Stop. Making. Games.

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 fewerbetter 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.

48 thoughts on “Stop. Making. Games.

  1. Rob Lang says:

    When was the last time you bought a leisure product without checking the internet? Do you only browser the products on the shelves without prior information. Perhaps for food but for something you’ll plough leisure time into? Surely you check the internet first?

    Once you’ve checked the internet, you’ll probably end up with D&D 4e. Which is fine. You’ll then go to your FLGS, which will have a copy and away you go.

    Go into a bookstore and there is a lot of choice on the shelves. Fire up the TV and there is a lot of choice there too. Most of it isn’t my cup of tea but it will be for someone. There are books whose series aren’t finished and TV seasons that abruptly finish. How is that any different to publishers changing editions or going out of print?

    If your complaint is purely one of quality then the best thing you can do is provide constructive feedback to all those designers that are putting out games you feel aren’t up to scratch. It will get you what you want much quicker because blogging is shouting into the void rather than targeting the route cause. Designers of poor games will read this and assume it applies to someone else.

    Me? I think there should be better quality games but I would be more positive, saying I want more games of a better quality and then try and point out how to get there.

    • fugaros says:

      You make a good point, Rob; I was trying to be fairly simplistic in my explanation. The problem I see is that going on the internet for reviews can be rather unhelpful; even in your case of D&D 4E, Benny is going to find a pile of people insisting it’s “not real D&D” and “dumbed down” (and the incipient fanboyism defending it, as well).

      I’m glad you pointed at bookstores and television, though! They are a great example of why gaming doesn’t work. You see, a publishing house (or TV studio) produces a number of products every year. They expect that most of these will fail or, at best, barely break even. It’s part of their model. What’s different here is that a publisher can make millions off the one book that does sell, and recoup its costs. None of this happens in RPGs. Publishers don’t produce varied products, and they don’t plan on some of it failing. In fact, you see most publishers these days riding their business on one or two products (with diminishing returns!)

      My complaint is varied, but my points about quality have already been dismissed by at least one industry insider as unrealistic. Apparently expecting playable games is too much for this industry, and I should just let off. I would gladly provide constructive criticism for any publisher whose products I was familiar with, but trust me when I tell you that, in my experience, they don’t want it. Small publishers are full of a thousand excuses on why they can’t make this work, which is utter bunk, because Old School Hack has better layout and design than 90% of what’s being produced today, and it’s FREE.

      (Thanks for commenting!)

  2. what about the white wolf model they are shifting to print on demand, so they don’t have to compete with themselves for shelf space?

    • fugaros says:

      Print on Demand hasn’t really changed how RPGs are marketed, although it potentially could! White Wolf seems to be operating a legacy business at this point, anyways, so they would be part of the problem.

    • bombasticus says:

      This is the print on demand strategy they put in place nine months before they effectively laid everyone off?

      Shelf space was a problem for them 15, 20 years ago. Not sure it’s been their problem more recently.

  3. robertbohl says:

    When you increase the sample size of anything, you get more stuff at both ends of the spectrum. So that means you get a lot of shit with a lot of games, but it also means you get a fuckton of amazing stuff.

    I find it very easy to buy things I don’t like, but hard to buy things I would’ve liked to have bought had they been made.

  4. Sean D. says:

    Thanks for the advice! I will sit here in my cubicle and watch as that guy who cloned a fucking dinosaur rides off into the distance. Why do I correlate cloning with the gaming industry? I do so because we all sit here and want to pursue our dreams. Win or lose. Pursue that dream! If you fail, then you have a little cry, drink a little bourbon get some sleep and in a few days feel better about yourself.



    What’s the worst that will happen? Some one on Twitter, WordPress,, or Facebook won’t like your product. Well shit. I yelled at a guy this morning for almost running over my dog and me. I even went so far as to call him a Fuck. Do you think he cares? No, I think he’s paying better attention to pedestrians crossing the street. Do you think that guy who wrote Atantasia is thinking he’s so wrong? Hopefully. But I also hope that he’s taking some of the advice out there and LEARNING.

    We learn by doing

    We make mistakes by doing

    We learn by making mistakes

    Mistakes fucking happen.


    • fugaros says:

      Honestly, if someone were to be interested in “cloning a dinosaur” in the RPG industry, I would be entirely for that. Why? Because in your example, the person is doing something that hasn’t been done before. This magical inventory is opening up an entirely new technology, market sector, and era for humanity all at once. If someone could do that with an RPG, then yes, go to it!

