Tuesday, July 20, 2010

One Size Fits All Marketing at WOTC?

The Hasbro quarterly conference call transcript is up again. As usual, no mention of D&D. However, they gushed about Magic and the digital thing they are doing with it, and how its driving revenue and profits.

In the Q&A section


they say this:

Brian Goldner

David will talk about the sales in Magic in a second. But just to talk about the core brand reinvention, a couple of years ago, we changed the management team. We have great leadership out on the West Coast. The team had really re-thought that business entirely, really went back out after a trial mechanism in getting young people and people who may have lapsed as users to get back into the brand. They really reinvented the entire play pattern in many ways, but kept the things that were always important to the core player and to the fan. The fruits of that effort are starting to come to be borne out, both in the analog card business as well as the digital business. So I really compliment the team for their efforts in – this is a true case of brand reinvention, re-imagination, all yet keeping the core methodology very consistent for that core fan. Dave, you want to talk about sale?

John Taylor - Arcadia Investment Corporation

Before Dave goes, I wonder if I could get you to expand on the digital versus analog thing there. Are you using the digital as much of a revenue generator? If so, is that a key growth driver or is that mostly more marketing-type thing?

Brian Goldner

No. It's a for-sales product. You can build your hand, your deck online. You can buy and you are buying. People are buying digital objects, which are the cards. You have the opportunity if you want to turn those digital objects into analog cards and have your deck delivered to you, but it's really both in terms of growth and usage. Certainly, quantitatively, there is still more business in the analog card business, although digital has grown as has analog. It's a bit of a difference; you're seeing more new users using the analog or paper-based cards whereas you tend to see more lapsed users who have moved away from their friends, they've set up their own lives and they are now reengaging with other lapsed Magic players online because of course, digital helps you to span those distances between friends.

There's more about it, but that's the meat of it, and the site only allows you to copy up to 400 words for use elsewhere.

Anyhow, it occurred to me that if you took out Magic and substituted D&D in there, it would read the same as what we've been hearing out of them in terms of their digital initiative and the reasons for it.

Which makes me wonder, did they actually develop a marketing strategy for D&D separate and independent from Magic? Or, since Magic is so huge that D&D is just a pisshole in the snow compared to it, did they just slap Magic's marketing strategy on top of D&D in order to save resources, citing certain similarities between the customer base (and ignoring differences in the games themselves).

I know it sounds stupid, but as anyone who has worked in a large corporate environment can attest to, it sounds like something a boneheaded corporation would come up with, doesn't it? After all, the revenue streams are so low from D&D compared to Magic, who would notice in terms of overall sales from the "west coast" as they are described above? In the meantime, you saved money and resources in not having to come up with an individualized marketing plan for a product. Short term, you look good, and long term you're covered since the mother ship doesn't care about D&D anyhow, and the growth in the main product will grow revenue for the division anyhow.

Also, I wonder if they will move towards a more print on demand basis in the future, as they are doing with Magic. If they are following the same marketing plan, we'll see it happen I bet.

Edited to add:

I don't play 4e, and am hardly familiar with the system. But people who are just posted this:

"Probably our biggest concern is compatibility. Will all of the stuff coming out in Essentials be compatible with stuff I already have? Every word from WOTC says “yes” and I imagine they’re right.

At least, it’s as compatible as the rest of 4e is right now.

That’s a statement with some subtext so let me clarify. 4e has changed a lot over the past two years. The mechanical design we see in later books is quite different from the design we see in the early releases. For DM’s, I think these design changes are clearly seen when comparing monsters at the paragon tier and above across all three Monster Manuals. I’ll talk more about this in a bit. For players, it’s seen clearly in the huge number of updates to the core classes and powers in the original Player’s Handbook.

The core classes today are very different from those in the original Player’s Handbook. The recent change to Magic Missile is one such example.

The one thing keeping players sane is the Character Builder. Because it’s constantly updated, we don’t have to worry too much about keeping up with all of the updates. Of course, it makes us look at our core rulebooks and wonder why we bother to carry them around. I know I’ve stopped doing so. I might as well be bringing a Laura K. Hamilton hardback for all the good they’d do me at the table."

From here:


So, with books being outdated after 2 years, and the true source located online, why publish books? Just print what you need, when you need it. Is this the future?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

My Final Take on the Latest OSR Debate

Here's my final take on the whole damned mess.

