Friday, November 14, 2014

Purchasing Disinterest

Last night, while searching for a name, I came across one of those typical long discourses about this edition versus that edition.   This one dated back to 2012, two years before the actual release of 5e.  I found myself reading it all the way through . . . not from interest regarding the subject, but from the point of view of a time traveller looking into the past.

It tweaked my funny bone somewhat that the conversation included two people that have been universally banned from this blog - for hijacking.  But that's really not important.

If you take the time to read the exchange, you'll note that everyone is so sure.  So sure in their facts, so sure in their predictions - and so very, very sure in their assessment of words like 'toxic' or 'business model.'  We have - all of us it seems - perfect knowledge of the goings-on behind closed doors in the WOTC or TSR.  We also appear to have perfect knowledge of the number of sales compared to the number of happy customers - in that we are assuming that IF someone has purchased something, it clearly means that something was a 'successful' purchase.

Well, never mind all that.  I could probably find the exact same conversation going on today.

I am on record as hating the WOTC and considering the RD department thereof - and specifically Mr. Mearls - as a group of corporate bootlicks with gritty, muck-caked tongues.  Admittedly, however, this is only my perception, based upon the word choices Mearls and others make when starting sentences, continuing sentences and then ultimately ending sentences.  In fact, they may all be very nice people.  I wouldn't know.  I wouldn't cross the street to meet one of them.

However, this is not a rant about the WOTC.  This is not a rant about anything.

I think we do ourselves a disservice as a community when we speak of things like 'sales' or corporate agendas as having anything to do with the game.  I find it distressing to read that there are people online who think of AD&D as 'dead' because the WOTC sales for an AD&D re-release were not as robust as perhaps that company hoped.  I find the argument fails on all kinds of levels . . . mostly in that it completely belies the behaviour of actual players.

For example - the readers here are well aware that I run a Frankenstein's monster of an AD&D campaign, with additional eyeballs and unrecognisable limbs sticking out in absurd places.  Most of the readers here, no doubt, do not run AD&D, they do not play AD&D and for the most part they have little or no respect for AD&D.

And yet, I think I can say with reasonable fairness that most of the regular readers here would be willing to play in MY AD&D campaign.

Not because I'm special, or even because my world is special, but because - and I feel strongly about this - the majority of people simply prefer to play in a good campaign, whatever the rules.

The worst part of D&D, or any role-playing game, is not the system.  That has simply become the stand-in explanation because the factual truth is difficult - perhaps impossible - to manage.  It comes down to this:  some people are good at DMing; and some people are not.

Most of you would play in my world because you feel, after my running for 35 years, I'd be competent enough to offer you a good, steady, consistent game with minimal nonsense and crap.  This continues to be a rare thing.  It will always be rare - because it takes time to make the mistakes and learn how to deal with the flow of information that will make running the game well a possibility.  Moreover, it isn't just that the person has to have years of experience - it is that those have to be good years, with good players, the kind that do not cocksuck the DM's ego, in turn eliminating any need for improvement, ever.

For most of you, if you could find a DM like this, you would not give a rat's crap in a bugbear's porridge what edition was being played.  You'd adapt.  You'd make it work.

The absurd weakness in counting sales as evidence of success is that it eliminates the possibility that an experienced, able DM no longer needs to buy anything in order to continue their steady week-by-week campaign.  Role-playing doesn't work like the video-game market.  People who purchase video games get bored of them.  They complete the adventure - maybe twice or three times - or they master all the skills the video game can offer and become hungry for something new.  The market can measure its success by sales because it knows that a significant percentage of the market is, every day, using up some foregoing product's potential.

Role-playing isn't like this.  There are only certain types of people who buy new role-playing games:

I. There are those who think the game is all about the system, who cannot seem to make any system work and so they are eternally on the hunt for the magic system that will finally create the magic world they think magically results from rolling dice on the right magical tables. These people have never been able to reconcile that the successful game does not exist in the structure, but in the function - and having never had a clear idea of what function is or what function they'd like to implement, they opt for what they can understand: a different structure.

II. There are those who have never played any game before.  They're buying 4e or 5e because this is what is in the stores, this is what all their 13-year-old friends are playing and this is what the local in-store posters says they should buy.  They're very reasonably reaching out for the first thing they see.  Unfortunately for the game company, there's no rhyme nor reason from which the demand emerges; most people who play role-playing come to the game from word-of-mouth. Advertising is spotty and confusing at best, never gets into the mainstream and thus the newcomers can never be truly 'grown' with certainty.  Thus, year to year, the number of noobs buying a particular edition can never be used as a measurement - from a marketing standpoint - against other years.

III. There are those who are simply fascinated with game design.  They have no particular interest in becoming good at any of the games they buy, they simply love digging through this or that particular game to see how the designers 'did it.'  Thus these people buy game after game in order to satisfy a hobby that has very little to do with actual running or sessions.  It is an academic exercise for them.  Most often, when these people do run, they are so unhappy with how they themselves have chosen to handle a particular aspect of the game that they are forever changing things - or tearing down the campaign altogether so they can begin again.  They don't really care to game - but they love to design.

IV. Finally, there are the collectors.  They're buying everything and anything just because.  Many of them don't even crack the spines or remove the plastic.  In fact, not removing the plastic is the sign of a true believer.

All four types drive sales.  All four are measured and counted upon by the 'business model' because for a company, sales are more important than use.  Who cares what the use of the game is, so long as the gamer keeps buying?

