Monday, 2 January 2012

You Are The Problem

So somebody called Ryan Dancey, "former VP of RPGs at Wizards and marketing guru at White Wolf/CCP", reckons that

"[T]he tabletop RPG market is enduring a kind of death. I think it is transforming into something that isn't a viable commercial business for more than a handful of people [like model trains]... Kids stopped playing with trains, and the businesses that remained dedicated to hobbyists who got more disposable income as they grew up, until the price of the hobby was out of reach of anyone except those older hobbyists. Eventually, it became a high-end hobby with very expensive products, sold to an ever-decreasing number of hobbyists. As those folks die, the hobby shrinks. That is what is happening to the tabletop RPG business."

Where do they wheel these people out from? And doesn't it sound to you like the last bleatings of the CEO of Netscape, declaring that the web browser is dead, before the men in white coats coax him out to the back alley to put him out of his misery?

I'm sure you can read between the lines, just as I can: the big RPG companies like Wizards of the Coast and White Wolf are dying. They got fat and bloated and have been mostly engaged in the production of horse manure for the past 10 years. QED: tabletop RPGs are dying - the comfortable myth high-ups in those companies can tell themselves rather than face the ugly truth, which is that they're nothing like as innovative or interesting as they should be. Cognitive dissonance is a funny thing.

Tabletop RPGs are in fact in rude health again. They've undergone some lean times, but they've emerged from their long semi-hibernation bleary-eyed and pale but with a feriocious hunger. This is thanks in no small part to the internet and blogosphere. Gamers all over the world can now connect with each other instantly, create endless new material, publish entirely new game lines to sell to each other or even give away for free, innovate and create beyond anything in their wildest dreams 10 years ago, and they're doing it in huge numbers. If you're a "former VP of RPGs at Wizards and marketing guru at White Wolf/CCP" I'm sure you'd also take the view that this represented the death of tabletop RPGs, because none of it results in a single penny being forked over to either Wizards or White Wolf. But you're not. So I think you take the same view as I do - things are looking up.

54 comments:

  1. Yes. Let "the business" die.

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  2. Agreed.

    In a similar vein my Father once did some marketing consultancy work for a low volume sportscar manufacturer where the founder's children had taken over the business on his retirement. Their first complaint "The market is shrinking". My Father's response "How do you know that?". Their answer "Because our sales have fallen over the past few years".

    The problem with RPGs for any company that wants to be massive with all the benefits that brings to the owners is not the size of the market but merely that it's not a very saleable product. Instead of selling someone a hula-hoop you are trying to repeatedly sell the same people a book of activities you can get up to with a hula-hoop. And frankly once they read your first book they know exactly what they can do with that hula-hoop thank you very much.

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  3. I'm not sure that your views and his aren't just different perspectives in the same events. The failing of rpgs as a mainstream, big money publishing endeavor may have created a Silver Age (at least) for small press and DIY, much in the same way the failing of the video rental giants has allowed a (mild) resurgence of the mom and pop video store in the U.S.

    Whether new technology will allow greater connectivity to sustain the hobby (and most crucially recruit new fans) in the face of powerful mass market rivals (MMORPGs, computer games in general, etc.) remains to be seen. Dancey may be blind to the brief flowering of rpgs going on but still fundamentally correct in predicting its ultimate demise.

    We'll see.

    Death, though, needn't mean complete nonexistence. The pulps "died" as a mass media phenomena in the middle of last century, but remain a niche fan market sustains the material if not the actual media.

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  4. He seems to be talking about the decline of the market as viable for commercial interests (meaning large commercial interests).

    I see that 100% correct for the very reasons you mention. Far fewer people will earn a living in the hobby (though many more will create for it).

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  6. I couldn't comment on this before or elsewhere.

    It is *much* easier to find and get a game going at any time in the entire history of my experience playing RPG's. Nearly everyone in my peer group or younger has played, and I am continually finding out about new gaming groups in the city I'm in.

