Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Rants Elsewhere

I'm cutting down on my own ranting and focusing on positivity: i.e. pumping out idiotic nonsense ideas for other old school players to use. But that doesn't mean I can't link to rants elsewhere, and there's pretty good one over at The Core Mechanic today. It also relates to a recent rant of my own.

The important bit is this one, I think:

[WotC], in my opinion, is addicted to publishing new shiny things that were already printed before. After all, PUBLISH OR PERISH is the mantra for people in my field and for publishing companies. They HAD to make another edition of D&D to stay profitable - otherwise they were just going to run out of expansion products and ideas.

What they really need to do is completely change their business model (DDI doesn't count - that's vaporware). More and more gamers are turning to the internet and not to published hardback books for their materials. The RPG bloggers network alone provides me with enough material for more campaigns than I could ever run in my lifetime!

And that last bit is the rub: the internet changes everything. I can read tonnes of good stuff on blogs and forums, and if I want to I can cheaply or freely partake in fan-produced materials like Fight on! or Labyrinth Lord or a million and one others. (3e and 4e equivalents are also out there, if that's what floats your boat.) Who needs to buy materials the traditional way when you can download a .pdf, print it out and bind it (because it would be better to pledge your soul to satan than try to read them on an electronic format) within minutes - and when moreover there won't be the built-in redundancy which trying to keep up with new editions of the game brings?

I really wonder where WotC will go from here. I'm nowhere near churlish enough to argue that they couldn't continue to make fun versions of D&D from here until kingdom come if they had the money to. But there are only so many times you can say "Here's a new better version than the one you've been enjoying for the last few years!" before your customers start to smell rats. Role playing games are not like computer games, where graphics and processor speeds are continually evolving: there is a point at which a set of rules are good enough and require no more refinement. (Which is why nobody has successfully produced a new version of the Monopoly rules, for example.) This is especially true of rules for role playing games, whose point is not rules at all, but the concept of a shared world, which is free.


  1. Gary Gygax, back in the day, stated more than once that he believed D&D would eventually be "finished" and TSR would move on to other things, as they simply reprinted the D&D line in its "perfected" state, occasionally giving it new art and adding errata and so forth.

    Obviously, that never happened, but there's nothing inherently wrong with it. The difficulty, though, is that D&D, as presently constituted, doesn't make enough money for WotC (and, by extension, Hasbro) to justify that kind of approach. To use business jargon, it's an underperforming brand compared to things like Monopoly. That's why I'm convinced 4e will be the last edition of the game in anything that resembles a tabletop RPG. In future, "D&D" will become a brand name for some other kind of fantasy-themed game.

  2. Probably an internet thing, or maybe a tactical skirmish game like the smaller scale Games Workshop lines (Mordheim, Necromunda, Warhammer Quest).

    Then again, you never know. WotC might jettison the thing at some point (or be forced to do so by Hasbro) and another company with an entirely different model could pick it up. As far as I know, Magic: The Gathering is approximately 18 kabillion times more profitable than D&D anyway, so it's no real skin off their nose.

  3. "(Which is why nobody has successfully produced a new version of the Monopoly rules, for example.)"

    -- best quote i've read all day.


    @ James M : yes - D&D should be 'finished' now with 2 versions: 3.5 and 4E (two games). I hope they just simply reissue a new updated version (reprintings with new art, maybe consolodated info, etc) in the coming years instead of 5th Edition!!! that would blow

  4. Johnathan: You're welcome. You've got a great blog.

  5. A few mistakes have been made in this argument:

    1 - Comparing a roleplaying game to a boardgame when it comes to rules revisions. You can play an RPG without rules, have you ever seriously tried playing Monopoly without the rules?

    2 - Using Monopoly as some sort of "holy grail" of perfected rules design. People have made better versions of the Monopoly rules, the problem is marketing and market shares, where Monopoly is the king and will take a lot of time and money to overthrow, this doesn't mean its rules are perfect in any way. Also more elegant board game rules can be lost on children (not all the time), which creates a unique hurdle in appealing to the main audience of the game. If you're going to argue that Monopoly DOES have awesome rules, let me know how long your next game goes and when exactly one player wins and how much fun everyone else had while it was happening.

