Something is Rotten in the State of Gaming

I think we all know it. We all feel it, at least. Some people think we’re going to go the way of model trains, other consider this edition or that trend to be the DEATH OF GAMING AS WE KNOW IT. I’m here to dispel the myths, speak plainly about the truths, and apply some regular business sense to an industry that has so desperately needed it since the eighties.

I have years of experience in business management, I’m currently in school for my BA,  and I’m also an avid gamer. I speak with candor, and I get angry about things. A lot of things. You might get upset at some of the things I say, or disagree. That’s okay! Disagree! I welcome it. Just don’t be surprised when I defend my points. I want to see the industry reinvent itself, to prosper in an age where it’s difficult to do so. The reason for this blog is to attempt to discern how that can happen.

Gaming is broken. Let’s fix it.

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13 thoughts on “Something is Rotten in the State of Gaming

  1. “Gaming is broken”?

    Call me an optimist, but I think we’re already seeing inklings of a new Renaissance of quality and innovation the likes of which we haven’t seen before. So the change you seek may already be happening.

    Never before have I had as big a backlog of awesome-looking-games-I-can’t-wait-to-play as I do now. Never before have I seen as much groundbreaking discussions on game design as I get to have now.

    One thing’s for sure: the economics of gaming are radically changing and I think it’s too early to tell for the better or not. Gaming stores are dying but kickstarters are flourishing. Free RPGs are all over the place but dead tree editions are dwindling. It’s a tough call.

    Will the RPG industry remain profitable? Dunno. Was it ever consistently so? Probably not. The primary currency of our hobby is love and enthusiasm, not really money. And that brings all the good and bad of a passionate hobby along with it (no short amount of bitterness).

    cheers!
    -kirin (Old School Hack)

  2. fugaros says:

    It’s interesting to see this different perspective. Perhaps it has to do with my geographical location, or my gaming preferences, but Old School Hack was probably the first free RPG I and my group really had any interest in since Risus. I don’t see a lot of interesting games banging down my door; I see a great deal of retreads and corner cases.

    I really feel the thrust of this blog is that games can be profitable, and this is how we can make that happen. After all, quite a few companies continue to make money off of them. A “renaissance” of creativity may bring some small number of gamers back, but it’s not bringing any new customers in.

    Thanks for your comment!

  3. Xander says:

    Kirin is right when he says the economics are changing.You’re going to see more kickstarters, pdf-only or print on demand. The “long tail” seems like a comfortable place to make money.

    Unfortunately this is a social hobby, so the “long tail” does you a fat lot of good if none of your friends know the same system. I think people are still wrestling with how to deal with that. FATE and other systems are one way; D&D’s going another with aggressively lowering the barrier to entry.

  4. Couldn’t agree more. For a while now it feels like it’s been stagnating, with a kind of elitist attitude amongst gamers becoming more and more prevalent. I too have been trying to take action to make gaming more accessible to more: http://recessiondodgetovictory.wordpress.com/2011/01/26/pick-up-gamers-for-hire/

  5. Eric says:

    To be honest, I would be more than happy to see stagnant, dead in the water companies, go away. Die in horrible flames and be forgotten. Gaming isn’t Broken, just the @sshats that think it’s all about the revenue they can pull in by shoving broken games on the market.

    ERIC!

    • Lugh says:

      One man’s broken game is another man’s quirky, interesting failure though. Take Skyrealms of Jorune – an awful system, but an interesting world buttressed by great Miles Teves art. Is that really a broken game because for all intents and purposes, it’s practically unplayable out of the box?

      • Del says:

        Absolutely it’s broken. That’s the definition of a “Fantasy Heartbreaker.” (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/articles/9/)

        Gamers (of the tabletop and video variety) need to stop making excuses for broken crap due to a sense of community and us-vs-them identity politics. The tools exist to fix your broken game (testing and further iteration) and make it fun out of the box for all. That people don’t take advantage of them (due to budget constraints or arrogance) is inexcusable.

  6. Brandmeister says:

    I’m loving this blog so far. I’m a former big-company development engineer doing iPad apps on the side. What you’re really describing is applying a standard business analysis process to RPG books. You should consider writing some articles on the mobile games industry, because I’m seeing the exact same thing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked a starry eyed developer, “So what’s your marketing approach to build product awareness?”, and they reply, “Advertising is too expensive! I’ll just get it in the App Store and be freemium. Dragonvale succeeded that way!”. (facepalm) What is your target customer profile? “Mobile gamers!”

    I also see a lot of “small delta” ideas–”We’ll do WoW on a phone, but with tiger people!”. Yeah, so here’s the thing… if your product is 10% different from WoW in a way that appeals to you personally, you’re taking on a flooded market space of knockoffs, with the original 800 pound gorilla sitting in the center. I assume it’s the same if designers are gleefully envisioning cutting into WotC with their OGL fantasy product. Even digital-only products are built with RPG Drive Thru as the endgame, when that’s really only the start of a business strategy.

