Friday, April 25, 2008

Reinvigorating theHobby

One of the stated goals of 4th edition D&D is that it will reinvigorate the hobby. I think this is a fine goal because what is good for Wizards is ultimately good for the industry on the whole.

Currently we're living in an age where the roleplaying game market is getting sucker punched. Online sales are killing the locally owned gaming shops by undercutting prices and offering titles that the local shops simply cannot afford to stock. On top of that, the whole tabletop gaming category is hurting because of the massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs). It has gotten bad to the point where the guy who got me into roleplaying in the first place referred to the RPG industry as dying.

But is it dying? The fact is that there are fewer large gaming publishers around now than there were when the last edition of the game came out eight years ago. That alone should be pretty telling. You have a lot more books selling in PDF format rather than print, and those who are printing their products are running some pretty short print runs. Books are now selling in the hundreds of copies where they used to sell in the thousands.

Advertising is down. With the death of the printed versions of Dragon and Dungeon magazine, where are is a small to medium sized publisher supposed to advertise so that they can reach a large number of their target audience? They pretty much have to go online and appeal to the gamer elite to buy their products. The problem with this is that there are so many different products competing for the dollars of the gamer elite that it's very easy for quality products to get overlooked. Then you have the gamer elite, which in itself is composed of a few thousand, and as much as they love to play these games and buy the good stuff, they see small companies marketing to them so often that they've become very jaded about it. And who can blame them? As one of them, I've definitely limited my spending money to the stuff that really catches my interest.

So along comes D&D 4th edition, which will be making some pretty major changes to the game we've all known for such a long time. For a lot of people, it's hard to get past the fact that the game will be changing to this extent, but I understand why they're doing it and I support their efforts because ultimately this hobby either needs a boost, or it is going to quietly fade into the night. I'm basing my career on the health of the industry, so I really feel strongly that their efforts need to succeed. Sure, there's been a lot of talk about what the new gaming license will do to 3rd party publishers, and I think people have some valid concerns, but ultimately we need to focus a little more on what's best for the hobby and the industry built up around it. What's good for WotC is good for the industry.

If WotC can draw back the lapsed gamers as well as show all of these people who have gotten hooked on World of Warcraft that this is a fun worthwhile thing to do - and its social so they can do it with their friends rather than doing it at their computer - then there will be more people in the local game shops and more products being sold into the mass market. Right now it's crucial that the industry either finds a way to stop the bleeding out of gamers and actually manage to draw some new people in, or simply resign itself to the status of a fad that has finally had its last hurrah. I was raised in gaming and it will forever be a part of me. I can't imagine a time where it doesn't exist in one form or another, but frankly, I don't want to see MMOs be it's only future.

So do I support 4th edition D&D? The answer to that is an unequivocal YES! I want 4th edition to be a smashing success because it will mean more work for me, more people interested in gaming, and more products out there to choose from. Likewise, I hope that the smaller niche games can continue into the future. I want to see Pathfinder, Modern20, and True20 (among others) to continue to be successful. I love these niche games because I like to have some variety in genres and game styles after playing D&D for over 20 years. What's good for WotC is good for the industry, so we wall wait to see if this is the fresh start the hobby needs right now. I have faith that it will be, and things will be much more upbeat in the industry by this time next year.

1 comment:

ephealy said...

Advertising is down, in a sense. There are fewer print options out there, anyway. However, there are other options - podcasting, online ads, company blogs, social media. There are many ways a publisher can communicate to its partners and customers. It takes a little effort, but...