Or, “Let the Forest Burn.”
I was really, really ill last week, so I took the week off. I’m back, though, and here to say something that is likely to be very controversial amongst gamers everywhere. Here it goes:
This hobby needs a winnowing. We don’t need more shitty games, we need fewer, better games. We’ve already discussed that oversaturation and low standards are a part of this hobby. Today we’re going to talk about just how bad those things are, and why you should stop buying from (and producing) games that aren’t winners.
Storytime! Benny Dicks wants to buy a gaming product. It could be any kind of gaming product, but today he wants to get into a new RPG. Which one does he choose? There is one gorilla of the industry, D&D, and a rather aggressive and cheeky monkey, Pathfinder, but for today we’re going to assume Benny doesn’t want either of those. He just isn’t into fantasy that much. So, as he browses his Friendly Local Game Store, just how many choices do you think he has?
I did an little street research, and the local answer was over one hundred. I couldn’t believe it myself. There are over a hundred products in my local game store that bill themselves as core or introductory. I didn’t even check the clearance/closeout/used shelves. This is a ridiculously dangerous fact. Why? Well, Mr. Dicks is only going to buy one product today. How is he going to choose that product? Probably based on something superficial, or something he heard from a friend. Maybe his internet friends recommended it.
The problem is that there is no way to predict his behavior. He might purchase $80 worth of GURPS Core Books or $15 worth of True20 Core Rules. He might opt for a tie-in product, like Mouse Guard or the Doctor Who RPG. We have no way of knowing, and would have trouble predicting even if we were well-appraised of his taste preferences. No matter what he chooses, though, only one company, out of a hundred (let’s say), is getting his cash.
It gets worse, though! The shelves are littered with the games of companies who have since gone out of business. Books that are obsolete, with the new editions shelved right next to them. A company doesn’t just have to compete with all of the games on the market, it has to compete with all of the games that might still be in circulation!
This gets frightening when you repeat the experiment over and over. You find no sort of standard distribution here. Total consumer expenditure, outside of the largest players (and, strangely enough, the TCG market, in some ways), is split over and over into smaller and smaller pieces. To succeed, you need to win a large hunk of this market, and there is no reliable method to do so.
Online, it gets worse. Anyone with a copy of OpenOffice and two fingers can create a game. The internet is littered with the corpses of games, some good, most absolutely terrible, that were the hopes and dreams of their creators. Why would you choose any of these games? What do they have to offer anyone that other, better games don’t? No one can tell.
What’s more, we have various “movements” in the hobby causing even further factionalization. These feature hobbyists, players, people who have no goddamned right to be making a game, touting themselves as “designers” and putting out endless iterations of the rules that please them. Storygames vs. anti-storygames, D&D vs. Pathfinder vs. AD&D vs. OSR, you could probably fill a landfill with the shit these people put out.
I’m tired of it. I love games. No, let me rephrase that. I fucking love games. I love games so much that I play the shitheel games because I can’t find another starship combat game. I am tired of the bar being so fucking low. I am goddamned fed up with the idea that it’s okay to put out shitty games because you’re not in it to be wealthy. It’s bad for the industry.
So, here I am to say: Stop. Making. Games. I mean it. I mean you, too. Yes, you. Don’t tell me about your awesome mechanics or your original setting. Don’t ask me for marketing advice for your heartbreaker of an RPG. Don’t write paragraphs justifying why the world needs another D&D clone. It won’t work. If you have to ask, the answer is no. You’ll need more money, more time, and more experience than you have.
There are lots of awesome games out there. Support the industry, don’t undermine it. Go play.