I think Wizards of the Coast has got it right.

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logosBy Paco Garcia Jaen

Yes, my dear friends, I believe that WOTC has got it right with the way they are changing the Dungeons & Dragons franchise. Since 4E came out “all those years ago”, we’ve seen a very obvious shift in their publishing practises and product development, and I think they’re just about to hit the nail on the head with their thinking.

First let’s get into the way of thinking of Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast: Money.

Now let’s get into the way of thinking of WOTC employees: Fun and games.

Now the difficulty is to reconcile both. That is very difficult because eventually, money has to win. If there is not enough money, then the big bosses pull the plug and the employees can’t create any more games.

So the designers have a very difficult job in making something fun but that has to be, ultimately, profitable, even if it is not good (and I am not saying it isn’t). As someone who has a job that demands me to create things with limitations (sometimes stupid ones!), my heart goes to them. I can imagine they could do a lot better if they didn’t have to change formulas and make enormous compromises in order to come up with something that’ll be approved.

However let’s not vilify the big companies. At least not for that reason. After all they’re taking a gamble. Even if a formula can be researched, when Dungeons & Dragons undertook the massive change from 3.5 to 4th Edition, they took a massive gamble. One that’s paid off.

It is true that the war still rages out there. People still fight and get all uptight about 3.5 and 4E. Time to move on, guys… Paizo is doing much too good a job of Pathfinder to feel your favourite game has ceased to exist.

Now, let’s analyze what WOTC has done with D&D and with GammaWorld. Also the change in direction from the start of 4E, to the current trend. Cards.

You see, WOTC realized a while ago (sort of since they started) that collectable cards actually do sell very well and that lots of kiddies love them because they can trade and they can go to a shop and get “something” for very little money that will keep them entertained for a while.

D&D heavy books?… not so much! They take longer to read, are a lot heavier and you need to have a lot of money to buy just the one. Oh, and they are not as pretty. So they sell less.

So they have done their best to merge the nature with the RPG gaming nature, and, for better or worse, they’ve pretty much succeeded. D&D 4E is a good game, there is no doubt about that.

Before you sneer and look at me askance with the idea of calling the nearest psychiatrist, leave aside your loyalty for the brand you’ve been playing for so long. The game might not feel what D&D has felt for the last 30 years, it may not work the same, but it is a fun, fast, flexible and approachable game.

Sorry guys, but Pathfinder is not as approachable as D&D 4E, and it isn’t, simply, because it is not as modular.

With the current D&D system, you can get the basic set and start playing battles in 15 minutes. Then you read the rest of the rules and start to add to your game, but the fact is that it takes less to start playing D&D. Even if it is a much much much much reduced version of the game and barely resembles an RPG.

GammaWorld has cemented the fact that cards can make an RPG fun. The new Monster Vaults and the way they’re presenting adventures and settings, back to the box, more paper and book light and more token and cards heavy tell us that Hasbro and WOTC do like that.

The fact that the game is being sold more than any other D&D before (according to them, I hasten to add!) shows the game still has life in it, even if it is a different game from the one we grew up with (those of you who grew up!).

So the Powers that Be have come up with a formula that:

  • Is attracting new players (never a bad thing)
  • That is making money (never a bad thing)
  • Is easy to expand and renew. Adding new cards and smaller books for settings can keep everything flowing easily and for many years (never a bad thing)

People, whether you like it or not, it is a winning formula.

However why isn’t it winning?

We’ve established that Pathfinder is not as approachable a game, and yet Paizo keeps growing and growing and Pathfinder becoming the game of choice for a huge percentage of role players who want a fantasy setting.

Well, that’s because Paizo is going some things well, and WOTC is doing some things very badly.

For starters Paizo is a much nicer company. Now I am talking company, not people in the company. I am sure people in WOTC are lovely, at least most of them. However Paizo is nicer as a company. They’re friendlier, more approachable from the media, way more communicative when there is an issue and, most importantly, they have a MUCH better formula to looking after their customers and community.

The Pathfinder Society is a much better way to support players than the multitude of websites, e-magazines and forums that WOTC has. It is also much better in involving people than the Encounters initiative.

For starters The Pathfinder Society takes cares of their people outside the USA and without the need for a shop. Encounter modules are difficult to find in the UK if you have a shop nearby. Impossible if you don’t (unless you want to pay a fair bit in eBay, of course).

Secondly the quality of the adventures is higher when is about Paizo. Yep… please do argue with that. I’d love to hear otherwise. If you don’t believe me, check the review of the Dark Sun Encounters adventure review I published a few months ago.

Thirdly, Paizo hasn’t change their policies and left people hanging. 4E started with a great balance of rule books, adventure books and accessories. Then the adventures begun to disappear, leaving people like me, as in people without time, without a good way to get ready to run adventures. I admit it, some of Paizo’s adventures do take a fair bit to prepare, but boy are they a joy to read!

So, has Wizards of the Coast (aka Hasbro) got it right? For sure. Is a terrific formula.

Has Paizo got it right? Absolutely, they’re improving the already invented wheel and it rolls very nicely.

Can they both co-exist? Yep… and I think they will for many years to come. Until Paizo takes over.

My predictions:

Paizo will continue to grow because they will continue to build real communities of real players with really good quality material. And they’ll grow a lot because:

Wizards of the Coast will continue to grow because they’ve created a product and a formula that will keep attracting new and young players to the table. However those players will grow up and will either grow out of the game because they find it too simplistic, or will grow into other games because they need more, thus falling into the gentle and nurturing arms of Paizo and many other companies.

However, as Paizo’s growth will continue steady but slow, WotC will plateau at some point. Also Paizo and Pathfinder will continue to grow outside the USA because of the support that Paizo offers to their community, while WotC will never bother with that because they make enough money as it is without putting the effort.

I don’t think D&D is going anywhere anytime soon. In fact I can see how it will remain for a very long time, but I can also see how the players who made it what it is today will probably shy away out of boredom or, simply, age (we aren’t getting any younger, guys and gals!). If the bosses at Hasbro change their tact and decide to take care and nurture their customers like Paizo does, then Paizo will have reasons to worry.

In the meantime, I predict a huge increase in the popularity of the game thanks to Kickstarter, which is a totally different article altogether.


2 Responses

  1. Age_Past says:

    I think you are so right. What WotC has done is market-ize the brand. By separating the game into many elements, such as: fights, minis, and books, they can bring people in from all sides. They also have vast capability to trap people inside with an array of products. The marketing approach brings people in and keep them there.

    DnD 3.5 and Pathfinder seem like basic and easy games, but to someone who has never played RPG, the rules are extremely difficult. By dumbing down the system, DnD 4th has allowed people to enter the system with less barriers.

    Pathfinder is getting people as they transition out of 3.5, and some of those same people are still playing DnD 4th. Also DnD 4th is gaining new fans plus the holdovers who will always play DnD.

  2. Endzeitgeist says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with your observations – however, I’d like to add that Paiz does another thing right Wizards is neglecting – 3pp-support. After 3.5 I thought the open gaming movement would be over – instead, we’ve seen a great surge of high-quality content and while there undoubtedly are some rotten eggs out there, the vast majority of products adheres to a much higher quality standard than just about any time of the 3.5-days of old.

    Paizo giving the 3pp’s spotlight on their site, talking to them, etc. also goes a long way towards generating goodwill by the gaming public.

    Just my additional 2 cents.

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