    You know, this wasn't true in the 90's. And it was more true after 3e, but still not as common today.

    I can go over to someones house and play Dominion, Ravenloft or Arkham Horror, Magic or a pick up RPG and they would have some experience with gaming. 10 years ago? Not a chance in hell.

    Comments like the RPG industry dying are a blatant farce, and I don't know how someone can say something like that with a straight face. There are numerically more gamers and more people gaming now then every have excepting perhaps the origin days of the hobby. The primary difference being everyone who's doing it today is better and more serious about it.

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  7. *still not as common *as* today

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  8. What is "the industry"? Seems like it gets defined in a weird way to include 2 or 3 larger companies, a lot of small companies and exclude the large and medium sized companies that are doing really well.

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  9. Stuart: God knows. I assume Dancey knows a lot about Wizards and White Wolf, which is why I talked about them. He doesn't mention Paizo or Green Ronin... Wonder why.

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  10. @bombasticus

    Well, at the soltice party I went to with about 30 or so of my friends on the 21st, five people were not there because of the weekly star wars game, and children and parents were playing dominion on the floor, and all of them were involved in some type of gaming this year.

    This was *not* the case when I went to social functions in college.

    I have more players for games then I have room in my apartment? I personally know more active gamers then at any point in my life? If you're looking for statistics, I don't have them.

    Just the actual physical evidence that I spend more time gaming now then any period in my life to date.

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  11. I can back -C up with my own anecdotal evidence. This past year I''ve had more players than I've known what to do with. In the 90s it took me five years to get my group up to four players. I hit that goal this year within a month of my first session. Eventually, I was having to turn potential players away, something that's never happened before in my 20 years of gaming. And all this in a small town.

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  12. Thanks guys. Was hoping you discovered hard numbers to back up pretty big claims -- otherwise this fight goes on for decades -- but I guess the anecdotes are still all the data there is.

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  13. It's worth noting that Ryan Dancey doesn't have figures either. I don't think any such figures (the number of RPG players) actually exist anyway.

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  14. There have never been good stats on number of players. Only number of books sold - and that's in no way the same thing...

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  15. @noisms got a link to Dancey saying he has no numbers? Surely he's privy to what White Wolf is selling these days and can compare to the glory days from his time at WOTC...

    @stuart the more sales numbers you can show me, the better the empirical base we have for kicking this argument in the teeth once and for all in 2012.

    As for players "versus" buyers, we can skip the sales numbers and look at relative web traffic trends for sites like white-wolf.com, wizards.com, greenronin.com, paizo.com, evilhat.com, 6d6fireball.com, rpg.net, indie-rpgs.com [...] to gauge online interest.

    Third-party traffic trackers like compete.com and alexa.com aren't exact, but they're pretty accurate when it comes to relative trends. And it's something more than swapping anecdotes.

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  16. There's a danger in that those numbers are relative to total users, so you have to be sure you're talking about actual increases or decreases in numbers.

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  17. @C -- I think we're okay. North American Internet penetration seems to have plateaued at about 79% of the population for the last few years now. http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/ict/statistics/material/excel/2010/IndividualsUsingInternet_00-10.xls

    And while global Internet is still growing out, how about in 2012 we settle the North American gamer population question ... and then take on the world?

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  18. How many people are you seeing online saying "I can't find gamers anymore. Things used to be awesome, but now there doesn't seem to be anyone left". How many people are you seeing saying "I've got more options for gaming in 2012 than I ever had before!"

    Is anyone hurting for finding gamers these days?

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  19. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Survivorship_bias.

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  20. Except they haven't died... they could be posting about their lack of local gamers. Is anyone seeing that? I'm not.

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  21. Once they leave, they're dead to us as gamers, no?

    I'd do a flip if everyone counted up all their local gamers right now and kept track in the future.