First, I like and respect Rob and James as people as also like and respect their work.  They're both very creative people.  I've spoken to them both via email and the phone with Rob, and via chat and blogs and boards with Jim.  Rob consented to a very long interview, full of personal questions, which will be posted to my blog one of these years, when we ever finish it.  That being said, I'll attempt to speak my mind rather than mealy-mouth and worry about offending.  I'll just state how I feel, my observations based on my understanding of the two individuals, without sharing personal info, and let the dice fall where they may.  They'll probably both hate me after this, but whatever.  I have to say it as I feel and see it.

As to the OSR:  I don't like revisionist history and dogma.  I do see some of that, and it grows as the OSR grows.  Then comes bull and politics.  Then the judgment of the good/bad/right/wrong way to play D&D rears its ugly head.  It's what happens in every organization/movement/type of thing where people come together.  It's a natural occurrence.   It's inevitable.  Some people see it growing, some people don't.  I see a lot of the early signs of it, being a hater of it, and my early warning system is going off.

Some people say they won't be affected, that they play how they want to regardless of the groupthink.  Fine.  Maybe you won't be.  But for every one strong individual there are at least 10 or more insecure follower types, without a strong a personality, who can be infected with groupthink and Kool-Aid drinking.  That's undeniable, though the ratio may be debatable.  That's who I'm worried about.

As it stands now, the most vocal among us are, unsurprisingly, the people with perhaps the strongest streaks of individuality.  To an extent, those people are in common agreement on certain things, and post their shared views to the world. Those shared views become impressed on the impressionable as “the way it is” just by virtue of being the most common and available reading material.  All things are compared against it.

Then impressionable follower types then preach the one true way to the world, as read on the blogs and boards of the OSR.

So then what the heck is the OSR spreading?  If it's spreading at all in any real numbers, which is something I question, it's spreading groupthink instead of unlimited creativity and play, which was the intent of the creators of the hobby, and some of the earliest desires of those who starting rediscovering their gaming roots a few years, and coalesced into a group of people we now call the OSR.  (I'll note for the record that there's a ton of people that never left, like some at Dragonsfoot, and thousands all over the world, who still play the games they grew up with.)

People then lose focus on the whole reason for the thing in the first place:  to enjoy playing older D&D games, and to share our games, creativity and fun with others.

As to the labeling of who is part of it, and who is not, I've stated my opinion on that here:


Let me just add that the problem in my with Jim's post on his opinion of who is in the OSR and who is not, is this:

You can self identify and part of a group.  No problem.  You will always have others consider you part of a certain group or subset.  That's just part of life.  There's nothing you can do about it.  However, Jim's post made it sound like he was telling others that they were part of something, defined by a certain set of subjective criteria, and THAT THEY THEREFORE HAD TO CONSIDER THEMSELVES PART OF IT, WHETHER THEY LIKED IT OR NOT, BECAUSE THE GROUP AND THE GROUP'S CRITERIA MADE THEM PART OF IT.  That's the key difference.  In other words, it came across as telling people what to think.  It smelled of the dogma I spoke of earlier.  Hence my speaking out about it on my blog, as I hate dogma.

After speaking with Rob and corresponding with him via email for close to a year, I can honestly say he has one of the strongest streaks of individuality I've ever encountered.  He has his own sense of integrity and set of personal beliefs which he tries to live by every day of his life, which compels him to speak out like he has.  As such, you can understand why he was riled up by Jim's post, which made it seem like Jim was implying Rob was part of a group and should consider himself thus.  Rob's not a follower.

He also isn't a guy who constantly goes out there and says “I deserve respect for my accomplishments.”   For the most part, he lets his creations speak for themselves.   I know Jim is a big fan of Rob's work.  He has stated so many times.  I'm a fan of Jim's work and Rob's work, and have stated as such to each of them about their own work, and about the other guy's work.  In terms of the products each produces, I think both guys have a lot in common.  Both exhibit a lot of creativity, and their modules are great examples of pushing the limits of what's out there today.

Rob doesn't need to OSR for sales or credentials.  He was there at the beginning, and doesn't need the name recognition.  Jim does.  Of course he is going to push the OSR as a brand under which to market his products.   I think Rob gets that, and doesn't mind outside of the groupthink component of it.  What really pissed him off I believe is the lack of respect not to himself, but to the whole thing HE was part of, and the group of people at TSR he worked and played with in its earliest days.  I honestly don't think Rob is as personally offended, as much as he is offended at the revisionist history, creeping dogma, lack of focus on play and creativity, and a betrayal of what he considers the core of D&D, and a lack of respect for people who made the whole thing happen in the 70's, culminating for him as the blog post that broke that camel's back in some of Jim's posts recently which exhibited some of those things.   It wasn't all about Jim, is was building for a while I think.