      Unfortunately, that’s not what we see. We see the same old retreads. We see dozens and dozens of generic fantasy RPGs, wargames with dubious design goals, card games that don’t seem to have an appeal other than being wacky and “fun.” So yes, I agree with you. If you have a revolutionary product, go make it. Go get some backing first, though. You’re going to need some money, and if your product is truly revolutionary, I promise you’ll find someone in this industry who is willing to give it a shot.

    • Dave says:

      No! Are you out of your fucking mind? Didn’t you read Jurassic Park?!?! NEVER CLONE A FUCKING DINOSAUR!


  5. no says:

    I was also shocked to learn that if someone wanted to buy a movie or an album they would go out and find that there are HUNDREDS that have been made. Those industries have been ruined as a result.

    • fugaros says:

      Actually, fun fact, oversaturation is ruining the music industry something fierce. As the money for new albums leaves (due to any number of reasons), you suddenly find out that it’s not a sustainable model! Time for change!

      • Daniel Shinabarger says:

        hundreds of albums is a bad thing? How could oversaturation in the music industry ever possibly be a bad thing? It just means that the same mainstream artists won’t get as much attention because there’s actually variety and creativity going on. As a musician, I would find it abhorrent if there weren’t hundreds of albums to choose from. To limit this would be some kind of a crime, and would destroy creativity. I don’t think it’s fair to compare the music or even moving industry to the gaming industry.

  6. mdhughes says:

    Replace “games” with books or music, and it’s obvious how stupid this is.

    • fugaros says:

      Yes, because either of these billion-dollar industries is directly comparable to a small, niche industry like ours.

  7. robertbohl says:

    fugaros, you said: We see the same old retreads. We see dozens and dozens of generic fantasy RPGs, wargames with dubious design goals, card games that don’t seem to have an appeal other than being wacky and “fun.”

    That’s really really really not my experience. There are so many groundbreaking games these days that I don’t have time to play them all, much less read them all.

    What kinds of games do you like? What do you not like? I can make some recommendations.

    • fugaros says:

      Robert, I think you and I might have a different definition of “groundbreaking,” which is understandable. We’re approaching the industry from two very different perspectives. I do want to clarify, as well, that I’m not saying one or two good games don’t sneak out of this mess every year. The Dresden Files RPG, Eclipse Phase, and Old School Hack are three good examples of RPGs.

      The problem is that none of these are departures, really. I would say that DFRPG is the most so, in that it uses FATE, and that’s a system that is exploring a design space that is new. Ish. None of these products make me go “wow” and say hello to a new era of gaming. Honestly, the last game to do that to me was Fourth Edition D&D, and that had nothing to do with the game itself. I was so stoked that someone had finally written an RPG core book that was colorful and visually appealing in a manner that enhanced its usability as what is, essentially, a technical document. (The streamlined, deep tactical mechanics were also a “wow” moment.)

      I would love to see more, though! I like science fiction (RPGs or wargames), strategy and tactics, and I love games that don’t take themselves too seriously. Do recommend whatever you think qualifies, though; I’m pretty good at judging games objectively.

      • robertbohl says:

        Well, of course I wouldn’t be a proper whore if I didn’t suggest you go to and download a free copy of that game. I think you’ll find it’s pretty significantly different from any of the games you mention. However, I can recommend literally dozens of games to you depending on your interest. You mention science fiction, so I’ll recommend Shock: Human Contact by Joshua A.C. Newman. Humanistic hard sci-fi; a game about black ops anthropologists seeking out other species of humanity throughout the galaxy:

      • fugaros says:

        From the preview, it looks like Misspent Youth is exactly what I’ve come to expect from a Forge-derived game: strong story elements, very collaborative, simple, abstract system. You are obviously on the list of people who are doing it right in regards to this post (and the production value one, as well)! I was sold on the game from the cover on, but that’s because I’m an aging, jaded punk kid at heart.

        Of course, the problem here is that while these may be decent (or even good) RPGs, they are only compounding the problem in a lot of ways. Yes, in my ideal world, you and Mr. Newman would make your games and there would be plenty of money to go around. That’s not the world we live in. We live in a world where games are a small, niche hobby, and each new game either takes business away from an old game (which may or may not have been good) or is ignored and dies. In this industry, right now, my choice to purchase Misspent Youth or Shock: Human Contact is exclusive. I don’t have the budget to support all of you, and anyone who does is absolutely an outlier. Maybe there’s a future in encouraging people to buy more; maybe not.

