Thursday, September 11, 2014

Video - Tabletop RPGs, Prisoners of Modern Capitalism (Among Other Things)

This is a Video hosted on YouTube.

Comments on YouTube lead me to add the following:
1) "Collapse" doesn't mean it's gone entirely, just that it's much less than it was 
2) it actually happened several years ago, with no sign of recovery 
3) Suspicion of Simplicity refers to RPGdom, not gaming at large where simplicity is a keyword these days.

Slide text (If you only read this text and don't listen to the screencast, you won't know what I said.  If you comment based only on the text, you'll be like someone who reads a detailed table of contents for a book and then comments as though he read the book.)

 Three parts to this “imprisonment”
First, the economic need to constantly produce more rules
Second, oversaturation has set in
Third, “crowd-sourcing” changes things
Together, they’ve made the RPG market very difficult for all but the largest publishers, or for small PDF specialists
The “More” Dichotomy
To produce a really good, broadly popular RPG, you need to do what all games are doing: get shorter and simpler
Avoid “crunchiness” (rules that are barriers to entry, such as long character creation)
People who play tabletop RPGs frequently do so for social reasons.  The hard core can play complex computer RPGs (Skyrim) and MMOs (WoW etc.)
But to continue making money from a tabletop RPGs, you need to keep adding rules, settings, adventures
Unfortunately, settings and adventures from other games can be adapted to yours
So additional rules that apply directly to your game are published by the boatload
That’s the first problem

The multiplying rules problem
As rules are added, the simplicity (and maybe quick play) are lost
Play balance is often ruined, as well
All of this discourages new players rather than attracts them
E.g., 3e D&D often became a contest to find the set of additional rules for your character that most imbalanced the game
To me, the apparent object of the game is to show off, to be a “one-man army”
Which DIScourages cooperation
Not interesting at all.  I want a cooperative game, not a “ME” game
Which is true for many other people, I think

Suspicion of Simplicity
Is it part of the nature of the Triumph of Capitalism that people are suspicious of something that's simple?
If modern consumers can’t see the result of effort, then for them the effort doesn’t exist
In effect, game designers are sometimes substituting complexity for substance
But that’s easy to do.  Simplifying is harder

Simplicity as a Goal for Game Designers
My motto: "A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."  (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
Another form, about Japanese gardening actually, is "Your garden is not complete until there is nothing else that you can remove."
If you’re making a puzzle, complexity might be a goal; not for a game

Economics defeats Game Design
So economics is lined up against good game design, and for WotC, at least, economics triumphs in the end
The game gets unwieldy, and finally they replace it with the next edition
But with 4e they made it so different, it didn’t seem to be connected to previous editions; that let Pathfinder (revised 3.5e) overtake and pass 4e in sales!

That’s the first problem, what’s next?  Saturation (or, if you prefer, over-saturation) of the market, and Crowdsourcing

The Weight of Years - Saturation
As time passes, veteran RPGers have more and more accumulated settings and adventures that can be adapted to newer role-playing games
And so, less and less incentive to buy more settings and more adventures
More and more older material is available in cheap PDF format (such as Gygax’s Giants adventures)
So why buy new ones?
Lots of people (like me) who play RPGs don’t buy anything new
The result: it’s harder to sell professionally-priced settings and adventures
Which leaves us with more rules . . .

Crowdsourcing: competition from “the crowd” online
Which has severely impacted the stock photography business, for example
In RPGs we have competition from amateurs and semi-professionals via online distribution
There are hundreds of fanboys and fangirls who just want people to see their stuff, so they give it away, or nearly so
And the fan stuff may be better playtested than the professional stuff
Professionals sometimes cannot take time to playtest

Semi-pro verus Pro
People who wrote RPG material freelance used to be paid royalties and retain ownership, now it’s all “work for hire” at dire rates (2 cents a word, 5 cents if you’re really good)
2 cents a word was a high rate in the pulp era (1930s), but that was equivalent to 30-odd cents now
At current rates, you have little incentive to spend much time playtesting your material, or even to take much care in the writing
The result: there’s lots and lots of cheap material out there as good, or nearly as good, as the professional stuff
So why would a smart person pay professional prices?

The "Collapse"
So we have lots of players, but not much of a market
Many aren’t looking for new, especially professional, material
Add to this the competition from computer RPGs
Unfortunately, tabletop RPGs require imagination and thinking, while computer RPGs require much less of both.  In a way we're doomed by the "Easy Button"
Result: the market for tabletop RPG material “collapsed” years ago
Companies that formerly published successful RPG material wouldn’t touch it now
So the bottom has fallen out of the fully professional RPG market, with no prospect that it will ever return - because saturation and crowdsourcing are here to stay

Current State
People at GenCon who give talks about RPGs say an independent is lucky to sell a thousand copies of a book, usually less.  That cannot keep larger companies going, though we can suppose their marketing power would sell more than a thousand
Ask yourself how much you buy, compared to years ago (and recall that you're exceptional).  I buy hardly anything, and don't have time to read what I've got
The biggest companies can still prosper, of course

Some new companies (such as Kobold – founded by a former WotC person) succeed enough to provide a living, but most do not.  And we continue to be doomed to a cycle of more rules until the edifice falls down and a new edition results.