I’m a strong believer that when you make games, you first goal before anything else like profit, protection of intellectual property, or validating your own self-worth, is to create and promote fun. Sure, it’s simplistic, it may be naïve, but I’m sticking with it.
How do you create fun? Part of it is catching lightning in a bottle. But part of it is never losing your own sense of fun. But maybe the greatest contributing factor is knowing your audience. And when I say knowing, I mean taking a good, long, unflinching look.
That said, there is a large and very vocal segment of RPG’ers who seem to be professional contrarians. What do I mean by that? Well in more modern vernacular, they are asshats. I think we know it too. There is a very interesting blog post at Mob United about this realization during a project, and a fantastic (and long) discussion about it on EN World, where Erik Mona makes some good points during in his rebuttal. Not all of our customers are asshats. In even the ones who are not always asshats. There are reasons for their asshattery. Often they feel justified—either rightly and wrongly—by the current landscape of the industry.
Let me show you an example—Prepainted miniatures.
Just recently Wizards of the Coast finally released the Orcus Gargantuan miniature. Personally, I was thrilled. I’ve wanted to see it released for a long time. While working at WotC, I would go to the display case of the pre-painted paint masters and stared longingly at the Orcus prototype. The entire time my brain droned “want, want, want.” It seemed for a long time that Orcus would never see the light of day. It was planned for the release of 4e and for various reasons it was pushed back again and again.
I knew not everyone would share my opinion.
I have another one of these simplistic, maybe naïve, views on products like this. Either you want it and you buy it (assuming of course you can afford it) or you don’t want it, and you do buy it. Sure there are reviews, there are people stating their opinion on the product, and so on, but often the conversation goes much further in the land of RPGs. Let me give you some examples from the Dungeons & Dragons Facebook comments (names of posters removed).
Post 8: Wayyyyyy too expensive… $35.99 price point would sell to the people who actually play, not just the rich collectors or the no-lifers… Us married with kids folk can’t afford it
Post 16: Glad that works for ya, [name of other poster]. I’m sire WotC is thankful for nonthinkers that buy anything with their logo on it. Me, I pay for *quality*. So I’ll pass on the Orcus.
Post 24: @[name of another poster] – I agree completely with you. My comment was an attempt to help people understand that WotC is showing their greed for an overpriced item. I would be more than willing to pay $75 for another Colossal of the same caliber as the Red. But for something similar to one of the other Gargantuans … NEVER!
@WotC - Is this an attempt to recover losses from the stupidity you displayed in taking away our ability to purchase your books in pdf format?
Post 33: GW [Games Workshop] called. They said nice job on the price.
All in all, by my quick count there were 25 positive posts (and I was generous with what I considered positive), 20 negative posts, and about 9 posts arguing over the term “gargantuan miniature” (Ah, gamers!). A decent percentage of the negative posts were a few guys cheerleading each other, but a number of the positive posts were people trying to get the negatives to see the other side of the story. Of course it didn’t work. I picked the posts above for a reason. Arguably except for post 33, each of these posts attacks fellow gamers for being no-lifers, stupid, and ignorant. Many of the negative posts painted WotC as greedy and somehow doing something underhanded by releasing this miniature at a higher price point. The last attempts to insult two game companies at once, implying that all WotC and GW want to do is gouge.
The gamers that wanted to screw you out of your money went into investment banking and junk mortgages. If that’s your goal, the game industry is the worse place to work.
Now I know what you are thinking. “Stephen, haven’t you heard of the internet? People are jerks on the internet.” Yeah, I get it. I tell you what, I am not above being an asshole from time to time. Ask anyone who knows me. I think I’m being charming…I’m usually wrong. I really do believe in the value of open and honest discourse. I absolutely adore the conflict of ideas, and the wisdom we gain from our views being challenged. I’m also a bit of a pragmatist and I understand these two truisms.
1) The RPG industry is small. It always has been.
2) A small industry, especially one that relies on the social aspect of your product, does not grow when people can’t be civil to one another.
Only a jerk wants to hang around with another jerk, and eventually they are going to piss each other off. But gamers seem to have a hard time with this. They often see success in the business as an assault of the integrity of the game. While I have heard people rail against D&D Encounters programs it is putting butts in seats and it is growing enthusiasm for D&D. And it is doing it in the rank and file. It’s not some above high marketing campaign or some magazine glossy. People are playing D&D and having a good time…in public! And while I hope the guy who wants to berate or take an elitist attitude with his fellow gamers continues to gripe about D&D Encounters, and never come near it, that’s not going to happen. Eventually he’ll acquiesce, and then complain about playing with idiots, hipsters, and kids, and he’ll cheese people off.
This isn’t new. I remember when I was a kid would go to a local library to participate in the local D&D group. At first, I went with my friends. Eventually they stopped coming…I should have too. Because we the youngest in the “club” everyone treated us like a chore—maybe we were. But I also remember numerous shouting matches, heated arguments, and people storming out of the room. And these were adults for the most part. I stuck it out because I’m a nerd for D&D. My friends ditched it and eventually the game. It stopped being fun for them. The rules were the same. The pop and chips were still bad for us. They just sick of the constant struggle for fun due to asshatery.
Yes, you have the right to your opinion, but realize that name calling, abuse, and bullying don’t make people like you. And it sure as hell doesn’t make them want to play games with you. And when you are a game fan, and you are the first person they meet, they will equate you with that game. People have asked me all week, how can we grow the RPG market? Here are my simple (maybe naïve) ideas.
1) Create good games.
2) Create fun experiences.
Play the game you want and have fun. Buy the products that you want to use. It’s not a war. Saving RPGs can’t be done by a company. It can’t be done with a product line. It can’t be done by railing against or for whatever bit of minutia that your potential and casual user doesn’t understand or even cares about. Saving RPGs is about winning over the hearts and minds of players, one table, one event, one experience at a time. It’s done by showing people who while we are geeky weirdos, we’re fun geeky weirdos. It’s done by making fun. It always has been.