        That said, thank you for commenting, and thank you for sharing these games!

    • Ansob says:

      @Robert —

      Just a quick one on your actual site —

      fugaros praised your game, and your posting is fairly cool – so I decided I wanted to check out your site. I get there, and click around a bit – I see it’s a game about a theme I’m interested in (dystopian near-future sci-fi with teenaged activists opposing the Man! Awesome!).

      I see the $20+S&H price on the front page, and I think “well, I can’t really afford/don’t really want to spend $30 on a printed product for something I know nothing about!” You mentioned a free copy, though! (Surely, you must’ve meant a trial edition or something, not the full game? Turns out you meant the latter and I was wrong – more kudos to you.) I see a “get” link, so I figure that’s where the download page (and the intro version) would be. I land on that page, and…

      Misspent Youth: Eyebleeding Edition (pdf). This is a complete version of the game, a PDF of what we printed on paper. This is not the easiest way to use this book. If you run the game from this PDF, I recommend that you blow up the text to at least 100%.
      – I am working on a screen-friendly version of the PDF. Here’s a preview. My plan is to sell it for $5, and have an enhanced edition for $10. There’ll be some bundling with the paper edition, too.

      Cool! It’s actually the full free game! But the .pdf is a whole 50MB, and full of layers, so my netbook (which I use for .pdf RPG books, since it fits at the table) can’t actually cope with that. I’d really love a flattened version that’s maybe 10MB or so max, and it sounds like the $5 one you mention would be just that.

      But here’s the problem: I’ve just spent ten minutes clicking around your website trying to find either a) a “HERE IS THE OPTION TO BUY THIS $5 VERSION” link, or b) “IT WON’T BE OUT UNTIL [date here, or at least “a while”].

      So, obviously, if it’s not done, it’s not done, and there’s nothing I can do about that – but I’ve just spent ten minutes being frustrated that I couldn’t find a thing I wanted so I could give you money; I’ve not been told “come back here in X weeks!” so I know to bookmark the page; I’m not going to read the free .pdf, because it’s clunky and I know a much better one will come out later on for a price I’d be happy to pay, even for something I’ve never heard of.

      Unless someone I know happens to follow your site and tells me about the .pdf later on, you’ve lost $5 all because there wasn’t any clear indication of when the .pdf would be out and where to go to get it!

      So yeah, you’ve just lost $5 because of a couple of simple layout mistakes on your website, and that saddens me. 😦

      • robertbohl says:

        Ansob, you’re entirely right about this. I have criminally failed to produce this PDF for over a year, and in addition, I owe preorderers a free copy. I’ve totally dropped the fucking ball on this one, and I’m doing my best right now to catch up. I’m sorry using the site was a frustrating experience.

        While I’d like to offer an ETA on its finishing, I can’t responsibly do that right now. So this is me, accepting your criticism, and hoping you do get to hear about it when I’m done (I’ll be trying to do podcast and blog press on it when it’s ready).

      • Ansob says:

        The gist of that was more that you should update the site to have a big bold button saying “DOWNLOAD HERE!” on the main page, and update the download page to say “$5 PDF VERSION IN THE WORKS BUT NOT YET AVAILABLE, CHECK BACK IN SIX MONTHS” or whatever.

        And yes, I definitely hope I end up buying your game! Like I said in my post, it seems like the kind of thing I’d love to at least read and give you money for. 🙂

  8. robertbohl says:

    “You are obviously on the list of people who are doing it right in regards to this post (and the production value one, as well)!”

    Thank you! I’m grateful the game spoke to you.

    “We live in a world where games are a small, niche hobby, and each new game either takes business away from an old game (which may or may not have been good) or is ignored and dies. In this industry, right now, my choice to purchase Misspent Youth or Shock: Human Contact is exclusive. I don’t have the budget to support all of you, and anyone who does is absolutely an outlier. Maybe there’s a future in encouraging people to buy more; maybe not.”

    …. or to encourage OTHER people to buy the same amount or less. I hear “my group won’t play this” a lot, and my response (especially for indie games) is to make a new group. There’re plenty of people in your life who are creative and might be attracted to an effort to collaboratively make stories that’s stripped of a lot of what bothers or embarrasses them about the hobby.

    I wouldn’t argue that I could make a living off of these games (a very few indie designers do; maybe 2), and perhaps that’s the difference in our perspectives. I see this as an opportunity to express myself creatively and my goals for the business are to fund my hobby. The hobby is so niche, I don’t think it’s a good idea to try to make a living off of it (even though many freelancers and non-indies do).