Also, I think Zak S made a valid point above when he said “I don't know man--has there EVER been a renewal of interest in a thing where the originators of the thing being renewed didn't clash with the renewer?”

I think that's a lot of what's going on here too.  Different generations always take things in different directions.  The earlier generations, the ones who created something,  are often shocked, offended, and outraged at where their creation goes.  Jefferson was not pleased with where America was heading when he died, and Einstein hated the fact that his theory of relativity was needed in creating atomic bombs.   I think its the same thing with Rob and Tim, and maybe others from the old days who haven't spoken up yet.  It's just human nature that some bit of ego is involved, though it seems more so with Tim than Rob, and feelings are hurt as people feel due respect isn't being given or shown, not so much to the people, but to what the people created and what they believed and intended it to stand for.

Rob did a ton of work and out a lot of effort into the game in the early days, and as such he deserves the respect of anyone who has ever rolled a d20.  I suspect that Rob would consider the highest form of that respect to be creating something that breaks the boundaries of the games we play today, and the games we played in the 70's---or at least don't do crap that impedes others from being able to do that, through regurgitation of old tropes, misrepresenting the past, or being part of something that dogmatizes and sets rules and boundaries on creativity.

I think Jim has a helluva future ahead of him.  He is doing what others aren't in his modules, and he is trying to open the tent wider to grow what he considers to be the OSR, by bringing the works of other publishers to his display table at conventions to sell.  His take seems to be that a rising tide raises all ships.  I think for that he needs to be commended.  But he still wants to earn a buck, and he honestly believes that the OSR exists, that it is a good thing overall, that the dogma is not there in any damaging degree, and that its useful in bringing others to the table.   It's also useful in growing his business.

Plus, he has a bit of an ego himself.  I think everyone who goes to blogspot and creates a forum for themselves to speak to others does.  It takes a certain level of ego, if not narcissism, to stand up on a soapbox uninvited and say  “Here I am.  Hear what I have to say!”  With Jim its also tooting the horn of the OSR so as to keep the movement alive, so the business opportunities grow.  That's completely understandable., but also its understandable why it may irk others as it has.  From ra-ra comes dogma.

That being said, I think Rob may be off in one area:  many if not most people don't care about the spread of creativity and play, and other ideals of his and the founders of the hobby and TSR.  I understand that Rob is a person who wants to put that out there and make it grow, and so the fact that he sees a group which takes on the trappings of earlier his creations and is using it to stifle creativity through dogma and revisionist history is especially galling to him.  However, his ideal is not the greatest and highest form, because ideals in themselves are subjective.  To criticize one group's ideals primarily because those ideals create something that runs counter to your own ideals, is inevitable perhaps, but since ideals are in themselves subjective, from a higher perspective the battle over ideals is the same as the battle over raisin bran or corn flakes.  I don't think its a black and white as Rob describes, but I understand that his core set of beliefs make him feel as he does. I think that there is perhaps some good that can come of the OSR, mixed with the bad.  I'm sounding the early warning bell of dogma though, and I think if it continues, not much more will come of it in terms of spreading the hobby's original core values of pure unstifled creativity, which is what attracted most of us to the hobby in the first place I think.  But understand that the good and the bad are also subjective, especially when it comes to something like this.  It ultimately comes down to what an individual wants for their own individual games and the hobby.

Some ideals are perhaps more important than others, because of their ability to affect more people through belief in those ideals, but ultimately as any student of history knows, ideals come and go based on the time and place you live.  You just have to pick and choose a set of beliefs to get you through the day, and let you live a life that makes you happy, and let others do the same, because in the end it doesn't matter anyhow, we're all worm food.  Anything we leave behind is going to be used and perhaps corrupted to suit the needs of those using it.  It's depressing but true.  I think Rob believes he is seeing that now, and I can understand why he thinks it sucks.

As to points of view on the matter, imagine a brand new car that has been sideswiped.  A person standing on the side that was smashed looks at the car and says “what a piece of crap.”  A person on the other side says “What a beautiful car.” 

