Archive for January 9th, 2012

09
Jan
12

you heard it here first

Sign-up image for Wizards of the Coast's 5E open playtest.

Today’s pieces by Ethan Gilsdorf in the New York Times, David Ewalt in Forbes, and Greg Tito in the Escapist – as well as the Legends and Lore column by Mike Mearls – bring confirmation that the OSR has won sooner than I expected. Apparently there is some inaccuracy in taking a summer temperature by counting the frequency of cicadas chirping, or in predicting the arrival of 5E by how often people are crying that the sky is falling.

Here are folks I know have been listening to what the OSR has been saying, talking about the announcement:

“The long open testing period for the next edition, if handled correctly, could be exactly what’s needed to make players feels invested in D&D again.”

“I’m not a fan of fourth edition. I find the combat slow, the powers limiting, and the rules inhospitable to the kind of creative world-building, story-telling and problem-solving that make D&D great. But so far, the fifth edition rules show promise. They’re simple without being stupid, and efficient without being shallow. Combat was quick and satisfying; we got through most of an adventure in just a few hours.”

  • David Ewalt, one of the participants on the “The World Dave Built” panel at the Arneson Memorial Gameday.

“It’s a compliment to the new rules that I was rarely aware of them. It might have been Mike’s expertise as a DM, but the new D&D does feel like a pleasant amalgam of every edition and the elegance of the rules allowed us to concentrate on the adventure’s plot… Many of us fell in love with the game through the adventure modules released by TSR in the early days of the game. Gygax’s Against the Giants modules are still regarded as a crowning achievement in how they planted plot details in the dungeon along with exciting combat, and Mearls said he wants to get back to that level of story-telling through new published adventures.”

  • Disgruntled 4E playtester Greg Tito, in his own piece.

Are these not some of the things that we’ve been asking for?

I don’t think that the OSR’s every word has been taken to heart. It’s certainly not that our size or market impact has made any kind of meaningful impact on Wizards of the Coast’s business projections; I’m not even sure our OGL ally Pathfinder can claim that distinction.

What I do believe is that the OSR represents the same zeitgeist that is putting like-minded souls into art galleries and theaters and sports teams and the leadership of WotC and Paizo. And I believe that our cacophonous, insanely divergent group of loudmouthed blind men provided an unusually complete description of the elephant in the room throughout the 4E era. Facing an insanely difficult task of design and marketing as they try to usher in the new age of creation, not even WotC would have the hubris to completely refuse to drink from the OSR’s pool of free advice and analysis.

Of course, WotC’s capacity to screw things up often seems limitless. If in trying to give the OSR what we want they make a complete mockery of everything we believe in, feel free to say I was among the first to get egg on my face.

09
Jan
12

Why Monetizing RPG Design Sucks

In the discussion following a fascinating roundup of the state of the RPG business at the nerdNYC forums, deliverator asked:

Isn’t it bad for the hobby if the business side can’t support full-time, professional game designers?

I think full-time professional game designers are bad for the hobby, from my limited experience of playing with some of them and having done some professional design work myself.

The problem is that, at least given the current financial difficulties of the product-based RPG business, if you are supporting yourself solely by writing RPG material there is a real financial disincentive to play. During the development of a new core system you might have a R&D budget that supports just sitting around trying things out and figuring out what’s fun, but the limited profitability of each supplemental release means that you really ought to be spending all your time cranking out more words.

Sure, maybe you play RPGs in your leisure time, but probably with people who have the same narrow focus on the particular thing you’re all working on, and who could blame you if when you finish a long day of RPG writing what you want to do is passively kill orcs playing WoW instead of going back to the same well of creativity you use during your day job? The strong temptation when you play is to make it a playtest of whatever your current assignment is, and those assignments usually have a distant relationship to the things you’re getting into with any independently existing actual play.

Doing the stuff that would refill the creative well – going and playing different games with different groups and experiencing the full diversity of styles and approaches – is something I generally don’t see full-time professionals doing. Mostly this is just due to lack of time. Sometimes it’s because the personality types that want to delve deeply into rules design are kind of autistic, and/or eager for the authority and in-group status you can claim from being a RPG pro as ways to compensate for being poorly paid and not respected by anyone outside the subculture – neither of which is a recipe for happy experiences with lots of different groups and their variant playstyles!

My interest in finding ways to professionalize playing RPGs instead of writing them is in part to counteract this trend. I think it’d be good for the hobby if the people who were most deeply involved in it could financially justify spending time on the performance art side of things as well as generating products to support others’ performance.

Note that I have heard that some of the more famous mainstream designers of the last decade do run games for fans who have approached them with offers to pay e.g. $100 an hour for their GMing. Perhaps not coincidentally, these are people whose writing I really respect. They’re not eager to talk about this publicly because there is a stigma against “pay to play”, but I think the desire to live up to their self-imposed professional standards when running a game – to engage with play with the same commitment they bring to design – makes them better writers as well as better GMs.

Thanks to Matt for setting me up with this strawman – you’ve heard me do this rant before; to Chris for suggesting it’d be a useful addition to the conversation over here; and to John for the confirmation and pointer to alternate publishing strategies




Past Adventures of the Mule

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