Monday, February 21, 2011

Wizards needs to take leadership.

Mike Mearls has an interesting column called Legends & Lore . In short the article is about how we are all playing D&D and how we have more in common then we have different. And that it is important to consider where we been while building the future. That throughout its history D&D shared common elements that has appeal to all fans of D&D regardless of edition.

I respect the effort that went into this column but I think it misses the point of the current situation. It boils down to that people want to play D&D with the rules of their choice. Not something like it, or something that feel like it, but with a particular set of rules.

If you want to appeal to fanbase X then you need to use those rules. Otherwise you just facing the same issue as any other RPG company with a new ruleset in building a fan community. The difference between today and 1991 is that we have the Open Gaming License and the d20 SRD. The fans are now in charge of their own destiny and the success of Paizo drives the point home.

So what can Wizards, or anybody owning the D&D brand can do?

In short by taking leadership on ALL editions of D&D. Acknowledge that nothing going change the fact that people are going to play and buy material for all editions of D&D. State that while that while most corporate dollars is going to go into support for the current edition, that older editions will be included in future plans. Creating events on the Internet and in the retail chain where fans of all editions can come together and play D&D regardless of edition.

In the past this would be problematic as the technology of print runs and distribution make supporting multiple game editions costly. But now that we are in the Age of Internet there are lot more choices available making it feasible to have your cake and eat it regardless of edition.

By taking leadership on ALL editions will not mean every D&D players would be playing the latest edition made by Wizards. But it will create a friendly atmosphere like the club, convention, or store where everybody trying all sorts of things at different time. That will make not only easier to sell the current list of product also may find ways of making money off of the older material. For example rulesets or subscriptions for the VTT software.

In one version of this post I had numerous specific suggestions but realized most of them been hashed over and over again. (Like pulling the older PDFs from sale). Posting them would have just obscured the main point, that Wizards own all D&D editions and have customers for all D&D editions. If they want out of their current predicament they need to step up and take advantage of that.

And if they don't others will under other names. (Pathfinder, OSRIC, Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, etc)


Jennie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

They own the rights to all editions of D&D, so not selling and providing some modest level of support (a forum? non edition specific material?) for the other editions seems like a lost opportunity.

Hopefully Mike's article is a signal that better things are to come.

Daddy Grognard said...

A by-product of your proposal would be (so I hope) the exposure to other, older iterations of D&D for those who are currently under the impression that the only game in town is 4e. I get the feeling that a lot of kids these days enter at 4e merely because it's all they seen when they walk into the LGS; if WotC actually controlled the re-release of the older stuff, they would be the ones benefitting from the increased retail interest. And yeah, the OSR would also benefit because suddenly we've got an influx (albeit not a massive one, but anything is good in a community where the average age is increasing daily) of new blood.

Before the revivified Dr Who burst onto our screens, you had to hunt high and low for DVDs (or videos) of the old episodes. Now, they are released almost weekly. The BBC was not scared of diluting the customer base for its new brand and neither should WotC be chary about broadening their sales profile.

As for whether anything is actually going to happen with WotC and the Mearls initiative, that remain to be seen. The injection of corporate dollars into the publicity for older editions is something I think that we can only dream of. But at least we dream.

Flynn said...

Considering the marketing issues that WOTC has suffered over the last few years, I'm not sure that Mearls' post is doing anything but setting WOTC up for a train wreck. I have no idea what lies ahead, or what WOTC's plan is going forward, but whatever it may be, I'd dare suggest that it won't go down as they plan. Their recent history promotes that belief, unfortunately. I wish it could be different, but WOTC has become a company that is sadly out of touch with its fanbase, and doesn't mind alienating a sizable portion of them as part of some overall plan that I cannot yet grasp.

More power to them, though, and I hope I'm wrong here.

With Regards,

Scott said...

@Flynn: Saying that WotC is sadly out of touch with its fan base is, frankly, off the mark. The guys at WotC hear ALL the complaints. They read message boards, they receive emails, they talk to players at conventions. Some of these complaints are ones they choose to address, and some are not. There is a section of the fanbase, however, that is never going to get what it's looking for because of a handful of very good reasons, and it's this segment that calls WotC "out-of-touch".

This couldn't be further from the truth. For the majority of their fanbase (read: satisfied 4e players), WotC is one of the most in-touch hobby stewards the world's ever seen. I realize that it's tempting to call someone you disagree with "out-of-touch", but that's the sort of thing politicians do because it sounds like a nice jab. The guys working at WotC definitely agree that it would be nice to be able to sell digital copies of previous edition material. But, for whatever reason, they can't do that right now. That doesn't make them out of touch, it just means they're constrained by the realities of business.

Anonymous said...

I doubt that we'll ever see a day when WotC supports older editions to the same degree that they do the current edition, simply because of that new player walking into a store - they don't want to confuse that person with too many different versions of the same thing. This is a problem that already existed with all of the 4e books, and that they tried to address with Essentials.

That said, I think it's entirely reasonable for them to support the older editions to which they own the rights with a more limited online or print-on-demand effort. If players are coming to them, asking to buy material for older editions, why not sell it to them? No need to put a big marketing push behind it - the customers are coming to them directly.

I don't think they'll divert support dollars from things like convention events or new programs from the current edition to the older editions of the game, but they could at least make the older materials available for purchase in some format (most likely POD) directly from their web site. And if they release future material in a way that has adaptation instructions for older editions, or make future tools like the Virtual Table edition-agnostic (as it seems they're trying to do a little bit), great!

I say all this as a 4e player. I like the current version of the game, but I completely respect that other people like other versions. If I owned a company that had customers coming to me, asking to buy a product to which I owned the rights, I would find a way to sell that product to those customers.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I thought you meant "wizards" as a class.

Never mind.

Scott said...

If this was a Facebook post, I'd click "Like"!

Anonymous said...

I do like the concillatory tone Mearls takes, I just hope that it is followed up with some actual changes in the way his company has acted towards some of their most loyal (former) customers. Allowing the PDFs of older editions to be bought would be an excellent start IMHO.

Actually supporting those older editions might be a stretch for them, but I think that if they can think outside the box they might see that there is a built-in fanbase for older editions that could bring them some good cashflow, as well as some much-needed healing amongst the gamersphere factions.

Tetsubo said...

Old grognard here. WotC has burned all the bridges as far as I am concerned. They can't do anything that would get me to return as a customer. I have migrated to Pathfinder completely. If they wanted a 'catholic' and inclusive business strategy, they wouldn't have gone down the marketing path that was the GSL and the 4E debacle. A day late, a dollar short and they can kiss my...