    Until that day, the only thing we seem to have is backward-looking sales data. We can count downloads of clones, traffic numbers, whatever it takes. Or we can swap anecdotes for the next few decades -- and I honestly have seen various forms of this argument since the mid-90s.

    Here's a rough short-term comp based on free numbers to get things started:

    http://siteanalytics.compete.com/dragonsfoot.org/
    http://siteanalytics.compete.com/rpg.net
    http://siteanalytics.compete.com/wizards.com
    http://siteanalytics.compete.com/battle.net

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  22. On print runs, strikes me that the bar for verifying claims is pretty low.

    Let's examine the claim that "there are numerically more gamers and more people gaming now then every have excepting perhaps the origin days of the hobby."

    We know that in the 2E era, TSR alone was moving about 170,000 copies of the typical hardcover a year and 125,000 copies of Dragon a month. (http://www.acaeum.com/library/printrun.html)

    That may not have been the peak and it's still just D&D, but it's a benchmark. A formal survey would have to include numbers from WWGS, Palladium, SJG and so on from that era.

    Is the active hobby bigger or smaller than that now? Let's find out and finally bury this.

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  23. Those are sales. If I was the only one in my group who spendt $ on RPGs but there are 6 of us who play (the others spending $ on boardgames) and I spend more money on after-market sales (E-Bay etc) than FLGS then the sales figures don't accurately represent the number of gamers for my local group. Anecdotally I have heard of many groups like that...

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  24. Regarding TSR print runs in the 90s, the company was notorious for overproduction at the time, a major factor in their bankruptcy. The very same Mr. Dancey wrote about touring the company's "warehouse packed from floor to 50 foot ceiling with products valued as though they would soon be sold to a distributor with production stamps stretching back to the late 1980s."

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  25. @Stuart All right, you tell me.

    How do we evaluate claims that "there are numerically more gamers and more people gaming now then every have excepting perhaps the origin days of the hobby?"

    If not for those claims, I'd be perfectly content to occupy my own world of the 1982 Dungeon Hobby Shop catalog and all the great new apps coming out.

    But since we have such a difference of opinion here, are there absolutely no empirical data to get at the truth? I find that sad.

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  26. There is no empirical data. Everything is anecdotal... and ultimately that's okay with me. :)

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  27. @sirlarkins Nice. I'm the first one to discredit Dancey's numbers myself -- http://www.seankreynolds.com/rpgfiles/gaming/WotCMarketResearchSummary.html always struck me as bloatware -- but in this case, we're still looking at *sales* and not production, no?

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  28. @stuart I take your point, but why do we bother rolling the die then? Surely whether the top face comes up a 19 or a 2 is a matter of empirical fact, if not life and death. ;-D

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  29. "...but in this case, we're still looking at *sales* and not production, no?"

    Possibly. Dancey seems to indicate that TSR listed its production runs as potential sales rather than inventory. That being the case, I'd say it would be hard to determine the validity of TSR's sales numbers from that period.

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  30. bombasticus: I think those siteanalytics might be illustrative - but of what? Dragonsfoot and rpg.net seem to be losing UVs slightly. Fine, but what are the stats for the Forge, Story Games.org, therpgsite, etc.? What about knights and knaves or OD&D discussion?

    More to the point, what about PBP sites like rpol.net, myth-weavers, or dndonlinegames?

    Anecdotally... dragonsfoot has a reputation for being full of fatbeards, and rpg.net is famous for being a site about role playing games in which many members admit to not playing role playing games and some of the mods swear they've never played a role playing game. If those sites die... I'm not sure what it indicates.

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  31. @noisms -- I'm with you on both of those sites, but simply threw them out there in an effort toward being "ecumenical."

    Other illustrations are trivial to create:

    http://siteanalytics.compete.com/knights-n-knaves.com/
    http://siteanalytics.compete.com/therpgsite.com

    and from relative login stats we could probably derive numbers for sites like ODD75, which sadly doesn't have a URL that supports easy traffic tracking.

