Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Dysfunctional and Co-Dependent

A sad element of the RPG industry is the codependent, self-destructive relationship between D&D players and the game's publisher, whether that's TSR or Wizards of the Coast.

This unhappy bond doesn't afflict smaller publishers. It's a waste product of turning D&D into big business.

It stems in part from the dirty little secret of D&D: once you've bought the basic rules and a book of monsters, you don't need anything else. You can play D&D for the rest of your life without ever spending another shekel.

Small publishers don't stumble over this. The writer/designer with a day job who devoted countless evenings and weekends to pushing out an RPG that enjoys slow but steady rulebook sales doesn't depend on sales volume to pay the bills. The garage operation with one or two full-timers and a handful of freelancers can survive on just two or three high-quality releases a year.
Now make that RPG wildly successful. The rulebook sells 100,000 copies and fans are clamoring for more. They're excited, they love the product, and they long to empty their pockets in the pursuit of extending and expanding their fun. Someone with a sales and marketing degree determines that if a new product was published every two months, or even every month, enough people would buy it to make money on it.

To produce that much material, the publisher needs a full-time staff of ten designers, developers, and editors, plus people to do graphic design, coordinate art, set type, arrange for printing, shipping, and storage, and to actually sell all those books to the distributors and retail shops that will put them into customers' hands.

All of those people, plus the offices they occupy, the supplies they use, and the computers they work on need to be paid for. Every month. Pay in July and you need to pay all over again in August. And September, October, November, December, January … and so on, for as long as you keep on meeting that customer demand for more.

But there's a problem. The game, the one fans love so much that they bought 100,000 copies and clamored for more—odds are high that it was self-contained. That's the way RPGs are packaged. If an RPG isn't complete as-is, then you can't really play it, and fans won't love it and clamor for more.

Well, that's a conundrum. Fans want more material for the game, but the game is already complete. What can you sell them?

Adventures? Published adventures are great for the game. They teach DMs how to spin exciting, interactive stories, and talented DMs are the best tool for pulling in new players and expanding the market. Plus, adventures don't monkey with the game's rules in unpredictable, undesirable ways. But only DMs buy adventures, and there's only one DM for every five or six players. Besides, most DMs don't buy adventures anyway. They just write their own. The chance to flex their imagination and creativity is what drew them to the game in the first place.

Campaign settings? They sell better than adventures, individually. But people need only one or two prefab settings. Clearly you can't publish a new one every month.

Monster books? DMs have an insatiable appetite for new monsters, so it's hard to go wrong with these. But like adventures, they sell mainly to DMs, and DMs alone won't generate enough sales to justify that big writing and production staff.

Expanded character options? Ahh, now we're onto something. Players clamor for new classes, races, powers, spells, and feats even more than DMs hunger for new monsters. Here's a product category that can meet the customers' demand for more and bring real money into the company's coffers.

It's vital to note that "real money" doesn't mean "we're all getting wealthy" money. It means "we're covering the overhead and earning a living" money. For a company with 20+ employees, that's a big deal.

At this point, everyone should be happy. Players are getting the steady flow of new stuff that they crave, and the company is moving enough inventory to pay the bills. Unfortunately, this arrangement is like mining for gold beneath your house. Eventually the house will collapse into the mine and you'll be left with no place to live.

The products that would produce a vibrant, healthy game—adventures to coach new DMs and spotlight the best of what your RPG makes possible, plus occasional monster books and campaign settings/variants to keep things fresh—are the ones that won't sell in sufficient quantity to pay the bills. What's worse, because those products speak only to DMs, they leave players unsatisified, and unsatisfied players take their money somewhere else.

But the products that meet the company's sales requirements—spells, races, classes, feats, powers—all place an ever-increasing burden on the game's rules. They demand more time and resources to develop as their interactions with existing material become more complex. Even with more development resources, eventually mistakes become inevitable. They demand higher and higher levels of system mastery from players, who need to juggle all those options in their heads. The number of fully invested players steadily declines through the natural attrition of school, relocation, and changing social lives, while new players are quickly overwhelmed and discouraged by the blizzard of options they must wade through just to get started.

