Sunday, February 3, 2019

Explain My Involvement Here

I didn’t get a straight answer for the question I asked in a comment yesterday, so I’m going to try writing a post.

Why is it that we as role-players feel it is an important part of our daily agenda as participants to ensure that having more people wanting to play the game will benefit the hobby?

Rob Schwarz wrote yesterday that his feeling is that a greater number of participants, “… will bring more money and visibility to the whole hobby. I think in general that would be a good thing.”

Again … how is that a good thing?

The National Football League was formed on August 20, 1920, to “raise the standard of professional football in every possible way, to eliminate bidding for players between rival clubs and to secure cooperation in the formation of schedules.” We can see this as a group of representatives from several teams saw inconsistencies regarding the number of games played, who played whom, how much players cost and inconsistencies in rankings, and decided the best thing would be to straighten all that out.

Or we can see this as entrepreneurs shoring up the money they were losing and seeking a way to make more.

WE CANNOT see this as an attempt to improve in any way the actual game of football. The game of football is not defined by money, or bidding or the formation of play schedules. The game of football exists entirely apart from all of that. The increase of MONEY and VISIBILITY has never done a thing for “football” and it never will.

Competition in professional football clubs DID create a motivation to create tactics like the flying wedge, which the NHL allowed in one form or another for 89 years following their intention to “raise the standard of professional football.” Tackling and blocking techniques that enabled catastrophic spine injuries were allowed to go on until the 1970s. Money football is utterly resistant against mountains of evidence regarding CTE. The history of football’s history of raising standards is loathsome to say the least.

None of which had any direct effect on the games I used to play with my friends … EXCEPT for those games where one of the participants embraced the fantasy that one day he would be allowed to play as a professional. Those guys were fucking death. That’s what money and visibility [fame] does to people.

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If there was more money and visibility given to Dungeons & Dragons or Role-playing, who would benefit from this “good thing”? We can already see the answer. The Twitch Channel and Legendary Entertainment, plus recent subsidiaries of LE, Nerdist Industries and Geek & Sundry, Inc., have all recently benefited from the money and visibility produced by the web series, Critical Role … which has resulted in a host of other online media providers to follow suit and gobble up the cash that is clearly there to be made. Has that done anything for the actual game that I, or you Dear Reader, play at your game table? Have you gotten really great ideas for your games from Critical Role’s content ~ that is, game ideas that weren’t out there already?

The Wizards of the Coast claims that somewhere between 8 and 15 million people played D&D in 2016 and that their sales increased 44% from 2016 to 2017. That’s certainly a big difference in money and visibility. I’ve been sitting here blogging and writing in the last 37 months … anyone notice any improvement in their game at their gaming table? Speak up, don’t be shy. Explain for me, please, how more money and visibility has improved the GAME in the last 37 months.

It has certainly been a “good thing” for the WOTC and the writers of modules and splat books. It has certainly made a difference in the lives of 44% more media artists who are grateful to the income they suddenly have, that wasn’t there in 2015. It has certainly increased the coffers of an industry bent on expanding the Adventurers’ League to game stores throughout the world, enabling more youngsters to play a game version that I don’t respect in a manner that is infantile, oppressive and bent directly in the direction of preserving the company’s sales.

But no, I don’t think my personal game has been improved.

So please, explain to me, what is MY motivation for ensuring that more people play D&D? What is MY motivation for creating content that is more easily accessible for people who haven’t played yet? What benefits will I personally get if Joe Schmough from Kokomo stumbles across my blog, reads the post I wrote on how to get started in D&D, then runs out and gets started? Tell me. Because I’m not seeing it.

On the other hand, I do see something very important in the agenda of ACTUALLY raising the standards of how D&D is PLAYED, rather than how it is sold. I think it is very important that players with experience are given the critical information they need on how to further expand and elaborate on the game experiences that their direct players can benefit from … rather than a bunch of people that these readers, here, will never meet and never run with.

I really think a lot of people haven’t taken very much time to really look at the supposed goodness of something that has NEVER shown to be good for the game … except for those who want to exploit it.

15 comments:

Lance Duncan said...

I see 2 main benefits of that might arise from more money/visibility invested in the game, though admittedly they don't benefit the actual game being played.

The first is an increase in the overall number of players, so that when a gamer moves to a new city it is easier for them to find a new group or new players.

Second, the game might not be looked down on as much. It could become a socially acceptable activity.

I'm not sure if these things would occur though, how popular was football before the NFL was formed? How much did the NFL actually influence the number of people who played and how they saw the sport? Wasn't it already popular? In comparison DND is never going to be as popular, a company can't make it so. And as you stated this wouldn't affect the actual game people play.

Frosty said...