    The business model I’m operating on is the same one that Kevin Smith is doing with his new movie Red State (or, rather, he’s unwittingly adopting the methodology used for more than five years by the indie rpg scene). He’s finding his audience, working to them, servicing them. He’s narrowcasting. The world now allows us to narrowcast to our audiences, because we can now find them.

    Thank you as well for this dialogue; I was expecting this to go all flamey for some reason. I’m glad it didn’t.

  9. Matthias says:

    I would rather be involved with a hobby that offers me thousands of games (since there are a lot of good ones along with the bad), than one that limits choice in order to pay some designers. And who is to decide what games are good and which are bad? You? Well, we all have that right, and that’s why we have a ton of games, since the games you play might very well make me cringe. Add to that the fact that we all play different types of games according to styles and comfort levels and skill, and it makes sense why one group has gamist rpgs and can’t stand my troupe that is in character all the time.

    You see a glut and revenue being fractionalized, but I see people spending their money on the games they prefer. And how is that bad?

    Our hobby is centered around creativity and storytelling and imagination. It’s no surprise that it attracts people who are creative themselves, and that players make and release their own games. It’s not killing our industry. It IS our industry. You make quite a distinction between “consumers” and “designers,” but to me the lines are blurred. There is incredible agency in playing these games; you become a writer when you do. It makes everyone sort of feel like a designer, or at least a part of a creative team with the people who put the game out.

  10. fugaros,

    First, I’m enjoying your posts. This is the sort of discussion that forces people to think about how they view tabletop gaming and what they want from it.

    I agree with Mattias that choice is a good thing, and that we should let a thousand flowers bloom. But I also agree with your point that what is good for core gamers is not necessarily good for potential gamers and newcomers.

    There’s a critical role here for game shops as curators and marketers. The best book stores and comic shops, the ones that continue to thrive even in the age of Amazon, provide good examples of how to stay relevant. They post staff reviews and flag titles of interest. They compile and post local sales results, so customers can see what’s popular. They break out certain products in visually compelling displays.

    Game shops give signals, knowingly or not. My local shop has a decent collection of games, but if I walked in the door not knowing a thing about RPGs, I’d probably leave within a minute or two. There is no shelf with intro games or free handouts explaining what RPGs are all about. There is nothing to tell me that D&D and Pathfinder are hugely popular and Mongoose RQ2 is going away.

    The games are grouped in a confusing mishmash of genre and publisher. The college kids behind the counter are nice folks, but the counter is close to the game table, and they are constantly chatting with their friends at the game table, rather than actively engaging customers.

    A huge selection of games is a good thing. But all of those options should not be presented in equal fashion by retailers. There’s nothing wrong with presenting games in a segmented fashion, so newcomers aren’t turned away and veteran gamers can satisfy their cravings for esoteric stuff.

    We don’t need fewer games. We do need better mechanisms for sorting through them and presenting them in a fashion that makes entry into the world of tabletop gaming easier for newcomers.

  11. Matthias says:

    Good point, Old School GM.

    I think the gatekeeping factor has relied a lot on the size of the game company, and the ubiquitous shadow of the name D&D. But having a better system would help get the youngbloods into the gateway games like D&D so they have a better chance of navigating the choice of games, figuring out if they like the hobby, etc.

    Every gaming store I’ve been to is dominated by the big companies, if only because of how much product they have. I think the online realm can actually be more confusing. But in the case of brand new gamers, how many try it out by buying online? I think more often they’re joining an established group.

  12. Matthias says:

    Original author, you say that the industry is dying or broken, that we all feel it. But I’m not sure that is true; I certainly don’t feel it. I’ve actually heard numbers (from a store owner and distributor) that show the hobby has grown since the ’80s. Where are you getting your figures from? And I guess, just as important, why are you so upset about the industry? The articles suggest you want to see a more efficient marketing model, but to what end? To garner more first time gamers? To gain more legitimacy as a hobby? Because from what I’ve heard, gaming is alive and strong, not faltering. Are you just imagining a way to make it even stronger? Famous GMs on ESPN gaming shows?

    • Red_Mage says:

      The hobby has kind of grown since the 80s, but not really. The number of people playing D&D actively (based on WotC’s best guess) is still not as many as there were red boxes sold in that one fateful Christmas.

