why the rpg business model fails…

Over here at youtube, you can see the “Future of D&D” Panel. At minute 7:45 of the video, Mearls says the thing that makes me cringe. And makes me say, “RPGs are a flawed business model.”

Video Link

And Mearls, if you’re watching buddy, I love you. But I’m not attacking you. I’m targeting the group-think that postulates these notions…. and because I’ve never heard anyone in the industry say what I’m about to say, I’ve got to get it off my chest.

Mike says, “The GM is more important than the designer.”

Yes. Correct. This is 100% correct when you look at the experience of the “game” vs. the experience of the product. It’s conversely, the reason I hate more video games.

But it’s also the unstable hinge upon with all editions of D&D rest after 1st edition.

Let me provide an analogy if I may:

A Mechanic buys a toolbox from Snap-On Tools (you probably go to Sears, but be goes to Snap-On). He buys a wrench and a ratchet and a hammer and vice-grips and a screwdriver. He, the mechanic, is a sapient tool user, so he uses these tools until the day they break. Just like a GM who runs his favorite edition of something, until he doesn’t work for him any longer. The Mechanic is more important than the tool. This means he only needs to buy a very good tool once. He might own duplicates of the same screwdriver or wrench or whatever, but he can only really use one at a time. And he isn’t expected to buy expansions to his tools.

To make matters worse, if the mechanic is bad at his job, he loses customers, just like a GM who loses players. However…

… and this is where the RPG business model fails…

…the tool company does not lose money because the mechanic screwed up your tune up.

But a RPG company’s income is based upon the need that the GM brings value to the brand. Their entire connection to the hobby is contingent on a GM being good at his job. If the GM is an overbearing control freak, chances are he is not inspiring a new generation of players.

And I don’t even know if game companies see this dependence? Do designers who are good GMs just assume that their game will always attract a new crop of players?

The entire philosophy that requires good demo sessions, run by quality GMs, who may in turn sell one $40 RPG after a two-hour long demo… It’s just… what the hell?

Mearls goes on to explain it’s how the GM expresses the world that matters — in fact a good GM can pave over the problems with the design… essentially just selling a “baseline” to me.

So, Mike and WOTC… you’re selling me “modularity.” Well, I hate to tell you this, but you’ve sold me FOUR DIFFERENT editions of modularity, which have inspired 5000 derivative games (most importantly successful games like OSRIC and C&C). Why do I need another edition?

And how are the sales of a GM-powered product that requires no expansion expanded into the expansion-product market driven by expansion books inherent in the second half of the business model? Ouch. I hurt my keyboard.

Tempering Your Voice

[A little gamer psychology today. Sorry.]

I game every two weeks in a World of Darkness LARP. I believe I’ve mentioned that before, but if I haven’t, here it is.


There are about 30 people in the LARP. We have a facebook page to keep track of the group and everything.

I am not the most welcome face in the group for a number of reasons. I feel like a pariah, almost. Although I do have a few friends in the game, I really only roleplay with one storyteller and two other people 95% of the time.

That’s just what it is.

Oddly, I feel like a majority of my diaspora stems from the fact that many people play characters I cannot wrap my head around and/or play in stories I am not interested in and/or generally clash with me. Conversely, I tend to read gamers pretty well and I can see through all of the “issues” they bring to game. My buddy Mike is very good at showing patience when necessary toward these kinds of players. I am not. So rather than rub people the wrong way, I just avoid them. I’m really not a nice guy.

But over the course of the last year, I’ve noticed an alarming trend of disrespect among other people in the group toward one another (not toward me).

Which brings me to my belabored point.

We have a lot of players under the age of 30. Most of them have never done any other kind of gaming. Some of them say things that (out of context) trigger hostile rebukes from other players. Many of these people have more friends in game than I do. Rather than temper their voice of their response to seemingly innocuous (albeit inane) commentary, I sometimes watch in horror as people talk very very inappropriately to one another.

I’ve been to a lot of game conventions in my life. Heard people say awful, hateful things to one another. Racial slurs, brainless misogyny, and outright misinformed idiocy. In that arena, it’s so easy to ignore. People will be stupid and engendering debate with someone who thinks a game convention is the appropriate place to debate that Jews secretly control the World Bank is a waste of time and energy. I’m at a game convention after all.

And these are people I have zero respect for. I could easily tear him/her a new ass and never feel an ounce of remorse, so I move on.

Somehow. In the setting of a “Pollyanna” game environment like an all WoD game world, I find it troubling that people with this much background and connectivity to one another fail to show the least bit of awareness and understanding to (in their own head) say, “Okay. Joe is just being Joe. I need to temper my response to not sound so loud, abrasive, and antagonistic.”

I don’t have a final point, sadly. This is the first time since high school I’ve seen this kind of behavior amongst a regular group of gamers. And since I’m the guy no one likes and I never yell at anyone, I have to wonder…

…what am I doing wrong?

Feel free to post, if you’ve witnessed something similar in your gaming travels.