Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Mr. Dancey to the Rescue?

Ryan Dancey thinks he’s got a plan to resurrect the moribund RPG market. And yes, it’s moribund. No doubt about it.

Look here for what he sees as the proper perspective. And then see here for Step 1 of his approach.

Now, I have no idea where he’s going with this. I have a few guesses, but nothing solid. But I have to say the “storytelling” bit leaves me a bit cold. It may a be a knee-jerk reaction, however. And I’m not sure it’s important. Here’s the gold in them thar hills:

Here are three sustainable, believable, and valuable points of differentiation between tabletop storyteller games and MMORPGs:

1. * A truly persistent environment, where participant actions shape and redefine the game world in lasting and meaningful ways using the power of emergence.

1. * Participant created content which expands the game world, sorted & made accessible through the power of a reputation economy.

1. * The ability to interact with one another in various social network configurations, from very small (2 people) to very large (10,000+ gatherings), from “party” focused adventures to city, national, and world sized population systems.

This is a topic Dan over at Fear the Boot has been discussing for some time. There’s really no point in making RPGs more like MMORPGs. Tabletop RPGs can never out-MMORPG the MMORPGs. Trying to do so is silly. I think Mr. Dancey is absolutely on the right track with this. Pen-and-paper RPGs need to focus on what they do best, and I think he’s nailed it on these three points. I’ll have to think about that some more.

But then he takes a sudden swerve that looks very intriguing:

The successful Storyteller Industry company will be at heart a customer service company. Most of its work product will be related to internet services and community tools, rather than making & printing rule books. We need to rewire the fundamental DNA of the industry from book publishing to internet service & community support.

Whoa! Ok, now we’re talking a major shift in how this industry has worked for a long time. What is he talking about? Gleemax?

Maybe. Ok, as RPGers, we all know exactly what’s wrong with the industry: it’s a bitch to get a game together. When you’re young, have no car, and you and your friends are pretty much hobbled by school and lack of funds, but unburdened by adult responsibilities, it’s easy to blow eight to ten hours playing RPGs in a single session. You also have at least that much time between games to work on new material, to read new books, and learn new rules.

But once you become an adult, it’s nearly impossible to get together even on a bi-weekly basis. It’s even worse if you try to do something only once a month. That schedule won’t survive three sessions. And if you want to play an odd game, which is pretty much anything other than D&D, you’re in real trouble. Where do you find players? How do you get together with them? Even if you’re young, it can be a pain trying to sell your friends on your game de jour. And the best way to learn how to play an RPG is to join a group that already plays it.

And the best way to insure that your RPG survives and has fans who will support you financially is to get people to play the game. So what if players could find a group to play with online? Maybe using headsets and cameras, or chat programs, or other sorts of telecommuting software that businesses have been using for over a decade. What if you could log into the web site of your game-of-choice, and find a weekly/bi-weekly/whatever game to join in on?

What if you could find a game right now that was looking for members? A game that is set to begin as soon the requisite four-to-six players were lined up?

What if you could find a game right now, that was looking for members, and was run by a GM trained in how to play the game by the designers of the game, running an adventure specifically crafted to make the best use of that game’s features?

Is that something you might be willing to pay for?

Is that something an RPG company might be willing to support?

The mind, ladies and gents, freakin’ boggles.

I have no idea if this is where Mr. Dancey is going. I have no idea if enough players can overcome the notion that they are owed good GMing for free to support that sort of thing. I have no idea if any RPG company could find investors willing to take the risk to fund something like that.

But yeah, when I get visions in my head of players across the world logging their characters into a central database, and then using those characters in one-shot pick-up games or more organized campaign play, I can’t help but get excited.

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