Saturday, July 18, 2009

Industry! HUAH! *thump-thump* What is it Good For?

Skirting along the edges of the recent convesation about the state of the RPG industry is the obvious question: so what? What difference does it make, at the gaming table, where the rubber meets the road, whether or not there even is an industry?

Trust me, if it vanished tomorrow you'd miss it. Here's a list of five things the industry does for all of us:

Gives Us Some of Our Best Thinkers: The Jameses Raggi and Maliszewski are both member of the industry, professional writers with a number of books to their tally. I don't agree with everything the man says, but Ryan Dancey has had a profound impact on the hobby. And, of course, we had Gygax, Arneson, and Hargrave whose thoughts and theories still inspire our gaming. We all need to earn money to put food on the table and keep the lights on. The professionals have more time to spend thinking about games, playing with the bits and pieces, and really plumbing the depths of the hobby.

Spurs Innovation: Yeah, ok, so maybe that's not always a great thing, but the fans tend to be the conservatives in any group. They want what they love, and they rarely see a need to change things. Professionals need to always be expanding or shifting their audience, and so are always looking for new and neat ways to add to the experience. I'm not a huge fan of 4e, but their attempt to find a new way to think about things like hit points has intrigued me, and was part of the inspiration for how the Table of Death and Dismemberment works. The industry gave us Amber Diceless Roleplaying, the World of Darkness storyteller games, the genre fruitsalad that is Shadowrun, the cereberal plunge into the abyss that is Call of Cthulhu, and the claustraphobic madness of The Shab-al-Hiri Roach.

Draws the Attention of Outsiders: If it wasn't for the industry, nobody would have noticed when Gygax and Arneson had died. The fact that, for many people, roleplaying games are summed up by D&D speaks volumes for the industry's position as the face of the hobby. That face may be more mask than reality, but that doesn't change the fact.

Creates Fun Toys for Us to Play With: Most of us don't have the skills or time to make the bizarre dice, cool minis, bits of terrain, coffeetable books, posters, novels, and yes, computer games that we all enjoy as parts of or adjuncts to our hobby. We get art from the likes of Otis and Parkinson and Elmore and Reynolds and di Terlizzi and Widermann. They give us web pages and discussion forums like Most importantly for some, they give us things to argue about between gaming sessions.

Gives Us a Shared Common Experience and Vocabulary: Beyond hit points and armour class, we have universal mechanics, NPCs, skills-based vs. class based, stats vs. attributes vs. flags, adventure paths vs. sandboxes, The Tomb of Horrors, Car Wars, Gen Con, Men in Black, Knights of the Dinner Table, and Nodwick. The industry defines the baselines and borders we all use to communicate to one another, and the shorthand that is part of our community. They make it possible for us to speak about the sorts of games we prefer with strangers, and the shorthand of "I prefer the 2nd edition of that game" speaks volumes for us.

Photo credits: poolie, Pockafwye, and Benimoto.


Will Mistretta said...

It seems a little odd to not differentiate between writers like Raggi and Maliszewski and "full-timers" who derive all their income from producing RPGs.

I think that I, and most others, would be more inclined to label them talented, enthusiastic and prolific hobbyists than "industry types."

When people express indifference or antipathy toward the "industry", they're usually operating under the assumption that the Raggis, Maliszewski, Proctors, etc, are still going to be around no matter what.

JimLotFP said...

I appreciate the vote of confidence but it does seem a bit premature to see my name used in that context. :)

Natalie said...

Clearly, what this means is that everyone ought to go buy Death Frost Doom, and then this post will become 100% incontrovertibly true. Also, because it rocks, in an evil way.

This has kind of crystallized my thinking on the issue. The hobby fills the needs of the people who are already in it, at the time that they're in it. But as far as any kind of forward motion goes, attracting new blood to the hobby or catalyzing new thoughts habits in it's existing members, well, people trying to sell new stuff have a lot more incentive to encourage both those things.

JimLotFP said...

Death Frost Doom is the week's #1 seller at Noble Knight (seriously, go look). Pass it on, and let's sell out their entire stock before the release has even been officially announced. Just because Odyssey here makes so much sense. :)

Dyson Logos said...

I'm with you. While I prefer to play games that are no longer "actively supported" (so I don't have to deal with new material coming out mid-game), I still love buying, reading and learning new games. I love where the amazing output of the industry has brought us.

Zzarchov said...

Most of the things listed in this post are part of the 'hobby' not the 'industry'.

many miniatures are made by hobby businesses, many of the best modules and new games and writing in general are produced by part time hobbyists (who then if they are lucky can make a full time modest living)

There is a difference between making money and making enough money to be an industry. Hobbies of all sort still get support and products even if they don't really qualify as an industry.

If the industry died tommorow, the hobby would still produce all of the great things listed.

RPG's may be a unique hobby, but it isn't the only hobby. Many hobbies do quite well without being an industry.

Zzarchov said...

An aside;

As for new players, I can't think of the last person I met that wasn't brought into the hobby by an existing gamer instead of from the industry.

I don't see "the industry" taking too much effort to promote itself or attract new players. 4e has brought in some attempts to reach out to warm markets, but even their most well known tie ins with Penny Arcade are still a case of a gamer bringing a non-gamer into the fold (Gabe and Tycho) which could exist without the industry.

Natalie said...

Zzarchov: The two people who got into me into the game started themselves by picking up the 3e boxed set and figuring it out. And there's, um, every gamer who did the same thing with the Red Box. If that's not being introduced by "the industry" then what is? Mike Mearls calls you on the phone and teaches you the game?

Zzarchov said...

If someone see's and advertisement and picks up the game, then the industry has brought in new players. If someone starts it because someone they know plays and sits down to game with them, then the industry did not bring in the players.

As much as we may laugh at the old D&D TV and Print Ads, they did play them to reach non gamers. I can't think of the last time I saw a D&D ad that wasn't on a site or publication that already catered to gamers.

Because the industry had a use, doesn't mean its still being useful.

The industry was born from hobbyists. Arneson and Gygax were hobbyists.

Dave said...

The industry really does seem to have defaulted to relying on existing gamers to bring new ones in. Most ads for product are targeted at existing gamers. (An embarrassing number of ads for systems that aren't D&D seem to be targeted explicitly at D&Ders, but that's the shape of a hobby where the name of one facet of it is often more recognizable than the name of the industry itself.*) WotC did a little bit of advertising with the launch of 4e, but Zzarchov is right; tabletop products aren't generally marketed to the public at large, and aren't even sold in places where most people are likely to stumble across them. (I guess maybe that pair of shelves in the Barnes & Noble? You know the shelves I'm talking about. PHB. Monster Manual. Two random 4e adventures. DMG. Three random White Wolf products.)

* Dave: ...raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, tabletop roleplaying...
Dave's buddy: What's that?
Dave: Dungeons and Dragons.
Dave's buddy: Ah.

Simon said...

I'm not convinced that we need people for whom RPGs are their entire career and income. Freelancers and hobbyists seem to do most of the best stuff. For the professional industry there is, of necessity, a focus on the bottom line, which often has a detrimental effect on quality.

trollsmyth said...

A lot depends on your definition of industry. Frankly, if you've got a profit motive, that's good enough for me. It doesn't even have to be your highest motive. That makes Mr. Raggi a pro in my book (and apparently the government of Finland agrees with me).

Now, we may be speaking about a cottage industry, but it's an industry none the less. Gygax and crew created TSR, Inc. to sell D&D. It wasn't much of a company, but it was still a company.