In short, the types of things that players want are bad for the game. They'd be fine if published in moderation, but moderation is a luxury only small companies can afford. Big companies have big monthly bills. The types of supplements that would be healthy for the game, players won't buy in sufficient quantity to keep the company or the game alive at the corporate level. To keep the engine running, the company must publish what customers want, and thereby cut its own throat.

Thus we have the life cycle of corporate D&D: a set of clean, elegant rules is published; those rules are expanded with a steadily growing library of supplements; for a while the new additions make things better, but; eventually the complexity of all that supplemental material becomes too much for players and the game's developers to manage or even understand, so; the publisher wipes the table clean and starts the cycle over at zero with a new edition.

This has happened three times in D&D's past, and we're in the process of the fourth. If D&D Next is successful—and I certainly hope it's huge—the cycle will happen again in another five to ten years.

I can see one way out, and that's online. Whatever you might think its current flaws might be, D&D Insider or something like it holds the key to creating a D&D that is both commercially successful and long-lasting. I expect that notion will stir some lively debate—in the future. It's outside the scope of this particular conversation, so the debate will have to wait a bit, but I will come back around to it.

Tomorrow I hope to write a bit about effects vs. meanings. But now, I'd love to read what others think about customer/publisher dysfunction.

56 comments:

  1. I see a similar situation in 2 other gaming hobbies I am involved with; tabletop wargaming and MMORPGs. Wargaming is almost exactly the same. Look at how many versions of Warhammer and 40k that GW has pumped out over the years. Historical wargaming is almost exclusively a cottage industry, but at least they can keep selling armies of miniatures to players without ruining the rules.

    If by D&D Insider you mean a paying a subscription to use the tools, in particular a virtual tabletop, I agree that it is probably the way things need to go. I'm not a fan of 4e, but if the official virtual table top was the best in the business and the place to play D&D, I'd probably be using it. The $15/month they could get out of me is far more than I will ever spend physical WoTC D&D books.

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  2. It's actually this reason why I'm happy to run a small gaming company. 1 Base set of rules that never changes, ever (heavily tested, to check for exploitability etc) and lots of settings that are interchangeable. Sure, it may not seem logical to toss aliens in with Ancient Rome, but it is POSSIBLE with the games we are creating.

    It allows for all encompassing games with multiple settings that work off the exact same rules & explanations for everything, to help KISS.

    Also, I absolutely agree with the online part. That's why I ADORE Fantasy Grounds. Now, instead of having to rely on people in your own area, you can play with anyone on the entire planet :D

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    1. The funny thing there is, the Savage Worlds campaign that we just wrapped up specifically mixed aliens and Romans. :)

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    2. What's wrong with mixing aliens and Romans? If aliens could make contact in 2000 AD, there's no particularly good reason that they couldn't have made contact 2000 years earlier.

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  3. Man, this hits the nail on the head. This is why I'm just writing stuff for AD&D myself now. The very size of the industry is the hobby's destruction.

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    1. Thanks for that link. I hadn't been following that blog before, but I've added it to my blogroll.

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  5. I'm just now starting to get involved with 4th Ed, after a break since AD&D 2nd Ed - I'd happily play 2nd Ed until the day I die, precisely because all of the rules etc are known, and they're not going to change now. That stability is horribly under-rated.

    I'm asking myself now how to justify my 4th Ed purchases, or should I simply wait until D&D Next comes out, as I'll have to buy all the core stuff again.

    I'd love for there to be a difinitive version of the game, one that doesn't change. As with 2nd Ed, suppliments like the Complete Handbook series could be made - which enhance the game, but aren't critical to it.

    Instead of changing the core mechanics every couple of years, maybe a setting could be done in depth instead? After a year or two of the same setting, players might be ripe for new scenery (while comforted with familiar rules).

    And then with new settings you could bring out novels , miniatures, further suppliments, boardgames (as seems to be the new fad), comics, calenders, the whole shebang.

    Certainly beats changing the core rules all of the time at the risk of alienating those familiar with previous editions. Also, it starts to reek of a shameless grab at cash by the publishers - as it becomes more overt that new editions are coming out because of necessity (as the old rules aren't broken), but to take our money away from us.

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  6. This makes a total, brutal kind of sense. But does this mean that there can never be a large RPG company that doesn't eventually implode, due to this codependent nature of things, and also doesn't constantly produce core rules revisions and/or masses of splatbooks?

