My friend Richard Whipple is not one for keeping his opinions to himself. He is a bit of a thinker and very passionate about role playing games, so hearing or reading his musings is always very enjoyable.
Today, though, I had to disagree with him, which is very unusual.
Richard’s opinion: the hobby is shrinking and it is because of the attitude of WotC towards the game industry and the edition wars that ensue every time there is a new D&D edition release. Dungeons & Dragons is still the flagship and gateway game by default and people recognize the brand, whereas other games are not recognised, thus if you try to use another game to introduce people to the hobby, people won’t be interested since there won’t be any familiarity. WotC doesn’t do enough to bring people into the hobby – instead, it’s just trying to bring players back and not expanding the demographics of the hobby.
I have to say I can see where he’s coming from, but I can’t agree with him.
First of all I don’t believe the hobby is shrinking. It certainly is not growing at the rate I’d like it to, but it hardly getting smaller. The number of companies being created at the moment is unprecedented, not in a small measure thanks to Kickstarter and other crowd-funding websites. Judging by the number of projects being successfully funded (and I don’t have a precise number), there is still plenty of interest in the hobby.
However this is not to say that new people are coming into the hobby. Unless the responsible for the project are doing a lot of marketing, or the project is featured by Kickstarter itself, the game will be publicised around gamers’ environments and not outside the usual websites. Therefore the word doesn’t spread as quickly as it would be desirable.
The image of D&D being the flagship amongst none gamers is also one that’s diluting rapidly. Although D&D still carries a lot of weight as a brand, it has been away from the public eye for a long time now. D&D has been very well known by the general public because of videogames and books as well as the games. We haven’t had a proper D&D video game in years (no, DDO is not a proper game; is a proper shambles). I know plenty of people at work who’ve never heard of Dungeons & Dragons. I know at least one who didn’t know about it outside videogames.
Also, that image is there because we as players have put it there. It is us who decide to use D&D as an example of game. We could use any other, or any other setting to describe what an RPG is. We don’t. Let’s not blame that on the fact that D&D was the first RPG and the first one to become a mass phenomenon.
I will agree with Richard’s third point to certain extent. WotC marketing is appalling. I don’t know what they do in the USA apart from the “Encounters” scheme, but here in the UK and the rest of Europe, their presence is pretty much non-existent. There are some Magic: The Gathering adverts here and there, and from time to time, but nothing aggressive and long lasting enough to make a difference. However, I don’t feel it is WotC responsibility to bring people to the role playing games scene. It is their responsibility to bring people to D&D. And they fail.
The main thing WotC hasn’t done until the start of the D&DNext beta campaign is to involve the community, both players and publishers. If anything, the licence that came with 4th Ed. is draconian and plenty of people went to OGL instead – to Paizo’s advantage, needless to say. Secondly their litigation culture that has brought them to threaten fans for having content in websites and blogs has left a lot of people with a bitter taste. If we add to that that the editions war wasn’t managed at all, and people took issue with the changes to the game, you have a recipe for disaster.
However, as much as I dislike the position of ignorance WotC’s executives run the business from (and they are ignorant of the hobby. They may know about business, but about the game and the hobby? Not a thing), I think that to place the weight of the whole hobby on the shoulders of that one company, just because they happen to own the game that started it all, is unfair.
True is that no other update of a game has created an editions war. You won’t hear people moaning about 6 – soon to be 7 – editions of Call of Cthulhu. You won’t hear people fall out because of the new edition of Traveller; or the third edition of Mutants & Masterminds. Or pretty much any other game. However we are so close to D&D somehow, that whenever they’ve updated the game, there’s been a divide in the player-base.
For some reason, when is about our beloved D&D, we (and I will put everyone in the same bag for once, even though I know it’s an unfair generalisation) become petty and pathetic and fight over unimportant issues that can be resolved by using what RPGs promote so well: a bit of imagination.
So I tell you, reader, it is not the release of a new version of D&D that hurts the hobby. It is us, the players, who decide to engage in an edition war and belittle, berate and begrudge the game. And the ripples do get felt in the rest of the industry.
And as for the market not expanding; that is everyone’s fault.
Publishers are horrendous at taking marketing risks to promote the games. When was the last time that you saw an RPG advertised, full page and full colour, in a high-street magazine? When was the last time you saw an RPG advertised in a video-games magazine? When was the last time you saw a publisher having a booth in a non-game related tradeshow?
Most publisher’s websites are, simply put, badly designed. Most of them look amateurish. Sorry guys, but that is not acceptable.
But then, we players have become very, very bad at marketing. We used to bring new people to games 20 years ago. We would talk to people, we’d try new games and get together and play. We’d publish our own fanzines and write our own materials to give to other people (at least we did in Spain). Today a few talk in forums, a fewer write blogs and tweet. But the majority don’t get involved to the level they used to. The majority is happy to play in their little groups and never expand.
And then we complain that the hobby is shrinking.
Well, it is not up to Wizards of the Coast to fly the flag that will encompass the whole hobby. Coca-Cola doesn’t fly the flag of all carbonated drinks, why should WotC help people get into other games?
It is up to everyone. It’s up to publishers to become professionals, not just in the books they publish, but in the way they present themselves to the world and the way they operate. Do you want to be one of the big boys? Then start by behaving like one.
And it is up to us, the players, to get out there and talk to each other. Not just online, but in real life. And to people who are unaware of what we do. And to challenge the preconceptions that gamer-geeks are a bunch of socially impaired, sun-fearing hermits with a hygiene. We are better than that.
So, to end this this article/rant with a cheesy quote: Your hobby needs you!
What are you going to do about it?