Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Don't Believe Everything You Read

Oh god, here we go again.

I wonder if D&D players will ever get over their night sweats about the supposed, ever-impending collapse of their hobby, or alternately its ever-impending slow, plodding death, which was already supposed to have occurred fifty times already and at least 25 years ago.  In its infancy it was a fad.  In its middle period it was hopelessly complicated and couldn't possibly appeal to new players.  And now that it has reached middle age, it is clearly dying of cancer, which is another way of describing the 'long tail' argument.

I'm not worried about D&D dying.  It can't die until at least the day I myself will be dead, and after that I won't give a shit.

Recently I was directed to an article at The Escapist, which I don't read and I don't recommend - precisely because of the sort of article to which I was directed.  In this particular example, we are introduced first to the current head of D&D development at WOTC, Mike Mearls, and then treated to the pearls of wisdom that droppeth from Mearls' obviously deluded brain.

Let me say first of all that Mearls has - at least to those who actually play this game - zero credibility.  He's the stooge department head of a crappy design bureau in a somewhat annoying company whose interest in D&D is funded entirely by a very small percentage of the oodles of money WOTC earns from its monster success at a vaguely related fantasy card game.  In terms of boosting D&D's profile to the world, WOTC either doesn't give a shit or is really, really incompetant.  Oh, I know there are boosters for the big W all over the tiny world that is the D&D community net, but outside of this tiny echo chamber WOTC is a non-entity.  Thousands upon thousands of D&D players in the world have no idea who the Wizards of the Coast are, because they deliberately don't read the credits on the gaming material they steal off the net.  They certainly are not taking Mearls' golden wisdom into account when it comes to how or when or why they play D&D.  I know for a fact that I am not.

It's clear that the article is a puff piece for Mearls and for WOTC.  I love the party where Greg Tito, the author of the article, tells us that Mearls admits 4th edition "might have gone too far in creating a perfectly balanced game."  Oh, really?  Perfect, huh?  My, my, I'm convinced.  This from one of the contributors to 4th edition (says so right in the article).

Then, immediately after this, Mearls then goes on to describe a baffling gaming experience where the DM "can't contradict what the players say," as if human beings don't know how to argue or work things out for themselves at the gaming table.  No, WOTC has spoken, WOTC shall be obeyed!

It's quite clear from the article that the head of D&D development is deluded.

The game has been fractured for some thirty-five years now, but Mearls is apparently only just now beginning to realize it:  "What D&D faces now with different editions and old school versus new school ... it's like a comic book conundrum.  How do we get all these guys back together, so we actually have real communities ...?"

That's very interesting, coming from a fellow who helped drive as big a spike as could possibly be driven into the community in the first place.  Not to mention that it reads like a cheap request for all of us to stop acting like individuals and conform to WOTC's desired standard.  I don't know, maybe its that we play in about 10,000 communities, made up of 2 to 20 persons, meeting regularly for our own benefit, and not the benefit of anyone else.

The problem, we're told, is that what D&D needs is some really interesting shit in the D&D Insider (a online corporate magazine splatted on WOTC's webpage that is about as 'outside' as its possible to get) that people will want to read.  Apparently, according to Mearls, "People have no time for bullshit."  Given the content of the Insider, and the WOTC webpage in general, its quite clear that the one thing that Mearls and everyone else at the company don't recognize its the difference between bullshit and actual content.  Splatting out the same cookie cutter articles over and over, year after year, is exactly the bullshit that does not need further production.  But then, I've had this argument all over the net, since all I see on other blogs are cheaper, cheesier versions of typical WOTC Insider articles.  Of course, it could be argued that since most of the blogosphere is bullshit, and since most of what the Insider prints is bullshit, and since people seem to have a LOT of time to read the blogosphere (I can't speak for the Insider's numbers - if someone wants to provide me with audited subscriber data I'd be happy to look), then Mearls' statement is clearly wrong.  People have time for bullshit.  They just don't want to pay for it.

I guess that just because Mearls admits he hears a lot at conventions and on the web that the WOTC is abundantly wrong, we shouldn't take that to mean we're going to see any real changes in the near future.  We are going to see a repackaging of 4e rules - which should do a great deal to bring the community together by splintering that part of it that plays 4e.  We are going to see diversity from WOTC: there are now three board games based on 4e rules.  Wow!  And we're going to see more company sponsored events aimed at noobs.  Why didn't anyone ever think of that before?

The shit walks and doesn't know that it's shit.

I don't know how much more I can say about the article.  Halfway through the second page it just becomes a long list of WOTC sponsored crap, as it literally ceases any pretense of being 'journalism' and slides straight into 'sales.'  I wonder how much money the Escapist was paid for this.

I shouldn't really blame them.  I used to write articles like this for a business magazine, and I liked being able to buy beers at the going rate of 14 words a bottle.  But understand - I knew where my bread was buttered.  The companies I wrote about were - most of them - not worth the words on the page, and we all at the magazine knew it.  But it pays the freight ... and I suppose the Escapist has freight to pay, too.

But don't pretend for a moment that this article exists as anything other than covering costs.  It doesn't have anything real to say about the state of D&D on this planet.


Carl said...

I would think that if D&D were making no money they'd bail on it and stop producing products. Someone is buying this shit and it's profitable or WotC wouldn't be selling it.

I think D&D is performance art. You can teach the theory and the appreciation, but it has to be there in your soul to actually do it.

Alexis, I agree with you that WotC probably has about as much to do with the state of D&D on this planet as the President of the US has to do with the economic crisis your neighbors to the south are facing.


Alexis said...

There's probably something selling, but clearly the marketing strategy is that only NEW things sell.

Parker Brothers didn't start churning out five thousand varieties of Monopoly until Monopoly stopped selling. WOTC clearly sees that once the community sees the shit, they stop buying it, so the only possible thing to do is produce new shit they haven't seen yet. And so on and so on and so on ...

Timothy Brannan said...

Actually I find something useful on DDi every month. I have used some of the stuff in 4e, but also 3e and even my Basic D&D game.

Businesses are in business to make money. If something isn't making money they stop doing it. It is pretty basic stuff.

Frankly I don't feel there is the need for the dooming and glooming that Dancey has been posting.
But I also know that 4e is still selling well enough that WotC is still supporting it.

In fact I am running out today to pick up the new 4e "Book of Vile Darkness" to use with the 3e conversion of a 1st Ed AD&D module.
And it will be a blast.

Alexis said...

Not to diss you Tim, but I've read your blog. I'm glad you find things there.

It must be noted that you and I have very different ideas of 'useful.'

Timothy Brannan said...

Here is an example from this morning.

A Dragon article on how to use love in a D&D game. There is nothing here that is 4e specific (save some race and place names) and this article works for any edition of D&D.
Plenty of ideas, plot hooks and uses for any game.