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    1. I don't think it spells inevitable doom for large companies; the publishing cycle is the problem. Eventually someone will solve it, probably with a robust, flexible digital approach (I expect).

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  7. I had a very long-winded reply which I thankfully kept myself from posting.

    My feeling is that it was a sad day when Gygax stopped writting adventures and campaign material and involved himself in management and other aspects of running a company. That is the greatest failing, for me, as the RPG hobby as a business.

    I don't believe that much good has come, in terms of quality of material or the effect on the imagination and creativity of new gamers, by the rise and fall of professional RPG companies. I do not believe much damage has been done either. An overflow of entertainment media is simply the new minefield that young gamers need to traverse on the way to discovering the power of their own imagination.

    For myself I have no trouble scavenging ideas for my own campaign whatever the source, but I am not an ideal customer, preferring to hit the bargain bins for cheap RPG products, such as the bulk of the 4th edition line and rarely, if ever, buy a gaming book new off the shelf.

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  8. Brilliant post. This makes even more sense when the RPG industry is compared to the Wargames industry. The Wargamer/player gets what they want, more miniatures in a constant flow. Without the a DM (for the most part) the financial burden of participation is spread out amongst everyone who plays.

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  9. @Drance: As Steve pointed out, the internet is the wildcard that could change the rules. It's certainly changing the rules of everything else.

    And I've got to say, with 35 years of gaming and some freelancing under my belt, every bit of this rings true.

    I gave up on edition loyalty -- or even game loyalty -- the day Hero Games introduced Fantasy Hero. I jumped ship from D&D in a heartbeat, and ever since then I've been hopping around, approaching RPGs like they were a buffet. I've reached the point where I simply take a good idea from this rules set, a good idea from that rules set, plug it into my own core mechanic, and have fun.

    Really, the biggest thing that the gaming industry provides gamers isn't rules or supplements or any of that: it provides publicity to bring new blood into the hobby, and bring gamers together. Those shiny, colorful hardbacks are the enticement that gets new players excited; and of course you have the grand conventions with all their spectacle.

    Role-playing by its very nature, belongs to the players of the game, not to some company that codified an "official" set of rules -- because it's the spontaneous, unofficial stuff that separates RPGs from every other type of game.

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    1. Very true, Giacomo. Of course, that's part of the problem, from the publisher's perspective.

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  10. I think the day I published Mystery Men! I had a couple people asking when the supplement was coming out. They couldn't have had much time to even read the rules, let alone play the game to point that it was old hat.

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  11. Maybe TSR had the right idea, then, with the novels and the cartoon (and even the wood-burning kit).

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  12. But are there other aspects to the model that are equally important? We have mountains of Magic the Gathering cards, yet the revenue doubles between 2008 and 2011. I don't think that the large amount of material should necessarily be a problem over time.

    4E came really close to getting it right. The overall framework allowed for a near infinite expandability, and each expansion was (usually) really interesting and worthwhile. Where 3.5 seemed to suffer after just a few extra classes, 4E can still excite its core audience with new classes (and class builds).

    In many ways the key idea of having builds and powers you replace was excellent. It just wasn't very effectively sold. Heroes of the Feywild is amazing, but Martial Power isn't... let alone Martial Power 2. Recent Dragon articles are really cool... far superior to the time when articles were largely a smidgeon of story and tons of feats. The bloat that 4E created was, surprisingly, up front. AV and AV2? Giant mistakes. Classes getting new material every month? Way too much. We really can't tell what it would have been like without that bloat, except that the recent WotC releases are all heralded as amongst the best. That's amazing. 4E saw massive bloat, and yet its final products are seen as both its best and most innovative.

    Similarly, the game had far too little errata and quality control up front (AV is a prime example) and then a period with far too much errata (such as to things no one saw as broken). This took players from feeling the company was unaware of balance to feeling their paper products had no value and that the game had no stability. It didn't have to be that way. Short, sweet, and focused errata updates would have worked just fine.

    I do think the industry needs some adjustments, but I'm not convinced it can't have a ton of rule options over time and stay interesting and attractive.

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    1. Magic: The Gathering has exactly the same problem with proliferation and power creep of options though.