    I like your original "things are looking up," by the way. The local view of the "industry" is always going to be the most useful thing out there. If you have enough players, great. If Ryan can't scare up revenue, too bad for him.

    But when we move from our local scene to Ryan's revenue, things get "dicey" and I'm going to ask people to roll on the table.

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  32. In the end, the only things that matter at all in any way whatsoever to anyone except the suits is:

    1 whether people who want to play can find players.

    And even if the actual number of people playing is shrinking (who knows?), the internet has made it easier to find players than ever before.

    2 whether good products come out. and they do, for free. all the time now.

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  33. The thing is, we can cut these figures so many different ways. I'm going to hit you with another anecdote: I've done more gaming in the last few months than in the last couple of years. But my internet activity (visiting RPG forums, posting on my blog, etc.) has actually significantly declined during this period. So what do these stats actually tell us?

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  34. Also I agree with Zak, although I do have a bit of concern about posterity. It would be nice to know people will always be playing D&D.

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  35. @noisms Depends on how we construct the "hobby," don't it?

    I did more gaming in 1989 than in the previous five years put together, and of course blogs weren't well propagated at the time. What does that tell us? Next to nothing.

    I did more game blogging in 2005 than in the previous ten years put together. What does that tell us? Next to nothing.

    Do you see a distinction between the claim "I have plenty of players" and the claim "There are numerically more gamers and more people gaming now then every have excepting perhaps the origin days of the hobby?"

    Anyone can validate the former claim for himself. But somehow, nobody in the hobby seems to be able to say anything substantive about the latter.

    That's interesting, don't you think? What if the "industry" never existed except as a kind of fantasy role-playing game in itself and a handful of relatively lucrative "gaming groups?"

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  36. I think you're misunderstanding me: I'm just doubting the efficacy of any kind of data on this, unless somebody has surveyed the entire world to find out exactly how many people game regularly.

    I know my own anecdotes count for nothing, and I don't doubt that these statistics are illustrative of something. I just wonder what, exactly.

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  37. Oh, there's still a lot of middle space between making you guys "survey the entire world" and accepting completely unsupported claims that the "hobby" and/or "industry" is alive or dead. Non-gamers manage to occupy that space all the time. It's business, sports, the academy.

    But hey, what I see is a lot more chatter, and that's fabulous. The "hobby" is alive and well.

    Now if Ryan sees "the tabletop RPG market" winding down, that's an "industry" issue. That's his problem.

    Let's get back to that line of yours, "the big RPG companies ... are dying." That's a big line. It means the end of an entire economic model for the consumption of fantasy and the end of that dangling promise that a few boys and girls could "turn pro" and not have to get a real job. They could be Gygax, Tweet, Rein*Hagen, your favorite childhood gaming mogul of choice.

    In the post-OGL hobby, we're all theoretically amateurs and publishers, which makes Ryan's achievement at turning pro seem a lot smaller. No wonder he's chasing trains. His "game" -- the "industry" -- is rapidly going out of print.

    We can all afford to be smarter publishers and better amateurs. That means best practices and honest unfudged die rolls. Some of the fatbeards have been doing this since back when Dragonsfoot was good. They could still get better.

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  38. Schumpeter might call this creative destruction. When big beasts like Wizards and White Wolf die, it creates space for leaner, hungrier predators. I don't think the industry is dying. I just think that from the perspective of those who are dying, it seems that way (because of that cognitive dissonance thing).

    It's just like the dinosaurs. If they could, they would have bewailed End Times too. But for a tree shrew, not so much.

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  39. Let's try another thing. Let's call the "industry" the thing that has numbers attached to it. It's where the suits are. They can dazzle me with sales numbers, production runs, audience trends. They get paid money for this.

    A lot of people tell me that that's all irrelevant. Sure.

