Wednesday, January 19, 2011

So what have I said that's new? What insight have I provided? All I've asserted is that electronic entertainment is more popular than old-fashioned pen-and-paper RPGs. And in other news, water is wet. Way to go with pointing out the obvious, Ross. Next, you'll tell us TCGs destroyed the retail system. I'm amazed at your insights.

So what am I trying to say? First, I think the barriers to entry for RPGs needs to much lower than they currently are. Not barriers to production, mind you. Those are already pretty low. As others have pointed out, all you need is a computer, a fairly decent layout program, and an idea. No, I'm talking about the barriers to entry for the end user.

Now, there's no way to overcome the inherent limitations of an RPG. You need friends, you have to meet them someplace, and you should do this on a fairly regular basis. Oh, and you need dice. Unfortunately, there's no way around this. You'll never be able to compete with computer games, with their ease of access and use. You've got to have friends and leave the house. I can't help that. I can, however, address the barriers to entry that manufacturers impose.

RPGs are too big, by which I mean their page counts are too high. They're too expensive, too. I know I'm largely to blame for this; I played my part. It would be nice if we were all White Wolf or WotC, and could justify putting out hardcover books at $45 a pop. Then again, I'm not even sure they can do that. Really, I can say with all honesty, we at LUG (and Decipher) released our games in hardcover format solely because we knew we could charge more for them. We were goosing the price point. It wasn't because we were using glossy magazine stock for all the pretty screen grabs. If Simon & Schuster could put out a 600-page glossy Star Trek encyclopedia and make it a softcover, we could have done the same for our 256-page game. But hey, we had to pay off a $150,000 licensing fee....

It's all about making money. I'm an ardent capitalist, so I understand making money. It would be great if roleplaying games could generate enough income that you could quit your day job. I know very few people who can do this. Even some of the "big names" of game design do it part-time. This doesn't stop people from trying, however, and they do this by releasing large games and a supplement a month (the so-called "splatbook" approach). Why release a 128-page book for $19.95 when you can put out a book at twice the size and at a higher price point? It makes economic sense.

Except the more expensive something is, the fewer people will buy it. I don't see a lot of people tooling around in Maseratis. This will rankle long-time professionals in the industry. After all, the price point for an RPG in the mid-80s was around $20. And the price point twenty years later appears to be... around $20. So to compensate, companies will put out more stuff. The problem is, your customer base has a hard time keeping up with all the releases, they may not want all that ancillary information, and (let's face it) eventually the creators run out of ideas and start putting out crap. You start putting out The Complete Guide to Red-headed, Gimpy Dwarves, and trying to figure out a way to justify it to the fanbase. And then the whole house of cards falls apart.

But what if we took the "microgame" approach? Remember those? Steve Jackson Games really pioneered this area. You could play a great game, like Car Wars or Illuminati, for not a lot of money. If you didn't like the game, you were out not a lot of money. You could pick it up quickly, and put it down, then come back to it later. I played the daylights out of Ogre, for example. I could play it now (if I still had a copy, that is). And I think this concept is what could keep pen-and-paper roleplaying games relevant.

There is just no reason for a WotC or Paizo to put out huge, coffee-table worthy books. In fact, that's what keeps me from buying Pathfinder, D&D 4e, and Dresden Files.

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