Sunday, January 1, 2012

An interesting conversation to start the new roleplaying year

John Wick on Facebook posted about the Escapist's article on D&D's Future. I suggest reading the comment section as Ryan Dancey weighs in and the two (and others) go back and forth in an interesting conversation.

I find the discussion interesting on whether the roleplaying market is developing a even longer tail.  Switching to market where the best strategy is selling small quantities of a large range of unique products.

And finally a Ryan Dancey quote that sums up what is fueling his comments on roleplaying.
I'm talking about people who work full time designing/developing tabletop RPGs.
Perhaps what we are seeing is the collapse of mass market RPGs. Games and products that appeal across the entire spectrum of gaming. The large volume generated by such products can generate a lot of jobs. There are jobs in the Long Tail as well but people who prosper in working for a company may find it difficult working in the Long Tail and vice versa as well.

I think why we have mass anything is because of the limitations of technology. There are things that have broad appeal. But for type of consumer items that many of our parents and grandparents have been buying, individual tastes rule. The problem that throughout the industrial era there is only so much variety a company can offers before costs going up. Henry Ford's famous quote of "They can have the Model-T in any color as long as it is black." is not arrogance but part of what made the Model-T affordable in the first place.

Now computer aided manufacturing has considerably narrowed the cost difference between mass produced items and one of the kind unique items. The internet have allowed the entire world to become one large bazaar catering to every tastes where Kelly Anne, my wife, sends her d20 hairsticks all around the world. For some reason Norway is her biggest customer in those items.

(Note to James Raggi, she sent some to Finland so you may see some pop up at one of your conventions)

Given the choices folks rather buy the item they exactly want and this includes roleplaying game products.

But on the flip side a lot of people like buying some that makes them part of a larger group. For roleplaying games this is a distinct advantage as well as it increases the chances of finding players for that game. In the coming decades large gaming companies will live or die on how well they do in getting their players together to play their games beyond just selling.  Because this will be one area that smaller game companies will find it hard to compete with.

That is until the Long Tail figures out how to do the same thing. 

5 comments:

BlogReader said...

If the rpg "industry" were truly interested in surviving, it would do whatever it could to cater to newer players, start them young, and hook them for life,..

Read: kids.

Instead, it continues to cater to an aging audience, while ignoring kids. I self published an rpg for kids (rpgkids) that has been at the top of the charts at rpgnow for over a year now. You know what? Parents want to teach their kids about the hobby and play with them. This will lead to newer players down the line... But the industry ignores this. Books with 160 pages of rules isnt the answer.

Charlie Warren said...

@BlogReader - I completely agree with your comments. This hobby will be greatly diminished in years to come if more products catering to a younger audience are not produced.

Roger the GS said...

Also agreed. Perhaps one way forward is shown by the Lego adventure game, as seen recently on Grognardia?

jeffro said...

Just one data point here....

I would not be playing Labyrinth Lord and B/X D&D if it were not for my kids. I got into those when I realized that the simplicity of the rulesets really lend themselves to playing with children.

Of course, watching them play... I can see how things might need to be adapted for them... but I think I will try fixing whatever issues there are via the scenarios I run for them. Probably... use their existing characters, but give them a situation with some Choose Your Own Adventure plot points and some Infocom-like puzzles. Definitely less fighting and resource management, though. (Actually... that's how I got them to complete Palace of the Silver Princess... so I've kind of already done that....)

Brian W. said...

I think in some ways the RPG industry mirrors what's happened in the music recording industry. In both, there has never been more variety or diversity of resources (music: bands and genres; RPGs: indie games and OGL resources). This increase comes at the expense of the big boxes (music: major labels; RPGs: WoTC, WW) as enthusiasts turn away from mass marketing and instead turn inward within their own gaming circles (OSR, D&D 3.5, Weird Fantasty, etc.).

And I think, just like in the music business, those in the RPG biz who know how to connect with players and give them a reason to invest money are the most likely to be successful. The easiest way to do so is to include the player in the creative process. We've already seen success with this business model (especially in OSR and to a degree Paizo) and I think in general RPGs have been a pioneer of collaboration between game designers and enthusiasts (ex: Zines). Maybe not enough to make us all rich, but enough to perpetuate the hobby (again, much like the music industry today).

In regards to some of your concerns about whether or not gaming is reaching kids, I have a question: were young audiences most likely to be attracted to gaming because of mass marketing (i.e. big games and advertising) or through mentoring (neighbors, friends, big siblings, etc.)? I think trying to quantify the influence of both would help clarify the best way to introduce gaming to younger folk and perpetuate the hobby. How much of it falls on the shoulders of the industry, and how much of it falls upon the community?

To put it another way, I'm wondering that because gaming is becoming more indie, DIY, and niche-specific--because of technology changes making game design easier and/or because big companies have failed in fostering the hobby with younger people--is it increasingly up to us enthusiasts to take charge of mentoring another generation of gamers?

Does that make sense? Let me know if it doesn't and I'll try to clarify...