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    2. M:tG is a different sort of animal, because people buy and use cards differently from how they buy and use RPG material. Other than that, I agree 100%. 4E's rules structure probably could have supported a different approach. That doesn't mean other business issues could. Maybe they could; we still don't know.

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    3. I think it's important to note that D&D isn't really designed, in terms of how the players at ground level interact with it, to be a sustainable product over a publishing lifetime. That's the meat of this lesson for me here, that it is just not profitable to publish D&D books ad infinitum because you eventually destroy the system.

      But isn't that the beauty of the internet? D&D at its heart came from the people who played it. It was monetized and turned into an industry, but now with the advent of household communication technology, it can be returned to those very same people.

      We don't necessarily need corporate oversight except to act as a facilitator, because we have a multivalent and polyfocal crowd of creative, inventive, and clever people that we can get in touch with instantly. The only thing we need is an aggregator and sorter.

      Maybe profitability (at least as it is currently understood by the WotC business model) is NOT the future of D&D.

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    4. Magic works because its most popular format (Standard) rotates every year. That's like a new edition of the game coming out every year. Roleplaying games can't do that.

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    1. I guess what I don't see is a problem. It might just be time, after the better part of four decades, to say "screw it" and let corporate D&D die. I haven't spent a cent on WotC products in over ten years. Yet there's still a huge backlog of "D&D" products. If they're actually Labyrinth Lord, or Osric, or Swords & Wizardry products, that's meaningless to me. The hobbyists:

      a) Will never let the game die out. Ever.
      b) Are demonstrably capable of producing products in quantity that are as great or greater than the finest TSR/WotC productions.
      c) Have no thorny conflicts of interest like you describe.

      So, just sit back, relax, and let corporate D&D go. There are only better days ahead. The OSR is a more golden Golden Age than even late 70s/early 80s TSR. I firmly believe that. Eyes forward, no fear.

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  14. Is there an online group of people making new material for 3rd edition analagous to the OSR?

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    1. There are certainly Pathfinder fans that are producing fan content on blogs, though I haven't seen many large print on demand projects like Stonehell. I also don't play PF or 3E though, so I'm sure I miss lots that is available.

      Here is one example:

      http://www.paperspencils.com/

      Many in the OSR are producing Pathfinder material too (see the Pathfinder version of The Black Monastery by Frog God Games and the upcoming reboot of Rappan Athuk).

      http://swordsandwizardry.blogspot.com/2011/10/rappan-athuk.html

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    2. I think the thing is that 3.x material is still too available for people to really feel a need to create more of it. Having SRDs freely available online means that 3.x/PF clones are relatively superfluous, for example.

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  15. Spot on assessment. You've eloquently summed up pretty much how I have felt about D&D for years. Each successive edition is published with a fanfare of new hope, then slowly drowns under a mountain of supplements until it becomes unplayable and the cycle starts all over again.

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  16. This is why I'd love to see D&D in the hands on a much smaller publisher. I don't like subscription models for games at all but can see how that's the best way forward for D&D under the stewardship of WotC/Hasbro.

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  17. Is this why there are ten thousand version of Monopoly and Risk, too?
    I mean D&D could be like Chess. Focused, complete, endlessly replayable.

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  18. I'm been preaching thine for eight months now. People just don't want to believe it.

    There is another way, other than online, and that's IP. Novels are a given, but movies, tv, video games and other media also. Thus core D&D is a sunk cost that enables revenue growth and business models in other areas. It doesn't have to be wildly successful, just not loose too much.

    There's also the growth of the base, that feeds core sales and media. I don't see enough marketing from Wotc. And No, encounters doesn't count.

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    1. The proliferation of "canon" material has it's own pitfalls. I generally avoid running anything in a brand setting unless I specify clearly that I will be using the basic boxed set (or whatever) as a jumping off point, and growing the rest myself. Some brand settings really are fantastic (Dark Sun, and I'm coming to appreciate Greyhawk), but it would be quite a burden to keep up to date with all the material for a given setting.

      Also, metaplot developments tend to alienate fans, and metaplot developments (like the spell plague in Forgotten Realms, etc) are almost required to keep the IP feeling fresh, in much the same way that new editions are required.

