Monday, June 20, 2011

Here I Am Right Now

Of late, I have been having a crisis of conscience.  Having my general view of the community, and watching the nonsense surrounding Raggi's latest venture, I am loathe myself to monetize my hobby, even if the concept of my Conflict! interactive system is worth real money.  I am experiencing a fairly common artistic emotion at present, that emotion that comes with being uncertain of the value of one's work, or even the interest in one's work.  Having conceived of the game system five months ago, I am now unconvinced that it is everything I believed it was when I first conceived of it.

In the first place, it did come together more or less as I imagined it would.  I structured the rules, I worked out the cards, I printed the cards and I began play-testing.  The play-tests went wonderfully and the few problems were resolved easily by simply eliminating things that were unnecessarily complicated.  I sat down to write out the rules and to put together the art for the production.

Unfortunately, I have come across something unforeseen.  The system was designed to resolve the mechanical problem of conflicts between players and non-player characters, so that the judgement call that usually fell on the DM's shoulders would be given defined limits.  Yes, the DM would still have to make a call on how an opponent responded to a particular argument or proposal by a player, but that call could not have the opponent react negatively when the system clearly dictated that the response would have to be a positive one.

Strangely, however, I am not certain this was ever a problem that I really needed to be solved.

I have been playing the last two months without the cards - a sort of alternative gametesting - and I am not feeling that my game is lacking, now that I have played both with and without.  Perhaps it is the players I play with ... they are not the sort who go out of their way to interact with others in my world, despite my attempts to instigate interactions.  They will typically ignore anyone who isn't dangerous, and they will typically listen to anyone - respectfully - who is willing to parlay and who clearly is dangerous.  It doesn't seem to occur to my party to attempt to bend anyone else's actions to the party's will by discourse, so if we don't play with the Conflict! system, we don't really miss the Conflict! system.

So I am out of sorts.  On the one hand, I don't feel I want to spend the next three years organizing games using this system, attending various conventions talking to people I'm not going to like, selling something I don't feel I need to use myself, in order to have myself identified 'til gawd knows when with this system.  And on the other hand, I'm not convinced any longer that the game really needs this system in the first place.  Perhaps the arguments between DMs and Players don't need a system to define limits - perhaps it's only that DMs have to stop "playing" and Players have to stop trying to get more than they deserve by "DMing."

I don't know.  My inclination at the moment is to talk to some people about this, hear some advice and quite probably just lay out the whole system here in the next couple of weeks.  This would get the monkey off my back and I could go back to trying to sell my books (hopeless project that that has been) like I ought to.  I am thinking I should make a quick edit of my latest novel and go the rounds again with publishers.  Right now, that feels like a better career path that selling cards to squawking children who are offended at nasty pictures.  Even if the latter is potentially worth a lot of money.

That's where I am at the moment.  I suppose if I decide to go forward, I'll have to delete this post and pretend I never wrote it.  But at least no one can accuse me of not being straightforward, open, vulnerable and self-explicit about my intentions, my commitment to this game and my life.

11 comments:

scottsz said...

Alexis,

For what it's worth, I don't believe LotFP's commercial status was the core issue at all. I believe the perception of a monolithic 'community standard' is really what was out of joint in the original posts. Greg's posting of GenCon's 'standards', however, were on topic for the specific context of a game convention (and were pretty eye opening in how 'buttoned up' and specific they were).

Recent developments should not dissuade you from putting your idea up as a commercial product.

Zzarchov said...

A prof once told me during my business courses that you need to be able to distance your emotions from your business or its a death trap. If something is really a business you can't care if the customer is a bunch of whining kids or nuns. You can't care if something is your magnum opus, a three generation family business or anything else. Invest if it has a good chance at returning on those investments and sell if that makes the most sense. If that can't be done then I would sell them as an afterthought and use them primarily as a gift.


As for the concept of Conflict! cards. That requires some changes to game mechanics to make it a better overall choice. I will use an example in modern Computer RPG logic versus Computer FPS in regards to a tactical situation (bear with me, this is the best example I could think of on my lunch).

Situation: Two groups of enemies (say zombies and a group of assassins out for your head) are up ahead battling it out. How will players react?

CRPG: Rush in and try to kill both sides, drawing attention to yourself (unless either party is so devastating to be overwhelming).

FPS: Sit back and pick on the survivor, or if you have a silenced weapon, snipe at whichever side is winning at any given moment to let them grind themselves out.

Why? In an FPS you don't gain any benefit for slaying them yourself, combat expends resources and you gain the same spoils (ammo) regardless of who kills your opponent.

In a CRPG you only gain the experience points if you kill the opponent (and often these "grind" events are only there to give you XP to make the "boss" battle easier). This makes it a race to slaughter both sides before they slaughter each other. Combat is a method to mine resources, not an expenditure of resources.