    3 - The implication that 3.x was a set of rules was good enough and didn't need refinement. I wonder if anyone still plays it without using at least one house rule.

  6. Bartoneus:

    1. Well the comparison isn't perfect, but it's indisputably true that rpgs are closer to board games than they are to computer games (at least, I think so).

    2. Not the holy grail; just in need of no more refinement, or let's say at the point at which efforts at refinement give diminished returns. Actually it's irrelevant; substitute "Monopoly" for your preferred board game or the one which you think is closest to perfection.

    3. I never sought to imply that! I despise 3.x D&D. I was talking about the imagined future point at which further refinements of D&D would yield only small improvements, not enough to justify another edition. At that point WotC are fucked, essentially.

  7. Noisms:

    1 - I wouldn't say it's indisputable, but I get what you're saying.

    2 - This is a much larger debate about board game design, and I'm not really the one who should be having it. :D

    3 - Gotcha, point yielded. It will be interesting to see where things go in the future!

  8. I should expand on points 2 and 3 because they sound a bit snippy. The main reason I used Monopoly was because I really like it; of course it has flaws, but there comes a stage at which the average player (me) doesn't feel the need to buy a new edition full of small improvements, because the existing one is good enough. This will inevitably happen with D&D and is in fact happening all the time - each new edition is sloughing off small but ever-increasing minorities of disgruntled players who see no reason to change. (A handful didn't make the transition from OD&D to AD&D, a few more didn't make it to 2nd, a bit more didn't make it to 3rd, a sizeable portion haven't made it to 4th...)

    At point 3 I should have added: fucked with their current business model.

  9. Seems like we posted at the same moment there.

  10. If they can get DDI off the ground and popular, there will be a 5th edition, optimized for online play, and the rules will be either given away or sold cheaply as a loss-leader for DDI subscriptions.

    If they can't get DDI off the ground, and the D&D name continues to perform poorly as an IP, there will be a 5th edition, and it will be published by someone like Necromancer Games, who will either license or outright buy the property from Hasbro.

    Frankly, I don't think the combination of imagination and chutzpa exists in this industry to both reinvent the game into something that will be as popular as the current incarnation of the RPG, and involves a working subscription model. Heck, they can't even get a D&D MMO to shine.

    - Brian

  11. But there are only so many times you can say "Here's a new better version than the one you've been enjoying for the last few years!" before your customers start to smell rats.

    Doubtless that's why they prefer to focus on growing their customer base by making a new product that appeals to more people than OG D&D. I mean, sure, part of the marketing is to say "Hey, all you guys who already play our last game a lot! We made a new one, and...hmm, you know what, just do whatever." But that's an aside to the real business of making something that is "better," in the sense of "playable by more people."

    Not that I know whether they accomplished that.

    If you had asked me, say, when 3rd edition came out, I would have said that it's a a trivial observation to say that that people can still play the same old game that they already have, that supplements are good for (some) publishers, not for games, that the concept of "supported" and "not-supported" line is completely nonsensical in the era of enhanced connectivity. But! Since then, I've actually (astoundingly!) seen that some people take it personally when you play what they think of as the Old Busted Joint. That's nuts, and if people are going to go around spouting nuttery, then sanity is worth re-iterating (though to be fair, I've seen plenty of people for plenty of games waste a bit too much venom on the sins of the newest edition).

    Let's all do our best to chill and let/help others chill. Rant free is the way to be.

    Also, don't call your stuff nonsense. At least, not as a way of distinguishing it from the nonsense with which the entire hobby is composed. Your nonsense is no less nonsensical than much other nonsense, and certainly no more idiotic.

  12. Trollsmyth: I really do subscribe to the view that DDI is vapourware. It's almost the case now that they couldn't make it work if they wanted to, because the momentum of 4e's release has almost entirely dissipated.

    Nick: Rant free is certainly the way to be, although it's tough to wean oneself off it, I find. Staying away from helps, although I'm committed to spending time there because of a marathon thread which I started and can't stop until finished.