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  19. People actually pay attention to the D&D rules? Two months into learning the game, back when the first-edition hard-back rule books were just coming out, we were already discarding the stuff that didn't make sense, modifying rules to make the game more rational and interesting, adding new spells and monsters... The D&D manuals offer *advice*. Sometimes it's good, and you take it; sometimes it sucks and you ignore it. The rules never became unwieldy for us at any point because we always filtered and tweaked them until they made sense. If you let D&D degenerate into something unusable, that's just about as much your fault as TSR's.

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    1. The Fourth Edition rules are more interdependent than earlier editions, so this is not always easy to do. For example: I don't like the "bloodied" mechanic for many reasons. However, many powers key off the bloodied status, so if you remove that you also nuke a huge collection of powers. There are similar examples in 3E. I agree with your point regarding TSR versions of D&D though.

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  20. I agree with everything Steve said, with one exception. This problem doesn't affect only D&D. White Wolf certainly went through this, as have a number of other RPG producers.

    I'm in favor of high-tech solutions, but I don't think that web publishing alone (or subscription services, or any other current innovation) is sufficient to solve the basic problem, which is that it takes more work (and more workers) to create a successful game than to sustain one.

    One low-tech solution is for a game company to have multiple product lines. If a company publishes, for example, one complete game every two years with a reasonable supplement schedule as followup, they could keep a full staff employed ongoing.

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  21. I suppose another option would be having multiple games. I mean is there any reason why WotC has to only make D&D, why not take that talented team and expand to a Post-Apocalyptic game, sci-fi, or any other numerous ideas for systems. I understand that brand recognition is important, but I guess I don't see why there would be an issue here.

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    1. I'd have thought this to, but neither TSR's other games, nor d20 Modern or Future, nor the recent Gamma World seem to have taken off. d20 Star Wars seems to have been more successful, but obviously that could be because of the license.

      White Wolf's model of multiple games, each about different types of characters in the same fictional world, seems to have worked better, but that might be difficult to translate to D&D.

      Perhaps multiple licensed D&Ds would work: D&D Game of Thrones, D&D Wheel of Time and so on. Perhaps this would avoid the problem of original campaign settings, in that each one could bring in fans of its source.

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    2. This begs the question of what "taking off" means. I found the idea behind the latest Gamma World to be extremely solid--take the core of D&D and adapt it to simpler, shorter term games. This is an approach that I thought we proved pretty convincingly in the '90s with Al Qadim. But markets change, management changes, the economics of publishing change. GW had a pretty solid year-long run, actually, with a base game and three expansions. It wasn't repeated with another property, and I can't say why that is, beyond the obvious "a decision was made that it wasn't the best avenue to pursue."

      But expanding the IP beyond roleplaying products is becoming ever more essential. D&D doesn't exist just in the hobby gaming world anymore. It's an entertainment property, and it's certain to grow in multiple directions. That's nothing new, if you look back at the history of coloring books, novels, 3-ring binders, t-shirts, movies, etc. Some hits, some misses.

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  22. Steve's point isn't really about Wizards' ability to survive, though; he seems to be saying that once a tiny publisher (2 people in a garage) becomes a medium-sized publisher (20 people in an office), they have no choice under the current publishing model but to churn out player option supplements that eventually bog down and overwhelm their system.

    If they don't, then they won't sell enough product to pay the bills.

    The flaw here is that he assumes the medium-publisher doesn't have the option to release new games. By the time you have more than four or five people, you certainly have the staff and manpower to launch a new game system alongside your existing one.

    It must be difficult to avoid the temptation to release more player options, though, if that's what your customers are clamoring for. But we've seen in the past that some artists know when to "quit while they're ahead" to avoid ruining the body of work they've already created. Consider Bill Watterson, choosing to end Calvin and Hobbes at a high point - he likely left many millions of dollars of potential sales "on the table" when he did it, but the result is that there was, and never will be, a decline-and-fall of his beloved work.

    If a medium publisher can also avoid the temptation to swamp their own game by trying to please customer demands for ever-more content, that does not (as Mark suggests) require them to simply give up and go out of business. It means it's time to make a new game or two.