    Let's call the "hobby" the thing where people play games and jabber on about games.

    After clarifying that, an interesting thing happens. The "industry" -- to the extent to which it ever existed -- got knocked all the way back to cottage levels in the d20 implosion. It's an extinction-level event. The sky went dark and now, apparently, nobody but 6d6 and evil hat have reliable sales numbers.

    That's fine too. Maybe the "industry" was part of the problem. And that way, Ryan gets his end times and everyone else has plenty of players.

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  40. What's interesting here is that Dancey is the guy who came up with the OGL at Wizards. So while he's talking about the arguable death of the RPG industry, it seems odd that he's ignoring what the OGL has allowed a lot of folks to do with tabletop games to keep them alive (or at least allow anyone interested to keep playing). I don't have numbers, but I know with it the OGL and game like Labyrinth Lord I wouldn't be playing D&D after 2 decades away from it and I wouldn't be reading this blog or engaging in this discussion. I know (or I presume anyway) that this doesn't make Dan Proctor a millionaire, but I also don't see what has happened as driving the tabletop RPGs into a market that only "hobbyists with disposable income" can afford.

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  41. "without the OGL and games like Labyrinth Lord", that is.

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  42. It might be relevent that ccp just sunk white wolf to pay for their customer service issues in their online game...

    At this point his main target audience is probably recently sacked freelancers asking for better deals.

    I would say that in terms of "social institutions"/linking mechanisms, rpgs are getting to be pretty robust, and if we keep improving at this rate, it'll keep getting easier for years to come, and it's just a question of being welcoming of new people who'd like this stuff, and more different games for more different people.

    I mean what do we really need to keep on doing this? Time, good people, and good ideas. Precious, but accessible to pretty much everyone.

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  43. @Spawn of Endra:

    So while he's talking about the arguable death of the RPG industry, it seems odd that he's ignoring what the OGL has allowed a lot of folks to do with tabletop games to keep them alive (or at least allow anyone interested to keep playing).

    It's actually worse than that...he's actively shitting on the people using the OGL he created to do their own thing. We're all amateurs (a word he should look up before using it as an insult) and making crap while worth and good product can't sell.

    This is the last gasp of the "let us do all the imaging for you" that WW, late TSR, and WotC typify.

    He's mad the hobby has come full circle and is returning to media you create and not just consume.

    Media giants, be they Sony or WotC, want read-only culture and will rail against read-write culture every chance they get (Great TED talk about this idea)

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  44. GM Skarka made a very similar statement about a year ago. And, at the time, I had much the same knee-jerk reaction everyone here has had. I was corrected, and now understand the argument.

    The thing is, the RPG hobby is arguably stronger than it has ever been. That is especially true if you wrap the recent boom in boardgames into the "gaming" hobby.

    The RPG industry is rapidly sliding down a cliff into non-viable/niche/cottage status. It is very arguable that the d20 implosion, and WotC's much tighter license that discouraged a similar boom for 4e, was the cause. It is also very arguable that the boom of e-publishing was the cause.

    What that means, in practical terms, is that it is much harder these days to make a living at RPGs. For instance, IIRC, Fred Hicks is the only person at Evil Hat who does not have a "day job" to pay the bills. And that's only because he recently gave up his job at IPR, after Dresden came out. AEG collapsed several years ago, and is now half a dozen full-time people, if that. We've seen company after company pack it in in recent years. Gaming stores are also steadily declining.

    However, Ryan makes one error in comparing the RPG hobby to the model train hobby: You can't make and distribute model trains for free (or nearly so). The rise of ebooks means that the line between "gamer" and "designer" is very blurry, and largely non-existent. The TTRPG hobby doesn't need any kind of centralized authority. We don't need to negotiate with manufacturers, arrange shipping, and then negotiate with distributors. The internet does it all, for a minimal cost.

    We are now a "cottage" industry. And that's okay.