      There are plenty of valid reasons to be upset about the industry, not least of all because some people involved in the hobby in general do not want it to turn into another model trains. The way you do that is by garnering more first time gamers, and the way you do that is by not letting horribly lax standards and Laissez-Faire approaches to business in general become the norm.

  13. I think the view that the RPG market is a very small pie that is being cut into smaller and smaller slices is erroneous. For one thing, a lot of those slices overlap. A lot of gamers play more than one game, and some play several. While this year has been pretty slow for me overall, I still managed to play or run games with at least 3 different systems.

    And the other issue is that there doesn’t have to be a pie at all. The pie only exists if you insist on marketing specifically to existing gamers. While this is generally easier (like selling a new flavor of ice cream), it does mean that you are deliberately limiting yourself.

    • Spencer says:

      There still are two pies, or perhaps one pie with two faces: money, and time. There are only so many hours you can spend on games, and so much money you can spend, and so RPGs have to, at the very least, compete for that.

      The only real way to expand the pie meaningfully is marketing, but the only company that really has the capital to do this is Hasbro, which isn’t going to spend lots of money to try and expand the market for RPGs when there’s so much risk and questionable rewards. And the games that would be most useful in expanding the market aren’t necessarily going to be “innovative” games in the sense that most players think- they’re going to be either “Party RPGs” like Fiasco and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, or “Family RPGs” that kids and parents can and would play together, like a simplified D&D or something.

      • It is definitely a marketing problem, but one that seriously needs to be tackled. Since game companies aren’t doing it, it has fallen to individual gamers and groups to recruit the next generation. And if that guy who invited you to his D&D game excessively resembles the Comic Book Guy from The SImpsons, well, you get the situation we’re looking at right now.

      • robertbohl says:

        “The only real way to expand the pie meaningfully is marketing, but the only company that really has the capital to do this is Hasbro”

        I’d disagree, Spencer. Every indie game designer expands the pie, and any successfully game expands the pie significantly enough for that game to have shoulder room.

        Hasbro can’t make it the replacement for the latest Modern Warfare, but no one can. Any given game, however, can make its audience (and thereby expand the audience for everyone, potentially).

      • Spencer says:

        In a significant way, though, Hasbro is the only company with enough capital. I’m going to start with an example, though. Take a look at Fiasco. Jason Morningstar and the other fine people at Bully Pulpit created a wonderful, wonderful game that’s perfect for parties or having friends over. So why isn’t some variant of it flying off the shelves at Toys R’ Us like Apples to Apples is? Why can’t I find it in my local chain bookstore next to Carcassone expansions and Starfarers of Catan? Because Bully Pulpit probably doesn’t have the capital to eat the necessary costs to get it into bookstores, and toy stores aren’t going to be buying a product with such dubious sales potential.

        And it would have dubious sales potential because the only way you can really learn about Fiasco is through word of mouth, thanks again to the limited budgets of Bully Pulpit, which probably don’t have the margin for advertising.

        And that brings me to the main point, with a personal anecdote. I got three people to try out D&D this year. I may be able to get them to try out some other games, especially ones like Fiasco that don’t require a great deal of commitment, and they probably won’t be buying much, but I brought three people “into the hobby”. But that’s not going to be enough to really expand the pie of dollars and the pie of hours. You need a mass of people entering the hobby. And the only way to really do that is through an advertising blitz. You (nonspecific, of course) need to sell games in several critical areas. You need to hit the parenting and kid’s magazines with ads for family games. You need to hit the teen magazines with ads for teen games. You need to hit the science magazines, you need something in the news and lifestyles magazines, and it couldn’t hurt to see what you can get into special-interest magazines. You need, simply to sell, sell, sell.

        But you also need product to sell. D&D 4e is a pretty good game, in my estimation. But it’s not something that you can sell as a family game as it is because it’s too complex for many parents and for younger children. There are other kid-oriented games out there, like Mouse Guard. But those don’t have the distribution or the money behind them to make this work either. You’ll need focus groups, too, to figure out what certain markets would like and direct development in those directions.

        And you need to market to different types of people. For example, I bet you could get businesspeople to at least be interested in RPGs if you marketed some of them as stress-relieving tools or as team-building tools. This would probably require a different approach than a conventional game, but thankfully there are a bunch of indie designers who’ve got most of the right tools for making those games. The same thing for a bunch of nontraditional markets- and a fraction of the people who play Business RPG or whatever as part of a team-building exercise will go on to buy and play more games. Not all of them, not even a large amount, probably, but at least a couple of them will.

