Wednesday, July 15, 2009

An Industry of Doom. Maybe...

James Mishler has a lot of experience in the RPG Industry. He gives his admittedly pessimistic view here . I wish a lot of the things he says isn't true but unfortunately he is accurate on how the RPG Industry has a lot of pressure on it.

However I don't agree with the pessimism or agree that it is becoming a zero sum game between publishers.

Quality sells. If you do it right the first time then you will be able to exploit the opportunities that come. Now what do you do and what is right can be hard to figure out. Microsoft rarely made great software the first time out. What they did right was the business side of software. So when IBM came looking for a Operating System Microsoft was ready and Gary Kildall of Digital Research (their CP/M was the leading OS of the day) was too busy flying his plane.

James over at Lamentation of a Flame Princess is blogging about everything he doing to become a professional publisher. I don't know whether he will succeed or not. But if an opportunity comes he looks like he has the passion, creativity and organization to take advantage of it.

But will those opportunities come? That is the big if.

Now I believe that the original D&D fad, and the later 3.0 explosion are once in a generation events. That do one outside of whoever own D&D is not likely to be able to reshape the industry. But then there are the Black Swans.

For a long time Europeans believed that Black Swans were impossible. At the height of the Age of Exploration on different continents all they found where white swans. But then they reached Australia and found the impossible, a species of black swans. A Black Swan is an unexpected event that totally reshapes everything that goes on after. Most of human history consists of series of Black Swans. This gets obscured because of historians applying hindsight.

An example of a Black Swan is the advent of Magic the Gathering. In 1990 who would have thought that CARD games would have been more dominate than RPGs by 2000. My own Black Swan came when I discovered not just one but three groups of high school kids playing NERO Live-Action in Northwest PA. Not just playing a little but in a highly organized manner. I was able to work with them and formed a full NERO chapter that went strong for a number of years. I was able to do this because two year priors I decided to learn how to run events in Pittsburgh NERO chapters (PRO). I had a good reputation and was able to take advantage of the opportunity.

The thing about Black Swans is that you can't control when they happen. The other things is that the form they take by definition is unexpected. So while it your work in RPGs that allows you to take advantage of it, the subsequent direction could be completely different. Much like Wizard of the The Coast shifting to a RPG company to a Card game company.

Because for many of us RPGs are a hobby, even when doing it professionally, the day will come when we have to turn aside to do other things. Until that day comes I will be doing what I can to make the best damn products I can make and just maybe I will catch another Black Swan.


Ken Hart said...

I agree with your view that it doesn't have to be a zero-sum game. If a product is good enough and if it addresses a void/need in the marketplace, then people will buy it. Granted, those purchases won't reach 1999-2001 sales levels -- discretionary spending has been hurt badly by the recession -- but it'll get noticed. But again, it has to address a need; in an economy like today's, a terrific product will get ignored if there's already another great product that offers the same thing.

I like the Black Swan example you describe. While James makes excellent points, I don't agree with his conclusion that there will never, ever be another "boom" for D&D. I remember quite well the period around 1995-98, when Magic and other card games were the wave of the future and how their rise meant the end of RPGs. All that was needed was a company with vision and resources (ironically the creator of Magic) to spin a version of D&D for a new generation.

JB said...

Very hopeful. I remember thinking that role-playing had died out completely when even "the geeks" at my high school had stopped playing (around 1991-1992)...even keeping alive a "small flame" with some close friends seemed doomed until my second year of college (1993) when I found a whole new vein of gaming to mine. It's cyclical, man...I'm guessing the next small peak will be around 2013.

Gothridge Manor said...

I was going to write a comment, but it turned into a blog.

Anonymous said...

"Quality sells = TRUE" does not mean "Zero-Sum = FALSE"

Quality will sell. It will sell to people who spend their money on Item A (because they perceive it to be high quality) instead of Item B. The producer of Item A makes money that won't go to the producer of Item B.

Keith S said...

I've got to agree with you Rob. I'm not arguing the point that publishers have it rough right now. The whole print industry is feeling the effects of the transition to digital.

As you've said though, if someone comes up with a killer concept, it will sell. Whether it is a truly unique game mechanic, or a well-thought out world concept that is system independent.

Think of it as an OS-independent piece of software. Web-based apps and tools. How would you like to see a complete world concept, with web-based character- and monster-building tools to access a library of world-specific content? With the option to customize it of course.

I think WotC are exploring something like this (albeit tied to their 4e system.) What I'm really jonesing for is some truly epic, quality content: mythology, monsters, etc. All the elements of a great novel, but formatted for gaming.

I think that's the sort of thing that would get people up and buying.

Robert Conley said...

instead of Item B.

Unless of course they are not in the habit of buying Item B. The problem is more that most gamers don't buy ANY items regularly. Appeal to them then you expand without having to cannibalize other publishers sales.

Plus there are other factor such as what systems do you support, what genre you write for and so on.

In short it is not as simple as James Mishler puts it.

Anonymous said...

Sure, someone that wasn't going to buy anything decides to buy Item A because of it's quality. Very possible, maybe even very likely.

My point was just that "quality sells" does not disprove the idea that writing for RPGs is a zero-sum game. One is not directly linked with the other.

I, too, wonder if Mishler's post is a bit pessimistic. I hope so.