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  45. Interesting post and thread. I appreciate bombasticus bringing in a perspective that is not simply Dancey-bashing. Many of the "anecdotal" posts here are reminiscent of Pauline Kael's shock that Nixon was elected in a landslide even though she didn't know a single person who voted for him.

    I essentially echo Marshall Smith in my assessment of the situation, and think the rage directed at Dancey is misplaced. I think there is some concern for the health of the TRPG hobby if all the big players die, and the possibility of landing a well-paying job working in the industry disappears.

    Will the next Tony DiTerlizzi pour his creative efforts into the next Planescape if he has little hope of actually making decent money at it? Or will he go work for a video game company or something...

    I'm honestly not sure what the answer is....

    (capcha was "nyogite", which I think noisms could do a great write-up on as some kind of neogi offshoot)

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  46. Guys, I don't want to give the impression I was "raging" at Ryan Dancey here. Until I saw that article I didn't really know who he was, and I find the quote amusing and a bit pathetic, but not rage-inducing.

    As for the "cottage industry" thing... I'd just reiterate: the big RPG companies have been producing horse manure for *years*. New systems which are just more of the same (this game calls dexterity "agility"!; or, this game has a d12-based core mechanic!) without any innovation whatsoever; boring splat books that only ludicrously collection-obsessed nerds would want to buy; resting-on-laurels new games (Monster: The Something); and crappy licenses like Stargate SG-1 (who watched that in the first place, let alone now?).

    I'll grant you that the industry may look as if it is moving towards being a "cottage" industry, but this could merely be the point at which destruction of dead wood occurs before regeneration takes place. I'm not just talking about people like Vincent Baker, Luke Crane, and the like (although it strikes me that those are the type of people who could really begin to shed at least some of the hobby's crappy image and broaden its base); it's also companies like Paizo and Green Ronin, which didn't exist a dozen years or so ago, but which appear to be flourishing.

    Give it time. I'm reliably informed by people on rpg.net who actually know about these things that model trains are a US$1Bn/year industry. If that's the future of RPGs, bring it on.

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  47. Pesky numbers and dates.

    "As for the "cottage industry" thing... I'd just reiterate: the big RPG companies have been producing horse manure for *years*. "

    Let's try decades, which tells me that the model has been broken for a long time if not forever. With the exception of the d12 revival all of these sins have been standard "industry" practice since the early-to-mid '90s:

    "New systems which are just more of the same (this game calls dexterity "agility"!; or, this game has a d12-based core mechanic!) without any innovation whatsoever; boring splat books that only ludicrously collection-obsessed nerds would want to buy; resting-on-laurels new games (Monster: The Something); and crappy licenses like Stargate SG-1 (who watched that in the first place, let alone now?)."

    Not a fan myself but the Alderac game came out 14 years ago. The show did surprisingly well: 2 million viewers in first run and deeply profitable syndication added up to more people watching the show in one week than, according to some numbers, bought "Keep on the Borderlands" in the last 3-1/2 decades.

    "I'll grant you that the industry may look as if it is moving towards being a "cottage" industry, but this could merely be the point at which destruction of dead wood occurs before regeneration takes place"

    This sounds almost nostalgic for a "forest" that may never have existed except in very limited historical circumstances.

    Sure. The woodcutters who live in yon cottages can dream of days when the forest was vaster and more deep. But how vast? How deep? Why does nobody know?

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  48. I find the idea of someone dissecting the RPG industry who doesn't know Ryan Dancey to be, well, odd. He is one of the major movers and shakers in the industry, across multiple companies. Do you know who John Zinser is? Peter Adkison? Lisa Stevens? If you want to discuss the business of RPGs, you need to be familiar with a lot more than just the work of the developers.

    I'll also just say that I really like the Stargate show, I think it's a great platform for an RPG, and I think the Crafty guys did a pretty bang-up job on it. And not just because my name's on it.