Would you say the game has improved for that new 44% who went from playing no game at all to (I imagine) 5e? Even if you disdain the version they play, I suspect they couldn't care less.

So there is a net increase in "enjoyment of the game", whether you think they're playing with the toys wrong or not.

Charles A said...

The standard of anything rises as more people do it. How many people are as dedicated as you to raising the standards of D&D? Few, probably. I'm aware of one. So, we could say that Alexis-level commitment to D&D is about 1/15 million. If we had 150 million people playing D&D instead of 15 million, it stands to reason we would have ten people with your dedication and attitude.

I would say you would stand to benefit if there were nine other blogs out there like Tao of D&D, no?

From a sports analogy I'm more familiar with, the immense popularity of baseball has certainly raised the standards of the game. MLB baseball makes about 10Bn a year, and that money supports 30 MLB teams, each of which has a AAA, AA, A+, A, A-, rookie ball, and probably a Dominican affiliate.

That's 27 cities (NYC, Chicago, and LA each have 2 teams) where people can enjoy watching an MLB club, and 180 cities where people can watch a professional affiliate team. And let's say each of those affiliates have about 30 people on their rosters. That's ~5000 professional ball players employed by MLB honing their craft, not to mention the innumerable coaches, trainers helping them.

Baseball, perhaps more than any other sport, has an enormous skill differential between skilled amateurs and professionals at the highest level, and that's enabled by money, popularity, and visibility. Fans like me would absolutely not get the same benefits from 15 disorganized leagues all playing different rules without a centralized draft.

It's a long way from where we are to where MLB is, but to say any fluctuaton in popularity of the hobby is moot is going too far. If D&D were as popular as baseball, I think you'd see a lot of interesting and useful developments, if only from the increase in smart people thinking about the game.

For instance, all MLB teams employ statisticians and data scientists. Wouldn't it be interesting if we had dozens of people like that working on D&D?

Alexis Smolensk said...

And again, side-stepping the question, side-stepping the question.

I see it is like dogma. More people = good.

Lance, you at least say that there's a better chance that you'll find someone to play with you. Except that this also counts on your playing with someone who plays your kind of game, and not some version you wouldn't enjoy.

Frosty,

I appreciate the vigorous defense; but that wasn't my point. I'm not concerned with how people play. People can play any kind of game they want. But when they promote themselves as experts, telling OTHER people how to play, they also open themselves to appropriate, reasonable criticism.

I don't "disdain" the game they play. I think the experience these players COULD be having deserves to be better.

Alexis Smolensk said...

My last comment about side-stepping was written before seeing Charles A's response.

Charles,

Aptly put. However, I don't consider "watching" a sport to be participating. Do you believe that a higher percentage of youngsters and adults play baseball today because of the statistics you quote about the MLB and the various Minor Leagues? Because I don't.

If you will give me 1/100th of the money made by the affiliates of Critical Role, I will establish a small department in a minor university and turn out ninety other "Taos" ... each very independent and annoying ... within two or three years.

I think it's better to throw education at the problem rather than numbers.

Lance Duncan said...

yeah, I don't think a greater popularity will increase the quality of the game played, as you say education is key. Turning that education into improved gameplay is will be more difficult than these amateur 1 or 2 page introductions. I enjoy your 201 course, but as I have only been reading them casually they haven't really changed my game. The labs have really been the most helpful. If I were actually taking the course at a University I would dedicate more time, read the source material, and study the lessons. And if that was followed up by a weekly lab where we explored the theory discussed in class in an actual game format I have no doubt my game would improve dramatically.

As far as increased number of players, I find about 1/3rd of experienced players I meet tend to play in a manner I enjoy and would like to have them in a group I DM. Though most of those tend to be 10+ years older than me, so increasing the popularity of the game may not really affect that number, it might just increase the number of young people who play the game in a way I don't enjoy.

ViP said...

There is one marginal yet real benefit of this influx of new players : it confronts old-schoolers and purists with the evidence that the infantilism and commercialism of the current version actually appeals to the average nerd in proportions comparable to the first D&D fad of the 80s, and that very few of these new players spontaneously transition to the old-school style. If we were 16 now there is a good chance we would all be playing like that. Thus, it forces said old-schoolers to formulate what exactly is the best way to play and why - something you Alexis have been doing for years, but that every aging DM can benefit from.

Tedankhamen said...

Pearls before swine, Alexis.
The whole raison d'etre of the OSR was a step back from gaming as business. 5e is just another product line tailored to grognards and the uninitiated. If that gets more bums in gaming chairs, that is a virtue. The vice is that this occludes the fact that better gaming comes from putting in thought and work, not buying the latest book.

Charles A said...

