people consider them to be RPGs or not. They're certainly fun aspects of game play, but they aren't unique to RPGs.
The origins of the RPG genre are in tabletop gaming, and the allure of the tabletop RPG environment isn't in spec-ing out characters (though that is fun). If that's all you want to do, play Warhammer 40k, Confrontation, or any other war game you like. People play RPGs so they can make a unique character and play that character as they see fit. That is why I always use that specific capability as my criterion for classifying contemporary games as RPGs.
Once you talk about games in the mid-90s or earlier, I don't think many would qualify. Character choice RPGs are really a western, late 90s+ phenomenon. There are a few earlier examples where morality/reputation came into play (Ultimas, Darklands), but often they were designed to be inherently punitive to "bad" players. That is, the game punished the player instead of the world.
How do publishers and developers interact in the world of game design? Is it usual for publishing companies to get residuals, or are they usually just funded and compensated for development? Publishers take the majority of profits. Developers are paid on a milestone basis with some bonuses or royalties (usually) negotiated into the contract, but said bonuses/royalties are usually contingent on some strict criteria (shipped on time, 85%+ rated, X million units sold, etc.).
In the 11 years I've been in the industry, I've received one royalty check for one game: Icewind Dale. Some very successful companies have a lot of bonuses and royalties flying around, but they are the exception.