    I'm kind of curious as to what you would classify as "innovation." Did 4e fail to innovate? In what way has Paizo or Green Ronin innovated? Honestly, Paizo rose to prominence for two reasons: They opted to cater to an audience that wanted refinement rather than innovation, and they do a damn fine job of community building.

    Similarly, I think you're painting White Wolf with an unfair brush. They have a deeply established fan base that wants a certain kind of RPG. They delivered it. They stayed faithful to the system that had built their success. IMHO, knowing only the edges of their situation, their gradual collapse has much more to do with how they handled their business than with the quality of their products.

    There is also ample evidence that developers such as Luke Crane and Vincent Baker do nothing to broaden the hobby. They have brought in very few new players, or brought old players back to the fold. They are a niche, and appeal to those with a more refined palate. D&D 4e, OTOH, can be shown to have brought many gamers back to the fold. Part of that is simple timing (rising nostalgia in the generation that spawned the RPG boom, that same generation now getting over the hump of college/establishing career/starting family that consumes so much time), but much is a direct result of certain design decision they made. The game is closer to a board game, and as such requires far less time investment. It may not be to your taste. It may, in fact, be an abomination in your sight. But, it is good for the industry.

    On a final note, $1B isn't that impressive for an industry. For a company, yes. But spread across all the companies out there? Fairly anemic in this day and age.

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  49. noisms:
    "rpg.net is famous for being a site about role playing games in which many members admit to not playing role playing games..."

    Since it sometimes seems the typical rpgnetter is a "pre-op transexual lesbian" or "pre-op cisgender transexual" (think about it), I'd say there was a lot of roleplaying going on, even if not of the pen & paper, tabletop variety!

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  50. Marshall: Why is it odd not to know who Ryan Dancey is, and why does it preclude me from talking about the RPG industry? Your argument is akin to saying that nobody can talk about the computer industry without knowing who the CEO of IBM is. That doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

    I hope you didn't interpret my comments on Stargate as an attack. I just meant what I said: I never watched it, and I don't know anybody who did. In the UK, it used to be shown on a minor network at about 3pm on a Sunday. I think I watched 30 seconds of an episode once. It may have been brilliant and the game based on it may have been wonderful - I really can't comment on either - but I'm sure you'll agree there are much bigger draws in terms of RPG licenses.

    Paizo and Green Ronin may be innovative and they may not; it's not really at issue. I was just remarking on the fact that Dancey doesn't mention the RPG companies that appear to be growing - clearly because, from his perspective, Wizards and White Wolf are what matters. I just find that amusing and indicative of human nature, really.

    Moving on to innovation - innovation means a lot of things, but what it means most of all is doing something new. It doesn't mean necessarily rules innovations, it means different ways of distributing games, different business models, and attempts to target different audiences. If you ask me, people like Vincent Baker are *far* more innovative than anyone at Wizards of the Coast; you cite 4e's similarity to a board game resulting in "less time investment", but I have to turn that back at you and ask: have you played any of Vincent Baker's games? The amount of time investment involved in them is considerably less than 4e. Ditto most of what gets produced by the Forge crowd and the people at story games. (Luke Crane is an interesting exception to this, but he has made other innovations, particularly with regard to distribution and product choice.)

    When we get onto the matter of 4e bringing new people into the hobby, I have to wonder what your yardstick is. A baboon could probably release a new edition of D&D and make a big enough splash for a lot of people to go, "Oh, D&D, I remember that" and go back to gaming after a 20 year absence. But what does that really tell us? As for comparisons between 4e and, say, Dogs in the Vineyard... Well, yeah, I daresay 4e did bring more people back to gaming, or into gaming, net, but in relative terms? Who knows? And how would anybody come by data proving anything either way? What we do have is two people (Dancey and Mearls) intimately involved in WotC who seem to think D&D 4e has been a failure.