There are tens of thousands of players, however, that are not buying.  Who may never buy anything again, ever.  Why would they ever need to?  The books don't wear out easily.  When they do, another copy can be picked up at any decent used book store or on ebay - sources the company cannot track. Everyone, including the companies, know this.  It isn't important to them; it does matter to us.

Our investment can't be measured in sales.  It is measured in hours.  For those people who say 'D&D is dead,' I counter that I spoke to hundreds of people just a little more than two months ago who enthused wildly about D&D and its continued importance in their lives.

I doubt that altogether those people purchased more than fifty products this year.


VeronaKid said...

"I think we do ourselves a disservice as a community when we speak of things like 'sales' or corporate agendas as having anything to do with the game."

This, this, a thousand times this. Although I am incredibly guilty of being example #3 in your list of people driving sales (the guy so fascinated with game design that he will continue to buy new editions even though he knows it won't measure up with older ones), one thing that all that academic research has taught me is that it isn't the rules- it's the players you find. It's as simple as that. Find some friends, use whatever ruleset works for you, and the game will persist. Focus too much on editions and rulesets, etc. and you lose the forest for the trees.

As usual, a very eloquent post Alexis on a topic that will never, ever go away. Thank you.

Oddbit said...

3 Does apply to me.

I like to see how they treated X, see if they improved...

I guess it would probably save me money if I could just find a library that stocked the latest gaming books.

I wonder if I could save some other folks' funds if I donated my old ones.

Alexis Smolensk said...

See, that sounds like a cognitive surplus necessity. A planned project that is specifically designed to enable persons to educate themselves regarding systems that they may wish or not wish to play with. Of course, this breaks every code of conduct demanded by copyright, where the company controls the scarcity of the product by not allowing the product to be seen or examined until it is actually purchased.

Of course, any person who has looked at enough of this 'designed' material begins to recognize the reuse of designs, since that reuse can be hidden by the releasing company for its resale to you, the purchaser - hidden specifically so that they can force you to technically buy infomedia you already own.

So, without breaking the copyright law, the cognitive surplus needs to be applied to allowing EVERYONE who has ever bought such a product to express their opinions in such a manner that patterns can be identified and made known to the user BEFORE the product is bought. BoardgameGeek sort of did this, in that he expressed his opinion on hundreds of games, but the site was largely one-way and not expressive in the way that present day cognitive surplus sites can be set up.

If only there was a computer programmer who understood the desire to buy designed games for design purposes to set up a site of that nature!

JB said...

: )

Now THAT's a little hard reality for your fantasy!

Scott Driver said...

I'm what could reasonably be described as an accomplished competitive Magic: the Gathering player, to varying degrees based on current spare time and motivation. My understanding, from ex-pro semi-local MtG players, now in WotC employ, is that WotC still exists as a division of Hasbro because the CCG is a fantastically lucrative enterprise.

MtG product moves at a nearly exponential level above the most optimistic projections for any possible iteration of D&D. Obviously if base D&D sales spiked, it wouldn't be literally exponential, but it almost is right now. There is no conceivable scenario in which the D&D core rules and splats are a drop in the bucket compared to MtG. *One* local draft pod is clearing more money than the sale of a hardback, not even bringing in the HUGE secondary singles market.

So I suspect the D&D "developers" are at this point permitted to do whatever the fuck because why not shoot the moon? And I don't think carte blanche in a corp setting is quite the same as in a hobbyist-cum-proprietor context.

It's a weird bastard of corporate interest and the nominal authors' attention to "beta" testing, which is a thinly veiled way of saying "focus groups."

Nothing of possible real interest to you or the people likely to be interested in your blog. (Of which I'm one, mainly the polemic posts.) No idea why y'all would even pay attention to it. I don't.

Alexis Smolensk said...


I work in a branch of a $30 billion company that has an annual revenue of $1.8 million.

Strangely, no one where I work has any conception that every single dollar of the piddling money we earn compared to the rest of the company isn't SERIOUSLY important.

I find it difficult to believe that Hasbro feels any other way.

Andre S said...

"For example - the readers here are well aware that I run a Frankenstein's monster of an AD&D campaign, with additional eyeballs and unrecognisable limbs sticking out in absurd places. Most of the readers here, no doubt, do not run AD&D, they do not play AD&D and for the most part they have little or no respect for AD&D.

And yet, I think I can say with reasonable fairness that most of the regular readers here would be willing to play in MY AD&D campaign."

(applauds)...I could be wrong but... given the comments you've made before about having entire parts of the campaign world as yet unexplored by players (which means you've put a TON of work into the campaign world in terms of the sheer amount of detail - and kudos for that you are a rare hard to find GM and a treasure :) ) .. I think that, while the rules are important to you, in the end they're just a means to an end..a way to immerse people in the story, to make them forget they're sitting around a table feel like they're actually IN the scenario you're describing... and once you can do that, quite honestly (I know I know there are people who will consider what I'm about to say next heresy :P ) .. the rules become of secondary importance ;) ..

Rudy Ralishaz said...

First of all I love your commenting rules, practical and pointed. I am that representative of that group that almost never buys “new” products. I’ve been running 2nd edition campaigns since the 90’s at a steady rate. I’ll usually buy the core rulebooks of a new set out of a mix of curiosity/wanting to keep them in business but that’s usually about all on the primary market. I continually grow my “old” books collection on the secondary market and I agree whole heartedly that the real measure of D&D is in the hour investment not the money investment. Maybe someday this game will no longer be feasible as a moneymaking venture (though I’m very skeptical of that) but D&D will never die, of that I am certain