I would agree "watching" isn't exactly participating, but I do think more people play baseball/softball because of it. I know I do - there's a feedback loop between playing amateur ball and watching the pros. Many young people (mostly in America) play high school baseball in the hopes of college scholarships and MLB draft picks, and would instead play football or something else if the MLB infrastructure didn't exist.

In any case, your point re: establishing a department and turning out "Taos" is right on the money, and I think is actually close to the point I was trying and failing to make, which is with enough popularity, intensive training becomes economical (i.e. MLB supports thousands of minor-league players honing their craft, college ball programs, high school ball programs).

If 150 million people played D&D instead of 15 million, opening a department of RPG studies would be an easier sell to a university, no?

Tyler said...

The biggest benefit an individual gets from having more competition is more choice. Compare the video game industry over the past 40 years. What began with a small selection of games has gradually built into an overwhelming number of options. The competition drove that. Whether or not the games are good is irrelevant.

When looking at tabletop RPGs, the selection is limited. If you desire a change of perspective or a new style of play, you may find the options lacking. I sure do. I propose that more money and popularity would drive more designs and diversity, generating more choices for individuals.

Alan Peery said...

Yes, the growth of D&D overall provides possible benefits, and has benefited me.

1) It makes the chance for finding replacement players higher if (now when) life knocks out one from my current group.
2) It makes it more likely that I'll be able to find a second set of players if I decide I can game another night of the week.
3) It has provided a revenue stream to Roll20 and similar franchises, and the distance gaming this enables has been significant in spinning up a gaming revival with distant friends.
4) There are many additional modules being published on places like drivethrurpg.com, and these authors will better rewarded with a larger audience.
5) Shows like Critical Role have provided source material to a game I play in -- the GM simply said "Don't watch this campaign".

JB said...

@ Alexis:

You sound a bit like grumpy Baseball Guy in this post. “The shift is ruining the sport! ‘Sabre metrics?!’ Gah! You kids can’t grok the purity of the game!” This from the guy who makes ME feel like a Luddite for not using a computer at my gaming table.
; )

I get where you’re coming from. You’ve aptly illustrated the point in the past: we don’t need the support of the company. We have all the tools we need to play (a couple books, some dice), and now it’s all about refining that play by adding our own mental sweat and elbow grease. As we grow with the game, we diverge from the thing as written anyway (to best suit our needs and those of our table). The rest of the world can go to hell at that point!

Except that...well, back to the analogies for a moment. Sports have a benefit to society, much more than economic. Yes, they provide some fitness to youth players, but more than that, sports have the power to unite people in a way few things do. You may hate my politics, my religion, the color of my skin, whatever, but rooting for the same team helps us get together for the brief span of the game we’re attending, and get on the same wavelength. Professional sport franchises are a mark of civic pride, they galvanize fans, they unite communities, and they help bring people together in a way few things do...and generally with a lot less pain and suffering than, say, wars and natural disasters.

And while I don’t believe gaming would, could, or should reach that level of pro sports, you can play D&D long after your bad back and shot knees preclude you from participating in sport...and it has a similar ability of generating empathy and understanding between different folks who might not otherwise be willing to interact with each other. Which, you know, makes for a better world and all that.

Growing the hobby, or its presence, or its credibility may not directly contribute to MY game, but I see a constructive benefit to having it out in the world. Anything that brings people together and makes them interact in a cooperative manner, face-to-face, is a blessing in our current times.

And for young people it helps exercise their minds and imagination.
: )

Alexis Smolensk said...

Mmmph. Grumpy.

Be that as it may, sports have tended to keep some integrity JB. Need I remind you of your own visceral response last night regarding the present 5 y.o. incarnation of the game's exercising of minds and imagination?

JB said...

@ Alexis:

Of course not. That's why what YOU are doing here matters, man: you're bringing the level of discourse up. And by generously sharing your thoughts on D&D (instead of just keeping it to your own table), you're helping your readers improve the quality of their games...which, hopefully, will help retain players and spread the good word, yeah?

Just keep doing what you're doing. Right now, it's enough.

Johnny F. Normal said...

Growing the game is largely irrelevant. Unless you are the corporation that must reward it's shareholders or you see a payday.
"Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash"
To be blunt. I don't, haven't and will not ever give a fuck who or how many lumps enjoy any of my hobbies. I just don't care if the world at large agrees with me and am not inclined to trying to win anyone over.
"Don't give me that do goody good bullshit"
There are lots of disingenuous folks out there making claim to the importance of growing the game, they are agents of cancer whom only dress as saints.
"It's no surprise that they're giving none away"
Perhaps, my disdain arises from always playing in a home with 'vetted' co-conspirators.
Growth is the bane of human society, its done out of greed not to stave of extinction.
"Money, so they say is the root of all evil today"