    Finally, $1Bn is not a great deal in comparison to the video game industry, or the advertising industry, or the pharmaceutical industry, no. But it's not peanuts either: a $1Bn/year industry can employ a lot of people. And that figure was just for the USA, by the way.

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  51. RE: Knowing Dancey - It's closer to writing a blog post about the computer industry and not knowing who Michael Arrington is. It's a red flag that you're probably not really well informed.

    RE: Innovation - Innovation is great. But, refinement needs to be respected, too. Paizo didn't move to prominence by doing anything new. They just did the same things WotC was doing, better. They put out a superior edition of D&D, supported it with superior online content, and did a superior job building the community. None of it was revolutionary, just reliable.

    RE: 4e - 4e has been a failure, relatively speaking. However, that's a lot like talking about the "failure" of Transformers. It failed to grab the pre-existing audience, it didn't bring in the projected income, and it's pretty widely sneered at. It still made a (relative) crap-load of money. And, in 4e's case, it's still one of the tent-poles of the industry.

    My standard for measuring 4e's impact is the ever-dubious "net presence" metric. I have dozens (hundreds? probably not) of stories from people who came back to the hobby because of 4e. The people I see discussing DitV are generally already avid gamers, meaning that the success of DitV is a fairly small net gain for the industry as a whole. (Working under the rough assumption that gamers have limited funds, and a purchase of DitV means some other game doesn't get bought.) The point stands, however, that we are largely waving around stacks of anecdotes, rather than addressing any actual data. And that data is probably impossible to actually collect.

    RE: Overall - There is no question that the industry has changed in the last decade. A couple big players (White Wolf and AEG, most notably) are greatly diminished. A couple other big players (Paizo and Green Ronin) have moved up to occupy very similar niches. The basic question is, when you add up all the gains and losses, is the industry growing or shrinking? Is the growth/shrinkage in line with the rest of the economy? And, what previous era is it legitimate to compare against? The 80s, when D&D was a fad, which can't be replicated? The 90s, when TSR was going down in flames, dragging D&D with it? The 00s, when we had the deforming influence of the d20 boom? For those of us blathering about on blogs, these questions are impossible to answer. We don't have the data to work with, or the expertise to understand it. Consequently, when movers and shakers in the industry make such pronouncements, I'm inclined to give them some benefit of the doubt. I keep several grains of salt handy. (Including, as you mentioned, that Dancey seems to conveniently discount companies that are doing well.) But, I'm willing to assume that they know more than I do.

    RE: Licenses - Name three licenses better than Stargate that don't already have RPGs. I'm just curious to see what you'd say.

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  52. Marshall: I don't know who Michael Arrington is. But I'm curious why knowing who certain people are either qualifies or doesn't qualify somebody from commenting about an industry. What if I knew who Ryan Dancey was but not Gary Gygax? What if I knew who Ryan Dancey and Gary Gygax were, but not Dave Arneson? Who is it important to know, and who is it not, and who decides?

    Regarding innovation, I think innovation and refinement become the same thing at a certain stage. Small innovations are basically the same thing as refinement, aren't they? Doing a certain thing in a slightly new way?

    Regarding 4e... you'd rather trust industry insiders; I'd lean more towards mistrusting them, because I think they're more likely to have agendas. In any case, all we're dealing with is anecdotes, that's true. I can tell you that I know at least 4 people whose first experience with RPGs has been a Vincent Baker game, which is infinitely more people than I know of whose first game was 4e (i.e. 0).

    Re: licenses, I can do better than name three - I'll give you six: Harry Potter, Twilight, Transformers, Final Fantasy, Malazan Book of the Fallen, Avatar. None of which I would particularly want to play, but still.

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  53. To be fair, Dancey was more prominent in the ttrpg world in the early aughts when he was with WOTC. When he went solo and then with CCP he was more of an occasional bear commentator. It wasn't until he hitched up with Paizo that he has become a more commonly seen talking head. Still a bear, but very pro Paizo.

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