Recent discussion about Monte Cook bowing out of the development of 5e has lead a certain someone to declare that her initial decision to not care about 5e has been validated. This (all happening on G+ where the cool kids hang out and your humble troll occasionally lurks) lead to the requisite argument about the importance of the industry to RPGs.
I think this is one of those areas where people are talking past each other. Watching Zak of all people poo-poo the industry is a bit twitch-provoking. Sure, he doesn’t need the industry, but I don’t exactly see him sending the money WotC’s paying him to advise on 5e back to them.
The DIY community can absolutely point to things like Fight On! and the gorgeous books shipping from Raggi’s living room and proudly proclaim that they can produce high-quality products just like (and often better than) the industry. But that only begs the question of where, exactly, is the line between the industry and the DIY folks.
The line has gotten really blurry with 5e. So far, 5e marketing has largely been about getting the blogging world yammering about it. In just under a month, WotC is promising to unleash a playtesting blitz similar to what the Paizo crew did for Pathfinder. Are all those playtesters part of the industry? What about people who drop some cash into a kickstarter project and get their names in a book? I think they are, and I’m fairly certain Paizo and WotC want them to feel like they are. The products Paizo sells are not nearly as important as the culture they foster, with their wide-open playtests, their organized play, and their RPG Superstar contest all working to blur the line between industry and hobby. Spend some time on the Paizo boards and you’ll discover that Pathfinder isn’t so much an RPG as a friendly, geeky cult. The fans send the corporate headquarters pizza for crying out loud! Even Apple fanatics don’t got that far.
It was recently announced that Tor is going to drop DRM on their ebooks. They can do this because the relationships authors have with their readers is becoming warmer and closer. Readers want to pay for books because they know that’s how writers keep the lights on and afford time to sit down and write. They want to say “thank you” to the authors for what the authors have given them. Paizo’s fans want to do the same thing, as do the fans of Steve Jackson Games. WotC is trying to build the same sort of rapport with their audience.
It’s coming slowly, but the relationship between consumers and producers is transforming. It used to be we just bought what we were offered. More and more, however, we’re developing relationships with the folks who make our stuff. I think RPGs are ahead of the curve here because the line between producer and consumer has always been rather hazy, and is only getting fuzzier with time.