While both set of mechanics may be stupid, they are what they are and they influence player behaviour to match. Both may have deep, detailed and compelling stories but once people start playing, they always end up working the mechanics, sometimes without thinking about it.

If you went to a D&D game and took away the combat rules, or made them really boring (and could still get a group to come together and play) people will naturally downplay combat.

This is anecdotal evidence mind you. When I added in a social conflict system, the amount of it present began growing steadily. When I took a similar approach to stealth it also grew in prominence. It is a WIP as I tweak each aspect, not to make any individual one less prominent but to give more options for how to solve a problem. Kill a guard? Sneak past a guard? Bluff/Bribe the guard? But if I took one option out players wouldn't notice too much, they just would look at their remaining two options as the only two "real options".

My unedited 2c.

Alexis said...

Zzarchov,

Your prof isn't wrong, but if what I wanted out of my life was to sell products heartlessly to people I had no interest in, I'd be taking this strong, passionate personality and using it to sell very expensive cars to dumb rich people.

I am not in the least unhappy with the system I've designed, or the solution it provides. On the other hand, if I invented a brilliant automatic drain spout cleaner, it wouldn't be of much use if drain spouts were unnecessary.

Wickedmurph said...

Well, another option is to find a partner who is good at talking to people he may or may not like, and doesn't mind being identified with the system. There is no particular reason that the creator/designer also has to be the seller/face of the product - in fact, in most industries, you aren't both things.

Me, I'd team up at this stage - you keep working on the game/system and let another body do the travelling, selling and playing. It's a risk for both of you - the community might decide that there isn't a need for the system... but if you think it's good, let the gamers decide.

E.G.Palmer said...

Could you sever the card game from the RPG and turn it into a stand-alone game?
There always seems to be an audience for card games.

I used to sell expensive things to rich people who couldn't really appreciate them, but then, so does everyone who produces things of quality.

Alexis said...

Not the life I want, E.G.

James C. said...

It looks like Blogger ate my response, so I apologize if this is a repeat. I don't know if there's a market or not but selfishly I want you to release Conflict! so I can use it. Lacking that, I'll keep tinkering with my own IMech that I've blogged about. So far its been fun and the players have enjoyed it but there are limitations to it that I'm not satisfied with. I was hoping you'd save me the work of sorting them out.

ckutalik said...

Perhaps anyone who creates something and asks themselves honest, tough questions about the project goals and intended audience goes through the same questioning process. I have found myself that it can be a tough call between figuring out when I am objectively at a point when the cost truly outweighs the benefit and when I am just self-sabotaging by throwing up doubts.

On IMech in particular, my outsider two cents say that what you are doing seems sufficiently outside the box to be worth completing—even if it's in a form a few notches less formal than what you set out originally to do.

I don't know enough (and frankly don't care much) about the market in our niche hobby to know if the polished, card-focused product is worth pushing on however.

Personally, I've been intrigued enough by the matching blog content that I would pony up for it, but I get the feeling that I am not exactly a representative sample of the average gamer.

Adam Thornton said...

Ah. Welcome to the world of post-Internet publishing.

This one's easy for me and my hobbies: I have a day job. It pays well. The amount of money I could make from trying to sell the stuff I do for any of my hobbies is so much less than The Man pays me for my commercially viable talent (I mean, even if my hobbyist really was all that good and even if it was, by OSR standards, wildly popular) that, pretty much, I write the hobby stuff for the fun of it and give it away.

I would like to know people are enjoying it (and giving it away free certainly is a lower barrier to entry than even a tiny price tag), and the maximum possible money I'd make from it is paltry enough that I'd rather have people playing with it and have the freedom to say, "you don't like it? I'll give you your money back, then, and P.S. eff off," than have to treat them as valued customers and provide actual long-term support for the things I produce.

Your mileage, of course, may vary. If you do have it commercially produced, I'm probably going to buy a copy whatever the cost, because it sounds cool, I like giving money to interesting OSR products, and I am not all that price-sensitive--I have more money than time at this point in my life--but I don't know that I'm typical of your readership.

Carl said...

"And on the other hand, I'm not convinced any longer that the game really needs this system in the first place."

That never stopped TSR or Wizards. The only criteria they had for putting out a product was whether or not someone would buy it. I'm more than 50% certain that someone is going to want to buy this system. Brokering role-play interactions is a gaping hole in the game. Just because you've figured out a work-around for it doesn't mean others have.

DaveL said...

Please don't allow the Raggi inspired tempest in a teacup dissuade you from doing something you want to do. I believe much of it was premeditated on the part of certain bloggers, and it's effect on the blogosphere was far above and beyond anything they could have imagined. We are a small group of hobbyists. The last thing we need is something else to divide us further. What I'm saying is, damn' the torpedoes, full speed ahead!