    Looking forward to hearing our thoughts on marketing and customer analysis!

  7. Guntis Veiskats says:

    I have a feeling that there is a great field untapped.

    Fact #1. A lot of roleplayers testify their ‘career’ started at school/college time.
    Fact #2. There are places where roleplaying is used in schools as a learning tool.

    Question #1. Why among 10k of RPG adventures available I can hardly scrape together a dozen of them to recommend to teachers? At least in my country most stuff will scare the s##t out of them upon seeing the cover alone.

    One possible drawback for the hobby is, that it is officially aimless. Just a pleasure activity. Thus, it’s one of first to put away as soon as the person has anything more urgent to do. Even more, there is no real direction to move to. To develop further. However, I believe there are.

    All of you know perfectly that TTRPGs have great learning and social potential. One of my friends is a psychologist running roleplaying exercises. Recently, after a roleplaying session in our University, an economics professor said to him: “You did in two hours what we do in four years”. Why not use more this aspect of roleplaying?

    I believe that at least the literature, history and maths teachers can be first to show the benefits of these games. Can’t understand why books like Gurps Imperial Rome, etc. are out of print. Some quite dull parts of curriculum can be made much more fun if put in a game. Even more so if coupled with freeform roleplaying games.

    Example. There is MouseGuard RPG. Why not write, say, adventures of ants fighting big beetles’ invasion? The setting would use alot from real world entomology and botanics, inspiring the kids to study these fields of knowledge. And there are more options.

    Have a nice throw!
    Durbal,
    Riga, Latvia

  8. kemper2011 says:

    I’m currently writing an RPG for Goblinworks, and some of the comments I’ve received while raising money through Kickstarter have been enlightening.

    Essentially, people expect that you have a ready product to ship once the cash comes in. I see it differently: writing a game might be fun but I don’t want to approach it as a hobby, more like a job on the side. Simply put, I don’t think it’s worth my time to write over 300 pages if I can’t be sure of getting actual money out of that.

    In general, there seems to be a kind of mentality that RPG’s need to be labours of love, not commercial products.

  9. kemper2011 says:

    Guntis:

    I feel that part of the reason why a significant part of TTRPG products in general are unapproachable for most people is the fact that there’s a mindset among gamers that RPG’s aren’t just toys. Because of this, there’s a tendency toward “dark”, “serious”, “gritty” and “edgy” when we instead should make games that are approachable and inclusive.

    We should instead embrace the goofiness and the fun to be had and realize our hobby isn’t that different from other hobbies. It’s a hobby, not a way of life. We do it for fun, not to explore deep personal issues.

    And fun games would be better as teaching aides, too.

  10. John says:

    I totally disagree with the author. I think 4e went away from the bread and butter of the D&D tradition that was highly successful. Don’t lump 4e and 3e together success-wise. They’d love for 5e to be 3e successful. Now I agree 3e had issues. But 4e had issues too. A lot more issues if fan’s buying the product means anything. So 5e taking a step back and trying to target the old schoolers is smart business. I’m optimistic having seen the playtest. I’m also sure it won’t stay this simple. It will have the basics of D&D that I’ve loved.

    You are right that D&D will never be magic. It will also never steal away the video game crowd if video games are completely satisfying they won’t bother with D&D. For those that want to explore a world with tons more depth than Skyrim or any other such game, with living dynamic NPCs, then D&D may be your game.

  11. halmedici says:

    Gaming isn’t broken. The entertainment industry is broken, all of it. At some point in the last two decades the industries of cerebral enjoyment decided their business was a right instead of a privilege.

    The game industry just finally caught up to the record, tv, and movie industries in believing hey we deserve the same rights to be in business, limit competition, pick winners and losers, all while smoking cigars in a crappy jazz bar.

    Look to Hasbro, Activision, Disney, EA, cringe… Zynga, every one of these companies has been focused on quarter to quarter results with no thought of how can we keep our clients happy. EA publishes game after game of shoot em up and sports simulator, Activision milks games as cash cows, Disney decided to hang itself in mobile production having no clue what the customers want, Zynga puts out farmville clone after clone, and Hasbro seems destined to kill any game property it acquires out of bad management decisions.

    All of them buy smaller game companies with the hopes that purchasing the next Playdom, mobile phone, etc company will solve their internal problems.

    The problem with game companies resides in the CEO office and when no one in charge has a clue then the natives run wild. Ever seen a game company that was in business one day with millions in revenues and the next empty except for unwanted Nerf Arsenals?

    To save the gaming industry what’s needed are real business people with long term views. Otherwise we’ll just look like the Music, TV, and Movie industries five years from now.

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