        But simply having these markets will make it easier to support other games by virtue of having profit margins, or at least higher ones, with which to support games that are slight losses or only mildly profitable.

        It probably wouldn’t hurt to see if you could put together a general role-playing game magazine- not one as focused as Dragon is/was, not even one as focused as Pyramid was, but a general magazine to provide reviews and articles and interviews. It could even be online, but what’s important is providing a way for people to have something they could pick up and read to get information about role-playing games. Granted, this would be difficult without it becoming controlled by the developers, but Rolling Stone and every video game magazine are essentially controlled by content producers and people still buy them. The market can support a magazine for autograph collectors, I think it can support a role-playing game/tabletop game of general interest.

        Apologies for the length of this post.

  14. Emmett says:

    You misunderstand the market completely. The market isn’t for selling games. Otherwise there wouldn’t be free games. The market is designing games. Designing games and trying to get people to play them is the entertainment. People are doing it for fun.

    I’ve heard this argument several times already and it doesn’t work. It can’t work. Creativity is being democratized and that means everyone gets to vote. When there was one king, he got all the money and his palace was full of gold. Now the gold is going out to build roads that were neglected under his rule. The gold is being distributed.

    Is that bad? Only because the tools the people have are bad, misunderstood, confusing or misguided. There are dozens of design forums out there and that’s probably the biggest tool available. No one talks about how to do a good layout (well if they do they’re usually ignored). No one talks about how to get production values up.

    As has been mentioned several times the focus needs to be not on selling to existing gamers. It needs to be on how to get new players involved. If every third title got someone excited about RPGs then that’s a win. The market wants to grow but it is having a hard time because it’s so hard to explain why playing an RPG is fun.

    We need better instruction, better tools, more direction on technical subjects like layout and marketing. The average game has to expand into technologies that are available rather than relying on the printed page. The technology is here, it’s free, lets do it right!

    • bombasticus says:

      Emmett, I’m not picking on you, but I’d suggest that selling games is exactly what “the market” — or “the industry” — is all about.

      If we’re talking about “the hobby” or even “the sacred vocation” of game design, sure, it’s all about having fun and distributing work for free. You can definitely support and grow “the hobby” without being in “the market” or participating in “the industry.”

      Gamers gotta game, sure. Publishers gotta make money.

      I think what concerns our host is the notion that a lot of semi-pro product is muddling the line and undermining both sides of our thing.

      • Emmett says:

        Someone interested in making money doesn’t tell the customers what they want to buy. Yes a really good salesman can do that for a while, but eventually people will stop listening when they realize what the were sold isn’t what they wanted. No, to make money, you find a way to solve a problem and sell the solution. In this case the problem is that people want to make games and don’t know how to do a good job of it. Sell them the solution and you’ll make money.

  15. Philo Pharynx says:

    Boy I’m glad that those fine folks at Paizo didn’t listen to you. They published a game that was based on decade old rules that they didn’t even write. They tweaked it a bit and made up yet another generic fantasy world. By your argument Paizo is one of the groups destroying the industry. And yet they have enormous sales and support a vibrant 3rd party community.

    • fugaros says:

      In a way, Paizo proves my point. They didn’t make a game, they co-opted and exploited an existing game and customer base in an exceedingly savvy and intelligent manner. Lisa Stevens is many things, but stupid is not one of them.

  16. zzarchov says:

    I work in software. The software industry is full of people making free products (including ones no longer supported, ones not made to make any money, etc). Quite frankly the software industry is a lot more important to the functioning of modern civilization than gaming.

    That said it has all the same problems. The people making free shitty open source products, working on their off time. They lower the ability of for profit businesses to earn appropriate income for their investment. They drive down the wages of developers for companies like Microsoft, Success Factors or Replicon.

    But do you know how many software company owners or software developers have honest complaints about open source? Nigh zero. Because part of being a professional (an industry) is understanding the field you are in. In software, any schmuck with a free copy of netBeans can release some crappy software hoping to alternatively make it rich or just release something cool before he stops supporting it. Thousands of options for any task you want done.

    But that is part of the field. Knowing what impact amateurs have on it before you get involved in it. An industry is there to make money, it is not your friend.

    This is no different for professional authors tired of people trying to write the great [nationality] novel in their retirement, or musicians tired of people performing for free instead of charging for gigs. It is part of the industry to know and rate these issues.

    This is the nature of a free market. This is exactly how roleplaying games came about in the first place (If you saw Chainmail in among the real professionally done war games of its era you would have the same complaints as this article).