We all come to this with a certain viewpoint, based on out life's experiences.  That creates a certain point of view.  In spite of our differences, and the differences of opinion on this matter and where I think they're coming from, which I've tried to outline above, at the end of the day we all roll a 20-sider to hit something and like to have fun with our friends playing DnD.  On that basis, we have far more in common than we do differences.  If we try and understand the other side's point of view, I think each side can find some truth on the other side.  Life is rarely black and white, and is usually full of shades of gray.  Hopefully we can find some common ground and work together to grow the aspects of the game and hobby that we all love and share and have in common.

I've not really spoken about Tim's post, because honestly I don't know the guy, or of him.  No offense intended to Tim.  I'm not a scholar of DnD history.   I know the role he played in the early days of TSR within the company, and as such I give him the respect he is due for helping to create a game and a hobby I love.

My personal hope for whatever we consider this OSR thing to be is that it breaks loose among the general populace before dogma takes hold and stifles it, and my nephews and nieces have lots of people to play old versions of D&D with in the style of game they played with their uncles and aunts around a kitchen table when they were kids. 

Hopefully it gets there.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Different Twist on the Origins of Undead

Some ideas came to me the other day regarding the origins of undead vs. the type of undead they are.  Skeletons and Zombies come from the create undead type spells typically, right?  What about the rest?  We know that some undead create others of the same kind, but where did the first come from?  Certainly there wasn't one progenitor of all of those types, especially when they are mindless beasts. 

How about this:  most undead come from the create undead type spells.  Whether they are Skeleton or Zombie is a matter of deterioration.  But whether they are another type has to do with how evil they were in their lives.  Ghouls and Ghasts could be more evil versions of what was a Zombie, for example.

Next though we have the question of how to define evil.  How about the 7 deadly sins?  The more they committed in life, the more evil they were.  This might also lead in some cases to types of undead being determined---like Ghouls and Ghasts always feeding = greed or gluttony or some combo of the two.  Mummies sin was vanity and pride, hence the wrapping the body and mummification proceess.  They might also have been greedy, as indicated by being buried with all their stuff.

Ghosts:  Pushed to all manner of evil acts through greed for all that life had to offer, their reward is to constantly drain the life-span from their victims representing the waste of many years spent in life seeking that which couldn’t last.

Vampires:  Have the body parts and the desire for sex, the sin of lust was their weakness, but their mere touch kills the victim they lust after.

Lich:  The ultimate in undead, in that a form as been created which  will allow it to fulfill the primary motivating force of its previous existence: Greed. Greed for power, obtained through wealth and magic, exercised through control of everything in existence.  A lich knows that gluttony and lust are for lesser beings, not in control of base appetites.  Wrath and envy are for those without the power to take what they want.  Sloth is good to have in obedient servants without a will of their own, and pride is unnecessary to one with true power, as the manifestation of true power is reward enough. This leaves pure Greed as the sole reason to exist, greed for power, with the will focused through the eternity of lichdom to carry out the acquisition of power.

The Wraith/Wight/Spectre trilogy might represent something for the sins of wrath and/or envy:  For those who have killed due to desire for something, or someone.  They took a life, and are thus cursed to forever drain life and with each kill they are hungrier and hungrier, never to be satiated, making them more full of wrath.  Their form is even more shadowy the more lives they took, representing the fact that even if they were to obtain that which they killed for, they would not be able to hold it.

Shadows might be sloth as the sin:  Searching for the strength of will to achieve something in undeath, since they never had the strength of will to achieve it in life, all they manage to do is drain physical strength from their victims, as they fade to insubstantiality, never able to truly affect anything in the world again.

If most of them are created through the create undead type spells, then the cleric never knows what he is going to get every time he casts it.  He better be powerful enough to control what he creates, or else it would be as likely to turn on its creator as the person the creator targeted them against.

How about those clerics and paladins who fight the undead?  What if they happened to have been extremely virtuous in some of the qualities that are the direct opposite of the vices which they undead are attuned to?  Chastity, temperence, patience, kindness, humility, diligence, and charity.  The DM could allocate some bonus to turning or damage based on how the character has been roleplayed.  Also, items owned by people who were particularly well known for these virtues would be more effective against the undead, and vice versa for being able to control them.

Anyhow, just some ideas.  I have no charts or tables to offer, nor a unified system that ties it all together.  I'm not good at that sort of thing.  Just some ideas thrown out there---do what you want with them if you think they may be helpful.

On Membership in the OSR

Why be part of the OSR?  Why define yourself as part of it?  Can't we just play the game we like, share our creations, and encourage others to do the same and thereby grow the hobby?

