Sunday, March 11, 2018

What a Tabletop RPG Needs To Be Now: Part 1

I'm going to spread this out over the week.

It is not 1974. It is not 1990. It is not 2000. The world is now online, and most people have and use smartphones and tablets. The same phenomenon that's fundamentally changing publishing in other categories is at work here. As such, the realities of past business models no longer exist.

Furthermore, the competition for customers is now fiercer than ever due to competition being not only within the category but also with other categories. For example, Dungeons & Dragons not only competes with Pathfinder but also with World of Warcraft, Heroquest (and others like it, such as Descent), and The Witcher 3. This competition served to define what the tabletop RPG is best at doing through the contrast of tabletop versus competing media.

What did this competition reveal?

  1. Mech Piloting is Bad For Tabletop RPGs: Going heavy on rules and mechanics, and their accompanying mathematics, makes the competing media offerings more attractive. Why? Because the game reliably slows down, warps player behavior to be confined to what the mechanics allow, and produces known aberrant behaviors that reduce the fun for most people. (We have goddamn parody comics about this, so don't you dare claim otherwise.) Competing media doesn't make players do that math, and the wider audience means that someone else will figure out how to optimize the performance of their character, so everything plays faster and easier from the get-go. Leave Mech Piloting to other media.
  2. The Internet is a Strength: Being a digital-primary game means that changing editions is no longer necessary. You can just update your System Reference Document to reflect changes in the rules or mechanics. Most people now have smartphones or tablets in addition to PCs, and they use those widgets to read as well as watch/listen. Failing to exploit this fact to your benefit is one of the big millstones around the neck of tabletop RPGs, as anyone that's had to cart around a pile of product or get players to buy the damn manual know too well. The old model is actively hampering your growth. Drown it in a tub and feed it to the pigs already.
  3. Scheduling Your Fun is Bullshit; Another millstone is the practice of closed tables, with fixed groups, scheduling play and refusing to do so if too many can't make it. This practice inhibits growth and it needs to be abandoned. The growing gaming sectors do everything they can to get their customers actually playing the game- and that means encouraging (even incentivizing) pick-up play that's drop-in/drop-out. It used to be like this in the early days, and that's when the growth was explosive; it slowed when this ended. The pattern is not hard to discern.
  4. Edition Changes Are BAD: Nothing splits a user base, especially for network-dependent products like tabletop RPGs, like an edition change. Each edition (if it is done effectively), in practical terms, is a separate and distinct product line that competes with each other edition. This is a horrible thing and must be avoided, Now you can, and the Internet is why this can be done easily and effectively. Stop. Resisting. It.

The combination is that a tabletop RPG is no longer not a digital product. It has to be one now, because the core of it now sits in an online System Reference Document, and you move your core there because that allows you to kill edition splits with a persistent master document that everyone can refer to using mobile and desktop Internet access options. Your rules are the minimum necessary to handle adjudication, and the same goes for mechanics.

You give the rules and mechanics away; you sell the content, because content is where the value lies and not the rules or the mechanics, and you sell ebooks (not PDFs, but epub/mobi files) first if not only and few print products (maps, mostly) via Print On Demand alone.

As for why? That I'll build upon over the week.

1 comment:

  1. "The growing gaming sectors do everything they can to get their customers actually playing the game- and that means encouraging (even incentivizing) pick-up play that's drop-in/drop-out. It used to be like this in the early days, and that's when the growth was explosive; it slowed when this ended. The pattern is not hard to discern."

    I'm doing this - open gaming, multi-table - at my 5e D&D Meetup, but it's actually quite hard to get the balance right. I basically will take RSVPs up to our GMing capacity (eg 4 GMS = 24 player spots) but obviously players can be annoyed if they've been playing awhile and don't get a spot due to not RSVPing in time, and bringing in more and more new players increases the spot scarcity over time. I've increased the number of GMs from 2 to 3, to 4 next week and possibly 5 eventually, but that's the most the venue can handle - after that people would have to leave the Meetup and go play at home, likely creating closed games again.

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