  17. Gabe says:

    You sound personality disordered. When the world is wrong and everything would be better if it just did things your way that is a failure to adapt, that is sine qua non of a personality disorder. Psychotherapy can help you but you have to want to change.

    • fugaros says:

      Please don’t make unfounded accusations like this. It’s ridiculous, inappropriate, and disrespectful.

      • bombasticus says:

        Ferris Bueller, you are indeed my hero. From the histrionics, you evidently hit a raw nerve here.

        The follow-up question is why this particular point is getting the panties so bunched at this particular moment.

  18. Christoph says:

    I understand some of your frustration when you visit DriveThruRPG, your local RPG dungeon in the basement of a Comic Shop, but you are missing several aspects about the RPG industry.
    First, the RPG Industry is not an “Industry” in the strictest sense. An Industry is an aggregate of productive businesses. An aggregate is a large group and means that they put out a great deal of product and employ many people; providing those people a living. Industry is in reality a very bad descriptor for RPGs “Industry”. WoTC is the only large profitable business in the “Industry”. One company doesn’t make an industry, neither does a few. Before you all go on the defensive defending our hobby, I’m not saying this is bad. Industries are driven by profit, marketing, and sales.
    Instead, we are the RPG Community.
    As a Community, we don’t have to care about those things, instead we can concentrate on community driven sites, media, and making our own games. As a member of the RPG community you may even consider it your responsibility to support great games out there created by other members of the community. Still it is your community, what do you want it to be?

  19. Peter Adkison said the hobby was oversaturated a decade ago, so this is not a new problem — but the question is who this ends up being a problem for. It’s not a problem for Benny Dicks because your scenario isn’t really how he gets into RPGs. He usually plays a market leader and then follows his group of online community to other games. It’s not a problem for POD game designers because they aren’t in it to make rational business decisions.

    In fact, most of them are really not talented enough to make games that would fit into any rational business plan. The reason you see lots of retroclones and short games is less because game designers have rediscovered the virtues of economy, and more because the 10,000 to 50,000 words of these games represent a titanic undertaking for them. They don’t care, however, and I fully expect the howlers to come out at the suggestion that many game designers just can’t hack the pace of professional level content.

    Really, the most rational thing for them to do would be to release everything free or at cost, which is what many of them do. The inverse is that for them, collaborating on anything more challenging will never be too rewarding because they can’t write at a decent pace, and a micro-publisher can’t afford to pay them. When Zak Smith says that freelancing is no good, he’s basically right — if you have the abilities of a typical self-starting creator. (For a guy like *me* — well, I get paid better and work faster than the people he polled.) But some folks really want the faux-prestige of a Gencon booth and the moniker of being a Paid Game Designer, to the point where they form communities to trade cash and accolades. This works for them, so the number of games out there isn’t their problem. And there are *just* enough exceptions to keep them hoping, as each year, the handful of small press games with really good covers sell well in the convention circuit.

    But Benny Dicks really should have options other than a couple of different kinds of D&D and licensed GW properties as entry-level games. Indie games had a decade to develop the “blue ocean” market of new, outside-the-scene gamers they promised, and failed. Retroclones certainly aren’t made for Benny Dicks. In fact, his first exposure to roleplaying outside of computer games may well be fanfic-based freeform. (There’s a reason why when I Google “RPG forum,” RPGnet is *not* the top result.) The Dresden Files RPG is probably the closest we’ve gotten lately, and that’s amusingly meta as it’s a license based on what looks for all the world like bowlderized World of Darkness fiction. On the plus side, it shows that there’s a way up, which looks a lot like “Produce a some high quality small press games, learn the ropes, and adapt mainstream best practices. Also, run your business well enough to get a loan.” (Evil Hat just paid theirs off, if I remember correctly.)

    But this is where we get back to the fact that it’s hard to produce polished work at the required pace for top 5 level sales, and harder still to finance it in the face of questions about who’s going to buy it. The Dresden Files made it work through licensing, and I sincerely hope it turns evergreen. Back in the day, the big, positive examples was WEG’s Star Wars, which hooked a great license and married it to a newb-friendly, polished game system. But this bugs me because I think RPGs should strive to develop their own intellectual properties. Sustained success with a license isn’t easy. (Decipher had the Lord of the Rings license while the movies were coming out, and still couldn’t hack it!)

    So nobody’s going to stop making games, but this doesn’t matter when it comes to giving Mr. Dicks something to play. Adding a game to the pantheon of entry-level RPGs has always been difficult. Vampire, Shadowrun and RIFTS all cracked it at times but never in a sustained way, especially compared to D&D.

