Friday, May 15, 2009

Where the Pros Are

Oddysey posted a very interesting piece on the necessity of the industry for the core of the RPG experience: having cool adventures with your friends. She’s right, and I’ve done the experiment; you can play 8+ hours per week for five years and have a great time without buying any additional materials for your game.

This is a horror for those who wish to make a living out of supporting those of us who game.

I’m a big fan of professional efforts in any field. People who are able to make a living out of what they love can spend more time doing it, honing their craft and improving the fruits of their labors. A purely hobbyist industry doesn’t have time to really push the envelope, or create the broadest possible range of products.
That said, it’s easy for a professional industry, especially one that’s on the verge of losing the ability to support full-time professionals, to get caught up in the money. This is an issue right now for RPGs.

We want to have cool adventures with our friends (for varying definitions of “cool” which may include romantic, tragic, scary, erotic, dramatic, etc, and varying definitions of adventure, too). Unfortunately, most of the financial investment of the industry is going towards selling us books. Books we really don’t need if our aim is to have cool adventures. I’m not going to argue that they books actively prevent us from having cool adventures, but anyone who’s enjoyed playing a retro game knows whereof I speak. I have no idea what the Moldvay/Cook boxed sets cost when they first came out, but the fact that I’m still having fun with them more than a quarter-century later can’t be good news for a folks who rely on the sale of books for their paycheck.

And that right there is everything that’s wrong with the “industry” in a nutshell. Their goals are about 90-degrees off of what their customers want. This is why I was so excited about WotC’s online tabletop. If the use of their tabletop became their largest revenue generator, that would have put their goals more in line with ours. They’d want us to have cool adventures because it would mean using their virtual gaming table. Right now, whether or not we play is immaterial to them, so long as we buy the books. (In fact, I think the argument can be made that people who wish they were playing but aren’t might actually buy more books than those who are playing. Reading and collecting and arguing about mechanics online become substitutes for play. People who are playing and having fun doing it might be too distracted to spend time shopping for your books. I know I am.)

Yes, right now, I buy Fight On! and kinda-sorta buy Green Devil Face (though my expense is the time it takes me to come up with ideas to include in it). But I do that for the neat ideas and to encourage all involved to keep doing them. They’re cool, but they’re not enough to for anyone to live on. The folks involved are producing these when they can squeeze in a bit of spare time. I’d love to see what Taichara, or Raggi, or Oddysey might come up with if they could do this sort of thing for 40 hours a week. Maybe they wouldn’t want to, but just having the chance would open up the floodgates on the imaginations of so many people.

The sticking point is, how? Is there some way to bottle the magic so that it can be shared with others? Or to spread the magic of exceptional players and GMs so that more groups can enjoy it? Can that be done in a book? Or online? Or is there another aspect of the experience that is complementary to the experience that can improved in a significant way by professional effort? Ryan Dancey’s imagined uber-website that walked groups through social contract, customizing rules, and play sounded like a neat idea, but I’m not sure it’s the lightning in a bottle I’m grasping for.

Photo credits: Benimoto, Jake of, tiffa130


Dave said...

Excellent post, pretty much hits the nail on the head. I don't get much, if any time to play and yet I still pick up the pathfinder adventure path, 4th ed. when it came out just so I could check it out and recently Dark Heresy. The last with no real intention of playing it, just love the setting and the obvious production value of the book.

Unknown said...

Definitely agree with the industry having different objectives to what hobbyists want.

Joshua Macy said...

The do-it-yourself part is what I find most appealing about the hobby. What I could see a cadre of professionals providing is software infrastructure for tabletop-style gaming over the net; good software is hard enough that it would be worth paying more than pocket change for, and it can legitimately provide full-time occupation. But coding interfaces and maintaining databases isn't really what "professional game designers" are about.

taichara said...

*chuckles* But I do what i can? ;3

Norman J. Harman Jr. said...

I definitely (sadly) have been in the buys books/argues online group more often than has friends to game with group.

There's plenty of players were I live now. But for most of my life the biggest thing anyone could have done that I'd pay money for was provide gamers and provide a place to play which usually attracts the gamers.

I don't agree that everything in the world is profitable. The definition of "hobby" is some activity lots of people do despite no one knowing how to make money off it.

You rightly point out the RPG Industry isn't about the hobby of playing RPGs at all. It is really a segment of the book industry and their business is selling books.