    The Internet is of course a game-changer - in a big part because it makes it possible to release content for vastly less investment up-front (if you publish online, at least) as well as to constantly update and refresh your existing ruleset with FAQs, errata, revisions, etc. A subscription model to a ruleset could allow customers to always have access to the best, latest, most up to date ruleset without constantly re-buying printed books.

    But the real key is to not kill your own golden-egg-laying geese by overfeeding them - you may get fois gras now, but only if you cut out the goose's liver. If you'll forgive the metaphor. Release a moderate amount of supplementation for your game system, and grow the business by making new games.

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  23. I don't think the hobby directly needs the industry. As pointed out in your post (and known in the OSR), once the DM has the basic rules you don't need more "product" to play the game.

    However, even in these new days of meetup, google+ and other aspects of the internet, I still think that the hobby itself needs friendly local game stores. They provide a place for folks outside the networks to discover us, they provide a location and they are distributors of what basic tools even the DIY hobbyist will need.

    And I'd be surprised if local game stores could survive without the churn of product that you (I think mostly accurately) say that large rpg companies will need. Which is rather distressing given how you see internet subscription type services as a solution for the industry.

    What about other kinds of supporting product, like miniatures, tiles, dice and such? I've never understood why WotC got out of miniatures.

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  24. I have to chime in, in support of building up the story value of IP, including the stories, plots and unique features of a specific game world - moving the IP to new vertical markets or parallel products, the comics, plush dolls, etc. But you really need some interesting IP to begin with.

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  25. You haven't hit the nail on the head. The problem is the person with the sales and marketing degree who prompted all of this in the first place who had no idea what his or her suggestion would lead to. If they had been ignored... there wouldn't be so many staff and overheads and this cycle would not play out.

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  26. Very interesting post!

    I can see a few options:

    1) As others have said, multiple game lines. A simple set of core rules that stays evergreen (likely one book) and an annual release schedule schedule that doles out small updates for multiple settings or genres. This year it's Fantasy Basic plus a gameworld, next year it's a fantasy monster book plus the Space Basic and a Space setting, etc. If you have multiple games you can support in smaller amounts over time. Of course that assumes you can produce multiple games popular enough to deserve that kind of ongoing support.

    2) Established rules with material for a different gameworld each year. If the core for D&D Ultimate comes out in late 2013 then make 2014 the Forgotten Realms year, in 2015 you shift to Greyhawk, in 2016 it's Dark Sun, in 2017 it's Birthright, 2018 is Spelljammer, 2019 is Eberron, and 2020 is Mystara! Each one gets a Setting product, a Monster Book, a Player's Guide, a Book of Magic Items, and a couple of books that focus on something unique to that setting like Psionics or the Outer Planes or Mass Combat. Organized play for that year could focus on that setting, miniatures and novels could as well. Maybe each year there's one product for a previous setting, just to keep things going. Taking a page from Magic, each year for each setting you would also start from "core only - the Birthright material is not assumed to be included in an Eberron Campaign. Of course you have to assume enough people would get on board each year to keep it going but I think D&D of all games could handle that the best.

    Finally, In the long run you could keep older material available in PDF form instead of trying to keep it all in-print. That's not a bad idea even with older editions. Instead of "competing with yourself" it should be viewed as "getting paid by fans of older versions". It's income you might not otherwise see, lets you monitor trends among the player base, and it keeps some customers happy at a low cost..

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    1. Core rules, if not always simple, that are used for multiple settings and genres is what GURPS, FUDGE, Chaosium, and Hero has been doing. Add Palladium to that. None are as big as they were, though I'd credit federal intervention with stunting GURPS' growth.

      TSR started to try that with their first Buck Rogers rpg. Nothing happened there.

      It is a model which works, as long as one doesn't intend to grow too much. Which brings us back to the original essay...

      *jeep! & God Bless!

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  27. I don't see the internet as a solution.

    The internet makes it harder to wipe the slate clean; all that stuff stays out in the net. Fan sites and works add up, and you wind up with an even more confusing mess than you begin with.

    I've noticed that the cycle isn't just about the business, but also about the content. With a new edition of D+D you pretty much get a back-to-basics approach: fighters, rogues, mage, cleric, all together in a dungeon. A year in, you start getting variants: oriental (read Japanese, read ninjas), specialist wizards, Ravenloft. A little later, you get less obviously marketable variants: Arabian themes, Darksun, psionics. By the time stuff like Shardmind Seekers shows up, it's getting hard to be creative without crossing into the bizarre. It's time to announce "back to the dungeon" with a reinvention of the classic archetypes.