    To makes a game like that, you’d need talent and money converging around a really engaging core concept — and by “concept,” I don’t mean a game system. Systems sometimes break interest, but they almost never *make* interest. System wanking is for committed grogs, not the likes of Benny Dicks, RPG Newb. Remember, we live in a world where our games are minority definitions of roleplaying compared to computer games and online freeform. And honestly, when it comes to the talent involved, people with it can use it to get paid doing something else. That’s why the last time I did world building, it was for an MMO story bible.

  20. I know I am late to this party, but I will make an exciting entrance I hope.

    I think one of the things you are overlooking here is the need for skill building. If someone wants to learn to make games, what is their avenue? The answer is none. I can’t just walk up to WotC and say “hire me, I have good ideas”. So without that entry-level avenue, people just start making their own stuff.

    Now does it suck? Yes. At first, it does. My first game Synapse is a piece of crap, even in my eyes looking back just over a year ago to release. But it was NECESSARY crap. It was important to do. You have to muscle your way through that early stuff.

    Fall back on whatever pop psych you want. the 10,000 hour rule or that awesome video by Ira Glass about taste. The message is the same; work at it until you get better.

    So I muscled my way through Synapse and then through four other games. The last two have been pretty decent. I have moved through different genres to bring fresh perspectives and I have tried to make each game different in a strong way. I am pushing myself away from just that “one uber-game I just know in my heart I can write” and trying a lot of stuff. I agree that mentality of the uber-game can be a problem, so I avoided it.

    My layout skills have been catapulting forward (I am self-taught) and my writing has greatly improved. I have released everything so far for free, because I think of these things as my training grounds. They are necessary to write, hopefully they will inspire people, but they are just like assignments in a university class. Nobody expects you to have the same quality output as a freshman that they do as a senior. You have to learn stuff.

    Am I destroying the gaming industry by producing a few products for free on the internet? Hardly.

    I am now starting work on some projects that I intend to charge money for. I feel like I have reached that level. But I would have never reached that level if I hadn’t written those early games. They were extremely important to my development.

    That is a very important thing to remember. That indie designer you are wagging your finger at today might be a titan that never could have risen were it not for that training period.

    I have read some of Michael Crichton’s early work, it blows. He needed to write those crappy books to get better. That’s just how it is.

  21. It seems to me that the point of role playing games is to express creativity. If you want to make money as a game developer good luck, but you’re better off in just about any other business. I can’t imagine Vincent Baker is a millionaire no matter how many awards Apocalypse World wins.

    If you want customers to have clear, high quality choices, that’s lovely too, but as a niche hobby RPGs require a certain amount of research and dedication – pretty much a basic requirement of any hobby. Meet some people, go online, ask around. It’s easy to get recommendations.

    People who play express their creativity through their characters. People who build express their creativity through their games. In a world that values creativity and uniqueness less and less (Walmart sells “art” for God’s sake!) I think the more people out there dedicating huge amounts of their time to RPGs the better.

    The book stores are lined with lousy novels and almost everyone I know is working on a screenplay and yet I somehow manage to find something good to read or watch.

    And you know what? If I get partway through a book or a movie I don’t like I can always put it down or walk out. The advantage to having lots of choice is there’s always something waiting for me if the last one disappoints.

  22. Personally I am quite tired of the games that are around. Nor do I like 4E and quite a long time ago I lost interest and respect for Pathfinder. It not a lack of quality, oh they have a lot in quality in design, layout, art, etc. But they don’t give me what I want. I want certain freedom to develop characters and stories that these games won’t give. And at least in the second case, ebcause they are not interested in such thing (I was around making coments along others in Paizo forum’s as we tried the Beta of Pathfinder).

    I took a years ago into Mutants & Masterminds system, adn I really like it, but it requieres a lot of work for a fantasy story. We tried Fate and some things are interesting and others lacking. I suppose I still need to try True20 and Fantasy Craft (which I took a look) and they might or might not give mw what I need.

    Personally I have been toying with the idea of creating my own system (even if only for me and my table) because the systems in the market are not what I want or need. Yeah, some have things I want to use, but many I would rather take away, I might finish making a Frankestein just to be happy. And its not because I think I am good at mechanics and now better than the people in the industry. But after almost 20 years playing and checking a good vvariety of games I know what I want… and I am not really seeing it in the big ones, and the small ones have only pieces of the puzzle.

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