A couple if posts of James Raggi and Rob Kuntz are showing a couple of different mindsets.  Jim defines anyone who:

1.    Are you playing pre-1989 D&D, or a simulacra unofficially based thereon?
2.    Are you publishing material for those games?
  ...as deep in the OSR.

Rob doesn't want to be part of it, basically because—-guess what---it doesn't matter why.  Everyone has the right to be part of whatever they want.  If we can't even self-identify, WTF good is life?

I think its cool that so many people are getting back into older D&D games.  But truthfully, maybe the whole OSR thing has run its course in terms of being useful to growing the hobby.  I mean, has it brought in any new players?  Or is it just 600 people on a nostalgia trip, rediscovering a game they loved as kids and making stuff for it? 

At the very least, its dogmatic tendencies make it something I don't want to be part of---if I ever was in the first place.  I'm just a guy who likes to play AD&D who can't get a group going because no one else plays AD&D around here.  I don't share shit with others on my blog, I don't write modules, and I don't write long pseudo-intellectual crap telling others what to think about old shit other people published, like some art teacher regurgitating to his students what to think of paintings in the words of his grad student teacher of  40 years ago.

The end result of such academic definitions is dogma, and things that “qualify” as old school, and things that don't.   Or they get categorized in a certain “age” of D&D.  I mean, who gives a shit?  How does that affect the game we play?

Fighter:  “Wow, that particular bit of dungeon ecology is a fine example of old school Zagygian Naturalism from the Golden Age of Dungeon Architecture.”

DM:  “Um...yeah.  While you were admiring the Bugbear's latrine, one one of them came up and chopped your head off.  3D6, six times in order bitch.”

In the meantime, we fight over bullshit distinctions, as to who's in it, who's not, what it means to be in it---and God forbid you don't drink the right color Kool-Aid.  Then you're ostracized.   Defining something just creates one limitation after another.  All that results in is limiting creativity as you are forced to create within a certain box for a certain audience, which defeats the whole purpose of a game with unlimited imaginative potential like D&D in the first place.

Can't we all just play the fuckin' game we like to play and share our best creative work with each other and try to get new people into the hobby?  Especially the latter part, or else the whole branch of the hobby we love so much will just die off as we argue over the virtues of bugbear latrines and their place in the history of D&D.  For Christ's sake, run a fuckin' game at a Con and get people exposed to the game.   That's something even I've done.

Otherwise, as Chogwiz said, its like a big circle jerk.

EDIT:  Just to clarify, what Jim is doing is above and beyond what most are doing to bring others into the hobby.   My post was directed against him at the beginning only, in terms of defining membership.  The rest of it was more towards the potential of the OSR to grow the hobby, yet not seeing much happen on that front.  How about running games at cons for example?  Probably the best way to do it.  Not seeing too much happen.  To run an OSR con is great, but does it expose others who wouldn't go to it in the first place to older games and gamestyles?  I see a lot of energy wasted on fights and history, but not much in sharing the game and growing the hobby.  On that front, Jim is doing more than most, with his exposing the game to others at Ropecon as well as other games and publishers.  He gets that a rising tide raises all ships.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

4E Essentials---4.5? Beta Test for 5.0? Who knows....

I honestly can't figure out what the hell they're doing. It's supposedly geared towards the new gamers, and trying to get new people into the hobby without scaring them with 20,000 pages of rules. That's a fine goal which I support (though how its easier when one of the "Essential Line's" essential books is a several hundred page Rules Compendium is beyond me).

I don't know enough about 4e to know how the changes in Essentials affect the game, but it seems upon reading the official PR crap that some of the changes make it more like it used to be in older editions. That combined with the whole red box thing makes me think they are trying for people who never got on the 4e bandwagon, as well as older gamers for whom "Red Box" holds nostalgic significance.

And yet they say it doesn't mess with the existing 4e game. From what I've seen in commentary on various boards, it definitely will, and its potentially as significant a change as 3.5 was from 3.0.

All I know is that with WOTC's existing track record for twisting the truth for PR purposes, we won't know what Essentials actually is until it comes out. At that point we'll get a better understanding of what they were TRYING to do, which is apparently be all things to all people, past/present/future gamers.

We'll see how that works out.

If past attempts are any indication, whatever it is they are trying to do will cause a massive PR backlash.

And then there will be layoffs.  Maybe even prior to the annual Christmas Fuck You's.

Edit: Here's an interesting opinion...