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  28. An interesting aside. Chaosium have been chugging along for years now, and they sell almost exclusively to the "DM". They have the core rules they reprint, and they sell adventures. That's it. While not as big as WotC, they are at least not bleeding with numbers in the red. Something is working.

    While they have had their problems, many of those had to do with getting into the CCG quagmire.

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    1. It seems that Chaosium's top printed adventures outclass D&D's top printed adventures, from my experience in running each for different groups.

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    2. Would you say that it's a question of quality? You can base your cash flow on selling to the GM is the quality is good enough? Maybe. I don't know, though.

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    3. Their website indicates that they only have four people at their main office. Also, in addition to roleplaying books they publish anthologies of horror fiction and sell plush Cthulhus. Basically, I think they fall under the "garage shop" model, with some side businesses.

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  29. It's up to the DM, when starting his game, to say "core rules plus X, Y, and Z" (expansions and world book to fit campaign emphasis). Otherwise, you drown in the possibilities. Picking a feat in 4e is a nightmare.

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  30. I always wondered why there were so few flavor based books. The core books can be used to explain the rules and the tools to create characters, items, monsters, adventures (and more) with those rules. The flavor books then support these rules, by offering character options that already exist, combat tactics for both DM and player and more.

    I don't necessarily need new options for my characters. If I desperately want new options, I will make my own. That's what the system is supposed to let me do. What I would like is inspiration.

    Inspiration can help the DM create adventures that will wow his players. On the other hand, inspiration can help the players develop their characters in a way that will wow the DM. It's a mutual thing, as both parties need to enjoy playing the game.

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  31. I’ve been told that flavour type books don’t sell as well as books full of character options. Unfortunately, the results are campaign settings that are only vaguely fleshed out and different regions/places that are distinguished from each other by a collection of feats, spells, prestige classes and magic items. That being said there have been some great flavour books put out by other, usually smaller publishers.

    Personally I often look to history and current events for inspiration. Wikipedia and the New York Times seem to be full of great setting and adventure ideas.

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  32. Funny, back when I was gaming with 1E I didn't know anyone who didn't buy adventure modules or DM a campaign while playing another. There were "casual" players who only played but they weren't going to be dropping any money into the game anyway. I perceived all the stuff to come out later, new revisions of the game, the different "worlds" and such to be evidence of the crass commercialization of the game and a big turn-off.Since then I've spent somewhere in the neighborhood of...um...NOTHING on D&D products excepting the old 1E stuff I've bought on amazon and e-bay. IMO, if they'd stick to what's good for the game and leave the new classes and crap to individuals and house rules, the developers would still make their money as "good games" attract more of a market share with newcomers to the game. Frankly, past a certain point in life, when you've got a job, family and such, you really don't have the time for gaming you had as a kid in high school. These people drop out as I did (O.k., "commercialization" wasn't the only reason I drifted away), but if your game is "good" then you're going to be seizing a greater portion of those freshly minted potential customers from Jr.High through whenever, the "whenever" usually being when the game of life consumes too much of your time to continue the games you'd like to be playing.

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  33. Whatever Games Workshop does seems to both work well, and be awful.

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  34. Sorry for replying to such an old post, but I think it should be pointed out that WOTC doesn't need to constantly churn out player supplements to stay afloat. As I understand it, Magic: The Gathering is their real money-maker and provides most (or all) of the capital to let them work on other stuff. So there's nothing keeping them from re-assigning most of their D&D staff to other projects, and letting a smaller crew focus on putting out higher-quality supplements at a slower pace. Except greed, of course, but such is the way of things.

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    1. There's almost no overlap between the D&D, M:tG, and other R&D crews, meaning people are more likely to be laid off than reassigned. More to the point, WotC isn't interested in maintaining a brand that pays it's own wages and not much more. Breaking even is a terrific milestone for a small game company, but it's a sign that things are going wrong to an outfit like WotC or Hasbro.

      The truth is, a brand like M:tG, that needs a bulldozer to shove all its profits into the building, only makes a struggling brand look that much worse.

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