Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Edition Wars

I woke up this morning and headed down to my local Starbucks to enjoy their free wireless. I purchased a delicious cup of coffee and headed over to Facebook (you may have heard of it) where I discovered a flare up of edition wars.

For those of you not in the know, the edition wars are intense, vitriolic arguements about which edition of a game is better. For example, there have been four editions of Dungeons & Dragons. Each has it's proponents and detractors. Some people absolutely hate 4th edition (4e) while others pine for the good old days of second edition (2e).

Previously, new editions of roleplaying games were much like new editions of textbooks. That is to say, there were a few minor modifications that justified you spending a whole lot of money on something you really didn't need in the first place. And somewhere someone would make a lot of money off of this racket. Whenever a game company needed money, it would insert a few new spells, or a variant combat system, slap a new edition number on it and start selling. The only thing missing is the ability to sell your horribly expensive older edition back to the student bookstore for a buck. Did we really need a new edition of Call of Cthulhu? (Now, with more shantaks!) Not really.

But all that changed with Wizards of the Coast and the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons. That edition was a complete reworking of the mechanics of the previous editions. New mechanics were added. Old mechanics were completely redesigned. There were some things in there I liked, some things I didn't. I'm not going to go into the details (save to say that the game became way more complex). All that matters is that buying 3e meant you were buying a significantly altered version of the game, sort of like Monopoly suddenly playing like Payday.

Then, WotC came out with version 3.5, which pretty much corrected mistakes and errors, and clarified some things. Basically, it did what a new edition is supposed to do. However, it's release produced a bad taste in people's mouths, what with it coming out so close on the heels of 3e. I suspect (and I think a significant segment of the marketplace feels the same way) that WotC just needed more money and ginned up the printing presses. There were hints and rumors around the WotC offices that the corporate masters at Hasbro weren't happy with the sales figures of 3e ("We made $19 million; why didn't we make $20 million?!" I would come to learn that this is the way corporate weasels think, even about toys.). Tweaking things here and there and reprinting would be a cheap way (relatively speaking) of earning some additional profit.

Next came 4e. Again, this is apparently a major reworking of the rules. I say "apparently" because I never read it. I hopped off the Dungeons & Dragons train a long time ago, primarily because WotC seemed to bleed out all the fun of the game for me. It was less about portraying my tragic elf archer from a doomed magical empire, and more about worrying how many move actions I had after I got my attack of opportunity relative to my exotic weapons feat. Basically, they somehow took the corporate gobbledegook they spoke in the boardroom ("we must find ways to actualize efficiencies across the verticle network") and converted them to game rules. But I've digressed.

Fourth edition appears to have taken this impulse to the next level. Some people hate it. Other people love it. That's not the point. The point is, now people are talking about (and may even be anticipating) a fifth edition of the game. Meanwhile, people argue over whether 3.5 is better than 4e, or how Pathfinder is the true home of D & D, or how Original D & D is better than them all. Which brings me to my point (finally):

What everyone seems to forget is that you don't need to buy another version of your favorite game. That's the Great Secret of the hobby games industry. You can happily go on playing First Edition D & D, or second edition Stormbringer, or whatever, and you never have to pick up another product. These are games of the imagination. So long as you have your imagination, you don't need to buy another book or supplement. Which is what makes the arguement over which edition is better so silly.